Tag Archives: education

Old Age and Brainpower

As usual, there is much to write about, and, as usual, I’ve forgotten most of it.

I know there was something interesting to tell you, and a few other things that weren’t quite so riveting. Ah well, they say the first two signs of old age are poor memory and . . .

. . . I’m sure I’ll remember the other.

Sorry, it’s an old joke, but I have nothing better to offer.

I’ve just been reading a book on how to write poetry, It should have been subtitled “Or why self-publishing is dangerous“. It enables people who have lots of confidence, a few published poems and a couple of college courses to write books about how to write mediocre poetry. I can write mediocre poetry, I was hoping to read about how to write good stuff. There are always a few pointers you can pick up from a book like this but t is irksome to pay money for mediocrity.

I also bought a book of monostich poetry. Well, you have to keep learning, don’t you. 50 poems, each of one line. It cost 49p, so it wasn’t a fortune. On the other hand, it did highlight the perils of one-line poetry. There’s a type of haiku, which is often called a monostich or a monoku. One term is imprecise and the other is probably grammatically offensive to scholars of Japanese, but it’s all we have, unless you prefer “haiku written in one line”. I thought I’d have a look at it in more detail. It’s never too late to learn something new, even if it is that one line poetry is often a let down.

I just remembered one of the things I was going to say. A quiz question last night  (final round of Pointless) wanted three obscure publications of the Bronte sisters. I said Villette, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I’m always worried about Villette because I wonder if I’m confusing it with the novel by Churchill, or Disraeli. However, I was correct – Villette and Agnes Grey were both pointless answers. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is slightly better known. I did know there was another less known one but couldn’t remember it. It is Shirley.

Churchill’s novel is Savrola. Disraeli wrote Vivian Grey and Sybil – close but not quite the same.

My point? I know the names of most of the Bronte novels, but have only ever read Jane Eyre, which convinced me never to read another. I have never even picked up Churchill’s novel or any by Disraeli. This highlights the difference between knowledge (which I have) and education, which I do not. So I  bought The Canterbury Tales for my Kindle. You know where you are with Chaucer, even if you don’t know all the words. I will never be as well read as Derrick Knight, but I still have time to expand my mind.

Vicissitude, Vocabulary and Victory

Why is it that I can spell vicissitude, a word I seldom use, but I struggle with accommodation, cemetery and success? I use them all the time, so they should be second nature. They aren’t. I always have to think about them. There are others too, but I can’t call them to mind just now.

When I was 16 and coming up to a couple of years of exams (we needn’t discuss the results – the fact I ended up working on a farm rather than carving out a brilliant academic career is all you need to know) I started to read a dictionary – improving my vocabulary and my spelling. If you were to examine my vocabulary and spelling using modern forensic techniques, you would probably find that they are stronger in words beginning with A to H. There is, frankly, only so much dictionary you can read.

Similarly, at that time, I read a number of Shakespeare’s plays to increase the breadth of my knowledge. They mainly went over my head and passed into oblivion. There is only so much you can take in if you are simply reading something. I now realise that in the absence of a teacher I should have at least bought some notes to help me through the work. The only plays of Shakespeare that I know much about were the ones we studied at school and plus Henry V and Romeo and Juliet. The former is courtesy of Kenneth Branagh and the latter is from my watching of Shakespeare in Love.

When you look at my academic career from this point of view it’s hardly surprising that I ended up failing to shine.

However, now I mention academics, I am reminded that I was going to write a post on politicians and skit notes. I will start that in a minute so I don’t forget.

It’s nearly the 11th November, so the header picture is the 2021 Jersey “Masterpiece Poppy” coin 5 ounces of silver and a poppy made using metal from a Spitfire that flew operational sweeps over the Normandy beaches, army mess tins dated 1945 and a Landing Craft that actually landed tanks on D-Day.

Jersey 2020 Poppy Masterpiece Coin

This is the 2020 version – the poppy medallion is made from metal left after Spitfire PM631 had a major restoration. It was one of the last Spitfires in service (until 1957 with the Meteorological Flight)  and one of the first planes in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The penny gives an idea of scale. It seems to be quite fashionable, and lucrative, to make souvenirs from bits of wartime scrap.

Apologies for the title, I was stretching a bit to obtain alliteration.

Friday Part 2

The day moves on. A man rings with four George IV pennies. That’s better than the usual junk people ring us with. He reigned 1820-1830 and there are only three dates. The 1827 is quite desirable. (That’s dealer talk for expensive).

He rather spoils the effect when he adds.

“They’re all dated 1919.”

Yes, I have yet another typical example of the British education system on the phone.

“That’s George V,” I say. “They are quite common. If they are in the normal condition they turn up in, it wouldn’t be worth your while bringing them down.

“No,” he says, “1919 is rare, I’ve seen them on the internet.”

“What does it say on the internet?” I ask, though I can guess.

“They’re worth between £60 and £900…” I know what’s coming next, “because they have mint marks on them.”

He’s right, they do. In 1918 and 1919 we needed extra minting capacity for pennies so the Heaton Mint and the King’s Norton Metal Company were given a contract to mint over 5,000,000 pennies.  The Royal Mint did over 110,000,000 that year, so the pennies with the H and KN mintmarks are quite scarce, but not exactly rare.  As a boy, in the days before decimalisation, I used to look for H and KN pennies in my change, and always managed to find a few before a new craze took over.

The truth is that if they are in good condition, and I mean the condition referred to as VF (Very Fine) or better, they are worth £30 fo the H and £90 for the KN.

The definition of VF, despite some of the coins you see claimed as VF is “A coin where all the fine detail is present, but not the ‘minute’ detail and signs of wear and tear to its higher points make it obvious that it has been in circulation but only minimally.”

That’s the point – wear from minimal circulation. Most of the pennies we see were taken out of change  and kept in 1971 when we went decimal. They had been circulating for over 50 years. They are almost flat but people say they are in good condition because “you can read all the lettering”. Well, if you mistake Georgius IV for Georgius V, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the lettering is not all it could be.  As you descend from VF you come to Fine, then to Very Good (which is dealer-speak for awful). And then you come to the area which most pre-decimal copper falls into – in the trade it’s called “clear date” which means, as you might guess, that you can read the date and mostly everything else is well worn.

He wouldn’t listen, so I passed him over to The Owner. He’s allowed to be rude to customers. He told the bloke that he shouldn’t believe everything he sees on the internet and that we can supply him with mint marked 1918 and 1919 pennies for 25 pence each if he orders them by the hundred.

I don’t blame the man with the pennies, I blame the internet. There is a lot of misinformation out there. And I blame the education system which is afraid to teach people how to thinkl.

Eventually, the day draws to a close and I queue in traffic to get home. Lockdown really has finished and the nation is back at work.

1921 Pennies Look how worn they are – these are a selected lot in about Fine condition. THey are good enough as an example but a collector would prefer something a bit better. 


The List (1)

I’m not going to be caught out like I was yesterday so I have written a list of jobs to do.

  1. Get up
  2. Take Julia to work
  3. Go back home
  4. Make cup of tea
  5. Make toast
  6. Turn computer on
  7. Check WP
  8. Check emails
  9. Procrastinate

So far, I have to admit, it is going well. I am particularly pleased with the procrastination and have managed to pass an hour playing games, reading false news and generally depressing my IQ.

I am going to-

10. Recycle my tea
11.  Make more tea
12.  Do some of the OU course on War Memorials

Numbers 1 to 11 are, of course, the general clutter that needs clearing everyday, though I often leave it until evening if I am at work. The tasks expand, as they say, to fill the available time. I have now, usefully employed just over an hour of my time to finish the course “War Memorials and Commemoration”, as listed at Number 12. It was a bit of a grind because there are 50 pages from a book to be read from the screen, which isn’t easy, and that’s before you realise that it’s 50 pages about critical analysis and various concepts which are not easy for a man of little brain who really wants to learn about war memorials.

I’m feeling quite good about things now. I would probably have put the course off for another day if it hadn’t been for the list, as I’d stalled on the reading when they started on the theory of criticism. I hadn’t realised it would be there. However, I made myself restart it and had started to enjoy it by the end. Fortunately the last 20% of the material was about war memorials and I know enough about them already for the discussions to present no problems.

13. Write blog post.

I just did that. It’s amazing how a list helps…

A Lost Day

I seem to have lost a day. I’m not quite sure how I managed it, because I’m convinced I wrote something, but there’s nothing there. I’ll just have to put it down to having a senior moment. I’d feel better about it, to be honest, if it were associated more with drinking than old age. Poets drink – Larkin and Thomas were famous for bending an elbow. That’s Dylan Thomas. I’m not sure if Edward Thomas drank. Probably not. There’s something a lot more appealing about being a hellraiser than there is about being a respectable old man. If there was only me to think about I’d much rather go out with a bottle in my hand than a rug tucked neatly round my knees.

Unfortunately, drunks don’t make particularly good husbands, and I imagine the kids would hate it if they had to come and bail me out after  a night of revelry, so it looks like respectability will be my fate. I wonder how many men out there, like me, still think fondly of their drinking days when they were much funnier and had more fun. Well, we thought we were much funnier, Once I actually gave up drinking I realised that this wasn’t actually the case.

Today is the first day of meteorological winter, and almost the end of lockdown. cases of Covid are going down, so it seems to work. I’d like to book another month of lockdown for next April, when the weather is likely to be better. I’m getting quite used to the time off.

According to government figures only about 54% of people intend getting vaccinated, and when you show them various bits of misinformation, easily found on the internet these days, this goes down to 48%. All that work so that 52% of the population can decide not to bother.

It calls the whole nature of education into question. Why bother studying for years to become a doctor when you could know more than a doctor by pressing a few buttons and reading something off the internet?


The Insomniac Diaries

The clocks went back at the weekend, I’ve been getting more sleep and at 5am this morning the inevitable happened – my sleep levels overflowed and found I didn’t need any more.

Nature abhors a vacuum, as Aristotle said, and the space once filled with sleep was soon filled with worries. (I always thought that quote came from someone like Pope until I looked it up just now, strange how ideas develop over a lifetime and then turn out to be wrong.

He did, however, give us a little learning is a dangerous thing, which would tend to suggest that this blog could be fatal in the wrong hands, as Wikipedia and my education are both examples of ” little learning”. You need to study something like Classics at Oxford to be fully educated. Then you can become Prime Minister, like Boris Johnson.

I’m off to work now, but will leave you with that thought.

More Serious Stuff – Deep Thought, Castration and the Importance of Parents

I started doing more thinking after writing yesterday’s post. There was a lot to think about, mostly about murdered teenagers. After bringing two kids up in a city that had a poor reputation at one time, you can get quite thoughtful.

Interestingly, the writers blame the Labour government for the various problems, where most of the people these days blame the Conservatives. That is probably a sign that we should leave politics out of the discussion.

Youth clubs, youth sports and such things are, at best, distractions rather than a cure. If you are keeping kids off the street they can’t get into trouble. When looking at funding possibilities I’ve often seen the terms “distraction” or “displacement activity”.

We had quite a few difficult kids at the various rugby clubs we attended. Some were the typical sort of inner city kid you’d expect to be in trouble (who we used to work with in Rugby League) and others, in Rugby Union, were much more affluent and better educated.

One of the things I noticed was that you could put a lot of effort in and make no discernible difference. I also noticed that if the parents weren’t engaged nothing seemed to work. That held good for all the kids – parents who were at work all the time were just as bad as parents who deserted their family.

So my solution to the problem is to put the family back at the centre of things. I’d also be prepared to think about castrating absent fathers who didn’t live up to their responsibilities, though it’s likely that this would be a last resort.

It’s about the basics – decent places to live, education, jobs, reducing teenage pregnancies…

I’m starting to sound like a beauty queen here, but I’ll stop short of advocating world peace and an end to famine. It is, however, a matter of some regret that I didn’t start thinking forty years ago – it might actually have made a difference at that point.

Does anyone have any good ideas?


Loose Ends and New Beginnings

I’m tying up a few loose ends today – you may have noticed a new, more accurate, subtitle (“Life after the Care Farm”) and I’ve added the latest news to the About Us page.

I’ve also added an update to the Ecocentre page.

They aren’t worth reading (being dry and, possibly, a little bitter) but if I add links it supposedly makes the blog more visible on the internet. It’s what they call Search Engine Optimisation. Like much of modern life I find it easy to ignore, but occasionally I like to give it a try.

It’s funny how the internet, whilst being ephemeral in nature, also preserves things.

Julia is taking the group from Mencap to see the Flintham Show. We’re just hoping the weather improves. It has generally been a good day out and the group is looking forward to it.  At least some good has come from our time at the farm.

They are advertising an education tent at the show – we have been replaced so easily. What hasn’t been replaced is the write-up that Julia prepared for the education tent several years ago. That is still up on the site, and is promising a number of things they won’t be able to deliver, including Connie the Cow, who is now living at a local school.


Ploughing at Flintham Show  (2016)

Julia has just joined the Women’s Farm and Garden Association. It seems quite a go-ahead group of people, despite being formed in 1899, though the marketing could do with some work: we didn’t even know it existed until I saw one of its badges for sale on ebay.

Perhaps ebay is a force for good after all.




A Spider Crawled out of an Inkwell…

Yes, the subject for today is handwriting, particularly the poor quality of my handwriting. I suppose the title shows my age – these days nobody would refer to bad handwriting looking like a drunken spider had fallen into an inkwell and crawled across a sheet of paper.

How many people reading this post have ever used an inkwell? And even if you have used one, how much actual writing on paper do you do these days? I don’t even write cheques. All I do is shopping lists, and I do those in block capitals so I can read them. When I was gardening one of my customers complained that whenever I wrote her a message it always looked like a ransom note.

As you may have guessed, I’ve been having problems reading my own writing.

My first memory regarding criticism of my writing is of being told off because it was large and childishly formed. This was in the village school I attended in Lincolnshire. My memories of it are not positive. On one occassion I was shaken and thrown to the floor because I had failed to memorise my multiplication tables over the weekend. There was not a lot of modern educational theory in place, the system being as Victorian as the schoolroom.

I wasn’t physically punished for my writing, the teacher merely called the headmaster (her husband) through from the other classroom so that he could shout at me.

My writing was too big, even I could see that, but it was just how I’d been taught at my previous two schools. I expect it was also childish, though I can’t really remember, as I was only seven at the time.

From that day on, until I left school, the only major complaint I recall was that my writing was too small.

The headmaster, by the way, was given four years for indecently assaulting a couple of girl pupils shortly after we moved away. Standards in educational recruitment have, I suspect, been improved over the years.

Since leaving school, I have rarely needed to do much writing, most of my written work being based on tick sheets and simple arithmetic. I don’t use cheques and a computer does the rest of my writing.

The current situation is that the only writing I do is my “to do” list, which I write every Sunday. And forget every Monday.

I’ve just been looking at the one from last week.

Most of them are easy enough, and even the instruction to “bug now sosks” isn’t too challenging, but reviewing the “forgetting boof” might be a little more difficult. “Boof” is clearly something that needs reviewing, so it’s a book, but I haven’t a clue which one it is. It’s not about forgetting, as I don’t have a book on that subject. At least I don’t remember having one. I’m going to have to go through the book pile and work it out by a process of deduction.


Serious Thoughts

I hope you’ll forgive me a few minutes of serious reflection concerning the way we treat offenders in England. It’s a subject I have some firm views on, particularly after the attempted robbery.

We had some experience of this on the farm as we had both individuals and groups doing community service. I didn’t write about it at the time because there are questions of confidentiality to consider.

It was the normal farm mix-up. The farmer wanted to be seen doing good things, he wanted money and he wanted free labour. As usual, the government wanted something for nothing and so he had to do without the cash.

Lesson Number One is that if you want to provide a decent service you have to put money into it.

Lesson Number Two is that even if they had paid they would have been provided with the same second class service they got for free.

Quite clearly it’s not enough to throw money at the problem, as if that was ever going to happen…

The individuals who came often complained there was no meaningful work to do, which was true as no effort was actually put into providing anything. On the other hand, they weren’t meant to be there as a reward. Several of them were very bad at time-keeping and should by rights have been reported for it. They weren’t, because the member of staff keeping the time sheets couldn’t be bothered. He also allowed them to count the lunch hour towards their total. I think the word “shambles” fits the bill here. Eating lunch is not community service, though it could be cruel and unusual punishment, depending on who made it.

The groups were mixed, often depending on the quality of supervisor. One was great, and his people were lucky to have him (though they may not always have appreciated this). Others were not so good, just going through the motions and flouting the on-site smoking ban.

At one time they did a lot of work to hedges and woodland, but ended up doing paths around the centre and building a patio and barbecue. They also did some gardening but it was usually a case of trying to limit the damage they did rather than gaining any benefit.

The problem was that most of them just weren’t interested, and many of them refused to see that taking drugs, drink driving and hitting people were wrong. We tried to give them some useful skills, but it mostly didn’t happen. Several of them approached us on the side to ask about polytunnels and hydroponics. I will not speculate on the reasons for their curiosity.

One was less coy and asked one of our volunteers (we will call him “X”) if he would be interested in running a cannabis farm for him. “X” made his excuses and left.

On the other hand, several of them did use the experience to move on to better things. The “good” supervisor got several back into education and a couple got decent jobs – we were happy to help with advice and references and the farmer, to be fair to him, did find one of the jobs and take a couple on work experience.

Towards the end things took a turn for the worse when the service was put in the hands of a private business.

I’m not sure how many lessons there are in all that, and am now regretting starting to number them.

One is that you can’t help unless you have funding and a group of workers who are interested in doing a good job.

Another is that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.

I suppose it’s also true to say that we need to do some creative thinking to engage more of the offenders in their rehabilitation.

And if they still don’t take advantage of the opportunities they are offered maybe we could examine the concept of the chain gang.

I’ll leave it here. I’m not really political by nature, and this could develop into a rant.