Friday, November 30, 2007

Genetically Modified


I am sitting awake at just after four in the morning and would probably be a whole lot better off asleep.
I am thinking about the clothes that I wear like a second skin.
I really only have two modes of dress recently. An unlike Einstein in every other respect I think that it is from him that I get the idea of wardrobe. Mind you it could be from the guy that Geoff Goldblum played in ‘The Fly’.
I have my work mode uniform and my jeans and black t-shirt. Buy two of everything and you never have to think about what to wear. Goodness only knows what people think when they see me in the same clothes week after month but I care little …. no hang on that’s not true…. I care for my appearance once and then I don’t like to think about it again.
This month I have had some disasters though. Jeans that have been with me since the mid nineties have bitten the dust and my school shoes, shoes that I hoped would see me to retirement, have sprung. I have been raggedy arsed and poorly shod. In addition the strategy of lining my pockets with plastic bags in order to prevent items falling through the holes led to a night having to search a whole beach for my car keys.
I have been forced to bite the bullet and lash out on a whole new wardrobe.
Well at least that’s it for another decade. Provided that I can figure out where my umpty pairs of black socks wiggle off when the washing machine door closes.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just stepped Out For A Minute


I guess by now people whose blogs I am normally all over like a bad rash must be beginning to wonder why I am so silent of late. Correspondents who drop in here from time to time must be wondering why I haven’t sent a note in the last fortnight likewise. For those of a nervous disposition, the ones I stand among, by way of a half arsed apology I offer this. I am afraid that my life in the real world is rather hectic at present and I am getting a bit flaky round the edges.
The spare time that I usually have to chew a thorn or pass the time of day is eroded to the nub just at the minute. I seem to be coming home and passing out for the few hours that I used to use for all the good things in life.
So if I don’t seem to be there quite as much as usual please forgive me.
To quote a man who used to make guest appearances blowing up hot water bottles on children’s TV “I’ll be back”.
Its just there isn’t a lot spare in the next three to four weeks

Saturday, November 24, 2007

An Embarrassment Of Riches



Never looking the gift horse in the mouth may well be a general piece of good advice, but every now and then someone uses the entertainment of this sentiment to stiff you one.
I am beginning to wonder whether She Of The Townhouse shouldn’t have checked the teeth and gums of what had the appearance of a very generous offer just a little more carefully.
While not wishing to dwell on the size of Bob The Other Builders latest erection, I am afraid that this is where my tale must start. He has a few acres you see. A few acres down in the valley. Acres that are encumbered by trees standing in the way of development. Or rather were encumbered. It seems someone has been offsetting their carbon footprint on real estate that had been cleared for development and so it now has been cleared for development…ummm if you see what I mean….
With an enthusiasm worthy of a man who has finally rid the third runway forest of environmental protestors, he has laid siege to the trees that would otherwise impede progress. And, as is the way with these things, he has some logs.
Ever generous ( and I mean that quite sincerely, this is a tale of generous spirit if nothing else) Bob The Other Builder gave She Of The Townhouse the heads up for a load of logs. Knowing that she possessed a wood burning stove he asked what part of The Old Walled Town she would like a few unloaded in.
Now you see the thing is the local council can be funny about this kind of thing. OK they have passed a planning consent that allows him to obliterate an ecoforest. This doesn’t mean that they are going to grin and bear him dumping fuel willy nilly in the middle of a medieval walled town outside a house with a small back yard. So she asked if he could leave them outside my barn. In my car parking space. Where my car usually goes.
Bugger!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Vanity ?


For the past twenty three years I have taught computing, mathematics, and science at YsgolJB in varying proportions. I have taught each subject at key stages 3 to 5 and have been responsible for four separate A levels. Some of my ICT students have also gone on to take special papers beyond A level. In every subject I have taught it has been a good fortune to see my students succeeding at the highest levels.

I have overseen the expansion of my main subject from a curiosity in the corner of a science laboratory to a Key Skill seen as vital to success in all subject areas in a large comprehensive school. Over the years this has put me in charge of several expansions in the size of my department. Recent major challenges have been the smooth transfer from a late Victorian style building to a purpose built school, along with the introduction of ICT as an academic qualification to the majority of key stage 4 students. This has meant that my department has built from a one man band operating mainly at lunchtimes to a diverse and dedicated group of full time and second subject ICT teachers, each one of whom it has been privilege to guide and work alongside.

The above though is what you might expect. I have a background of experience, and some successes to feel pleased about. I can bring that to the table, but then so can many others I am sure.
As well as academic and pastoral responsibilities of a teacher I have always found that it in taking students on for the extra mile there are rewards beyond.

I have introduced and led a Duke Of Edinburgh award group at YsgolJB. As helping me to share my own passion for the outdoor and mountain experience, it has allowed me to see students develop self reliance and self confidence. The satisfaction gained in sharing this kind of experience with students more than repays the effort you have to put in.
This also allowed me to develop my own mountain leadership skills and qualify as a welsh mountain leader. The award has also allowed me to work closely with colleagues in other schools, sharing joint expeditions to the Scottish islands.
Trips abroad. I have served as teacher / deputy leader on fifteen trips outside the United Kingdom, taking students to Germany and France for weeks study holidays. Working, and sharing the fun. Guiding students (and indeed staff) through the perils of the ‘hypermarch√©’ and Euro Disney. Quite often reflecting on the fact that you could really do with a little more than five hours sleep before the next tour of duty starts. I am fluent in spoken French.
OOSH. Now what on earth does that mean? Out Of School Hours. Grant money enabled us to keep study facilities open at YsgolJB after the end of the school day and as well as maintaining a presence in an IT room overseeing project work in a variety of subjects I was able to focus on helping students improve coursework in maths for GCSE.
These last three, along with other experiences have of course shown me the value of going further. In teaching I feel that we are rewarded by what we give. The relationships and empathy that you build with students are what enriches the joint learning experience. Academic excellence is rooted in this I am sure. If I could give a third referee it would be my students over the years, many of whom correspond regularly from all over the world.

In my personal life I am a keen astrophotographer and a published amateur astronomer. I have a passion for photography and am a member of Conwy Camera Club. I enjoy the challenge of the mountains in all their variety. I am training to drive HGV vehicles. I grow my own vegetables and I am proud of my garden. I read extensively on a variety of subjects and write for pleasure. I walk the dog twice a day and have a hectic family life. I hold a BSAC diving certificate but prefer snorkelling and free diving. If you give me some raw ingredients I can cook up a storm.

Oh yes! If I have to, I can conjure up a science experiment from brown paper, string and patches.

( I am brushing up my CV )

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Feel Good Factor



Once every month I have a private indulgence……..ALL RIGHT! Enough of that sniggering at the back….you there….see me at the end of the lesson.

Hey you can tell I have been doing a little light teaching this week cant you.

Let me start afresh.
Around the middle of each month a copy of Astronomy Now magazine appears in the Hallett’s Mountain post.
After divesting it of its outer plastic cover I always turn eagerly to the amateur astrophotography pages at the end. While there are superb pictures by people of real talent I am ashamed to say that my immediate aim is to find a couple of pictures that I can scoff at and compare unfavourably with mine. Its just envy of course. I never take the time to send any of mine in so any mockery that I posture is just sour grapes.
A month ago I changed my habit though. I felt that my picture of the occultation of Leo was probably up their street. I also remembered that from the cloud variations I had seen that there probably were not many people who could compete. The window in obscurity that I was lucky enough to see was pretty lucky and the event had quit a limited geographical extent. Reader, I sent it in.
So with solitary feigned boredom I disrobed (enough of that sniggering I told you earlier) the virgin (stop it!!) December issue of my magazine on the kitchen table and with nervous fingers fumbled straight to the relevant section at the back. Imagine, dear reader, my delight when my eye fell upon an image of the moon and Venus and then again my disappointment when I realised that the credit underneath the photo wasn’t mine. Not only that but the fellow had missed the burst of starlight that I had seen. While still a good picture I was quite miffed! My gruntle had been decidedly taken away, and just for once the idea of a stiff letter to the editor, possibly even a liberal use of underliners ink, seemed to fit the bill.
Then my phlegmatic side kicked in. I like Astronomy Now quite a lot and decided not to let one editorial faux pas by someone who was obviously on a short term contract spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the magazine.
And so it was, that as I left page nineteen, with its speculations about the activity of martian volcanoes, and turned to page twenty the lower mandible truly hit the deck. There was my picture at the bottom of the page. Along with it, lacking really only the superfluous description of an arse being scratched, lay the content of my post.
Well! You could have knocked me over with a cheesy wotsit.
I am a published amateur astronomer. My picture. My words.
I modestly texted everyone I know.

The Dance Of The Hours

Returning to the mountain around two this morning, a black velvet studded with fusions diamond gems greeted my delight. The sky was clear and the air was still. Perfect for wandering through the cosmos and my imagination.
I am hoping to see some good meteors. The annual Leonids are good for a few nights either side of the 17th of November.
So there I am. Half inside a thermal sleeping bag. Lying back on a deck chair. A couple of thousand pounds worth of digital trickery beside me staring into the inky abyss and wandering the lanes between the stars.
Pointing my camera at Gemini first. My sisters birthsign so a good picture here might suit her for Christmas. A gorgeous red Mars hangs right in the middle, like an internally illuminated ruby tossed between the twins.
On to Cancer, and in my own faint constellation Praespe, a tiny little beehive of stars shines steady.
Then Leo. He strides the darkness over Garvie’s leap and the old church. I ought to return to this when there is some moonlight to illuminate the foreground. Perhaps in a couple of weeks. In the meantime Saturn decorates the lions belly like a little fleck of yellow butter.
I am reluctant to lose the warm cocoon that I am in but The odd wisp of cloud is about now. Already I have been an hour out and things are moving round. The meteors are eluding me as well. So I put away the toys and just take the chair and my Ajungilac a little way down the track to see what I can bag with the binoculars. Moving away from the house lets me look more to the north and west.
Even though I know the sky well it takes a little while to get my eye in. After a quick scoot through Orion it is on to Taurus where I tick the crab nebula in passing and wonder if leaving the camera at the house was a mistake. Still If I had tried for the crab I would feel I had to get the telescope out and then another hour would pass. Sometimes you have to just look and wonder.
Looking past the Pleiades, a gorgeous little cluster of sapphire stars I would like to find Aires and Triangulum this would give me a galaxy that borders on naked eye visibility but the pattern is hard to pick out for some reason. These are faint constellations and by now low in the sky so I have probably missed this tonight.
And then my eye is caught by something new, As I wander round the W in Cassiopeia a patch of light around a bright star doesn’t seem quite right. I think I know what it is but even so …Lets see. Cassiopeia, Perseus with its double cluster of stars grouped together but just beyond that. Using the binoculars I realise now what is wrong. I had spotted Comet 17P/Holmes a couple of weeks ago. It was flagged up on many astronomy sites and I even got a picture that I was pleased with, but this is much bigger. The corona now seems to be rivalling the size of the moon, nowhere near as bright of course but it is an amazing sight. Like someone had tossed a little bag of exploding flour around a star. Indeed I must check just which one the bright magnitude star next to it is. Beautiful. In fact it is so good that I should get my camera back out and try, the chance might not come again tomorrow night and in a few days the moon will wash some of it out.
Looking at the sky though, I can see that there is no time for this. Bugger. The cloud is now racing over from the west and there are only few minutes left before a veil is drawn across infinity. Just time in fact to look over my shoulder and admire Venus rising in the east.
And now it’s five in the morning. I have been out there for three hours. Time, I think, for a coffee and a few hours sleep. I imagine you all tucked up in those warm beds. Riding your night trains. Think then of me while I inhabit the parallel universe.

Free tours. Next one leaves just after dark.

Friday, November 16, 2007

And Found


Once the Royal Automobile Club had determined that I hadn’t actually had a breakdown and wasn’t in danger on the side of a motorway they declined to rush to my assistance beyond putting me in touch with a locksmith.
“£270 pounds call out , can be there by nine p.m. sir.”
Politely declining his generous offer I tried another approach. The local Ford garage.
Again a very nice man.
“Well on that model it’s an electronically chipped key so we will have to tow it in, break in to the car and get the serial number. Unfortunately we don’t keep any record linked to the numberplate on a database. Its going to be around £370 pounds sir.”
“No that’s alright sir, you use any expletive that you like. I am sure I would in your position”
The whole of the carefully squirreled Hallett Christmas fund was slipping away before my minds eye. After the events earlier in the day this was not so much adding insult to injury as turning the knife and kicking me when I already felt down. Perhaps the great Moo Moo really had deserted me and I was truly alone in an unforgiving universe.
Clutching at a desperate straw I reasoned that I would be quite prepared to work hard for three or four hundred pounds. So I trudged to the big shop. Taking care to avoid aisle 13 I bought a torch for £5 and a second one just in case that one ran out a bit quick.
Trudging (hmm I like that word) back to the pitch black beach I found a suitable stick. I dragged the stick and made a line from the dunes to the tide. Walked a couple of metres to the side and sweeping the torch back and forwards trudged (it was sandy what can I say) back between the tram tracks. A small pool of light in acres of darkness.
And I continued thus for several hours.
Reports of UFOs and ships lost at sea for the night must abound by now, and I expect there will be a write up in The Weekly Witter. I went through various levels of weeping frustration and hysteria. I dragged my stick and swept the torch back and forth. I offered a prayer to St Jude ( the great Moo Moo is seldom offended).
Eventually, unbelievable even now, I found them!
I found a small bunch of keys on a beach a mile long and half a mile wide in the dark!!
Tonight I am buying two lottery tickets, the numbers I shall be using are……..

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lost


After a day of desperation and despair the dog and I were both glad. As a welcome aside from our usual turn around the woods we enjoyed the freedom of the lonely strand. Several miles of windswept golden sand, stretched wide between the dunes and low tide. Giving him the freedom to career around like a lunatic and allowing me to speak away the cares of the day to the Marram.
A lucky find, a half filled bottle of coke, gave us just what we needed. This serendipitous toy delights us both. I throw it soaring high over the mid tide ponds. Asbo skims the surface of the water like a furry black exocet, returning it again and again. Until eventually the gloom of the evening turns our thoughts to the prospect of what we might have for tea. Grinning like a pair of fools, covered in sand and soaking wet, we climb back through the dunes and return to the car.
And in an instant my manic rollercoaster day takes the plunge to a new nadir. Somewhere out in the gathering darkness, caught between the tides, are the only keys to the car and the house……

Cliffhanger!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Asda Man And The Perils Of Aisle 13


She has always been a bit over familiar that one. You may remember
last time, when she tried to sneak me her mobile number. I am afraid to report that now she has gone too far. I have seldom seen a compliment go so to a girls head in such a foolhardy fashion. Why really, I barely went beyond a polite thank you.
I mean she was kind enough to point out that the fine ale that I was sneaking past the baleful glare of the security guard (I am blessed with nsuch youthful looks...) was on a ‘two for one offer’. Very kind indeed. But lord help us, she then went on to point out that I would now have enough to share with a friend.
The hussy.
I gave her a stern look that Paddinton's Peruvian aunt Lucy would have gazed upon with the female equivalent of avuncular affection. Practically inviting herself up to my mountain for some drunken orgy like that. Even assuming that such a thing ever happened. Ahem.
After ticking her off soundly, I gave her name tag in at the customer service desk I can tell you. And a piece of my mind to the lady who was obviously looking after the seat while the proper manager was away being important. On reflection I wish he had been there, things would then have been settled in a prompt and positive manner. You see the kind of thing that can happen when men turn their backs.
Anyway, here we are a few days later and they have sent me a letter. Not a word of apology mind you, nor any kind of reassurance that the minx has been summarily dismissed. Oh no.
In fact I am not sure that I like the letters tone at all, there are quite a few words in it that I am having to look up but the whole thing has note of what I believe is acronised to BDSM. Most odd for a superstore, even in this day and age. Phrases like ‘personal restraint’ and ‘self discipline’ spring off the page …..
Lord knows what I am going to do if she catches my eye next week.
Harumph!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Season Of Mists


Some days Hallett’s Mountain becomes an island. An Island high above a primeval swamp. A swamp populated with strange monsters. Monsters whose call echoes through the mists of the valley below. Strange crashes and groans as they brush aside the forest.
Then of course the sun comes up and everything gets a little clearer. The mist fades away and reveals the train running deep in the valley. Speedboats preparing for early water skiers glide minuscule but noisy far below. Lorries grumble along the A470 creaking out the turns in the road.
Camp bow wow and the jackhammer roadworks add their own notes to my soundscape.
I sit high on Garvie’s leap and watch the world wake up.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween


Last night, She Of The Town House and I watched spellbound. In an ancient celtic roundhouse, Eric Maddern drew stories spun like gossamer from smoke around a camp fire. He wove them in to tales of kings and queens. He led us down deep dark forest roads. He charmed animals to speak in the tongues of men. He travelled the veil between the living and the dead in tale and song.
If you ever get the chance….