Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ordinary life 9(b)

So I decided that while I looked for my true vocation, I might as well go back to college and explore the fallback of being a teacher.
Physics has always been a short supply subject and after having a short test on my internalisation of Newton’s work I was in. I was a few years older than most of my fellow students, I drove a large motorbike. While there was only one girl studying Physics there were plenty doing English and Drama.
After a year I had accumulated enough points to be qualified to teach Physics, Science and Drama.
Towards the end of the year, the admissions tutor, the one who had been chauffeured by me since he lost his license, called me in to his office.
“Look here Meredic,” he peered over his half moon spectacles, “are you serious about getting a job or not?”
I assured him I was, indeed the very next week I was on my way to Colwyn Bay to claim a post teaching Physics.
“Yes, yes…. hmm look do me a favour would you. I have an old friend at working in Llandudno. It seems they are looking for someone who can teach Computer Studies. You know how to use one of them don’t you? Oh yes, get your hair cut and lose the sandals as well would you.”
My dismal handwriting had forced me to use one of the new fangled word processors all year or face having my work rejected.
I affirmed and by teatime I was walking out of the headteacher's office with a job, and a promise of promotion to head of department on completion of a satisfactory probation.
On a far long lost September morning, nearly a quarter of a century ago, I started as head of computing (second subject Physics) with a budget of £25,000 pounds. Far less than the significant fraction of a million that I waved back in the labs, but still enough to kit out a room with BBC model Bs…..

“No I’m sorry Mr Hallett I think you might have misunderstood. The annual budget for your department is £250.00, I think you may have missed the point….the decimal point that is.”

I was stunned by the poverty of the situation. Only three computers in the school and a budget that wouldn’t even buy half of another. One word processor. And in addition it seems that my predecessor had spent the lot on text books featuring Pascal, Liebnitz, and Babbage. The history of computing up until the 1970s was written eloquently in those days and formed an important part of the curriculum!

Before making the best of it, I asked the then Head of Science what I would have to do in order to teach A’level physics. The world of computing in schools seeming another possible dead end.
“Well,” he said, “I would have to die first and then the Head of Physics would have to go as well.” I guessed that I wasn’t going to make much progress teaching physics!
This eerie conversation sticks in my mind even now, as within eight years both of them had passed on.

I have since bored countless students with the insight that my employment was in fact generated by the fact that I have very poor handwriting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ordinary Life 8(b)

Tiptoeing forward then.
What reasons are there to give up a safe, secure and well pensioned job in a boom industry? Here is a flavour of the kind of thing that took the shine off…

The work involved intense scientific scrutiny of small ( the size of a cotton reel) geological samples. Recovered at great cost from deep under the North Sea. Every few months a report was delivered to a large multi national, sometimes a government. It was delivering one of these reports that persuaded me that my real vocation lay elsewhere. I took SCAL 0087 (Silver Field, turbulent flow analysis :- Hallett, Lombos) to Statoil, Stavanger via Aberdeen.
My experience of Norway was this.
We landed in drizzle and low cloud, over a grey concrete city, onto a grey concrete runway. I was driven to a grey concrete hotel serving about a thousand types of herring. Alright as long as you are fond of herring. The view from my window, through drizzle, was another grey concrete hotel. I reread the report that I had been working on for the last half year. In the morning, following a fine breakfast of herring I was driven to some grey concrete laboratories. I presented my report and answered a few technical questions. After a fine lunch of herring I was whisked back to the airfield and before I knew it the grey concrete runway was swallowed by the mist. On the plane back to Aberdeen we had herring.
I am told that Norway is a spectacular country of mountains, fjords and the northern lights.

And so I went back to college to learn to be a teacher. Inbetween I fished silver mackerel from the now long gone jetty that loaded the stone ships.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dark Arts 2

Last night, She Of The Town House, The Boy, Asbo and I lit out at sunset for a nearby island. Well strictly speaking an Isthmus I guess but for two or three days a year it is an island. Ynys Llanddwyn sits on the west end of one of the worlds special places. It keeps secrets old and new and has several summer beaches that are undiscovered by the madding crowd. I was on the hunt for some photos of the sunset around the ruins of an old church. The others were seriously in to picnicking.
A few years ago I was enchanted by the work of an astrophotographer called Mark Gaston. He works in the west of England and has some stunning pictures on view here.
I have always felt that North Wales has some potential for similar enterprise.
The photo above is of the familiar asterism the Plough, or Big Dipper if you prefer, the derelict church window is illuminated by moonlight. The orange wisps of cloud are actually sodium light pollution reflected from Holyhead.
It’s a start.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is It Just Me?

A chance remark the other day caused me to ponder my life as an avid elastic band collector and reflect on progenitors of such behaviour.
In the past I have spent time, arguably more time than is good for a body, collecting pieces of wood that I thought were interesting.
One such you see above, garnered from a corner near the druids circle, just to the north of Hallett’s Mountain.
As I retrieved this little dancer from the bog I was transported back across time and space to a museum some time around 1979. I was reminded of Chocolat Dansant a print that I remain enchanted with, and hope to see in Albi once again some day.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hymns and Aliums

Well there you go!

Meanwhile up at the old church this weekend, a widespread community came together to celebrate the harvest.
Although not a regular God botherer I do take an interest in the services that happen just a few fields from my house.
I hold the key to the church and sweep and polish it when occasion arises.
I was wryly amused by the three separate decorations that were going on around me.
You see someone had got in early with a few impressive cut flower displays. Prime spots it seems had been gazumped.
The latecomers came in scratching their heads and puzzling as to who could have done this as I swept the floor.
Later in the day, while I was grovelling around in a ditch (the reason for which will remain obscure) a third group turned up.
After a while I began to feel like I was living in the middle of an episode of The Archers.
Still, on the day all went well. We sang Bread Of Heaven twice with enough gusto to rattle the windows and sins confessed were forgiven.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


My daughter has requested that I remove the last post.
It was not my intention to cause her any offence.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Dark Arts

Some time around stupid o’clock this morning I took the photo above. I make no great claims for it being great, it hasn’t been processed except to make it much smaller than the original meggerbites or whatever they are, but it is one of the first constellation shots with my new camera.
It shows Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades and mars all rising over Bob The Other Builders house. I had no idea that this was where they were stashed during the summer but there you go.
Now I am off for a big nap.
Cheers all.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ordinary Life 6

apologies for it being a bit long for a blog post......

The films of Jaques Yves Cousteau, his voyages with The Calypso, had led me up to this point, to firmly believe that I was going to be a marine biologist. Thus it came as a minor disappointment to me to find that once again careers advice was steering me towards engineering courses in university. Coming to the end of my sixth form time I resolved that whatever course I did wind up in, I would have to live by the sea. Thus I looked at places like Aberdeen, Bangor, Brighton, and Plymouth, finally reaching Swansea in the alphabet and realising that it was the cheapest train journey from Bristol.
Swansea offered a course in Civil Engineering and Oceanography and this seemed to fit in at least partly with my ambition for the sea. So I went and stood on Swansea bay in a borrowed suit. Took off my shoes and rubbed the sand between my toes. Signed up pending results and the next three years were spent in Swansea.
I took with me the skateboard that I left my old school on and spent freshers week racing it from the hall to the refectory. I don’t know to this day whether she was impressed, or if it was just pitying amazement but it was as this ‘Skater Boy’ that I met my first wife, The Graduates Mother. School friend of a rugby fan who shared the corridor I was on, it was just three floors down to her room. By the end of the week, we were an item for the next nine years.
It turned out that the course I had signed up for wasn’t popular enough to be staffed or funded. Unfortunately I hadn’t been told. I was still a very na├»ve eighteen year old. In partial excuse I think its fair to add that my background was bound to lack the experiences needed to prepare me for university. No one in my family had ever been away to university. I was on my own, quite a long way from home short on advice. Rather than go back to Bristol and start again, which on reflection might have made more sense, I was swept up and emptied into a plain civil engineering course.
To give you an idea of how little I knew, I was unaware until results day that you could get different classes of degree. I had to ask my tutor to explain what my qualification meant. I think it shook him a bit. Maybe I should have read the small print.
There were pleasures along the way of course. I was particularly keen, a recurring theme, on a series of lectures put on by the maths staff. These were imaginatively entitled ‘Mathematics For Engineering Students’ but at the end of them there was an invite to attend some extra sessions that coincided with our free time and I was enthusiastic about these. Geology opened my eyes as well, and later served me well both in career and as an interest. Fluid mechanics and finite element analysis, both requiring lots of number crunching with a PDP11 computer. Indeed for many of us who were disenchanted with code 114 (theory and practical advice on reinforced concrete) or the British Steel Section catalogue (from which I once selected all the material for a large warehouse except a door), the computer lab became the drug of choice. Due to my earlier experience I had a reputation as someone who could actually make computers work. Provided I could be prised away from the Colossal Cave or Startrek of course. In these late 1970s the most sophisticated toy on the market was a pingpong game that you could plug in to you television.
I also learned to dive with air bottles and became, to my amazement, the captain of a University Sports team. My ability, still retained, to hold my breath for three minutes meant that was an Octopush goal scoring machine.
I stumbled through some of the courses, breezed the numerical ones, and at the end of three years left clutching a degree that I didn’t understand, and for quite a while couldn’t use either. It was that bloody woman again you see. Margaret Thathcer. First she took away the milk and then she shut down civil engineering. I graduated just in time for the political belt tightening that stopped local authorities and government agencies from building or in many cases repairing. This left quite a glut of engineering students with similar qualifications to mine.

In answer to the obvious question I guess, the buxom blond facing the camera is my little sister Melissa.