A History of Allotments in Worthing

OK, it’s a niche market. But you would be amazed what you can learn about management, human nature and how not to get on with other people from an archive of letters about allotment rents.  The town’s bobby hid in the bushes on Saturday to catch the thief who stole 2d of radishes from a neighbour. The villagers wanted their rights but the local authorities wanted a quiet life.  All very Mapp and Lucia, but real life, not so long ago.  Try it, as paperback or pdf. 


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All roads lead to Rome

If an elephant trod on your foot you would probably be impressed with its power and size, but you wouldn’t necessarily wish to develop a long term relationship. Visiting Rome can be very similar.  The architecture is essentially bullying, bearing down on you with a decayed swagger, and the scowly  old placemen whose statues survive, scaled up and heavy looking with muscly calves and thick necks, would, if invited to tea,  wave an imperious arm and break the china before enslaving your daughter and kicking the cat. You find yourself resisting them in retrospect.

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University essays marked by computer

Let’s follow the logic of this. A student receives an essay title. They’ve attended the lectures and seminars, done the reading, discussing and thinking, so now they type out their thoughts in essay form and press SEND. A few seconds later, it comes back with a grade on it. The clever software has evaluated their work and decided what is right and wrong with it and whether it is excellent or just average. If the student doesn’t like the grade, they have to work out what the computer really wants to hear and resubmit it. This is the latest clever addition to the world of Higher Education from Edx, founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Sixth paperback just out …


Chapter 3

Differences and how we respond to them

Sherry Turkle is professor at MIT and author of The Second Self: computers and the human spirit. She took her 14 year old daughter to see an exhibition on Darwinism which included live turtles. One was very still and the other even less than active, in dirty water. Her daughter decided a robot would be better and other children in the queue agreed – “For what the turtles do, you don’t have to have live ones” – London Review of Books Diary p36, Vol 28/8, 20/4/2006

Can that be applied to teachers? If not, why not?


It is stating the obvious to insist that students are different to each other in various ways, and that any of those differences might affect the way they learn. But to apply that glaringly obvious statement to your teaching, you need to decide

what kinds of differences matter

how you get to know about them

what they imply for your teaching methods and

what you can realistically do about it.

‘Differentiation’ is a good example of a simple idea rendered complex by the number of ways it has been misrepresented. It is sometimes seen as something new, even as a passing fashion, when in fact the idea behind it has always been basic to good teaching. It is also particularly difficult to achieve in the FE context……

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A Measured Response

fron coverPaperback and Kindle from Amazon

Opening Chapter:

Enter stage right, trudging.

The moon rose on Ed Ormaloid.

Not that he’d been sleeping. Not exactly. He arose unsteadily from a tarmac surface. Fragments clung to his cheek and made small indentations, of which he was apparently unaware as he gangled his tall, unsteady self in the general direction of somewhere else. He did not know he had just arisen from a tarmac surface. He moved, but you could hardly call him conscious. You’d call him tall, and dark, and skinny. You could call him early middle-aged. You could call him Ed, as his friends might do, had they been there, but he wouldn’t hear your voice.

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Managing Teachers in FE

frontpaperback and kindle on Amazon


As so often in any context involving social interaction, there is no single solution to any problem, even if we had a single definition of what the problem might be. There is no role model to follow, no recipe to apply. Organisations are large colonies of complicated people. You might, for example, create a well-structured, essentially fair and impressively documented Disciplinary System, only to find that it is applied and interpreted with such wide differences, all of which are justified at length by teachers in different vocational areas, that it becomes essentially meaningless as a college-wide process. But that does not necessarily mean the system was faulty or the people are being incompetent. It probably means that fairness is context-dependent, and in fact has been achieved in many cases. You just can’t prove it very easily to Ofsted, but that is a separate issue, explored in chapter 3.

Likewise, good management, or effective leadership, or whatever you choose to call the thing you are aiming for, will only be achieved by flexibility and an intimate knowledge of the context. That is why models of leadership, and many training courses designed to provide leaders, sometimes seem irrelevant to over-burdened FE practitioners, who feel that generalised external solutions won’t really apply to their internal problems.

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Extract from A Crack in the Shell

frontpaperback and kindle

Short stories and poems in paperback and Kindle

Nostos,  a gardener’s lament

It’s commonly believed that a little gentle gardening

Brings peace to those whose arteries are hardening,

Whereas, in fact, one learns to dread the spring,

And the Proustian moments petalsmell can bring.

My great maternal grandpa, Edgar Hand,

Lurks in the smell of wallflowers, which demand,

The immediate return of childhood wonder,

At gas light, pipesmoke, leather and gazunder.

His wife, the Guinness-guzzling Lydia May

Would send by steam train, annually, a spray

Of lilly-of-the-valley. Now they spread

All over my allotment, like the dead.

Bluebell and primrose summon like a knell

A Cornish wood  my gran and I knew well

Whilst my father, to whom I gave my favourite rose,

Planted myosotis then turned up his toes.

When plants are said to tolerate some shade

That shouldn’t mean a ghost that’s just been laid.

One summer’s evening, led by smells anew,

I bent to the earth and mother-in-law poked through;

Hemerocallis, rockrose, Solomon’s seal,

Sea holly, miniature fir – the senses reel

When, after rain, a Canterbury Bell

Like Proserpine, pops up again from hell,

And intimations of mortality remain

When winter comes, and they all pop back again.

So, if you come to stay, don’t bring a plant.

It might recall some hairy-chinned old aunt

Who, thus released, will hover like a sprite

In the smoky air and the fading autumn light.

Or worse, when you shuffle off your mortal coil

You’ll take up residence among my soil.

And, wandering innocent before The Fall,

I’ll catch your scent, and hear the carrion call.

Nostalgia’s from the Greek. One should refrain

From nostos (a return) and algos (pain),

But a single leaf can serve to hold us fast,

Strong roots attach the present to the past.

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Reading and Thinking

mouse reversed

Reading and Thinking is a primary reader with stories and poems for all ages and ability levels from 5-9, with pencil illustrations. Paperback from Amazon: Here is the start of one of the more advanced:

Zoe and the Why Witch

It didn’t start out as a very interesting day. Zoe followed her father around the supermarket expecting to be bored. All week long he would add things to his Important Shopping List as he thought of them. Often, he added the same thing two or three times. Then he would lose the list and have to make another. Then he found the original list so he had to compare it with his new one to make sure he didn’t miss anything out. Finally, on the Big Day, they actually got to buy stuff. How exciting is that?

So, obviously, Zoe was bored by supermarkets, unless she could find an interesting question to liven up the experience. At first, when she was only a beginner, she would ask simple things like “Why do supermarket people have to wear uniforms” and  “Who invented cheese?” Her father would be concentrating on his famous List and give her some careless answer like “It’s a rule, about hygiene” or “The Ancient Greeks.”  If you asked him who invented anything he always said “The Ancient Greeks”. When he was busy trying to decide whether or not to have fish for dinner you could ask him who invented flying to the moon or picking your nose and he still said The Ancient Greeks. Once, Zoë said “Who invented the Ancient Greeks?” but her father had already moved to the bacon counter and wasn’t really listening. He always forgot something on his List and said it was Zoë’s fault for spoiling his concentration.

As weeks went by, Zoë needed more interesting questions. First, she tried “Why are grapefruit called grapefruit? Her father was not really listening and just told her to look it up when she got home. She tried the internet and discovered they grew in trees in big bunches, so people down below thought they looked a bit like grapes.

Zoë wasn’t sure that sounded very convincing, or particularly interesting. She often wondered who wrote all that stuff on the internet, and whether they really knew what they were talking about. If you asked the computer “who invented grapefruit” would it stop listening and tell you it was The Ancient Greeks? She tried, but it didn’t seem to understand her question and just gave her a list of recipes, so she went downstairs and made herself a sandwich of pickled onions and strawberry jam that made her feel sick.

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Quentin’s Big Adventure

q1Illustrated children’s book (about 5 years) recently released – paperback or Kindle.First page:

“Quentin was a bit fed up.

He spent his days on the bottom shelf of a messy room. Nobody had picked him up and spoken to him for ages.

He didn’t have a very good memory. Sometimes he would decide to do something interesting. Then, before he got round to doing it, he forgot what he wanted to do. But he did remember that nobody had spoken to him for ages and ages, so he was fed up with sitting on the bottom shelf on his own, where nothing interesting ever happened.

Even though he had a bad memory, he could remember that his name was Quentin. He remembered that nobody ever called him Quentin. They called him ordinary, uninteresting names, like Mr. Bear. That didn’t seem right at all. So, after thinking about it for a long time, he decided to go outside and See The World.

He would have gone earlier, but he wasn’t quite sure where The World actually was. This time, he was so fed up he decided to go outside anyway and see if it just turned up.

He pulled on his blue bag, with some useful things inside, and followed a sign that said “station”.”

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Reunions are suddenly big business. The next telephone call will not be to sell you double glazing, but your own past. Should you buy it?

Reunions used to be simple things. They were organised by schools and universities who needed funds to balance their books or restore the crumbling West Administrator, who hoped to put their inky fingers in the pockets of Old Nostalgics rendered receptive by the site of those adolescent initials still carved in the tapioca. The experience ranged from depressing to hilarious, often simultaneously, and once was usually enough. But that has all changed.

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