Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Clothes do not the Man make!

“Today,” I was informed by an elegant member of my sixth form, replete in an ill fitting set of clothes, “was Suit-up Day.” And sure enough a few member of the sixth form and odd members of other years were wearing scraps of suits: a tie here, a jacket there; a severe pair of trousers cladding spindly legs. It was a bizarre spectacle with the most convincing suit wearer looking like a very restrained undertaker. The sixth former who informed me of the “event” eventually admitted that he must look like “a rugby player going to an interview” which was exactly what he did look like!

As I made my way around the school I was greeted with “Look Stephen, just like you!” with individual students pointing to a cloth hanging of unusual ghastliness handing around the individual’s neck. I hope my condescending look of amused contempt made them realize that emulating a hard wired tie wearer was not as easy as putting any old thing on public display!

We had a visit from the author and illustrator of the children’s book that a small group of 4ESO students has been translating into English. They were both grateful for the efforts that we had made and were generous with their time in answering the questions that the kids had about the process of writing and the choice of subject matter – the disaster in Haiti. I have assured them that the translation will be published (complete with ISBN number and opportunity for inclusion in a CV) and will have to strive to make sure that this happens.

Throughout the day I suddenly remembered that it was a Wednesday and not a Monday which gave a little thrill of pleasure. This happiness however was wiped out by a sudden request that I substitute for a teacher during the last period. My last period on a Wednesday is one of the times that I can leave school early to compensate me for my unnatural start on Monday. I was told that the teacher merely needed me to be there for a few minutes, five – ten at most and then I would be able to leave my half hour earlier as usual.

The five minutes was extended by another thirty-two minutes and I stomped out of school incandescent with fury fearing that I would arrive too late to secure a decent swimming lane in the pool.

Luckily I was able to insinuate my seal like body into a lane which was only occupied by a gentleman of a certain age propelling himself serenely backwards with the aid of flippers.

I immediately claimed the other side of the lane and was able to swim my lengths unmolested.

Having upped my time spent by 50% from 20 minutes to 30 minutes I have now adjusted to the increase and am not working any harder to complete the extra time. I will have to consider making more of an effort and increasing my speed. I should be sweating at the end of my efforts and, although I must swim some 50 to 60 lengths I am aware that I could be doing more. I shall consider such things and not make rash statements about what I might do.

I enjoy swimming and I know from past experience that I begin to detest it when I start timing myself and setting targets and generally making the event a negative one.

The weather has been depressing but the panoramic views that we are afforded from many of the classrooms always manage to show us some scrap of blue lurking surreptitiously on the horizon. I am hoping that the rapidly approaching weekend will give a more settled supply of sunshine.

The next book in the Bristol Airport Extra Plastic Carrier Bag experiment is “We Need to Talk About Kelvin” by Marcus Chown, author of “The Never ending Days of Being Dead” and “Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You” – on the basis of those two titles alone I am already prejudiced in favour of the book in my possession. I have so far read the first twenty pages of the first chapter entitled “The Face in the Window” which has the subtitle of “How when you stand in front of a window the most shocking discover in the history of science – that ultimately things happen for no reason – is literally staring you in the face.” If that is insufficient to get you going then there are two quotations to tweak your fancy. The first is from Paul Valery “A difficulty is a light. An insurmountable difficulty is a sun” and the second by John Wheeler “No progress without paradox.”

The chapter is about light and it takes my scientific knowledge about this subject (based in my case entirely on the plays of Tom Stoppard, in particular “Hapgood”) to another level.

As with the more esoteric poems of W B Yeats, so with popular scientific writing: I understand all the words but not necessarily the order in which they are laid on the page! To be fair to Mr Chown I am still with him and I have started the sub section entitled “Two Places at Once”. I like his style and he reminds me of Professor Nevin, the Swansea economist, for whose homely and easily understood examples which leavened the harder graph-driven pieces of economic theory that I was supposed to grapple with at A Level I was (and perhaps still am) grovellingly grateful.

The fractured Art Course that Suzanne and I am teaching now demands some “texts” about modern art for the students to use as a backup to the practical work which we are in the process of devising. It is time for me to search the books that I have for something suitable in English to encourage the kids to speak.

I am sure that I have something.

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