Thursday, 18 October 2007

It's OK - I did my best to write a short entry

As I approached the Wendover CE Secondary School, I was greeted by three boys in the red toped school uniform. Five steps later three girls smiled at me and said welcome. It was clear the head master was intent on impressing us, “prospecting parents”. The short rout to the main hall was lined with more pupils. Later I learned that they were all prefects or something to that effect. After the Head made his introduction, teams of the children took small groups of the prospecting parents around the school. I was led around by three very enthusiastic girls. I could not wait to ask them about the 11+ exams. It seems they just had them. I was not surprised to hear that two of them had extra tuition towards the 11+ arranged by their parents. You will probably consider me na├»ve when I tell you I was surprised when the Head told me that (a) he was not allowed to supply me with statistics about the 11+ and that (b) state schools are not allowed to coach and prepare the kids for the exams. OK, I can see why that is so. But he did tell me that not all the children sit the tests, and a parent I spoke to implied she would not push her daughter. Then the penny dropped and now I think I understand why Brits do not know how to appreciate food and why it is practically impossible to see here women dress chicly.

Ever since we came to live in England, my wife and I have been trying to figure out why do most people here eat bland, tasteless, unattractive food. I know this is a dangerous statement. Each time I said it, I was told how wrong I am. But when I requested proof it most always was either very expensive or in London. London is NOT England. It is a country of its own. When we came to Wendover we could not find locally any good bread and don’t get me started on the sausages. There is an abundance of good produce to use. But for some inexplicable reason it is processed in a very bizarre way.

I always thought it is a legacy from the rationing after WWII. Today the penny dropped. Yes the Brits embrace entrepreneurs and eccentrics, but a drive for excellence does not seem to be a national trait. Yes, there are always the exceptions. I had a wonderful fish and chips in Wales (and in Aylesbury, the one in the centre of town), the new manager of our local Budges has introduced much improved lines of bread and cheese and the chocolateir (Rumsey’s) is a heavenly singularity point. But these are exceptions. If you want to experience really good and cheep food you must go to any patisserie in France (I found some good Cartoons), any sandwich shop in Austria or any food stall & store in India, Turky or Greece.

I grew up in an environment where academic merit was a value. No matter how challenged one was at school, one aimed to go to university. There are always the non scientific subjects that do not require being at top school. I was never told by my parents they expected me to obtain a degree but even our cleaner was studying towards a “General BA”. When I thought in the open university I came across all echelons of society. I had in the same class soldiers who wanted to improve their chances to be accepted to very sought out universities sitting with working class 40 year old mums who wanted to find fulfilment though their studies and to expand their horizons.

So, I hear you ask, how are the two linked? The answer is that they are both derivatives of that oh-so-annoying phrase “It’s OK love, it doesn’t matter you came last in class. What counts is that you did your best”. It does not matter that the Millennium celebrations encountered many hitches – we did our best. It does not matter we have a relatively low rate of young people aspiring for an academic degree – we are doing our best as a nation. It does not matter the NHS is not providing the service it should, that it is practically impossible to find an NHS dentist and that you go to hospital to catch a deadly disease – everybody is doing their utmost best. It does not matter that the new developments in Wendover and Aylesbury have no visionary design – someone is doing his best to comply with the requirements ….

Imagine you are watching a 400 meter sprint race. After the interview with the glowing winner the attention is turned to the runner who came second. Now close your eyes and judge these alternative response:
“That was a good race, I really enjoyed it, I know I gave it my best”
“I gave it all I hade. I will work hard to improve my best. Next time I will win”
On whom will you put your money for the next race?
The excuse of “I did my best” is a euphemism for “I don’t really need to work hard – I will be forgiven if I just puff my cheeks and make enough noise as if I am trying”, “It is ok to be mediocre as long as you enjoy it”. And from that one learns it is ok to eat mediocre food, wear mediocre clothes and live in a cupboard size room.

I think this attitude started to prevail when the Brits stopped exploring and absorbing other’s cultures. So what we really need is to go out there to Europe and the world and learn from the migrants who come to live here.

Once I checked a heraldry book for my mother’s family name, Schomberg. Though it is highly unlikely that any blue blood runs in my veins, I found a crest that really spoke to me. It had the motto: Persevere!

I just received an email from a friend that just fits in her so well:
What has happened to those imaginative plans, which came from listening to all the various groups from the Canal society to Aylesbury Society to say nothing of the Town council
Who produced the plan which had a wide pedestrian bridge sweeping across Exchange Street? The plan that emerged from all this creative thought was timid and meaningless. it bore no relationship to the interesting linked squares.It has swept away the Old electricity show rooms and the Ship for a boring canyon of shop fronts and the Canal is fronted by mediocre dwellings,and cloned cafes, while the AVDC Office workers are banished from the town Centre, as if, in shame!
This is the second time I have seen old Aylesbury destroyed. There might have been a little excuse in the sixties, this wholesale destruction had not happened before. I well remember my horror when I read the headline in the Bucks Herald which quoted an Aylesbury Borough Councillor saying , in effect, "Aren't we lucky these nice developers are building us a lovely new Shopping Centre "Ugh! The Tory District Councillors should have learnt from this earlier mistake, but they were far too busy condemning the County Tower, and all its inhabitants, to build on the creative ideas which came from the initial consultations
Banning the council offices from the Centre of the town will have a negative effect on the vibrancy of the town. One of the good things about working in the centre of Aylesbury is that the workers can go and shop and find a green patch on which to sit and eat a sandwich, relaxing away from the office.
We have lost what little green space there was. The Rec is but a fraction of the green space before the Reg Maxwell pool and the car park encroached upon it. The council should of concentrated on designing in and demanding pleasant open spaces. Infact they should have looked at the O'Rourke Study.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Drowning My Mistakes in Base Tone Slap

The subject of music in schools as an educational tool was mentioned today in Question Time (BBC4). As usual, a hidden presumption was that creativeness is being artistic & musical. All seemed to think that this is in contradiction to learning to read, write, do math and concentrate on the educational targets. I view creativeness as applying the power of association to come up with something surprising. Thus, not every piano player is creative. Some are no more than good technicians. Artisans and artists are to be found not only in what is commonly conceived as creative occupations. I have encountered very creative mathematicians, engineers and programmers.

Anyhow, I never considered myself creative in spite of my mother’s efforts in my childhood. However, I do regret not sticking to my guitar studies. I was not really encouraged to persevere. only much later I discovered my trait to doggedly peruse anything I start. My wife, on the other hand, is a good example of a person who has mastered the use of both sides of her brain. She obtained an engineering degree in electronics, an MBA and taught herself programming. I do not know how she goes about her day job but I can see the results of the many hobbies she peruses. The latest is gardening. She combined her analytical and research capability’s to study the subject, and then went about creating a garden that is not your bog-standard English house garden. We do not have a big patch but it is stunning. I hope she will place many pictures of the garden in her blog.

As part of my mid-life crisis I decided to try and improve my left mind ability. This blog is part of this attempt. Today I attended an African Drumming workshop. I only recently discovered I like Drums. I remember (when I was about 10 years old) a chapter of the Muppets where a drummer was Kermit’s guest. He held a drumming competition with Animal. It didn’t grab me. I got hooked about 5 years ago when I saw the Kodo group in a parade in Copenhagen. Since I came to Wendover I encountered a few times groups paying African drums. The Wendover Parish Council even organizes an event for kid on the Manor Waste where they experience African Drumming. So today I had a hands-on experience.

I enjoyed the workshop but not only because of the drumming. There is a certain pleasure in being part of a group all pulling in the same direction. Moreover, no one noticed my many mistakes as the group sound covered up my ineptitude. It is an interesting mirco-model for me to apply to other situations.

For instance, The group drumming model could be applied to another issue discussed today on Question Time: the court order on the showing of Al Gore film about climate change. The analogy works as a ‘creative activity’ such as drumming (or science) could drown both the lousy drummers and the eccentric ones who want to explore new thoughts.

Such... is the respect paid to science that the most absurd opinions may become current, provided they are expressed in language, the sound of which recalls some well-know scientific phraseJames Clerk Maxwell (1831-79)

Drumming links:

Monday, 1 October 2007

A Blue Robin Hood?

I can’t believe my ears. I just heard on the news that those socialists have just said they would scrap the Inheritance Tax. Hang on, let me check it out in detail. Hmm... , Mr Osborne is just talking about raising the cut-off point. So there is no real principle behind this. They are just trying to pamper to the masses’ wishes. Clutching at straws and mumbling a prayer to the all mighty brown “Please hold on the elections – we are not ready”.
All the arguments I have heard until now in favour of the Death Duties are lame. It is an unjust and un-defendable tax. Keeping the tax but applying it only to the very rich, as those desperate fools are proposing, is an offence against a very basic rule – KEEP IT SIMPLE. Or in Public School speak “Apply Occam's Razor.” Keeping the Tax means that someone has to maintain a body of rules and regulations, dedicated civil servants will be kept busy and, of course, an army of accountants and lawyers will be able to pay for their children’s high education through the exorbitant fees they will be able to keep billing. Not to mention the fact that it would be oh-so-easy to lower the threshold again.

And if you are asking, No! I do not think Mr. Brown should waist my money on gambling with early elections. Once in five years is the going tariff for democracy here. I would let the Blue/Green Hoody cross dressing as Robin trying to cover up his origins (Do not forget Maggie).

Abolish it. And for Valen’s sake, keep the red tape to minimum.