Monday, December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas all

By the way it's very remiss of me, but have a very happy Christmas one and all, probably won't post for a few days so have a very lovely New Year as well

Sunday, December 25, 2005

My perfect son

OK. I know I know I'm biased, but he gave us one of those heart in the mouth moments this morning. As we suspected we'd bought too many presents (must remember to have the same conversation next year than completely ignore it when we go shopping). We had got half way through opening and he was bored and just wanted to play. He was sat on the other side of the room playing with a fork lift truck, we were chatting and then completely out of the blue he raised his head from the truck and exclaimed 'Best thing in the whole wide world'. Anyway, once we'd wiped the tears from our eyes we had the most lovely day and he was extraordinarly well behaved considering how dull 12 adults sitting having dinner for 3 hours must be, when you have mountains of presents to play with.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Trouble with Christmas dinner?

I'm taking my turn to be santa. If you're worrying about the roast this Christmas stop just take a look at roast rage a very useful site set up by the good people at the English Beef and Lamb Executive. It answers all your roast related worries.

Ooooo shiny

I've got a new digital camera, hoorah. I've never had one before. The business has one, but designers and people like that use it. It's so easy to operate. I'd worked the whole thing out in 20 minutes and here's my first 3 photos.

I really hope Nic doesn't see this because she'll kill me, she'd just got out of the shower this morning, I like the sentimentality of it though.

A picture of me. Apologies for the nose, it's a family thing.

The boy they call Eben.

I can't wait until Christmas day. I think I may be going photo crazy. Then we're off to Grenada on the 27th so I may be having to take my laptop to download pictures to. (That's my excuse anyway). I've had to battle with Nic to take my BlackBerry with me the laptop may be a step too far.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Reducing 16-19 year old drop out rates

It is 9 months since Gordon Brown announced in the budget speech his plans to erradicate the education drop-out out rates for 16-19 year olds. Obviously, this involves not just academic but also vocational courses. At the time he said the main reason for this was to compete on a level playing field with the emergent economies of China and India.

On the 14th December the DOE produced a 10-year timetable to phase in 14 new vocational diplomas that aims at reducing drop out rates from 25% to 10%.

Ignoring the fact that this doesn't actually mirror Gordon Brown's actual statement in the budget my main worry is funding. Don't get me wrong I'm very much in support of the broad ideal, but I do have some worries.In the 100 page document produced by the DOE, there is no mention of the funding this is going to require to fully implement, which worries me greatly.

The subject marries two of my pet subjects quite effectively. The first is to do with the reduction in the number of vocational apprenticeships available and the second is children's engagement with the education system.


Apprenticeships were the standard way in which many young men would learn a manual skilled trade until relatively recently. My father in law did a 6 year engineering apprenticeship in Liverpool in the 60s. He became a very highly qualified heating engineer and is now an engineering project manager specialising in the implemetation and fitting of cooling clean air systems in operating theatres. He is now required to attend around 3 week long 'refresher courses' to relearn skills that are innate as a result of his apprenticeship. However, he has to have these certificates to hit all the health and safety qualifications for the job. It is estimated that the refresher courses cost his company around £11,000 once you have calculated course cost, admin cost and the cost of replacing him for the week. He believes that there would be no need to do these courses if long-term apprenticeships were still standard within professions. However, short termism means that apprenticeships are breaking down as the best are poached straight out of the system.

The disappearance of the apprenticeship has also had another more hidden but just as devastating social impact in my opinion. Stephen Biddulph in his book 'Raising Boys' suggests that one of the key factors in the breakdown of discipline in boys is the reduction in extra-familial role models. His argument is based on the fact that as the global economy progresses we have become increasingly geographically isolated from our extended family and the support that they provide, but also increased working hours mean that care-givers are out of the home for longer. The apprenticeship however, provided a very important 3rd party role model at a time when boys could traditionally come off the rails. This is now missing and I think is a major factor in some of the apathy that has crept in due to a missing work ethic and a lack of direction. Although I welcome more focus on vocational courses for the non-academically inclined I can't see vocational courses providing the same level of training and one to one mentoring that occurred in the traditional apprenticeship.

My second point addresses the funding of these proposals. We are currently one of only 3 countries in Europe that send out children to school at 4/5 years old. The vast majority send their children a year later. At 4/5 children (and boys in particular) have been proved to have not developed the ability to concentrate for the requisite amount of time for structured learning to really be of the gretaest benefit. It often means that Year 1 primary teachers are trying to manage the needs of individuals within their class who are suffering from this lack of attention and as a result are struggling to teach the whole class. In my opinion the most important function of Year 1 is to instil a love of learning as it is this that will sutain a child right through to graduation. If a teacher is not able to do that because they are trying to keep control of the class then you can lose children even before they've started. For this reason I'm a huge advocate of moving the starting age by 1 year, this would not only solve some of the engagement issues but also provide some of the budget required to support the DOE's new initiative.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Snow Bear's cave

One of the unexpected pleasures of having Eben is discovering children's books. There are some absolutely amazing children's books out there. Fabulously illustrated and very entertaining, I've come to the conclusion that it must be one of the hardest forms of writing, because it has to be so concise, so as small minds don't wander (and that's just me) but also engaging and with a rollicking story.

Anyway, Eben's current favourite book inspired me on Nic's pressie from Eben and we've spent the afternoon making Snowbear's cave. It's a funny one, I'm lucky to have so much time with Ebs I see him for a couple of hours in the morning and then an hour in the evening - I have friends who basically reacquaint themselves with their children at the weekend - but I tend to read with him or play cars or bricks or whatever and then at weekends we're out. However, there are loads of things that Nicky does with him that I don't get the opportunity to see. She bakes a lot, paints, goes to music classess and minigym all of which I never see, but get reports back from. So it was really lovely to spend the afternoon sitting with him and making Snowbear's cave. We hopped over to the park to collect twigs and little flowers and berries and then I spent most of the afternoon trying 50 different methods of distraction to stop him eating the glue, spraying silver paint in his eyes and throwing glitter all over the house, but we've got our picture all ready and hidden. All I have to do now is avoid Ebs blurting out what we've done all day, which I'm not sure I'll get away with.

Party strategy

We've got 10 for friends Christmas lunch tomorrow (plus 4 under 3s) it's a tradition we've upheld for the past 8 years. However 10 people is a nightmare I've come to the conclusion it's the worst possible number, especially with the amount of little people around. Starts at 2pm will meander until whenever. At present we don't know whether we're putting 3 couples up and 3 children or none or 1 or 2. So we're having to make up 3 beds which means washing all the sheets and then 2pm doesn't suit everyone because of baby feeds, football commitments and on and on and on.

And these are our closaest friends. I've come to the conclusion that you either go easy and have 6 or you just say fuck it and invite 100. Either way it's easier. 6 people and you cater for 3 variables. 100 peole who cares you say the date and time and if they can turn up then great if not well who cares there are another 99 who will.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Oh God, Christmas cards

It doesn't matter how much you gee yourself up for them does it, they're always the most boring and frustrating things to write.

Last night Nic and I bought the tree and put it up, made chilli con carne (total comfort food), watched Harry Met Sally (best Christmas movie ever), but despite that the Christmas spirit has ebbed out of us after 5 written cards each. Granted they were the most difficult overseas ones, so you need to condense a year in to a short, snappy, unsmug and interesting 250 words, but even so. Over the next 3 nights we've got Big, Uncle Buck and It's a Wonderful life to sustain us and keep us cheery.

Tonight - cards to relatives you don't really like, but need to stay on the right side of. Aaaaarrrggghh.


Well no, it turns out it wasn't. I woke up with a start at 6.04 (digital clock) this morning because the bed shook. My immediate thought was earthquake and then I thought that a car had crashed in to the house (I was half asleep, you get paranoid).

When Nic woke up I told her I thought I felt an earthquake and she made some lame joke about nothing happening for her (haha), and I made up a lie about Britain suffering the most earthquakes of anywhere in the world, which she ignored. I don't know why I do the pointless lies thing I really don't, (Note to self; post something about pointless lies phenomenon) I suppose I find it amusing.

Anyway, at breakfast, I switched on the radio and it turns out there was an oil refinery explosion at the exact time I woke up. But it's in bleeding Hemel Hempstead which is about 30 miles away. Can this be right? Well by the looks of things it could be. It must have been huge.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tunes don't get much bigger than this

This is when I wish I still went clubbing. This is a real 2am moment. Click on the MP3 icon for a minute of pure unadulterated pleasure

Great useless fact

Courtesy of Popbitch

The cost of pixelating-out the Crazy Frog's animated penis from the last video - £3,500.

I'll probably be back

I think I'll probably return to the 5 live message board, but I'm just a bit weary. It really is the same arguments endlessly. I think I'll create a new identity and creep back in. It'll be interesting to see whether I get on with the same bunch of people again. It'll be an interesting experiment actually.

The creeping erosion of democracy

Yesterday, Maya Evans was the first person to be found guilty under section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) legislation designed to create an exclusion zone around Parliament Square. This zone covers roughly a KM radius from the Houses of Parliament.

It was brought in following the Countryside protest and the subsequent invasion of the commons by Otis Ferry and 8 other hunt protesters, however it was widely speculated that it provided a convenient way of removing Brian Haw who's anti-Iraq protest directly outside the Commons in Parliament Square has proved an embarassing thorn in the government's side for years. What was overlooked was that this act could never be enforced against Mr Haw as his protest began before April 1st 2005 when the act came in and his protest has been continuous since before the start of the the Gulf war.

It would appear that the first casualty therefore, was a slightly lower profile protester. Maya Evans who was found guilty of reading out the names of 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq. This was deemed under the new legislation an 'unauthorised protest'.

This legislation appears to have effectively removed the right to free protest, something that has been part of the rights of all British citizens for centuries.

The government would argue that the act makes provision for protest. If you apply to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at least 6 days in advance or, if not "reasonably practicable", 24 hours in advance, permission must be granted. However the Commissioner has it in his power to impose conditions on the protest such as:

- When and where it can take place
- How long it can last
- How many people can attend
- How much noise can be made
- The number and size of banners and placards used

These conditions can effectively be used to completely rule out any protest that the government would feel uncomfortable.

There are thought to be 21 more people awaiting trial (in January) on charges brought under this new legislation.

This was brought in under the guise of anti-terror legislation, my personal perspective is that it's entirely protectionist and allows government to repel any protest it finds unpallettable. I find it disquieting that this type of legislation can slip through almost unnoticed, these type of laws are the thin end of the wedge.

Monday, December 05, 2005

With thanks to 'Lost in Space'

I'm not a big fan of Lost in Space's views, but he does at least argue constructively, which I have respect for and rarely resorts to the attached set of guidelines which he posted on the boards and cut from Holy Smoke. and made me laugh. All you Five Live UK message board junkies out there will recognise the following:

1) Regardless of the issue ---- make sure you bring up your views on abortion, capital punishment, Christianity, and the political party you least like, regularly. Make sure your use the terms "wrong", "evil", "sinful" and "false" in describing views that differ from your particular beliefs. Try to work in the terms "blinded" or "deluded".

2) Depending on YOUR orientation refer to your opponents in arguments (or debates that hold the promise of becoming arguments) as facists or communists as often as possible. Suggest that their views parallel those held in Nazi Germany or of Stalinist USSR at least once.

3) Point out the shortcomings of the opposite gender. Using tasteless jokes that you ascribe to others is a favorite ploy. If your opponent is of the same sex ---- cast doubt on their sexual orientation.

4) When you've managed to get a good heated exchange going try to score points by using a word that will drive your opponent to the dictionary. Mock any attempts on their part to do the same. If possible humiliate them and react to attacks on your arguments with ironic references to misspellings, ill-conceived sentence construction, or inappropriate word usage.

5) If you make an error, never apologize. Blame it on a technical difficulty or on your opponent's mischaracterization of your argument.

6) When inspired, make sure you word your attacks and counterattacks so that you leave no opening for your adversary to capitulate to your view except in disgrace. Try to make certain that every avenue of response is a path of shame. Phrases like "only a idiot or a scumbag would argue that ..." are very helpful.

7) If you start to slip in an argument attack the person. It's most helpful to know something personal about them so that your ad hominems point out both academic/professional defects and their deficiencies as a human.

8) If someone levels an attack upon you, respond that in their reliance on ad hominem attacks the argument has deteriorated to a level that no longer warrants your participation. This can be a winning blow if played properly. Be subtle here, and clever; try to convey the sense of your opponent as dim-witted, ethically degenerate, desperate, and outmanuevered by your overwhelming intellectual superiority. The real joy here is that you can neatly do away with any respect due your opponent, slander his character, lacerate his pride, and, if done properly and with elan, simultaneously represent yourself as a man or woman whose ethics and moral sensitivity make it impossible for you to do what you just did. This one is a real gem -- and when executed gracefully -- really an art form.

8) When you face a loss, construct a "straw man" argument either by taking your opponets words out of context or by changing the issue. Never lose ---- change the issue. If your opponent has the facts on thier side, argue that facts don't constitute scholarship and understanding, and might even be a sign that one has not yet come to the level of understanding at all. Claim that computers store facts and that real scholarship is the sign of being able to understand and seeing the deeper connections.

9) Remember that you are always right. No matter what forces are marshalled against you, no matter how reasonable, humble, or generous, don't give an inch, don't be swayed. You are always right. It's the other side that caused this ruckus and keeps it going.

10) Always insist on the last word. The only honorable finish is unconditional capitulation by your adversaries or their defeated silence.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Mr. Alexander Coe - I bow down before thee

It just struck me. I've been blogging for a couple of months now and I haven't made one single entry about dance music.

So rather than a general ramble I'm going to concentrate on 'the man like'. It was a title supposedly given to Alexander Coe otherwise known as the godlike DJ Sasha by Dom Phillips general scene guru and one of the first staff writers on Mixmag. The reason for it is relatively self explanatory. There's no one else like Sasha, he is like no one else, he is the 'the man like Sasha'.

I first saw him play when he was doing a residency at the legendary night Venus in Nottingham in 1992. It only ran for about a year or two, but people still namecheck it as one of the best club nights to ever go off. In reality the club only took around 400 or 500 of the coolest faces in the East Midlands so very few would have ever got the opportunity to go and sample the atmosphere.

I was 19 at the time and bang in to my music across the whole spectrum. At the time having such catholic tastes was pretty unusual, because the indie kids and the ravers just didn't see eye to eye. It wasn't until The Chems in the mid-90s that things really started to crossover.

But at Venus that night Sasha changed my entire relationship with music and made it part of my soul. Rave had always been about mentalism to an extent, but he played tracks that were completely different. He was playing some really deep Northern European stuff, Dutch and German uplifting trance and progressive house that I just hadn't heard before and the tracks aside (that were amazing by the way) he did that thing that people go on about 'taking you on a journey'. If there was one critiicism of raves it was that each track demanded your attention in a different way, it stomped. This stuff just held your hand and casually showed you the sights. And fuck me, there were some sights.

I guess he was the first superstar DJ along with Oakey, but without denigrating Paul Oakenfold he was Blur to Oakey's Oasis and I always liked Blur more it was that bit more sophisticated.

I've seen Sasha many many times and some, nee all my best clubbing memories have involved him. There was the night that he flew in on Concorde for a gig at Homelands, from having played at Twilo in New York - where along with John Digweed he was the toast of the US - and BA had fucked up and lost his records. So he had to borrow Nick Warren's records and play a 2 hour set of white labels he'd never heard before and he just nailed the crowd. I think there was an awful lot of Way Out West stuff in there which is Warren's production name so he got a virtual 2 hour Sasha showcase. Not that Nick Warren really needs showcasing.

But the other memory was of me and Nicky going out, just the 2 of us, because we found out at short notice he was playing at Fabric. The place is ubercool still, but this was only about 3 months after it had opened and the place was ice chilled. We'd been playing his Global Underground Ibiza GU13 mix at home for about 5 months and we were ridiculously excited. Anyway, we got in there around 10.45 and to our surprise he actually came on at about 11.30 when we weren't really expecting him for about another 3 hours mand we were right in front of the DJ Box. The DJ box is a funny old thing and it can take away alot of the intimacy, but at Fabric in the back room it's right on the floor so you can look straight in to the DJs eyes. Add to that, that they have bass speakers in the floor, so you get the bass literally from the ground up and it makes for a really full on sensory overload. He played for 8 hours and when you looked at him, he was concentrating like his life depended on it, checking everything the crowd was doing. Neither Nicky or I left the dancefloor once I swear. We ponced water off anyone that we could and just kept going and then when he wound up at 7am we felt like we were on a cloud. I have never had a period of time go so fast in my entire life it was extraordinary and we ended up bouncing out and getting the tube home and sat in our front room for the whole of the rest of the day just blissful.

So Mr Coe if you ever read this, which I'd love to think you would but of course you won't. Thank you for teaching me how to love music in a completly different way. You have made me happier than any other man I can think off. Hats off to you sir.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Parenting by numbers

This morning I finally understood why it's important for a 2 year old to have a routine. It's nothing to do with them. It's for when you've drunk gallons of beer the night before and you have to get up and deal with them at 6.45 in the morning.

Pick him up 2 3

Let him turn the light on 2 3

Take him downstairs, sit on the counter 2 3

Milk out, in cup 2 3

'Daddy clear the dishwasher'

'Thank you son, I forgot that'

Empty dishwasher 2 3

'Daddy make tea'

'Ah yes, thank you Ebs'

You get the picture. Thank God for routine. He'd never have been dressed, or fed if he hadn't reminded me at every step. God I'm hung over.