SIMPLE PLEASURES: A room to call my own

This is Talybont court- the nicer part of the complex. I lived in the horrid Talybont North

When my family moved from the city to the countryside, the farm my parents bought had enough bedrooms for me and my sister to have our own. Even though I was only 5, I remember so clearly that feeling of having a space that was entirely your own- the excitement about being able to decorate it exactly how I wanted. Even though I went for pink walls with Forever Friends bear (it was the girly craze at the time) decorative stickers, it still felt unique to me. So when, Kiwichat said having a room to herself was one of the little things she loved, I thought “yup, me too!”

I got a similar feeling when I moved out of my home to go to university. Everything about my room was un-sentimentally standard- there were thousands of identical rooms in the complex. The room was painted a dull blue, the furniture was ugly and boy was it small. I loved that little flat though, once I got my own stuff up on the shelves and decorated my pin board, it began to feel mine. I can’t imagine someone else living there now. And, every room I visited was different, the inhabiting student had personalized it (even the manliest of guys)- there’s something in our nature that wants to make our “nest” our own, unique and individual.

How about you- do you like having your own room? When was the first time you got your own room?

What ‘The History Boys’ teaches us about education

Yesterday afternoon I went to see a wonderful performance of Alan’s Bennett’s The History Boys (now been made into a film). The play, while very comical, also asks some probing questions of the British education system. These same questions and issues are just as prevalent in every school up and down the country today, as they were in ‘80s Sheffield, where the play is set. Most of my friends have a gripe or two about their school, their teachers, etc, etc. We all have someone to blame for not getting an ‘A’ in an exam or piece of coursework. Is the current approach of focusing on exams really the best way to teach and grade our society? I’d like to explore some of the ideas Bennett presents his audience through the teachers, without giving away too much of the plot.

The play is centres around a group of schools boys, who have achieved grades good enough for them to apply to Oxbridge to study history. The headmaster, eager for his school to climb up the league tables, seizes the intelligence of these boys and enrols them in classes to prepare them to apply to Oxbridge. Other than the headmaster, the play has three teachers, each representing a different approach to teaching and education.

Firstly, Mrs Lintott, who taught the boys ‘A’level history. She represents the teaching style which has dominated schools since the introduction of national curriculum. The boys acquired the knowledge of history needed to achieve an ‘A’ grade in their examinations but did not actually engage with the material. This approach doesn’t encourage pupils to think outside of the box. They simply memorize and regurgitate the correct information. I have to admit, I remember little of what I was taught in school, even from my ‘A’ level classes, although I achieved high grades and only left school two years ago. That may have more to do with my bad memory though, the students on University Challenge seem to soak up every little bit of information around them.

Does this process of memorizing and then repeating the material actually improve intelligence? The structure of the examinations means that students can remember the material for a short time, but as soon as they leave the exam room, the knowledge just disappears- we learn just for exams and do not obtain long-term knowledge. This disadvantages pupils who find learning and working in this way difficult, because their minds do not work this way, but it does not mean they have lower intelligence. A prime example are dyslexic students, who are actually usually highly intelligent but find it difficult to express themselves in the way exams demand, and therefore achieve lower grades. Great people such as Van Gogh and Mozart would have been branded as having learning difficulties if they went through schooling today. This begs the question, does the schooling system get the best of pupils? Are intelligent pupils slipping through the cracks because they don’t fit the system, and, therefore, are branded as low-achieving pupils, leaving school with low self-esteem?

Hector very much recognises these flaws in education. He teaches the boys general knowledge, and is infuriated by the boys consistently asking, “will that be on the exam?” For him, knowledge is not repeating facts, events, etc, but “all knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use” (Housman). He teaches the boys French, poetry and hymns among others, but all of this seems pointless when you consider whether this knowledge will ever be of any use. The headmaster scheduled these lessons so that the boys will appear as cultured candidates.

Do you agree with Hector?

Irwin, however, wants the boys to harness this knowledge to present a new view of history. Irwin is hired as a temp to ensure that the boys’interviews and exams will be good enough. Unlike Irwin, none of the teachers went to Oxbridge so they don’t know how they can help the boys get in. Irwin pushes the boys to think outside of the box, and steer them away from the status quo answer. This is very much the approach to education in university. Read, read, and read some more so that you can give an informed and strong argument. The boys strive to reach Irwin’s high standards, but are frustrated when they realize they have to argue for arguing sake, and not because they agree or believe what they are saying. Irwin’s response to this is to tell the boys that they must detach themselves from history. Should students and lecturers be passionate about their subject, or does this emotion only cloud judgement and prevent proper study and argument?

Ultimately, the best system should involve all three- in Europe pupils obtain a baccalaureate, instead of ‘A’levels. Life and key skills are assessed alongside academic subjects. In 2003 the Welsh Assembly introduced a Welsh Bacc. It is not yet compulsory but my school was one of the first to trial it, and, while my former class mates would hate me for saying this, I do think it did help me develop skills, and definitely made me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I love learning, and so academia and exams will always have a place for me, least not because it is essential for development, but in economically developed countries, like the UK, where old industry and manufacturing are almost non-existent, the education system must teach skills which are needed in the workforce and assess intelligence in more varied forms than written examinations, rather than waste talent because those pupils don’t fit the mould.

What do you think? Do you prefer one of the teacher’s approach over another, or disagree with all of them? What was your experience of education? And, if you’re one of my international readers, bow does the British education system compare to that of your country?

Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair

On Sunday, Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair came to my Student’s Union. I was really, really excited about this so I took a lot of my student loan out of the cash-point and arrived at opening time. I had a strategic plan, quick look around the whole fair, picking out cheap items or things which I would be gutted if I didn’t get, and then back around once more when I had decided on my items. I meant to take pictures of the fair, but I went into a shopper’s frenzy as soon as I left my flat. Poor Paulie (my boyfriend) was dragged around the fair several times for almost two hours, and bless him, he did not moan.

I like to divide my shopping into categories, part of my desire to organize everything. So firstly, here is one item I picked up on the first round of looking around the fair. I was trying my hardest not to spend an absolute fortune, so it was a toss up between cigarette case and a reel of old ticket stubs. My instinct was that it would be more difficult to find the ticket stubs so that’s what I went with.

I also picked up a lot of £1 and 50p items which I intend to turn into other things. You’ll probably be seeing these things sometime soon in Home-made.

But my bargain of the day was this vintage real leather clutch purse. I could not have put it back down on the table when the stall owner told me I could have it for £3.

I have saved the best ’til last. This was my most expensive item, a new hand-made handbag. I bought this from Fennella for £15. Fenella sells lots of different handbags, each unique and at very affordable prices. It took me a long while to decide which one to get. This is exactly the sort of hand-made items I like, taking used clothes, curtains, rugs, belts, pretty much anything used, and then make them into something completely new. The strap is a leather belt, the main bag is made from an old tapestry-type curtain, the front red part is leather cut from something else, probably clothes, and then vintage pictures, text, sketches, magazine cuttings, etc covered in varnish and then sewn on as embellishments. Even the lining has been made from material salvaged from something else. I imagine part of the reason why Fennella can sell bags at cheap prices is because all the whole product is made from recycled/reused items. I have been meaning for so long to get to grips with learning how to use a sewing machine so I can do projects using the same idea as Fennella, but, for the meantime, I will settle for buying instead of making.

And even with buying all of that, there were so many items that I exercised restraint, and did not buy. There is one stall where lots of old “junk” is turned in to charms and pendants. You pick out whatever you want from the boxes, pick out a vintage chain,  and then the jeweler at the stand and the buyer discuss and design exactly how and what you want the “junk” to be made into. There was also a lot more jewelery that I really wanted to get, an absolute abundance, and loads of clothes too. And then, like my ticket stub, there are vintage items that are incredibly hard to find like glasses, french magazines, even flying goggles, and Judy does not lie, the whole fair was very affordable.

Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair travels- so far they have been to 22 cities and 6 major festivals in the UK. On the website you can find out when the fair is next coming to a city near you or sign up to their email list so you have a reminder.

The sixth sense

People say a picture is worth a thousand words- it turns out 6 words can make a whole story. My creative writing teacher was drumming this into us on Wednesday. I agreed with her mostly, don’t say your character is nervous, describe how it feels to be nervous so your reader will work it for themselves, blah blah blah. The week before we each had to write our whole life story in 100 words, baring in mind some of the people in my class are retired, it wasn’t an easy task but I have to say I thought mine was quite good. I didn’t realise quite how much she wanted us to cut out of our writing until she gave us this example:


It says it all,  those six words invoke so many feelings of sadness and pain. You imagine what happened to the baby, how the baby died. how the parents felt, was there a funeral? . I can’t remember who wrote it but whoever it was didn’t just hit the nail on the head but slammed it in all the way.

This got me thinking, could you sum up your life or even a day or your personality is six words and tell the whole story?


Keep the faith,