Sunday, July 31, 2005

Ever wonder...?

Have you ever wondered just how much someone will pay for a signed copy of a Harry Potter book? (And no, you can wasn't me.)

I'm talking a signed copy of the newest book.

With an accompanying letter from JK Rowling's personal assistant.

And consider it was auctioned off at a gathering of the most die-hard Harry Potter fans in the entire world.

Also keep in mind that these fans did not know until Friday night that this book was available. Also, checks and credit cards aren't accepted. So, fans were limited to what money they had on hand or could pry out of an ATM at 11:30 Saturday night. (They could also use PayPal.)

Well, that amount, ladies and gentlemen, is £530.

Yes. £530.

That comes to $931.69 (at the official exchange's likely to end up being more due to bank charges, etc...)

Man...I'm really gonna enjoy that book.

No, really. It wasn't me. Honest. It was a woman from the organizing committee. NOT ME.

Magic Wands

Magic wands, hand-crafted in England.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Figure it out yet?

A couple days ago (it seems like longer ago than that, but the date says the 28th) I posted this challenge:
There are only two countries in the world whose names begin, but don’t end, with the letter A.

I figured it out. Can you?

Graycie quickly got 'Afganistan.'

Any luck on the other?

I'll give you a hint. The CIA World Factbook says that this is a 'nation with a Turkic and majority-Muslim population - regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.'

A Prefect in Need of a Spell

Here I am, 30 minutes before The Feast and it's pouring rain. I need some spell to stop the rain.

So far, I've tried 'Dryuppo!' and 'Cloudbegoneium!' and even the greatly feared 'Rainoceasium!'...all to no avail.

Any suggestions?

Can't Get to Accio?

Well, evidently not or I'd have seen you by now.

But, you're not totally out of luck. You could always get to Lumos 2006 in Las Vegas next July or to The Witching Hour in Salem, Mass., next October.

Education at Hogwarts

You may find this interesting. Or not.

Basically, I'm just putting the link here so I don't lose it forever.


I am currently at the University of Reading for the Accio Conference. Now, at the risk of sounding waaaay too geeky, I'll tell you that it is 'The First Harry Potter Conference in the UK.'

Now, at the risk of sounding very incredibly waaaay too geeky, I'll tell you that I'm a Prefect. (I've the the shirt and badge to prove it.)

Anyway, it's not just me that's waaaay too geeky...there are about 220 of us here from 24 different countries. (Yes, that's twenty-four.)

I arrived yesterday afternoon by train. The bus to the University was due to stop just outside the train station. I waited there all alone for a while. Soon, though, two other people wandered up to the bus stop. After a bit of covert observing, one of them asked if I was going to Accio as well. After looking around carefully, I admitted I was. (Look, it wasn't really something I was trying to admit too readily.)

Since the busses in Reading seem to run less by timetable and more by whimsy, eventually, those of us who had accumulated for the bus decided to share a taxi. Of course, after waiting nearly 45 minutes for the bus, the second we climbed in the taxi, the bus arrived.

After finally arriving and checking in, the had a welcome session where we settled the first, and perhaps the most vexing, question of the weekend: just how do you pronounce the word 'accio'? Evidently, there were three possibilities (well, four, but the immediately threw one out was being the 'North American pronunciation') and we settled upon 'ak-ee-oh.'

Then, we had our first keynote address titled 'The Phoenix in Harry Potter: the Metaphoric Power of the Past.' Actually, it was a guy standing there reading his paper titled 'The Phoenix in Harry Potter: the Metaphoric Power of the Past' rather than actually presenting it, but anyway...

Next was dinner. In an effort to help those conference delegates NOT from the UK gain a better appreciation of British cuisine, a wide range of traditional food was served (steak and kidney pie, fish and chips, some kind of sausage thing, spotted dick, and treacle tart). The other choice was presented as, 'And for those of you actually FROM England, we have curry.'

The highlight of the evening was the trial of Severus Snape. I'm happy to report that the second charge was thrown out due to lack of evidence and Snape was declared innocent of the remaining three charges.

This morning, we were treated to a full English breakfast before a full day of sessions. I attended the following:
Choosing between "what is right and what is easy" - the anatomy of Power and the Conquering of the Self in J K Rowling's Work
Harry Potter through the looking-glass: wordplay and the use of language in the works of J. K. Rowling and Lewis Carroll
Harry Potter and the deconstruction of childhood
The nameless world of Harry Potter

I also spent some time carrying out my Prefect duties.

So you see, it hasn't been all dressing up and prancing about in robes and witches hats. Certainly not.

That happens tonight at The Feast.

Oh, but Graycie...

...nothing but the best the BBC has to offer!

All of that (and more) was stright from the BBC website this morning.

Now, here's a site I'm glad to finally find.

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. Now I finally have a place to send in all my Bigfoot sightings.

Insert snappy title here

Oh, I want to join:

The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is the only professional, scientific and full-time organisation in the world dedicated to cryptozoology - the study of unknown animals. Since 1992 the CFZ has carried out an unparalleled programme of research and investigation all over the world.

I mean, really. Wouldn't it be great?

'I don't believe I agree with your conclusions about this unknown animal.'

'Fine then...I'll change my conclusions just as soon as you show me the evidence.'

'Um...never mind.'

I wasn't going to...but I can't resist.

It seems that a rather life-sized 'sculpted and polished phallus' was unearthed in a cave in Germany. The whole story is here.

'Its life size suggests it may well have been used as a sex aid by its Ice Age makers, scientists report.

'"In addition to being a symbolic representation of male genitalia, it was also at times used for knapping flints," explained Professor Nicholas Conard, from the department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, at Tübingen University.'

Can't you just hear THAT conversation?

'Ug....what this stone phallus for?'

' knap flints with it! Yeah, that's it!'

Training Squirrels

For the teachers out there, in case you're feeling sad since it's summertime and you don't have any kids to herd about, you can always try training some squirrels. And you never know, they might just end up in a movie!

(And, if you can't find any squirrels to train, you may want to give cat herding a try.)

(The entire cat herding commercial can be downloaded here - but beware - it's a large file.)

Squid Sex and Other Things I Learned From the BBC

Ah, and you think I'm joking...but I'm not. The BBC has a list of 'Ten Things We Didn't Know This Time Last Week'. And squid sex is one of those things.

Trying to Blend In

One unforeseen consequence (or maybe not so unforeseen, who knows?) of the recent attempted bombings in London is that anyone walking around with a rucksack (that’s backpack) is looked at quite suspiciously.

So, what’s a guy to do? The obvious choice is simply not to carry as much stuff. But this is me we’re talking about. Men also aren’t able to carry purses. (What does this look like? France?) So, that considerably narrows things down to either carrying a plastic Tesco bag around with me or finding a new bag. And I can’t carry the Tesco bag. I just can’t. That’s so uncool.

Ah, but carrying the Tesco bag would have been much simpler. You see, I find myself unable to make a simple decision such as, ‘Oh, there’s a bag…I’ll get that one.’ Oh no…I have to look in many shops and agonize and ponder and browse and agonize and ponder.

Luckily, though, I found myself near the Petticoat Lane Market. Yes, I know what you’re saying…’Get the guy a petticoat and he won’t mind carrying a purse.’ And you’d be right…if you weren’t so wrong.

Despite the name, I saw no petticoats. I did, however, see a few packs of dodgy knickers. Primarily, though, the Petticoat Lane Market sells clothing (from racks set up on the street) and bolts upon bolts upon bolts of garish, tacky cloth. Oh, and luggage, all types of luggage.

And it was there, in one of the numerous, rather anonymous, fairly dubious luggage shops that I found it…the bag that shall henceforth be know as ‘The Bag Most Wondrous and Glorious, Defender of the Haversack and Provider of Portage, It’s Brilliance the Messenger Bag.’ (What? This is England…things all but beg for a title like that.)

Okay, to be fair, I did have a very nice messenger bag (Thanks, Harriet!) but, owing to space allowances (look, I had already filled four pieces of luggage to cart over here), I was forced to leave it in America.

So, what’s so wondrous about it, you ask? (Actually, what I’ll bet you’re really asking is, ‘Egad, what is he on about now?’) Well, I’ll tell you.

First, its size: not too big, not too small. Specifically, its main pocket is large enough for something the size of a file folder but not overly large. It fits quite nicely under my arm without being bulky.

Second, it has a main flap that covers the entire bag. Now, the flap is critical…not only does it have a decent-sized pocket itself, but it fastens with one fastener. One fastener, not two. A fastener, not Velcro. One fastener keeps it shut and keeps people on the Tube from snaking their hands inside while at the same time not being overly tiresome to open. One fastener avoids the ‘rrrrrriiiiippppppppppppp!’ of a Velcro closure (not to mention the fact that the Velcro will eventually get worn out, causing the flap to…well…flap about).

Third, the bag is made out of rather nice nylon, enough to keep light rain out without being hazardous to cows and things like that, easy enough to clean, tough enough to bang about. It also happens to have a bit of padding on the side that is against my body.

Fourth, the bag is a pleasing colour. Not ostentatious or showy, its base colour is an understated black with a satisfying slate accent. (The mere fact that the display model was an odd blue nearly put me off the bag altogether…even though it was blue…the accent was POWDER blue.)

Fifth, there are a number of pockets. Not that I use lots of pockets, but you know how I am…there’s always the possibility I might like to use a pocket eventually. (In addition to the earlier mentioned flap pocket and main pocket, it also has a medium-sized pocket, two small pockets, an ID pocket with clear plastic window, and a mesh pocket for holding a bottle of water.) Also, each pocket (except for the ID pocket and water bottle pocket) has a zipper complete with a handy zipper pull.

Sixth, the bag has a shoulder strap (with a padded bit for my shoulder!) allowing me to sling it over my right shoulder and carry it, across my body, under my left arm (a further snaking-hand-on-the-Tube protection).

Seventh, and perhaps the most telling design feature, the bag has a handle on top. However, this handle is attached to the bag itself not the flap. There is an opening in the flap allowing the handle to come through. So what? This allows the weight to be supported by the structure bag itself rather than simply the flap. Many other, obviously inferior, bags have the handle right on top. The through-the-flap design is a well-thought-planned, well-implemented feature.

Now, before you all email me saying you must have one of these WonderBags, I have to tell you that all of this astounding amazingness comes at a rather steep price.



At that price, I’m wishing I’d have gotten several.

(So, NOW do you see why I spend so long agonizing over something like this?)

(Okay, probably not. But do you see why carrying a Tesco bag would have been simpler?)

But, I have to say, it’s way, waaaaaaaaaaay cooler than carrying a Tesco bag.

An Update

Earlier in the week, I posted about the Yuropen, the pen that claims to revolutionize the very act of writing as we know it. After failing to find this wonder pen at my local Tesco or my local Staples, I went to my local WH Smith. I found the remarkable uberpen in a dazzling array of colours (well…three) for only £2.99 each. That’s like $5.00 or more in American money.

(Okay, that’s not entirely true…I went to WH Smith first and then to Tesco and Staples in the hopes of finding a cheaper price.)

From Thursday's News

From the Evening Standard:
Drew Barrymore was in London last night for the preview of her new film, The Perfect Catch. The film is based on the book Fever Pitch by Nick Hornsby. In 1997, the book was turned into a film but this time, despite being based on the novel, the producer’s changed the plot, setting, and title. So, let me get this straight? It’s based on a book but nearly everything is changed? Basically, it’s a bunch of people with the same names running about in a different place doing different things?

Amidst all of the frenzied international search for the London bombers, it’s reassuring to know that Scotland Yard has found time to move from Paris back to England the crumpled Mercedes that Princess Diana was in when she was killed. The investigators ‘will focus on the steering gear, accelerator mechanism, brakes and wheels.’ They will be using new 3D technology to create a digital reconstruction of the accident. Ah yes, the car’s been sitting in Paris for eight years…now’s a perfect time to bring it back and devote time and resources to investigate.

From the Guardian:
Scientists at University College London have found out that most people blink about 15 times a minute, with each blink lasting an average of 100-150 milliseconds. This all adds up to a whopping nine days a year we spend blinking. So, the next time you find yourself with not enough time to accomplish tasks, just stop all that pesky blinking!

And, lest you think THAT finding is interesting, consider that scientists at the University of Arizona, Tucson, have studied caterpillars of two tiger moth species. They (the scientists, not the caterpillars) found that the tastebuds of caterpillars that are infected with certain parasites are more responsive to certain medicinal agents in certain plants. And if you think that’s something, just imagine how tough it was to teach those caterpillars to stick out their tongues and say, ‘Ahhhhh…….’

A certain Judith Chegwidden wrote to the ‘Ask Jack’ column in the insideIT column asking the following:
‘Can you suggest a way of minimising the number of chargers required on a business trip to China? One each for the laptop, phone, camera, PDA, and toothbrush? We used to pack clothes and shoes to travel. Now there is a tangled nest of wires, transformers and adapters.’

Jack’s answer:
‘I have survived so far by buying products that take standard AA cells or, if not, can be charged via a laptop’s USB port. Even then you still need a different cable for each device, so there’s not much saving.’

My answer:
‘Back in the olden days, we had toothbrushes that…and I’ll slow down here…did not require and cords or wires or transformers or adapters. That right there would reduce your packing by 20%.’

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Among other places, yesterday I went to All Hallows by the Tower in London. I had an interesting guided tour by the person there (must have been a slow day for him). William Penn (of the Pennsylvania fame) was baptized here and John Quincy Adams was married here (though neither of these events took place while I was there).

And, to incorporate literacy and literature into my blog, this part of the poem 'The Fallen' by Laurence Binyon was engraved on a memorial there:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The A’s Have It

I learned this from the current issue of Wanderlust Magazine:

There are only two countries in the world whose names begin, but don’t end, with the letter A.

I figured it out. Can you?

(Without looking at a map…or an atlas…or anything else.)

Things I learned from Tuesday’s Independent

From ‘the games page’:
On average, a McDonald’s Big Mac bun has 178 sesame seeds. (Oh…now THERE’s a fun job…’174…175…176…wait…where was I?’)

In the sport of Tiddlywinks, you might encounter the terms ‘squidge’ and ‘squop.’ (And I thought cricket terms were strange.)

The lace curtains at 10 Downing Street are bulletproof. (I can’t help but think it may have been easier and more effective to make the actual glass bulletproof instead.)

From the ‘Europe’ section:
In a church in Civitavecchia in central Italy, a statue of Mary was seen crying ‘tears of blood.’ This was reported 13 times, most recently in March 1995. Pope John II sent the parish a golden rosary bead. (You know, if it were reported to me that a statue of Mary was crying tears of blood thirteen times, I’d probably cough up money for the entire rosary.)

The World Santa Claus Congress is being held at an amusement park in Copenhagen. More than 100 Santa Clauses and ‘their little helpers’ gathered for the three-day convention that includes a chimney-climbing competition and a parade. The participating Santa Clauses are drafting plans to improve their working conditions by calling on the European Union to standardise chimney widths throughout the EU and holding Christmas twice a year to ‘lessen the one-day-a-year burden on Santas. (This is all fine and good, but they’re avoiding the real issue here: shouldn’t the proper term be ‘Santas Claus’?)

The Latest Puzzle Craze

I have realized that I have failed you terribly. I haven’t properly informed you of the newest puzzle craze sweeping the nation. That puzzle craze, dear readers, is called Sudoku.

The rules of Sudoku are really quite simple. You are given a 9x9 grid (a grid that is nine boxes wide and nine boxes high resulting in a total of 81 boxes) that is further divided into nine smaller 3x3 grids. Some of the boxes already have numbers and the remaining boxes are empty. You simply fill in the grid so that every row, every column, and every 3x3 box contains the digits 1 through 9.

Originally from Japan, The Times newspaper began printing a daily Sudoku puzzle shortly after I arrived here. It proved so popular that it wasn’t long before the other newspapers began to include their own daily Sudoku puzzles. Some papers even include several each day; today’s Independent had four: a ‘Quick Sudoku’ on the back page, and three (one ‘Elementary,’ one ‘Intermediate,’ and one ‘Advanced’) on the games page. Other papers rate their Sudoku puzzles differently, perhaps ranging from ‘Easy’ to ‘Fiendish.’ You can even purchase books of Sudoku puzzles.

It’s crazy. It’s nuts. People should really be doing something more constructive with their time.

And just as soon as I finish this Sudoku, I’ll go tell them.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Fishcotheque

That's right...the Fishcotheque.

I must pay a visit soon...

Reply to Graycie

A reply to Graycie's comment below...

I saw a pen like this last summer in England (maybe it was this same one...I think it may have been) and they're pretty nifty. And, as of this morning...£1.00 is about $1.74.
(And go ahead, tell We-We where I live...then give her a map and tell her to find it...that should take the remainder of the lesson!)

The Things I'm Missing in Roanoke

Evidently, a Roanoke Wal-Mart has started a singles night. And evidently, the main Wal-Mart headquarters didn't like it.

Story here...

And pasted here in case the Yahoo story goes away...

Wal-Mart Nixes 'Singles Shopping'
Sat Jul 23,12:04 PM ET

ROANOKE, Va. - Wal-Mart has ditched a program that helped single shoppers find love in the discount store's aisles.

Officials at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., ordered their Roanoke store to put an end to Singles Shopping, the only program of its kind at Wal-Mart's U.S. stores.

Taking a cue from Wal-Marts in Germany, the month-old program encouraged customers on Friday evenings to pick up a red bow they could place on their shopping carts as an invitation to other singles. "Flirt points" were set up in various sections of the store.

A Wal-Mart spokesman declined to comment on the reason behind the program's cancellation. But customer Dale Firebaugh, who showed up Friday night hoping to meet his match, said store employees told him several people had complained.

"I'm disappointed," said Firebaugh, 63. "Where can someone over 40 who doesn't smoke or drink or go to bars meet someone?"

Monday, July 25, 2005

Today's Quote

I found this when I was cleaning off my desk. It really and truly happened in my maths lesson this year.

Me (desperately trying to draw triangle knowledge out of the year 7 class): 'A triangle where two sides are equal is called...'

Year 7 Kid: 'A square!'

Miracle Pens?

In my continuing quest to aid teachers worldwide, I bring you news of a pen so remarkable it has been reported to help not only dyslexic and dyspraxic children learn to write, but also left-handed children. Really.

Visit to learn all about this miracle pen.

Ranting Teacher

A few of you may enjoy the Ranting Teacher's webiste at (imagine that...)

I haven't read much but I read an article about it...

We're Not Afraid

Following the bombings on July 7, has been posting images sent in from people around the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In the news...

This morning on the BBC, one of the top stories was the news that the United States military had banned its service members based in England from traveling to London. This was supposedly due to the danger they faced from the terrorist bombings.

(After an intital, cynical thought of, 'sure...since London isn't safe enough, let's send them to someplace safe, say....Iraq,' I moved on to George Bush's words: 'In this dark hour, the people of Great Britain can know that the American people stand with them.' and 'We will never yield to terrorists and murderers. In the face of such adversaries, there is only one course of action: We will continue to take the fight to the enemy, and we will fight until the enemy is defeated.' Sure, let's stand against the enemy...from as far from London as possible.)

Anyway, after some criticism that the travel ban sent the wrong message, the travel ban has been lifted. Now, American service members are now free to travel to London.

Now, in all fairness, I need to add this bit from the BBC web site: Conservative defence spokesman Andrew Robathan said: "I suspect that this was a decision made when London was not a place to visit, on Thursday and Friday. "I also suspect it was a decision made by somebody who was rather risk-averse - perhaps a middle-rank commander, not one of the top people."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hey Gracie...

You might be interested in this...Orson Scott Card is having a book signing in Lynchburg on September 22 at 7:00 at Givens Books.

More info here...

(Now, before you get upset, everyone else is allowed to be interested, too.)

Today's Education Quote

"We were told that children must be motivated to learn, and if they aren't motivated, it's the teacher's fault. That was a lie, and a big one. It reckoned without the hard fact that the basis of all real learning is fear."

-Richard Peck (author of the Newbery Medal book A Year Down Yonder)

(For more about this, go to and look about halfway down the page.)

The Week in Reverse

In many ways, this week has defied words. From one of the highest highs to one of the lowest lows in less than 24 hours, London has been at the forefront of the world’s news. I’ll attempt to give a few details.


Today, I went to London for Commemoration Day – the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. In the morning, the Queen attended a memorial service at Westminster Abbey. This afternoon, following a program at Horse Guards Parade, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh rode back up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Along the way, thousands of people lined both sides of the Mall, waving and cheering as the open car drove slowly by. Following the Queen was a band made up of Army, Navy and Air Force soldiers. And, last in the parade were hundreds and hundreds of veterans, each bearing the flag of their military unit. Following the parade, the street barricades were opened and thousands upon thousands of people filled the Mall and moved towards Buckingham Palace. Gathered in the streets in front of the Palace, we cheered as the Royal Family appeared on the balcony for an extended period of time as vintage aircraft flew over.

And this is why London will survive the bombings of this week.

Despite all the planning we are told the terrorists must have done, they missed a few things. They chose this week of all weeks to bomb the city. This week was the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the ending of World War II. St. James’ Park was temporarily the home of the Living Museum. The Living Museum had exhibits and re-enactors and veterans, all there to tell the story of the sacrifices made not only by the soldiers fighting in Europe and in the Pacific, but also by the people at home. London was heavily bombed during the war, but life went on.

They seem to have forgotten that London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Walking around King’s Cross yesterday, I saw the flowers, cards and candles left in tribute to those killed and injured. I passed posters, some hand written, others professionally printed, all asking for information about a missing friend or loved one. The people represented by those posters came from around the globe: yes, England, but also Poland, Turkey, Israel, and China. Those killed were Christian, Jews, and Muslims. An attack on the people of London is, in many ways, an attack on the people of the world. And the people of the world will not bow to the threats of one small terrorist group.

Today I stood along the Mall and watched the Queen ride down the street. Despite the bombings this week, she and her husband rode in an open car. Later, she and her family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Certainly there was a great deal of security, but no more so than for any other event of this type. In fact, there was, in some ways, far less security today than at last month’s Trooping the Colour since the Mall was not lined every few feet with soldiers.

After today’s parade went by, the police opened the barricades and the street flooded with people, all heading towards the Palace to see the Royal Family. The large screen televisions along the Mall showed aerial views of the Mall and we could see that the entire street, from Buckingham Palace back to the Admiralty Arch was full of people.

The message was clear: We are not afraid. We will not be cowed. We will not be intimidated. We are still here.


On Saturday, I went to Hitchin for the Rhythms of the World music festival. I walked around for a bit, but I was distracted. I needed to go, I needed to see, I needed to know. I needed to know for myself that London was… Was what? Was still there? I could see from the news that London was still there. Was returning to normal? It will take quite a while for things to return to ‘normal,’ whatever normal might be.

I think, more than anything else, I wanted to show the world, in one tiny, insignificant way, that we will continue. Hate us. Bomb us. Do what you will, but we will continue.

And I wasn’t alone. Although the King’s Cross Tube station was nearly empty, this may have had more to do with the fact that, out of six different Tube lines that serve the station, only one, the Metropolitan Line, was operating through King’s Cross. It was odd standing alone on the platform, knowing that not too far from where I was standing, teams were recovering bodies and investigating one of the bombings. But I wasn’t alone for long. A few more people joined me on the platform. Soon, we joined others on the Tube. Arriving at our destinations, we joined others who, like ourselves, were carrying on with our lives.

Carrying On

I keep mentioning how we are carrying on with our lives, how we continue with things. I do not want to give the impression that the bombings did not have an effect on people here. Certainly it did. People are more cautious, for a while people seemed to avoid the trains and buses, we look around and try to be more aware of our surroundings. And we will not forget the injured and the dead.

But, if we fail to carry on with our lives, they win. And we cannot let them win.


I took a group of ten year sevens back to their old primary school to talk to the year sixes about the gloriousness of secondary school and answer any questions the sixes may have. It was great seeing how happy my sevens were and how glad their former teachers were to see them.

Plus, we got to play at recess. And I got some caterpillar cake. (Which, as I was told, was in the shape of a caterpillar, not actually made from caterpillars. I know…I was disappointed, too.)

Oh, and I learned a new word from one of my year sevens: registrated. As in, ‘In our forms, we go and get registrated.’


Today was Year Six-to-Seven Transition Day. (Yes, I know I forgot to send cards…sorry.) It’s the day that year sixes come and visit school for the day and learn first-hand about secondary school. Since, from September of next year, I am the Primary transition Co-ordinator, I spent the day wandering about, watching the sixes in their lessons, and wondering just exactly how touch rugby in played.

We spent the morning congratulating each other on winning the 2012 Olympics and wondering which of our students would be able to compete. We shared our disbelief that we won…I mean, winning was great, nearly as good as beating Paris!

I also spent some time on the BBC and CNN websites finding out about the bombings in London. Hearing from the students that bombs had gone off in London, I needed to know more. What is it about information? There was certainly nothing I could do from Stevenage that would possibly impact anything in London, but I needed to know. I looked at the map of the bombings and plotted my travels through London yesterday afternoon. I ran through the short list of people I knew in London and hoped they were okay. I answered emails from people I knew who hoped I was okay.


I spent the morning in Wheathampstead at an interview for an MEd program at Cambridge. It’s a long and twisted, sad and depressing story, but basically, since I haven’t worked here for three years, I will cost the county three times as much as someone ‘from here’ so they aren’t picking me for the program. Yes, I knew that before I went to the interview, but I was still grumpy.

Anyway, having the rest of the day off from school, and being stuck in the middle of Wheathampstead (motto: no busses, no trains, heck…even planes refuse to fly over), I had to figure out how to get back to Stevenage. (The two of us from my school were given a ride there but the return trip was up to us.) We walked to the bus stop (‘It’s in front of the church’ – that’s how small a place Wheathampstead is – THE bus stop is in front of THE church) that turned out to be closed. Lucky for us, however, there was a temporary bus stop five feet away so we waited there and tried not to scare the local villagers who we know will be discussing us at the next village quilting bee or hymn sing or whatever it is they do in Wheathampstead.

We finally caught a bus to St. Albans. (Yes, I know we needed to get back to Stevenage, but you can’t get there from here.) There, we split up. She returned to Hitchin (not Stevenage, but in an odd twist of logic, the bus took her back through Wheathampstead), I wandered the market.

Soon, I found a group of locals clustered around a market stall listening to the radio. The International Olympic Committee in Singapore was about to announce the winner of the 2012 Olympic Games. There was something very British about the whole thing: standing around a market stall with people, all of us waiting to hear the important news. This must have been like before the advent of televisions, the internet and mobile phones. (But after the advent of the wireless receiver. Before that, everyone stood around a market stall and waited for the Town Crier. I suppose.) There was a nervous tension…we all wanted it to be London, but none of us really believed it could be. It would go to Paris, we knew it would. Or to Madrid. But certainly not to London. There was a delay as the IOC President couldn’t open the envelope (a ‘delay’ I’m sure…ho probably planned every minute of it…people around the world hanging on to his every feeble envelope-opening gesture…).

Finally, it was announced that the honour of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games goes to the city of…London! A cheer went up among the crowd. People clapped and hugged each other. And then, horrified by such an un-British display of joy and affection, they hurriedly continued about their business, only now they were glowing with a little added bit of pride.

Since I was in St. Albans and needed to get to Stevenage, I had two choices: the bus and the train. The first choice, the bus, takes more than an hour. The second choice, the train, requires a trip south to London and then a trip north to Stevenage. Really. So, naturally, I decided to take the train. (Oh please, have you EVER known me to pass up a trip to London?)

In London, I headed to Trafalgar Square where the place was full of people celebrating the successful bid. The lone souvenir stand was doing a brisk business. (And never have I seen such a souvenir-hungry, well-behaved, patient crowd.) I bought a couple of London 2012 pins.

Then I wandered down to St. James’ Park to see the World War II commemorative festivities. There was a huge, fascinating Living Museum. There were displays and re-enactments of life during the war, both at home and at the front. Veterans were on hand to share their experiences. Visitors were encouraged to share their wartime memories. I also happened to run into Prince Andrew. Okay, I didn’t actually run into him…he stepped to the side just before we actually made contact. But, yeah.

I had a nice pizza buffet dinner (okay, it wasn’t that nice) and then some ice cream as I walked around Leicester Square. And then I came home. On the way, I got tonight’s Evening Standard and read all about the successful Olympic bid.


It was Sports Day at school. And it rained. My two favourite things: sports and rain. So, yippee.


No school for me today. Instead, I took the train to London for a Teaching Gifted and Talented Maths training course. On the way there, I saw someone on the Kings Cross escalator that I recognized. Isn’t it amazing when you think about it? Of all people in London, of all the factors, to actually see someone you know?

After the training, I had to head back to school since we had a Year Six Parent Meeting at school.


I did some ironing. Now there’s a fun task.


This week also saw the G8 summit in Scotland, the marches and protests related to the summit, and the worldwide Make Poverty History concerts. On Saturday, 205,000 people attended a concert in Hyde Park to hear some of the most famous musicians in the world as they (hopefully) sent a message to the G8 leaders that the leaders must do everything possible to end poverty in Africa.


This week was full of images that will be difficult to forget.

We saw images of a joyful city celebrating the Olympics we thought we would never see.

We saw pictures of bands, of crowds, of peacefully marches, of violent protestors being beaten by police officers. Later we saw images of Tony Blair, somber and shaken, leaving the summit to return to London following the bombings.

We saw pictures of an exploded double-decker bus and everyday Londoners, bleeding and injured, leaving Tube stations. We also saw pictures of everyday Londoners rushing to their aid.

We saw images of the Queen visiting the injured. We saw images of the Queen honouring veterans of World War II. We saw images of the Queen riding in an open car, waving to thousands of people.

We saw joy and excitement.

We saw outrage, fear and doubt.

But we also saw courage and hope.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Bombings

I'm not in London today so I wasn't near anything. I'll have more information later.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Book You Should Read

It's called Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

I'll write more, but I'm putting the information here because I have to give the book back today.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Delay...

Sorry about taking so long to post these recent things. I had them written very early last week, but one thing after another caused me to not post. (Oooops, I forgot to bring the laptop to work, etc.)

Anyway, here they (finally) are!

Last Saturday

My Saturday began with a delightful stroll to the Post Office Central Sorting Building to pick up a recorded delivery envelope that was delivered on Friday when there was nobody home to record it. Inside that envelope was my passport with its newly-printed UK Resident Permit. So, I’m now legal for the next three years.

After that, I headed to the train station for a short trip into London. (Brighton had been on the plan but it was cool and cloudy – not exactly the best conditions for a day at the beach.) I walked along the Portobello Road market. I’d been there once before but I got there in late afternoon when things were closing up. I didn’t buy any antiques, but I did buy two used books (an old guidebook called ‘Out and Around London – South’ and a Survival Guide to wartime Sarajevo), some AA batteries, and 100g of roasted and salted almonds. I did not buy the extra-large backpack for trekking about Europe, not the ancient Chinese suit of armour, nor the magic mushrooms.

Leaving Portobello Road, I decided to head towards the London Eye. However, since I was at the Ladbroke Grove tube station, that was not so simple a task. You see, Ladbroke Grove is on the Hammersmith and City line (motto: ‘We duplicate part of the District Line and parallel part of the Metropolitan Line and Circle Line and then just trail off into nowhere’). So, in a feat of poor planning, I took the Hammersmith and City Line north to Baker Street where I caught the Bakerloo Line which I rode south.

The southern terminus of the Bakerloo Line is Elephant and Castle. (Only in England could that sentence make sense.) Having always wondered (well, not always, but you get the idea) about Elephant and Castle, I decided to lean back, kick up my feet, and ride the train to the end of the line. And, after getting out at Elephant and Castle, I discovered I should have just stayed on the train and headed back north.

First, to simply get out of the Elephant and Castle tube station requires caving maps, miner’s lanterns and a trail of breadcrumbs. No, that’s not true. It also required a small yellow canary in a wire cage. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After following steps up, passages winding around and back, steps down and then back up, crossing another platform, and riding a lift, I reached ground level and a depressingly sad shopping centre. The best feature of the shopping centre was the large red elephant with a chess piece on its back (the elephant and the castle…get it?). A sign on the entrance read ‘hoodie sweatshirts banned’ – a trend that seems to be catching on across the country. (On reading Sunday’s paper, it seems I missed Saturday’s minor protest march regarding just this topic at the Elephant and Castle. And what a shame really…it would have made my whole trek worthwhile.)

Feeling rather let down by the whole elephant and castle ordeal, I once again saddled up the canary, switched on the miner’s lantern and frantically crumbed some bread. Thusly prepared, I once more descended the depths of the Elephant and Castle tube station to make my blessedly hasty retreat back two stops north.

Finally, wondrously, I now found myself at Waterloo Station. Leaving the station, I headed towards the London Eye ticket counter. Now, in case you were picturing a giant eyeball complete with a blinking lid and gigantic lashes, I’m afraid you are terribly, horribly, miserably (yet oddly intriguingly) wrong. The London Eye is a giant (135 metres) observation wheel located on the Thames just near Parliament. Just to be totally correct (and to satisfy those pesky lawyers), the London Eye is an observation wheel rather than a Ferris wheel. In a Ferris wheel, the seats are inside the circular frame. On the London Eye, the observation pods are attached to the outside of the frame. And, since I’m being totally correct, it’s really called the British Airways London Eye (previously known as the Millennium Wheel).

Alright, fine print aside, I went to pick up my ticket. I had booked a flight on the Eye (each ride is called a flight) the day before by going to the London Eye’s web site. Not only is it super convenient to pre-book, you avoid the big line to get your ticket and there’s a discount. I also bought the guidebook – it was less than £5 and worth it. It’s a decent-sized, full-colour book filled with pictures, facts, figures, and a key to the sights. If you go, you should get the book. Really. And heck, even if you don’t actually cotton to taking a 30-minute ride on a 135-metre wheel, you might still like the guidebook. (There are also some very clean, FREE bathrooms at the London Eye ticket place.)

Okay, so my flight was at 7:00 and boarding was at 6:30. (I’m not making this up…every word of that is true and is phrased that way by the London Eye people.) Since it was only about 4:30, I had some time to spare. I walked along the South Bank and saw some street performers (the kind that look like statues until you put a coin in the bucket and then they come to life) and a really cool spray paint artist who makes these awesome London skylines using…get this…spray paint. I also dodged a flying biker at the skate park while walking to the South Bank Book Sale, a regular South Bank fixture. I had walked along part of this area before, but not in the summer. It was amazing to see so many diverse activities taking place along this stretch of the Thames. It’s really a nice, happy place to be.

Earlier, I had been handed a flyer for a new Mediterranean restaurant just near the London Eye. It’s called Troia and it was very good and reasonably priced. I had the Mixed Meze which consisted of humus, tabule, kisir, manca, imam bayildi, borek, and falafel. Having only heard of three of those seven things, I was quite pleased to read the descriptions on the menu. And the nice thing about the mixed meze is that I got to try small bits of lots of things. They also brought me a dish of olives, a basket of bread, and a small bowl of bread-dipping-stuff (hey, gimme a break…I know it has a name, I just don’t know what it is).

Having sated my hunger in a very Mediterranean way, I was now ready to board my flight. I queued up, waited a bit (probably 15 minutes or so) and arrived at security. After a very rapid and through wanding (no walk-through metal detectors, just some chaps with handheld wands asking, ‘anything sharp, mate?’ as they grope anyplace the wand bleeps), I was nearly ready to board. The boarding area consists of several chutes behind which people queue before boarding the still-moving observation pods.

Yes, that’s right. The thing is still moving as you board. Imagine trying to step into a phone booth while your mate is dragging it down the road. Oh, and one more thing…there’s nothing below the observation pod except for the Thames.

Anyway, once you’ve taken a flying leap into this glass bubble, the doors are latched and you begin your flight. The pods are actually quite roomy (for the one of you who knows, it’s about the size of my room). Despite what it seemed like when I was boarding, the wheel doesn’t move that quickly so there’s no sense of ‘holy cow, this thing is spinnin’ fast!’ Instead, you are treated to a rather calm, ever-changing view of London. There’s no time to get bored since the view keeps changing and bringing new things into view. (I figured I hadn’t used the word ‘view’ enough.)

Before you know it, you’re at that critical point. That’s right, the part where they take the souvenir photos. You’re warned over the pod speaker so you can huddle against the windows and have your picture taken so that you can buy prints on the way out. Anyway, between the picture-taking and the picture-buying, you have to actually leave the pod by leaping from the pod to the deck (sure, you could just step off of the pod, but it’s not nearly as dramatic).

This being London at night, chances are, things are closing (except for bars and things like that). Fortunately, though, you’re on the South Bank. (Motto: Where there’s more to do than drink yourself silly!) A nice stroll up the river leads you to the Tate Modern, an art gallery open until 10:00 on Fridays and Saturdays. Last summer, my group stayed across the street from the Tate Modern but I didn’t get a chance to visit. This weekend, though, I finally did. The Tate Modern is housed in the former Bankside Power Station. Since they used to have huge generators and turbines and things, the building is huge. Walking in the main entrance, you see a vast space before you. And by vast, I mean about five stories high and quite long (maybe a city block or so…a short city block, but still pretty long). And since you descend a ramp to get in, it feels like the building actually gets larger the further in you walk.

Another nice thing about the Tate Modern is that it’s free. There are currently two exhibits you have to pay to see, but the vast majority of the collection is available to the public free of charge. So, I spent a rather nice hour or so seeing art by Van Gogh (some water lilies), Calder (a small mobile), Pollack (some interesting paint splatters), and others. There was a rather interesting German bit of art that involved a Volkswagen bus and an array of wooden sledges, each with a torch, some fabric, and some lard. Really.

After the Tate Modern, I wandered back towards the London Eye. About midway between is the National Theatre. In the summertime, the National Theatre offers over 150 free outdoor events. As it happens, I wandered by on the first day of the events, which run until September. At 10:30, Mirando Al Cielo was due to begin. According to the (free) information booklet, that means ‘Looking at the Sky’ and consisted of some contemporary dance pieces. Sounds fun, huh. Oh yeah, and the dances were performed above the audience. That’s right. Those of us who queued up early got to sit under the glass stage and look up through the floor to watch the performance.
So, after an eventful day of antique-non-buying, Mediterranean-food-eating, pod-catching, modern-art-looking, and glass-floor-dance-spectating, I decided to call it a day and head back to Stevenage. (Actually, I was ready for more, but since I had to catch a train, I couldn’t stay out too much longer.) I caught a train back to Stevenage via the really, really long route and fell into bed.

Advice of the Week

In a country that winks, learn to wink.

Evidently, this is a Thai saying along the lines of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ I learned it on Saturday from the spray-paint artist on the South Bank. (He was trying to explain to me that I really should call it ‘maths’ rather than ‘math.’)

Of course, since he spray paints in the shadow of the Eye, perhaps there’s more to it than that…

Monday’s Guardian had a short profile of Boothby Graffoe (evidently he’s some British radio personality). The profile has him state his preferences for newspapers, magazines, books, TV, radio, ads, and new media. Now, aside from learning about Boothby’s self-centredness (‘I bought “Time Out” today, but only because I’m in it,’ and he listens to ‘Radio 4, Radio3, and Radio 2, but only when I’m on it.’), the bloke can’t seem to do math or geography.

In the New Media section, he says he loves to play internet chess ‘against people in America. If I’m playing at 2 pm and they’re playing at 12 at night I do very well, but if I’m playing at 12 at night, I’m usually too drunk.’

Okay, ignoring the fact that the man plays drunken chess online at midnight (perhaps he should listen to more radio instead), if he’s playing at 2 pm and they’re playing at 12 at night, he not playing against people in America. People in parts of Australia maybe, or Guam, or even Vladivostok, but not America.

Just a Quick Note

Last Friday’s Guardian had a picture of a row of six infants in their cribs in the maternity ward in Kosice, Slovakia. In an effort to aid them in their development, the hospital plays classical music to the babies.

No problem there. I mean, really…how can it hurt?

What concerns me is the fact that each little tiny baby is wearing a really big pair of earphones! And I’m talking huge – each earphone covers an area from the baby’s chin to the top of its head. Would it have been so difficult to buy some smaller earphones?

Or maybe, just maybe…a set of speakers?

This Wild and Wacky Place

Evidently here in England there is (well, was) a bloke named Fred Dibnah. There’s an advert in the paper for videos of the telly show he did in which ‘Fred brings his own passion for the past to remembering the materials and processes that were the lifeblood of the country, meeting the people who still thrive to keep traditional skills alive.’

(Oh right, like you’d pass that up…)

But what caught my eye was the first line of the advert:

Popular Steeplejack & TV Personality

You’ve just gotta love a country that loves steeplejacks.

The Happiest Day of the Year

I must apologize. I totally forgot to wish you all a happy Happiest Day of the Year last Friday. According to psychologist Cliff Arnall from the University of Cardiff, June 24 is the happiest day of the year.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. ‘Golly, I really found THURSDAY to be much happier.’ Or maybe, ‘But I stubbed my toe on Friday…how can that be happy?’

But…you’re wrong.

See, Cliff used science. And math. And a really big equation. The secret to happiness lies in the fact that O + (N x S) + ( Cpm / (T + He) ) = the happiest day of the year. Really. Well, allegedly. Annoyingly, the article doesn’t explain each variable, but some of the factors are outdoor activity, temperature, and looking forward to time off.

So…now you know.

The Greatest American

It seems that the greatest American ever had a monkey friend named Bonzo and joked about outlawing and bombing Russia. Oh yes…according to a poll organised by those bastions of liberty Discovery Channel and AOL, Ronald Reagan is the greatest American.

The list of the top twenty greatest Americans includes eight former presidents (Reagan, Lincoln, Washington, Bush (W not HW), Clinton, Roosevelt (Franklin not Teddy), Jefferson, and Kennedy), four entertainers (Elvis, Oprah, Walt Disney, and Bob Hope), and three inventors and scientists (Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison – yeah, Jefferson invented stuff, too, but he’s included under presidents). Rounding out the list are Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong, Billy Graham, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (That’s actually not the proper order…Martin Luther King, Jr. was third.)

As always, I must take issue with some of the choices (George Bush? GEORGE BUSH?!?) but I’m pleased to see some truly great people on the list. I was afraid it would be populated with mainly athletes whose only contribution to society was kicking a ball really far or throwing a ball through a hoop.

Yet Another Education News Flash

Tuesday’s Guardian reported on research done by the Association of London Government. It seems that frequently moving from one school to another has a negative impact on the education of schoolchildren.

(I know, I know. I’ll pause while you re-read that.)

(And, just in case you missed that terribly obvious finding, I’ll sum it up here: stability = good, moving around to lots of different schools = not good.)

And, just in case you were afraid that this report might not have had a catchy title, you can relax. The report is entitled ‘Breaking Point: Examining the Disruption Caused by Pupil Mobility in London.’ (For those of you keeping score, my summary of the report is six letters short than the title of the actual report.)

Some of the schools in London have seen a 60% turnover in pupils within one academic year. It also seems that ‘homeless children in temporary accommodation often suffer from high rates of mental illness such as depression and anxiety, and have complex emotional, behavioural and learning problems.’ Another interesting bit of information is that teachers estimate that they spend between 14 and 29 hours settling the average new pupil into a school. That’s the ‘average’ new student – far more time is spent on those with special educational needs.

So, it’s great that we finally have a report that confirms what nearly any teacher could have told you. The real question now is this: what will be done to help solve this dire problem?

Wardrobe Origami

Evidently those wacky Japanese have started a new craze. No, not the eating of chicken feet (that’s not new)…not the production of odd, embarrassing, frighteningly dangerous television game shows (that’s not new either)…I’m referring to ‘an inspired new Japanese technique that will shake off our tired western concept of folding.’ At least, that’s what the Guardian reported on Tuesday (here). It seems that, not content merely to make folded paper frogs and birds, the Japanese have invented a superior method of folding clothes.

I’m not sure if there’s anything to it or not, but the Guardian devoted nearly 12 column inches to it. Unfortunately, for the full instructions, one must travel to Japan. Or just google for it.

Last Week’s Big News

I finally got a fan. And not just any fan, mind you. This is a magic fan. It cooks my breakfast, washes my clothes, and instantly transports me across town.

Okay, not really. It’s not a magic fan. But it does circulate the air quite nicely.