My tuppence on #indyref

It should never have come to this and I don’t think there’s any denying that David Cameron’s arrogance in thinking the Scots wouldn’t have the guts to vote yes was what kept ‘devo max’ off the table. But we are where we are.

I love Scotland – I’ve lived and worked there – and I’ll be very sad if they leave the UK. That said, if I was a Scot, I’d be *very* tempted to vote yes.

Based on what I’ve read over the last few weeks, what would stop me doing that is the Yes campaign’s focus on optimism rather than detail. Here are some things that might pause me in my tracks:

- It’s not just oil: banking generates a huge revenue for Scotland (I’ve read it’s actually more than oil) and the banks are poised to move. Which isn’t surprising because…
– Unbelievably, the currency hasn’t been sorted out. The banks need the Bank of England.
– EU membership is not a shoe-in, despite Salmond’s view that Scotland is irresistible. Spain has already said it will use its veto.
– The SNP have admitted that postal rates will go up and that there will be a huge shortfall in the NHS. Admitted? Yes, admitted when presented with the facts. Shouldn’t they have been upfront about this?
– It’s unclear what level of the UK’s debt would fall to Scotland. That’s a very significant issue! (Although Salmond, unbelievably, has said he’d default on this debt if he can’t share the pound. Which in itself means a fiscal union, which is not independence!)
– Defence also appears a little vague, which should worry everyone.

It was Cameron’s failing that led to where we are but even if everything will be ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT after a Yes vote, Salmond has failed to establish this. There is a dearth of facts in some key areas. In fact, it’s a mess.

Like I say, I can’t criticise anyone voting yes – and it’s not my place to – especially as I’d be tempted to myself (as an inveterate optimist!). However, I don’t believe the facts are as clear as they *need* to be.

Whatever happens, I hope it’s for the best, today. Sadly, though, I don’t think it can be best for all of us.

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The rise of the troll

Foreword (posted 29th Jan)

Yesterday I had a lot of feedback about this post. Some was from people who appeared to understand my point and they were all positive about the post. Some related to @john_doe and resulted in me apologising to him and anonymising him. (More about this at the bottom of the post.) There were a couple of “conversations” that were entirely fruitless and I wish I hadn’t bothered with them; people simply haranguing you is pretty tiresome and tiring.

However, I did have one long conversation with another tweeter who asked me not to name them in this post. We talked about the term “troll” and how it is becoming used to casually, how it should be reserved for those people who display quite extreme behaviour and who are explicitly threatening and offensive. And I agree with this. @john_doe’s behaviour wasn’t “trolling” by that definition and I have made minor edits to the post below, removing the reference to him as a troll and a description of his activity as trolling.

I have left the (anonymised) tweets in place though because the behaviour still highlights what I was actually writing about, which is the lack of respect and manners on Twitter. The post was not about @john_doe or whether he was right to take issue with @QuintinForbes’ tweet (although it was about the manner in which he did it).

What follows is the original post with the two edits referred to above.

End of foreword.

Things are changing over at Facebook. Whether publicly stated or not, the company is concerned that young people are leaving in droves. Their playground come youth club has been invaded by their parents and grandparents, and, for them, it’s not the place it once was. Which may be no bad thing for Facebook and its shareholders: older people have more disposable income and perhaps now that advertising revenue will start to arrive in the desired quantities.

But this isn’t a post about Facebook; I’ve mentioned that purely to highlight the fact that social media sites do change in demonstrable ways and so perhaps when people have commented recently that Twitter is changing, then perhaps it’s not just nostalgia talking.

The way in which they say it’s changing is that it’s becoming a more hostile place. I’m not sure that’s entirely true but, equally, I’m not saying they’re wrong. Twitter’s always been a place with rough neighbourhoods: one doesn’t have to stray far from one’s timeline to find all sorts of unpleasantness. Furthermore, while the term ‘troll’ has slipped into common usage over the last year, the noun and those it identifies have been around since before I joined Twitter.

What has changed, of course, is the number of people using Twitter. And amongst those new users are more people who don’t see the need for etiquette and manners. They may form the same proportion of users but even then there are undoubtedly more of them. And some of those new tweeters, often those hiding behind anonymity, are particularly vile. (Although what’s notable is what cowardly specimens they turn out to be when ousted: see the cases of the trolls of Mary Beard and, more recently, Caroline Criado-Perez.)

However, for me personally, not much has changed. No one’s ever been really nasty to me, apart from some accidentally riled feminists, although from time to time someone will pick me up on something I’ve said but that’s always happened. The people for whom I think it has changed, those people who perhaps not coincidentally are the ones observing this shift, are those with a large number of followers.

In my experience, those with a lot of followers tend to fall into one of three categories: they are a celebrity or well-known through the media; an expert or authority in a given field; or they are funny. And for some reason, because these people are popular on Twitter, other people – “trolls” – seem to think they needn’t be polite or considerate when dealing with them.

What prompted me to write this today was an exchange between @QuintinForbes and another Twitter user. Now, I happen to think @QuintinForbes is the funniest man on Twitter. I try not to retweet him too often as the people who follow me must have got the message by now and are either following him or don’t want to.

Today, he posted the following tweet:

Capture11

I found that funny, favourited it and moved on.

Later on, I became aware of this reply to some people complimenting @QuintinForbes’s tweet:

Fen1

Now, I didn’t think the joke was homophobic. It’s not a joke I’d have made myself partly because I am terrified of causing unintentional offence but mainly because I’m not that funny. The challenge to @QuintinForbes was quite brusque and, I’d say, impolite. It’s evidence of the behaviour I’m talking about. @QuintinForbes responded as follows:

Fen5

And here comes the response from let’s call him @john_doe. Note that he has put a full stop in front of @QuintinForbes’s username. This is the point for me at which this becomes more unpleasant; the full stop ensures that all of @john_doe’s followers can see the conversation, not just those following him and @QuintinForbes. To me, it looks like ganging up.

Fen2

It’s also worth noting that @john_doe is under the impression that he represents all gay men. Not so.

Fen6

To which @john_doe simply responds:

Fen3

I assume Quintin had had enough by this point (I certainly would have) but he does go on to tweet:

Capture17 Capture19

Meanwhile, @john_doe tweets:

Fen4

Thus, having been unpleasant and rude, @john_doe then blocks @QuintinForbes, as if to say to his followers that @QuintinForbes was the one who had been pestering him! He also uses the term ‘uncle tom’ – by which I assume he means to imply @QuintinForbes is a stereotyped gay man, which is unnecessary and unfounded – but which is a term in itself which I believe is far more offensive to black people. @john_doe is evidently happy to take offence but is less concerned about giving it.

I’ve provided this lengthy example to highlight what kind, decent people whose only intention is to make people laugh are having to put up with: people telling them their jokes aren’t funny or telling them what they meant by their joke. Whilst it might not be trolling as such, it strikes me that this is the thin edge of the wedge.

Last week, a chap just a nice as Quintin, @mrnickharvey, was driven off Twitter by trolling, another victim of one person’s need to address their own – apparently significant – failings by anonymously persecuting those who just want to bring a bit of happiness into other people’s lives.

I really wish I had a solution to all this but, of course, I don’t. What I will say to all those popular, funny, well-intentioned people, is please don’t let these trolls, ranging from the impolite and rude through to the vicious and threatening, drive you off Twitter. If you go, they will have won.

Post script Subsequent to publishing this post, @QuintinForbes has told me that he first tweeted his ‘Fruit toast’ joke in 2012 and none of his gay followers has ever taken offence before.

Update, 28th Jan (the next day), at 22:45

So, I learnt a few things today. Firstly, that people hear the word troll and think immediately of the extreme end of trolling. That being the case,  I shouldn’t have called @john_doe a troll. However, his exchange did illustrate what I was trying to point out: the lack of respect, politeness and consideration that I see more and more on Twitter. And, of course, I accepted that that I had not shown respect, politeness or consideration for @john_doe in using his tweets. I’ve apologised for that and changed the post to use @john_doe as the name.

Secondly, I’ve learnt that no matter how patient you are, some people will not enter a discussion but simply carry on having an argument. I wasted a lot of time on that, this afternoon. But, for the record, I was not saying that @john_doe was trolling in his initial tweet to @QuintinForbes (although I think that’s clear in the post).

And I’ve remembered that everyone has family and friends and partners, and when you upset one person, you upset a lot. (People around me have been similarly angered by the tweets to me and comments on this post.) So, be more considerate (see point 1).

There have been a few people willing to discuss this with me and I’m grateful for that. And at least I tried with those who wouldn’t talk to me, just at me.

There is one final huge irony to all this, especially since I’ve been called a hypocrite by more than one person today, and that relates to @john_doe’s reply to @QuintinForbes. Remember this:

Fen2Here are some tweets from @john_doe’s timeline two weeks earlier:

unnamed

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For richer, for poorer

My approach to money was evident from a very early age: I saw it as a method of obtaining things I wanted and I had no interest in hoarding it. This attitude was evident and constant from the age when I was given pocket money through to when I earned it for myself. At the age of sixteen, for example, when I earned £10 a week working in the kitchens at BHS, I would go out at lunchtime and spend the lot on a combination of albums (£3.99), 12″ singles (£1.99) and singles (£0.99). (And how I enjoyed those journeys home on the bus looking at my spoils!)

Later, at university, I became acquainted with both overdrafts and credit cards, and consequently spent my holidays earning money to pay of the spending of the previous term. I’m not sure this was entirely reckless – I knew I’d pay the money back – but I found it easier to spend money that I would owe rather than money I’d earnt.

I wasn’t that long out of university before I was married and having children. Quite a lot of children. I don’t think my wife’s attitude to money was much worse than mine but the fact that she was now spending money that I would have to repay caused a terrible amount of friction in our marriage. And, in truth, she ran up some significant debts clothing and entertaining four small children and herself.

All through this time, certainly from shortly after our first daughter was born, I was working as an IT freelancer, earning more with each contract so that we were always able to service our debt, and the chickens only really came home to roost when we divorced and I was suddenly confronted with the full consolidated amount. And solely responsible for it.

But I’m a chap who has more than his fair share of luck and it was around this time that I pretty much doubled what I was earning and, for once in my life, I forgot about spending and concentrated on clearing the debt. And then, abruptly, after a couple of years, the debt was gone and suddenly all this money coming into my bank account was mine. Life was good. We did up the house, which was run down when I bought it, went on holiday and generally enjoyed having some cash.

Now, for years I’d dreamt of running my own business and I’d had a little hobby company  alongside my day job for a few years. In 2004 I suddenly had an amazing opportunity to make that hobby company my full time job and, without too much consideration, I took it. I employed some people and everything went well for a while before I began to realise that I was out of my depth. There’s a book called something like “The E-myth” which is all about people who start businesses because they are good at something and ignore the fact that they’ve no experience of running a company. Well, that was me.

I’ll spare you the details of the company’s fall from grace but suffice to say that I had to remortgage my house to pay the salaries whilst we struggled to deliver the work we had to the quality we wanted, but never making a profit. By this stage I had stopped paying myself. My second wife, who stuck with me all through this, bought the food, whilst I tried to keep the bailiffs from the door, the telephone connected, the electricity flowing and a roof over our head.

This was stressful enough in itself but at the same time I tried to keep up appearances. My daughters still had all their music lessons and, in our social life, I bought rounds of drinks I could barely afford. Couldn’t afford, in fact. I’ve always been a sound sleeper but now I found myself waking at two o’clock every morning to lie there worrying. And I’ve always enjoyed a drink but now, for the first and only time in my life, I found myself drinking to relax, downing a couple of glasses of wine within minutes of walking in through the door. My wife wanted me to go back to working freelance but I had all these people relying on me for their salaries.

And I learnt something else during this time, which is the appalling way in which our society permits businesses to behave towards their debtors. Credit card companies who didn’t ring me during the week would ring me six or seven times on my home and mobile ‘phones at the weekend to harass me about payments. The mortgage company, scenting a mortally wounded customer, were interested only in repossessing the house and not in talking to me about ways in which I could restructure my payments. It was hellish.

But I stuck with it. My company’s ethos and approach to business began to pay dividends. Our problem changed from “where’s the work coming from” to managing cash flow, in itself a huge problem for small businesses but trivial compared with the prospect of going bankrupt.

So, these days I can’t complain. I get paid regularly along with everyone else and those credit card bills are getting cleared. I can’t remember the last time the mortgage company had to call. That said, I recently had some confusion regarding my council tax that resulted in a debt collection company getting involved. In the end I went into South Lakeland District Council to sort it out, which we did to our mutual satisfaction. Oh, except there’s still the bill for the debt collection agency.

I spent a couple of minutes cogently explaining just why I shouldn’t have to pay this bill: I had been in communication with SLDC at the time, trying to sort the matter out. There was simply no reason for involving a debt collection agency and, therefore, no reason why I should pay for them being invoked by the council. We argued. I didn’t lose my temper, I rebutted and, eventually, the fine – for that’s what it amounted to – was waived. My issue here being that SLDC simply invoked the debt collection agency at the time because I wouldn’t submit to their (erroneous) arguments. An action they then expected me to pay for.

So, it’s been a weird few years. I went from being well off to experiencing the unsympathetic attitude and, at times, aggression that businesses will display to those who are in a parlous financial situation. I was certainly broke and yet do remember that I always had the safety net of returning to the freelance world if I needed it. That wasn’t much solace at the time, for a variety of reasons (including not wanting to admit I’d made a mistake) but I can’t imagine what it’s like not having that option, of having nothing to lighten a bleak future, no cause for optimism.

And now I see the wealthy in power, screwing the poor and the disadvantaged, whilst the middle classes do nothing, perhaps grateful that Osborne’s ideological cannons are not trained on them.

In conclusion then, I’ve been poor – although not in poverty – for several years this last decade. It seems now that I was always optimistic but a moment’s reflection recalls so many dark days and anxious, sleepless nights. And the worst thing was not the worry about looking after my family but the stress induced by the companies that will all rely on to make our lives work. Believe me, without fail, they are all bastards.

PS The Co-op, the ethical Co-op, was the worst of all.

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Read, Rewind, Replay, Rant

[Read]
I had a very pleasant day, today. I had a coffee and some sausages for breakfast, made a quick call to the office and then cycled over to the house to spend the day with Dan and Abi.

Dan had a half-term tennis club at 10:30, so Abi and I walked down into Kirkby Lonsdale and had a J2O and a coffee in The Royal Hotel before heading back up to Booths to buy some lunch and also some mince and kidney beans for my dinner.

We’d hoped to go to the cinema but the bus times and screenings didn’t work out so we spent the first half of the afternoon at the house, first eating lunch – sausages and crisps! – and then drawing (them) and dozing (me). At three o’clock, we walked back down into town and Hannah gave us a lift back to the cottage, where we read and played chess in front of the fire, with a short break for a couple of Hobnobs.

Their mum picked us all up at about half-five and I had a short bout of dealing with three of my older daughters regarding insurance for the car they share before going for a swim and then cycling home.

As I write this, I’m eating the chilli I made myself when I got in, having had a handful of peanuts to stave off the hunger pangs when I arrived home.

All sounds pretty pleasant and innocuous, right.

[Rewind]

[Replay]
I had three sausages for breakfast. They come in packs of six at £2.85, so that’s around £1.40. Let’s call it £1.50 and pretend that would cover the coffee, too.

When Abi and I went into The Royal, that cost another £4.50.

The shopping at Booths came to £10.23, which was for lunch for the three of us and my dinner.

A pack of Hobnobs costs a pound and I think there’s probably around fifteen in a pack so, let’s say it was 25p for the four we ate.

I swam at the local heath club, at which I’m a member, but let’s say it would have cost £3 at a leisure centre (it would have been £3.60 in Kendal).

That’s £19.48 for the day.

[Rant]
I could have bought cheaper sausages, that’s for sure. Maybe we do want people eating cheap food and keeping that market buoyant with all the health scares, cattle destruction and horse meat that goes with that. Maybe we do want people eating those foods linked with obesity and diabetes.

Abi and needn’t have had coffee and a J2O at The Royal. That’s beginning to look like the real luxury of the day, although Dan’s tennis also qualifies.

And, of course, there’s no real need to go swimming and keep in good shape is there? The NHS can pick up the bill for that in the long run.

So I could have done the day on £11.98 even without resorting to cheaper food.

Of course, I didn’t feed the kids in the evening, or indeed, give them their breakfast this morning, so there’s that cost to be added.

It all makes IDS’s £53 a week look a bit bloody stupid, doesn’t it?

And I’ve not included the fact that my house was lit and heated (roughly £3 per day) or taken my broadband into account (about a pound a day) or the firewood that we burnt. Today we didn’t need to buy any clothes, so that was lucky.

We’d also talked about going to the cinema, which would have come to over £30 for our bus fares and tickets, never mind the cost of popcorn.

And having spent an hour talking about insurance and taking into account the cost of petrol, I’m damn sure you couldn’t run a car on £53 a week.

In conclusion then, if you’re one of those people who’s faced with living on £53 a week, I think you’ll need to give up your car and doing nice things with your family. You’ll have to stick with the clothes you have and get used to wearing a lot of them at once in the winter. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where there are jobs and there’s nothing preventing you from working, you’ll have to put some of your money aside for the bus and maybe borrow some smart clothes.

It’s all a bit pathetic, isn’t it? I see IDS is dismissing the petition for him to live on £53 a week as “a stunt”, claiming that he has been unemployed twice. Ah, beware anecdotes from this man who lied about his degree on his CV.

Here he is in today’s Guardian talking about finding himself unemployed:

“It was a shock – absolutely awful. I felt pathetic. I remember telling my wife. We looked at each other and she said: ‘God, what are we going to do for money?”

So how did our plucky little soldier with the “can do” attitude manage? Read on:

“Duncan Smith’s wife, Betsy, is the daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe who served as lord-lieutenant of Buckinghamshire in the 1980s and 1990s. Duncan Smith and his wife, who sent their children to Eton, moved into Lord Cottesloe’s 17th-century Old House in the village of Swanbourne in Buckinghamshire in 2002. His in-laws moved into smaller accommodation to make way for the Duncan Smiths and their four children.”

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

I understand why the LibDems went into the coalition: I’ve heard it first hand from MPs and senior people in the party. Maybe that decision was based on good faith and maybe it was – at a stretch – the right thing to do at the time. BUT IT WAS THE WRONG DECISION. It’s time to face up to that, dissolve the coalition and tackle these vile bastards head on.

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Odeon: passionate about profits.

Yes, OK, Odeon, why don’t we talk about being “fanatical about film”?

For a start, I’m not a film nerd; I couldn’t tell you who produced most of the films I love, although I do sometimes look them up on IMDB. (The actors I can tell you, OBVIOUSLY; I’ve watched the films. Duh!)

BUT I DO LOVE FILMS.

When I lived in Edinburgh, I used to go to the cinema two, sometimes three times a week. I’d walk home from work, put some food in the oven to roast, go for a run, come home, shower, eat and then walk across the city to the Cameo or the Filmhouse or the Dominion. I saw all the major films, loads of minor ones and some that, despite their excellence, I’m surprised ever saw the light of day (Hello! Atanarjuat – The Fast Runner.)

And then at the weekends, I’d take my daughters to the cinema. One week, I went to the cinema five times! Honestly, I am your perfect potential customer.

So, anyway, if we’re talking “fanatical about film”, Odeon, I think I’m qualified to be in the conversation.

On Sunday, I took my son to your Odeon in Preston to see The Amazing Spider-Man. He loves the cinema, too. That’s good for you, isn’t it, Odeon? People growing up, seeing the value of the cinema experience over watching DVDs at home. Yes, right. We’ll come back to this point in a minute.

So, we went in and went to the front desk to buy our tickets. “Two for The Amazing Spider-Man, please” I said, indicating Dan at my side. You know, one adult, one child. “Would you like premium seats?” I was asked but I thought, no, by the time we’ve bought snacks and drinks, it’ll be twenty quid. “No, thank you.” I replied.

“That will be nineteen pounds and ten pence, including your 3D glasses, please.”

NINETEEN POUNDS AND TEN PENCE. For a man and his son to go and see a film.

But I paid, of course.

And then we paid £4.50 for some dorritos and cheap cheese dip (“nachos”) and £2.65 for some carbonated water flavoured with cheap syrup.

£26.25 to see Spider-Man.

Anyway, I put that to one side. It was paid, we were in, we were going to enjoy the film together (which we did; it was brilliant, especially Martin Sheen).

But at the end of the adverts, there was an infomercial, or whatever they’re called, showing a closed down cinema, the deserted auditorium interspersed with shots of people watching films: people enjoying the cinema vs the decaying, unused theatre. The subtext was clearly that something valuable was being lost. Something enjoyable and precious was under threat.

And do you know what the message was, at the end of the clip? Don’t buy pirated movies.

You idiots. YOU BLOODY IDIOTS!

It’s not pirates that are keeping people out of the cinemas, it’s your ridiculous prices, which mean that an ordinary family can’t afford to go to the cinema on a Sunday afternoon. Have you ever heard of EasyJet? Lower your prices, Odeon, and fill your cinemas. You can make far more money – which is clearly your passion, not films – by getting LOADS of people into your movie-houses.

I love films. LOVE them. I’ve been taking my children to the cinema for twenty years and now I can barely afford to.

You idiots. Fanatical about film? No, passionate about profits.

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Why I think Michael Gove is an idiot and a class warrior.

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Gove – Secretary of State for Education – announced a return to the old exam system, ‘O’ level style, where people would study a topic for two years and then take exams at the end. This set me thinking.

About fifteen years ago, when I still worked freelance, I picked up a contract to work in Asda’s IT department. Since I was in need of a job, this was rather good news. There’s just one thing, though, the recruitment agent told me, you have to go and sit English and Maths aptitude tests. Aptitude tests. Exams in disguise.

So I went along to the head office in Leeds, where a nice young lady from HR sat me down and explained that everyone who worked at Asda had to take these basic tests. She was sure, she smiled at me, that I wouldn’t have any problem but it was just part of the process. Furthermore, she said that there was no need to worry. Perhaps she said that to everyone, or perhaps she was just sensitive to my advanced state of agitation. Either way, she explained that she would start each paper by asking me a sample question and, if I got it wrong, then she would say, “Perhaps you’d like to think about that again”.

I can’t remember if we started with the English or the Maths but both times she gave me the warm up question and each time I gave my confident response, followed by her saying, sympathetically, “Perhaps you’d like to think about that again”. Now as it happens, I passed both tests and modesty precludes me from telling you just how well I did on the Maths paper but I hated the entire experience and left the office a perspiring wreck.

Indeed, whenever I am stressed or about to take on something new, it is not uncommon for me to have bad dreams of the type where I arrive at school to find there is a really important exam, requiring lots of revision, which I knew nothing about. I’ve met loads of people who have a similar experience, so it’s clear that the trauma of exams is something that haunts many people.

Sadly, my son appears to have inherited my anxiety; he had a piano exam today and the ability with which he could play his pieces has, over the week, deteriorated from a breezy confidence to a level of syncopation that isn’t indicated in the sheet music.

Quite apart from my intense dislike of exams, though, it strikes me that they are a very ineffective way in which to measure someone’s competence. A teacher is well placed to assess a pupil’s aptitude and how well they are learning a subject, a subject that the teacher will know well. Exam papers on the other hand are sent off to be marked by people of varying degrees of competence and it’s not uncommon for papers to be returned to be remarked and to come back with a completely different result. At the school at which I am a governor, for example, we went through a period where the results from the AS English papers were consistently at odds not only with the pupils’ predicted grades but also their final A level grades, which, amazingly, did reflect their teacher’s predictions.

So, exams as a good method of assessing ability: fail.

One of the aspects of the modern system that Gove objected to was their modular nature. By this method a pupil studying a topic could resit modules until they passed. By way of analogy, let’s look at learning to drive. Let’s say you are excellent at reversing ’round corners and doing three point turns but you are also, unfortunately, a risk to the general public when it comes to roundabouts. The fact that you find managing the indicator whilst turning the wheel a bit of a challenge doesn’t mean you haven’t mastered the other aspects of driving, you just need to focus on the one that causes you problems. (And whilst we’re exploring this analogy, it’s worth making the point that it makes no sense for an instructor to put you forward to take your test before you’re ready but look how many people fail under the exam conditions of the test.) Thus, if I was learning Physics and couldn’t get my head around, say, magnetism, what’s the point of me repeatedly sitting a paper full of other things I know instead of focussing on the one I don’t?

Gove seems to think this modular approach makes it too easy. Perhaps what he really means is that it supports children in large classes in state schools. Or perhaps what I mean is that I have an inherent suspicion of Tory education policy. But I digress.

Finally, I’d like to briefly look at the way the world works or at least the part of it in which I am involved. Recently at work, we undertook a project that involved some technology that we hadn’t used before. Consequently, we did a lot of research and our development involved a bit of trial and error. At no point did I say to anyone “Well, you’ve studied that technology now, so you have to build the application without further reference to the online guides and manuals.” Of course I bloody didn’t. We have access to information pretty much whenever we need it. The modern skill set is based around taking in new information and learning to apply knowledge, not about learning things by rote.

Yes, there are specific instances where information has to be learned and retained – vocabulary for languages springs to mind – but even here, what exactly is being tested? Surely it’s about comprehension and usage? If you have an interest in language, then you will acquire the vocabulary as you go along, certainly by the time you have selected the topics for GCSE or A level.

I think that modern system is great. More assessment by the teacher who is instructing the pupils, opportunities to revisit topics that cause a pupil difficulty and, ultimately, a confidence in the pupil that they are able to learn and apply themselves.

Gove wants to return to a discredited age where one’s success can depend on one’s ability to “cram” information and one’s facility with examinations. The teachers’ role is reduced to preparing people for exams, rather than working with pupils, helping each work in their own way to take in information and to be assessed by the person who best comprehends the pupils’ understanding of a topic.

It’s too late change this now. The next Year 10 intake will return to this “linear” style of education and exam taking. I don’t know of any teachers who believe this is beneficial. Gove, as it happens, has no experience in education apart from what he has acquired since taking his current role two years ago. His Academy programme has yet to deliver the rotten fruit that is its inevitable output, as schools realise their budgets can only be met by reducing staff numbers. Who will benefit from this? Only that minority of pupils at the few state schools lucky enough to have a strong business team but also the majority of pupils  at private schools.

I’m not paranoid, I’ve never sold the Socialist Worker, but there is no mistaking the Tory agenda here. Whatever their failings, New Labour opened the door to social mobility in this country and the current government is doing its best to slam it before too many people sneak through.

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When the future dries up. (Well, has it?)

This morning I took my youngest to see The Pirates, which we rather enjoyed, the voice actors saving it from being a bit Aardman by numbers. As we came out I saw an advert for the rebooted Spiderman franchise and then this poster for the Top Cat movie. (My daughter, Abi, is helpfully pointing it out for you in the photo.)

This made me feel a bit low, to be honest. It’s not often I find myself quoting Bono but there is a line I like in U2’s song ‘God Pt II‘ that runs “You glorify the past/ When the future dries up”. Whatever the dictionary definition of decadence (oh, all right: “marked by decay or decline” and “characterized by or appealing to self-indulgence”) to me it always suggests a lack of forward momentum. Resting on one’s laurels seems a form of decadence to me and that is where we seem to me to be in cinema at the moment.

Of course, that may simply be symptomatic of the fact I don’t go to the cinema very much, these days. When I worked in Edinburgh, I’d go two if not three times a week, spreading the love across the Dominion, Cameo and Filmhouse. And then I did get to see films like ‘Warm Water Under A Red Bridge’ and ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’.

As ever, when thinking about the arts, my mind to turned to music. My dad played me a lot of music when I was young and I could hear the difference between, say, Elvis, Johnny Cash and Eddie Cochran, and The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Simon and Garfunkel. Some of this was, no doubt, down to the recording techniques and sound quality but also a lot of it was down to what was being done with the music. Buddy Holly was clearly ahead of his time, in this respect, but it was clear that, for example, the much (and, probably, rightly) maligned ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, was a different beast from ‘Love Me Do’. My point is that music had a strong and apparent forward momentum and an enthusiasm amongst those who were making it, resulting in some incredibly constructive competition.

In 1979 I made my first clear break from the music that I discovered through my dad when my friend Adrian Coe played me Madness’s ‘One Step Beyond’. I fell in love with the band immediately. (I did like other ska bands but The Specials were a bit too serious, Bad Manners too far the other way.) It was exciting music, clever and funny, plus there was the whole gang within the band element of The Nutty Boys.

However, 1979 was also the year I bought ‘Are Friends Electric’ and discovered electronic music. I’ve documented my love of those early electronic bands elsewhere on this blog but my point is that, actually, this was a period of amazing innovation, musically. Some of this seemed instinctive – Shriekback – some quite self-conscious – Peter Gabriel – but there were many bands in between, such as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Devo, Talking Heads and, of course, Simple Minds to name just a handful. To me, 1978 to 1981/2 was pretty much the best time for music but there still appeared to be a forward trend after this specific period. Even The Smiths, who always seemed to have an eye on the past, were creative in forging a new sound.

It was sampling that first struck me as indicative of a creative decline – a decadence, in fact – even if some of those tracks were very good. This phenomenon reached its nadir with the sampling of entire songs to sing over, although, again, I still found room in my heart to love Sugarbabes’ ‘Freak Like Me’ and Richard X’s ‘Finest Dreams’. But I think what really disappointed me was the arrival of Oasis who looked to The Beatles not just for inspiration but also for templates.

Since then I have enjoyed many new albums but I find myself going to gigs by bands I’ve loved for years and buying CDs by groups that already feature in my record collection (as we used to call it in olden days). I want to hear new music. I don’t just mean songs I haven’t heard before I mean styles of music that are fresh, new and different.

In the same way that the conservatism of the film industry has led to formulaic storylines, films defined clearly by genre, so the music industry repressed musical innovation. But with the advent of the web and then social media, not to mention affordable high quality home recording, so I’d hoped to hear a proliferation of new music. Maybe it’s out there and I just don’t get to hear it.

I’m always happy to take a recommendation of a great new band, album or song, but can anyone recommend to me some new music? I’m not looking for stuff that’s difficult – I’m a great lover of pop – but just music that will excite me because it’s different from what I’ve heard before.

Thanks, in anticipation.

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