Monday, 8 December 2014

Charity at Christmas

Something a little bit different for this post, A guest appearance by my eldest daughter Amanda. This was her homework over the weekend. I think for a 12 year old it is a superb effort. Well done Amanda.

Charity at Christmas

We all love a good gift. No matter how big, small, cheap or expensive it is, we relish the joy of tearing away at the concealing wrapping paper to reveal the prized gift. I remember receiving the book ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and being utterly elated. I’m sure you’ve all received a present with which you were overjoyed. But what about the poor children in Africa? What about the children who might not even make it to Christmas? What about them?

There are 2.2 billion children on Earth, 1 billion of those children live in poverty. That is ridiculous! That number concerns me and it should definitely concern you. Of the 1.9 billion children in the developing world, 1 in 3 has no adequate shelter. 1 in 5 has no clean water, that’s an outrageous 20%. And every seventh child has no access to any healthcare. These statistics have to change.

As well as the unfortunate children in Africa, there are children elsewhere in the world that, sadly, suffer from a terminal illness. Their lives are a constant uncertainty. Today could be one of those children’s last day. One of these terminal illnesses is cancer. For some cancer patients, all they want is hair, some want more time with family, whilst others simply long for a cure.

Imagine you lost both your parents to a disease. Imagine you have no food or clean water. Imagine it’s Christmas and you’re alone. This is what some children have to endure. They want the basic necessities of life, things that all humans should automatically receive. No child should ever have to want something that should be theirs!

Now picture this: you have no hair. You can’t go out with friends. And today could be your last day. How would you feel? I couldn’t be so mentally strong as to live through that. Why ask Santa for jewellery, a new phone or an album from your favourite artist when all you really need is a cure?

Luckily, charities are here to help. So instead of spending your Christmas money on your personal luxuries, why not give it to children who will benefit massively from it? Children who need food, water, shelter or a cure? Why not be charitable this Christmas? I guarantee you’ll make a difference. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Lies, damned lies and statistics*

I used to joke that 86.67% of statistics were made up on the spot. Well, I cannot help but be reminded of that joke when I look at the leaflet recently posted through my letterbox.

I find it incredible that City of York council had the courage to print this leaflet. Why? 
How can they possibly profess to know how much rubbish York residents produce each week? 
How do they know what percentage of our kitchen waste is recycled in our own gardens? 
How have they calculated a figure with two decimal places (43.63%) for such an uncountable thing? 
I have written to the council to find out how they came up with this figure. 

*The phrase "Lies, damned lies and statistics" is attributed to Mark Twain. He, however, always said it was from Benjamin Disraeli, despite it not appearing in any of Disraeli's works. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

I've won a prize.

Just received my prize for winning a British Council competition. I must say I'm very pleased with it. I had originally thought I was only getting the book in the middle of the photo. All the others, plus pens, a DVD, and a bag were a complete surprise. I am particularly looking forward to reading the main prize - "The Edge of the Sky" by Roberto Trotta. It was written in only the 1000 most common words in the English language and it attempts to explain all there is in the Universe. A review coming when I've read it.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Unimaginable space and luxury in the sky.

Ever wondered what is 'upstairs' in a big modern airliner?
Here's a peek upstairs in an Etihad A380. The service will begin in December from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow.

I don't think I'd buy a ticket even if I could afford it. All this space for 2 people for a 7 hour flight. The money that it cost would buy a lot in Africa or Asia. I am slightly sickened to think this could be above me while I'm content with sardine class. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lurkin' in Larkin's footsteps

I've been teaching a lot recently in Hull. The place has perennially had a reputation as being a sleazy down-at-heel sort of city. I, however, think it's a great place. The tastiest, best value Chinese restaurant in the world. A whole quarter devoted to museums. A world class marina. The list goes on...

Another attraction for me is that it is the place that the poet Philip Larkin chose to live. I have been teaching in the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel which has a Larkin connection. Before being taken over by the Mercure group this hotel was The Royal Station Hotel. Larkin used to take his lunch here sometimes and met several of his Oxford colleagues here over the years. The hotel is one of the few places specifically mentioned in a Larkin poem.

Whilst at the reception last week I asked the receptionist if they still used sheets of letter headed notepaper for guests. She affirmed that they did and passed me two crisp sheets of good quality paper. The reason I had asked was that Larkin mentions "The headed paper" in his poem "Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel" which I think is a very poignant, if short, example of his work.

On returning home I typed out the poem and printed it on one of the sheets. I think the result was worth framing. Therefore, I will award myself an early Christmas present and get it mounted and framed.

Here is the poem for you to read...

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Breaking into the inner sanctum of TEFL teacher training courses.


I've been giving CPD presentations and facilitating workshops for peers and new EFL teachers for many years now. I first passed along some knowledge while working in Thailand in early 2004. So I feel, at this 10 year anniversary time, qualified to comment on teacher training courses. I did a Cambridge CELTA in IH Newcastle in 1999 and followed that up with a CELTYL at the British Council Bangkok in 2005. Since then I've been constantly involved in CPD either for myself or in providing knowledge in my own specialist areas. 

I have delivered input sessions on CELTA courses at the English Language Centre, York and now train prospective EFL teachers in Hull and Manchester. The input sessions are delivered by the same person and contain much the same content. Yet the courses I now teach on are sometimes seen as less 'valuable' by some teachers, and indeed employers. For far too many years the British Council has recognised only Cambridge or Trinity as being capable of delivering introductory, and indeed diploma level, TEFL courses. 

Having now taken two certificate level TEFL courses and one diploma course from Cambridge and another diploma level currently being studied for with Trinity, I can say with some weight of evidence that there are other course of equal 'worth' being taught out there. 

I tend to think there is some snobbery at work and will personally work hard to level the playing field from now on. To this end a colleague and I have seen a gap in the market, and let's be honest it is a market, and we are currently putting together a teaching business English introductory level course for those wishing to embark on a new career, perhaps from a business background. 

I will keep you up to date as we progress with the project. 


Monday, 20 October 2014

Going bananas

As a long-term resident of Thailand during the first 10 years or so of this century I am well used to seeing bananas. My father-in-law has several different varieties in his garden. On my return to the UK I thought it might be fun to see if I can grow a banana or two here in England.

I tried to buy a variety that would live outdoors in the UK perhaps Musa basjoo, however, there were none left at my usual Dutch plant supplier. Then in May I saw some small banana plants in 5" pots for sale in my local branch of Lidl, a German-owned supermarket. I bought two for £5.00 and put them in my conservatory as they were not a hardy variety. After a few days it became obvious that were going to grow at a prodigious rate. I potted them into 12" pots and detached a few pups at the same time. The pups are now the size of the originals and the parents are looking really quite impressive. They were labelled as Musa acuminata 'Tropicana' and appear to be a dwarf Cavendish related strain, at least I hope they are 'dwarf'. The Cavendish is the main banana we eat here in Europe, and indeed North America. I've seen huge plantations of them in The Canary Islands and some of the plants towered above me. Probably no hope of them setting fruit here in York, but you never know.

At the moment they are outdoors enjoying our unseasonally mild autumn weather. I'll bring them in when the temperature consistently drops below about 12 degrees centigrade.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

New TEFL teacher training course in York

I have now taught a TEFL teacher training for about a year in both Hull and Manchester. Now, I have decided to offer one nearer home in conjunction with a colleague. His name is Ben Dobbs and we have taught various courses together at a couple of institutions, most recently at York University for York Associates. We both have our own teaching/training organisations. We offer expertise in complementary areas, so it seemed natural to combine forces and offer a really good introductory TEFL course in York. 

We both began teaching English after attending an introductory course in York, ooh, too many years ago. Sadly this course no longer runs, so we have decided to fill the gap. 
We are hoping to deliver the first course early in the new year.

Get up to date news from either of these sites:


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Bernard's Morning

A piece of creative writing I wrote for my York University course. We were asked to write a piece using trees as a metaphor. 

Bernard's Morning
Bernard bleeped the car locked, pocketed his keys and walked into the wood, the darkness held no fear for him. He’d walked this way many times before. He hoped to reach the high ground just as the sun was rising. He had two miles to go and about 25 minutes to complete the distance. It was early summer now and it was never really dark at this time of year anyway. The eyes adjusted as soon as you left the brightness of the car behind in the car park he had noticed. Bernard was getting old now but he knew he could do the distance by the time dawn glimmered over the high ground beyond the wood. He’d been coming here, to watch the sunrise for 70 years. He did it each year without fail. For more than sixty years now, on the morning of 6th June: D-Day.

It was here, in this particular wood, that he’d done a great deal of training, with number 2 parachute regiment, during the Second World War. He’d grown to trust his comrades during those exercises and knew they trusted him; all gone now. He came to honour those men so needlessly taken, well before their time. There was Jimmy Rice - a budding architect, Peter Thompson – a skilled mechanic, John Rutter – earmarked for great things in the world of law. All wasted on the beaches of Normandy. He tried to remember the names of as many of his old friends as he could. More difficult now as age had eroded chunks of memory away, piece by relentless piece.
After 22 minutes he reached the crest of a small hillock, beyond this lay the bulk of the forest and the view he remembered from all those years ago. He gazed out over a scene of carnage, acres of trees cut down, clear felled. Nothing left but grave-like stumps and snapped minor branches. No trees now, nothing living over one foot tall.
Just then the sun crested the higher ground beyond and revealed the full brutal results of the mechanical timber garnering that had obviously finished only recently. The sharp acrid smell of too much pine resin in the air almost too much for Bernard. He knew the trees as his friends and now they were gone. He caught a glimpse of colour about 40 feet off. It was a lone red poppy. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Father's Day gift - a different kind of strawberry plant

I was invited to the garden centre by my wife and family to buy a plant for Father's Day. No particular thing in mind. Maybe an orchid, perhaps a hardy geranium, or something completely different. Well I didn't see anything different or inspiring in the orchid department. I probably have more different varieties of hardy geraniums than most garden centres already. I've been getting interested in ferns of late. However, once again there was nothing that inspired me.
It was my youngest daughter who spotted some strawberry plants in a hanging basket. The amazing thing was the colour of the flowers. They were pink. The variety is called 'Toscana', I don't know what they taste like yet but they are very decorative when in flower. All the other strawberry varieties I've seen have had white flowers on them, like the wild ancestor has. These were very very striking and I asked if I could have a pot.
Thanks for my Father's Day present. I hope they taste as good as they look.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Roman coins discovered in 2000 year old yew tree

There are several venerable old yew trees in the British Isles. Each one of them has a great many tales to tell I'm sure. However, one old tree, the location of which I shall keep secret, has tales to tell from many hundreds of years ago. The recent stormy weather ripped limbs from many trees and completely downed many hundreds up and down the land.
Our tree fell victim to these winds too and a huge section of its massive central trunk fell away; ripping a huge section off the tree's Eastern flank. On inspection of the damage a horde of silver and gold Roman coins has been discovered.
They were in a lead box and it is thought this had been hidden in the trunk of the tree for many hundreds of years. It is of course not possible to know exactly when they were hidden. However the lead box is inscribed with Roman letters and although crushed over the ages it is possible to read the word 'arbor' - Latin for 'tree'. The local museum has provisionally valued them at "Not less than 4.5 million pounds." They would not be drawn on when the box had been hidden, but do not rule out the possibility that they were hidden there during the Roman occupation of Britain. They await the results of a dendrochronological survey of the tree being carried out by Durham University. The newest coin has been dated at 379 AD so obviously they are all at least 1635 years old and may very well have been in the boughs of the ancient tree since that date.
If all this seems a little too incredible to believe look at the date of this post. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

A change of roles this week

I have been teaching a Thai student intensively for the last month. He needs to get a good score in the IELTS test to enable him to enter a university in the UK. He had a test on Saturday and so today he is having a break from learning English. 
Our purpose built classroom has not been idle though. My wife, who is Thai, has begun teaching Thai and taught her first student today. She will be fine as she trained in Bangkok at the British Council to teach English and was better than some of the native speakers. 
I enjoyed the change, but tomorrow I'm back at the chalk face and my wife doesn't teach again until next Monday. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

New job as a teacher trainer - well, one weekend a month at first.

Further to my post about about passing on my 15 years plus of English as a foreign language teaching I am pleased to announce that I have been selected.
I will begin by teaching a 20 hour course in Hull once a month.
I'm very pleased to have been selected as the competition was stiff.
Here is a link to their website:

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The World's scariest landings

A few years ago, 2010 to be exact, I was invited to write a guest blog on Rachel Cotterill's very popular blog. I chose to write about airports and some of the scarier landings to a few of them that I have experienced.
I thought I should share this post with you here on my own blog.  So, I've included a link to the original post on Rachel's blog which I urge you to visit. Her posts are varied and always interesting.

15 years of teaching EFL - time to pass on the knowledge

After 15 years of teaching English as a Foreign Language it's time I took more of a role teaching and training other teachers. Although I have presented at conferences and seminars for many years and taught occasional input sessions for Cambridge CELTA courses I've never done a whole training course myself. Last Saturday I attended a short training course and interview which included a 10 minute presentation. I'm hopeful that the outcome is that I run training course for one or two weekends each month.
It's for a company that run introductory courses for those wishing to become TEFL teachers. They are 120 hour courses with 20 hours face to face (me I hope) and the remaining 100 hours online.

I will know on Monday if I've been selected. Watch this space.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

5 years on - still no nicotine

While sitting at my computer this morning I realised that it is now five years since I smoked a cigarette. At that time I was on retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. I had applied for a job in York after 10 years living and working in Thailand. I thought to myself that as cigarettes in Thailand were less than £1 per packet but were at least £5, possibly as much as £7 per packet, depending on the brand, in England, I had better think about stopping.

I'd never really tried to stop before, thinking it would be much too difficult. In the end I just stopped. A day or two of craving then nothing at all. And this after more than 30 years of smoking.

Since that time I've seen a whole new industry spring up making 'electronic cigarettes'. I see these are very popular, but have the smokers really given up smoking? I think not, merely changed their way of taking nicotine.

How do I feel? Much fitter, no cough, clean smell. I wish I'd done it years ago. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Khao Soi - my favourite Thai meal

We recently travelled from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It's a long way so we needed to stop several times for food. We were with my brother-in-law who works for EGAT (Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand). In his job he travels all over Thailand and is great for knowing the best places to eat. He recommended a restaurant in Lampang which serves a really great dish of Khao Soi, sometimes spelled Kao Soi.

I had eaten Khao Soi while living in Bangkok. The shop which used to sell it though fell victim to the riots of 2008 and I have been longing for a dish since that time. So, as you can imagine, I was very pleased to hear we'd be stopping at a restaurant well-known for this speciality of Northern Thailand. I usually choose to eat chicken breast and was a little disappointed to hear they only served chicken legs here. It tasted amazing though and I washed it down with a glass of guava juice. I asked for an extra portion of crispy noodles, as I like that part the most. Then my brother-in-law ordered another bowl for me of just the curry and noodles. I ate the lot. It really is that good.

On the return journey, three days later, we stopped at the same restaurant (Khao Soi O-Ma) and had two bowls again. Yes, I put weight on during this holiday.
Below you will find a link to a recipe for it. Enjoy.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Back from Thailand and full of resolutions to post at least once a week to this blog.

Just returned from Thailand. Not as warm as may think at this time of year. We visited many places and took a lot of pics. I'll drip feed them over the next few weeks rather than all in one go.