Thursday, 28 November 2013

'We're the teachers, and you're nicked.....'

I would like to apologise in advance to anyone who is reading this and wasn't living in the UK during the 70s and 80s. For you much of this will just seem like a nostalgic trip through the dust of  memory lane wearing rose tinted spectacles, but it's my blog, my rules, please bear with me to the end.

Back then we had proper TV shows, one of the biggest being The Sweeney, a firm (subtle pun there for Sweeney aficionados) favorite with our family.  The Sweeney were the hard punching, harder drinking, womanising, gun toting, rule breaking department within the Metropolitan Police who specialised in the fight against armed robbers.  It featured John Thaw as DI Regan, the leader and talisman of the outfit, and his sidekick DS Carter, played by Dennis Waterman.  Carter provided an aspect of the programme that I never personally understood.  I'm sure Dennis is a lovely chap, but he was never Brad Pitt, or Paul Newman, or Justin Beeber, if you see what I mean?  However he was a perennial hit with the ladies (or 'birds' as they used to say..) in the series, and they were normally beauty queens or glamour models.  I was always convinced he was giving the script writers a bung in order to steer the beauties in his direction.  Although  he was later married to the saucy Rula Lenska, she of the infamous 'George Galloway thinks he's a cat' incident, so maybe my opinion is skewed, or maybe she believed the hype?!  (Carter is on the left, nuff said....)


Amongst other things that we youngsters learned from the series (apart from how to act in a big fight, how to drive through stacks of empty boxes when being chased by the police, how to wear tights on your head if you're going to rob an armoured car, the list continues...) was an entirely new vocabulary.  Starting with some cockney rhyming slang, The Sweeney - Sweeney Todd/Flying Squad, they introduced in to our lexis:  shooter - gun, drum - home, manor - the area where you live, blag - robbery, bird - young lady, motor - car, firm - criminal gang,  I'm sure my brother and sister will remember more?

As previously mentioned, there was always a big fight between the coppers and the villains, which the bluebottles (more slang) always won.  Always a car chase between the fuzz (slang) and the crooks, the former in a Ford Granada and the latter in a MKII Jaguar (Jag).  This chase always ended in a goods yard, which every week was piled with empty boxes to drive through and always lead to the big group fight, at the end of which Regan would snarl 'we're The Sweeney, you're nicked'...  Brilliant.  What we didn't appreciate at the time was that the Ford had a lower top speed than Mark Cavendish and the handling characteristics of a super tanker.  If you were being chased by one now all you'd need is a Fiat 500 and you'd leave them for dead.

What made me think of this was watching the recent film re-incarnation of the programme. I appreciate the dilemma that movie makers have when presented with the idea of using a tried and tested franchise.  Do you make one set in the original era of the series or do you update it?  They chose to update it and for the hard drinking, fighting, ladies man role of Regan they selected Julian Clary, not really, it's Ray Winstone.  I mean who else is there in the Cockney geezer stable?  Maybe Jason Statham, but he was off filming Transporter 9 where he drives a Tuctuc around the M25 carrying an alarm clock attached to a firework.  For Carter they chose Plan B, he of the 'I know I'm not really singing but this is wot the kidz wont' music genre.  For the Granada they gave the rozzers (police) a Ford as a nod to the original.  Not a flame spitting, wheel spinning behemoth but a Fiesta, Thaw will be turning in his grave.  The bad guys had a modern Jag, so crime doesn't pay then...  I'm not going to review the film, but suffice to say I wouldn't watch it again whereas I would watch the originals.

My only brush with law enforcement  was when working for a recruitment company.  They had a large national client and a dedicated member of staff to run the payroll for the 500 or so temporary staff that were working in a call centre.  The staff paid in to a fund which they could draw on for their holiday entitlement.  Each week the payroll consisted of wages for the hours worked and lump sum cheques for those on leave.  So the regular guy goes on holiday and I cover for him and one day I notice a discrepancy in the vacation payments.  Cheques were being raised for people who were not on the regular payroll at all.  It transpired our employee had created fictitious temporary staff who all shared his bank account and were taking lots of holidays, oh dear...  We handed the file over to the local CID and despite their best efforts to do nothing, a conviction was made and the bloke did stir (went to prison).

What makes this memorable is the light bulb moment when I was staring at some figures and names and suddenly it morphed in to the crime of the century. Not quite an epiphany but definitely heading up the road to Damascus.

So to square the circle.  I was marking some exam papers this week and begin to notice striking similarities between some of the answers.  Digging out the relevant submissions I begin to cross check them and lo, here comes that feeling again.  I cannot tell you how excited I am to go back to school next week and growl 'I'm a teacher, and you're nicked'.. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Rain rain, go away..

Strange though it may sound, we've been having a bit of inclement weather lately.  In the last couple of weeks we've had some rainy spells and even one very impressive evening of thunder and lightning.  At the moment we're benefiting from the equivalent of a 'snow day', school was closed at 10am in order to allow children to get home before a severe storm hits us apparently.  This leads to every child reaching for their mobile phone so they could call their drivers and get a lift home as soon as possible, and that doesn't seem strange to them, the fact they have drivers to take them home and maids waiting to take care of them.  I'm sure a lot of these families would watch Downton Abbey and think that it was a 'fly on the wall' documentary.  Suffice to say it's now 3pm, what would have been home time, and there has been no rain at all..

The problem is that when it rains we get floods, for two reasons.  One is that it tends to rain for a short period of time but very intensely, the second is that the roads have no drainage whatsoever, other than gravity.  So you soon get to know where the puddles (and I'm talking over your flip flops and up to your ankles puddles) appear and where is dry.  A side effect of the rain is the panic it puts in to some of the local drivers.  Unused to wet conditions, some tend to panic and drive at 5mph with their hazard lights on at the first sign of a drizzle.

There is also perhaps a lack of forethought in how some buildings are designed.  A friend of ours has a villa with an open verandah along it's longest side.  Unfortunately this slopes towards the house so water just pools against the walls until she opens the front door.  She has taken the decision to avoid any surprises when this happens, so opens the front and back doors and has a little river running through the place.  Fortunately the floors are tiled.  Our local mall has the same problem.

As you can see it has quite a large roof, rain goes from here, down concealed drainpipes and out of holes at the bottom which are horizontal to the road, normally at about 150 PSI, enough force to knock a small person over!  You can also see the large car park which slopes towards the Mall, this means a wave of water runs towards the shops before being parted and flowing past the building.  This often leaves the car park under about four inches of water while the drainage is taking place!

The building site on the left by the way is shown on Google maps as the Radisson Hotel, don't book a room yet....

I guess the overall response over here to these observations about rain would be similar to comments about why we don't have anti-avalanche strips on roofs in England.  It's simply not a problem often enough to warrant any further thought or investment, you build to the norm not the exception.

Tomorrow is our three month celebration of making the move out here, and we both agree the time has flown by.  We still get flashbacks about the preparations that we made before we made the move and our first few days & weeks here.  There has been a lot of water under the bridge (no pun intended..) and tomorrow we pick up our biggest purchase to date, a car!  After only two months of research (beating my normal time by ten months) we can say goodbye to our rented Yaris, we'll miss you little fella!

When you reach these milestones you often tend to reflect on what you've been through, and I been doing just that.  It's amazing to me that I've been sharing these anecdotes with you for just twelve weeks, so much seems to have happened!  For me the most amazing thing is the people we have met, something which my daughter Lily who is traveling around the world at the moment also found out.  Whether it is at the Hilton, at school or just in the town,  we've had the good fortune to make some new friends.  Domi has lived in a multi-cultural environment before but for me this has been a new experience, and so far it has been amazing to meet so many nice people.  I've always thought that deep down the vast majority of us want the same things, a safe environment to live with their family and a chance to earn some money.  We meet people every day, some local and some who have traveled from across the globe to realise these ambitions and more often than not, they are polite and kind.  For example, when I ran out of petrol in a hire care within sight of the hire company's office, it was an Emirate who stopped to see if he could help.

 'There is no them and us, it's just us.'

Next week is National Day so there will be two days (?!) of celebrations.  Everywhere is bedecked with flags and slogans so I'll report back on what happens next blog.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Tudor nudity? History has never been so much fun.

So here I am, new to my role as a history teacher, charged with the responsibility of awakening the concept of connectivity with the past in my classes of year 8 and 10 students (who are about 13 and 15 years old respectively, I only mention that as some of the people reading this who don't work in schools may need help in visualising the sort of children we're talking about here!). 

Thankfully I have a scheme of work and trusty reference book from those stalwart people in Oxford to work with so what could possibly go wrong?  Let's start with the sense of humour that these authors have.  They know as well as we do that the first thing any school boy does when he gets a new book is to have a look through for any suggestive or lewd pictures, along with any text that may prove hilarious hidden in the more sober messages about the Tudors or Stuarts.  Not that I ever did that..

Alarm bells should have been ringing when it was highlighted that Henry VIII employed someone specifically to wipe the Royal personage after he had been to the toilet.  Clearly put in to bring some levity to the subject of the much married one and it worked very well.  Suffice to say I resisted adding the comment 'the money was good but it was a bit of a s**t job..'. (Sorry Mum..)  That was then followed up with a chapter on Bloody Mary, bloody great..  I've never heard so much 'bloody'ing' going on in my life.  Why couldn't they just call her Very Dangerous Mary, or Vicious Mary?

Then I was approached by a colleague who whispered in hushed tones 'whatever you do, don't teach Tudor Crime on page 41'.  Now, we live in a conservative environment, school trips are single sex to avoid any hanky panky on the bus to the water de-salination works or wherever it is they go.  Suffice to say saucy pictures are a no go area.  So what part of Tudor criminality do the authors choose to focus on?  Highway men, smugglers, child pick pockets, no they chose criminal gangs who lure men to secluded spots then rob them.  What is the bait?  Topless women.  You have to be kidding me..

Yes, unknown to me as my school omitted this from the curriculum when I were a lad, in Tudor times there were gangs of semi naked women roaming the streets acting as lures for footpads.  Not happy in telling us about it, the publishers thankfully included a Tudor pen and ink drawing of these women in action in an alehouse, with their upper bodies completely uncovered to illustrate how the trap worked.  Thanks guys..  Needless to say that is the most thumbed page in all the books that belong to boys, who think it is the most incredible piece of publishing they have even seen, mind you they're not fishing in a big pond.  Almost worth learning to read so that they could enjoy such risk√© delights, definitely worth getting your glasses changed.

The school used to run an overseas trip to France, imagine taking these teenage lads who have had a sheltered upbringing like this to Europe.  First stop Carrefour for a baguette and Coke, but hang on what's this on the top shelf....  Boom, fifteen boys simultaneously faint and have to be immersed in the local fountain to contain their ardor sufficiently to get them back on the coach.  What if they had gone to Amsterdam?  Imagine the scene, 'Ooh look, there's Anne Frank's house, what the blazes is that! Splash...'.  Those trips have now been cancelled, or at least they're teaching them how to swim before they go.

As if that wasn't enough, in bypassing Tudor Crime we skip straight to Tudor Torture, surely no nudity here, just stocks, pillories, the rack, that sort of thing?  I hadn't realised how much time torturers spent devising ways of battering a man's private parts..  Why didn't they just call them Gooly Bashers instead of Torturers? (I'd like to take the credit for resurrecting the word gooly, last used in 1977.)  Two of the six methods shown were specifically designed to focus on this area, surely that can't be representative?  Whatever happened to thumb screws or the Iron Maiden (please, no comments about 'oh they're still touring and have a new single coming out..')?  Clearly another cruel joke from the publishers, and why did they have to show diagrams??  This also meant that I had the same question from every class that read the text,  'Sir, what are genitals?'.  Oh how we laughed...

Next week it's the Treaty of Versailles, which should be safer ground unless Clemenceau, Wilson and Lloyd George had a bunga bunga party that no-one's told me about?

Come back English, all is forgiven...

Friday, 8 November 2013

Fings aint wot they used to be..

So I've finished my second week teaching at the secondary school, and my initial impression is that schools over here are pretty similar to the ones I experienced in the UK.  This may suggest that children and parents are the same the world over, which is probably true.  The adults want their little ones to exceed their expectations, children want to do as little as possible and socialise with their friends, so where do teachers fit in?  Somewhere in the middle I guess, but I would bet our mortgage on one thing, the majority of people go in to teaching to teach, not manage the classroom environment.  Each lesson can turn in to a game of cat and mouse between the pupils and the teachers, the former trying to achieve their goal which could be to spend some time chatting with their mates, and the educators trying to get through their lesson plan!

For example when I was teaching adult learners in the UK, I noticed that some of them were spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the space between the table and their legs, where their hands were also resting.  It  didn't take long to work out they were busy texting or sending messages on Facebook.  They were concentrating so much on this activity that they never noticed when I stopped the class and drew everyone's attention to them.  Then guess what, the same people would do the same thing again and again, even when mobile phones were banned from the class, it was like an addiction.

Every now and again we take the secondary students in to the computer room where they can work on their own initiative on a website that we choose.  They can then print off their work, constructive use of IT, what a good idea.  But the temptation for them to go onto other websites is too much for some children, who are then surprised when you catch them, 'how did you know?' says their quizzical look.  It's not too difficult, the students on the correct website were a picture of seriousness and concentration, the others were smiling, that's the give away!  You also know because as you walk around the class the ones doing a little illicit browsing panic and try to close down the window, which often refuses to go away no matter how many times they click on the little red x!

One thing that has often struck me when in schools was how the minority of children took the majority of the teacher's time and not usually in support for the work they are doing.  That's the problem with cliches, they are so often true.

Regular readers will know that I like to share my experiences of ordinary elements of life out here that take on a curious twist, and so it was with my latest haircut.  The first time I had it done out here it cost me AED 10, or £1.60, so I thought I'd go a bit more up-market this time and spend AED 20..

So I end up at 'Handsome' barbers, I mean with a name like that surely it was created for guys like me..  The very nice Filipino man was delighted to have an Englishman in his salon, as he is an avid fan of the Queen, not the pop group, Queen Elizabeth II.  'What's she like?' he asked.  Well although I have lived all of my life to date in England, I am not close friends with her majesty, so I tactfully replied 'she seems very nice'.  What else could I say?  'Is she rich?' was the next question.  'Yes, very', I said. 'How did she get her money?' he continued.  Well here was the opportunity for me to launch in to my 'well her ancestors pillaged their way in to power and wealth over the souls of the masses..' speech, but as he was holding the scissors I instead said 'I think she inherited it...'.  Already we had reached the end of my knowledge on the Royal Family.  Could we talk about World War I or II, I know a lot more about them??

So far so good, I had managed to deflect my lamentable knowledge of the Royal Family and keep him on task.  Next he asked 'Lady Di, is she dead?', 'Er I don't know how to break this to you, but yes, in a tunnel in Paris'.  'I don't think so' he replied, 'all a conspiracy to cover up her marriage to Dodi Fayed'.  'And Elvis', he continued 'is he dead?'.  I replied in the affirmative, although I realised this could be a source of disappointment for him.  'No he's not, I know he's been seen alive' said my barber.  At which time he finished my hair so we had no time to discuss the moon landings or any grassy knoll theories.

Suffice to say, I'm looking forward to my next visit..


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Full time work? That'll never catch on..

I have been fortunate enough to have been offered some full time work, yes that's right, I'm back at the coal face of employment.  The secondary school have offered me a temporary contract which means I have sixteen classes of 20 or more children from year eight upwards.  So this seems an opportune moment to consider some of the differences between the school we know out here compared to the ones back home.

As is often the case there are more similarities than things at odds and again, as usual, more questions than answers. I've had quite a bit of experience of children, teaching them tennis and bringing them up, so they are not an unknown quantity to me, understanding  what makes them tick however is still a mystery.

For example, I used to admire younger kids when you would say to a group 'go and get a racquet' and they'd all run off like puppies.  Say the same thing to adults and they would walk sedately, say it to teenagers and they'd whinge 'oh do we have to? It's so unfair that I have to go and get one', then move slower than a sloth on a glacier in the hope the lesson will be over by the time they get there.  However put some teenagers in a school corridor and watch them go, they run like Usain Bolt being chased by a train, so you find yourself shouting out one of the teaching profession's mantras 'no running in the corridors' about ten times per minute.

Then there is the perennial volunteer.  Ask twenty four students a question and although they know the answer they won't put their hand up for the fear of being branded a geek, or even worse, being wrong, which is of course impossible for a teenager (my favorite one liner is 'Entire set of Encyclopedia Britanica for sale, no longer required, we have a teenager in the house', of course everyone under the age of thirty is now asking 'Encyclopedia Britanica???').  So volunteering falls to the two or three eager souls who for some reason missed the 'cool' gene somewhere in their manufacturing process, thank goodness, as every class needs a Mr or Miss Elicitation.  But you do find yourself saying 'OK, does anyone other than Michael know the answer?', another mantra.

The same keen pupils are normally in the 'early finisher' brigade too.  You set a task and before you can monitor the whole class the three keen ones have finished and have their hand up saying 'finished Sir' sooner than the slackers can get their pencil out of their bag and realise it's as blunt as a teacher's response to their parents on school visit day, when they ask 'what's the chance of my little one becoming a Doctor?', 'Slim and none Madam, and Slim's just left town...'.

This is my first experience of a secondary school staff room and that in itself is a curiosity.  You know as a child  you wondered what went on behind the doors with the sign 'teaching staff only, NO STUDENTS'.  Was it like Narnia, a mystical land where teachers had lunch time adventures fighting evil and surmounting seemingly impossible difficulties to achieve fame and fortune?  The answer to the curious student would is of course be 'no, it's where we go to talk about you, Smith minor, and collectively moan about your constant chatting and poor results.  Take out that gum boy'.  Maybe that's what they teach people at University when they are taking a teaching degree, staff room etiquette:  take your own mug, don't sit with anyone who isn't in your department especially Stinky Pete from ICT, and whatever you do if someone comes in and says 'can anyone cover my duty/class' just look down and pretend to read whatever it is you're holding, do not make eye contact..

Up until now my only knowledge about staff rooms came from watching Waterloo Road, so imagine my disappointment when during the first week there were no murders, fires or marital break ups.  Having said that we did have a fire alarm and whilst assembled in thirty six degree sunshine on the field you could spot the more experienced teachers from the newbies, they former all had sunglasses on.  Lesson 1, take your lunettes de soleil in to class with you, just one of the secrets that the old hands don't pass on, after all where would the fun be in that?!