Learning. Slowly. Very slowly. Part 2

This should be read after ‘Learning. Slowly. Very slowly. Part 1’.

After I posted that, I had a very interesting Facebook comment which has influenced some of what I have got to say now. (Thanks, HY.)

It made me remember that there are a large number of learning difficulties- or, perhaps better, learning differences. The comment mentioned dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and the autism spectrum; to which I could add dyscalcula, dyspraxia visual and auditory impairment, mobility difficulties and many more.

(I was also corrected by Mrs O. for saying that I was a slow learner. Sorry if that seemed flippant. It was just to point out that we all learn at different speeds.)

I now realise that I had made a blanket heading of “slow learning” which is not clearly defined. Specifically I had in mind our daughter and others like her, who would in this country be categorised as having “moderate to severe learning difficulties”.

I think this would be put differently in the USA. I also realise that a blanket heading is just that: a cover for many different groups. Everybody learns differently, but it’s not possible to discuss everybody individually.

It seems that I’ve got my finger on the pulse of modern life. I’d use the term zeitgeist, if I was sure I really knew what it meant. Because, just this week, a report came out (see Children with learning disabilities ‘failed by society’) which pointed out that children with learning difficulties “die 15-20 years earlier than other people due to poor housing, low incomes, social isolation and bullying”.

That’s enough for now. I’ll leave it for you to ponder.

Oh… wow…. I started a sentence with “because”. The shame.



‘Orphan Monster Spy’ by Matt Killeen

This is a very brief review: very brief, because I don’t feel I can do it justice. It’s excellent.

Orphan Monster Spy001

It’s almost unfair to attempt a summary. This is a Young Adult story, but this is one of those occasions when the category is rather meaningless. The protagonist- OK, the heroine- is a 15 year old Jewish orphan girl on the run in Nazi Germany. She becomes involved in spying (with a glamorous, enigmatic British agent) and infiltrates a school for girls of the elite.

So far, a familiar type of theme, but this is handled with power and elegance of language. The plot twists and turns very satisfyingly, with even the last page having an unexpected revelation which made me gasp when I thought it was being wrapped up neatly. Some particularly nasty issues are handled with sensitivity, but without avoiding the nastiness. There are horrible surprises as well as the familiar, never-to-be-forgotten horrors of the ethnic cleansing of the Jews.

Please don’t think this makes the book too unpleasant to read. I’d hate to put anybody off. It’s moving, all too plausible, beautifully detailed and brilliant.

Thanks again to Ms Oblique for putting me on to this.

Learning. Slowly. Very Slowly. Part 1

This thread is rather experimental and in many ways personal. It could also all go horribly wrong. I’m not even going to post links on Facebook after this one. You’ll have to hunt it down on WordPress, my Facebook friends.

Learning- we all learn in different ways, which is the basis for an awful lot of educational discussion, disagreement and drama. (Maybe not the last one- it’s just for alliterative purposes.) Come to think of it, in the three years since I last taught, perhaps there has now been a consensus agreed about ways of learning. Perhaps not.

We also all learn at different speeds, which is possibly only taken into account in broad terms.

Personally, I’m a rather slow learner. There were very few areas I have ever grasped quickly, and that goes for skills as well as concepts. Since retirement, I’ve tried to learn juggling and piano playing. I’ve failed dismally. However, I am literate and numerate, and when the mood takes me I can be persistent and thorough.

But, as I am all too painfully aware, there are slower learners than me. MUCH slower learners than me. My friends can think of one very dear to my heart. So this thread will concentrate on very slow learners, what happens to them and what could or should happen to them. Watch this space.

All comments are especially gratefully received.

Millions and Billions and Trillions

Here’s an admission. I have not told the whole truth.

For years and years I lectured children (frequently bemused) about the difference between English billions and American billions. I was not aware of the whole story.

Let me explain.

An English billion is 1 000 000 000 000: one followed by 12 zeros, or 10 to the power 12.

An American billion is 1 000 000 000: one followed by 9 zeros, or 10 to the power 9.

Thus, an English billion is 1000 American billions- which is an American trillion.

With me so far? Never mind.


The English system is more efficient. You need fewer number names, for a start. However, the American versions of long numbers are easier to say. (And it’s easier to say you’re a billionaire.)

The American billion has now taken over in the U.K. Whenever we write a billion, it is now always 1000 million. Just another example, I used to pontificate, of the Americanisation of our culture.

It transpired, when I was looking this up recently, that our Continental cousins and lots of others use what I called the English style system. This is apparently called the long scale, based on multiples of a million. The American system is short scale, based on multiples of a thousand.

Just to add to the confusion, the long scale has some alternative names, such as milliard, billiard and trilliard. Confused? I sympathise. If you are really interested, there’s a good Wikipedia article:


Other number systems are available.

The ‘Poldark’ novels by Winston Graham

For those of you who have been watching the BBC TV series, and maybe for those of you who haven’t.

The recent BBC TV ‘Poldark’ series has been justifiably popular. (There was an earlier version which I haven’t seen.) Being me, I saw the dramatisation as a way into reading the original novels by Winston Graham. So I did.

Well, I can report, dear reader, that they are very good. Yes, your “very good” may not be the same as mine, but I mean both that they are well written and that I enjoyed them.

For those of you unfamiliar with Poldark, it is the story of two families, set in Cornwall before and after 1800. The historical context seems to be very accurate. It’s certainly very well described and very believable. There is no flinching from the grim realities of poverty and disease: and the latter can strike both rich and poor, with the medicine of the age by and large spectacularly useless.

Poldark 2

The series has some twelve novels, covering the years from 1783 to 1820. I have read up to book 7, ‘The Angry Tide’, matching the development of the TV series. To invest the time and effort in reading a long sequence like this, one must have some sort of feeling for the characters, and Ross Poldark, undoubtedly the hero of the first two thirds, is a character it’s hard not to like: intelligent, tough and principled; probably sexy, if I did but know it. His wife, Demelza, also intelligent, tough (in a different way) and principled, has a rags to riches story. I certainly fell in love with her. Their personalities are of course (that is not sarcastic) interestingly flawed.

Poldark 1There is a strong cast of others: the unprincipled banker, George Warleggan; the forward thinking doctor, Dwight Ennys; and so on, and so on. Perhaps the working class characters are less prominent than the gentry.

I like the interplay and the feuding; I like the detail; and I especially like the way the history intertwines with real lives.

I will be sad when the TV series finishes (after the eighth novel) but I’m happy to think there will be four further books to read. I almost certainly would not have read these if it had not been for the adaptation, which is very faithful to the original. I admit to often having the screen actors in my head when I read. I recommend them to my readers.

Note 1: I have  selected only images I believe to be copyright free, as usual, in the pretence that the BBC and the Poldark publishers care whether or not I use their pictures without permission.

Large picture: Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark from BBC

Small picture: Jack Farthing and Heida Reed, also from BBC TV’s Poldark

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Note 2: I read them on Kindle. They are still in print and also to be found in second-hand shops.


‘Crisis’ by Frank Gardner

This is a great, gripping thriller, with copious convincing detail.


I do admit to picking this up because I was interested in the author. Frank Gardner must be best known as the BBC’s Security Correspondent. Unfortunately, he is pretty much unmistakable, as in 2004 he was partly paralysed by a terrorist attack and has limited mobility. This has not stopped him going all over the world. His accounts of his disgraceful treatment by certain airlines are telling.

All that doesn’t make much difference to my enjoyment of this novel, apart from a sense of reassurance that the details are right and the scenario is plausible. It’s that wonderful thing, a book where you must find out what happens in the end.

The scenario is that a billionaire drug baron is enormously angry with the British, who are helping the Colombian government to intercept his shipments and networks. He creates a cunning, diabolical plot (no, I’m not being sarcastic) to attack London. Naturally there is a hero, Luke Carlton, who is tasked with foiling it.

If all this sounds rather familiar, well, I don’t care. It came across as fresh and exciting. There are several plot twists which certainly surprised me. How lovely. Did I mention the detail? I’m going to mention it again. Presumably Mr Gardner has got it right; it certainly makes the whole thing sound totally believable.

It’s not, obviously, a “literary” novel, whatever that is; it’s plot driven, the sort of thing I love; but it is well written, and I recommend it to anyone with any liking for thrillers.

Oddball Reviews #4: ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ by the Moody Blues (1971)

Somehow this didn’t figure on The Oblique Top Albums List. So here is a brief encomium. (Ooh, I do like that word. I don’t think I’ve ever used it before.) (Which word? “Encomium”, silly.)

I guess the Moody Blues have fallen out of favour now. They don’t seem to appear on nostalgia programmes and articles. They don’t seem to be quoted as influences. They were, at the time, very trendy, if that’s still a word. Rightly so.

They were a Birmingham band, labelled as psychedelic, prog rock, maybe soft rock. They were gentler than a lot of the sounds of the time. They were one of the first bands to use the Mellotron, a keyboard instrument that made string sounds by playing tape loops. How times have changed. Apart from that and a flute, they were conventional guitar/ bass/ drums.

I saw them at the Rainbow- formerly the Finsbury Park Astoria- now a church, I think. As if you care. They were outstanding. (In the interval, a gentleman called Jesus got up on stage and told us that we hadn’t understood the first time he came to Earth. Nobody seemed to mind. I don’t remember him being ejected. Apparently he used to dance naked at festivals, but we were spared that.)


EGBDF is one of the first albums I ever owned. I still love it. It starts with a strange sound piece, ‘Procession’, which seems to be a picture of the evolution of music (they did things like that in 1971), an idea reinforced by the inner sleeve of the original LP (below). Yes, you heard me, LP.


This is followed by ‘Story in Your Eyes’, a rock song which I still thrill to remember hearing played live. Don’t worry, I won’t go on to list all the songs, but the quality is in my opinion uniformly high; unlike the following album, ‘Seventh Sojourn’, which at the time seemed to me to be insipid and still seems so now. Opinions will of course vary.

At this point it’s hard to know what else to say. The music is of its time; it certainly would seem dated to modern ears and I don’t suppose I’ll inspire anybody to listen to it. The song structures do vary, with some extended middle sections and instrumental parts, but are often conventional. The musicianship is undeniably good, especially the vocal harmonies. Poor tracks? None in your humble reviewer’s opinion. (Incidentally, I remember them playing at least one track from this live on the ‘Top of the Pops’ LP spot. There really was such a thing, also graced by the Faces and, quite unbelievably, the Groundhogs.)

Sadly, the Moody Blues gradually lost members and seem to have drifted into soft rock and decline, though I haven’t really heard any of what they have done, losing interest after ‘Seventh Sojourn’; but they are still a band whose music I play and greatly admire.

Trvia corner: Denny Laine, a member of the earliest version of the Moody Blues, was later for some time in Wings with Paul McCartney.