Monday, 21 April 2014

Some 'I'm glad YouTube wasn't invented' moments

Today's headline in The Telegraph reads,

"School pupils trolling teachers with 'vile' abuse on Facebook and Twitter"

Apparently one in five teachers have suffered in this way and even parents are posting up bad things about their children's teachers. What happened to the days when teaching was a respected profession?

I was a teacher for about 20 years. I don't think I was particularly bad at my job. It's just that all of us teachers have had those 'I'm glad YouTube wasn't invented' moments. In fact, I'm going to share two of mine with you now.

'I'm glad YouTube wasn't invented' Moment 1:

I trained as a History teacher at a time when History was 'out of fashion'. I had to teach Integrated Humanities instead and hated it. My first 'I'm glad YouTube wasn't invented' moment came towards the end of a Sociology lesson with a large class of unenthusiastic 15 year olds. I was showing them slides - yes that dates me - illustrating the Concentric Zone Theory of City development. I was just finishing the presentation when the bell went for break time. The class leapt to their feet, knocked my pile of slides to the floor as they rushed for the door and trod on my fingers as well as the slides. It only took a moment and it was a long time ago but I've never forgotten it. Neither have I forgotten the way the staff room was reduced to tears as I retold the event, but had there been a mobile phone in that room switched to Record... I dread to think of the consequences.

I soon retrained and spent the rest of my teaching career as a Primary School Teacher working with children from 7 to 11. Yes, that age group are kinder, easier to handle but there have still been some of those moments.

'I'm glad YouTube wasn't invented' Moment 2:

The newly introduced Science Curriculum insisted that we teach basic aerodynamics. How else can you teach a class of 8 to 9 year olds about aerodynamics other than by making paper aeroplanes. I should, of course, have warned the Head of my plans - this was in the days when we didn't have to submit plans in advance - and you can guess his reaction when he came into my classroom followed by two rather formal-looking visitors only to be caught in the crossfire of paper aeroplane battles from all corners of the room.

I do have some lovely memories of teaching but those would never have been recorded even if YouTube had been invented. My proudest moment as a teacher came during an Open Day when a girl I had taught from the age of 9 to 11 visited from her secondary school. She thanked me and said that she had never understood maths until she was in my class. Now that's the kind of thing that teachers of today need to have posted up on Facebook, shouted out from YouTube.

So if your child has a positive achievement at school, and I know they all do, please post it up on Facebook and thank her teacher because, when you're a teacher, words of thanks are rarely heard.

Three cheers for teachers!

Monday, 14 April 2014

What's the point of the Passover Seder?

In a few hours’ time the Festival of Passover will begin. Tonight Jewish families across the world will have discarded their bread and anything that has come into contact with bread. They will have replaced bread with matzo and will be sitting around their tables with family and friends for a special Seder service and meal. The main reason for the service is to retell the story of the Exodus, how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and away from slavery.

A traditional Passover Seder plate from Italy 17th Century

We have to tell it every year to help us remember. We eat bitter herbs so that we never forget the bitter times of slavery. We dip parsley in salt water so that we never forget the tears.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this happened not today but thousands of years ago? Maybe.

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Belsen in 1945. When the soldiers arrived they were horrified to see piles of dead and rotting corpses and thousands of sick and starving prisoners.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this happened not today but 69 years ago? Not really.

Today in 1994 Rwandans were being massacred, not by the thousands but by the hundred thousands. The massacre continued until mid-July.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this happened not today but 20 years ago. No.

At this moment, as you’re reading this, people are being murdered in Syria.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this is in a far-away land?
Recent news reports told of the liberation of sex slaves locked in rooms in the UK. From where I'm sitting it doesn't get any closer to home than that.

So is there any point in retelling the story of the injustices of long ago? Yes. If it makes just one person stop and think about how they should treat other human beings then it's worth the retelling.

And on a lighter note it is a much-enjoyed tradition and a great excuse for a slap up meal!

Happy Passover

14th Century painting of Pharaoh's army and chariots

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

It was St Pancras Railway Station

Well done, Hilary, you got it right but you did admit that it was a bit of a guess. I am surprised. I truly expected all those of you living in the UK to know that the photo in my last post was the top of St Pancras Railway Station in London. Here is the complete, uncropped view that I had of the building as I walked along Euston Road towards the station to catch my train home to Leicester.

The Meeting Place, one of the statues in St Pancras Station
St Pancras Station has recently been renovated and is now beautiful, both inside and out. The front has been turned into a luxury hotel and the station is now called St Pancras International as it is the terminus for the Eurostar trains to France. The modernisation work combines the old with the new providing sculptures, art work, shops, cafes. There's even a Champagne Bar.

It's hard to believe that in 1966 they almost demolished the entire station. There were plans to amalgamate it with Kings Cross Station just across the way. Thankfully it was saved. This could have been due to public opinion following an earlier demolition disaster. In 1962 Euston Station was demolished. The 1960s saw a lot of demolition of old buildings. The nation seemed to show little interest in preserving them but Euston Station was different. It was of special architectural interest, with a magnificent Doric Arch as its entrance. A passionate 'Save the Arch' campaign was mounted but failed. The whole edifice was destroyed and all in the name of modernisation. It truly is heartbreaking but it may have been this campaign that prevented St Pancras from suffering the same fate.

Have any beautiful old buildings been replaced by uninspiring 'improvements' in your area?

Friday, 4 April 2014

Inspiring but...

...where are these spires?

So many times we walk along the street without once looking up. Anyone who loves architecture would love this view that I caught on my phone yesterday but do you recognise it?

Where was I yesterday?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

A Visit from Christina James

A few days ago Christina James visited my local library in Oadby, on the outskirts of Leicester. The weather didn't give her a warm welcome but her audience certainly did. While the rain poured down outside, a small but enthusiastic group sat listening to Christina talking about her writing, her motivations and her childhood memories of houses steeped in the past, and how she has woven so many of these places and people into her novels.

Christina writes crime thrillers featuring DI Yates. The action takes place in the Fenlands of Lincolnshire where she grew up. The house that will feature in her third novel was her Grandparent's home in Stutterton. It was called Sausage Hall and this will be the title of the book. Christina explained that the house was built by a butcher who went bankrupt. After the house was sold, it was given the name Sausage Hall and the name stuck. I love it and it's a brilliant name for a novel too. She read an extract. In fact, she gave her book its 'world premiere' just for us and we were hooked straight away.

This is only the third time I've met someone who I've got to know over the Internet. It's a strange experience. We had never met and yet we knew each other as soon as she walked into the library. The others thought we were old friends. It was difficult to explain to them how friendships can grow out of Twitter and blog chats but they do. It was lovely to meet Christina for real and I am now eagerly awaiting the publication of Sausage Hall.

If you want to know more about Christina and her books then pop over and visit her here .

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Well, aren't you the cat's whiskers...

...which means, you think you're pretty amazing.
And I'm sure you are amazing but this post isn't really about you, it's about cats and it's about my ruminations on why there are so many sayings that use cats to put the message across. Here are just a few by way of illustration:-
  • cat on a hot tin roof
  • raining cats and dogs
  • cat nap
  • weak as a kitten
  • scaredy cat
  • like herding cats
  • fat cats
  • grinning like a Cheshire cat
I could go on. In fact, I will:-
  • copy cat
  • cool cat
  • cat walk 
  • a catty person
  • cats' eyes in the road
  • cat-in-hell's chance
  • cat got your tongue
  • cats whiskers radios (It wasn't really a whisker. It was a fine wire that looked like a whisker.)
"So why all this talk about cat words?" I hear you ask.

Well, I was watching our two cats wash their faces after their supper yesterday and I couldn't help admiring their whiskers. Mabel's are black and shiny. Charlie's are white and bushy. Both sets are fine examples of cats' whiskers and both cats are quite convinced that they're the cats' whiskers!


And anyway, I needed a break from Richard III and Cemetery cataloging and it was a perfect excuse to post up photos of my two furry girls :-)

The Children's Book of Richard III Update: The illustrator, Alice Povey, has started the colour work. It's looking amazing. The front cover will be completed for viewing very soon and you'll be among the first to see it. Watch This Space!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Can you research a family tree?

Project Update

Cataloging a Cemetery and researching some of the older headstones is, I have to admit, far harder than I ever expected but it is such a worthwhile task that I can forgive it all of its difficulties.

The Cemetery Entrance
We've sorted the names for the unmarked plots and now the Stone Mason is working on our order, creating plaques and row markers. Meanwhile, we've moved on to writing the information for our Website, designing Interpretation Boards for the Cemetery entrance, inputting basic data so that our Website has a fully functioning genealogical search facility and then of course there's the family research. For many of us this was the main attraction but even this is harder than I thought it would be.

You may have created your own family tree and know all about what I'm going to discuss. I hadn't and so this was a steep learning curve for me.

This is what I've learnt so far:
The first place to look is the Headstone. It should provide the date of death, age, relatives and possibly birthplace. Unfortunately, there's always the possibility that it's so old, it provides nothing more than a difficult-to-read name! 
The Censuses from 1901 and 1911 are freely available to the public now and they can give valuable information about family members and addresses. 
In the Records Office there are shelves full of local Trade Directories which provide people's names and addresses covering the last two centuries and more. They also have sections organised by trades. 
The local newspapers are on microfilm at the Records office. You need to have a good idea of what date you're looking for as they are generally not indexed which means hours of sliding screen after screen of old newspaper pages. This can take even longer than expected as there are always fascinating articles to take you off on irrelevant tangents and as for the adverts… they’re hilarious! 
Our Records Office has a Person Index for anyone who ‘hit the headlines’ during their lifetime and a lot of information can also be gleaned from Congregation/Parish records. 
We have signed up for and but there are a number of free family research websites. Free Births, Marriages and Deaths can be found at The National Archives catalogue is at and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is at
Failing all that you can always try Googling a name to see if there’s anything out there.
We have until the end of October to get the project completed so I shall take another deep breath and throw myself back into If anyone would like to help with researching any of the names then do please let me know. This is one of those jobs that is never done! We can never have too many volunteers!

This is a Heritage Lottery Funded Project.