In Praise of East Enders (BBC TV)

It may come as a surprise to you that I like East Enders and watch it regularly…

Well, my mother-in-law, a lady of great discernment and taste, was also an avid watcher; but it was only recently that I discovered the pleasures of this TV programme.

For those who don’t know, it’s a UK “soap opera”, set in the fictional Albert Square, in the East End of London, and has been running for many years. It has a fictional borough (Walford), a fictional pub (the Queen Victoria) and even a fictional London Underground station. It chiefly features members of fairly close-knit but intermarried families. It may be that some of the settings, storylines and characters are stereotyped, but well… it’s a soap opera. Isn’t that the point? Given that it’s on for two hours every week, it maintains high standards. It’s quite astonishing that it stays fairly fresh.

EastEnders

Again for those who do not know England (yes, excitingly, there are some among my readers) the East End is a traditional dockland and working-class area, now largely taken over by businesses and expensive housing. The programme portrays a community still largely rooted in the working-class history.

EastEnders

Watching it over a period of time gives some insights. Firstly, I would mention acting standards. These are variable, but I think generally good. There is one actor who steadfastly plays him or her self (I guess) but we’ll let that pass. In some cases- like a half-hour confrontation between a father and a son- there is real class and conviction.

Next, I am particularly interested by the overlapping story arcs, of varied lengths, that a soap opera can use- the stories within the story. It is possible in a soap opera to have really long plot sections and it’s fascinating to see how they develop and interact. Some of these story arcs are years long. Characters leave, return and have existences off screen. For a relative newcomer, like me, this can sometimes be disorientating but fun. Who is Mo? Who is Jean? What do they have to do with Stacey? Why does Phil shut the door on Mo? Looking these questions up leads me to a wealth of information, for example on Wikipedia. I love the idea that these fictional characters somehow do exist, in a strange alternative reality. What I really want, however, is an East Enders character/ family tree guide. It can be difficult to understand and remember relationships.

The morality of East Enders is complicated, or perhaps it would be better to say that the moralities are complicated. There is a surprising acceptance of criminal activity at varying levels, although baddies do often get their just desserts. Recently we have witnessed the foiling of plots by the dastardly Willoughby-Brown to buy up large parts of the Square, and by the dastardly Aidan Turner to use the Queen Vic as a drug dealing centre, among other things. We cheered when they finally were defeated.

If that sounds sarcastic, or ironic, it’s not meant to be. I genuinely like it. Perhaps there’s an element of escapism in my pleasure. My middle-class background in leafy Southern England has given me little knowledge of the East End, so I could not with confidence say how accurate the portrayal is; but I will be watching with interest how the latest twists and turns turn out.

Title picture by Kelvin 101 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria pub by Matt Pearson (Flickr: The Queen Vic) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Fashion Police Bulletin #5

Adopting our newly positive approach, the Fashion Police commend these trends, spotted mainly in Southampton.

Red corduroy jeans! Pink corduroy jeans! Even (gasp) corduroy jeans with a slight flare! This takes the most senior current member of the Fashion Police back to his youth, specifically to Viletti’s, in Brighton, where there was, in the 1970s, a rainbow- no, a kaleidoscope of colourful jeans. Well done, those persons adopting this colourful legwear, for fighting back against the sea of blue denim. Which leads us neatly on to:

Colour We are delighted to report a brightening of our streets. With pleasure we note that John Lewis appear to share our opinion, as this cover from their Edition magazine (which apparently has “shopping excellence” as its theme) demonstrates. Next to it we show an excellent example of bright colour spotted in H&M.

Hats It has been rare, until 2018, that the Fashion Police have made recommendations. But we have made a consistent exception for hats. Hats are a stylish and practical part of any fashion conscious person’s wardrobe. And- we are sure we have said this before- pay attention, bald gentlemen. Sorry, bald persons of any gender identity. Why are you not wearing a hat in cold weather? It will keep your head warm. Why are you not wearing a hat in the sun? It will stop you getting painful sunburn and probable skin cancer. On this note….

Berets You will remember we commended a grey beret in our last blog. We have since seen other fetching berets, and to our pleasure, the Sunday Times identified them as being “in”. Hands up who remembers the beret being worn by French workers, in their bleu de travail (indigo died cotton working clothes), clutching a baguette and possibly smoking a Gauloise. Nobody? Only our most senior member, then.

Swirly floral dresses Spotted in H&M. A stylish high street fashion, especially as here worn over jeans.

Fashion Police Bulletin #5.1

Skechers D’lites Uncharacteristically we actually name a product, chiefly because they are here being worn with style and panache by a very junior member of the Fashion Police. They are, we are given to understand, very comfortable.

Fashion Police Bulletin #5.5

However, enough of this feelgood atmosphere. We cannot end a bulletin without some warnings.

Suits which are too tight Come on, gentlemen! For it is mostly those who would self-identify as male who are guilty of this fixed-penalty offence. Jackets and waistcoats which are too tight make you look ridiculous. Trousers whose legs are too tight never look good, particularly with a suit. We saw a pair this week which could only be described as drainpipes.  As for trousers whose waistband is too tight…..

Mixed Patterns A younger member of the Fashion Police reports a worrying trend for inappropriate mixing of patterns. Be warned.

(The Fashion Police are at pains to point out that they receive no sponsorship in goods or otherwise from any retailer, wholesaler or manufacturer.)

So, what would YOU do about education? Part 7: Won’t Get Fooled Again

A recent (brilliant) blog, flagged up by the estimable Mr C., recounted the myths, fads and gimmicks that so many primary teachers, like myself, were duped, coerced or bullied into following. I recommend it. [ Education Fads ]

Among others, it lists learning styles, lesson objectives, learning outcomes, rapid progress, APP, Chinese teaching, zero-tolerance, four-part lessons, verbal feedback stamps and -very interestingly- lesson planning.

Intriguingly, there are some ideas that others have found “faddy” that I found to work. Lesson planning is one to start with. I would have been lost without some sort of map for my lessons. The author of the above blog mentions lolly stick questioning: a technique where you have all the children’s names on lolly sticks and question at random. I liked this because it meant I was being more equal in my choice of responders, but I was rather inconsistent in its use.

So, what would you do about education

There are other techniques which, for all I know, are now mainstream, but which would have seemed radical when I started off

For example, setting targets for writing. I found this really good at moving children on with their writing. Where it fell down was where there was a proliferation of micro-targets or an unwieldy method of assessment. How did we ever teach writing without it? (Setting targets for mathematics, however, I found very difficult. Maths tends to be taught in discrete chunks, focusing on one skill at a time. Targets for these individual areas may be possible; overall targets for individual students are harder.)

Then there’s self-assessment. Teaching children to be aware of how well they are doing must be good, mustn’t it? No, sir, I am not saying this how all assessment should take place. But it is again a big improvement on the “old days”.

I am not surprised to find that there are new techniques which I never encountered and don’t even understand. What is triple marking, anybody? Answers on a postcard to Oblique Towers. There are no prizes.

I could go on, but I detect your attention slipping at the back there. Keep awake, here’s the plenary.

Primary schools need teachers who are flexible, ‘light on their feet’, able to employ strategies as appropriate to the child and their learning. Some new initiatives may not become fads or gimmicks. They may be valuable. Teachers need to have a tool kit of strategies, not a prescribed orthodoxy. Too often they have been “persuaded”, often by managers desperate for results, into following the latest trend; which is great until the next one comes along. I know, I was there. I have no helpful advice for the beleaguered classroom teacher, except to say if it works, use it.

Finally, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and it’s not original: the only constant in education is change. In a week when yet again government is promising to address the problem of teachers’ workload, the solution seems clear to me. Stop innovating. Let teachers get on with it.

[Yes, that student at the back. You were listening. I did say I was going to stop blogging about education. But I haven’t. And I haven’t stopped being sloppy with my conjunctions. And I reserve the right to say more.]

It’s Not Cricket

That great cricket commentator, cricket writer and oenophile, John Arlott, was of the opinion that cricket reflected the times it was played in.

Thus, in Victorian times, there was much apparent rectitude- “Play up, and play the game”- but much cheating and betting. Post World War I, there was a sense of abandonment and relief after the horrors of the trenches. Class distinctions, between paid professionals and dilettante amateurs, were apparent. After World War 2 these started to fade. Political conflict was reflected in the “rebel” tours to South Africa, defying sanctions on apartheid. A more fluid economic situation led to increasing commercialisation and the end of amateur players at the top levels. The attention span of the public grew shorter. Spectators- many spectators, anyway- wanted games that finished in a day. Thus one day cricket became much more popular.

These are just my uninformed interpretations of Arlott’s idea. Moving into the modern age, the proliferation of independent TV channels led to the rights to international cricket being sold to the highest bidder. There was an increasing amount of experimentation: night cricket, white balls, fielding restrictions, coloured clothing and the like. Now the formats of cricket have again changed to include 20 over games, shorter than even village cricket. (My son, a keen amateur player, tells me that decreasing numbers of amateur cricketers want to play games that last even as long as a day; they want them to be over in an afternoon.) We now have pink balls, free hits, power plays and technological umpiring decisions. There are bidding wars for players in some competitions. Even that core of the game, Test matches, is changing, and some players are saying they are only interested in one day cricket. It may be that, by the time I die, there will be no more Test cricket.

What aspects of the modern world are reflected in all of this? One could speculate, for example, that it is globalisation that has led to the IPL (the Indian Premier League) employing foreign players at huge salaries; but of course your guess is as good as mine and probably better.

I try hard, especially in this blog, not to be a “grumpy old man”. However, I find myself less and less interested in a game I used to love beyond reason. Perhaps, if cricket reflects the times it’s played in, I am just behind the times, or out of touch with them.

It's Not Cricket