Monday, September 30, 2013

Major Series North 2013

So after not learning my lesson in the Over The Odda I entered a second race, this time as a team with my lovely companions Mary and Heloise. Major Series is an undulating 10k with lots of obstacles and mud pools thrown in. Although the pictures show us to be reasonably clean, there were points in the race when we were covered fairly head to toe in stinking black mud.
Mary, Heloise and YS - before

The race began fairly well, we trotted along to the first series series of mud baths where a minor disaster struck. In the 3 foot deep cloying mud Heloise's trainer came adrift. As none of us fancied suffocating in the mire we didn't bother to launch any sort of rescue attempt. A few hundred yards further on, and wading through another thigh deep lake of gloop and Heloise's other trainer was buried as well. Mother and daughter exchanged footwear and Mary, who may be variously called madly keen / hard as nails / verging on mental, ran the remaining 9 kilometres in her socks!

The obstacles en route included an ice bath, mud and water pools of varying depth and stickiness, and the jumps that are normally navigated by horse and rider at the Bramham Park horse trials. Some of the more athletic competitors actually jumped across the horse obstacles, those of us without the long jumping ability of the four-legged had to climb down one side of each obstacle and then climb back up the other side. Being in a team came in very handy at this point, some of the jumps were a bugger to get up and down.


Although 10k isn't all that far, some of the obstacles really took their toll. I found it hard to get going again after doing a belly crawl along a chilling stream under barbed wire, and the muddy river crossing - heads under, and the triple muddy marine plunge - heads under three times in a row, were very energy sapping.

As the race went on the competitors became more and more strung out on the trails and through the woods. Periodically you would become aware of shrieks and yells from ahead, alerting you that another mud or water plunge was imminent.

Nevertheless we made it around the course, and have the t-shirts and survivors medals to prove it. I salute Mary for running in bare feet, and Heloise for getting round despite feeling unwell. A tough but fun morning out and now we'll have to decide what to do to top this. 


Tough Mudder anybody ?

This morning - I thought I'd got myself fairly fit, but today my shoulder muscles are making themselves known with every move, and my upper legs and glutes are sore and stiff. I shall be hobbling around like an old man at work today.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind - Jean-Jacques Rousseau 6*

Jean Jacques Rousseau
Jean Jacques Rousseau (Photo credit: Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara)
If you take Edward Said's statement that the West constructed a false image of the Orient that suited their purpose (and therefore of Africa, the Americas and anywhere else that did not contain 'civilised' Western Europeans) then some of the blame for that image building must be laid at the feet of philosophers like Rousseau and his idea of the 'noble savage.'

In Rousseau's mind the savage lives in a state of simple grace. He is not educated enough to feel the finer emotions of love, desire and loss and therefore lives happily in his own way, unknowing and uncaring of the woes of modern society.

Rousseau does make some interesting points though. His thoughts on the origin and development of language are astute and would chime with the research done by many contemporary linguists.

His final thoughts that possessions and the human desire to own things are the root of conflict and evil is argued eloquently and stands up better to scrutiny than many of his ramblings on so-called savages.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review : An Image Of Africa - Chinua Achebe 8*

This is a short book in the Penguin Classics Great Ideas series and compromises two essays by Achebe.

In the first essay Achebe de-constructs Conrad's Heart Of Darkness and re-presents it as an essentially racist work. In this he seems to echo sentiments also expressed by Edward Said in Orientalism, that Westerners needed to construct other parts of the world to suit their own narrow world view, and that within this world view they were unable to accept other civilisations and their works as being in any way comparable to the 'great' civilisations of Europe.

The second and longer essay dwells on the politics of Nigeria (in the early 1980's) and the corruption and moral emptiness of the country's leaders. It is a fascinating essay and many of the points Achebe makes could be applied to governments and politicians in almost any nation. Achebe rails against both corruption in government and the prevailing idea that this is the way that Nigerian life is and has to be. Achebe tackles both the big political picture and fine points which he feels would improve day to day life for most Nigerians. Whether this be the irrational behaviour of car drivers or the martial image presented by politicians Achebe presents a series of thoughtful and common-sense arguments to counter some of Nigeria's woes.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

On Yer Marks - Go!

An Essay concerning Humane Understanding in fo...
An Essay concerning Humane Understanding in four books (1690) by John Locke (1632-1704) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And we're off, almost. The U214 website has opened, we have received the first instalment of our study materials and perhaps most important of all, we can see the TMA questions (that is, Tutor Marked Assignments) for the whole of the module.  Not that we have actually been assigned a tutor or a lecture schedule yet. I do hope that my lectures fall on my days off, fat chance I suppose, and that they are in Leeds or Bradford and not Sheffield as the A217 lectures were.

I did not manage to attend a single lecture on the Introducing World Religions module, although it didn't seem to harm my work much. I scored a 1st in the exam and a high 2:1 in the TMA's.

The TMA's for U214 Worlds of English look fascinating. After getting locked in to a normal essay structure of introduction - arguments - conclusion for the last three modules it will be odd to drop that structure for most of this course.

The first essay asks us to describe, in a linguistic sense, three words, and then to write a 1000 words on one word of our choice that must have been in English use for at least 250 years. Then we have a three article forum piece to write, followed by an audio transcription and discussion, then what looks like a fairly straight essay on use of technology within English development, a discussion on English use in education and finally 3000 words on varieties of English for the EMA (End of Module Assignment).

As the Open University has switched its module timetable around and is condensing some of its 30 point modules into 60 point modules, I have been forced (along with many other students) to double up on modules this winter. I will be taking Year 2 U214 Worlds of English alongside Year 1 A150 Voices and Texts which will complete both my Year 1 and 2 studies.

Oh well, if I wasn't studying I'd only be wasting time playing Eve Online or sleeping or eating or something.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

ARCH ENEMY - Under Black Flags We March (OFFICIAL VIDEO)



I'm a Rampaging Ravager of Books

San Diego City College Learing Recource City r...
OK, so that's this months' reading organised.
English teacher Andrew Barnard came up with a list of r based categories for the various levels of reading which he sees children achieving.

Relisher - Reads 30-40 books a year

Regular - Reads 10-15 books a year

Rusher - Reads in bursts

Reluctant - Reads occasionally

Realist - Lacks the focus to read novels

Rejecter - Only reads if forced to

Rechanneler - Distracted by the online world

Regretter - Wants to read but has reading difficulties

I managed 131 books last year, and I suspect that for many of my GoodReads / BookCrossing friends this isn't an unusually high sum, thus we need a further category...

Rampaging Ravisher - two books a week is the bare minimum, any less than that and we'd actually have to re-engage with the real world from time to time.

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The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Article 1

English: Stamp of Moldova: 50th anniversary of...
English: Stamp of Moldova: 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood"
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 "Everywhere heaps of debris, refuse, and offal; standing pools for gutters, and a stench which alone would make it impossible for a human being in any way civilised to live" - Engels on Manchester.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Are You Ready For University ?

Sesame magazine
Sesame magazine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Following a wholly unscientific and biased study of assorted students, I'd have to say that the answer is both yes and no.  The Open University intake are ready, over-prepared even, the brick uni intake are lazing around, more interested in freshers than their course and are, mostly, a disgrace to the fine tradition that is a university education.

Now I know that this is only partly true. Many brick uni students are going to work very hard indeed as soon as they have got out of bed at 3pm and on the slim chance that their hangover will allow them to focus on their text books.

In the run-up to the new university year beginning, I am struck by the sometimes large organisational and motivational properties of the average OU student when compared to some ingoing brick uni students.

Here's a case in hand, Cody, name not changed to shame the guilty, is taking Criminology. When questioned about what preparatory work she had undertaken this summer she gave the interviewer a blank look, eventually followed by the question...

"Reading list ? What's a reading list ?"

Compare this to the informal Facebook forum for this years U214 and A150 modules. Both forums have been very active months before the opening date for the modules with students discussing strategies, study plans and getting to grips with the reading list. The OU doesn't actually give us a 'must read' list, but for A150 we know in advance that we'll have to get through Dickens' Hard Times towards December this year - the result being that half the intake read the novel during the summer.

The story is the same over in U214 Worlds Of English where the OU suggested that we might like to read some suggested titles. As this is a Year 2 module and the intake are already used to the pace of OU study and the personal drive it requires, this group have been even busier. The forum is alive with people recording that they have read and taken notes on most of the 'suggested' list, in addition the group have been tracking down podcasts, websites and useful video clips and exchanging them all summer. When the module actually opens in October we're going to be uber-organised.

Of course, the OU students have to be this organised. They are expected to study for a minimum of 16 hours a week, which is fine when you're a full time brick uni student with no other demands. The OU though is packed with people who are both full time workers and full time parents, their study has to fit around the dual challenges of raising a family and paying the bills. As always, I salute the working parents who are managing a degree in their spare time. Spare time being a relative term here.

Fran is going to train to be a teacher. Fran also doesn't know what a reading list is, but she assures me that the course she is enrolled on will teach her everything she needs to know. When she begins of course. Well, after Fresher's Week anyway.

The different attitude of the (mostly) more mature OU students brings a historically older perspective to study. Although many OU students have a career progression or change in mind with their degree, many OU students are engaged in study with the intention of improving their education and broadening their world view. This latter distinction used to be the driving force behind a university education, but one that has been consumed by the financial imperative.

Best wishes then to everyone starting or continuing their education this Autumn. No thanks though to the bloody Conservatives and their useless, two-faced Liberal allies. Thanks to the way the Government has changed university funding, many OU students have found themselves in the potentially over-worked situation of having to take two modules at the same time this year in order to comply with new funding rules. Thanks Cameron/Clegg, let me shake you both warmly by the throat if we ever meet up.

It's just under a month before our modules officially begin, but you'll be able to spot the OU intake quite easily if you look around, they're the ones trying to take notes on the train and the bus, frantically reaching for textbooks in their lunch hours, studying on holiday - early mornings - weekends - late nights.

6am Saturday morning and the kids are still in bed ? Might as well get that copy of Criticism and Truth off the shelf and take some notes, time and Barthes wait for no man.
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Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Costume of the allegorical figure "Rhetor...
Costume of the allegorical figure "Rhetoric" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"It is undeniable that negotiation and conflict resolution are skills, and that in certain situations those skills are valuable. In other situations, however, negotiation may not be the best strategy. The general devaluation of argument as a communication skill has some potentially worrying implications. Taken to its logical conclusion it would undermine the belief - in fact the classic, liberal belief - in the value of rational discourse for revealing the truth and correcting error."

- Cameron, D., (2000) Good To Talk, Sage, London.
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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Fatty Boom Boom Metal Version

Die Antwoord - Dis iz why I'm hot - HERRSCHAFTIZED

It's Just A Boring Book...

Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies (Photo credit: jumpinjimmyjava)
...about a bunch of boys stuck on an island.

Thus one of my teenage comrades summed up William Golding's Lord Of The Flies.

This led to a moment of inarticulate rage from me which went something along the lines of "Aaaaargh, boring ?! How can you can it's boring ? It contains some truly shocking, breath-taking scenes, you're very blase about about life and death if you found the murder scene boring. And it isn't about boys stuck on an island, it's about tearing away the thin veneer of civilisation, it's about control and power and what happens when power is placed into the hands of those who shouldn't wield it, it's about the natural cruelty of children and what happens when the established order is overturned. But it isn't about boys on an island, that's just the plot that carries the themes."

Imagine, Lord of the Rings isn't about the eternal struggle of good versus evil and the determination of good people to do the right thing even under the most extreme circumstances, it's just a dull book where some little people have to chuck a magic ring in a volcano.

Harry Potter isn't about friendship and trust, education and wisdom, faith in your friends, questioning corrupt authority and finding strength within yourself, it's just about a group of kids who have to kill a noseless freak.

Twilight though is just as it reads, it's a book that teaches girls that the most important thing in life is to give up everything you once thought important in order to get a boyfriend.
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Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Dominance Of English

Teaching (Photo credit: DBduo Photography)
"...the dominance of English as the global lingua franca is a linguistic phenomenon with an economic imperative."

- Gardner, C., (2007) 'English and the new media' in Goodman, S., Graddol, D., and Lillis, T., (Eds.) U211 Book 4; Redesigning English, Abingdon and Milton Keynes, Routledge and The Open University.
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