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Dont buy the Sun.
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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:

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.