My Grandmother 2 (Things My Grandmother Said)

Brief….. but to be extended as I think of more. Any you can think of, little brother?

“My brain will never save my body.” Said after any waste of energy….

“You like that sort of thing, don’t you, dear?” (Accompanied by a sharp intake of breath) Often said to her daughter, my mother, who could never get it right.

“You’ll cry before you go to bed.” As a parent, I understand this; I think I did as a boy; but I still feel it’s a sad thing to say to an excited child.

“It’ll all be the same a thousand years hence.” I find this one strangely comforting, now.

“I’m twice the woman on my backside.” She was however not notably vulgar.

img083My grandmother and grandfather,  on Eastbourne beach. See also My Grandmother 1 (Nuisance Callers) and My grandfather’s books: A gentle tribute to a gentle man


Fashion Police Bulletin #2

It has become apparent that a second Fashion Police bulletin  is required, due to recent disquieting developments. Please note that the  first bulletin is still applicable, and that the Fashion Police reserve the right to be totally arbitary and whimsical in their judgements.

Brown suits (and suits in general) Oh dear. The fashion police are explicitly apolitical. But brown suits are never appropriate for formal wear, whether or not you are in the House of Commons. And while we’re about it, you can never go wrong with a dark suit for an interview. A tie still impresses. Please don’t whine about this not being fair, it’s a fact of life. Please, no suede shoes, trainers (shudder) or character socks for formal occasions. There is no penalty for this; but remember, you brought it on yourself when you fail that interview.

Shorts Summer is here, and there is a tendency to wear shorts. The Fashion Police have no wish to dictate the length of shorts. However, we must impress on shorts wearers that very short shorts should only be worn by confident shorts wearers. Bulging bare flesh is never acceptable and will attract an immediate fixed penalty. No. This is not sizeist.

Bare Chests Ladies and gentlemen (we are an equal rights body): Bare chests are never acceptable in public, unless at the beach or possibly in the park (in suitable weather.) They are ESPECIALLY unacceptable in food stores and the high street. Immediate fixed penalty, possibly custodial.

Short skirts A small faction of the male Fashion Police is, sadly irredeemably sexist and enjoys short skirts. However, all of the Fashion Police agree that short skirt wearers, male, female or transgender, should be sure they are confident of their appearance before they go out in public. Nothing detracts from such a fashion statement as much as the continual tugging down of the hem of a skirt. If you feel it is too short and is exposing too much, DON’T WEAR IT. (Obviously there is no penalty for this, just much head shaking and tut-tutting.)

Sunbathing in underwear It may surprise some of you to learn that the Fashion Police are very relaxed about this, seeing very little difference between underwear and swimming costumes. In fact, in some cases, this may even be an attractive option, if the underwear is appropriate. But parks and gardens only please. (The Guardian seems rather vexed about this.)

Baseball caps Now some of the general public may consider that the Fashion Police are becoming obsessive about back-to-front baseball caps. The argument that this style is now ‘retro’ has been used. Really? So ‘retro’ is now acceptable for any fashion offence? The Fashion Police exit the scene, shaking their heads in disbelief, to review the scale of penalties.


 If you want to get ahead, get a hat… as sported by this fashionable young lady. However, hats are for outdoor wear. Supermarkets are not outdoor spaces. Neither, some of us feel, are shopping malls. AND a word to follicly challenged ladies and gentlemen…. Why, oh why do so few of you wear a hat in cold weather? Or hot weather come to that? (Anybody who has suffered a sunburnt scalp will surely agree with us on this one.)

So, what would YOU do about education? Part 3: The Shanghai Method

Ooh! OOOHH!! The Shanghai Method. Sounds exciting. Sounds…. Like an 80s electropop band. Like a sexual perversion. Like…. a mathematics teaching method? Surely not. (Surely some mistake? Ed.)


Well, it’s inevitable that I should at first be cautious about this, given my despair at the stupidly rapid rate of change in education. (See The only constant in education is change.) The Shanghai method looks to my increasingly out of touch and uninformed eye like yet another new initiative, which will transform mathematics education, raise standards, make the tea, solve global warming…. and so on.

Apparently everybody succeeds; the class does not move on until all have grasped the skill/ concept/ whatever. For my youngest daughter, who at the age of 13 still cannot add two single digit numbers, I am sure this will work wonders, as it will for the 9 year olds I taught last year who could use index notation confidently.

This is probably all curmudgeonish grumbling, but I also wonder what standards we are talking about raising here. Clearly I don’t know the full picture.

I have taken my first tentative stabs at setting out discussion points for the future of education. (See  So, what would YOU do about education? Part 2.) In it I mentioned the late Terry Pratchett’s view that children should be taught enough maths to “know when a pocket calculator is lying”.)

Allow me a digression here. At one point, I intended to write a post on mathematical illiteracy. No, I don’t mean innumeracy. To me that implies a lack of understanding of numbers and their basic manipulation. I mean a lack of understanding of the use of mathematics- the application of mathematics.

I think that this is incredibly important. Indeed, I increasingly feel that, for most students, functional mathematics should be taught far more.

DSCF0655You only have to look around to see examples of mathematical illiteracy. This picture is of a price tag. Mathematically, it’s wrong. Is it 4.5 of a pound or 4.5 of a penny? (Substitute euros and cents if you like.) Obviously the first (£4.50) is intended.You may very well argue that this is mathematical pedantry, but it does obstruct children forming clear concepts. This to me is akin to the ‘bigger half’ error. Halves are equal; one cannot be bigger than the other. We all know what is meant, but it’s not correct and again muddles children (and adults).

We could go on to the opinion poll fallacy. “33% of the population prefer dark chocolate.” No they don’t. A third of the (three) people I surveyed prefer dark chocolate. It’s even worse if the proportions are scaled up: “2o million British people prefer dark chocolate.” There are examples daily.

There, that digression has spared you a separate mathematical illiteracy blogpost.To return to Mr Pratchett (well done if you’re still with me), I increasingly feel that much mathematical education is wasted on most children. When did you ever use the mathematics you were taught at school? Alright, teachers, be quiet at the back there. Engineers…. Physicists…. Any others? Yes, me…. but usually only for fun, or when I need to get to sleep. Really.

There are  no doubt arguments against restricting mathematics teaching to functional mathematics, or to what the child chooses to learn. How do you know what mathematics a child will need in later life, or what aptitudes they will show later? When we are short of mathematicians and physicists, should we not encourage mathematics and physics? Should we in fact push every child to higher standards, to ensure that the ‘base’ level of achievement rises and thus the best get better.

So, as usual, I come up with no firm conclusions. After pondering over this I am still drawn towards functional mathematics for all and further adventures for the able and willing. I am aware this is a feeling, not a closely argued case. And hey, I’m not secretary of state for education. And at the back of my mind is the cry: “Stop messing teachers about and let them get on with it.”


The Istanbul Café and Restaurant, Worthing

And so to Worthing. It’s much changed since I bought my first Gong album there as a teenager. There is still a lovely arcade, with a musical instrument shop which we had to pull ourselves away from. In Heene Road we discovered the Istanbul Café and restaurant.

Istanbul cafe

This is not the Istanbul Turkish Restaurant near to the pier. It’s a few hundred metres from the centre, a tiny café in a cheerfully yellow-painted building. We loved it.

It seems to be a family run business. It’s clean and neat, with a lovely display of flowers outside. The staff great, greeting regulars and polite to visitors. There are clean toilets cleverly tucked into a corner.

The menu is fairly straightforward: English breakfasts, sandwiches, etc, but there are some Turkish dishes: meatballs and shish. Mrs O. went for the special: ham and tomato omelette, which was great. I had lamb shish with rice, which was very tasty. Miss O. had chips. Lots of chips. Nothing new there then.

It was all hot…. not always the case, we find. Best of all, the coffee was great.

Why am I bothering to post this? The few people who read my blog probably won’t be anywhere near it. I just feel we ought to celebrate small, local enterprises over the soulless chains.

Forgotten Dishes 5: Dockers’ Chutney

We have made a variant of this, and it’s delicious.

Between the wars, Southampton was a thriving dock: in fact, it still is, although in a very different way. In the 1930s it imported fruit, potatoes, grain, timber and wool. (I looked it up.)

There was ‘natural’ wastage of some of the cargoes. This doesn’t mean fraudulent; crates could be damaged quite accidentally. In some cases, the cargo had to be ditched. Naturally, dockers would avail themselves of any free food, and thus began dockers’ chutney.

Basically, it was just a way of using a glut of fruit, in the same way that this happened in the countryside. Bananas, for some reason I don’t know, were often a main ingredient, but any fruit available would have been used.

Mrs O. is a very ‘freestyle’ cook; for this she uses an apple chutney recipe and substitutes bananas or any other fruit available, or any other spices, just as would have been done originally. Chilli flakes are an good extra. The salt does greatly improve the taste.

Apple chutney (Original recipe from Mrs O’s mother)

3 lb apples

2 pints vinegar

1 lb onions

¼ lb sultanas or raisins

1 ½ lb soft brown sugar

1 level teaspoon ground ginger

1 oz salt

1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper

Chop or slice the fruit. Put everything in a saucepan and boil gently for 2 ½ hours. Season to taste.

The most important questions in art… Take 2

I return to this subject with some trepidation, as I have no academic background in it, apart from a (very) dimly remembered essay for my first degree. I feel compelled to add something to previous tentative stabs at it. (See ‘The most important question in art’)

Grayson_Perry_by_Ella_GuruThis thinking has been sparked off by watching Grayson Perry give his opinions on gardens at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show. He said (and I’m paraphrasing wildly here) that to say “I like it” is a hugely complex thought: class, background, job, age, education and gender (I might add sexual orientation and race, if I knew what I was talking about) are all leading up to that moment.

My thoughts on the subject were, if you remember (do try to keep up, we were on this months ago) that the first, most important question is: “Do you like it?” The second is: “Why?”

Grayson Perry’s comment implies that we all have different reasons for liking it- whatever it may be, a garden, art, music….. any endeavour that might be considered partly aesthetic. After all, we all differ in our class, background, job…..

It follows, I believe, that no one aesthetic opinion is worth more than any other. If that was the case, then one person’s class, age, gender… would be worth more than another person’s. (I am sure we could debate education’s role in this endlessly. So forget that one for now.) If you feel that a work has more aesthetic worth than another, you are entitled to that opinion; there is no absolute ‘good’ here here.

My second question in considering art was “Why do you like it?” (The factors of class, background, job….. may obviously figure in any discussion, but will probably be secondary to points of colour, harmony, rhythm, composition, form, craftsmanship, technique, etc.) I feel that this question is the key to much pleasure and particularly to aesthetic education. If children can be taught to explain their likes and dislikes and to discuss them sensibly, then their horizons can be hugely expanded. I do feel that art is important, although the reasons for that view are a subject for future exploration, at least as far as the Oblique world view is concerned.

Woolly, isn’t it? As I have explained before, this blog is often about me sorting my ideas out. I really would welcome any responses.

[I should mention an incident from a Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, many, many years ago. There was a gloriously splashy, colourful portrait of Guy the Gorilla by John Bratby. Two ladies with upper-class accents stopped in front of it.

And this,” said one, “is obviously rubbish.”

Perhaps I should have asked: “And why do you think that?” Being English, I smiled, looked carefully at the painting, decided I liked it (because of its gloriously splashy colourfulness) and walked on.]

“Grayson Perry” by Ella Guru Copyright © Ella Guru, Released under GFDL, 28 March 2008.