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Why I Changed my Mind on Grammar Schools

9 Sep

After a summer of relative calm in the education world, the new term has brought with it  yet another raft of announced changes from education minister Justine Greening and the new PM Theresa May. This time it’s a doozy: grammar schools are back. New free schools will have the option of selection, and existing schools may introduce selective processes into their existing admissions policies. The aim is to improve social mobility.

Many people have already written about why grammars don’t do anything of the sort but instead mainly cater to the middle classes. Loic Menzies of the ‘think-and-action tank’ LKMCo has a series of excellent posts on the topic, in particular his take-down of the ‘Uncle Steve defence‘ – the anecdotal evidence that Baby Boomers whip out to prove that grammars help bright but poor kids. If you want to see the hard data, he’s got it. For a more irreverent but nonetheless thorough exploration of the political background to the decision, I also recommend Disappointed Idealist. I’m not going to rehash all this, but I do want to offer a personal perspective on the issue.

You see, until a few years ago I might have been an Uncle Steve apologist. I was a grammar school girl. I happened to live in an area with one grammar for girls, and one for boys – not the full on 11+ system at work in other parts of Kent, but a significant watershed nonetheless. My parents were absolutely desperate for me to get in there. They wanted that social mobility for me – the status of being at grammar school, yes, but also what they thought would be a first class academic education of the type they themselves (for various reasons) hadn’t had access to/taken advantage of. In their view this was a ticket to the dream life. I remember my mum having a total meltdown on the day of the test because she forgot my invitation letter and felt she’d ‘ruined my life chances’. The Headmistress herself (a rather stern, birdlike creature who would waft into assembly in a full-on black gown and bang on about eagles and budgies) had to calm her down. “Madam, as long as you know your daughter’s name, we have no problems here.”

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BSG Rewatch: Mini + 1.1-2

25 Aug

It was 2007 and I’d just started my summer job at Christ Church in Oxford, doing admin for a summer school for mature students (mainly Americans aged over 60). It was to become a regular gig, and it was a really great job to have because it included a lot of free food, a nice place to stay over the summer and quite a bit of free time. The guests were usually interesting to chat to and I have a lot of great anecdotes from that time.

Anyway, the first weekend I arrived and moved into my amazing suite of two rooms, which I later discovered was once lived in by Lewis Caroll! I had a laptop and a Wheelock’s Latin textbook to work through, but disastrously no internet connection. I soon realised I was going to need some way to amuse myself in the long stretches of downtime. The next day I popped into HMV and browsed their DVD stand, eventually picking up Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica, which wasn’t too expensive for the amount of episodes included. I’d seen some of the original version when it was 0n BBC2 and something about this remake really caught my eye. Maybe it was the promise of a fresh reimagining of a show that had seemed fairly campy and silly; maybe it was the picture of Six punching Athena in the face that let me know there’d be some badass ladies. I don’t remember what really sold me on it, but anyway, I bought it.

A few weeks later I had inhaled almost all three existing seasons. I fell in love with the mythology, the politics, the grey morality and the amazing female characters (hiiiiiiii Starbuck!) It became one of my all time favourite TV shows, and I was able to follow Season 4 in real time. I also introduced my friends to the show and we used to watch the DVDs together after finishing our essays and tute work, usually around midnight, so I got to experience it a second time. Then *that* finale happened, and I was so sad about it I didn’t want to rewatch the show at all. Until this year…

So, join my lovely friend Jodie and me as we dive into a rewatch of BSG! Our reactions are grouped into four categories: Starbuck (the most impt, of course!); Mythology; Music; and the rather bloated Miscellaneous. Spoilers abound!

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Two Weeks in Japan – Part Three

14 Aug

In Part One, I covered our itinerary plus first visit to Tokyo and Takayama

In Part Two, I covered our time in Kyoto

Leaving Guesthouse Soi was hard, but it was now onto the last leg of our railpass week: Hiroshima. I have always been wary of morbid tourism, not least because it feels disrespectful to the dead and those who suffered. However, after hearing from friends what an amazing city Hiroshima is now, I felt I needed to visit for myself.

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It was an emotional time to be in the city, as it was only a few days after the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bombing. The Peace Park was full of memorials and tributes, including thousands of paper cranes folded in memory of Sadako Sasaki.

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Two Weeks in Japan – Part Two

14 Aug

In Part One, I described our itinerary and how I came up with a schedule for our trip. I also described our first few days in Tokyo and Takayama.

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An afternoon and morning in Takayama were enough to see most of the old town, visit an Edo-style palace (Takayama Jinya) and start a walk into the mountains…until we saw the signs warning of bears and I chickened out of going any further. It was soon time to get back on the train and make our way down to Kyoto for the next leg of our holiday.

Kyoto

Kyoto was the place I most wanted to visit. My interest in Japan had been sparked by Memoirs of a Geisha, after all, and I went on to read a few books set in the city, including Liza Dalby’s non-fictional account of becoming a Geisha of Gion. Kyoto definitely lived up to my expectations.

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Two Weeks in Japan – Part One

14 Aug

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This post is late. Very late. In fact, it’s a year to the day since our two week holiday in Japan ended and I’ve only recently got round to uploading all my photos. However, a few people have recently asked me for tips and advice about travelling to Japan, so I thought I’d sling together a post to relive my adventures and help anyone else who is thinking about it. And if you’re thinking about it, you MUST do it. Japan was a wonderful destination, and the culmination of a long-term dream for me.

Planning

We knew we wanted to go for two weeks, so I began to research itineraries to allow us to see more than just Tokyo. Japan is a long-haul flight, after all, so it made sense to combine several parts of the country.

There were two main restrictions. Firstly, we didn’t want to spend all our time travelling between places. For my boyfriend Dave, whose holiday allowance was significantly smaller than mine, I knew it would be important to build in some rest time. Secondly, budget. Japan is known as one of those more expensive destinations (although I don’t think that’s entirely true – more on that later) and we didn’t want to break the bank.

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Summer Reading List

4 Aug

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Hello all! I’ve just spent a lovely week in beautiful Crete. As a massive Hellenophile, a holiday in Greece is just my idea of perfection: sun, sea and souvlaki. I also got loads of reading done, which is good because I’ve been a bit behind this year and definitely won’t beat last year’s total score. I got through a book per day, and without planning it, ended up reading exclusively female authors.

 

Some thoughts (in reading order):

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My Childhood Home

12 Jun

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There are ghosts in this house.

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Ten Things I’ve Learned Since Turning Twenty

21 Mar

I can’t hide from it any longer. Thirty is looming. I’ve got six-and-a-bit months to go until the big 3-0 and to be honest 29 is feeling like a weird limbo. I wonder if, when midnight tolls on October 4th, I’ll suddenly pull a Kevin the Teenager and undergo an instant transformation into an actual adult who wears Jaeger pantsuits and drinks coffee. Probably not.

Of course, many of my friends are also facing the same transition, and I’m starting to see a rash of bucket lists, special hashtags and daily Facebook affirmations crop up as people start to take stock of their rapidly disappearing youth. I’ve steered clear of that so far – a bucket list in particular would just be depressing because I know I would fail to achieve the majority of things on it before the big birthday.

 

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A typical Saturday night for 20-year-old me, in the glam and sweaty surroundings of the Flora Anderson Hall

But I am starting to reflect on the things I *have* achieved, and the ways in which I’ve changed. When I was twenty, I was pretty darn happy.  I was in my second year of university and living with a group of friends spread out across two tiny flats in North Oxford, right next to the canal. We did typical dumb student stuff like watch TV for 24 hours straight and brew our own booze and live off a diet of pie (much to the disgust of my continental housemate). I took Classics Mods, the notoriously tough mid-course exams, and didn’t fail Ancient Greek composition which to be honest was a miracle from Athena herself. I was also quite unwell for most of the year and went through a really testing time that summer following an operation. It took me a really long time to recover and I’d say it was two years before I really felt back to normal. In some ways it still has an impact on me now.

Since then I’ve lived abroad, done two kinds of postgraduate study and worked in three different schools. I’ve travelled, learned languages, danced and written four books. I don’t think I’d have predicted any of those things at 20; I was looking into a law conversion or a media career and thinking I’d go back to live with my parents in London while I interned. Things didn’t really work out that way, not least because I graduated smack bang into the middle of the recession. Also, although I’d probably be significantly richer right now as a solicitor, I highly doubt I’d be any happier.

Anyway, life lessons. Since 20, I’ve learned:

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Undiscovered Voices 2016 – Finalist!

24 Jan

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll have seen that I had some good news recently. I reached the final of Undiscovered Voices 2016 (under my real name), the competition for unpublished authors and illustrators in the SCBWI-BI. It was a total shock to find out that I was shortlisted – the call came when I was at school, so all my colleagues got to see me leaping around the staffroom like an idiot!

So, what does this mean?

Firstly, the brilliant team behind the competition arranged a brilliant workshop for us finalists, kindly hosted by competition sponsors Working Partners. It was great to meet lots of other writers working at a similar stage, but nonetheless diverse in background and experience. Also included were the winning illustrators, which gave me a fascinating insight into an area of publishing I’m unfamiliar with.

The main part of the ‘prize’ is inclusion in the UV anthology, available for download as an e-book. It is sent out to industry professionals who are also invited along to a networking event taking place in a few weeks. Needless to say, I’m nervous but excited about getting the chance to meet agents and editors.

Whether that leads to something concrete for ‘The Hunt is On’, or whether it is just a stepping stone in its continuing journey, I’m immensely grateful for the opportunities presented so far and still to come. Watch this space!

 

Goals, Resolutions and Pie Crusts

28 Dec

As the year wends its tired, bloated way to a close, it’s time to think about the dreaded ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. Of course, sometimes we need to have goals and aims rather than just ‘I resolve never to…’. For many years, I had only three: read more, write more and be less of a loser. All three probably still apply for 2016.

Last year I set some more specific aims in response to a post on one of my favourite blogs, Fluent in 3 Months. Benny had some good advice, which was to make sure your goals are concrete (a bit like the SMART targets we’re always setting with the kids at school).

As you can see in his comments, I set out the following aims for myself (with a languages slant, as per the blog):

Learn enough Japanese to get by in Japan: Achieved! I learned how to read hiragana and katakana plus a few basic kanji, which meant I was able to locate a Monjayaki restaurant in Tokyo with no romaji sign. It was really delicious so the pain of doing my Memrise/WaniKani reps was worth it! I was also able to ask a few basic questions of tour guides and bus drivers. Okay, I wasn’t conversing freely, but I learned enough to make the trip fun. I should probably revise this at some point because I haven’t done any Japanese since August.

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