Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Recycled From Facebook:And What Exactly Does That Mean?

A headline from the website of my old local paper in the UK says "A police operation to curb car crime in Wolverhampton has seen a six-fold reduction in thefts from vehicles" but what exactly is a "six-fold" drop. If there were sixty crimes before is it a drop by one-sixth (to 50) or a drop to one sixth (that is 10) or perhaps a drop that is actually six-fold and six times the original number of crimes are now NOT recorded (a staggering -300 crimes). Mathematics is clearly not the strong suit of editors.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Recycled From Facebook: The Return of the Mini-Rant

Part I
After weeks of being asked by my school to use the computers I wrote a computer lesson for this week. Halfway into the first lesson of the day (with four to go) there was a power failure at the school which means it will now be off for at least the rest of the day.
This is why I don't write computer lessons. And that's what I will tell them next time they try to insist. (I did have a plan B!)

I learned my lesson on this back in England when the college I taught at decided to replace all the whiteboards with smartboards and then had the lot break down leaving all the classrooms with literally nowhere to write anything. In classroom situations I firmly believe the lower tech the better.

Part II
More reasons NOT to put computers in classrooms.
My classrooms all have computers that project onto retractable screens which raise or lower in front of the whiteboards. I've mentioned before the problems with preparing detailed whiz-bang computer lessons only to arrive and find the computer isn't working or there has been a power failure. This week I had another problem. My lesson has no computer content but three times out of thirteen lessons (so far) I've arrived in class to find the retractable screens broken and stuck in the down position. This has meant teaching without a board to write on as the board has been wholly covered by the screen which I can't write on. From now I'll always have a "no materials/no board" back up plan too. Computers in classrooms seem superficially to be a good idea but in my experience they are more trouble than they are worth. To quote Scotty from Star Trek, "The more you complicate the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drains."

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Recycled From Facebook:More About The Last Minute Culture

This last minute thing about China is really baffling at times.A couple of weeks ago, at 7 pm on Sunday night,  I got a call telling me that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they had exams so I didn't have to go in. How can you NOT know until Sunday night that you have exams on Monday? How do the students manage to revise?

Recycled from Facebook: More About Chinese Packaging

More on Chinese packaging. I just bought a box of tea bags. From outside to in the packaging consisted of 1) shrink-wrap 2) cardboard box 3) more shrink wrap 4) foil wrap 5) individual paper sleeves 6) the actual tea bag.

Recycled from Facebook: More About Chinese Road Safety

I've mentioned before that crossing the road in China is a dangerous thing to do.Drivers and riders routinely ignore signals and markings, drive on the wrong side of the road and generally show zero awareness of any other road user, motorised or pedestrian. So I was surprised on my way home today to see that the Yangshuo authorities had stationed some traffic wardens at the crossroads at the end of the street.
What were they doing to help safety? Good question. Normally people here, me included, also ignore the lights and cross when it seems safe to do so, whether it's the little green man or the little red man showing. These "wardens" were forcibly stopping this activity then making people cross with the green light. They were doing nothing at all about the traffic or the danger. When I tried to cross because the road was empty one blew his whistle and angrily pushed me back onto the pavement. When the light turned to green he pushed me out into the traffic where I was almost run over by a moped coming from the wrong direction and had to run to dodge a coach that had run the red light. I can't help thinking that their time would be better spent enforcing the traffic regulations.

Oh yes, almost forgot, when I had safely made it to the other side I counted them. On that one junction I saw NINETEEN of these people, all, apparently, hell bent on increasing the pedestrian kill rate.

Recycled from Facebook: On The Day That I Was Born...

... BBC was showing news of a state visit to France, a "Woman's Hour" style program called "Mainly For Women", Andy Pandy on Watch With Mother, Michael Bond's "Napoleon's Day Out (about an escaped parrot), a film about a school trip to Icecland, Nat Temple And His Orchestra, Vera Lynn SIngs, a documentary about Adolf Hitler, a comedy play set in Wales, an interview about the budget with the Chancellor of the Exchequer - Peter Thorneycroft, M.P. , and an episode of an American comedy series - I Married Joan.

Sounds like a belter of a night. TV was just a little different back then.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Recycled from Facebook: Must Give Clearer Instructions

Another one from today's class. I asked a student to stand up and read the work his group had just done.
He stood up and started to trace his finger under the line, following it with his eyes.

Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have told him to read it out loud.

Recycled from Facebook: Pipistrelle

A friend challenged me to rewrite Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat from Alice in Wonderland as a double dactyl.
So I did. Here it is.

Winkily twinkily
Soprano pipistrelle*
Up in the sky so high
What are you at?

Just like a tea-tray, you,
Flitter and flutter by:
Such a fine bat.

* Initially I had "tiniest pipistrelle: but that, it was pointed out, isn't a proper name. Soprana pipistrelle, a species of bat, is.

This Year's Christmas Message From China

Of course you should have received this by email but I always manage to miss someone off the list, so this is for anyone inadvertently omitted.

It's been a mixed sort of year.
It started off with me confined to my apartment in Baiyin with my leg in plaster, missing planned parties and a holiday in Shanghai. Not, it has to be said, my most optimistic hour. While that was happening it also became clear that I wouldn't be able, for various reasons, to continue in that city for another year. As that's where Teresa lives it still didn't raise my spirits. I would be there for another term and then have to move. So, in June, I moved to Yangshuo, which is about a thousand miles away. The intervening months were, as you might expect, a bittersweet time. We determined that we would try to maintain our relationship but both of us knew that such a long distance would make things difficult.
Down in Yangshuo the job and the school turned out to be pretty good and the city certainly has a lot of advantages (and a few disadvantages). I'm happy in my school and I have a great (if very cold) apartment. I have plenty of western friends here though virtually no Chinese ones – it's a town full of ex-pats. I get to go to bars and quizzes and even to perform my writing in front of people who speak the same language!
All that is good.
Not so good is that I have seen Teresa for a total of ten days in the last six months – just two visits. We talk a lot on the phone but it looked for a while as if we would split up – we actually agreed that we would – but somehow we are struggling on.
I'll be up to visit her in January before a brief trip back to the UK and then it's back here to run another teacher orientation course before starting the new term.
With less than a week to go to Christmas things are looking quite good for the next couple of months. I'll be out reading poetry on Tuesday night, at a Christmas buffet in one of the bars on Wednesday night, hosting a Christmas quiz on Christmas Day, chilling at a movie in my local bar on Friday night, back for more poetry the following Tuesday, at a half-prize closing down party in Demo bar on the day before New Years Eve, at a New Years party on New Years Eve and finishing school on 10th January to fly to Baiyin on 12th. The expat community here is nothing if not lively.

Fun as all that sounds. I'd still rather be having a quieter time in Baiyin. At least when I had my leg in plaster Teresa could come and visit me every day. I don't think I'll be able to move back to Baiyin as there isn't a job there for me, but I will probably try to get somewhere closer than here next year. I'll be looking into that as soon as I get back from England.

Anyway, as it's Christmas, it's time I wrote another festive greeting for everyone.

All My Christmases At Once

I've spent Christmas in the jungle, in the desert, up a mountain;
I've spent Christmas in the places even Santa doesn't go;
I've spent Christmas in a busy bar that overlooks the fountain
In the square in Cuzco, another Christmas without snow.
Kathmandu for Christmas Eve, and Prague for Christmas Day
I've spent a happy holiday wading up a stream
I've been so many places where you couldn't drive a sleigh
With just a single reindeer, never mind a whole damn team.
Christmas dinner has been turkey but I've also eaten rice
I've even eaten reindeer (though Rudolph doesn't know)
In Nepal I had goat curry, though it wasn't very nice,
And as I said before, another Christmas without snow.
I've spent Christmases with strangers and others with my friends
I've spent Christmases with family and some all be myself
I've been to workplace parties where everyone pretends
They haven't seen the mistletoe that's hanging on the shelf.
This Christmas I'm in China, although I've changed my city,
And I'm sending you this greeting from Yangshuo,
This year I'm spending Christmas in a place that's rather pretty,
Though as I said before, another Christmas without snow.

Merry Christmas,

Friday, 19 December 2014

Recycled From Facebook: Notes from a pointless exam

Part I
I have, at the school's insistence, begun to do oral English exams for all the students. Today I have done one hundred and eighty five exams in two hundred and forty minutes which includes the admin time of writing down th names and grades.
My multiple choice question to you is this.
Do you think this exercise
a) will yield a great deal of useful information about the students' levels and progress
b)will yield some data that will require careful and detailed analysis
c) will yield only a little meaningful data but nevertheless data that can inform and guide future lessons
d) will yield absolutely no data at all and is a pointless waste of the two lessons per class that it is taking up, and is only being done so that school can say that it has been done.

Yes. d) was my answer too.

Part II
Another hundred or so tested today in the continuing exercise in futility. I did get one laugh though as I relentlessly dumbed-down the questions for the weakest students. Asking one student "What is your favourite animal?" he managed to latch onto the word "favourite" and plucked a word that he thought might fit from his limited vocabulary and answered "water melon".
On the downside In have rarely felt so frustrated at doing pointless tasks in my life as I have felt this week and I'm only about a third of the way through it.
Sixty more tomorrow, then a week off for a Christmas lesson then the other half of the students in the week after Christmas and the classes I missed on Monday in the last of my teaching weeks this term

Part III
And now the School has cancelled the Monday and Tuesday classes in the week I was going to do exams (couldn't do them this week as they were cancelled too!) which means that those classes will have to do their exam next week and will not have the fun and games Christmas lesson the other classes are having.

Part IV

Honesty isn't always good for the ego. During one of the oral exams today I asked a girl, "What is your favourite lesson?" and she answered "I like your lesson'" As I had done with every other student that I asked this question I followed up with "Why?" and was told "Because you don't give us homework."

Recycled From Facebook: Not Missing The Christmas TV

Sometimes I am glad I'm not in England.
And having looked at an article that lists the pick of the Christmas TV, this is one of those times. Call me picky if you like but with Strictly Come Dancing, Paul O'Grady and Miranda all on Christmas Day I can safely do without it. Granted that there is Doctor Who but there is also Call The Midwife and Downton Abbey. Of course there is the repeat of Still Open All Hours which is worthwhile enough in its way but is, all the same, a repeat. So, on the whole, I'm really rather happy to be somewhere that isn't England and to be missing all the Christmas treats on TV.

Star Trek New Voyages

For anyone who is interested the latest fan produced episode of Star Trek is up on YouTube. Pretty damned good it is too.

Recycled from Facebook: Not The Answer I Was Looking For

Today I had to teach my Tuesday classes extra lessons in one of those "working the weekend because they gave us a day off in the week" situations. As it was just one day's classes I pulled out an off-the-shelf lesson. It's an old standard the main activity of which is for groups of students to list ten items they would take if stranded on a desert island. I've had some weird answers in the past but few as weird as one of the groups in my strong class. I don't know what they expected to find on the island but their list included TNT, C4, AK-47s, RK-62s and, bizarrely, a Gatling gun. An impressive knowledge of military hardware, historical and modern, but perhaps not the answer I was looking for.

Recycled from Facebook: National Poetry Day

If I Were Back In England: A poem for National Poetry Day

If I were back in England
Right now I'd take my pen
Stare blankly at the page for half an hour
I'd sigh and draw a doodle
Then put it down again
And scowl into the mirror, maybe glower

If I were back in England
I'd feel obliged today
To write some poetry, with or without the muse
So I'd take the pen once more
Maintain my blank-faced way
While the paper seemed to whisper, “Bob, j'accuse”

If I were back in England
National Poetry Day is now
Not yesterday, tomorrow or next week
So I'd force the words to come
I'd pull them out somehow
I'd find a way to write the verse I'd seek

But I am not back in England
So there is no obligation
I can write or not write simply as I will
Of course that makes it easy
This act of new creation

And I hope this poem's one that fits the bill.

Recycled From Facebook: Pointing At Things

Well, I had hoped to do some Chinese lessons now that I'm here in Yangshuo but I just went to visit the school and it doesn't look possible. The sensibly priced courses are during the day when I'm working, and evenings and weekends are one to one private lessons only which would need half my salary to get a reasonable amount of time and practice. Looks as if I'll just have to keep on struggling by with pointing at things. It's a strategy that mostly work but fails utterly to persuade the bus driver to stop at the place where I wish to get off.

Recycled From Facebook: Dave

My computer doesn't like Dave. Not any actual living acquaintance named Dave, Dave the TV channel. How do I know? Well, a while back I had a problem where my computer (probably because the monitor was exhibiting a known Dell fault) would randomly shut down with a message saying "Digital Input Detected: Entering Power Save Mode"? Well that fault went away, but now it's back... but only when I try to use the "watch again" function on Dave. I can use the BBC iPlayer without problems and I can use the ITV player but Dave on Demand shuts down randomly between five and thirty minutes into anything I try to watch. Anybody got any ideas why this should be? I suspect my computer just doesn't care for comedy repeats.