Archive | August 2017

How standard is a standard?

It’s that time of year again when school children receive their exam results and politicians make speeches about maintaining ‘standards’. So let’s consider what we mean when we use the word ‘standard’. A lot of people are convinced that if a child has achieved a grade A or 9 or whatever it is they are calling it now, the level he or she has achieved will be the same as it was last year or the year before or even ten years ago. But it ain’t necessarily so.

Stand well clear, I’m going to bombard you with facts and statistics, but I’ll make them as painless as possible, for like everything else political, standards have been developed to fit certain situations.

Let me start with the 11+, which some of you will remember and will have taken. The standards set in every part of the country depended entirely on how many grammar school places there were in the area. In Sussex for example, 11% of the child population could be given a place in a grammar school. In South Wales it was 25%. In London it was 20% but the mark achieved by boys was lower than that required from girls because there were almost twice as many grammar schools for boys in London as there were for girls. The examiners had an easy task, the 11+ examinations came in three parts, English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning. All that was required was to add up the total of all three marks, type them out in rank order and count down the column until you had reached the number you could accommodate in your local schools. Simples as the meerkat would say.

Those of us who taught in London primary schools like my old darling, knew perfectly well that a lot of girls were ‘failed’ who were much more intelligent then some of the boys who passed. It was an unfair system and we brought in Comprehensive schools in an attempt to solve it and to give all our children a chance to succeed whenever they were ready for it.

 

When it came to O-Levels and A-Levels, which were then called ‘Lower school and Higher school certificates’, quite a lot of people – even some teachers – described them as being necessary to ‘sort out the sheep from the goats’. There was a time when you would not be allowed to take Higher schools unless you had ‘matriculated’ in Lower schools, which meant achieving a good pass in five key subjects, English, Maths, a Humanities, a foreign language and Science. And why was that? Well because there were simply not enough University places in the lesser universities to cater for more pupils – and by lesser universities they meant universities other than Oxford and Cambridge – to which we lesser mortals couldn’t possibly aspire.

There were a good many sociologists around in those days who spoke boldly about the fact that our education system was a means of social control. I think they were entirely right and anyone who studies Margaret Thatchers actions in the educational sphere, will surely see it. She spoke loudly to her potential electors about how she and her government would improve standards so well that over half the pupils in an academic year would be capable of going to university. It was the simplest thing in the world for her to achieve. All she had to do was to shift the boundaries between the grades, so that grades that had been A and B became A’s, C’s and some D’s became B’s, the rest of the D’s and E’s became C’s. I was teaching then and got the picture quite simply by comparing the results we had predicted with the results that were awarded.  I heard a whole chorus of meerkats saying ‘Simples’ that time.

As Mrs May would say, ‘A standard is a standard.’ Yeah, yeah!

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Hooray for Autumn!

I don’t know about you but I’ve had some really splendid crops in my garden this Autumn. One of the apple trees has fairly excelled itself and the blackberries have taken over the fruit garden. Blackberry and Apple crumble here we come!

Keats called Autumn, Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, which is accurate but a trifle gloomy. I prefer Andrew Marvell’s description because it’s so lush and so full of pleasures.

Andrew Marvell (The Garden)

What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head; 
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.

 

 

 

There is in fact a lot to be said for the Autumn of life, if it doesn’t sound too conceited to say so. We oldies have learnt enough if we’re lucky, to have sorted a few things out in our minds and to see that there is much to celebrate in every season, from the springtime of the delicious newborn to the gradual farewells of winter. I’m currently organizing another one of our family parties, to mark the fact that family Autumns are full of life.

The roses are already growing to decorate our tables.

 

 

Vanity and beyond

Some years ago I did some research  on a Vanity Publisher who operated from premises in Bognor Regis and was close to hand. I think I had a vague idea that he might make an interesting subject for a short story. It was certainly a revealing experience.

His HQ was a single storey building packed with piles of books so, while I was waiting for him to emerge from  his office and talk  to me, I turned some of them over and read the titles. ‘My life as a Brigadier’ ‘A Country Parson’ ‘My years in the Kasbah.’ ‘My life on the stage’, written by someone I’d never heard of, ‘Me and the Arab Sheik’. !!!  Time passed and the great man still hadn’t put in an appearance, so I opened some of them and read the first few paragraphs because that’s what I  always do when I’ve found a book I think I might want to read.  They were all, without exception, badly written, poorly spelled, full of cliches and excruciatingly boring.

But having started out on my charade, I decided to go on with it and when he finally arrived to shake my hand and usher me into his office, which was as dusty as his storeroom, and asked me how he could help me, I gave him a false name and wondered if he would be prepared to publish a book I had written. He didn’t ask to see it but said of course he would and proceeded to detail his terms. It soon became clear that it was going to cost me a great deal of money and that I would have to market the thing myself. No wonder he had so many books lying around in that storeroom. I thought of all those poor things who had fancied themselves as writers and hadn’t been able to sell their books. It all seemed very sad. I told him  I would think about it and get back to him if I was interested and drove home, feeling sorry for all those poor vain wannabees.

But it was certainly making a living for the dusty gentleman. I’d learnt enough about the cost of print to know that the price he was charging to print his books was exorbitant, even if you allowed for the rent he would have to pay for his seedy premises.

I haven’t thought about the gentleman or his dubious business for years, but this week I have discovered the latest twist in vanity publishing which has taken a further step into exploitation which I find deeply unpleasant.

I met a would-be writer at a local authors meeting who introduced herself to me, told me she’d written a book and that she wanted to have it published and, despite my attempts to deter her, insisted on telling me the entire story of the book blow by boring blow. But that was not all, worse was still to come. This week the lady sent me an email to remind me of her novel and to explain that she is hoping that SWWJ, Scriptora will take it on and publish it. But there was a snag, which she explained. ‘They require me to get, from two persons of literary standing, an endorsement stating that my work is worthy of publication. I have already got one such approval. Would you be willing to look at my manuscript and give it your consideration?’ 

Now I don’t know about you but I call that presumption. It would take me a considerable time to wade through a book I don’t particularly want to read and now that I am 86 my time is very precious to me. And I do wonder at the presumption of the vanity publisher who wants a ‘person of literary standing’ to read  through one of their proposed scripts and give it their blessing. That is the work of a sub-editor whom they should be employing and paying. from my point of view, I see it as the deliberate exploitation of a hardworking professional.

What do you think, all you professional writers out there?

 

 

This entry was posted on August 16, 2017. 2 Comments

Is bullying in our genes?

I found a story on Twitter this morning about some new scientific research which is examining bullies and victims and has discovered that bullies very rarely suffer from depression and that victims suffer from it a great deal. It wasn’t a surprise, I have to say. A bully shoves other people around in order to get his own way and once he’s got it he feels mighty pleased with himself and on top of the world.

 

Victims on the other hand are always having to give way to the bullies, even when they know that it isn’t sensible or safe to do so. Is it any surprise that they have very little sense of their own value and if they’re being heavily and frequently bullied have little or no sense of their worth at all. All of which leads to depression.

But sadly the research doesn’t seem to suggest any solutions. And we are now under the rule of some pretty formidable and dangerous bullies, Trump being the most powerful and therefore the worst of all. So what can any of us, non-bullying, ‘ordinary’, compassionate and loving people do to prevent the worst of their abuse or even – if only – find some way to stop it before it even begins.

 

 

I have met and watched the actions of several, formidable bullies during my long life-time and I’ve been asking myself this question for years. Three of them are pictured here. But there were and are plenty of others. The one answer that has always come into my mind is that the bully should be opposed and that in order to do it there need to be a great many of us and we need to be organised, determined and prepared to be hurt when we take action. It’s a very high price to pay.

Mahatma Gandhi led the way and he called the technique that he was asking his followers to use ‘non violent action’ or ‘Satyagraha’. In one terrifying and shameful incident in India his followers sat in the road, in front of well armed and determined British soldiers, to protest against the salt tax which they all felt was blatantly unfair and punitive.

The first row of the protesters were clubbed mercilessly until they were bloody and unconscious. Then their friends removed their bodies and the second row took over and were beaten in their turn. It was a terrible test of gentle protest against bullying brutality, but in the end the gentle protesters prevailed. The soldiers had beaten and bullied until their consciences began to worry them and eventually they stopped. The event was photographed by an American reporter and published in the American press. It caused an international stir and was a turning point in the long struggle for Indian independence which was eventually and inevitably granted in 1947.

Could we use Satyagraha now do you think?

This entry was posted on August 9, 2017. 1 Comment

I take my hat off to my new publishers.

They’re so quick they take my breathe away. I can’t keep up with them.

I’ve been working on ‘Citizen Armies’, which is the sequel to ‘Everybody’s Somebody’, off and on since five o’clock this morning – mostly on – and I was just thinking I would take time off for the pork pie that’s waiting for me in the fridge when I had an e-mail from my publisher to say  that Endeavour Press are putting  ‘Everybody’s Somebody’ up as an e-book today and to suggest that I might like to give it publicity on this blog.

I must confess that I sloped off to demolish the pork pie first because my mouth was watering for it and I was in parlously need of sustenance, but here  I  am back at my desk again and with my publicist’s hat on.

So here goes. As from August 2nd, anyone who doesn’t want to wait until the paperback of my new book comes out on September 1st, can buy it as an e-book. And while I’ve got my silly hat on, could I also ask you to do me a special favour and, if you’ve enjoyed it when you’ve read it, could you rate it and write a review? I’ve just found out that Amazon not only count reviews but take books and their authors more seriously the more 5 star ratings and reviews they are given.

In addition to the latest news on Everybody’s Somebody’, may I also tell  you that anyone who hasn’t yet read ‘Girl on the Orlop Deck’ and/or  ‘Francesca’s Mermaid’ and would like to, can buy them on Kindle for £2.99 or as paperbacks for £7.99.

End of commercial!!

 

This entry was posted on August 1, 2017. 4 Comments