Thursday, 14 August 2014

Auspicious Days...

Today is the day when the newspapers print lots of photographs of 18 year old girls jumping for joy.  Although, kudos to the Daily Express who hasn't forgotten that some boys take A' Levels, although these particular young men have been pictured with amusing expressions on their faces, while the girls are still expected to look winsome.  That is irritating on so many levels, I don't know where to start.  So I shan't.

Listening to the radio this morning, reading the newspapers and following the universities on Twitter, I was taken back to 1983 when my A' Level examination results arrived.  I'd taken two subjects, with two different examination boards.  By a quirk of fate, my English Literature results arrived a day before the French.  I'd scored an E in English - and I was pleased with that as I was hoping to study Drama and Primary Education at College, and two Es would have allowed me to do that.  However, the next day, the French result arrived.  An O grade - I'd failed.  My mother was sympathetic, and practical - which response is somewhat amazing considering that the sole reason for my lousy examination performance was my overwhelming laziness.

My mother and I met in a cafe in Unitown that lunchtime to discuss my options.  The obvious one was to re-take my exams the following year, although she favoured consideration of my qualifying to be an electrician or motor mechanic and of leaving academic study behind for a time.  At the time I wasn't surprised by this, and I think that it was truly indicative of a parent who really knew her child - she knew damn well that I wasn't ready for university study, but respected me to make the decisions that I needed to.  Not bad for an academic librarian working for a university library, knowing that most of the people that we knew expected that I would follow in the family footsteps to get a degree and a teaching qualification.  No, she was prepared to face the inevitable questions from her peers and the sympathetic glances from those whose little darlings were packing their trunks to depart for University education and she was going to have to admit that I had failed.  I didn't appreciate it at the time, but that must have been somewhat galling for her.

Anyway, guided by her I made the decision to return to school to re-take that damn French A' Level, and to cut a long story short, after another year of dossing around, I passed it - with another E grade.  To fill in my timetable, I learnt to type - a truly useful skill which has seen me employed between jobs, enables me to type pretty much as fast as I think (sometimes faster), and certainly was incredibly useful working in the IT industry.

Teacher training college, I was also to find, wasn't right for me - I really wasn't ready for a degree at that stage in my life, and after a particularly stressful teaching practice (which I passed with distinction), I made the decision to drop the Education part of study.  The final crisis for my degree education occurred at what would have been the start of my third year of study, when I made the decision not to return for my final year.  Again, my mother didn't turn a hair (well, not that I could see), and her only questions to me regarded what I was going to do to earn my living and where I planned to live.  Again, the practicalities were of the utmost importance, and not the navel gazing in which some people lose themselves.

I was lucky - I had enough nous about me to get a job as a secretary and later to blag my first IT job, and I was to discover that my legendary laziness was a positive attribute in the career in the IT industry into which I fell.  It wasn't until some 20 years later that I decided that it was time to complete that unfinished business and return to University to get my degree.  The rest we know about.

So, I'm really pleased for those young people who have got the grades that they need to go to University, and to use that experience as part of the road to growing up.  I know that for many of them it's going to be the time of their lives, although as I've blogged before, University isn't a universally positive experience.  Some young people become aware that they've made a terrible mistake, and they have to carry that knowledge around with them as well as the stress of completing their degree studies.  I was lucky - when I realised that I was wasting both my time and public money, I had the confidence to turn my back on it.

But, on this particular day, my thoughts aren't particularly with the achievers - heaven only knows I'm going to see enough of them this academic year (five seminar groups in the autumn term, with an additional three after Christmas - I must be mad).  No.  Today, my thoughts are with those who didn't get the results that they expected or needed.  I'd love to be able to tell them that yes, they've fucked up - but that really needn't be the end of their world.  I'd like to be able to tell them to take a cool look at themselves, their abilities, and the possibilities that are there for them.  I'd like to tell them that academic study at 18 years of age isn't the only way to make a career.  And, I'd like to tell them, that if they don't feel ready to go to University, then they shouldn't feel obliged so to do.  It'll be there, waiting for them, when the time is right.

But, most of all, I just hope that they've got a parent in their corner, like my mother was for me on that particular day.

When I get my PhD (assuming that I do, of course), it will be the ultimate achievement for me.  I'm the girl who failed to get her A' levels first time round and who only achieved 60 UCAS points (if I read the tariff properly).  I never dreamed that I'd ever get this far.

But, it won't be my achievement alone.  I've only got this far because of the education and experience that I've had - and a huge part of that comes from my mother.  Not just the practical help - keeping a roof above my head and food on my table - but the long won knowledge and confidence that I am capable of meeting all kinds of challenges and overcoming most of them, while not panicking when faced with one that is beyond me.

And for that, amongst many other things, I thank her.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

Macbeth, 4(i)

I sometimes worry about the way the law is seen, not just by the usual suspects of the Daily Mail and other less than quality newspapers, but by politicians and the wider public.  I get most of my information from the newspapers (strictly speaking the websites, but these days it's broadly the same thing), supplemented by the rest of the media, and increasingly Twitter.  People are interested in the law - in what happens to those convicted of serious offences - and it's rare to find anyone who hasn't got an opinion as to what is going on.

Today's trawl through the news includes the hyperventilation over the fact that Lee Rigby's killers exercised their rights to appeal against their sentences and that this cost the taxpayer £200,000 in legal aid.  The media appears to be shocked that someone incarcerated should be helped to test the system that put them in there in the first place. But, if we don't test the system, how can we be sure that it's working?  Rather than seeing these two young men as exploiting the legal aid system, surely we should be watching the legal aid system being used for the purpose for which it was intended.  A tested legal system will be a stronger system and a system in which we can have more confidence.  Or, at least, that's the theory.

So, forgive me if I don't join in with the condemnation.  I happen to think that this particular money was well spent.

However, I am slightly worried about some whispers coming through Twitter that, in one Police Force area, guidance is being given that people accused of Domestic Violence should routinely be denied bail at the police station.

Blimey.  Routinely.  Remanded on the basis of the alleged offence, not the alleged offender.  Without being produced in front of a court and regardless of the circumstances of the alleged offence.  If this is true, then I think that it's the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

I'm not sure how that fits in with the Bail Act, or the principle that someone is considered to be innocent until the point at which they're proved guilty in the court system.  Obviously, I can see that there are reasons why someone should not be granted bail - I stand in front of the Custody Desk often enough when bail is refused by a Custody Sergeant, but the reasons for this refusal are always considered on the facts of the specific case and the people involved, and not applied in a willy-nilly or blanket fashion.  If there are reasons why someone should be excluded from a specific location or prevented from contacting a particular person, then these are included as bail conditions - breach of which is an arrestable offence which would lead to a remand in custody, and that seems entirely reasonable.

But to deprive someone of their liberty, and to put increased pressure on the custody and prison system because someone's been arrested for a specific kind of offence would be very dangerous for our legal system.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not an apologist for those who commit domestic violence, it really is the scourge of a civilised society.  But the Justice System needs to ensure that there are checks and balances in place to protect all of us.  There is currently official guidance that says that if Police attend a DV call, they have to arrest the person deemed to be the instigator.  If this guidance is then supplemented by a policy of refusal of police bail, I can see that the number of people remanded in custody is going to spiral.  And, let us not forget, not everyone who is arrested is guilty; not everyone who is arrested is charged with any offence; and possibly more often than the public is aware, some people who are arrested are more in need of help and support than they are of punishment.  My time as an Appropriate Adult has taught me that it's very rare that any situation (including domestic violence) is cut and dried - things are rarely as straight forward as they seem.

If this rumour is true, then it smacks of a knee-jerk reaction, and a bloody dangerous one at that.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

"None but the lonely heart knows what I suffer"

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Recently, when talking to a friend whose life is incredibly full outside her house and work, I was slightly surprised that she told me that she was lonely.  It seems to be a 21st century epidemic at the moment - today's Independent includes an article that suggests that we're more likely to be lonely in the UK than anywhere else in the world.

Wow.  All those lonely people.

I suppose that it's not difficult to understand why this should be - more of us live alone than ever before, families are increasingly fractured as they move around the country to find work, and more and more of us are divorced and face life on our own as we get towards the end of our life.  Parents get left behind as their adult children move around the world, and it's not unusual to hear of pensioners learning how to use Skype so that they can maintain contact with their loved ones.  When I volunteered on the local phone-line, most of our calls were from regulars who needed to hear a voice on the other end of the phone, just so that they could tell us what they'd done during the day.  For some of those people, I suspect that we were the only point of friendship that they had.

As a card carrying introvert, occasionally I have the opposite problem.  My need is for solitude from time to time.  Since I became single some four years ago now, I've holidayed on my own - choosing to rent cottages in the countryside to enjoy the peace and negate the necessity to make small talk except when I choose to, and I have to say that I really enjoy that time to myself.  I've just booked my latest conference for November, and took a long time to work out which of the three (!) conference dinners I'd be able to avoid - I know that I won't be able to face three evenings of jollity and enforced cheerfulness without wanting to implode.  For one evening I know that I'm going to need to be able to spend time on my own to re-charge my batteries and take some 'time out', and I'm going to make sure that I get it.

But, being comfortable in my own skin isn't to say that I don't worry about what's going to happen to me in the future.  At the moment I live in a neat little family unit (me in the basement, my mother on the ground floor and 'Auntie Chris' on the first floor), but time and fevers prove us all mortal, and the odds are that I'm going to be the last one standing.  As the summer hits Seasidetown, I'm very aware of the elderly couples walking hand in hand along the sea front, and I love to see that togetherness still intact.  I'm also acutely aware of the elderly people who walk through the town on their own, and I always try to catch their eye, smile and say 'good morning'.  One day, that's probably going to be me.  Maybe this is why I have a somewhat cavalier approach to my health and don't particularly aim for longevity.

Going back to my friend at the top of this post, I wonder if our very busy, full lives don't in some way contribute to our feelings of loneliness - certainly I have a suspicion that she fills her life full of activity so that she doesn't have to face the essence of herself.  I also suspect that she's constantly looking for 'the' answer to her problems outside herself - but that pre-supposes that there is a problem and I'm not convinced that's the case.  How to meet new people is a frequent trope in the media, and the growth of internet dating is quite phenomenal.  If you're single and you're not actively looking for a partner, you're seen to be really quite strange.  Some people see it as a 'project', hoping for feedback from unsuccessful encounters, presumably to hone their dating techniques.  Some people try to change themselves in order to attract a mate - thinking that maybe trying a new hairstyle or style of makeup will attract that elusive other.  Truly, I feel that is the saddest of all; if we can't be happy in our own company how can we be happy in the company of someone else?   That's one of the reasons that I shan't be internet dating again - I did meet some complete nutters, and I no longer feel the need to search for an elusive other and I'm actually quite enjoying being on my own!

We're more and more connected with the world - checking emails, twitter, Facebook through the day, shackled to our smart-phones and tablets, and never able to leave the digital chains behind.  If we post something witty on Facebook, do we feel slighted if nobody 'likes' what we've said?  Do we worry if nobody reads our tweets? We tend to live our lives full of background noise and/or music and we rarely just sit, or think, or consider what it is that makes us, and how we can learn to value that essence of our being.

For the next six months however, this probably isn't going to be my problem.  You're never alone with a thesis - and sometimes it seems as though there aren't enough solitary and silent moments in the day to help get your thoughts organised, and your purple prose recorded on the laptop.  But, after the writing up is finished, what then?  The scary thing about the spectre of completion is that I'm going to have to find another overriding purpose for my life, and I have a strong suspicion that I'll never find anything as satisfying as what I now do.

When the chips are down, is it going to matter if I'm found weeks after my death with my corpse having been eaten by my notional cats?  After all, I'll be dead and I won't know anything about it.  It would appear that the truly alone can really die in peace.  I'm interested by the guilt of the neighbours quoted in that particular article - terribly guilty now the lady is dead, but not interested enough to be in contact with her when she was alive.

Solitude or loneliness - are they two sides of the same coin?  When does solitude become loneliness, and does this matter for those of us who like to be alone?


Monday, 16 June 2014

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."

H.G. Wells

I've just spent the last half hour or so reading this morning's edition of The Times - anything to put off the task of defining 'bio-power' and 'bio-politics' in a snappy 2,000 words or so - and I'm really struck by how much of the current newsfeed relates to education.

From Michael Gove's problems with his advisors and resistance to the changes that he wants to make to the structure of the educational system itself ("General Gove ready for education wars"), to criticism of the ways that schools teach some of the most important issues of our history (by using the Mr Men books as a tool for learning about the rise of Hitler - really?  Surely that can't be true, can it?), to a profile of Dominic Cummings, Gove's advisor, not to mention David Cameron's comparison between the allegations of plots to take over the running of schools in Birmingham and the criminal activities of Boko Haram.  And, this morning I heard on the Today programme that there are proposals to teach primary school children the basics of starting and running their own businesses.  Add to all of that the article entitled "Pupils losing in life because schools cut sports", and you get a very clear picture of the latest battles for the country to be fought on the playing fields of our schools.  Except that many schools are struggling for playing fields - in a town close to Seasidetown, a local school has effectively lost the use of part of its playing field due to it being registered as a village green by the local people.

Education certainly is a hot topic in the political landscape.  And, maybe it should be - OK, my life at the moment revolves around education, but apart from that, what else is more important to a country that then future and preparation of its children and young people? Obviously, I'm interested in education - both as a consumer (ergh....), and as a potential professional for the future, and I find myself wondering what the answer to all of this is.

Educated as I was in the 1970s and 1980s, I had a funny mixture of an education.  Some of the schools that I attended were of the 'trendy' end of the teaching spectrum, but the bulk of my secondary education took place at a traditional grammar school.  Add into the mixture parents who taught (my mother), or lectured in primary education (my father) and who were keenly interested in what I learnt, both at school and at home and who filled in some of the gaps that school left.  My dominant memories of education are of the more formal variety - of 'chalk and talk', and of a presentation of learning as being important and an end in itself.  It wasn't always perfect - I've blogged in the past about the deficiencies of my history lessons - but as one commenter on that post noted, some of the skills that we learnt in those lessons (such as note-taking) were directly transferable to professional life later on.  I certainly got a 'good' education, history notwithstanding, I am well read and school gave me the start that I needed and a life-long desire to continue to learn and explore the world around me.

I see the differences too at university.  Again, I've blogged before about my shock that some of our students don't seem to have been prepared for university study, and whose knowledge of the basics of history are sadly lacking (as was mine).  Today's Times reports that "Universities to tackle 'essay mill' plagiarism", and it's not before time.  The Sweetchild and I noted that this year's tranche of students were the most 'needy' that we've ever known - we've been inundated during office hours with students desperate for guidance in preparation of their essays.  I wonder whether this need for hand-holding and a lack of confidence in their own abilities is indicative of the ways in which they've been taught.  Will the students that I see continue to read, to question and to stretch their minds, or will they always desire the guidance of others?

It's obvious that schools and the teachers within them are the answers to some of the problems.  But, this in itself brings more problems - what kind of schools, and how should they teach?  Should religion (of whatever kind) have any influence over the curriculum? What is the place of politics in the decisions made for our schools?  Should we be 'engaging' with our students, or should we be concentrating on 'outcomes'?  And for me, what is most striking in all of this congested and contested discourse, is that nobody mentions the sheer pleasure of learning and the importance of communicating this pleasure to pupils and students.

The most influential teachers in my life were some of the most traditional.  In particular, my english teacher to O' Level who instilled into me a love of Dickens and the confidence to not only despise Jane Austen, but to know why.  Her methods were strictly chalk and talk, but she was able to transmit her enthusiasm for the subject matter to me and to some of my fellow pupils.

When I lead seminars, I try to emulate what she did.  During my teaching appraisals, the module convenor was bemused that I teach 'on my feet' in front of the white board rather than sitting around the table with my students as do a lot of my colleagues.  To her, it seemed old-fashioned, but the students seem to like it.  I provide for them a visual focus - recording the salient points of the discussion on the white board - and it's so much easier to communicate enthusiasm if you can use the whole of your body by moving around or waving your hands about.  Certainly, my student satisfaction levels are 98%, and attendance at my seminars is high.  Discussions flow, and because I'm mobile I can literally step back to allow them to control their own learning, refereeing only when necessary.

So, is traditional best?  I'm not sure.  Is Michael Gove right?  I doubt it, but I do think that some of what he says has merit.  Unfortunately, any good in his message is going to be lost behind the political use that is being made of our educational system, at the highest levels of government.  Who should be running our schools?  Should we be concerned about the possibility that governing bodies are being highjacked by special interest groups or religious factions?  Hell yes, we should - if it's true.

What's really interesting about today's articles in The Times is the lack of input from teachers, and I think that's quite significant.  Education is to be 'done' by them, and they're to be told what to do and how to teach.  It is alleged that our deficient educational practices are driven by fashion (see my comments on the Mr Men approach to history above).  We hear horror stories of a lack of control in our schools - teachers are physically attacked by students and parents.  The reports of the Birmingham educational crisis speaks of teachers under fire from governing bodies hell bent on their own religious agenda.  I love teaching, but there's no way on this planet that I'd want to teach in school.

Education - it's too important for it to become a political football.  I fear, however, that it's too late.

Friday, 13 June 2014

"The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing..."

Marcus Aurelius

It's been a funny old couple of weeks, I must say.  Invigilating is almost over, and we're in a kind of daze as we prowl around the examination halls.  We've just got first years and foundation year students sitting exams at the moment, and they're pretty easy to deal with - they seem to retain some of the examination discipline that they had in schools, and they haven't learnt how to argue as much as their colleagues have.

As for the invigilators, we've developed into quite a tight team now - as soon as we walk into the halls, we know how each other works, and the operation is becoming quite 'slick'.  Having said that, there is still some tension.  A couple of weeks ago, one of the more ebullient ladies thought that it was acceptable to slap me as she made fun of me.  I didn't take too kindly to this - I have little doubt that the lady in question thought that it was a huge 'joke' and that she was being amusing, but I don't see thinly veiled aggression and unlawful force applied to another as being funny.  Still, the exam season is soon to be over, and with any luck I can avoid her and avoid any nasty situations.

However, Seasidetown and the rest of the municipal district continues to be a gift that goes on giving.

One of my fellow AAs has told me today that he intends to apply for the post of the next Police and Crime Youth Commissioner for the county (our PCC is in the embarrassing situation of having appointed two apparently unsuitable Youth Commissioners - one who turned out to have posted questionable tweets regarding drug taking amongst other things, and another who it is said at the age of 19 had an affair with a 50 year old teacher who gave her a reference for the job).  My friend has pointed out, quite reasonably in my opinion, that he holds two enhanced CRB checks, and Chief Constable's authorisation to visit custody.  He feels that the fact that he's 70 shouldn't hold him back, as the Police and Crime Commissioner's track record shows that she's highly likely not to notice this, or his white hair and whiskers.  I think that he's probably right.

And, to cap it all, on my way home this afternoon, I passed Her Majesty's Assistant Deputy Coroner for this part of the world, with a colleague both wearing suit and tie and looking very smart and formal.  They seemed to be totally engrossed in what must have been a very serious game of crazy golf.

Only in Seasidetown could this happen, and it reminds me that if you look around you, the absurdities of life more than make up for the irritations.

Anyone else fancy a round of Crazy Golf?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

"So, your job's to be a total bitch is it?"

Asked the student whose mobile phone I had just confiscated while he was sitting his exam.

"Yes."  I replied.  "And, I'm very good at it."

It's exam season again, and once again I am exercising vigilance in the exam halls while prowling around in near silence.  It's been a couple of years since I last did this, and as always I'm quite enjoying it.  I don't know if it's the feeling of being part of the end-product of the education that we try and push into their heads, whether I enjoy the company of the young people, or whether I just enjoy being a 'grown up' for a few weeks with the need to get up early in the morning and to be part of a team.  It could be all of these.

But mostly, I think, that it's the intoxicating smell of undergraduate fear.

There have been some changes in the couple of years since I last did this.  The first one that struck me was how very little individuality these young people now display in their dress or hairstyle.  Last time I invigilated, I flagged up how many computer science students had blue hair - now they all look exactly the same.  It is true there are a couple of more flamboyant dressers, but these are so much in the minority these days, they really stand out.  So different from the 1980s when I would dye my hair to match my outfit.

Another difference is the way that the influx of Chinese maths students has started to address the gender imbalance in the Faculty of Physical Sciences, although this really does bring with it its own problems.  This particular group of students are so perfectionist they struggle when we try and part them from their correcting fluids and tape (not allowed - a couple of years ago, it was discovered that formulae were being written onto the tape and brought into the halls).  But, we struggle on trying to explain to them that it's perfectly acceptable for them to cross out mistakes, and that it isn't essential for them to produce an apparently error free sheet.  Academics, after all, understand the need for trial and error more than most people.  But they don't believe us - if the written sheet doesn't look absolutely perfect, they fear that they won't get the highest marks.

And mobile phones.  Bloody mobile phones.  The bane of any invigilator's life.  Obviously, they aren't allowed into the examination venues, but they do slip through the net.  We've had a number of occasions this year when an invigilator has discovered that the student that they're taking to the toilet has been using their phone in the cubicles either to access the internet or to email a colleague.  At the end of each examination, we have a stack of confiscated phones at the back of the hall to be sent to the security office for later collection.  Students so hate being parted from their phones, they will argue the toss ("I need it to be in touch with my family" - not in an exam you don't), or they will accuse us of wrong-doing ("you can't take that away from me - it's theft", although if any law student tries that on with me, I shall report them immediately to the convenor of Criminal Law for extra lessons), and others are affronted, arguing that because it was in their pocket the rules somehow don't apply to them.  We take no prisoners, and a lot of mobile phones.  Next year, I understand, it is hoped that the university will take Exeter's lead and award a 0 mark to any student found to be in possession of a mobile phone while in an exam.  Personally, I can't see that happening - the University is far too worried about its position in the league tables.

But, cheating and mobile phones aside, I do have some sympathy with the young people sweating away in the sports hall.  Not the least because after the first 10 days in the sports hall in temperatures in the mid 90s, the university decided that this might be the time to turn off the heating.  This was a great relief for invigilators and candidates both.  There's an awful lot riding on the two or three hours that the students spend in there, either writing furiously with concentration writ on every pore, or gazing around aimlessly or in panic, and I do remember exactly how it felt.  For these students I'll always have a smile, or a kind whisper where it's appropriate.

There have been some illnesses - headaches, snuffles, the odd faint and panic attack.  Towards the end of the first week, a virus hit the law school and we had a couple of instances of vomiting - one of which resembled a scene from 'The Exorcist'.  That particular student deserves to get a First.  He was escorted out of the room (twice) to clean himself up, and insisted on both occasions on returning to continue the paper.  These days invigilators consider any exam to be a success if it hasn't included an incidence of projectile vomiting.

We're coming to the end of the season now, and my aching feet and legs are looking forward to a break.  I carried a pedometer this week (the post-grad desire for empirical data), and I learnt that in a typical day we walk, very slowly and very quietly, between 5 and 8 miles a day.  That doesn't sound much, but because it's all on the flat and we have to concentrate on speed and silence it does seem to be more physically taxing.  It has felt a bit like a holiday away from the thesis, and has given me a much needed break for thinking.  I'm due to see The Supervisor tomorrow, and expect to dive back into re-writing at the end of the week.

I'm looking forward to going back to the 19th century - it's where I belong.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

What the Dickens?

For some time I've been irritated by the pastime of some of the people who live in Seasidetown.  Not as you might expect, considering my age and incessant grumpiness, because of anti-social behaviour.  No, my irritation is caused by a group of people who seek to raise awareness of the works of one of my favourite authors.

You see, Seasidetown claims an association with Charles Dickens, on the strength that he used to come here for his summer holidays, and while he was here, he wrote some of the works for which he is famous.  Now, let's look at that for a minute.  He didn't own any property here, he didn't pay rates here (as far as I'm aware), and yes he would write while he was here - it was his job.  If he didn't produce the monthly numbers of whatever book was being serialised, his family wouldn't have eaten.

The town makes the most of its tenuous connection with its most famous holiday maker - there is a local pub named 'The Charles Dickens' (commonly known as 'The Charlie Dick'), one of the houses in the town has been re-named 'Bleak House', there is a 'Old Curiosity Shop' tearoom - and the list goes on.  Personally, I enjoy it when they get it wrong.  I was bemused for some years by the restaurant called 'Quilp's' (the owner was surprised when I asked why they'd named it after an evil dwarf), but my personal favourite has always been 'Smike's Shoe Shop' - now long gone.

Every year in Seasidetown we have a 'Dickens Festival'.  It's a quintessentially English affair, various of the town people dress up in a reproduction of Victorian dress (although I've yet to see any of the ladies confined to an authentic 18" waist whalebone corset), they parade through the town, and there's an annual cricket match in one of the gardens here, and a fake Queen Victoria is in attendance.  All very innocuous so far.

But, the group who run this festival are incredibly controlling and precious.  If you want to take part in the Victorian parade, you're not allowed to provide your own costume - you have to wear one belonging to them.  There's another Dickens festival that takes place on the other side of the county - in a town that has far more claim on Dickens - and a few years ago, it is said in the town that there was a row because this (superior in every way) festival wanted to send down some of their representatives to take part.  Seasidetown Dickens enthusiasts were apparently not happy about this, and it is said that they vetoed the involvement of any outsiders.

I also wonder if they're familiar with his work or really know anything about the man at all.  I'm not welcomed at the cricket match after the occasion on which I asked one of the organisers which of the Baby Austen 7s on display Dickens was likely to have driven, and mused aloud that Dickens didn't meet Queen Victoria very often at all, certainly they weren't close friends.  But this year I'm really falling out with them.  On my twitter timeline appeared yesterday an advertisement for a children's function.  The children of Seasidetown (3 years old and up), are invited to visit 'Fagin's Den' - at which Nancy will also be present.  This is advertised as an opportunity to "...gather round and join Nancy and Fagin in his den for some mischievous fun and games... and Fagin will weave his tales bringing some of them to life...".  

Really?  Have they even read the book?  Are they really suggesting that it's suitable for children to meet a prostitute and thief-master?  A prostitute who was killed by her pimp/boyfriend, and a thief who was condemned to death?  OK, I know that they're fictional, but let us not forget that it was the death of Nancy that was one of Dickens' most effective readings on his tours towards the end of his life, and I wonder which of Fagin's tales are going to be suitable for 3 year olds.

I'm not sure that Dickens would have approved.  In fact, I'm damn sure that he wouldn't.