Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Monday, 25 July 2011
By the time I'd got to St John's Wood the queue had already past the tube station and a real sense of excitement was in the air. England needed a further nine wickets, India needed to hold it together and if they managed to bat with a sense of purpose all day it was just possible that might overhaul England's 458 run lead. Also an opportunity, probably a final opportunity, to see the Indian middle order, who since the timely demise of the Australian superstars have grasped the mantle and propelled India into the number one test nation in the world. Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni. Names already assured a revered place in the pantheon of legend.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Down to Westminster Cathedral for graduation. Patsy and Trevor also there in Hogwart style gowns ready for the proud procession down the aisle past beaming parents, best behaved siblings and finally the well scrubbed graduands themselves nervously gathered in the stalls. The service itself is long as each of the three hundred or so BA students come to receive their degree from the Principal - but it's always wonderful to see another batch make their way forward in the world. It was especially exciting for us as lecturers because these were the first cohort of the new degree to pass through. A full circle that's taken five years from the initial planning to fruition today.
Saturday, 16 July 2011
When it opened in 1978, the school was a bit of an experiment - over twenty different nationalities were organised into five different language sections, working within a curriculum focused on European integration. We were taught to be European citizens first, nationals second. We worked together in a spirit of diplomacy, without many rules beyond the pragmatism of respect. It led to a very lenient, open and generous culture where the only thing not tolerated was intolerance itself. We had no uniforms, were worked very hard, encouraged to run things, listened to seriously, laughed a lot, travelled quite a bit and knew no better. It's a form of progressive education that in the days of league tables, and outcome focused syllabus seems as arcane as the Rubik cube or the Berlin Wall.
Visits to the past are by definition evocative, but in true Proustian style it was the smell of the old rooms that conjured up memories, feelings and reactions long submerged in the intervening years. I walked into the boys changing room and immediately the goose bumps appeared as the excitement and anticipation of the football match to come took over. The dusty hall took me back to final year exams and the secure knowledge that how I performed over a few hours, under conditions, would dictate a large part of the future that I'm currently enjoying and the Chapel; home of assemblies and the site of so many instructions and groundbreaking announcements, which seemed at the time epic in scale.
A handful of my year group were there; Lucy, bringing her three children, came over from Denmark. Jayne brought her husband Steve, stepson Liam and her Mum, who in her day was a formidable chair of the parent's association. John, with his partner Phillipa, expecting their first child in the Autumn an Boris who brought his wife Ruth and their clan of children down from Chester. Alongside these familiar faces, a clutch of siblings brought news of other old friends who for one reason or another couldn't attend - April, Maria, Mehdi, Laurence and Giovanni. It was lovely to have the chance to send them good wishes and remembrances.
More amazing still was the chance to catch up with old teachers. There was my English teacher Mr Campbell, who convinced me that I could write critically if only I stayed attentive to my feelings and honoured them honestly. Mr Hannaford, who somehow managed to keep smiling as I struggled to understand logarithms. PE teacher Mr Wickes, who turned my enthusiastic amateurism into a loyal commitment towards my classmates. Historian Mr Pearce, who gently encouraged us find links and parallels between the past, present and future and finally Miss Lloyd-Jones, whose Philosophy lessons unfolded hundreds of possibilities for looking at the world. She also had a wonderful way of overlooking bad behaviour.
It makes me aware of how subtle great teachers are. What gifts they give - sowing ideas and promoting attitudes that blossom ten, twenty, thirty years later. For all the merry making, there was a sense that our was a golden time of privilege and light. Our world is in retreat now and a more cautious age of accountability has appeared on the horizon. The School may close, but nobody can take away the knowledge that we really were very lucky to have been a part of it all.
Back in London I found a short passage from C.S Lewis' The Four Loves on friendship.
Those are the golden sessions... when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life - natural life - has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Friday, 8 July 2011
This evening a public meeting in Petersham village hall, packed to the rafters with righteous indignation from the political correctness gone mad brigade. Fearing the worst for Gary, we went along to try and offer some support. The meeting was chaired by local councilors who've been quick to jump on the bandwagon and demand the fence be removed.
What we saw was an incredible display of arrogant localism as a string of villagers stood up to remind us of the history of the cows - painted by Turner no less - the nanny state, the insufficient signage, the value of common sense, the threat of health and safety legislation, the take over of the National Trust by woolly do gooding liberals and the collapse of civilisation itself.
Poor Gary battled in vain with a rather limp PowerPoint - including pictures of people who've been gored by stampeding cattle - and a refuted offer that we all brainstorm alternative ideas on large sheets of sugar paper around the room. A suggestion which was met with:-
'I don't want to make this personal but by God you're pushing me damn close!' by one enraged and ruddy resident.
In the end the mauling achieved little. Although the locals did go home with, what I presume for them is, the satisfying taste of blood in the mouths. The smug councillors were applauded for their public service and we took Gary and head gardener Sandra off to The New Inn to lick their wounds.
I wonder if this is the Big Society in action. The hall was filled mostly with elderly professionals, none of whom work in heritage or conservation, but all of whom seemed to want to tell the Trust how to do their job. I was struck that nobody with a young family - who might be grateful that the meadow remains a safe place for children - was in attendance nor was anybody really interested in Gary's strategy to reintroduce the cows and remove the fence. The politicians skillfully wound up the mob and let them loose. Of course any decision that affects a community deserves scrutiny but it's a big worry that as we de professionalise public service work more and more it'll be the easily outraged with time on their hands who set the agenda and force decisions.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Monday, 4 July 2011
Sunday, 3 July 2011
Saturday, 2 July 2011
I was met early by Winston, who is the agent St Mary's is working with to develop international partnerships in the Far East and together we travelled to the Expo hall in Wan Chai for a recruitment fair. The A-level results in Hong Kong came out last week and today was, in the main, an exercise in clearing for those students who hadn't managed to get the grades that would enable them to get into a home based institution.
The hall was packed with English and Australian Universities all keen to pick up students and it was fascinating to observe the process in action. Some institutions offered special deals to student who signed up today, others promised the earth without really asking anything about the student themselves. Nearly all had inserted the term 'International' into their nomenclature. I found some of the strategies extremely bullish.
The fair had organised for me to have two assistants, Kathy and Alice - both studying at undergraduate level in the UK, one at UAE in Norwich and one in Aberystwryth. Neither had known much about where they were headed when they left Hong Kong and both were finding life in the UK to be a bit dull. I asked them why they'd chosen to study in their respective Unis.
'I came to a fair like this last year,' said Kathy 'Aberystwyth looked beautiful. I didn't realise how long it would take me to get anywhere else in Europe. They made it sound like the centre of the universe.'
It's a tricky world. For UK institutions facing huge cuts the international market is a potential goldmine, but in the scrabble I worry that there isn't enough consideration given to the needs, personality or maturity of the students. I suspect some of my colleagues at the fair might judge such an attitude as paternalistic and that students and their families have every freedom to make an informed decision; but I disliked the ease with which potential obstacles such as poor communicative English, lack of geniune understanding about UK HE institutions or weak grades were swept away by the promise of an international student fee coming into the coffers.
I interviewed several candidates mostly for Business Studies or Media Arts courses. It's clear that St Mary's is attractive because of its proximity to London and it's pastoral approach. For parents, sending their children 9,000 miles away security is the main concern and I quickly realised that if we really do want to encourage students from Asia that we need to be certain that we offer a really user friendly induction programme and regular 'how are you doing' tutorials. It's this kind of support that gets reported back to schools, colleges and parents back here. I would even venture to say this is more important than the academic standing of the institution.
We wound up at 4pm, which gave me the early evening to explore the area. Wan Chai is one of the most rapidly developing areas on the Island, with great conference and concert facilities springing up - but it's also one of the oldest parts of the city and tucked away between the main thoroughfares are the traditional lanes and passageways where a more traditional way of living is fighting to survive.
I wandered past the blood stained fishmongers of Shone Nullah Lane onto Queen's Road which led me past the old colonial post office and the Hung Shing Temple into Star Street where my guide book suggested that I could eat at the only surviving Dai Pai Dong stall in the area. Dai Pai Dong literally means Big Plate Stall and has been part of Hong Kong life for many years. The old colonial government granted liberal licences, allowing huge freedom for the holders to create their own menus, but most specialise in one or two dishes. After the Japanese left at the end of World War II hundreds sprang up as the locals picked themselves up and looked for ways to resuscitate the economy. Now, as more permanent structures are developed, only 28 still exist in the whole of the SAR. The one advertised, specialising in coconut toast, had been run by the same family opening at 6am and closing at 10pm, six days a week, since the early 1950s. Sadly in between my book being published and my arrival it too had closed down.
Friday, 1 July 2011
The walk started sedately with a visit to the Yeun Po Street garden where every day a group of elderly men bring their caged birds for a 'walk.' They hang the cages on specially constructed frames and sit, tears in their eyes, listening to the birds as they sing. Perhaps the music recalls a freedom that they themselves have lost? Perhaps it brings reminiscence of a faded beauty? It's a highly melancholic scene. Around them are market stalls selling more birds in bamboo cages; as well as juicy caterpillars and grasshoppers to feed to their pets as a treat.