Category Archives: Education

Impressive

That’s me, that is.

Daughter was flabbergasted to discover her old mother was capable of finding a webcast from the conference she’s at, and that I watched her give a talk. Live. (It was worth a try. Beginner’s luck, perhaps, but I found it, and even sent it on to the Resident IT Consultant to watch as well. So we sat in separate rooms watching our child say stuff about stuff we know virtually nothing about.)

Helen Giles in Baltimore

But anyway, the webcast. Don’t tell me it exists if I’m not meant to look for it. My evening meal suffered a little. I managed a rush job of slice of bread with cheese and an apple, as the webcast from Baltimore started in what was their early afternoon.

Daughter was pretty impressive too. Obviously.

(But not as much as I was.)

Advertisements

I Used To Know That

Yeah, so Christmas was a while ago. But the order from our hosts, Dodo and Son, was to buy lots of non-targeted stocking-filler type presents. These were to sit in a basket and could be opened by anyone at any time during Christmas Day. You know, for when you got bored…

They said they’d started by buying some cheap books from charity shops.

This one – I Used To Know That – was probably one of them. I have to admit to having picked book-shaped parcels. Not that I needed books, but I felt I needed silly gadgets or socks even less.

It’s quite fun, actually. Caroline Taggart has gathered ‘stuff you forgot from school’ in a short, humorous and easy to read format.

The Resident IT Consultant and I discussed whether we’d forgotten the same things, and I pointed out that to some extent we would have been given sufficiently different material from which to forget. So, no, we have blissfully put different stuff behind us. Me more than him. I have always been the type to learn for the moment (=exam) and forget quickly to leave room for more like that. And so it went on.

Maths might have been ‘the same’ were it not for the two countries (languages?) having different ways of describing it. Grammar is both the same, and not. Classic authors? Not the same. Well, a bit. The more foreign, the likelier. Science? Hmm, not always easy wherever you do it.

History; I had my kings and he had his. US Presidents were the same, but we didn’t feel they were all that important. Dates to remember… well, I knew some of his, and him being special, he clearly knows about Freden i Knäred – as do I – but do you?

Then there are the planets, and they depend entirely on how old you are. How many did you learn, that you could later forget?

I had never come across litotes, but now that I have – thank you, dear book – I can tell you it’s something I use a lot. Whereas all I recall about anapaest is that it is one.

So there you have it.

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

A small travelling miscellany

I lied a little. I told Daughter I’d only visited Cambridge twice, but once we got there I remembered a third time. Still, it’s not a lot, is it?

She had cause to go there for a couple of days, and I asked to be allowed to come along, to see a little more of the world and to discover if there was anything new since 2006. (Open Day, with Son, trailing round as many colleges as possible…) I’d say there was.

The weather was gloriously cold and sunny. And isn’t it marvellous how flat it is? Realised on the train home that I’d not travelled north of Cambridge before, so I really enjoyed seeing the flat landscape as I left. It might have been there on Monday as well, but it was dark so I can’t be sure.

I saw Newton’s apple tree. I’d been a little confused, thinking I was being promised to see his apple, but Daughter pointed out this was unlikely. I suppose someone ate it. I saw a Hogwarts shop. Or two. Had a nice cream tea, including the largest milk jug I’ve ever come across in a tearoom. Admired the Christmas lights in the darkening streets.

We met up with Anne Rooney, who kindly sacrificed some of her morning on us, and introduced us to a non-chain coffee shop. (If this makes it sound like we did nothing but drink tea and coffee, it’s because we – almost – didn’t.)

I didn’t actually have time to read any of the three books I’d brought until I was on the second train home, and I only finished one of them.

Which uni?

Life’s not easy.

I don’t know if anyone here remembers little ChocBiscuit? Not that he will be so little these days. Son has grown up, and hopefully, so has ChocBiscuit. Some years ago I wrote about him and his family here. Not that it matters.

But I had another narrow escape – other than the one I mentioned then – chatting to his father.

There we were, sitting on the uncomfortable chairs at the local playgroup. I must have told him about my Swedish background. That’s unusual in itself, as I tend to avoid such things. Maybe he heard me talking to Son. Because with his own connection to Sweden, he’d have understood.

Without further ado, he asked whether I’d gone to Uppsala or Lund. Which is interesting, as I’d not even hinted at being ‘educated.’ For all he knew I might have left school at 16.

But there he was, asking the Swedish equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge? As though any given country only has the two universities that you could possibly have attended. Or that you are clearly such a proper person that there are only two options, and they need to know which one, before proceeding with the conversation.

Me, I merely skulked, sinking further into the uncomfortable chair, whispering that I went to Gothenburg. I have no recollection of what he said to that. He should have mentally kicked himself for assuming too much, while possibly feeling grateful I had at least gone somewhere.

Through his first wife he had many memories of Uppsala, so he talked about those days. And I never turned the tables on him, but if I had, the answer would have been ‘Oxford.’

Doctoring on

Graduation, McEwan Hall

Monday was exhausting! I got out of bed well before my normal comfort time, so I could be outside the McEwan Hall in Edinburgh by ten. The Resident IT Consultant and I were meeting Son and Dodo to receive our tickets for the morning’s graduation ceremony. I had to to and fro a bit with my bag and got the elderly confused witch treatment from a kind usher who’d probably seen it all before.

So with a boiled egg in my pocket, I climbed all those stairs, going round and round in a spiral. But being early, I found a seat I liked. Narrow seats, though. You have to be quite friendly with the person you sit next to.

Graduation, McEwan Hall

Anyway, a mere eleven years after arriving in Edinburgh, Son graduated for the third time, and was hit – sorry, tapped – on the head with John Knox’s breeches, and got to shake the hand of the Vice-Chancellor. By that time I’d almost nodded off, and was lucky to come to and realise a group of red-trimmed doctoral gowns were standing ready to go. I got my camera out, but as expected the results were so dreadful that I have again resorted to theft on social media. (I’m hoping most of the photos belong to Dodo. Pardon, I mean Dr Dodo.)

Graduation, McEwan Hall

Graduation McEwan Hall

Afterwards I went downstairs and was confused in front of the same usher, who remembered me from before. I’m very memorable.

Graduation, McEwan Hall - Son with supervisors

Then it was photos and chatting outside, and shaking the hands of all three of Dr Son’s supervisors. Not just the one for him. But we agreed we’d all done a great job* getting here, and I don’t just have the train journey in mind. Was also introduced to someone from Borås, which doesn’t happen all that often. (Not since early October, anyway.)

Graduation, McEwan Hall

When we’d admired each other enough, Drs Dodo and Son marched off and the Resident IT Consultant and I tried to keep pace with them, as we weren’t quite certain where lunch was to be found. (Söderbergs, a few minutes away.)

After many carbohydrates had been consumed, some of them vividly green, we walked back to Son’s university HQ for some red wine, and water, and crisps, and more chatting and shaking of – occasionally the same – hands.

And then the two oldies staggered home.

*I have read the thesis. It is actually quite good, if I say so myself. Interesting, and more readable than many such things. (Tracing the Transmission of Scandinavian Literature to the UK: 1917-2017.) Someone else, not related to him, or us, also said it wasn’t bad.

If you want to make it easy for yourself, a short version can be found in this talk in Lund earlier this year. After the first minute or so, it’s even in English.

Why, why, why?

Why do they do it? Why do authors even bother to get out of bed before the crack of dawn, to travel for hours, possibly with trains breaking down or getting cancelled, or driving hundreds of miles in their own cars. This is before they even stand up in front of school children in classrooms, talking about books, writing, reading, to audiences maybe not terribly interested. Possibly they will be told off by teachers for drinking coffee from the wrong mug in the staff room. And then they go home again, always assuming their transport works. Or they stay overnight, in dubious hotels, eating badly, before repeating the whole thing the next day.

Yes, there is – can be – money in it. Authors need to eat too. Their books will get better known. And [some of] the children will benefit from the visit by a real, live author.

But it must be so tiring.

This whole subject came up on Facebook, again, the other week. A few of those who know what it’s like, gathered to discuss travel – and other – disasters, again. Barry Hutchison told us about one of his first author outings, quite a few years ago, and I’m reproducing it here with Barry’s permission:

Barry Hutchison

“When I was just starting out, I went on a tour with HarperCollins, where myself and a few other authors visited schools around London.

One school we went to really shocked me. The teachers openly admitted they couldn’t teach the kids, and were basically just containing them until they were old enough to leave. The police were called in most days. None of the teachers had the faintest idea why we had bothered to come to the school, and told us we were wasting our time. They laughed when someone from Waterstones turned up with books to sell.

We were split up into different classes. The kids I spoke to were around 14 to 15 – older than the target audience of the one book I had out. They talked among themselves during my talk. A few of them took time out to look me up and down, whisper something to their mates, then burst out laughing.

I had 30 minutes to talk to them. After 20, I was so thrown-off by everything that I ran out of things to say. I asked if anyone had any questions. Someone said, ‘Is you a paedo, sir?’ and everyone laughed.

The teacher said nothing.

I had maybe a minute left. I asked if anyone enjoyed writing stories, and one boy down the front, who had been staring at his desk the whole time, saying nothing, raised the tip of a finger.

‘Oh!’ I said. ‘You like writing?’

All eyes turned to him. His hand went down. He told me that, no, he hated it, but his mum sometimes made him do it as a punishment.

I said no more about it.

At lunchtime, we brave authors sat at a signing table, swapping horror stories, books piled up around us that nobody was going to buy.

After 10 minutes or so, Waterstones started packing up. We were just about to leave when the boy who’d raised his hand came up, looked around nervously, then took a copy of my book out of his jacket and asked me to sign it.

I signed it and handed it back to him. He leaned closer, whispered, ‘I’ve never told anyone I like writing stories before,’ and then about-turned and hurried off.

On the way out, I found out from the librarian that he’d asked her to borrow the money for the book. She knew she’d never see the money again, so made him a deal – she’d buy him a copy if he came to her book group to discuss it. He reluctantly agreed.

She emailed me four months later to say he was still going to the book group. It consisted of him and her.

I have no idea where that kid is now, but the thought of him has seen me through some pretty abysmal school events over the years.”

Those of us following this conversation that day all admitted to reaching for a tissue when we got to those last paragraphs. Perhaps that is why they do all this stuff. And librarians, eh?

Thank you.