Almost a million children don’t have a book in their houses. Most concerning is that this lack of books is concentrated in younger children. National scandal.

“There has to be more to writing in English than this.” The English & Media Centre identify the chronic shortcomings of the dominant assessment model in English at KS3 which they say “is at odds with the creative nature of subject English”.

Seriously concerning report by the National Literacy Trust identifying the decline of children’s reading for pleasure. Seems to me the most important part is the section where children say what would encourage them to read more.

Just learned about Russel Hoban’s Riddley Walker. Set in post-nuclear devastated Kent. Hoban is a writer I know nothing about but seems pretty interesting.

Coming close to the end of my S-L-O-W re-read of The Two Towers. Having mixed feelings about the book if I’m honest.

Very much enjoyed the Silo tv series. Found myself literally on the edge of my seat for the final episode. That last scene!

Excellent TES interview with Professor Robert Eaglestone regarding knowledge and the ways that the teaching of English in schools has profoundly altered – and not for the better!

I support the seven actions proposed in the EMC’s Open Letter to Gillian Kegan, Secretary of State for Education.

Older Microposts HERE

Older Microblog entries HERE

The Best-Kept Secret

Being an easy pushover for a good UFO book (something I’ve not shaken since my childhood), I’ve just read Jacques Vallée’s and Paola Harris’ Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret. It’s an account of a hitherto unknown UFO crash in San Antonio in 1945 very close to Ground Zero where the Manhattan...

UK Grim

But what’s gone on, what can I see? You’re all getting mugged by the aristocracy But what’s gone on, what can I see? You’re all getting mugged by the right wing beast. I had a long car journey today which gave me the chance to listen to UK Grim, Sleaford...

Ruins of Thurnham Castle

Went for a walk around the ruins of Thurnham Castle today. It’s the remains of a Norman earthworks castle. I enjoyed the ruins much more than I expected and the area around is full of twisty paths through woods and sharply descending steps. Jan and I explored some of the landscape beyond.

Beating the Battery Blues

Phew! Finally put a new battery in my iphone. Made a couple of mistakes – and lost one miniscule screw – but all seems well. Phone is working. It was something that HAD to be done as the old battery was lasting about an hour between charges.

Devil’s Kneading Trough

Visited the Devil’s Kneading Trough near Wye today which has a lovely view of southern Kent from the Downs. It was exactly the right length of walk for the kids. Alice picked blackberries.

The Two Towers

“Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.” So ends The Two Towers. My slow read of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings now advances into The Return of the King. Gandalf returned. The Ents laid siege to Isengard. Saruman’s power was broken. Gollum led Frodo and Sam into a deadly trap in Mordor.

Frodo Lives! I wonder if Tolkien realised he couldn’t pull the death of a major character and resurrection in the next volume more than once so revealed that Frodo isn’t killed by Shelob? Or that he didn’t want the second volume to apparently end so bleakly?

The Choices of Master Samwise. Tolkien seems to spend more time presenting the travels into Mordor from Sam’s perspective than he does Frodo. Sam becomes the hero of the tale (proving himself in the fight with Shelob). Scenes like the Oliphaunt appear to have been written to show Sam’s continued capacity for awe and wonder. Is Sam one of the only morally-firm characters of the novel? When he thinks Frodo dead, Sam realises there is no other choice but to continue to Mount Doom alone. (Ignoring that Sam leaves Frodo’s body then decides to return to it.)

Faramir. Boromir’s brother, Faramir, plays a similar role to Strider from The Fellowship. He joins the (few) characters who refuse the ring, realising its danger. Tolkien uses Faramir to introduce a great deal of information about Gondor. Tolkien also seems to reveal the quality of a character through their treatment of halflings (and Frodo particularly).

Double act. Enjoyed the comedy of Shagrat and Gorbag at the end. Tolkien runs the risk here of humanising orcs. Both are nasty, evil creatures that feel put-on by those in power over them. They reveal what being ordinary on the side of Sauron is like – which is something (so far) we don’t get from the human or elf side.

One ring to rule them all. It was only in the course of re-reading The Two Towers that I started to wonder what exactly the power of the ring actually is. It’s SO powerful and corrupting there is no choice other than to destroy it. We get glimpses of its power (invisibility, extended life, the ability to understand languages and so on) and it’s talked about as if it has some sort of consciousness. Yet, other than having power over all the other magic rings, what the ring actually does isn’t (as far as I can make out) explicitly addressed. Very vague.

Frodo Lives! The cliff-hanger ending has an Empire Strikes Back quality. Gandalf (and Pippin) is on his way to Minas Tirith and Sauron’s armies, led by the wraith-king are on the move. Frodo has been captured and Sam is ring-bearer and alone.

fixing joycons again

I seem to keep fixing joy cons. This time my youngest managed to chew the thumbsticks. Luckily I had some replacement parts. Wonder if Hall Effect thumbstcks might help.

Haddit with Reddit

After 12 years using Reddit, I’ve deleted my data*. I’ll give it a few days to check that my comments and posts have been completely wiped and then I’ll permanently delete my account. Like many other long-term user of Reddit, this is in response to the greed of Reddit’s management and their despicable treatment of Christian Selig, developer of the Apollo app. There’s been a lot of coverage about this recently and the right thing to do is to leave Reddit. I’ve used Apollo for many years and it has been the primary way that I accessed Reddit. I doubt I would have used Reddit very much without Apollo.

Reddit was a mechanism I’ve used for making contact with others with whom I had shared, somewhat niche interests. I’m sure I wouldn’t have encountered contemporary writers like Laird Barron, John Langhan or Caitlin R. Kiernan without belonging to one of the subreddits that have celebrated their work. Or learned about apps like Obsidian. Or got support with tech hardware. Or simply shared enjoyment of music, comics, tv series or movies. “Reddit” was a search term I added whenever I needed information or help online.

It feels like there’s something bigger happening at the moment in terms of online communities. In the early days of the net, many of us used Usenet and blogs. Facebook and Twitter more or less centralised everything and made accessing communities online very easy so – combined with the smartphone – these platforms became ubiquitous. (Google and Microsoft were less successful in this.) My impression is that Reddit enabled people to replace their various accounts on various forums scattered across the internet with one location and one sign-on. Reddit seemed to be the final end of Usenet as a place to discuss anything. This centralisation also concentrated power in the hands of companies who, as we know, monetised user data and now require subscriptions.

It feels that the movement towards decentralisation – away from big tech’s control over platforms – seems to be gathering momentum. I don’t believe we’ll see a return of forums, Usenet or other social media platforms of yesteryear. It does look like social media federation is, though. Simply, the idea is to build a federated network of platforms which no one company controls. Mastodon – essentially a Twitter alternative – is the largest of these federated platforms at the moment but there are many others.

I’ve been on Mastodon since 2018.

In terms of a Reddit alternative, I’ve moved to Lemmy. It’s pretty early days there and – like Mastodon – takes a little time getting used to how to subscribe to communities (the term for subreddits) on different instances. There are lots of communities being set up that seem empty – but I’m sure that they’ll fill up.

What seems to me like an important development in the adoption of Lemmy is, a browser-based app that has a similar interface to Apollo.

* I have to thank Power Delete Suite which made export and deletion of my Reddit data effortless.


UK Grim

But what’s gone on, what can I see? You’re all getting mugged by the aristocracy But what’s gone on, what can I see? You’re all getting mugged by the right wing beast. I had a long car journey today which gave me the chance to listen to UK Grim, Sleaford...


After nearly 15 years on Twitter, I’m gone. I’ve never used it that much anyway and was always more of a lurker than active antagonist on the platform. I followed a small number of people, mostly from education, writing and comics. I didn’t post very much. When I added something...

Gillen’s A.X.E.

Find myself agreeing with Chad Nevitt’s fierce admiration for Kieron Gillen’s coordination of Marvel’s A.X.E. event: “I was stunned by the complexity of the narrative he is telling. It is absolutely stunning to see the various threads weave in and out of different comics, pulling together all of these characters....

60 Years Ago Today: Love Me Do by The Beatles

Someone to love. Somebody new. Someone to love. Someone like you. Time plays odd tricks. It’s 60 years ago that The Beatles released Love Me Do on 5th October 1962. The opening harmonica hook remains haunting and evokes the grainy black and white early Sixties. Melancholic images of fog on...

October comes with rain whipping around the ankles / In waves of white at night

Autumn is definitely here. Not the lingering, warm Autumn of early September, but the damp, wet Autumn that points with trembling finger towards Hallowe’en and the first chill winds of Winter. For me, September has been one of reading tales by Algernon Blackwood that seem to anticipate this change of...

Indicators of an Effective Teacher?

Digging through one of my boxes of stuff, I found this copy of Elizabeth Perrott’s 1982 Effective Teaching, a book I’d bought and intended to read but had put away for the future. It’s a weirdly prescient book: outling many of the approaches to teaching that are currently being promoted...

Fantastic Four No.1 Panel by Panel

Comparing Panel by Panel with Maximum FF suggests the change in the way that the November 1961 first issue of Fantastic Four seems to be viewed (at least by Marvel). In 2005, Walter Mosley’s presentation of the issue is as an art object: something that “crystallized an art form that...

Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh

Very glad I found this in W.H. Smiths. Written by Alec Worley with art by Dani, Black Beth is the revival by Rebellion of an obscure British comic originally created in the 1970s (but unused at the time) with one published story appearing in the Scream! Holiday Special in 1988....

Maintaining a #digitalgarden

Since the mid-1990s, I’ve maintained a personal web site of some sort. Originally my sites were constructed using Frontpage and Dreamweaver, then I used Blogger for a period until around 2010 when I moved over to keeping self-hosted WordPress sites. There was a period when I used it as a...

Robert Aickman’s Introduction to The 5th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (1969)

Aickman’s fifth introduction is brief. He summarises his previous views: that ghost stories are separate from both horror and SF and that its “true affinity” is with poetry as it is “a projection and symbolisation of thoughts and feelings” that are excluded from usual written discourse. Ghost stories, he believes,...

Then we danced the dance ’til the menace got out

Positively pleased with my new Synology DS220+ NAS. Last week, part of my old NAS, a WD My Book Live, was remotely wiped. WD’s solution is to tell users to disconnect until they investigated the issue. It was clearly too late for me and I was worried that the other...

Talk for Learning

Notes from A Dialogic Teaching Companion by Robin Alexander (2020). Chapter 2 – Talk for Learning In this chapter, Alexander explores the relationship between talk and the development of a child. He examines the shift in the 1970s between the child as “lone scientist” to “apprentice”. The persistence of recitation...

Prologue to A Dialogic Teaching Companion

Notes from A Dialogic Teaching Companion by Robin Alexander (2020) Chapter 1 – Prologue In the Prologue, Robin Alexander gives a case for teaching talk as an essential tool in teaching and learning. He describes the positive value of dialogic teaching and asserts that there is a strong evidence base...

Robert Aickman’s Introduction to The 4th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (1967)

Aickman leads his fourth introduction to the Fontana Ghost Stories collection with a renewed attack on modern rationalism: “science will end the world,” he asserts. He goes on: “Even if there is no big bang, we shall destroy the world in no time, if we go on as we are....

“build a ladder of opportunity so that the able can get ahead”

Provocative New Statesman article by Adrian Wooldridge which insists that the key to the “reinvention” of the Labour Party is by going back to basics – appealing to the “new working class that is growing alongside the old one” – and reinstating a belief in meritocracy, “the belief that individuals...

To Coalition and Beyond: Back to the Future?

Notes from English and Its Teachers by Simon Gibbons (2017) In Chapter 6, Simon Gibbons brings the book up to date (to 2017 which – after Covid 19 and the lockdowns – seems an age ago). He presets a largely bleak and somewhat dispiriting picture of current English teaching in schools...

Writing Wrongs, TES

Great article in this week’s TES about the teaching of writing. Liz Chamberlain (Open University) and Rob Drane (English subject lead at the University of Cambridge) argue that writing is being taught in primary schools causes “a disconnect between how we view writing in the real world, and how writing...

New Labour, New Policies

Notes from English and Its Teachers by Simon Gibbons (2017) In Chapter 5, Gibbons focuses on New Labour’s impact on English. The Labour government sought to tackle the underachievement of poorer children. This was when I started teaching and remember all too well the exhausting period of the National Strategies....

“Honestly, I think I would know if there were aliens”

It’s a long time since I’ve read anything interesting about UFOs, but this article for NBC by Rizwan Virk, founder of Play Labs at MIT, seems to indicate that – while the area of ufology is generally mocked by scientists and big tech – there’s obviously something significant happening. Virk...

Denial and Delusion of the Thatcher Years

As someone who grew up in Thatcher’s Britain, it’s hard not to see the parallels between how fragmented and bleak things seem now and how it was back then. I’m not the only one. Very good piece by Guardian columnist John Harris who notes how the visible decline of Britain...