Friday, 7 September 2018

PONTEFRACT to visit Alan and Cath Mace.

Arriving from the Northern Line at Kings Cross with St Pancras in the background.
On Saturday 1st September at 9.30am, I emerged from the Northern Line  into the concourse between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations. The sun was shining and it was warm. I had the tickets for Alan Parry and myself to Wakefield Kirkgate printed off from my laptop, in my pocket.Alan was coming up from Byfleet and should arrive at Kings Cross just after 10am. We were travelling to Pontefract to stay with Alan and Cath Mace for the night. Alan had invited us up to give us a guided tour of Pontefract and visit some of its pubs.

Half of a supermarket trolley sticking out of a brick wall?????

 I had a wander around Kings Cross Station concourse looking for a coffee shop. Next to platform 9  is the Harry Potter supermarket trolley, suitcases and bird cage, apparently disappearing into a brick wall onto ,"Platform 9 and three quarters," from where the, Hogwarts Express, in the novels, travelled north. There was a crowd of Harry Potter enthusiasts gathering near this spot. Many were dressed as characters from the stories.  There were film cameras and photographers hanging around. Some of the fans dressed as Potter characters were being interviewed.  There were a number of security guards. I asked one what was going on. September 1st is the day the pupils of Hogwarts returned to school in 
 Rowling's novels. The fans were celebrating the event. 

Potter fans gathering at Kings Cross.

 Alan arrived and we both stood in the crowd who were obviously waiting for something to happen. Alan asked another security guard about the event. He told us that some of the stars from the latest Potter film, The Crimes of Grindwald, were going to make an appearance. Jude Law and Eddie Redmain appeared at the entrance of the Harry Potter shop. They posed with the trolley and had pictures taken with some of the fans and smiled for the cameras. 

Fans filming Eddie Redmain and Jude Law at ,"platform 9 and three quarters."

Witnessing an event like that makes you wonder how people get so involved and become so passionate about a fantasy like Harry Potter.  Some people need that sort of thing to get through life I suppose. 

It was time for Alan and myself to board our train north from platform 5 going to Doncaster and Wakefield.We boarded the,” Shakespeare Express."

Alan getting ready to board The Shakespeare Express.

We pulled out of Kings Cross and began our journey north. We passed the The Emirates stadium  on our right. The train sped along smoothly at 125 miles per hour.It felt like gliding over a sheet of ice. The sun shone. The buffet carriage was next to our carriage so we got coffee and tea during the journey. Two ladies sitting opposite us offered us biscuits. We arrived in Wakefield Kirkgate at 1.38pm. Nobody was about. Wakefield seemed empty.

Wakefield Kirkgate.

 We asked a man sweeping the platform when the train from Wakefield to Pontefract was expected. He thought the train to ,”Ponty,” might be cancelled because of the unofficial strikes that were going on.   We decided to get a taxi to Alan Maces house. It was a journey of about eight miles. The taxi driver was a sociable sort, "F," ing and ,"blinding," amiably as he drove us along telling us about his great invention for keeping the sun off his SATNAV screen. It appeared to be a piece of card cut out of a Wheetabix box, but it obviously worked for him. 

Alan and Cath's house in Pontefract.

Alan and Cath live in a detached house on a new estate on the edge of Pontefract, in Cavendish Avenue. Very ,”Surrey.”  Alan, after showing us our rooms, placed a bottle of Black Sheep Ale  on his coffee table, in front of us, to get  the afternoon off to a liquid start.

From Alan's house we walked into Pontefract centre. Along the way we passed through an area of cultural diversity. We walked past Tokies pizza restaurant and the Pearl Dragon Chinese takeaway.

 A large open piece of land that was covered in grass had all sorts of ridges and rectangular raised bits pushing up from underneath the surface. 

The site of St Johns Priory, Pontefract.

An information board explained how this was the site of an old priory dating from between 1090 and 1536. It had been called St Johns.

 Looking out over the countryside later from Pontefract Castle, which is on a hill, we saw in the distance the  water towers of the old coal fired power station at Ferrybridge. Near it and much smaller, glinted the shining steel chimneys of the new Ferrybridge Renewable Energy, Multi Fuel power station.  Those in authority, are thinking of demolishing the old cooling towers. The towers are part of the scenery and have been part of the lives of people in Wakefield and Pontefract for generations. What can be done with disused cooling towers? They look like works of art.

Ferrybridge Power Station in the distance.

As we walked along we came across Alan’s favourite shop, "A.B. J. Wood." They are a DIY and hardware emporium.  There were pieces of architectural salvage at the back of the premises, a red telephone box, railings, fencing,stone cherubs and old rusty railings. A large  polythene bag full of soil pipe parts dangled over the front entrance. Alan reckoned Mr Wood sold everything. I like shops like that. 

A.B.J. WOOD hardware shop, Pontefract.

A Shell garage across the road had a line of cars at each pump perfectly in line, like the starting grid of a formula 1 race.

Ready for the chequered flag.

Pontefract is old and we came across examples of its ancient past at every turn. Set in amongst a grove of lofty beech and horse chestnuts stood the ruins of All Saints church. It dates from the 14th century but it was destroyed and left a ruin during the siege of the castle further up the hill during the English Civil War. In 1837 a new church was built inside the ruins of the old church. It looks strange, a church  within an old ruin. 

All Saints Church, Pontefract.

On a street corner with Victorian terraced houses and a few ramshackle shops surrounding it is a worn grassy area with a rectangle of stones, no more than ten feet wide and fifteen feet in length . This was the stone foundations of Kirkebi Anglo Saxon Church built in about 700AD and mentioned in the Domesday Book. Here  King Eadred accepted the allegiance of the Northumbrians and Archbishop Wolfston of York. The church was no larger than a cupboard. They were either very small people or they got very friendly in there.

Kirkebi Anglo Saxon Church.

Further up the hill is Pontefract Castle. It has a dark history. It was one of the great northern castles and it was thought whoever controlled the castle controlled the north. It became a magnet for trouble. Built in 1070 by Ilbert de Lacy it was described in the Domesday Book of 1086. Henry 1st confiscated it from John de Lacy because he failed to support the King. Roger, John’s son and heir, later paid Richard 1st 3000 marks for it back but the King still kept the castle.  Later King John, returned the castle to the de Lacys and they lived there until the early 14th century.In 1311 it was taken over by the House of Lancaster. The Earl of Lancaster was beheaded there because of treason and became a local martyr  and revered by the population. John of Gaunt took it over but he was banished by Richard II. Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunts son, who had been banished with his father from the country returned when Richard was away, probably waging some war or other, took back his estates and became Henry IV. In 1536 Thomas Darcy gave it over to the Pilgrimage of Grace, a northern Catholic uprising against Henry VIII. He was beheaded for his troubles. In 1541 Catherine Howard, Henrys fifth wife, was accused of adultery with Thomas Culpeper. The act of adultery taking place in the castle. She was beheaded. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there. It became a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War and was besieged three times. At the end of the Civil War the castle was demolished. The local population was thankful. They were fed up with all the trouble the castle had brought them. 

Some of the ruins of Pontefract Castle.

"Ponty," is a picturesque town with Georgian, Tudor and Medieval buildings. It has blue plaques everywhere. One plaque remembers Peter and Fred Asquith who founded ASDA supermarkets.It is also home to the Tangerine Confectionary Company. They make Sherbet Fountains, Black Jacks, Fruit Salad, Liquorice All Sorts and Refreshers. The ancient, "Buttercross," is a  Medieval Market. 

The Buttercross.

Pontefract has a covered market off the High Street. It was being closed up for the night when we got there but we were able to have a  walk around it. The first shop we came across in the market sold Yorkshire cheeses. Liquorice Cheese, sounded good.

Pontefract indoor market.

On the other side of town is ,Haribos, who make Pontefract Cakes. Alan and Cath placed three bags of Pontefract Cakes on our respective beds, as welcoming gifts. 

HARIBOs where they make and sell Pontefract Cakes.

The three of us spent the evening touring the pubs in Pontefract. For a small country town it has a lot of pubs and we went into a few of them. We started in the The Broken Bridge which is the local Wetherspoons. We ate there. I had a good steak and chips.A few of the other pubs included, Horse Vaults, The Malt Shovel, The Ponty Tavern, The Red Lion, Liquorice Bush, and the Golden Ball.

We had a drink in here.

 In one pub I asked the barman about slag heaps. When I first travelled north , in the 1960s, when I was 13 years old, I remember seeing slag heaps everywhere. I have travelled north often over the years and slag heaps seem to have disappeared. The barman told me to look out of the back of the pub and pointed out a low hill that appeared to fit into the landscape. He told that was a slag heap. Its top had been removed and it was grassed over. 

The remains of a slag heap.
On the Sunday, the day Alan and I were to return to London, Alan made us breakfast of baked beans, mushrooms, eggs, sausages and bacon. He did an amazing job. Alan and Cath’s two dogs, Monty and Rory, two  black Labradors,  sat patiently and slavered at the sight of the food. Cath suggested, that as we had time before our 12.50 train from Wakefield to Kings Cross,we might visit the National Trust Park at Nostell Priory, an 18th century country mansion built in 1733 for the Winn family. 

Nostell Priory.

The house designed by James Paine with a wing and stables designed by John Adam is set within 3000 acres of beautiful parkland. The Winn family financed all this, first through the textile industry, then coal mining and also mining iron ore for the Industrial Revolution An extensive lake surrounded by trees and paths has large patches of lily  pads  and at this time of year is blooming with yellow flowers. The sun shining on the lake amid the shadows cast by the trees presented a lovely sight.

A walk in the park with Monty and Rory.

We walked around the estate while Monty and Rory ran for their yellow ball. We all got lots of throwing practice. We arrived at the impressive obelisk lodge gate at the far extremity of the estate. A herd of heifers gathered at the gates to the lodge house. The expansive grass areas all around were splattered with thousands of ,”cow pats.” Some of those ,”cow pats,” were big, very big. The heifers are well fed.

The Obelisk Lodge.
You have got to admire the Winn family who owned the estate. They were nothing if not persistent. One generation ran out of money in building the house. The next generation took on the project. Expenses had to be cut. Eventually they achieved what the family had set out to do at the park. 

Us three and the dogs.
There was no time before our train to see inside the house. It has collections of Chippendale furniture, and  Brueghel and Hogarth paintings We had a cup of coffee in the stable block and then it was time to drive to Wakefield Kirkgate Station. Alan and I said our goodbyes and thanked Alan and Cath for a fantastic time and then the two of us were off back to London.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018


Ellen and Gabriel, the founders and organisers of the Tooting Folk and Blues Festival.

The Tooting Folk and Blues festival took place on Saturday the 4th August between 12pm and 7 pm. It has been held for the last four years on that piece of Tooting Common situated by the corner of Dr Johnson Avenue and Tooting Bec Road opposite the Streatham estate. Saturdays event went some way to relieve the wilting qualities of our never ending heatwave this summer with some great music, numerous food outlets and, three beer tents. The crowd was enlivened.

A definition of anthropology in the Oxford dictionary states that anthropology is “ the study of human societies and cultures and their development.” Anthropology covers subjects such as evolution, behaviour, adapting to environments, communication and socialisation. The Tooting Folk and Blues Festival has it all.

The festival is organized by my friend Gabriel Mesh, his daughter Ellen and his wonderful wife Isobel. I wrote a blog post about the first Tooting Festival held on  Saturday the 8th August 2015 and looking back at what I wrote then I predicted that the festival was such a special community event for the people of Tooting and South London that it would definitely continue annually. I have felt inspired to write once again about this, the fourth festival.

The crowd gathers and some of the food outlets in the distance.

 I arrived at the south end of the festival site. The municipal toilets  and wash rooms were open and a whole array of blue portable toilets lined the shrubbery on my left. The natural arena lay before me, an open area of grass bordered by trees and bushes creating a large ovoid shaped expanse. The edges of this space were, for the festival, lined by numerous food outlets. “The Parsons Nose,” made delicious burgers in buns and hot dogs. Delicious aromas came from the, “Home Cooked Thai Flavours,” stall. “The Mansfield Farm,” van sold real dairy ice creams. Two young lads, “Made in Chelsea,” types, enticed customers with espresso martinis created magically from a shiny chrome contraption at the back of their pale blue Morris Minor. Sambrooks Brewery sold craft beers from two stalls. I can recommend the ,”Wandle,” beer. I had a few pints of the Wandle, a lovely light tasting beer made with maris otter pale malt, fuggles, goldings and Boadicea hops, so the sign next to the large barrel of “Wandle,” positioned under the cool shade of the Sambrooks awning informed me. The beer takes its name from the local river Wandle. “Field and Flower,” provided food made from natural organic sources. Other outlets included, “ Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” “Burritos,” “Sticky Beaky,” that provides slow cooked fast foods, “Slush Candy Floss Sweets, “and, a blast from the past, a “Mr Whippy,” ice cream van was situated near the entrance to the festival. From the anthropological point of view there was on this one site a variety of foods from different cultures and parts of the world. A rich cosmopolitan range of incredible flavours and smells assaulting the noses, taste buds and imaginations of us all. If evolution is nothing else, it comes about by the coming together of disparate parts to create new wholes.

Wood fired pizza. Delicious!!!!!!

 This year Gabriel and Ellen had a stall to sell the CDs that many of the bands have made. New this year, they also sold a Tooting Folk and Blues T shirt.

Families and  friends gather in one great mass of people.

From a societal viewpoint this festival had all the elements of a rich, creative and evolving society. Families and friends spread out  square blankets claiming their territory. The demographics of the festival had a diverse number of groups, people in their twenties gathered together and families with mums, dads and children and also individuals such as older men and women.One elderly lady wearing a long blue dress threw down her walking stick and danced to a reggae beat. Many people sought shelter amongst the trees, a primeval response, protecting themselves from the hot rays of the sun. The ,”hunter gatherers,” amongst us queued with hard earned money to buy the delicious offerings at the food stalls. “Carers,” sat with children and the elderly in protective groups on their blankets. Some groups interacted with other groups talking and laughing. The various groupings, each within their demarcated areas, were located within the mass of the festival crowd. A whole society existed here on this piece of grass on Tooting Common. There were those there to protect us, the police. A first aid tent to help those with physical problems. An information tent  provided information about the things we needed to know.  The bands provided art, imagination and creativity combining language, sound, sights and movement.  It seemed to me this large group of people  had enough  talents,  cross cultural experiences and age ranges to populate a new world . What sort of new world?

Stunflower, a mix of reggae, folk rock and punk.

The food stalls were one area where different cultural experiences came together creating synergies that produced new evolving culinary delights. The music and the bands were the other culturally diverse and creative element. The Vooduu People, an electric soul band from Brixton, sang a song called, Dynamite. “ Chemistry, whatever they want to call it, me and you’ve got it.” A great line describing succinctly the cultural symbiosis going on at the Tooting Festival. Stunflower, sang one number that combined reggae, electric blues and  punk sounding elements.

The ,"Sherriff of Tooting," Gabriel Mesh and The Gas. Great guitar playing from all participants.

Gabriel Mesh with The Gas, were our Tooting Sherriff and his deputies. Gabriel was, “keeping his eyes wide open.” Tommy McCardle provided some forceful driving rock numbers that had a gentility and emotional side. His memories of San Francisco and other life experiences showed how the singer songwriters are the diarists and poets of our time. 

Tommy Mccardle, an emotional intensity and  sensitivity.

Robin Bibi provided  nuanced and powerful acoustic guitar playing and encouraged us to,” Let The Good Times Roll.” His voice carried emphasise and meaning as he lived the songs he sang. 

Robin Bibi, performing wonderful nuanced guitar playing.

Jack Harris, with his dry, laconic style of humour entertained us to his different take on life but his honest singing and guitar playing, dredging the depths of his emotions engaged his audience and created a powerful response to a great set. 

Jack Harris, with the hat, giving a performance of depth and meaning.

Other wonderful performances were provide by the ,”Robin Booth band,” and also the great ,”Conrad Vingoe.” “Whom by Fire,” were a mainstay of the Festival once again. They are regulars at the “Breathing Room,” nights at the Antelope in Tooting Broadway. The Nunhead Folk Circle, another "Breathing Room," regular, performed a great set belying the Hawaiian shirts and straw hats. They performed some great folk rock numbers.

Food and drink in abundance.

The festival was an incredibly successful social, emotional, creative and musical experience. Gabriel, Ellen  and Isobel,  put so much hard work , passion and love into producing it for us once again. The festival is going from strength to strength.

Monday, 30 July 2018

A LITERARY PUZZLE (just for fun!!!)

This particular person is one of the most famous writers the world has known.

OK I am not the famous writer but I am standing in a tunnel this writer had dug.It passes under the road situated at the front of the last house this writer lived in, to a small plot of land on the opposite side. There a Swiss Cottage was constructed. The top room of the Swiss Cottage was used for writing in. There were views out towards the sea and an estuary nearby. I think the act of entering the tunnel and emerging the other side was an emotional and psychological act, passing from their domestic home life and coming out into the world in which they wrote.They had a telescope set up on the top floor to view the shipping and life on the estuary.

The Swiss Cottage, not in its original location but now in the garden of a museum in a nearby town.

A cathedral features in this writer's last novel . A dark, sinister, mysterious tale as far as it goes. The writer was writing it on the morning of their death and so the novel remains unfinished. 

This house , which features in one of the writers most famous novels , was the home to an unfortunate female character. When you read the novel, in many ways you want to sympathise and empathise with her but she is somewhat repellent and has become the stuff of nightmares!!!

The letter box has been refurbished but it is the original. It is located in a wall on the left of the entrance to this writers house. It was one of the first of its kind and the writer in question asked for it to be installed. This famous writer and their family all used this letter box to post  letters.

In at least three of this writers novels, characters walk along this high street.

The last house this writer lived in. They died here. The location has Shakespearean connections.

WHO DO YOU THINK THE WRITER WAS? If you can get the names of the novels alluded to and the locations portrayed in the photographs , you are amazing!!!!

Friday, 6 July 2018

Jane Austen Today: JANE AUSTEN'S WORLD CUP TEAM!!!!!!!!!

Mr Darcy (Fitzwilliam). 
Centre forward. 
Star striker, goalscorer supreme and team super star. 
Just imagine the crowd chanting. "Darcy ! Darcy ! Darcy!

Jane Austen Today: JANE AUSTEN'S WORLD CUP TEAM!!!!!!!!!: I wrote this eight years ago when England were playing in the The World Cup in South Africa. I put together a Jane Austen Team to beat the USA. I would choose the same team today. It was a bit of fun!!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018


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 A teacher getting the children to self assess their work against the lesson aims and objectives.

“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.” Benjamin Disraeli(1804- 1881)

On the 14th June 2017 a fire broke out at The Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. It killed 72 people.

Benjamin Disraeli was acutely aware of the divides in society in the 19th century. He mentions lack of intercourse, lack of sympathy and what is more, ignorance of each other. The response of the Tory Council of Kensington and Chelsea to the fire at Grenfell was appalling. The councilors did not know their own constituents. The leaders of the wealthiest London Borough had no relationship with the poor people of their borough. The head of housing at Westminster and Chelsea had never set foot in Grenfell Tower. The local community around Grenfell responded to the disaster immediately. The councilors had no concept of the disaster. Their response was woefully inadequate. They didn’t know the people they were dealing with. This was a culture they didn’t and couldn’t connect with.

We have a divided Britain, rich and poor, socially advantaged and socially deprived and as Disraeli knew, with Grenfell, one group did not understand the other and in the case of Grenfell they had never communicated. We have people who feel entitled to get top jobs. We have people who are perceived to benefit from an elite educational experience, because of their background. We have people who are destined for the low wage gig economy and who are perceived to have had a poor education all because of their perceived, underprivelaged, upbringing. It is even more subtle than that. Those who get good educations through the comprehensive system and go to one of the many universities, not Oxford or Cambridge and who are able and talented, still do not get the opportunity to rise past a,” glass ceiling.” because of their starting point in life. There is really very little social movement in this country.

A revolution in education is needed. I believe the way education is fractured and divided in this country is the root cause of our societies divisions, our lack of “intercourse and no sympathy,” our feelings of entitlement or lack of entitlement. In this country we have the so called elite public schools, Eton, Harrow, Westminster, Winchester and a few others, private prep schools, a few Grammar Schools, Comprehensives run by local councils, now being coerced more and more into academy chains, state junior and infant schools that may be part of an academy but still are often run by local education authorities. On top of all this we have an OFSTED system of inspection that promotes the ideals of the government, teacher assessments, pay linked to assessments and a national curriculum that is imposed and requires given methods of teaching.

The public schools dominate entrance into Oxford and Cambridge universities. If you go to one of those two universities, you are guaranteed life at the top of society. You become leaders of industry, government ministers and the decision makers. The lesser public schools provide entrance into the rest of the top universities in Britain these people become lawyers, managing directors, accountants, surgeons. Grammar schools can compete on equal terms with these lesser public schools. Grammar schools are the most damaging. They are a conscious act of dividing society and deciding who gets what in life. With the public schools it is down to birth and the wealth of your family. With Grammar Schools the government purposely, through the blunt instrument of an 11+ style exam, splits one group of children from the rest. Comprehensives provide pupils with entrance into all the other universities, colleges, apprenticeship schemes and vocational courses. The poorest achievers at this level are  lost to society and the low wage economy if they actually get a job. None of these outcomes relate directly to ability and achievement. They relate to being rich and poor and the environment a person lives in. The school system we have just entrenches this.

Theresa May, in 2016, announced her radical ideas for education. She wanted Grammar Schools to expand.  She wanted more working class children to go to them. She also thought public schools should sponsor and develop new comprehensive secondary schools in their area. Universities should also provide support by  annexing or creating new schools local to them . This was her (Conservative) approach to expanding opportunites and creating a meritocartic society. If you look at what she proposes it is more of the same, in larger doses, creating more divisions rather than bridging and removing the divides in our society.  

An example of why her proposals cannot work is an experiment carried out In 1965, the Marlborough experiment. The Witlshire Local Education authority along with Marlborough School set up the experiment. Twenty one boys from Swindon schools were chosen, after they had completed their o'levels, to go to Marlborough to do their A levels. By the end of their time at Marlborough, eight boys had succeeded but the rest had  not achieved well. The eight boys who did well appeared to have rejected their background and adapted to the new culture of Marlborough. The rest had been unable to adapt to what they saw as an alien world with traditions, rules and attitudes they did not understand.

We need a truly comprehensive system in this country. This patchwork of systems, public, private, grammar, academy chains and a dwindling number of education authority schools needs to be got rid of and we need a comprehensive system for everybody. A comprehensive school should be part of the local community. It can be a place where everybody from whatever background and ability should be educated together. We would see ourselves then as one people. The lack of social cohesion and the gulf in our society would be given a chance to fade and heal.Schools could once again be grouped under a similar system to education authorites because that worked. I worked for Surrey Education Authority and in my early teaching years they provided in-service training for mine and others individual needs and the particular needs of schools.Within the county network schools were allowed a certain autonomy which made each school unique. The county had an amazing team of subject inspectors who got to know teachers and schools personally.

A comprehensive school, beginning from infancy,  can allow each child to achieve their potential. Skills learning should be seen as building blocks to problem solving. Project lead cross curricular  work is exciting and meaningful and should become more important in the way teachers and pupils learn and progress. Children feel that they have purpose in their learning and are energised by project lead learning.It allows for problem solving, analysis and conceptual thinking 

Child centered education is achievable.Teachers differentiate work and assess each child in their class in each lesson. This feeds back to future planning and the next lesson. 

If every child in the country went to a comprehensive the whole education system could focus on all our children together as equals and value their individuality and personal needs and provide a high standard of education for the whole population and not be distracted and demeaned and damaged by other systems. Being community based, members of the community should have a say in its education policies. Schools should be grounded in their community and create their own ethos and traditons. A school should provide a broad education for everybody and what is more, provide lifelong learning.

Confidence and a sense of self are so important to our development as human beings. If that sense is destroyed or boosted the moment, we are born the consequences are dire. Thinking that others are better or less than us destroys us as an individual and destroys society as a whole. I was on a bus recently travelling from Wimbledon to Raynes Park. Some boys from Kings College Wimbledon, an expensive private day school, got on and sat near me. One of them looked out of the window and saw some Raynes Park High School boys. I heard him say. “I am so glad I never had to go to Raynes Park.” The others agreed with him. How destructive is that?

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 A classroom display with children's work, information and some open and closed questions displayed.

Outstanding teachers.
"Teaching should be left to the teachers." That is an idea that has been said often but what does it mean? Many years ago when teacher observations started we were assured that teaching colleagues could observe each other and be supportive of each other. This sounded like a  positive and useful thing to do. We tried it. I loved it. After observing one or more of my colleagues’ lessons and they had observed some of my lessons, we would sit down with a coffee and a note book and talk about what went on in the lessons. We gave each other creative ideas. We helped with an individual child that one of us might be struggling with in their behaviour or their learning. We talked strategies. It was a great way to develop as a teacher. This was called, being,” a critical friend.” Both of us were equal partners in the process, equally helping each other. The head would come in and observe once a term.  It was still a friendly supportive process with good advice given.Somebody coming out of University as a newly qualified teacher has reached a certain standard of competence and hopefully they have it in their personality, their imaginations, their creativity and their work ethic to become great teachers as they gain experience over the years. It takes time, maybe even years to develop as a good teacher. A new teacher can develop naturally with the ,"critical frend,"  approach  Then the government, in 1992, set up an inspection process called OFSTED. This is where it  went wrong. The supportive atmosphere within schools changed. The  teacher development within a school now has a sense of desperation about it. OFSTED had its criteria and its assessment grades, fail,  satisfactory, good or outstanding. The criteria were imposed on teachers and a heavy gut feeling, the weight of authority came down. We had to meet the criteria to pass. 

The criteria are wonderful. I absolutely agree with every one of them. Here are a few of the sixteen criteria and they often have sub criteria attached:

 a positive purposeful atmosphere,
thorough planning,
use of key vocabulary,
a range of classroom resources,
 a productive use of your classroom assistant,
well thought out stimulating displays including examples of children’s work,
a good use of closed and open questioning,
children should be involved at all times in the learning process,
 teacher modelling and demonstration,
reference to other subjects and how learning can overlap,
 referring to the aims of the lesson,
pupil self and peer assessment,
 and finally it must be shown that every child has progressed during the lesson.

 I would not argue with any of this. The list describes a good classroom and good teaching practice. I always tried to achieve these things. But think,  an OFSTED inspector or the head comes in and they have a tick chart with the criteria on them and they tick them off as they sit there for thirty minutes of your lesson. Developing good teaching strategies does not happen at once. The pressure from the top imposing these criteria  crushes teachers.The approach is wrong. It is domineering.It creates fear. Your next pay rise and keeping your  job relies on your lesson observations  and the progress your children make. The “critical friend,”  was a supportive, organic,and creative way to help develop as a teacher.  It was enjoyable and made you feel worthwhile and valued because praise was a large part of that process. We looked for the good things in each other’s lessons as well as what needed developing.  Self-reflection is also a big part of what we do as teachers. We look back at the lesson and work out what went right, what might have gone wrong, who needs our help and what sort of help they need?  I know which approach makes good, energised teachers and which exhausts and crushes.

So what about discipline?
People worry about discipline. It is easily achieved. When you first get a new job in a school, discipline strategies and the school and classroom rules are given to you to implement. As an experienced teacher you will have developed an approach  which you can apply to any school.  A set of rules might go something like this;

1.     Move around the class with good reason.
2.    Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
3.    Work to the best of your ability.
4.    Listen to the teacher.

There will be a list of consequences too, ranging from time out near the teacher, missing breaktime, being reported to the head and the ultimate, bringing parents in and finally,exclusion.Some classrooms  have a chart to record behaviour.

Teachers, when they first start with a class should go over the rules with the children so that the class is aware of what is expected.There are two approaches to this. A good approach which works and bad a approach which fails.  It could go horribly wrong or it could go wonderfully right. The teacher who is constantly looking for misdemeanors and handing out consequences  has failed and good discipline in their class will be an uphill challenge . The discipline strategies have become the driving force in trying to get discipline. The teacher who is positive, smiles at the children, praises, encourages and engages with every child will be the winner. This positive approach reduces discipline problems to the minimum and this works for every child no matter what their reputation and past behaviour record is. It might take a bit more of an effort with some but you get there.Using the discipline rules should only be a reminder to the child.

Poor choices.
Many people give excuses for sending their children to private schools saying things like, "well they have smaller classes," " the discipline is better," "my son or daughter would not get on in a state school and they won’t learn as well." All that is rubbish. Those statements are their own imaginings.  Discipline can go wrong in private schools too. Children fail to learn in  private schools too. I think those parents are scared of the social mix and who their children will be rubbing shoulders with. Of course it is better for their children to be friends with a lawyer’s son or daughter than a bricklayers or postman’s children isn’t it? Do we want an equal society or not? Do we?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018


The face of Jane Austen on the new statue in St Nicholas churchyard, Chawton.
To Cassandra Austen Thursday 6th June 1811.
“I had just left off writing and put on my things for walking to Alton, when Anna  and her friend Harriot called in their way thither, so we went together. Their business was to provide mourning, against the King’s death, and my mother has had a bombasin bought for her.-I am not sorry to be back again , for the young ladies had a great deal to do- and without much method in doing it.-“
To Cassandra Austen Sunday 24th January 1813
“ When my parcel is finished I shall walk with it to Alton. I believe Miss Benn will go with me.”
To Cassandra Austen Tuesday 9th February 1813
“ My cold has been an off and on cold almost ever since you went away , but never very bad; I increase it by walking out and cure it by staying within. On Saturday I went to Alton, and the high wind made it worse- but by keeping house ever since, it is almost gone.”
To Cassandra Austen Monday 9th September 1816
“Our day at Alton was very pleasant.”
I would like to reiterate that last sentiment. Yesterday, Sunday 17th June 2018, “our walk, to Alton was very pleasant.”

Caroline Jane Knight, the fifth great niece of Jane Austen and myself. I think I said, "lets make a face." But, we smiled instead.

Caroline Jane Knight is Jane Austen’s fifth great niece, descending from Jane’s brother Edward who took the name of Knight. Caroline launched the Jane Austen Foundation on April 16th 2014 in the Holywell Room of Oxford University. Her initial idea was to ask fans, writers, actors, producers and anybody who has profited from Jane Austen to donate money to support literacy programs in the country of donation and in the developing world. I first knew about this particular fund raising walk when Caroline posted  information about it on ,”Jane Austen and Her Regency World Facebook,” site. I have been writing about various aspects of Jane Austen for many years on my blog and other blogs. Having been a school teacher for over forty years, I know that good resources are necessary for teachers and pupils to develop  learning. My interest in Austen and my interest in education combined in this charity walk. Caroline set me up with a donation page and I advertised the page on my Facebook and on other sites. I had a great response from family and friends. Perhaps I was a little proactive in trawling through my e-mail list and firing off begging e-mails to all and sundry, but hey! what are e-mail addresses for? I hope everyone will still talk to me.

Some of the cards I was kindly given on the day.

The money donated will be used, in conjunction with an organisation called, Worldreader, to supply e-readers and a digital library for, Suhum MA Experimantal C School in Ghana. The project manager and class 3 teacher in the school is Michael Sem, and he will be seeing the implementation of this new technology.
 Ruth Sorby, from Worldreader, the organisation that Caroline has allied The Jane Austen Foundation to,  took part in the walk. We discussed the profound impact the readers will have on the children and teachers at the  Suhum school. Technology such as e-readers and digital libraries are some resources teachers can use from a whole range of teaching strategies. Where there are no books and there is not the teacher experience to use this technology, what is being provided will create an enormous leap in learning for these teachers and children. It is a very good cause to get involved in.

Ruth Sorby, from Worldreader and myself.

On the Sunday morning of the walk I arrived early because I had heard  a new statue  has been placed  in the graveyard of St Nicholas Church in Chawton. I wanted to see it and get a photograph. The rain had stopped and the cool clean air felt refreshing as I strode along the road from ,”The Greyfriar,” car park, next to Jane's cottage. It is a leafy walk along the old Gosport Road with some beautiful thatched and clay tiled cottages on the right, many with climbing roses and gardens brimming with hollihocks and geraniums. Beautiful examples of  English country gardens. Cars were pulling up in this stretch of road as I strode along and white flannelled individuals emerged to make their way to the cricket pitch nearby for a cricket match that day. I passed the flint walled primary school. Caroline was to later tell me that she herself had attended Chawton Primary School as a child. I admitted to her that I had always liked the thought of being a teacher there. Alas too late in life for me now. I arrived at St Nicholas close to the great house in Chawton where Caroline’s ancestors had lived. The statue of Jane stood on a pristine white stone plinth. It is dark bronze and shows Jane as a young woman. She is in motion with a twisting movement and a certain vitality in her body. A lady of action.  I took some pictures and hurried back down the Gosport Road  to see who else had arrived ready for the walk. Caroline and her father, Jeremy, were just pulling up in a car. They emerged both dressed in 18th century attire. Jeremy looking very smart in top hat and tails and Caroline in an elegant light blue silk gown, She wore an ostrich feather in her hair. I smiled and made myself known to them. Within minutes other people arrived, some in 18th century attire and some in their everyday attire. I was not the only one therefore. I wore  a polo shirt, trainers and walking trousers. Many knew each other already from contacts in the Jane Austen World but everybody was so welcoming and I think , during the morning, I had conversations with almost all the people on the walk. I was greeted warmly and in a very friendly fashion. Who was I this strange interloper?

Everybody gathering outside Jane's cottage in Chawton.

As we walked along I had a chat with Caroline and asked her how the Jane Austen Foundation came about. She told me about her youth and how she and  her family having to move out of Chawton Great House was a shock to her. She rejected her background and spent a few years trying to discover herself. She told me that for a while she lived in a flat over a jewelers shop in Wimbledon Village High Street. I know the jewelers. I live near Raynes Park at the bottom of the hill from Wimbledon Village.  Some time in the past we may have passed each other in the street. During this time she kept her illustrious ancestry a secret not telling anybody of her background. Caroline moved to Australia and became a successful business woman. Having met her, she has not only a great sense of humour and a warm effusive personality but she has a certain steeliness and determination about her. She has an aim for the Jane Austen Foundation and I can sense she will achieve it. 

The Foundation came about when her father, Jeremy, suggested she attend an Austen celebration for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 2013. Caroline saw the power for good Jane’s legacy could achieve and she formulated an idea for the Foundation.

We are ready to start walking.

Walking to Alton along the Old Gosport Road from the cottage in Chawton was a relaxed affair. The distance to Alton is a mere two miles and we followed the route Jane and her family, neighbours and friends would have walked. Just the thought of walking in Jane’s footsteps has a certain frisson, a certain excitement about it. I spoke to a gentleman who introduced himself as ,”Lord Cheltenham,” but he was very sociable and amiable not withstanding. Sophie Andrews, the creator and editor of ,”Laughing With Lizzie,” and her friend, both elegantly dressed in Georgian attire, were understanding at my requests to pose for pictures.

This elegant young lady could almost be Jane herself visiting friends.

 Joana Starnes, author and editor of, “All Roads Lead To Pemberley,” put up with me imparting my meager Austen knowledge until I discovered her identity and realized that Joana is, by far, more knowledgeable about Austen than myself. 

A very nice American lady and her friend,part of our walking group,were discussing terms we use here in England, the use of ,"sorry," "mate,"" bloody hell," and so forth when a van drove past with the name,"Pratt," emblazoned on it and I blurted out, 
"there's another one." Yes, I did explain the meaning of, prat.

And on we walked.

Onwards we walked, and the rain stayed off. Jeremy Knight was active as we walked along approaching people who were walking past and suggesting they put money into his collection tin ,”for a very good cause.” He was so keen to empty the pockets of passersby, one gentleman, top hatted and wearing white breeches and tails, who I was walking along with at the time complained to me that Jeremy was too alert, too proactive and wasn’t giving him a chance. I started pointing out possible targets in the hope he would get to them before Jeremy. It was all a very pleasant and light hearted of course.

In top hat and tails.

Caroline had coerced a friend to film the walk. At one time during our march I spotted this gentleman, squatting next to a gate post, his gaze looking down between his legs at his camera resting on the ground. I presumed some terrible accident had occurred and intent on capturing every nuance of the day I approached to take a photograph of him in this twisted and bent position. Thoughts of getting an ambulance could come after, then suddenly I realized what he was doing was filming me photographing him from a low angle.

I will get the picture first.

Our destination in Alton was The Swan Inn. The Swan is an 18th century coaching inn and it was the place that coaches carrying mail around the country stopped at in Alton to deliver the mail to the local people. It was also where mail was collected from local people to be distributed around the country. Walking to The Swan was one of many reasons Jane Austen walked to Alton. She collected her mail and posted her own letters here.  Alton was also where she would shop and buy dress material and visit friends. When the Austens decided to leave Southampton, living in Alton was the first place they considered moving to before the cottage, provided by Jane’s brother Edward, was decided upon. Jane ‘s mother was tempted by an acceptable rent for a property in Alton.

Outside The Swan Inn in Alton. 
Jane writing from Southampton to Cassandra, on the 2nd October 1808, referred to her mother’s preferences. 
“ In general however she thinks much more of Alton,and; really expects to move there. Mrs Lyell’s 130 Guineas rent have made a great impression……….I depended upon Henry’s liking the Alton plan and; expect to hear of something perfectly unexceptionable there, through him.”

The cottage in Chawton must have been free of rent, as it was owned by Edward.That was the deciding factor I am sure.

While walking to Alton I  asked  Caroline what she thought about all the things that go on in the name of Jane Austen. I told her that I think Jane Austen is a great author and I  love reading her books. However, to me she is one author among many that I enjoy reading. For instance I think Virginia Woolf, who was so inventive and groundbreaking in her novels, is just as good a novelist.  Caroline thought I was making the mistake of thinking there was one Jane Austen. She said there are two, the author and family member and then there is the Jane Austen that has been created by film and TV. I think I agree with her. 

We entered the Swan Inn. The manager was very accommodating with so many people all of a sudden descending on his establishment. The ladies dressed in their wonderful costumes stood at the bar. Pump handles advertising, Old Speckled Hen, and ,Shepherd Neame, India Pale Ale, suggested  occupations as barmaids. Caroline insisted on buying us all a drink, mineral waters, tea or coffee, before we set off back to Chawton. 

Then, we were on our way back, retracing our steps. The weather remained kind to us and the journey back was just as amicable with much amiable company. One young lady dressed in a white gown emblazoned with lemons and golden tendrils of hair draping her lovely face like coiled springs related to me about her occupation as a ,”re-enactor,” and although today she was dressed as a Georgian lady her main occupation was as a Greek Goddess. Yes, I could see that, without a doubt. We talked museum education . Working with children in museums and galleries has always been an interest of mine.

Sophie Andrews, "Laughing With Lizzie," on the staircase in The Swan Inn.

With another finely dressed lady I discussed pensions and life after work.  This was something that is important in both our lives. She had a handsome dog with her that was dressed in the coat of an admiral of the Royal Navy with epaulettes and gold braid. On the way back from Alton the dog had changed its attire to that of a hussar.

Wearing his hussar outfit.

I spoke to Alison Larkin on the way to the Great House. She told me who she was and about her audio books, “The Complete Novels of Jane Austen .” One of the things that Alison personified and I noticed throughout the day was the enthusiasm and passion there is for Jane Austen among all these Janeites.  There is a love for her that is tangible

Alison Larkin, keen to advertise her audio readers.
Once back at Chawton we walked on to the Great House for the  final photo shoots, first at the Statue of Jane in St Nicholas’s churchyard. 

At the statue of Jane in the churchyard.

Also at the graves of Cassandra Austen, Jane’s mother and Cassandra Elizabeth Austen, Jane’s sister. 

Contemplating the graves of Cassandra Austen, mother and Cassandra Elizabeth Austen, sister.

 A final photo shoot in the hall.
As we exited the Great House onto the front steps Caroline announced that ,”today we have made, £2000.” A few whoops and hand clapping went on and smiles all round. Caroline’s parting shot to me as I drove past her and Alison Larkin on my way home was ,“Wear a top hat next year!” I replied, “I’ll think about it.”

 Jeremy and Caroline Knight


The Jane Austen Literary Foundation:

" Jane and Me: My Austen Heritage," by Caroline Jane Knight

Alison Larkin

Sophie Andrews

Joana Starnes

Worldreader (Ruth Sorby)