Tuesday, 27 February 2007


We haven't had a lot of success in the past with bulbs in pots sent home from school. Yesterday, on our way into school, I noticed most of the children were carrying varying sizes of daffodils, and realised with horror that my little one's pot must still be in the garden somewhere. It'd had been out there, fending for itself, since last September, so you can imagine our joy (and my relief) when we discovered two tiny, but perfectly formed, daffodils had grown. All by themselves!

Once in the car, my little one said, "They're daftodils, because they haven't got a seat belt on!" And then she added, "Will you take a picture and put them on your blog thing?" So I have. And the pics not too bad for a mobile phone camera.

Monday, 26 February 2007

PDP Heaven or Hell?!

I have a meeting coming up with my PhD supervisor, so have spent the morning working on my PDP (Personal Development Portfolio). The PDP is designed to make you think about your progress, how knowledge and skills are developing and so on and so forth... for 27 pages! I realised with horror that I hadn't updated mine since March 2006.

For many a PDP is just more administrational clap-trap, more hoops to negotiate, but surprisingly I've found some of it quite useful. Having to update it has meant I've had to dig out all my old paperwork, and think about just how exactly, I have (if I have) developed in the following areas:

1. Personal and Generic Skills Audit {Aw... do I really have to fill this in?!}
2. Research Environment {Yup, I'm researching all right}
3. Research Management {I'm dead organised, me!}
4. Personal Effectiveness {It starts with Demonstrate a willingness and ability to learn and acquire knowledge One would hope so at PhD level!}
5. Communication Skills {I'd be a bit snookered as a teacher without these, eh}
6. Networking and Team Work {I wonder if our novel race counts?!}
7. Career Management {I think I'd like to look after horses one day, in France...}
8. Other Skills as identified by you or your supervisor {like there's anything left to add after 25 pages of questions!}

The useful part was the bit at the beginning that asks what you've been doing since you last filled it in, and I was surprised to find I've done rather a lot that I'd forgotten about. Yay!

As for the novel writing itself, I thought I hadn't done any work, and yet it's taken me 4 hours to sort through all the handwritten materials I've been gathering and consigning to a big box under my desk. I found tons of my original ideas and thoughts, not to mention reams of snippets of fiction, of characterisation, of key events, and research I've already done.

So I'm feeling rather smug (bearing in mind that life can, and often does, go tits-up at any given time). Last week I wrote 10,000 words, swam 20 lengths (that's a lot for me!), had a marvellous riding lesson, and managed to have everyone fed/clothes washed/house sorted/shopping done without too much screaming and shouting!

This more than makes up for the fact that the first 10,000 words of my novel are probably not going to be used now, at least not in their current form. And that my word count progress is probably going to be slowed to taking a new approach to the project as a whole. Argh!

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Spam in your Inbox?!

I keep getting Spam at work despite all the promise of filters. Today's top subject lines read as follows:

1. Thoroughly Review Upon Hoped (This isn't even English as we know it! What review? Hoped for what exactly?)
2. You have the experience but lack the University Degree (Er... no)
3. Var loc United (Excuse me?)
4. Your thoughts please (On what? Spammers?!)
5. Hot sex with Viagra Pills (But pills are so tiny - they'd get lost surely!)

Hotmail and Yahoo are doing well though, and I haven't had offers to enlarge my penis for absolutely ages!

Right. I'm off to work on my word count, just as soon as I finish some marking...

Friday, 23 February 2007

Friday again!

Friday seems to be coming around an awful lot faster these days! I'm shattered, having taught solidly for the last two days, field trips with my writing students, and still suffering from the unshiftable lurgy! I've been writing bits by hand, and have finished (I think) one of the later chapters which is in the form of a short story. A day late for Coffee Morning with the Novel Racers, and up to my eyes in marking (again), I'm trying to decide how best to use the weekend. I'm hoping hubby will take the kids out somewhere and leave me to make a dent in my work!

On the plus side, I swam 20 lengths this week, had a great riding lesson, and submitted the first 10,000 words of my novel to my PhD supervisor. I await her comments with trepidation, but at least I've finally given her something!

Liz Fenwick set us all a challenge - to post the first page of our novel in progress, so here goes nothing. Do your worst!

The First Page

My mother stood in the bedroom doorway, but I didn’t turn to look at her. I could hear her breathing, laboured and uneven, feel her eyes on the back of my neck. I knew one of us had to break the silence, but no words would come. Language was pointless and she knew it too.
        I folded the piece of paper up carefully, and placed it back in its manila envelope, but I couldn’t bring myself to put it down. I kept staring at the dressing table, the off-white affair from my nan. I traced the brocade around with my eye until I reached the part where the gold leafy pattern was chipped off in one corner. I had no idea how long I’d been sitting there, no idea how much longer I could go without moving. I knew that if she dared to speak, dared to say just one thing, it would all come flooding out, and I didn’t want it to. I just wasn’t ready.
        Then my mother broke the silence. “I—.” She heaved a sigh.
        I felt my skin crawl, as though a cold, wet thing, had just smothered itself over me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” My voice sounded suddenly harsh, like someone else’s.
        She said nothing, drew another long, uneven breath.
        “Who else knows?”
        Again she said nothing, but when I turned to look at her, I could see it in her eyes that I was the last to find out.
        Eventually she came and sat on the edge of the bed, her face turned away. She took a cigarette from the bedside table and I watched her light it with a shaking hand. Those hands that raised me so carefully, those wrinkled up dish-washed hands. How many times had they taken that letter from its envelope, and carefully folded it up again? Did she sit in the middle of the night reading it, or did it beckon to her from its hiding place in the shoe-box on the top of the wardrobe? And why even keep it? Was the hell was she thinking?

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Horse Mad!

I rode a horse once, when I was 18. She was a big old chestnut mare who graciously carried me up onto Bodmin Moor despite the fact that all I had going for me was good balance, strong legs, and the confidence of the terminally stupid. My companion, a highly experienced jockey, decided to pop off for a quick gallop. He said, “Just wait there,” but the mare had other ideas. The minute his back was turned she reared up, whinnied, and set off at full speed back down the hill. Head and neck were nowhere to be seen as she threw herself into the descent.

Instinctively, I wrapped my legs around her as tightly as I could, which made her go even faster. There was a brief moment of relief as the ground evened out and her head reappeared, but then I saw the gate, right in front of us. I thought she’d stop, but no. On she went – straight over the gate – my first (and only) jump! If my companion hadn’t appeared beside us, breathlessly grabbing the reins, and bringing us to a rather abrupt halt, I think she’d have galloped all the way to Bristol. Any sensible person would have been put off, but then I’m not any sensible person.

After 19 years of waiting patiently (read: saving up) I had my first ‘proper’ riding lesson on 12th September last year. I loved every ridiculously expensive second of it. The lady at the riding school told me not to rush out and spend a fortune until I’d had a few more lessons. Very sensible, I agreed, then drove straight to the nearest tack shop and bought a lovely black velvet riding hat, leather riding boots, and a pair of jodhpurs – with full seat no less!

After almost 5 months, I still love going to the stables. I can’t wait until summer when I can spend more time down there. It never fails to amaze me just how hard everyone works – lugging heavy skips of manure to the tip, stuffing hay nets, grooming the horses, sweeping the yard, and a thousand other jobs that can’t be ignored.

Here’s what I've learned so far:

1. Riding is really hard work, and that’s not including all the stuff on the ground! Have you ever tried to get half a tonne (78 stone!) of muscle and bloody mindedness to move over using just your inside leg?!

2. Horses can bite. It hurts like hell. Not only that but they're really fast. They can also kick. I imagine this also hurts like hell.

3. Top class show-jumpers do not mix well with complete beginners. It’s like putting a six year old behind the wheel of a Ferrari. Needless to say, I haven’t been invited back!

4. Good school horses, by contrast, are the most patient teachers you’ll ever meet; forgiving (as in please sit properly, my back’s killing me!), helpful (as in I think you want me to trot/go left/etc. so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and do it for you), and most concerned should they suddenly find you in a heap on the ground!

5. There’s a billion different things to learn, a billion different opinions on how to do them.

6. The crotch area is called ‘the fork’ – as in “Sit back, you’re on your fork!”

7. Horses are expensive. No, like I mean really expensive! Stabling, Vet’s fees, rugs, saddles, bridles, riding lessons, insurance, and we haven’t even started on food, transport (trailers & 4 x 4s), and all the rest of the kit.

8. They also need new shoes, or their feet trimmed every 4 – 6 weeks, so there’s the Farrier to pay too.

9. The world’s largest living horse is called Radar. He stands at 6 feet 7½ inches to the withers (19 hands 3 ½ inches). The withers is at the base of the neck.

The world’s smallest living horse is called Thumbelina. She stands at 17 inches to the withers.

Whereas Radar drinks 20 gallons of water a day, and eats 40 lbs of hay, Thumbelina has a handful of hay twice a day!

10. Not everyone rides horses by sitting in the saddle. The Puszta Team school in Hungary drive a team of horses whilst standing on their backs! And it all started from a painting called the Hungarian Post.

Watch them in action under the link on the left at The History of The Pusza.


I was all geared up for a course at work - "Every Joe Bloggs, How can I?" I was going to blog about it, only they cancelled it. Bugger. Now I'll never know how to blog!

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Tagged - 10 things meme

Oh dear, I just got myself tagged - thank you Liz! So here goes nothing...

10 things about me:

1. I have two nationalities, and two passports.
2. My first kiss with with a kid named Patrick who was in my class at Courtenay Elementary High School, in BC. He had no front teeth and collected bugs.
3. I used to collect grass snakes, bring them into the house to scare my mum, and always blamed the dog.
4. I was 15 weeks pregnant when I got married and missed all the food due to morning sickness.
5 & 6. I used to be a bottler in Covent Garden. I loved it. Larry Hagman put £10 in the hat. He was very sweet.
7. I once got alcoholic poisoning from too much Southern Comfort. Now the mere sight of a bottle of the stuff makes me retch. Also, can't drink more than half a glass of anything alcholic without being ill. I'm a cheap date!
8. I've emigrated 5 times between 3 countries, and have itchy feet again.
9. I wanted to be a classical guitarist, but dropped out of music college after a year.
10. I talk to myself in the car, in grammatically poor Spanish.

There ya go. And now ye too, hath beenst taggethed!

Monday, 19 February 2007

a marriage versus a love affair

I've just watched Newsnight on BBC2, and some blathering idiot was going on about 'selling a deal to the motorist' (they were on about the congestion charge). Since when did we elect politicians to 'sell us deals'?! I thought they were supposed to come up with policies, not deals. Shows you just how politically inept I am!

Apart from that, I had a good day's writing. After spending over a year thinking about the story, it's taken me ages to begin writing anything longer than snippets. I only hope I can keep the momentum going until I reach my target! It's also very difficult to be in England and write a novel set in Spain, so to help me along I listened to Maktub, Camaron de la Isla, and Ketama, LOUDLY, as promised, and watched half an hour of TVEi. Que guay! It worked, and after today's efforts I have so far racked up a grand total of 10,000 words. Hurrah!

The whole novel writing thing is quite a learning curve, I have to say, and it's interesting to find my head taking a totally different approach to the one it takes when I write short stories (my usual medium). I remember Al Kennedy talking about this at a conference last year and thinking, whatever does she mean? But I'm starting to get it now. It really is a love affair versus a marriage. Short stories are all consuming. I constantly re-work each line of prose, reducing it in much the same way as you reduce mulled wine, so that what you're left with is rich, dense material that says far more than the weight of its word count. At least that's what I try to do. Novel writing on the other hand, is a game of not showing your cards too soon, of holding back. There's more scenes to work with and more characters to develop. It's a far larger canvas that stretches as far as the eye can see, and then some. It's going to take me bloody years, and there's a thesis to write as well! I'm okay. No really. The palpitations will calm down in a minute or two.

Also listened to Russel Brand's radio show on BBC Radio 2's listen again, which for some inane reason, I find hugely entertaining. And then the kids came home from school and we made chocolate brownies. Fab!

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Fetch me that broom!

Ever get the feeling you've taken too much on? It's Sunday, and so far I've done the shopping, washed the school uniforms, cleaned up the rabbit poop from the living room carpet (she's still in the house - alive but dreadfully thin so having to fatten her up before she can go back in the hutch), made a total hash of being sympathetic to sick husband, planned one lesson, and cried a little bit. I'll be okay by Monday, when the kids are back in school, and hubby is back at work. Then I'll play my flamenco music LOUD and clean house, and try to add a few more thousand words to my novel. But until then...

My mother has a saying when she's feeling put upon - "Why don't you shove a broom up my ass and I'll sweep the floor while I'm at it!" Fetch me that broom!

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Valentine's Day?

Oh dear! I'm afraid I missed it. Again.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

The Journey of 100,000 words begins with “Chapter One” – one word at a time.

When I first thought about signing up for a PhD, I was going to do it in Literature, looking at Sandra Cisneros and her use of bilingualism in her texts, but I also knew that if I did a PhD in literature, I’d never get my own novel written. So I opted for Creative Writing instead, for 2 reasons:

1. I wanted to write a novel and figured doing it for a PhD would mean I had someone pushing me forward, i.e. my supervisors.
2. I figured the best way to learn how to write a novel would be to write one.

I also secretly thought that it would be a slightly easier route. It never ceases to amaze me just how wrong I can be - not to mention naive!

I get the impression that a lot of people think a PhD in writing is easier, after all, you just have to write a novel don’t you? And how difficult can that be? Well, in his book, On Writing: A memoir, Stephen King says, “Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic in a bath tub.”(i) And that’s from one of the lucky ones who write because they actually enjoy it (as opposed to writers like me, who write because of some seemingly masochistic need).

King advises the would-be novelist to find a room without any distractions, like computer games (does Solitaire count?), or telephones etc. My office is full of distractions, but even if it wasn’t, I’d still find something to do. How can you sit down and write when the hallway needs hovering, or the dishes need doing, and so on and so on. And then there’s listen again on Radio 4 to catch up on…

When I realised I was in trouble I started this blog. I figured at the very least it would encourage me to write stuff – stuff that wasn’t a lecture, or a seminar plan. I called myself the Hesitant Scribe because when it comes to fiction I must have the worst working method going. While the non-fiction stuff is fine, the fiction is a killer. I end up hating every word I write, and when I read that some writers find writing ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyable’ – you know who you are – I have to ask myself why I’m putting myself through this. I hate writing fiction, and worse, I hate everything I write. That’s not a statement designed to get the sympathy vote, or evoke cries of but your stuff’s really good, it’s a genuine response. I write a paragraph and then re-write it until I’ve lost of sense of why I started it in the first place. I edit everything to death and then wonder why it takes me so long to get anything written! Luckily, I’m in good company when it comes to hating writing. When asked if she found any of her books especially easy to write, Rebecca West replied, “No, it’s a nauseating process. They’re none of them easy.”(ii)

Anyway, I tell my writing students to just write, worry about the editing later, and then fail to take my own advice. Well, no more! I’m giving myself permission to write utter crap – I’ll worry about the quality later when I start the second draft. I’m following the progress of the novel racers at Wordgirl’s Work in Progress, and hoping they’ll let me join them. Stephen King reckons on a 1,000 words a day and says that’s being magnanimous, and when asked by a radio talk-show host how he wrote, he replied “One word at a time.”(iii)

So that’s what I’m going to do. Wish me luck!

Refs for the interested!
(i) King, S. 2000 On Writing: A Memoir Hodder & Stoughton, p.167
(ii) West, W. in The Paris Review Interviews Vol 1 2007 Canongate. p.257
(iii) King, S. 2000 On Writing: A Memoir Hodder & Stoughton, p.121

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Maktub Andalucia - One's to watch!

Maktub are a fantastic group from Andalucia, Spain. I met Muni, Antonio, and Kouki when I lived in Andalucia, ten years ago now. Maktub was formed in 2005, and since then they have grown and developed into what I think, is one of the best World Music groups around. They have a blend of flamenco, reggae, jazz, blues and soul that is just awesome - pure honey for your ears - even if you don't speak Spanish. If you do, you'll find the lyrics just as beautiful as the sounds they produce. I can't wait for them to finish recording their first album, and I think you'll love them as much as I do!

The band members are:

Ismael Tamayo - Voz Flamenca (Voice - Flamenco)
AleRagga - Voz Ragga (Voice - Reggae/Rap)
Muni Shakarchi - Guitarras (Guitars - electric and flamenco)
Rafael Belmonte - Bajo (Bass Guitar)
Javier Marín - Batería (Drums and Percussion)
Kouki Portellano - Piano (Piano)
Antonio Beltrán - Saxo (Saxophone)
Juan Pablo Magarían - Sonido (Sound)

This is 'Tu Corazon' filmed in a friend's house in Malaga.

You can watch more of their music videos at Maktub Andalucia on You Tube and find out more about the band and hear more tracks at Maktub Andalucia on Myspace.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Save our British Library - Keep it free!

I got this email at work and feel it's a really worthwhile cause! The email reads as follows:

Dear All,

With apologies for cross posting.

I am sure most of you are aware of the budget cuts the government is proposing to impose on the British Library. According to a press release on the BL website, these cuts may force the library to start charging for users to access the collections see here

If you think, as I do, that this is a really bad idea – please sign the online petition

And do tell your friends to sign it too!

According to their website, the BL is actively campaigning against the proposed cuts and Lynne Brindley has asked those who feel strongly about this issue to contact the library and explain "why the British Library is important to you and give us permission to use your letter in our campaign. Please e-mail chief-executive@bl.uk with your name, contact number and message, or write to Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB."

So if you have five minutes to spare, do send an e-mail or letter too.

Best wishes,

Joanna Bryant

I think this is a really good thing to do, so if you are a British Citizen, (including overseas), please take a few seconds to sign the petition - I have!

Thank you in advance!

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Poorly Bunny!

Poorly bunny! At least she's eating again, which is good because apparently rabbits go into stasis if they don't eat, meaning their system shuts down and they die, leaving some very miserable children behind!

Still, she looks better than she did. The green stuff is a sort of Complan for bunnies, a liquid food that reeks to high heaven and won't go into, or come out of, the syringe thing the vet gave us. I did get some in, but it came out at high velocity and went about 6 feet past her mouth! Plan B: Wrap it in a towel and force feed with a spoon. It was like trying to feed a two year old mushy peas, only one with big sharp claws! So inbetween dosing the small child, and myself, with antibiotics, I've been force feeding the rabbit with the green gunge.

Last night she stopped breathing for a worrying few moments and then fell over - which didn't look too good I have to say - the teenager was in tears. Anyway, she made it through the night, and is even eating the green stuff off a spoon all by herself! Thank christ I haven't got a horse - I can't imagine wrapping one of them in a towel, and how would it fit under the piano stool!

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Ice on your windscreen?

Next time you complain about having to de-ice your car - spare a thought for the inhabitants of Lake Leman, Versoix, Switzerland!

Pictures are from Sky and Summit. Go to their website and see more pics here

Beware of the Lurgy and Low Ceilings

The lurgy has descended upon my household like some biblical plague. The little one came home from school yesterday and promptly threw her guts up. I’m drowning in snot and mucus. Even the rabbit’s got snuffles! So today I have a sick child on the couch wrapped up in a blanket looking like Our Lady of Sorrows. The sick rabbit is sneezing under the piano stool and redecorating the carpet with various bodily fluids. She still looks very pissed off at having had 1ml of Baytril forced down her throat. Have you ever tried to dose a rabbit with antibiotics? My kitchen now has a white furry carpet complete with pretty red spots – of my blood. Only another 5 doses to go by which time I should have enough to knit up a sweater.

Excuse me while I sneeze…

Right – where was I? Oh yes, went to Manchester last night for my father in law’s 65th birthday, to a very nice restaurant - the Yang Sing. The decór is 1930s Shanghai, the food lovely and the staff very friendly. Apparently we’re moving into the Year of the Pig, so the waiter came and cooked spinach at the table. I tried not to sneeze on the food too much but the company did make me perk up temporarily.

In fact it was a great evening all round, despite having to drive all the way to Manchester and back. The only problem was that our table was positioned under the stairs and therefore a low slanting ceiling. And I knew about the ceiling because I sat under it for 4 hours. Nevertheless, I still managed to forget about it as we were leaving – a bit like the two year old who forgets that the corner of the table is at head height. What followed was a beautiful light show of twinkling stars and a rather large egg on the side of my head – an added extra at the Yang Sing.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Second Life

I just love this - from one of the people who use Second Life to get creative. It was uploaded to YouTube by Eric519 who I think is its creator.

You can read about Second Life at Pospsci.com or visit the Second Life Website. It scares the pants off me though, so I won't be joining just yet!

Friday, 2 February 2007

That's Enough Already - Hereuxville, Quebec

This is very interesting. You can read the original document, the 'Normes de vie' in English here. Or in French here.

What interests me is that nowhere in the document - and I read it twice in both languages - does it mention anyone in particular, and I do worry about the mentality of anyone who instantly assumes it is aimed at them! I mean what is wrong with clearly stating that it is not acceptable behaviour to "stone women to death in a public place" [le fait de tuer les femmes par lapidation sur la place publique] or circumcise them?! As for not allowing children to carry weapons "real or fake, symbolic or not" - well who but the very warped could argue with that, especially after incidents such as Columbine?! And what,exactly, is wrong with clearly stating that women have the same rights as men, or that "any form of violence towards children is not accepted"?

Maybe I'm completely mad, but I thought it was a lovely, polite little document, and that the only people who would take offense would be those who believe those that stoning women etc. is perfectly normal! What happened to that old saying - 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' - something some people clearly don't want to adhere to!

Thursday, 1 February 2007


From La Lengua comes the following; [English translation follows in the square brackets]

“Hoy, dando una clase de Lengua Castellana, ha venido a cuento hablar de la antigua Roma y de los acueductos. Y de cómo la ingeniería romana republicana e imperial les permitía realizar obras impresionantes hace 2.000 años. «Y no sólo hace 2.000 años -he continuado-, sino incluso hace más».

La mayoría de mis alumnos, de entre trece y quince años, me ha mirado con los ojos como platos. Finalmente, uno se ha atrevido a preguntar: «¿Hace más de 2.000 años?»”

[Today, giving a Castellano Language class, I began to tell the story of the Romans and their aqueducts. And how the engineers of the Roman Republic and Imperial States were able to realise such impressive works 2,000 years ago. “And not only 2,000 years ago,” I continued, “But even before that.”
The majority of my students, of between 13 and 15 years of age, looked at me with eyes like saucers. At last, one of them asked the question, “More than 2,000 years ago?”]

Even after explaining that the world is some 4,600 million years old, and that people have been around for a lot longer than the 2,007 years that follow the birth of Christ, his students still did not look convinced. What follows is a discussion of the education system in Spain, and asks how it is possible that those teenage children did not realise that the world has existed for more than 2,007 years. Furthermore, he goes on to say that it is the government’s fear of upsetting the various religions that has led to such a failure in the education of the young, and that is fostering the exact conditions that lead to fundamentalist behaviours. I had to respond, regardless of my paltry Spanish.

It is a truly terrifying thought that students anywhere could believe that the history of the world is only 2,007 years old, but sadly I can believe it. It is getting the same here in the UK. With government legislation constantly attacking educational practice, teaching is more and more about passing exams than developing critical thinking and fostering an inquiring mind. The government is more and more concerned about offending religions and cultures, continuing to narrow down the curriculum and impose yet more legislation/political correctness, to the point where stories such as The Three Little Pigs have been banned in some schools. (I guess that's another can of worms altogether, eh). There seems to be a growing fear of asking questions in case of offending someone or other. I'm not saying we shouldn't be aware of other cultures, and I am all in favour of promoting multi-culturalism, but it should not, must not, get in the way of allowing our children to do what they do best - ask and enquire about the world around them.

I trained as a primary teacher, have a teenage daughter, and teach at university level, so I’ve seen all age phases, and I am seeing a real failure in our education system. In England we have a National Curriculum that I fear is killing creativity in the classroom and murdering any sense of curiosity in our children due to over-prescribed subject areas and a constantly changing methodology. I cannot blame the teachers. They are struggling to meet targets, to have x number of exam passes etc or face losing their jobs/funding. I was so disappointed with the whole affair that I left primary and for a while, wanted to take my own children out of school!

But these problems, initiated in the early – and crucial - stages of education, are now filtering through to University level as well. I find a large proportion of my undergraduate students are unable to reason, or put forward an argument using evidence and research, let alone the decline in basic skills. Religion is another problem, as one student a few years ago took great offence when I was discussing the evolution of the vocal tract from apes to humans, saying they refused to be told they had evolved from a monkey. That aside, I find too many students, year on year, are increasingly narrow minded and lacking in basic written and verbal skills. Many of them have no concept of discovering answers for themselves and spend their first semester in shock at the fact that my job is to get them thinking, to give them avenues of enquiry to follow, to inspire them (one would hope!), and to turn them into independent learners, and not, as they all too often assume, to provide them with all the answers on a plate.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’ve heard proposals that the voting age should be reduced to 16, which is a terrifying thought for a whole host of reasons, not least because if they can’t even manage to read two opposing statements, and understand that the statements are in opposition, how on earth are they going to be able to make decisions that should be based on an in depth critique of each political party’s ethics, beliefs and policies weighed up against their own infomed opinions.

I remember reading an article in The Times Educational Supplement some years ago, about it snowing outside a primary classroom window, and what a shame it was that the teachers were unable to take the children out into the yard, to get them exploring their world hands on, and inspiring them to ask questions. Instead the children remained inside being drilled for SATs tests, to meet government targets and attain Levels – and no doubt being kept safe from the inherent dangers of snow!

We, as teachers, need to battle against bureaucracy, and do what we do best; share our love of learning, foster the enquiring mind, share and explore the world around us, and venture into the past – even if that means before 2,007 years ago. How on earth can we expect the future generation to know where it is going if it doesn’t even know where it came from? I despair at times, I really do!