Thursday, August 26, 2004


This Thursday my pupils got their A-level results. It's a very strange feeling of happinessand relief to see your pupils get the results they need to get into university and to see the joy on their faces because at the end of the dayI'm a disinterested party and probably won't see or hear from many of them again. And yet it probably feels akin to what parents feel when their kids leave the nest and go to uni or get married, etc. but on a smaller scale. It's great to see dreams being fulfilled and knowing that I helped in part to that. The results were generally quite good with some very pleasant surprises (most notably Kam, whom I told, in all honesty, that I didn't think he could get an A, proved me wrong). Then there was also pity for those who had genuinely worked hard and just missed out on their grades. The emotions, whatever they are, are the reason for working throughout the year and the day is definitely one of the high points of the job.

However the whole experience has made me look at the whole admissions process and see its limitations. There are some good points to it, as it doesn't just take into account bare academic results and can allow people from disadvantaged backgrounds to punch above their weight and favours people with all-round abilities. But when I see incredibly deserving and conscientious pupils getting straight As (and not just scraping them either) and not even being given the time of day by universities it makes me think that the process is far too subjective and lacking transparency. And that's a great pity because many worthy students don't make it and others who managed to get shoe-horned into universities (sometimes through very dubious means indeed) not having the standard necessary and probably dropping out after a year, but in so doing depriving somebody more deserving of a place.

These two years have made me notice a trait that is very common among Indian/Pakistani students (and this is no way meant to be anything even resembling a racist slur). South Asians seem to be fixated by professions. By that I mean that they only consider degrees such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, optometry and law i.e. ones that train you for a very specific job to the exclusion of all other degrees. This isn't just pushy parents but almost certainly the whole cultural milieu in which South Asians are brought up, which considers these jobs as being far more worthy, and which also places a great deal of importance on monetary benefit and pays scant regard to personal tastes. To me this seems a great pity as on the one hand these degrees are very limiting because they only train you for one profession and make changing careers very difficult, and on the other hand it means that they close themselves off to agreat diversity of degrees, skills and possibilities that they may find personally more satisfying.

That's about it for this post, but just to let you know I'm pretty much ready to go for my trip (I fly out on the 12th of September). Before I finish however, I must give a shameless plug for my travel insurance company that gave me a quote that was at least £100 less than all the other quotes. So if you are planning on getting travel insurance I'd recommend you check out direct backpacker.

P.S. One of my students insisted I mention him in my blog, so just for you: "shaat it Rishi!"

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Back To Work

At the moment I'm back at work for a few weeks (until the end of Aug), but luckily there are no pesky kids around. Yay! Also, to ease us in gently after the holidays, this first week we're only in from 10am to 4pm. This post is quite short and it's just to let you know that I have added a link to my yahoo album which can be accessed by anyone (the link is on the left hand side of the page) and there are a couple of photos from Slovakia (thank you Yann). Hopefully I shall be adding more as time goes on so check it out every now and again.

Apart from that I've bought my plane ticket and have a rough idea of what I'd like to do in Mexico. I'm getting quite excited and can't wait to be off.

Monday, August 09, 2004


So here, in no particular order, are some of the nuggets of wisdom I managed to glean from my travels this Summer:

I have come up with a theory that will probably sound familiar to most people who have done any camping on the continent. An unmistakeable facet of camping life is the Dutch. No matter where you are, there is always a Dutch family at the camping grounds, and I have finally figured out why. It is a well known fact that Holland is a densely populated country. However what most people do not know is that it is so densely populated that the entire Dutch population cannot physically fit into the country at any one time. Therefore they are obliged to go camping for at least two weeks every year to make room, and the reason nobody has found out (until now) is that nobody, but the Dutch, speaks Dutch, and so nobody has been able to infiltrate their clandestine Camping Ministry (or is that just an Amsterdam gay bar?).

I have also noticed a masochistic tendency that seems to appear whenever I go on holiday: I have an insatiable urge to ascend any and every available vantage point, be they towers, turrets, minarets, mountains, hills, steeples or spires; if it's got steps, I'll climb it (and usually pay for the privilege). It seems rather odd, as it goes contrary to my general nature of only doing the bare minimum that is required (and even then I usually do less). It's a very worrying affliction and I was just wondering whether other people suffer from it too, or whether I am the only one.

Another thing that I have noticed is that as Czech continues to develop economically, tastes are beginning to change, especially culinary tastes. As far as I'm concerned, the knedlik (dumpling) is the cornerstone of Czech cuisine. It's very much a comfort food and is very cheap and easy to make, and therein lies the problem. The knedlik is probably thought of as being a poor man's food and is therefore being weeded out of restaurant menus due to this stigma. Ten years ago it formed the basis of every meal, nowadays there are few restaurants that will even offer it for dinner; so for those of you who have not yet been to Czech I'd urge you to go while there's still time before this culinary gem disappears from eateries completely. All of which just goes to show that although the march of progress is inexorable, it is not without its victims.

On a more serious note, it has been a useful practice run for this coming year, and has highlighted some things that I need and some that I don't. Before leaving for South America I shall need to invest in a torch (very useful in a tent at night), a mirror (for getting those pesky contact lenses in) and some hand-washing powder (because laundromats are not always at hand, even in Europe). On the other hand I won't need as many socks (wear sandals instead) or trousers (take up too much space and don't get smelly as quickly as other clothes). I was also well impressed with the usefulness of bungy cords (despite Mark mocking me for reading too many backpacking travel guides and likening me to Robinson Crusoe) as they can be used for a great variety of tasks, such as tying extra equipment to bags and as washing lines.

Furthermore during our travels Yann and I had ample time to watch the people go by and (as you do) we got to comparing the women of the various countries and ranking them accordingly. So therefore I am thinking of following in the footsteps of the illustrious geneticist (and cousin of Charles Darwin) Francis Galton (who has the dubious distinction of inventing the field of eugenics) who made a beauty map of the UK by travelling to various towns and cities and giving the female population a score out of 5 (for some reason Aberdeen came last). Since I'm going to be visiting a number of countries I thought I might do the same, although, of course, it won't be a very rigourous or scientific study (although if somebody is willing to fund me...) but I shall nevertheless sacrifice myself for the advancement of human knowledge.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Grievous Misfortune

The past few days have been spent doing a bit of sightseeing in Czech and just generally lazing, although the sightseeing has been a bit hit and miss.

First off we visited Hradec Kralove, which is about 100km NE of Prague. I wasn't expecting much to be honest, but I was pleasantly surpised. It used to be the dowry town of the Czech queens (That must have been some chat-up line: "hey gorgeous, if you go out with me I'll give you this town". And what did the queens do with the town? it's not like you can wear it, eat it or play with it.) so it has a charming old town, with plenty of renaissance and baroque buildings, and even the new(ish) part of town (from before WWII) is really pretty. And that's another thing that I really like: even though the buildings from the turn of the century are all built in the same style, they are all individual due to their facades which have little statuettes, reliefs and other forms of ornamentation that make them unique. You just don't get that these days. Definitely worth a day trip, although my day seemed to be punctuated by a catalogue of minor mishaps: walking into a bike rack (don't ask!), hitting my head against a low doorway (and I'm not that tall to begin with) and stepping in some dog crap being some of the more colourful.

The next day we decided to visit Telc, which is a beautifully preserved little town with an exquisite old town square (which is deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site). However we didn't manage to get there on our first attempt, as our bus broke down half way there. And since there wasn't any hope of a replacement bus the driver gave us back our money and advised us to try and hitch hike (even though some of the passengers were elderly or very young)! Needless to say the next day we went by car.

Yann left this morning and I've got another 4 days to catch up with some local friends and buy cheap booze before I head back to Brum and work.