Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Good news for education

The UK news today is full of the 'disaster' that Cambridge University architecture department is to close. This news comes a week after the announcement that Exeter University Chemistry Department is to go.

Amid all the media wailing about Media Studies taking over the country, it occured to me that actually this might be a Good Thing. If Ciba-Geigy and Astra-Zeneca and everyone find they can't recruit good people with chemistry degrees, then presumably they will eventually start offering people low pay for a few years while they train them up as good bench scientists. Same with the big architecture companies. Instead of delegating the task of training a professional work force to the government, companies - who know what knowledge and skills their employees need - will take responsibility for it themselves.

And if lots of people want to study Media Studies, then all power to them. Can't be less 'relevant' than the old war horse of professional advancement - a degree in Classics. If they want to study Media Studies enough, maybe they'll even be prepared to pay for it.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004


People often feel grotty a few hours after they have an injection. Assuming the grottiness won't last too long, it therefore makes sense for injections to take place as late in the afternoon as possible - then the person is asleep during the majority of the grottiness.

But I suppose the time scale is too unpredictable on these things for doctors' surgeries to offer afternoon appointments as a matter of course.

The Gruffalo

I've come across so many people raving about this book. Well, I finally read it yesterday and I think I know why people like it so much.

It isn't the pictures, clear and attractive and brightly coloured as they are. It isn't even the good story line, with nested three-fold plot structure, satisfying as that is. (A good story line is essential)

Nor is it the appeal of the principal characters, cunning and charming and creative though they may be.

No, what really makes this book wonderful is that it is impossible to read it without rhythm. The rhymes really work, the metre really works, the assonances flow along... and before you know it "that's the end of Gruffalo story".

Too many children's books are full of lines like

"the butcher, the baker, the candlstick maker,
they all jumped over a hot potato"

Go on. Make that rhyme. Blech.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Guardian man

There's a bus I quite often catch which coincides with the commute to work of a gentleman with luxuriant shoulder-length layered curls, slightly greying, a tweed jacket (this is England) and - invariably - a copy of the Guardian open at the opinion pages.

"I saw Guardian man today" has become one of my regular desultory conversational gambits.

But I've been thinking about it a bit more. By labelling this person "Guardian man", I am making assumptions about the political, economic and social beliefs he holds; I have already written him off as someone I am unlikely to have a fruitful conversation with (NB not that I am necessarily expecting to get into discussions with complete strangers on buses - this is England, as I said). This is unfair to him, because he may be reading the Guardian for any number of reasons, he does not necessarily agree entirely with their editorial policy. It is also unfair to me. By dismissing this person as "Guardian man", I am shutting myself off from the chance of learning lots from him about - oh, I don't know - butterflies, or walking routes in the Dordoygne, or fantastic recipes using flax seeds.

Good ideas are good ideas, no matter where they come from. It takes some mental adjustment to accept them from people one is accustomed to dismissing, though.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


NB Title of this post (and the movie) stealth corrected *blush* props to Gil

This movie is set in a dystopia where genetic determinism rules. Go watch it immediately.

Having a genetic defect is something that it might be rational to choose not to know about. Such knowledge can be paralysing, and can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is also possible greatly to exceed the expectations of others, which can put limits on what one is permitted to attempt. The knowledge being genetic helped make the point very starkly, because of its supposed objectivity despite the major role of probability in forecasting; the film also reminded me how limiting expectations and assumptions about the interests, strengths and weaknesses of our family members can be.

Sometimes it is morally right to pretend to be something you are not, if society is morally wrong about something. I am reminded of the hoo-haa in the Church of England Cathedral world some years ago when a candidate for an alto singing job put only their initial and surname on their very impressive application. It was only when the candidate turned up for interview that the panel discovered that she was a woman, and therefore ineligible, whether or not her voice would have blended superbly.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Playing at Maisie's house

OK, I don't actually remember any of the names in this brief encounter, so they are made up, but the shape of the conversation is real.

I met Jeremy (aged 5) on his way back home with his mother after a week at Granny's house.

Mother "I've spoken to Maisie's mum, and you can go and play there tomorrow"
Jeremy "I don't want to play at Maisie's; she never lets me do what I want to. I want to stay at home with Billy and Jilly (little brother and sister) because I've really missed them"
Mother "we'll see"

WE'LL SEE??? WE'LL SEE??? How articulate and rational would this child have had to be to have his preference considered???

Strangely enough, "I don't want to go to school on Monday, it's boring" received about the same level of serious attention. "nonsense. You can see all your friends" "I can see all my friends anyway"

No kidding. I heard this exact conversation. :-(

Saturday, November 06, 2004

In praise of playpens

... when there is more than one child in the family. I am not advocating leaving the youngest member wistfully poking their nose through the bars. Instead, a playpen can be a perfect place for an older child to play without having their toys commandeered every five seconds.

Of course, every family should own a sturdy and large dining-type table. On the table is the ideal place for an older child to play - not at but on, feet and all. All chairs should obviously be removed so that the younger sibling can crawl/todddle around on hir seek-and-destroy lego mission without causing open warfare by attempting to scale the heights. The older child being out of direct view also helps the younger child fully to enjoy exploring the vast swathes of available carpet.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


I don't believe anyone should be forced to do chores in a family.

If someone thinks the kitchen floor needs sweeping... let 'em sweep it.

Forcing children to take on certain responsibilities teaches them that the opinions of others about the state of their house are more important than their own dust-tolerance threshold. It makes it harder for them to find out how clean and tidy they prefer things to be

Left to themselves, children do learn about household tasks - by helping when they feel like it, or doing tasks because they want to do them for themselves.

It's important that parents should also only do the household tasks they want to do. If if you want a tidier house and don't want to clean it yourself? Make enough money somehow to hire a cleaner. Swop cleaning for cooking stews for a non-chef neighbour. Give a local teenager piano lessons in return for hoovering. But don't make it your children's problem.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Do you remember lie-ins?

Always asked of one parent by another with a knowing sneer. It goes along with the new-parent question "Are you getting enough sleep? Of course not *ha ha ha*"

Western parenthood = sleep deprivation for most people.

Here are some creative alternatives I have encountered, which take into account the wishes of both children and parents:

Encouraging a small child to regularly stay up till 10pm. Se then happily sleeps until 9am (say), giving the parents the option of a lie in. The child also gets to spend time with a working parent who gets home late.

Going to bed when the child goes to bed, or soon after. Not conducive to evening socialising - best reserved for families who prefer their social life during the day.

Sleeping in the same bed as the child, or allowing the child to come into the parental bed whenever se needs. Many pointless hours are spent by many parents pacing the floor trying to persuade their child to sleep in their own bed/cot while everyone gets distressed and exhausted. Waste of time, I say.

One challenge remains - when the clocks change in Spring/Autumn, or when travelling into different time zones. One painless solution is to ignore the clock change entirely until everyone gradually adjusts to the sun... but what do families with external non-asynchronous-friendly commitments do?