Monday, 23 February 2009

Inspiring teachers

Professor Kay Davies was on Desert Island Discs last week and she was asked about teachers who inspired her. She described a chemistry teacher who loved golf and would help her students set up their experiments and then pop off for a couple of hours to play a round. This gave the students plenty of time to talk and work things out for themselves. It's hard to imagine a teacher getting away with that kind of thing today.

I'm always interested to hear stories like this. The teachers who change people's lives very often seem to be the eccentrics. I had a French teacher for two years who taught me more French than I learnt in the rest of my school career and let us use the French cupboard to listen to albums by Love and Captain Beefheart. I also had a teacher at primary school, Sister Marion, who let me and my friend spend three days designing and painting a very large imaginary bird. I can still picture the bird, fifty years later!

And thinking about this I'm reminded of Sybil Marshall whose book An Experiment in Education gives a description of the wonderful possibilities of primary education. One of the reasons I love this so much is that my mother taught for a year or so in a small primary school in the fens which must have been quite similar to Sybil Marshall's. The headteacher, who had been there for as long as anyone could remember, had a canning machine in the school, and when it was time for the soft fruit harvest everything stopped until the canning operation was over!

Thursday, 19 February 2009


I forgot to mention the lost glove incident! I was in a bit of a daze when I got on the train last Friday morning at Haddiscoe station, which must be one of the remotest stations in East Anglia. I was wearing the hand-knitted gloves that Kate gave me for Christmas. Obviously this was a bad idea, because when I got off the train in Norwich I left the gloves behind.

I bought a paper on the platform, then realised what I'd done and ran back to the train, which had become a Yarmouth train and was about to leave. I jumped on and searched the seats. The gloves had gone, though there was a pair of thin black gloves on one of the seats. I asked the guard, but she hadn't seen them. It was a bad start to the trip.

I pinned my hopes on Lost Property, but they didn't turn up there either. When I called in on Tuesday the custodian was outraged that they hadn't been handed in. I'm hoping to spot them on the streets of Lowestoft. What I do then will depend on who's wearing them!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A weekend in the snow

We didn't have enough snow here in Norfolk, so I thought I'd go and find some. Well, actually I planned the weekend some time ago because people kept telling me that if I loved the Scottish hills in summer I'd love them even more in winter. So I booked a course called Weekend Winter Skills at Glenmore Lodge near Aviemore. There were six of us in the group, and our excellent instructor, James Woodhouse. There are more photos on my web gallery.

It's always refreshing to escape from your comfort zone and great, if like me you're a teacher, to suddenly find yourself a not especially bright pupil for a while. The combination of pieces of hard-to-take-in technical information about navigation and avalanches with walking uphill though deep snow into a corrie was great. It didn't take me long to realise that I am a fairly bad navigator, which should make me more careful in the future.

We did plenty of rolling downhill in the snow and making hilarious and occasionally brilliant attempts to arrest our falls with ice axes, and on the second day, after climbing onto a ridge and off it again, with fabulous views of the Cairngorms, we dug holes in the snow in order to convince ourselves that it was far better to get home safely than to have to dig a snowhole to survive.

And while we were doing all this the ski-centre car park below was filled with the kind of chaos you normally only see at an overcrowded beach on a hot summer's day, all played out in brown slush. I didn't take a photograph - you wouldn't have liked it. On Monday morning the bus down to Aviemore was running half an hour late because of all the traffic up at the ski-centre. The bus driver reckoned the tourist people would rather not have the skiers anyway - they'd rather the coach parties rolled up, got on the railway and whizzed to the top, spent some money and went away again. The skiers just get in the way. They certainly do when half the population of Scotland and the north of England all turn up on the same weekend!