Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Reflections on Water Pipes Bursting

My reaction(s) to the named unfortunate event were as follows:

1. Oh Shit
2. Call a plumber
3. If this crisis protrudes through the night, I wont have to write that essay on Reflactive Learning (at least tonight).

with that in mind, I scour the phone book for plumber whose number has an Ulan Bator area code, thinking "delay". My concerns are however groundless, even when failing to find a Mongolian plumber, because the local plumbers I then turn to are, to a man, drunk, unavailable and useless. Louis, who had been my plumber of choice, reminds me

"It is Christmas, Martin, I could probably come out next week sometime".

At this juncture, three conflicting emotions scatter across the surface of my skin, like water-dwelling pond-skaters bristing across a pond without breaking the surface tension of the water. These emotions are as follows:

1. Relief - it IS going to be a long night, so though I may have time for a quick episode of "Come Dine with Me" (my poor substitute trash TV replacement for the gloriously despicable and deeply immoral North American programme "Survivor"), I definitely will not have time to edit/complete the concluding sentence of my essay, a sentence which currently reads "Like Scientology, or belief in the Great Pumpkin, about the only thing that Reflective Learning has going for it is that it makes some ballon headed people happy enough with life that they are distracted from doing anything bad. Unfortunately, at least one category of the aforementionedly described are cartoon characters: however, the sociological observations of Mr Schultz are generally infinitely more acute than the dangerously offensive noodlings of Reflective Learning Acolytes".

2. Hatred - of plumbers. This should be self-explanatory.

3. Discovery - I realize I can fix the problem.

A quick rewind is in order here. I was doing this:




in order to complete the knock through of our previous lounge to our new extension, when after gracefully delivering a killing blow to a stubborn half brick, said errant brick performed a trajectory through the air, and in slow motion headed directly towards the one remaining unburied mains water pipe in the joint. Water pipe in question is lead, due to be removed in early January, hence it's unprotected state. The pipe is capped, but exposed, and lead is strong, but brittle. The half brick lands with the accuracy of a World War Two bouncing bomb, and with a similar effect to those Dam Busters of yesteryear (the movie, I have no doubt, will be shown again at Christmas) cracks the pipe. A fountain of high pressure water, the sizzle of 240 Volts shorting out, and I am in pitch darkness, up a ladder, in a pool of water, with live mains electricity, a cellphone, a cup of nice tea and a sledgehammer for company.

Aside: : I should remark on one slightly interesting anthropological note here. As has been commented on, usually by North Americans, NAY Canadians, the average Brit tends to profanisize more than the average Burly Montreal stevedore on a bad day. We, quite frankly swear. A lot. However, and I must remember to present this to the Canadian High Commission in pursuit of my ongoing quest for citizenship, at the very moment when my house, our life savings and possibly my own life were most threatened by surging mains water, subsequent electrical fire with accompanying gas explosion, I noted, with it has to be said a degree of quiet self satisfaction, that ratther than opt for the Anglo Saxon "Oh Fuck. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FUCKIN HELL", I automatically, instead took the North American(or rather Canadian route) of "Oh My God. Oh My Godetc.." then, and here's the clincher ended it wiht the classic Nova Scotianism "Holy Shit". If more proof was needed of my total Canadian-ness then I present, oh Ungoverned Canada, THAT sentence as absolute and binding proof.

Fortunately, the problem has now been solved. Fortunately, one of the many career options I have tried in the past is as a metalworker and I know enough about lead to know that it works beautifully. With no response from emergency call out plumbers until about 28th Dec., Nickson applied all his experience with lead (about twenty five minutes) and crimped the pipe closed. The temporary fix seems to have held.

Relatively satisfied with that days work, I board up our extension's back door from the inside, a process which involves screwing a big sheet of plywood to the wall, internally. Then I load a big stack of 2 x 4's against the door ensuring no-one can gain illicit entrance. Then I leave the rear area of the house, snapping the padlock firmly shut, giving the hasp a shake to check it is secure, and realize I have just locked my keys inside. The ghostly sound of evil laughter wisps across the frosted sky like a vengeaful former extension having their unearthly revenge on her un-doers. An hour later, with a bandaged head ( I scraped the old pate quite badly when tearing off the plywood [in the dark] that boarded up the back of the house), I load up the Crosstowner with four blue garbage bags of garbage/rubble.

Nota Bene: For several weeks, after discovering that everything NOT recycled in Hull goes to the same landfill, we decide to use the massive skips at Nickson Mansioons, our apartment residence, instead of paying out even more money for another skip. We have already shifted an incredible twelve tonnes of rubble/;'building detritus and a F***cked if we're going to pay AGAIN for doing this. THe slight fly in the ointment is that we have to manually haul the garbage from Ella to the Apartment in garbage bags. The trusty Crosstowner usually gets loaded up like an ornery mule with four or five bags, then wheeled back to the apartment.

I am anxious to be home, especially because pushing the bike is quite a tough job, so any interruption in my five minute walk is unwelcome. Especially from the Police. Apparently, the Constable has mistaken me for a tramp. Admittedly, my face is dirty with coal and brick dust, and I am slightly unsteady on my feet as I am very tired and just descending from a massive adrenalin high. I would also admit to pushing a bike laden with four dirty plastic bags tied to the bike with string. All this is problematic, BUT when the Constable wants me to open the bags, another world of issues reveal itself, as I realize that, if I am truthful with him, I have to reveal that I'm just a bout to dump a load of building rubble in my landlord's bins. This may, or may not, be illegal, but it sure feels like it. I tell that copper what I have been doing (renovating) and the bags are full of dirty clothes. Sherlock falls lock , stock and barrel for this utterly unlikely explanation (think how many clothes would fill four garbage bags), and I am off the hook.

Despite the above, it is a good day. The wall came down, and the 140kg supporting beam that we installed several weeks ago has held. No essays were harmed in the making of this entry.

The gap to the new extension before demolition :




Nickson with weapon of choice:




Another old pile of rubbish to move



THe gap is opened between Mordor and Uruch Bligghgghdgh

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Reflections on Meaning

YNWA is still stalled by end of semester term papers. The one paper I am finding almost impossible to write has the following title:

"With reference to published material, evaluate and reflect on your study skills at the start of the module, and produce an action plan showing how you will develop these skills further."

Yes, it is the ole devil reflection again, raining on my parade. I have amused myself with this essay and have written most of it, but now I'm down to the refining process of scoring as high as possible, and am having great difficulty in writing the thing AND getting as high marks as possible while still including sideswipes at the post modernist bullshit that is "the Art of Reflection".

In truth, Reflection can be a valuable tool. It is used in the nursing and other caring professions. These guys are encouraged to write reflective notes on how they feel, especially at the 'sharp' end - Accident and Emergency, Intensive Care Units - the type of job where a person can on a daily basis encounter the kind of stress that others of us have nightmares about. My research into this 'philosophy' of reflection made it quite clear that as a kind of post-traumatic stress aid, reflection can be very valid. BUT, in the same way that just because a pnuematic hammer drill is a useful tool for a miner it does not automatically follow that every profession should have one - I struggle to think how a cake maker or florist could use one, for example, or how a hairdresser would use a chainsaw just because lumberjacks find them useful - the fact that Reflection may be useful for some professions does not automatically make it either a 'truism' or a useful general tool for everyone. Indeed, for some professions, for example, airline pilot, I can see how relying on reflection could be dangerous if it was used as a way of examining, after the fact, how one could have done things better. Indeed, if we are to adopt quasi-Eastern mysticism for professions, I would be far more comfortable if airline pilots, train drivers, and lion tamers would adopt the art of contemplation prior to engaging in their professional acticity, rather than reflection in a pile of smoke and dust after a massive crash.

It's back to the essay now, and my own contemplation on how to eradicate the phrase 'lunatic soft-Left hippy post modernist tyranny' from the thing while still maintaining my sense of disgust. I did, in my research discover one paper however, from a peer reviewed journal where the abstract is beautifully scornful about Reflective Learning, Learning Styles and all that. It reads:

"Many popular educational programmes claim to be 'brain-based', despite pleas from the neuroscience community that these neuromyths do not have a basis in scientific evidence about the brain."... and concludes ."Conclusions: The main conclusions arising from the argument are that teachers should seek independent scientific validation before adopting brain-based products in their classrooms. A more sceptical approach to educational panaceas could contribute to an enhanced professionalism of the field."

As I have learned, I have to fully credit John Geake, 2008 Educational Research, Vol 50(2), Jun 2008. Special issue: Education and neuroscience: Evidence, theory and practical application. pp. 123-133.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Calumny of Plastering


Over at Large Villas, despite the abscence of reports on these pages, work has continued. In fact comparisons between what was, and what is, follow. Today I received the timber and sheathing for my extension roof, and set to installing the roof joists. This simple sentence, blithely bypass the last two months in which Concretia has been defeated and a new erection has transformed our back garden from a demolition site to a building site. Sadly, on reflection (a thing I have recently become very keen on -NOT) they look exactly the same, but in reality, they look quite different, as the following photograph shows, a photo which takes us back in time to when we first bought the heap.



All of which is further evidence of what a loads of old bollocks Reflective Learning, Working and Practises actually are, as reflection usually bears no resemblance to reality. The keen, trained eye might for example, spot a new roof, a new dormer, a new extension and new windows. The transformations are continuing inside. WHat was previously this:





Is now this:



And so on, and so forth.

There have been triumphs and tribulations along the way, and some common themes have emerged. One such theme concerns tradespeople. We have done most of the work ourselves, but certain skills should be left to the professionals. One of these skills is bricklaying - dirty, hard, uncomfortable but very highly skilled work. Work which if done properly should be done by mature, seasoned artisans of the highest calibre. As is proper, such time-served men get very well paid, and I have been not ungenerous in agreeing advantageous terms (to them) in pursuit of our goal. All of which is a precursor to the question "Why do they ruin it all (especially towards the end of a project) by dishonestly trying to screw more money out of the client and whining like little babies in a manner totally at odds with their otherwise grown-up, satisfactory work?". It is not just Darren, our bricklayer, it was also exactly the same pattern with the roofers, the plumber and the guys who tried (and failed) to demolish Concretia.

It usually starts about three days before they are due to finish. "How's it going?" I will cheerily enquire when I arrive onsite each morning. I now can tell when the whining is about to start, because the response goes from a usually equally cheery "Great", to a furrowed brow forming, a cheek getting rubbed and the head shake, accompanied by "Well, it's been a lot more work because........". As one with some experience in these matters, I should point out that most tradespeople in their mid-forties will have encountered just about every problem they are likely to encounter in the course of their work, and to a man, automatically adds 10 -25% extra in their quote for what is know as the SNAFU factor. So if you are ever faced with the furrowed brow, do not take it seriously, as they have already been paid for the 'extras'.

With Darren, the bricklayer, I faced another problem. My agreement with him was that he would be paid on a "day" rate, because I was getting him to do some things that would not normally be part of his job - things like installing (with me) a 145KG (about 350lbs) structural beam. The final week that Darren was with us, I returned to the house unexpectedly early - 1.30pm precisely, to find that Darren had gone for the day. I did not mention this to him the next morning, but on the final day that he worked (two days later), he had completed all his duties on the extension by noon. He packed up and was ready to leave.

"If you pop in tomorrow, I will settle up with you, OK?" I said.

The furrowed brow appeared, as did the chin rub.

"Erm, I been thinking...."

"What is it?" I asked.

"Well, the money's not really fair, and like...I think you should pay me until the end of the week" he said.

"Why?" I asked

Darren's explanation was convoluted in the extreme. Despite the fact that he had earned more money by working on a day rate than on a quoted price, and despite the fact that I now suspected he had been short changing me by disappearing early every time he knew I was going to be a UNI all day, he claimed that if he did'nt get paid to the end of the week, he would be losing out. He finished his argument with "I know you'll be paying me for two days I don't actually work, but you seem like a fair bloke and everything, so..."

I think I made a sound not unlike the demolition of a smallish nuclear device , then suggested to him that he could copulate away with himself, or words to that effect. Then I lost my temper and told him that I had come home, and he had not been on site, and that I was not stupid, and I was sick of "thick Yorkshire oiks" ripping me off, and he was a greedy,stup.. and blah, and blah and blah and, unfortunately, the argument grew in intensity from there. Despite the seemless logic of my position (apart form the regionalist remarks about Yorkshire people, and my comments about his ancestry) Darren would not back down. Eventually, we reached a compromise, which still involved me paying more than I should, and said our goodbyes, bad-naturedly. Darren probably got on the end of five months of frustration, and as a person who very rarely shows temper, I was amazed how good it felt.

Which brings me to plastering. I have often hinted at my own genius in certain areas, for example, as a sports commentator I know far more about team selection than most professional coaches. As an anthropologist (author of 'Civilization- Why') my work is groundbreaking, and possibly, in the words of Kenny (our anthropology research assistant), "a unique take on anthropology". I am also quite possibly the leading scenic carpenter in the Avenues area of Hull, an area of practically 2 square miles. Despite these accomplishments, however, I am terrible at plastering. I am possibly worse at plastering than Joey Mac's friend Tom is at painting, and as I witnessed last summer, that is quite bad. (Great lad - please do not think it is his character that I am impuning here, I am simply pointing out that give him a very good roller and some nice paint and he can make a flat wall in one inoffensive colour look like a plate of multi-coloured spaghetti has been spattered against said wall. I dont even know how he does it, as technically it is impossible to make 'beige' become two-tone).

Anyway, back to plastering, and how bad I am at it. The wall in the picture below is not ill. It does not have that skin condition that Michael Jackson has got. It is not damp, rotten, warped or even painted. No, it is just a wall that has been plastered by me. Despite the hideous nature of the results of my plastering, I can assure readers that rather than hire someone who knows how to do this properly, we are soldiering on in the rest of the house, partly so that I can avoid dealing with any more 'tradesmen'. Throughout this project , I have been absolutely dying to deliver the awful pun which follows, and now I can, because the project has finally reached the end game. In the next few weeks, we are going to get well and truly plastered.

Thank you and good night

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Bin a long time

Apologies may be due to the regular readers of this missive, both of whom may have felt a certain sense of something being absent in that YNWA has been AWOL recently. Alas, and alack, the extingencies of life have most assuredly taken over and ruled out the possibilities of new informative postings. Light though, has returned to YNWA in the form of end of term assignments being completed, extensions having been built and cats returning, if not to normal, at least to a kind of uneasy peace.
Firstly on UNiversity, I beg forgiveness for repeating myself, but assignments are a competitive sport. Therefore all the energies previously put into my personal writings, both musical and proto-literary have gone into my school work. It has not been easy - anthropology, my Free elective has genuinely challenged and engaged, posing the problem of being too interested in the subject matter at hand. MYOL(Manage your own Learning) the subjec that brought "do" words (or 'verbs' as normal people call them) has brought it's own challenges, because despite winning a reprieve from the lectures I still have to write the assignement for this module. This presents some difficulties. The assignement title is a s follows:

"With reference to published material, evaluate and reflect on your study skills at the start of the module and produce an action plan showing how you will develop these skills further". THe italicisations are entirely my own. As these particular words floated off the page my hackles, if I had any, would have raised. The topic is presented by a lecturer who has an enthusiasm for the vague notiuons of Learning styles and Reflective Learning, Blairite concepts as meaningless as the phrase we collectively encountered some months ago - "worklessness". There is a world of focus groups, market 'research', 'military intelligence' and other oxymoronic new-speak at work here that frankly makes me want to reach for the sick bucket and declare sports journalists as the natural, cliche-free inheritirs of Shakespeare. despite this, and the fact that I want to write a very short, very terse riposte to this University- level essay. I still have to keep eyes on the prize. Somehow, 2000 precious words, words which would undoubtedly be better occupied describing something meaningful, have to be persuaded to join eachother on a page in response to this abominably meaningless assignment.

With that in mind, I can introduce to you, exclusively, the paragraph which did not make it into the final essay on this excrucuating topic. The paragraph read as follows:

In some texts (REFERENCE) study skills are closely linked to the concept of Learning Styles, and participants are encouraged to investigate their learning style as an aid to improving their study skills. The concept revolves around the (unproven) notion that differing individuals have differing learning styles and that identification, and awareness of, one’s own learning style assists the development of study skills because each learning style has strengths and weaknesses. Strengths can be built upon, weakness can be minimised by adaptation of whatever style the subject may be. I can go no further without commenting that this has about as much validity as asking a bricklayer to uncover their ‘hidden diva’. Reflective learning is also encouraged in some texts although evidence for this particular pile of drivel is as rare as rocking horse shit.

I have to also report that I sucked it up, and in Nel's phraseology "Did not do a Ken". "Doing a Ken" refers to the absolute rule of University and life in general, in that there is definitely a time and a place for highly original thought, BUT that place is definitely not as an undergraduate. It may be cynical of me, but my role as an undergraduate is to achieve as high marks as possible, NOT to think originally.

On the house, we are progressing. I know I have promised pictures for some time, but my ageing camera, time and the fact that these projects come together very quickly at the end have prevented photographic updates. All I can say at this moment is that Concretia has been defeated. The only evidence I have for this is a picture taken tonight, throught th ebedroom window, of our erection that now stands in its place. On that note I will close, having two more assignments to complete:

Friday, 5 December 2008

Oh Yeah, Canada

I meant to say that if you think you've got problems, think again. As it is too late for me to write a full entry, I beg Canadians to consider that while you might have a jumped up, arrogant little p***k for a Prime Minister, in other places in the world, this is happening:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/05/karaoke-killing-malaysia

Oh, Canada.....

To all Canadians who may be reading this. I can offer you all political asylum in our semi-built extension (the conglomeration formerley known as Concretia) until democracy is restored in your country. I do not want to Harp on about it, but if ever there was a case for proportional representation, it is surely now. Failing that, I will see you in New Year, when Parliamentary rule is re-established.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Welcome to the web

With one foot in age of steam, (his father drove steam-driven haulage trucks along a famous old Lancashire Road called the East Lancs Road), and surviving the Second World War, (albeit as a youth), having watched the legendary Dixie Dean play as a striker for Everton, and witnessed the age of the telephone, television, fax, mobile phone, moon landings, The Cold War, Presidential Assassinations, the demise of Communism, the Nuclear Age and having been an influential trade Union Leader throughout the Sixties and Seventies, as well as managing a successful career change in his fifties at a time when going from a Shop Floor Tradesman to a Manager, and having the foresight and dedication and self sacrifice to move into a Middle Class area, for the sake of his kids, at a time when the phrase "upward mobility" had not been coined and a "tradesman" living in Sibford Road was something of a scandal among the Headmasters and Bank Managers living in that suburban enclave AND living through these historical and personal changes without being swayed by the fickle tides of history and so remaining true to his fundamental beliefs, these things as well as the day s in the park and the football and the holidays they could not really afford, all these things, qualify my father as one of my all time heroes, along with MLK, Mandela and Hannibal. And now I have a problem, because the most honest, principled and moral person I know has reached the computer age, going on-line last week at the tender age of eighty. Question is, do I tell him about this blog. The answer is almost definitely yes. The further question is "Do I keep this posting, or do I delete it ?" because Celts or Brits, English or Scouse, whatever mongrel ethnicity we claim to be, we still have good, old fashioned Northern European reserve, and as we all know, reservation between family members is the perogative of British families. We shall see - if this post disappears, it means I have 'bottled' it. In either case, welcome to the Web, dad.

Aware of delays since last posting I will press on. Main reason for said delays is my involvement in the purgatory know as "Undergraduate Exams". I have papers due in all four of my modules, and as you may be aware, I regard examinations of any type as Competitive Sports that quite possibly should be Olympic. I love writing, and I love writing essays, but I regard the end product of essays which are going to be assessed, as almost completely separate from actually learning anything. Despite being heavily involved in our ongoing house project, I am determined to crush the opposition(AKA my fellow students) into the ground and win a famous victory by writing essays that are impossible to mark with anything other than a triple AAA distinction. ANd yes, I know this means 'A' cubed. Therefore, last two weeks I have constructed:

a. A devastating critique of the notion of "Learning Styles". This is pure vengeance directed at BYOB, except it is researched to the hilt and written in a text book fashion. The conclusion was written more as a personal pleasure than an academic pursuit, hating the religion of Learning Styles as I do. AND before any of you INTERLECTALs git on yer high horses, do NOT tell me yoy have never done this. I have to add that I have made sure I have passed on this module first before taking this pleasure.
b. A fawning review of an ethnographic text on Greenland written by one of my ANthropolgy lecturers' friends
c. A couldn't-sit-on-the-fence-more-unless-you-actually-were-molecularly-bonded-to-said-fence review of Theories of Learning
and finally
d. A slightly World weary and jaded essay on Psychology, in keeping with our lecturer's demeanour. Knowing that some readers are themselves Psychologists, I should add that my only other alternative(bearing in mnd the Mission Objective of gaining optimum marks) was to write the essay as if I was drunk, thus reflecting the demaeanor of my other psychology lecturers.


In addition to the above I have torn a muscle in my side. At my age, and with my history of smoking, drinking and living la viva loca, as I believe it is termed, pains in the rib cage, abdomen, chest cavity etc make one reluctant to seek medical attention, mostly because of fear of what the quack will say. This time, the pain got pretty bad, and I say this, not boastfully, as one who has a pretty high pain threshold, so I booked an appointment with the doc. I may not have previoulsy mentioned this, but given that the UK INVENTED free universal health care, my experience of this system since coming back has been disappointing to say the least. I have a torn meniscus cartilage that I have been told will take up to nine months to treat (and there is no small discomfort involved there either), I cannot get registered with a dentist AND the local Accident and Emergency Department has bouncers on the door, day and night because of the amount of violence between patients that it experiences. Seeing a doctor in the UK can be much more stressful than just accepting the heart attack and taking a couple of Aspirin.

Nevertheless, I went to see a Doctor and had a thorough examination. Pulse and blood pressure were normal, but when the Doctor wanted to put a stethoscope on my chest, I went in to emergency defence mode. OPerating on the theory that "if they can't hear it, it won't be there" I stopped breathing when she placed the perenially cold discus against the lower back. "Breathe!. " the Doctor urged. "OK" I whispered through tightly closed, pursed lips and commenced, still operating on my principal of "Can't hear, isn't there" to breathe as minimally as possible. THe doctor kept listening, seemingly for ages, and the more she listened, the more panicked I became, which increased my pulse rate, which used up all my available oxygen. EVentually it became breathe or die. I drew several deep breaths.

"All clear. Very Good. You have, as you said, pulled a muscle in your side. NO more lifting 140kg Universal I-beams on your own. OK?"

I referred earlier to North European reserve, but this Doctor was Indian, so surely it would not be too bad if I gave her a great big kiss. Would it?

Finally, I should comment on the numerous typos that occur in this blag. I can reassure readers who might otherwise have sleepless nights worrying about my real prospects in academia, that unlike YNWA, I do spell check, re-write, grammar check and re-write my competitive academic essays thoroughly. YNWA unfortunately, !: suffers because it is written when I have a spare twenty minutes or so, :; so editing, - revisijons and,,& checking are luxuries unaffordable. No disrepects duntinded. Prizes will be awarded for spittinathe deliberate typoos in this pirigroph.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Bring Your Own Beer

It has been a month in building, but eventually, the dam that was frustration just had to burst, otherwise JJ, my new Uni-buddy, surely would. Our frustration is rooted in "do" words and our confused expectations of life as a mature student.

JJ is the similarly aged guy I met on my first day at Uni, someone whose experience had taught him also to sit at the end of a row of seats in the lecture theatre. Since our meeting we've stuck together like glue, experiencing the highs and lows, the struggles and victories, the confusion and angst of the first semester and together we reach a conclusion: we both want out. Not, you should understand, 'Out' of our degree course, because this achievement of attending University in the second half of our lives is to us both a sacred and noble undertaking, but only a part of it, the module we have taken to calling "Bring Your Own Beer", or "Tie Your Own Shoelaces".

The correct title of BYOB is actually Manage Your Own Learning. At a glance, the title, as part of an Educational Degree, makes sense. After all, if potential Educators cannot Manage Their Own Learning, how can they be expected to Manage anyone else's? After four of the compulsory lectures however, doubts begin to emerge. The breaking point really hits with the lecture on writing essays, a Lecture that is subtitled "Picking the title to bits", and has as a featured handout a list of "do" words. The lecturer, explains that these "Do" words, when included in an essay title, tell you (the student), what you should 'do' in an essay. For example, if the "do" word is "Describe", this means that we should, well, 'describe' whatever it is we are asked to, erm, 'Describe'. The lecturer drives home the point "Do we all understand what a 'do' word tells us to do?". JJ, in a North Dublin accent dripping with sarcasm (it is a very dry accent), sticks his hand up "When you say 'do' words, do you mean 'verbs' ?" he asks, his voice rising to a pitch that actually defines the word "incredulity". The lecturer looks at him, askance. "Well, some people call them that, but I don't like jargon", she says sniffily. In a previous lecture, the same lecturer has announced that she will not say the word "phenomenological" because she does not like "big" words. The sound of young brains being taught the reality, but not the pronunciation of vacuous, fills the auditorium.

Managing Your Own Learning, as it transpires is actually a remedial level module, compulsory in our first undergraduate year, designed to compensate for the inadequacies of the British Educational System. JJ and I have sat through lectures on how to switch on a computer, on how to write essays, on how we shouldn't reference Facebook in our essays, but the final insult comes with the introduction of the complete load of bollocks that is the "theory" of Learning Styles. This pseudo-scientific quasi -religious claptrap is presented to us as fact, and we are invited to complete surveys which will tell us which of the four 'Learning Styles' we are - reflective, tyrannical, sexual, prehistoric. Actually, I just made up those categories because I cannot be bothered to remember the teenage-magazine level rubbish that each category supposedly was. We both automatically manipulate our questionnaire to demonstrate that we are all of these styles at once, but the lecturer ignores this rebellion, explaining it away as proof that humans can be very flexible. NO SHIT, Sherlock!.

The second I find out that my assignment for this module is to compile an action plan to improve my learning skills based on the questionnaire, and that this comprises part of my Year Marks, the revolution starts. JJ. has like me has had a very varied and interesting life. More of this will be revealed as YNWA gradually catches up with the last few months over the forthcoming week or so, but suffice to say, that like myself, if there is a revolution to be had, JJ usually finds himself as the mouthpiece. We rapidly convene a delegation (me and him) and are off to see the Head of Department. Miraculously, we emerge from the meeting, with the achieved objective of being excused from the objectionable module, and we 'do' this without having to resort to any of the tactics that we had earlier discussed over a few pints - strikes, letter writing campaigns, sit-ins, demonstrations etc. We retire to Gaz's (a nearby cafe that has become an HQ for Liverpool fans in Hull) and have a slap up breakfast as a victory celebration.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

...of strained ligaments, relationships, budgets and patience...

The ligament belonging to Dazza, the brickie. Dazza looks like he never sleeps - he has dark rimmed eyes, and a stretched exression to his face, as if he is in pain most of the time. Which is all explained by his confiding in me that he has a really bad back, and has recently been finding physical work harder to do, despite enjoying his craft. As luck would have it, he texts me on Monday morning, just as we are about to build the damn extension, to inform me that his ankle ligament is injured. Dazza cancels work for the week, and the build of the extension extends.

Meanwhile back at Nickson Towers, the cheap smoke alarms in our apartments are malfunctioning like crazy. Perhaps it is just one of my own peccadiloes, but if I was a landlord, (and I was at one time), the LAST thing I would stint on would be the tenants safety. Quite aside from the potential for lawsuits that is always there, the thought of causing or being responsible for the death of my tenants as a result of being cheap is an absurd risk.This observation is brought to you without even mentioning cats, who are the principal victims of our landlord's cheapness. In our apartment, the smoke alarms go off at the drop of a hat, or the singeing of a toast, which ever is sooner. This alarms cats, who immediately hide under a bed. Unfortunately, our neighbours, experts in Szeuchan Cookery, set the alarms off with monotonous regularity.

This weekend, the usual happened, namely smoke alrms at intervals of twenty minutes during supper time. Later that evening, the cats went out for a pre-nap walk, and met Something. As yet the Something has not been identified, but it was possibly a fox, OR black mouth tabbie, a local, yet lovable hoodlum who catches squirrels for fun. Whatever the Something was, it cornered our guys, and sprayed Calli with urine. She ran into the house, stinking to high Heaven and obviously terrified. Tosh, thinking she was "Other" attacked her and a night of chaos ensued. The end of this long story is that our cats have adopted a psychological condition known to cat psychologists as "redirected aggression syndrome". Cock and bull might well spring to mind, and every time, in Canada, I saw tv adverts for 'acid reflux disease' or 'anal bad diet complex' , or 'lazy bastard condition' accompanied by a Helpline number and an advertisement for a pharmaceutical guaranteed to relieve this symptom of too much wealth and time-on-our-hands, I would laugh. But i can now, from personal experience testify that, at least as far as cats go, "RAS" is very real. End result is that we have to completely re-acquaint the little bundles of fur(and teeth) with eachother as if they are complete strangers.

The mechanism for this involves loads of time attention and strictly controlled contact, all of which means time. And time is not something that we have an abundance of, as we are trying to use this commodity to rebuild a house. The cats,as usual have thrown a rather large spanner into a gargantuan set of wheels. Never mind, it could be worse. We could have gone over budget on our project.

Oh, hang on a minute, it appears that it is worse, and we have gone over budget. The culprit is of course, Concretia. 10 tonnnes of garbage, six weeks of effort and even after we have removed her, more surprises manifest - this time a mysterious mains water supply that comes from no-where , and goes nowhere and runs right down the line of our new extension - all revealed since Concretia's demise. Photos will follow, but more costs have been added to get this situation resolved, and perhaps more crucially, more time has been spent resolving it.

Nel got me the best birhtday gift I've had for years, and a great birthday card, which read "I have a very good feeling about the next year". This sentiment, if realized is some ambition. despite Concretia, despite the Estoinians (who, we have been reliably informed have wrecked their new accomodation already), despite the change of life to being a student (and it's attendant pressure) despite too many trips to Liverpool, because for me, life, at least in England would be difficult to beat. I hope it does get better, but only because I want to see how good it can get. Thanks for the birthday, RHB.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Popularity Contests

Among the rafts of knowledge that have come sailing to my shore since beginning the process of gittin edercated, are a few gems of insider knowledge. For instance, anthropologists walk incredibly quickly. They also have a lot of urgent text messages to answer, and, due to an apparently impossible workload (as I discovered when I managed to track down Richard outside the Wilberforce Building having a quiet cigarette), do'nt even have enough time to discuss anthropology because they're too busy doing urgent Administration. Anthropologists also, as I have discovered, are NOT creatures of habit. For example, if you happened to stumble on one having a quiet coffee at 10.15 in Zucchini's on a Thursday morning, it is possible that they may be there the next day. BUT, if you then assume that they will be there every day at that time, you will be wrong. Apparently, most anthropologists have to randomly shift the location (at least), of their preffered coffee break location due to their wrokload, and, poor dears, spend most of the time during these coffee breaks on their phone.

Needless to say, this almost random pattern of behaviour has made it more difficuly for Richard and I to continue our discourse on "Civilization - Why?". The problem has been made doubly difficult because Richard's phone suddenly erased his phone number AND his e-mail address from his contacts list. Unfortunately, the same error caused my number , which I had given him, to be erased at the same time.

Still, Rich (as I have come to call him), is definitely interested in my meisterverk and his enthusiasm for me to undertake genuine field work has, if anything, increased. On my part, my mind has been blown wide apart by my anthropology course, which is, quite genuinely, miles ahead of the other courses I take in terms of quality of delivery, hardness (it is very, satisfyingly difficult), and the enthusiasm of the lecturers for the material.

Anthropology contrasts sharply with two fo my other First Year courses. Possibly the worst course I take is called Manage One's Own Learning. Actually it is not called that, and I may in future describe it by the title that my Irish friend JJ and I have given it, namely 'Bring YOur Own Beer'. Essentially, this course teaches us how to write essays, a skill (undoubtedly) that I thought was a 'given' as an Undergraduate. My 'given', though, is not the Universitys's 'given. As an example, I should point in the direction of Lecture 3, which was on the topic of "do" words and how they relate to the writing of essays. Some of you may know a "do" word as a verb, and may be as equally puzzled as I am, on why I was sitting in a lecture, at a University, the principal point of which was to describe the various "DO" words one might expect in essay titles, and then to define what we should do if our essay title included the word "Describe". This module, which I should note, is very well taught, is not why I came to University. To use the modern vernacular, IMHO, University's should be a place where people who can already write essays attend, and teaching people basic writing skills, if present at all at Uni, should be for people who are in every other respect suitable to undertake a degree, but perhaps lack, through no fault of their own, a few basic tools. Instead, this BYOB course occupies over a quarter of the required modules in my First Year.

One may ask, "Why?", and the answer, it seems, rests with anatomical posteriors, AKA 'bums on seats'. Far from the "Good Will Hunting" notion that I approached my Higher Education - namely that I would spend much time sitting round earnestly discussing deep philosophical issues with similarly cravated c-students - the reality is that Universities these days have to effectively 'earn' money, and they do this by attracting students in large numbers. I am more likely therefore, to have a protracted conversation with my fellow students about the difference between 'Far Away' and 'Small' as I am to discuss Kierkegard in any detail. The practical rollout of this is that unlike my anthropology course where my 'head' is getting daily blown apart by concepts, facts, and readings that are completely new to me, other courses I am required to do make me feel like I am going to night school.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Wicked Witch is dead ......now the real work starts

Above is Concretia two weeks ago, below is Victory (nearly) achieved....

ld

I feel a little like one of the World War 1 Generals who promised millions of troops "It will all be over by Christmas". The past week of sloughing through mud and digging a big trench supports this view. However, despite this, we have made some massive steps this week, and, pun completely intended, have made a huge break through in our war against Concretia. In fact, Concretia, the masses of concrete that formed an unnecessarily robust foundation to our previous extension is now gone. In its place we are now digging an unnecessarily big trench, which we are going to fill with masses of concrete, in order to build an, er, extension.



We (myself, Darren, a bricklayer, and perhaps surprisingly Carra, my former workmate from Leeds, whom I have shipped in for the dig) finally achieved the destruction of Concretia after a battle that for me had lasted six weeks of undermining the thing and then gradually sledgehammering it's surface, breaking it apart six inches at a time. Due to access problems we could not get a big digger into the yard, so in the end, this was the only way. The last pieces we rented a massive pneumatic drill and eventually reached a point where we had weakened it so much that it literally fell apart.

The picture below shows Carra, who I brought in for the next stage - the digout of the new foundations - just before the building inspector told us we needed to go another foot deeper. In fact all these pictures were taken just before we got told to go deeper, but hopefully they convey an impression. As Hull is build on clay, and as it was raining all week, it was a horrible job, manually spade digging eight tonnes of rain-soaked clay.

Below is an aerial view of our trench, a structure fit for the Somme. One part of me thinks "What's the point?" but at least half the reason these things are done, if they are done in the right spirit, is for the achievement. There is something intrinsic in human nature, I propose, that draws positively from shared experience, especially achieving difficult tasks in adverse circumstances, as a team. I might not be in this house by Christmas, but when this thing is done, we are going to have a massive party and quite a few great people, will have some great stories - the one about Craig falling into the trench, the one about Cheap Steve hitting his foot with a sledgehammer, the anxious weekly e-mails from my nephew Thomas asking how we are getting on with Concretia, the Concretia song competition, started by Joey Mac and continued here in his absence as Carra, Dazza and Mazzer fit the word Concretia into various songs, the way it pissed down with rain all week as we dug five feet (Yes! FIVE Friggin feet the Building Control guy made us dig) then suddenly went sunny almost as the last spade loads were removed, the story about how we got on site one day and found a family of about twenty frogs had taken up residence in the bottm of the trench, and I made Dazza and Carra AND the Rubbishman's team (guys who'd come to remove all the clay we had dug out) rescue the little guys and build an escape ramp every night so the frogs could get out if they later returned. Hopefully anyone from YNWA who cannot make the party will be there, at least in spirit , as well, because the telling of the story is at least part of the legend.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Just a quickie

Just a quick note commenting on the furore that has arisen in the UK over a juvenile prank played by some minor celebrity broadcasters. Russel Brand and Jonathon Ross, a 'comedian' and a talk show host respectively, have got themselves into very hot water by phoning up the answer phone of a celebrated British Actor (the guy that played Manuel in Faulty Towers) and leaving a stupid message on his answerphone.

Minor news, you may think, but not really. Bearing in mind something a French friend once said to me about' a country has the newspapers it deserves' , this insignificant, pathetic drama has actually been the most important news story over the last few days. It has claimed front page status, not only in the tabloids, but on the broadsheets, and has been the leading story on the major newscasts each evening.

I have lived in Canada, and therefore do know that the Canadian press is not perfect. Similarly, in Madrid, Barcelona and Paris, scurrilous rags exist. The difference is that they are seen as, and treated as the comics that they are, not as publications that set the agenda. The reports in other countries broadsheets may not always be earth shattering, but the level of intellect, information and debate that the British people have been trained into accepting is almost American in it's inanity.

As a protest, I have declared Large Mansions and NIckson Villas to be independent, sovereign outpost of my favourite countries, but because I do not believe in nationalism, this new entity will henceforth be known as the Federal Trans-Continental Canadian-Scouse Republic of Ireland and Mongolia.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Mr Thorndike, I presume.....

At Large Mansions, Concretia, despite her status as Ace Of Spades in our own house of cards, still stands resolute. Battered, but resolute. I attend Friday morning's Introduction to Social Anthropology Lecture with the abomination that is Concretia very much on my mind. Pretty soon, the anticipation of basking in the rays of knowledge cast by my Lecturer cast thoughts of Concretia from my mind, and I arrive at the lecture, five minutes early, sit in my accustomed seat (the furthest away from the furtive sounds of texting), and assemble, in good order, my pens, highlighters, notes, textbook, writing pad and lecture notes. All is going well, and it is a good early (by University standards - I have been to Large Mansions to meet my tradesmen, sent a few e-mails and had breakfast) start.

The lecturer fires up Powerpoint and the first slide hits the screen. I halt in the middle of note taking, because the topic of the lecture is "Dirt, Pollution, Taboo and Abomination". The blasted slab jumps immediately back into the forefront of what passes for 'mind' in the Old Noggin, and I have to regain a little composure before fully attending today's topic. As it happens, the topic does not actually refer to Concretia, although the definition provided for 'pollution' by Mary Douglas, the anthropologist of "matter out of place" certainly applies. Without, at this time describing the topic in detail, I find it spooky (perhaps because it is HAlloween) how many anthropologists have come close to the findings of the masterpiece "Civilization- Why???", and if it were not for the fact that some of these people stumbled upon their research some time ago, I would have justifiable grounds for crying "Plagiarists! They're all out to copy me". At the end of the lecture, I decide to introduce the lecturer, gently, to the concepts of "Civilization- Why?" by asking her if she can point me in the general direction of some cross-cultural studies on taboo "as I've been doing a bit of work in the area myself".

She looks at me closely,

"...Well....yess and no. Have you been talking to Richard?"

The glint in her eye, and the tone of her voice are a dead giveaway that she is a victim of a phenomenon I have very recently learnt about, namely "Classic Conditioning". Not only that, but her attitude demonstrates another phenomenon that I have very recently been lectured on, and that is the phenomenon of "priming".

Further evidence, as if it was needed, is provided when she stats hastily (Flight or Fright Theory, MicGuiness, 1465) gathering up her laptop and lecture notes. Richard, it seems, her research assistant, has obviously "primed" her to my advances, and in a clear case of classic conditioning if I ever saw one, she has reacted, not with free-will (or ID, as Freud has it), but as a typical Structuralist, and with a mien suggestive of the whole "Frustration-Aggression Complex" (Tyler-Hammick, 1902) has started salivating (probably because she recognises an opportunity to nick me whole theory) which, if you ask me, is as Operant as it gets.

I come round, and realize that the whole thing has been a horrible dream, and that I'm so tired that I have fallen asleep during 'Onka's Big Mokka' , a film about recirocity in Papua, New Guinea. Later that day, back at Large Mansions, I do demomstrate some real aggression towards the scaffolder who still has not removed the scaffold (that we had erected so that the place could be roofed) and who is now holding up all our work on the new extension. Later that afternoon the scaffold gets removed, which makes me happy, but what does not make me happy is that dealing with tradesmen (yes, unfortunately they are all MEN) is just same-old, same-old pointless macho bullshit, and the reason that the scaffolder has been dragging his feet is because I shouted at him weeks ago and he's been sulking/proving-a-point ever since. I did'nt realize, and just thought he was an idiot, which is why I shouted at him in the first place.


I've done this construction politics/ shit in various guises for twenty years, and it is just so old. Uni could not have come at a better time and despite the fact that I'm as genuinely confused about the facts I am learning in Uni as my dream would suggest, it is new. And not just new-therefore-novel-therefore-good, because with our Gypsy-esque lifestyle, we have 'done' new to Death, and 'new' for it's own sake lost it's appeal about three moves ago (Ontario-Nova Scotia-Birmingham), but new as in interesting, challenging, fun, thought-provoking.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Wake up and smell the Nobels

My anthropology lecturer's research assistant is very impressed with the gist of my "Civilization- WHY?" theories, so much so that he today encouraged me, after this morning's seminar to "go away and do some intensive research, and you might want to visit some sites - get some real fieldwork done - possibly India". I have already sworn him to secrecy, and offered him unpaid work as my research assistant, althoughI promised to buy him a few pints and a share of the millions that the Nobel will bring, but generously, he does'nt want 'in' on my idea, saying that "It was all yours" (ie mine). After further conversation, he seems more enthusiastic than ever that I travel, widely, as sson as possible and does offer to help in possibly securing me an extended fieldwork assignment away from Hull "If you go for two years, that would probably be ideal - time to gather data, and write up your observations". I express my gratitude and suggest that I could work with him when I get back. He expresses regret, and says that he'll have left Hull by the time I would get back, if I were to actually go this spring.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Cat mysteries - a double bill

We present two mysteries for your reading pleasure. The first solved, but remains an open case in the C-files. Read on, dear sleuths, and see if you can make heads or tails of the cat mysteries.
Our first tale takes place during a visit of two couch surfers from Australia. They had been with us for a day and a half already, so they knew our routine with the cats, and to watch for them as you entered and left the house. Toulouse is both sneaky and fast, however, and we weren't surprised to find him missing when we went to bed. We searched the inside of the house, top to bottom, with no luck. Despite our guests claims that they were careful, we assumed that Toulouse had bested yet another human in his never ending game. Where the mystery begins, is when we tried to get him back in. These days, when Toulouse does escape, he usually wonders for 45 minutes, and then comes back when we shake the treats and scratch him while he eats some grass outside of the house. This night was different. 3 hours of combing the streets and a cramp in my hand from shaking the treats gave no results. We ended up opening the old cat door and restricting Chupa to the top floor, hoping Toulouse would come back when he was ready.
Now I am a sound sleeper, but I was woken in the middle of the night by Anna who was convinced she heard scratching near the fireplace. Our bedroom is in the basement next to the fireplace, and Toulouse has seen us letting trapped birds out of the fireplace before, so we thought he may have climbed up looking for another. No luck. It was empty, and the sounds had stopped. Early the next morning, I wake up again, to the sounds of Anna meowing at our bedroom wall. My curiosity exceeded my desire for sleep so I watched until I too heard a meow in response. It took about 15 more minutes to solve the mystery. We double checked the fireplace, and searched the openings to the air vents, before we realized that you could access a crawl space between ours and our neighbors house from the furnace room. This crawl space is very narrow and is a maze of pipes, so any cat that managed to work there way in there, would be out of luck if the lights were turned out in mid adventure. (cats cn see in very low light, but pitch black - I assume). So a few minutes of shining a flash light at the escape route, and gentle coaxing brought the escapade to a close.
Our second mystery, is stranger still. Toulouse has not only mastered the at of escape (front door, and back yard fence), but he has also mastered pulling the heart strings. Anna is convinced that keeping him inside is slightly short of torture, so we will occasionally take him for a walk on leash (he has mixed feelings on this one), or Anna will let him out for a quick stroll once it is late enough and there are no cars or people around. He has learned to accept this compromise, and comes back within 30-40 minutes. Last night we did the same, and kept to our routine of letting Chupa in the back yard, while propping the front door open for Toulouse. No surprises, as Anna brought Toulouse back in and brought Chupa from the back yard. On my way to bed, even I remember seeing Chupa playing with a cord. The mystery begins the next morning, when I wake up and see the front door propped open. I wake up Anna, who confirms what I remember - the cats had been brought back in. So how did they escape? was the door not closed properly? had someone cam into the house during the night? (we don't always lock the door - this is Canada after all) :) I get dressed to go searching for Toulouse, when see him walking past my feet. All right, one cat found, he must have come back in when he got bored, but Chupa is not used to wondering, and expected he would be tougher to catch. Now here is where it gets really strange. I look in the back yard, and see Chupa sitting here waiting to get in. Now the back yard is enclosed, which is why we let him roam there when the front door is open. Toulouse can scale the back fence, but not Chupa. We didn't forget to let him back in, but did we sleep-walk and let them back out again? It so closely fits our pattern of letting the cats out, that we can't think of any other explanation? any thoughts from our sleuthy friends?

Long way around

Just started watching this on DVD. Absolutely brilliant. If anyone wants an insight into the mind of motorcycle road trip, check it out. (or at least as much as you can call a corporate sponsored adventure with Obi-Wan a 'road trip') :) at least it captured the comraderie of the open road, and proves there are roads in the world slightly worse off than back roads to Kedgie...

Friday, 24 October 2008

a lil bi o' larnin....

............is a dangerous thing. Less than that is a bit more dangerous. The first few weeks at University are revealing not only the truth of the cliche about learning, but a few additional insights into the process. My favourite course is my 'Free Elective' - Introduction to Social Anthropology. The course is fact filled and full of new ideas and concepts already, as well as showing me perspectives on topics I thought I had already grasped. Naturally, this makes a re-write of "Civilization - WHY??" necessary, as I have discoverd that the Earth was not seeded by aliens from Alpha Centauri after all, a fact that I had garnered from the web, and used freely throughout the aforementioned thesis to try and explain some of the stranger elements in human behaviour, such as the wearing of cardigans, serious poetry and warfare.

Anthropology though, has confirmed a position that has been unfolding throughout "Civilization - WHY??", a position that started as wild speculation, and one that I am now actually taking seriously. This position, and the ill-effects of a little learning were illustrated this week when Large had a blazing row with a colleague.

The colleague's position (lets call him Manu) ran parallel with Churchill's position, namely that our current system of government (and by implication economic organization) 'is the worst system of Government possible - apart from any other'. This view, broadly reflects the almost Darwinian view of Western Society that it (Western Society) is the 'natural' pinnacle of the evolution of societies, and that every other society in the World would eventually end up 'here' already if 'we' had not got 'here' first. Support for this view points to our 'freedoms' and proclaims that if people are left to be free, this (current Western Society) is where we end up. This view is further supported by pointing to the supposedly mercantile 'instincts' of people from Asian societies, a view which implies that if Asians been just a bit better at inventing things, it would be them now, not us, who effectively rule the world. Capitalism, the free market, commodity trading, it is said, are actually all just human nature. This does lead us to the curious proposition that Asians and a tiny minority of Westerners have specific 'money' genes. But as Manu and friends have already hijacked some of the thesis "The Selfish Gene"as even more support for their case, I will not pursue this particular misreading of Scientific works any further. I am, after all, not a satirist.

Largey's point was the opposite, specifically, that capitalism is not working, that humans have, still do and will in the future, choose to organize themselves along different lines than our current system, and that her brother Will is almost entirely responsible for the lack of movement on the societal level because he studies Love. Will, you see, is a philosopher, and in days of yore, his main job would be to grow a great big beard and sit in his exclusive Gentlemen's club (before retiring to his extremely rich friend's house) theorizing about how the workers of the world, oppressed as they were, had nothing to lose but a couple of old shackles, so it was way past time to start shooting anyone who was priveliged. In truth, far from fermenting revolution, what Will, and his friends actually do is philophisize, well nigh unforgiveable.

I tend to disagree that Will is entirely responsible for the current state of the World, although he has, from time to time, been responsible for my feeling that the World is just about to end, but that is mainly because he went through a period of using Prozac as a salad dressing, and as we all know, even Ranch is preferable. I do however, agree with Large about the rest. Even in Hull, as I have mentionewd before, we have a large number of direct acquaintances who have lost jobs, savings, pensions, business as a direct result of the current 'downturn'. In a world of plenty, this is unacceptable. In the months and years ahead, people in this marvellous 'here' will not be put into hardship because of drought, famine, disease or warfare, but because a system which exists purely to make very rich people even richer has failed as a direct result of the misjudgements of those very rich people. When I write that sentence, and realize just how absurd is the system that we have chosen to use to organize ourselves , I am tempted to re-visit the Alpha Centauri theory.

I was going to neatly conclude this post by citing some of the (still current) societies I have learned about in Anthropology, and thereby showing off my new found knowledge. These societies engage in barter, mercantile networks, hunter-gathering, nomadism. They span history and geography, ecologies and complexity and all are based on different paradigms than the current Western one. Would they be sustainable? Do I want to go back to living in caves? Do I believe in the 'noble (ecological) savage' ?. Absolutely not, but our laws, constitutions and economies are all choices we have made, and maybe, just maybe, if I read a little more I might discover that I can learn about some of these societies, not just so I can pass examinations, but so I can give Will a few tips when he finally decides to write the great Philosopher's book showing mankind the direction that it has to go in order that the next Great Leap Forward is a leap, and not a stumble.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

... The very next day................

I can report that just like the German pocket battleships of the War, although Concretia still stands, her end is in sight. Today, after six hours mighty labour, I chipped a small 6" x 6" piece from her side. I can sense that the battle is truly commenced.

In future years I will look back on this day and cry with a mighty voice " I have slain the serpent". Having just completed some calculations though, it would appear that at my present rate of progress, this day will not be until after July 17th, 2009.

I can sense another plan coming on.......

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Give me a solid spot to stand on and I will fail completely

That bastard Archimedes and his stupid theories. As previously detailed, the base to the previous carbuncle, or former extension, at the rear of Large Villas has proven problematic to the point where the Greek's rather flippant remark about levers is demonstrated to be total bunkem. Cheap Steve tried and failed. Next in was Mazzer and JJ, my co-mature student. We came equipped with a diamond tipped gas-powered saw, gauranteed by the rental store owner to make mincemeat of any Concretion within minutes. We also, on the advice of our philosopher friend, had the most sizeable lever we coud find - a 2inch think iron pole, six foot long. Fuelled by our new found friendship, several cups of tea and a few Digestive biscuits, we, unlike Cheap Steve and the boys, came up with a plan, as besuited our new found status as interlectals.

In short, it failed.

The photographs below may help indicate why:














Concreatia, as Joey Mac has unhelpfully dubbed the thing(thus making my act of removal a vengeful thing(by anthromorphizing the monstrosity) and thereby doomed to failure) is constructed as follows, from bottom to top:

One layer of concrete 4" thick, brick and stone mix - Pre-1940's laid on bed of rubble
One layer of concrete 6" thick, smal stone and ballst reinforced laid ontop of aforementioned layer
ONe layer of concrete 6-9" thick, reinforced with rebar and strengthened with granite ballast (small stone between 1/2 to 1" diameter).


THe project is a night mare and caused JJ and myself to declare last Friday at around 6.00pm that it "was about time. Time to start drinking heavily.." The following session had us plot many wild schemes, none of which came to pass and the thing is still there.

Tomorrow I have another crack at it, having surpassed myself in reading for Uni.THe image below shows how it has not progressed since last time.

THe rest of the new pictures in the Ella Street renovation album have been added, some of which show the bathroom mosaics completed, but not grouted. I have not yet ordered this album so it is not dirctly included in this post, but for anyone who is impatient to see the completed mosiac without the benefit of my witty titles, you can simply click on the album form the last renovation updates and the images will be in that album (as it is the same album, only with new images added).


THis weekend Charlayan is coming to visit us, and her and Nel are going to complete work on the bathroom tiling. I look forward to Charlayan's visit, but a little bit of me wishes she was a six foot six man mountain with a need to blow off some steam.

Concretia awaits.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Newfangledisms: A Terminological Challenge

A few years ago RHB and I received a card from a friend which said something like:

I'm confused. I have met someone and I do'nt know how to describe him to my friends. Should I say:

A). boyfriend? no, too cutesy.

OR

B). partner ? no, too PC

OR

C). significant other? no, too pompous

OR MAYBE

D). person I want to regularly ***** the living daylights out of ? yes , that'll do.

I have to admit that after two scant weeks of being edercated, that I stand similarly terminologically confused.

This confusion first arises when I discover that as I progress through my course, I will have multiple 'partners'. I should not continue without describing where I stand on the issue of describing one's current paramour. In our daily life, RHB and self refer to the other variously as 'partner', 'husband', 'wife', boyfriend', 'girlfriend', 'She Who Must Be Obeyed', 'Idiot', 'Largey', 'Darling', 'the UberleutnantReichfuhrer' or simply 'me bessie' (this is Liverpool slang for 'my best mate'). All these terms are interchangeable, and I would like to think, humourous and non-judgemental. Despite a degree of variation in the labels, we tend to err on the side of choosing words that imply a degree of intimacy, either via the language used or via the tone of voice and I have to admit that there is not an awful lot of thought injected into these expressions- they come out as they come out.

Social psychologists, on the other hand, as I have discovered this week, devote an awful lot of time to what people are called. So much time in fact, that one can spend weeks devoted to arguing over the correct nomenclature to be used in research, while completely ignoring the results thereof. It is while being lectured on this issue that I discover that the term 'partner' is now the correct term to use for people whom I would have previoulsly called 'subjects'. In fact, I discover that I am way behind the times, because 'subjects' was superceded years ago by 'participants' , which was then itself superceded by the term 'partner'. I struggle to see the relevance of the discourse, and I disagree with the appropriateness of the term. Naturally, in private life, I can understand how in a relationship where one straps someone to a table, pours oil over them and then subjects them to some experimental processes, the term 'partner' would apply. It carries the correct implications of intimacy for such operations. But in Science, even if the same actions are conducted during the course of experimentation, it is, when the term is introduced for the first time, misleading to call the person one is doing these things to 'partner'. The proposed outcome, and circumstances, are entirely different, and essentially, are totally dissimilar in intimacy than the previously described activity. even the clothes are different. In my opinion, adoption of the word 'partner' for 'experimental subject' sends completely the wrong signal. Admittedly, the actions sound similar, but unlike in one's personal life, there is an entirely different agenda in play here.

It is a tricky subject to introduce to one's tutor, so I approach the topic bluntly.

"Is'nt it rather anal, getting all twisted out of shape over a few stupid words?" I ask my tutor, whom I later discover is auther of a tome entitled 'The Semantics of Science: Gender and Sex Issues in Language" (Or something). Forty five minutes later, I cave in to the inevitable and resolve to cross 'partner' off my list of names for RHB. She can still call me 'subject' though.

Next up is Anthropology. Here, I think, I'll get to some meat. No messing around with terminology or semantics. Our first lecture however is about the ethnography of anthropology and whether peoples we previoulsy knew as 'hunter-gatherers' should still remain so, or whether, as a reflection of the larger role played by women in providing nutrition for these societies, they should be referred to as 'gatherer-hunters'.

University, I can see, will not simply be about learning stuff. It will also be about whether the stuff I am learning is correct, and also about speaking an entirely new language. Already as a tenderfoot, I am asked to take sides in this war of words. Franky, I have a foot in both camps. I am disturbed that anthropological arguments about terminology got in the way of actually stdying the people we are supposed to be studying. But I will not dismiss the alternate view. That, marvellously, is what I am here for. Even if it does mean having multiple partners.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Hull Fair 08

Hull Fair is the largest, and oldest traditional fair in Europe. By largest, I mean that it covers a huge area of the city, and by oldest, I mean that it is much older than Canada. Older by at least seven hundred years. Which is about how long the "Escalator", a ride that self and RHB decided to attend, lasted, at least subjectively.

The Fair proper - ie the bit where travelling carnies take money from punters - feels a bit like Coney Island in it's heyday, or at least it feels how I think Coney Island would have felt. It is noisy, brash, extremely colourful, loud and a thing that you go to just because other people go there. But there is another side to Hull Fair, in that it co-incides with 'traveller' Parliaments. Outside town, the four 'traveller' sites expand massively, and spontaneous sites arise wherever possible. I would use the word 'Gypsy' to describe 'traveller' but political correctness has told me that I am not allowed to describe these people as such. This is despite the fact that real Gypsies, or Romanies, do refer to themselves as Gypsies. Adding to the confusion is that the Gypsy culture has been added to by a bunch of New Age hippies, drop outs and people seeking an alternative lifestyle.

The Gypsy Parliaments sound fascinating: there is horse trading (literally), dispute resolution, weddings, divorces and social gatherings, all of which outsiders are excluded from. These events occur not in the Funfair but in the camps that spring up outside and around Hull during the Fair. It is a mysterious and unconnected world, dramatically removed from the Ivory Tower of academia that we can now both claim to inhabit, and while I am thinking "Vive La Difference!", I am also thinking that I would not want to share this world for all the tea in China, even the Fairtrade stuff. Caravans are just too cold.

Me, RHB and Chris descend on the Fair just at the right time: it is shutting down for the night and there is an air of disreputableness about everyone and the rides which are still open. We wander the aisles, and I win a Light Sabre by hooking little duckies with a magnet. Chris and Nel disappear into a house that advertises "Get lost in the maze" for so long that I think they're kidnapped, and later we all have a go on the Dodgem cars. Among all of this, RHB and self inexplicably decide to go for a ride on some thing that looks like an eighty foot long pendulum. As we discover, about a minute after getting on the ride, this is becuse it IS an eighty foot pendulum. After about three minutes of G forces and stomach churning action, I am getting a little bored, while RHB just wants it to stop, so we are both grateful as it settles into the dismount position. Unfortunately, the roustabouts decide that as we are the last ride of the night (or something) they will give us a bit longer, so the ride takes off again, flinging us into the air with gay abandon. By this time, my jocular comments to Red are becoming a little forced, because I've suddenly become mindful that Hull is an epicentre of subsidence, and as each swing reaches it's apogee, the ride gives a little lurch, and I'm picturing two little orphan cats. Red just wants it to stop. Eventually it does, and we get off. Surpassed only by buying Large Villas, it is a significant 'What were we thinking?' moment.

We have missed the previous Fair (last year) and unless someone like Chris comes again at the same time next year (she is a great observer of nuance in crowds, and sees stuff we just do not notice) this may well be our last HullFair. It is definitely interesting, full of sulky teenagers, wandering families and a whole strata of human society who just look lost, and would do no matter what environemnt they find themselves in. AT the same time, we have great fun, as we are all avid people watchers. The people that attend Hull Fair are divided into a few categories. These are:

1). Teenagers on dates
2). Teenagers who wish they were on dates
3). Teenagers who try to give the appearance that they could have been on a date if they had wanted to but are having fun anyway
4). Amateur photographers trying to get gritty photos of the 'real people'
5). Bloggers
6). Families pushing pushchairs. This is the strangest category, mainly because if the intention is to give the child a sensory experience, they could have saved themselves a long bus ride (or difficult park) by just strapping their bambino to the back of a friendly neighbourhood dog and driven it (and said child) into their local pub during Karoake night. For the child the experience would have been the same.

Nevertheless, I would have to say that Hull Fair is one of those brilliant social anomalies that should continue forever, unadvertised, un-branded and MacDonald's free.
Hull Fair 08



Next day, on the local news, a report tells of how the ride we had been on got stuck when a couple of guide cables snapped. Minds are made up - Hull Fair 08 may well be the only time the event appears in this infrequent report.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Ireland Vacation Photo Album

The full photo album from Ireland is today's post.


Cork, Ireland

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

House reno update

A rather boring, but functional title, I'm afraid, and less exciting than the other post I was going to post which I've decided to postpone. This other post, based on my degree studies is provisionally entitled "Freud was an Idiot", but as I believe that education is a learning process and I might, just maybe, discover that Freud was NOT an idiot, I will postpone writing this possibly slanderous assertion.

We have had friends over at Large Villas for the past two weekends helping with the renovations. CCP came in order to get some hands on experience in tiling and drywalling. Then Christine came up from London to work with Nel on the mosaics for the bathrooms. In terms of excitement, the tiling was quite high up on the list because it represents the beginning of the realization of the design "vision" we have for the place. It was a highly experimental process, one in which yours truly (even though I am posting as Nel, it's actually RHB's partner writing this) did not get involved. The concept was developed by Nel and then refined over a weekend by her and Chris. The results are great, and as soon as possible I will add to this album some photos of the finished work.

House renos updates


We also get the roof retiled this week - does not sound exciting but as the leaky roof had been delaying any progress on the two upper bedrooms, it was agreat leap forward. The roofers were great - professional, thorough and great company. Most of them had a limp in one leg or the other and one day when I was out on the scaffold with them sharing a cup of tea, I asked why. The answer came as I was leaning against the guard rail some thirty feet in the air, as the senior guy explained that it was because at some time or other scaffolds fail, and most roofers have fallen off. I beat a hasty retreat inside to the safety of my solid floors, but as I was the contracted carpenter to replace a few rotten joists I still had to go out on the thing to complete my work. As I was doing this mostly at night, after School, and as it is now dark fairly early each evening, I had a few scary moments, as it is not until you are on a scaffold of this height on your own that you realize the scaffolding moves and sways and creaks alarmingly. Pictures of the completed roof will follow.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A noisy Introduction

"Mmmgnafghh" is admittedly a curious noise. And it is no wonder that a noise such as "Mmmgnafghh" would attract the attention of practically anyone who hears it. Much to the distress of the most recent undergraduate of your collective experiences. "Mmmgnafghh" might be emitted in a variety of circumstances, to whit:

#1. When falling off a climbing wall at an altitude of less than nine inches.
#2. When getting attacked by a hungry black bear
#3. When riding one's Hog, or other two wheeled vehicular transport over a particularly bumpy road in the direction of Kejimakujic National Park

I can think of several other examples, but I am too kind to include them, even though "When getting run over by a lawnmower" does sound extremely funny.

All of which should not distract from the plain fact that shortly after sitting down in my tutor's office for a seminar on Reflective Learning, among a group of complete strangers whose presence, age and, admittedly, sex, made me quite apprehensive, "Mmmgnafghh" did, once again, erupt from the old mouth, involuntarily and completely unwelcomed.

The circumstances are to do with how we(ie RHB and self) are currently (dis)-organised, as we adapt to the change in circumstances which has accompanied my undergraduateness. It has become very, very obvious very, very, very quickly that if I have a seminar/workshop at 12.15 at the University, I may possibly have to rethink my scheduling. Specifically, this would refer to organising meetings with tradesmen ( at Large Villas) that are timed so that I just about have enough time to get to the University thing after the meeting, provided I can sprint (in my dirty site clothes) from the house renovation (Large VIllas) to Nickson Mansions (our apartment), shower, get changed into my Uni-togs, jump on the trusty Crosstowner, and ride like the very divil hisself to the Wilberforce Building.

This scheme, which for the moment I will refer to as my 'plan', is, as I discovered, full of potential. There is the potential that the shower in our attractive-on-the-surface-but-so-badly-done-in-practice apartment will not be working. There is also the potential that the trusty Crosstowner has suffered a slow puncture, likewise that the cat will choose to escape, and double likewise that the only clean top I have is creased like tissue paper. On this day, all of these potentials are realised, as I sprint to make my seminar after a meeting which went on too long. I pull my jeans from the dryer, which has malfunctioned, and nearly cooked all my clothes instead of drying them, float some of RHB's deodorant under each arm and liberally across the chest, and nurse my valiant steed Universitywards.

Miraculously, I arrive at my tutor's office with five minutes to spare, enter at the appointed time, and then wait for the rest of my seminar group to turn up. As I am rapidly learning, undergraduates are late for F****ing everything, and are completely unapologetic about it. Eventually, the rest of the seminar group arrive, with an attitude that seems to say that the tutor is lucky they decided to show up. A big part of me wants them to get a job in Leeds. Nevertheless, the lecturer starts the session.

I am very uncomfortable with the topic we are about to discuss. This is because we are about to discuss a Chapter of our assigned text titled "Issues Around Reflective Learning". I do not have to read further than this Chapter title to realize that me and this topic are going to have issues of our own, and that if I do reflect at all about the topic, it is with an accompanying sense of nausea. Nevertheless, I have independently researched the topic and have written three pages of foolscap notes, littered with phrases I intend to use in the seminar, phrases such as 'Bullshit', 'Twaddle' and the familiar stand-by 'Post Modern, Freudian pseudo-scientific clap-trap'. Naturally, I have referenced research papers to back up my opinions.

Unfortunately, as the rest of my colleagues take their seats, my uncomfortability with the topic is matched only by the uncomfortability rendered by my jeans, which, having been cooked in our malfunctioning dryer are now tighter thanI am used to. As an expectant silence settles on the Prof's office, I lean back in my chair, and attempt a re-jig. This involves crossing my legs. It is at this moment that the "Mmmgnafghh" is emitted. Apparently, the seam betwixt my legs has issues around the contents of my physiology that occupy the same space and exerts a sudden, inexorable, intense and focused pressure on the now totally-redundant-for-at-least-the-next-five-hours aforementioned objects. Experience (I was after all a Goth and used to wear VERY tight jeans) has taught that relief can be obtained by instant, gentle massage, but that is probably a questionable route, given the circumstances, so I opt for a massive cough and banging my notebook around as if I am arranging it.

The professor, still with a look of mild surprise on her face, invites us to reflect on what we have learned since our course began.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Fresher's Ball

"Do you fancy a pint", except in JJ's rough Dublin brogue it sounds like "Djy fancy oh poyint?".

Twenty minutes later, sitting in Sleepers, nursing a poyint of Worthington's Cream Flow, we agree that we'll just "have the one". It's Monday after all, about five thirty pm and our first day of proper lectures has just finished. Naturally, midnight comes and goes and the good stuff is still flowing, except now we've moved to JJ's kitchen and its two stiff fingers of Bushmills each. The acid test comes, inevitably, as JJ is pouring the juice. He glances casually at me and asks

"Yer want some ice in that or something?"

I look at him like he's from Mars, and nothing further needs to be said. We sit there and sip, neatly. Perhaps us getting along (as we have been doing), is not just because we're the only men in the class, but I do sense that although my new found comrade in arms and I have hit it off immediately, I shall be missing out on an important facet of University life if I dont also attempt to mix a little more broadly.

The question of how to do so without being either creepy, or well, creepy, is one I am considering the next day when I pass our Departmental noticeboard and discover to my horror that I have been placed in a small seminar group that, self excepted, consists entirely of young female students. I realize quickly that it is not the 'female' that particularly bothers me, it is the 'young'. Young people can be scary and tend to notice all sorts of things that us old'uns do not - things like the make of one's trainers, nose hair, ear hair, lack of hair and excess hair in the form of sloppy, unshaved chins, and if my trendy English nieces are any guide, they also notice very quickly when an old person is trying too hard to be young. Immediately, I decide that my safest bet is to adopt an air of studied nonchalance, perhaps with a suggestion of wisdom, while steering clear of being patronising, but above all, to appear genuine.