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Archive for January, 2010

Don’t Trust The Robots!

I was going on a course with some colleagues today; we were heading off for the briefing of GTPs and their mentors, which was taking place at Birmingham City University, North Campus.  This is, unsurprisingly,  on the North side of the city which is not the easiest part to get to even in good weather.  I’d arranged therefore to car share with a colleague; there was still a lot of snow around and whilst I didn’t mind the idea of driving, I knew I’d feel more confident with company.

I got home from work last night to find that my mobile phone, which was of course where my contact numbers for my car-share colleague were, was not in my bag.  I remembered last seeing it on my desk at work, and I’m pretty sure that that’s where it remains.  Thankfully, my colleague checked her email last night and we were able to make contact and plans, and we were all set.

Then, overnight, came the snow.  Loads of snow. Snow on top of the snow that hadn’t cleared since last week.  Snow which was going to make our drive through the city even more unpleasant.  So, we spoke and arranged to meet at the station, which is near her house, and we’d get a train into Birmingham, another out, and walk the rest of the way to our destination.  No probs.

I left the house in plenty of time and arrived at the station.  I was at first delighted to find that there was plenty of parking.  I turned into the empty car park and… nothing.  Just couldn’t get the car up the ramp, so reversed off and started to drive away.  At that point I saw my colleague across the road and waved her over.  Another change of plan was agreed; drive the car to hers, walk back to the station, and get a train into Birmingham, another out, and walk the rest of the way to our destination.  No probs.

Which we did.  The train was packed but the connection was fairly quick, and we were starting to feel fairly happy that we’d get to where we needed to be on time.  Neither of us are regular users of public transport and so we were trying to be super-observant, and we listened carefully for the announcement that we were at the correct station.  When we heard the stilted electronic tones of the recorded announcement mention the name of our destination we got off the train to find that we were at the wrong place!  We needed to be at Perry Barr, and all the signs said Hamstead!

“Isn’t this Perry Barr?” I yelled across to the guard on the train.

“No love,” he replied, “that was the last station.”

“But the announcement on the train just said this was Perry Barr.  We need to be at Perry Barr!”

“Ah.  Don’t trust the robots!” And with that he laughed, and the train started moving away.

We were by this time freezing, frustrated and running out of time, but we caught a train back in the opposite direction and finally reached Perry Barr with just a few minutes to spare.  It didn’t take us too long to find the right part of the University and we were pleased  that we were almost the first to arrive.  The course got underway and went without a hitch, and finished a little earlier than planned as the snow was still falling and people needed to get home to places as far flung as Bristol and Northampton.  It had taken us two hours to get there so it can’t have been much fun for people who’d travelled further.

The return journey was far less eventful, and by half four we were home, and glad to be.  You can imagine how delighted I was to get home and read the Facebook status updates from colleagues who hadn’t been on the training – oh yes, they’d had a wonderful day, having been told at 7.40am (about the time we were walking back to the station after dropping off my car) that school was closed and they could go home.  I am somewhat appeased by the fact that (a) I can for once take the moral highground and (b) I can have a lie in tomorrow as school will once again be closed.  And, geek that I am, I also rather enjoyed the day, despite its stresses and the untrustworthy robots.

Twelfth Day.

Our Christmas tree came down a few days early this year; usually I’m a stickler for Twelfth Night but I was fed up with it, I was going back to work and ready to get on with the New Year.  So, on Sunday it was stripped of baubles and trinkets and dragged outside, and the rest of the paraphernalia was put away in the loft till next year.  I went back to work, and it snowed.  And snowed, and snowed and snowed, and it now looks more like the traditional Christmas card than it ever did before Christmas.

But today it is Twelfth Day, Epiphany.  The journey of the Magi took them to that stable in Bethlehem and they presented a newborn child with gifts that represented the promises his life would fulfil; there was gold, for his kingship, frankincense to show that this baby would grow into a religious leader, and myrrh, an embalming oil, to symbolise his death.  Cheery stuff, eh? A group of shepherds had also travelled to Bethlehem and brought lambs to the child in the cradle too, symbolising that he would become a shepherd, despite being the son of a carpenter.  His parents and the sundry other folk that had gathered must have wondered what was going on; I bet there were a few questions being asked!

But I have only one question:  what would that child, that priest, that shepherd, that human sacrifice, make of the world today?  Before Christmas I read the words that Carol Ann Duffy had written, and I have added them below. There’s the answer, I think, and it’s not what he would want to hear.  If only the hand of God could shake it up, like a world inside a snow-globe, and watch it settle into something calm and beautiful – maybe that’s what IS happening?

a buzzard on a branch.

In Afghanistan,
no partridge, pear tree;
but my true love sent to me
a card from home.
I sat alone,
crouched in yellow dust,
and traced the grins of my kids
with my thumb.
Somewhere down the line,
for another father, husband,
brother, son, a bullet
with his name on.

that Shakespeare loved –
turr turr, turr turr
endangered now
by herbicide,
the chopping down
of where they hide –
turr turr, turr turr
hawthorn thickets,

hedgerows, woodland.
Summer’s music
fainter, farther…
the spreading drought
of the Sahara.

un, deux, trois
do not know
that French they are.

Three Welsh lambs –
un, dau, tri
do not know
that Welsh they baa.

Newborn babies –
one, two, three –
only know
you human be.

Only know
you human be.

The Condor calls from the USA.
The Wood Stork calls from its wetlands.
The Albatross calls from the sea,
on the fourth day of Christmas.

The Yellow-eared Parrot is calling.
The Kakapo calls from NZ.
The Blue-throated Macaw is calling.
The Little Tern calls from Japan, calls
my true love sent to me.

The Corncrake is calling; the Osprey.
The Baikal Teal calls from Korea.
The Cuckoo is calling from England,
four calling birds.

bankers’ profits fired in greed.

The second ring outshone the sun,
fuelled by carbon, doused by none.

Ring three was black gold, O for oil –
a serpent swallowing its tail.

The fourth ring was Celebrity;
Fool’s Gold, winking on TV.

Ring five, religion’s halo, slipped –
a blind for eyes or gag for lips.

With these five gold rings they you wed,
then slip them off when you are dead.

With these five go-o-o-old rings.

This goose laid Barack Obama.

I bought a magic goose from a friendly fellow.
This goose laid Fabio Capello.

I bought a magic goose from a maiden (comely).
This goose laid Joanna Lumley.

I bought a magic goose from a busker (poor).
This goose laid Anish Kapoor.

I bought a magic goose from a bargain bin, it
was the goose laid Alan Bennett.

I bought a poisoned goose from a crook (sick, whiffing).
This foul goose laid Nick Griffin.

of a broken heart, one half.

The Mersey Swans, flying
for Hillsborough, wings of justice.

Two, married and mute on the Thames,
watching The Wave.

A Swan for Adrian Mitchell
and a Swan for UA Fanthorpe,
swansongs for poetry.

The Queen’s birds, paired
for life, beauty and truth.

Two milked voters to float her boat.
Three milked Parliament to flip her flat.
Four milked Government to snip her cat.
Five milked the dead for close-up tears.
Six milked the tax-payer for years and
years and years…
Seven milked the system to Botox
her brow.
Eight milked herself – the selfish cow.

But the lady in the Detention Centre
does not dance.
But the honour killing lady does not dance.
But the drowned policeman’s lady
does not dance.
But the lady in the filthy hospital ward
does not dance.
But the lady in Wootton Bassett does not dance.
But the gangmaster’s lady does not dance.
But the lady with the pit bull terrier
does not dance.
But another dead soldier’s lady
does not dance.

They sleep.

fir ‘Royal Bank;
twa pipers each
fir Fred and Phil,
fir Finlay, Fraser, Frank.
Too big tae fail!
The wee dog laughed!
The dish ran awa’ wi’ the spoon…
We paid the bluddy pipers,
but we dinnae call the tune.

banging their warning?
On the twelfth day in Copenhagen
was global warming stopped in its tracks
by Brown and Barack and Hu Jintao,
by Meles Zenawi and Al Sabban,
by Yvo de Boer and Hedegaard?
Did they strike a match
or strike a bargain,
the politicos in Copenhagen?
Did they twiddle their thumbs?
Or hear the drums
and hear the drums
and hear the drums?

Carol Ann Duffy


2010: I resolve to…

We have high expectations of the New Year, don’t we?  We’ll be slimmer, richer, tidier, fitter, kinder, more organized.  We’ll remember to visit our elderly relatives, pay off those debts, smile at the idiot at work who steals our mugs.  Yeh right.  The only New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made and kept was the one I made suddenly at the start of 2007.  I’d keep a photo diary.  I was doing it, sheep-like, because my friends were.  I’d rarely picked up a camera, I had no idea about composition or apertures or depth of field, but it seemed like an interesting project and a good way to document my life.  And anyway, if I didn’t manage to stick to it, it didn’t matter, did it?  After all, I hadn’t exactly got a track record of keeping resolutions, so…

But here I am, 3 years on and  I’ve started my 4th year of photo-a-day.  I seriously considered dropping to weekly, or even monthly photos this year, but it’s no longer a resolution, it’s a habit. I could no sooner give it up than I could give up scratching an itch or blinking.

And this year, I resolve to do the following:

  • Try different techniques – find out what the camera can really do.  Top of the list is long-exposure.
  • Get a wide-angle lens and work on landscape photography.
  • Take photographs of my shrinking self.  This is my way of resolving to lose weight.
  • Record my progress at least monthly here, in this blog.

I now know that expectations aren’t really of the New Year – they’re of ourselves. These are achievable, sensible, measurable targets, and  I know I can achieve them.  And now I DO have a track record of sticking to resolutions I had better not let myself down!

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