Thursday, 31 May 2012

Predictable But Disappointing: This Year’s “Euro” Lacks The “Vision”

Every year there's one televised event that I actually write into my diary months in advance. This year I managed to somehow double book myself and had to resort to watching Eurovision on time lapse almost after the competition had actually finished. Seeing Stewart Francis in action, I was at least able to allay my fears his quick-witted one liners would become tiresome for an entire one-man show. Stewart had me chuckling for the majority of his set which is more than I can say for Eurovision.

Last year we made a party out of Eurovision and had friends round, bringing dishes representative of their allocated country. We second-guessed costume/performance/vote patterns and made bets on who would win. This year, The Boy and I returned to Echo to watch a recording of the show with only the Major to keep us company. Eurovision used to be about mullets, crazy costumes, spandex, insane firework or lighting displays, Europop, traditional dress and Terry Wogan's snide remarks but then Lordi came along in 2006 and paved the way for more adventurous genre experimentation.

This year, although the venue in Baku was certainly impressive, the show seriously lacked with no mullets in sight, generally conventionally glamorous costumes and few entries digressing from the dreary ballad formula. The Italians entered a fairly talented Amy Winehouse wannabe (Nina Zilli),

Germany's song was written by Jamie Cullum, Greece managed to find a Shakira impersonator (Eleftheria Eleftheriou) and Romania opted for some bagpipe nonsense (Mandinga). Lacking the element of surprise, Russia's grannies (Buranovskiye Babushki) weren't quite as amusing as first predicted:

Once the blindfold had been removed, Lithuania's offering (Love is Blind performed by Donny Montell) had little to keep viewers interested. As laughable as they are, Jedward actually had one of the best songs with Waterline - high energy 80s' sounding feel-good nonsense:

Graham Norton was noticeably silenced by shortened country intros between songs, giving him less chance to make bitchily witty remarks. Of course he still managed a few, cattily warning Serbia's entry to "Hurry up - before your ears fall off”, referring to the enormous earrings their vocalist braved. Ukraine’s backing dancers were apparently young offenders and decked out in hideous costumes, Norton dubbed their “punishment”.

Moldova’s mediocre offering completed twenty-six performances from entrants before somewhat predictable voting began. Norton had warned Sweden were favourites to win and was clearly in the know as they ran away with the prize over 100 points ahead of the runners-up (Russia’s untalented but enthusiastic party-loving grans):

Countries too poor to host Eurovision next year generally didn’t get a look-in (Spain, Greece...) and the normal “political voting” went on, making it easy to guess which countries would give courtesy points to each other.

The UK entry was undoubtedly one of the weakest and our failure to get more than twelve points can’t simply be blamed on Engelbert Humperdinck performing first and therefore easily being forgotten. Despite him being a bit of a legend, his performance was less impressive than other artists’ and “Love Will Set You Free” entirely uninspiring as a song. At least we marginally beat overall losers, Norway, to avoid the humiliation of coming last:

Eurovision may have lacked the variety, unintended humour and energy of previous years but Norton at least managed to do a grand job poking fun where he could and enlightened viewers of some of the competition rules so we could pass the time checking each entrant was above board (only six to an act...). Now the question remains, will Ireland enter Jedward for a third year running? To find out, we have less than a year to wait...

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Farewell My Lovely

I love reading the paper on my way to work and I'm particularly taken with unusual stories. Over the last weeks, I've actually found myself ripping shocking stories out to take home and show The Boy. My top three range from the downright sickening to the unbelievably sad (in both its original and new contemporary slang meaning). In case you missed out on Egypt's plan to let grief-stricken husband's have sex with their wive's bodies up to six hours after death, you can find the link below:

Perhaps you never understood Tamagotchis but would like a One Direction virtual boyfriend…

Or maybe you missed out on the story revealing a tragic loss of life in Bournemouth…

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Filey's Full Of Friends

A dazed-looking figure walks around the car park wearing full motorcycling gear, including a black helmet to match with its tinted visor down. I'm expecting this sexless figure to pull out a shotgun or brandish a cat o'nine tails but instead an initially intimidating look becomes comical. As the biker turns, we notice a furry koala rucksack worn over both shoulders and can't help but giggle.
We've spent the last two days constantly amused by the memorable characters Filey harbours. I've been curious to visit Filey for years since my first teaching job when I discovered many of the kids holidayed there. Don't get me wrong - I had no desire to spy on my pupils or share a vacation spot with them but was instead inquisitive, wanting to know why Filey seemed to appeal to so many.

When in the area late last year, The Boy and I did a little drive through and got very little feel for the place, left with no desire to return. Months later, I'm slightly embarrassed when I tell an old teaching chum about my first impressions and she immediately tells me she owns a caravan in Filey. Pleased to be invited for a weekend away, I'm keen to keep an open-mind and lured in by the promise of a girls' road trip.

I'm already impressed with how luxurious and spacious the caravan is and walking from the campsite in Gristhorpe to the centre of Filey, we're blessed with sunshine. Once in Filey, we decide to go for a drink and my host says she knows of a nice pub not meaning to be ironic in the slightest. We end up at Foords Hotel and decide to only stay for a half.

At Foords we're greeted by an old toothless drunken man wearing a cap backwards who's drinking with a dishevelled looking gent with a shoe lift. Inside they're friendly and seem to view us as somewhat of an attraction, unable to take their eyes of us or the dog we've brought along. On the way out we pass the outside toilet hut and are invited for a drink at one of the regular's houses.

In The Bull Inn back in the safety of Gristhorpe, we order food and are soon joined by another exceedingly drunken young man who is waving an enormous wad of money about. Having recently moved down from Manchester, he claims it is protection money and is determined to buy us drinks. Four drinks later and although 32, his dad has been alerted. He's whisked away with his £250 almost in tact and we learn about his daily routines.

The next day before leaving, we see a monkey tree with soft toy monkeys dangling from its branches and make a final trip to the local. Under threat of closure, The Bull Inn needs all the help it can get. My Catholic friend has agreed to bless the pub. As she makes the sign of the cross and sprinkles the lucky holy water her mother gave her over a shamrock, we watch with the slightly bemused bar man and optimistic owners. I hope the The Bull Inn's still there when I come back to Filey to make more friends.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Are exams getting easier?

Every year around this time the great debate begins: Are exams getting easier? This year I have tangible proof that exams are in fact getting harder - English A Level exams at least. Having just finished teaching the gender question to Year 12 and helped moderate their coursework, I can safely say mark schemes seem to be weighted against success.

The group I've been teaching have been struggling to shape all the research they've studied into essay structures. Attempting to help them, I found both old and new “sample essays”. In order to show a range of responses, I had to dig around in teaching files unused for the last eight or nine years. Here I found an “A grade” essay marked by a more experienced teacher I shadowed in my earlier teaching days.

Reading this practise exam script, I was doubtful whether it would still achieve a top grade now and compared it with the most recent mark scheme. Still sceptical, I conferred with a colleague and my suspicions were confirmed – this once-great essay would now likely be graded at a B or C, rather than the A it was originally deemed worthy of.

In the past, there's been a whole variety of research done attempting to prove or disprove the claim that exams are getting easier and education is being “dumbed down”. As a teacher who has been through the education system and remembers the days of exams, without this week's revelation my gut instinct has always veered towards exams getting progressively trickier over the years.

Back in my day, pupils were allowed to annotate set texts to take them into exams and there seemed to be less sections for each exam – not to mention less topics to study and literary/linguistic terminology knocking about. Students now are expected to learn far more to succeed and complete more questions but given no extra time to do so.

Twenty years ago, more independent research was encouraged and students were frequently left to their own devices whereas now pupils are a lot more dependent on the teacher for success.The main difference is in the way that I was taught and the way teachers now deliver lessons. The focus today is much more on how to approach exam questions, structure essays and a lot more exam practise is done because schools are much more results driven due to the pressures of league tables.

As a direct result of this qualification-driven society, more students are applying for Universities, realising employers expect a greater level of education from their prospective employees. The birth of the Internet has also had a huge impact on the modern brain, exposing us to huge swathes of information and perhaps as a result improving the nation's average IQ. This theory is supported by the existence of the term “The Flynn Effect”, coined to describe the gradual improvement in IQ scores ( So cynics, leave those kids alone!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Trotting Through Technological Developments

Surrounded by pregnant friends and others who have recently become mothers, I still try to kid myself I'm not actually that old but this week I've had a few reality checks:

Scenario One:

A small child is running towards me along a corridor with tears streaming down her face. As she gets nearer, I realise I know this child and stop to ask her what the matter is. Quickly establishing “everything is wrong” and that help is being sought, I allow her to continue on her path, having momentarily reassured her it'll be OK and that there are people who care.

Later in the day, I'm boarding the train and the same girl appears beside me, clearly wanting to somehow return the favour by showing equal concern. “Do you want any help?” she asks, putting her arm out to indicate I can lean on it in order to safely hobble into the carriage.

I'm not that old,” I say, laughing inside as I hear my words. I remember being 11 and thinking anyone above 18 was ancient so to her I am a dinosaur.

Scenario Two

Teaching English Language to AS and A2 classes, I've recently been discussing language change. This week we've moved onto how the development of technology has effected language and communication. I'm asked when the Internet “began” and soon have to explain what “Dial-up” is. I can remember the pain of IT G.C.S.E. back in 1996 and how long it took for websites to load. I also recall early mobile phones and my initial annoyance when the assumption everyone owned one became widespread.

It is actually amazing how much has changed since my early teens. I blame this week's revelation that I am no longer “young” on the sudden development of technology. I shall continue to do daily battle against this sad reality, already entirely in agreement with Leon Trosky. Trotsky wisely once said: "Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happens to a man", presumably referring generically to “mankind”. I'm already shocked by my age now so just imagine how I'll feel when I eventually hit retirement!