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Do you really want me? Do you really love me?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 31 May 2022, 14:38

An opportunity arose to work for The OU again so I applied; let's see what happens. Maybe departing after just one year the first time round was a mistake that I can never put right - but that was then, and now is now. The kids have left school, gone through university and settled down and 'we' are free to move ... within reason. We'll see. Meanwhile, the two big events of this last week have been trips to Rodmell Food Forest and to Brighton Open Art Houses 2022. 

A collage of photographs of Rodmell Food Forest showing a Siberian Pea Tree and a Toona Tree.

The Rodmell Food Forest was an eye-opener. I garden on chalk so know how tough it is to develop a sound soil. It has taken me over 12 years to grow substantial shrubs and hedging through total lawn destruction, mulching with kitchen waste and all cuttings, and while there was lawn to nibble my secret weapon - guinea-pigs. (I'm told a goat is handy at the job too. Up in Cumbria we used a small herd of Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs to root up the foot-trodden turf). 

I know now to mulch intensively, keyhole plant, collect rainwater, encourage birds and other kritters to look after the garden for me. We may stop short of having a composting toilet to collect dry human waste - though the head garden Marc Stenham recommended it - that and comfrey leaves.

Cover for work featuring figures underwater by Patsy McArthur

We left Brighton Open Art Houses late - again. We always mean to make an early start and be picking off a last trail or returning to a favourite one by the end of the month. Here we are trying to cover too much ground on the last afternoon and it went slightly pear-shaped, largely because we also thought we could ditch the car and do it on foot. We spent most of the allotted 4 hours treading the pavements of Brighton seafront; there were some gems though, I loved a return visit to Sussex County Arts Club where I took up life drawing in 2016 and to the work of figurate fine artist Patsy McArthur. I aspire to paint large, on a big canvas or mural in scale. 

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Coming out of Covid and the woods of Sussex beckon

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 20 May 2022, 09:35

A yellow woodland iris, bracken fronds opening and wild garlic after rain

As others have surely discovered already, just because you are not longer testing positive for Covid does not mean its effects cannot still be felt. Major stomach cramps had me ill and indisposed for four days soon after coming off Covid. Then I got that cold, the one everyone is getting - the nasty bastard. The cold the like of which you haven't had since you were a child: full of snot, goes to the chest, lots of coughing and a few days spent mostly asleep or, in the past at least, watching daytime TV; I took to a Netflix box set (Better Call Saul) and Tik-Tok (reading was slow).

Anyway, that was then and now is now. Now is catch up time for projects and work. There's also the perennial itch to be studying something but I rather think getting through the 44 books I have identified on my shelves that I am yet to read is where I start first. This is most history of the First World War - often books that were last published in the 1960s or earlier that I have been told about. This and my constant journeying to a multitude of local woods, all of which can be found on the excellent Find A Wood tracker on The Woodland Trust website. I now have around eight woods that I try to visit once a month, especially over the last few weeks not wishing to miss every part of the transition from winter to wood anemones and wild garlic, wild daffodils and bluebells, various orchids and now as the canopy closes over the verdant greens of oak, beech and birch while woodland glades and commons have emerging bracken and heather. 

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Covid Free

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 23 Apr 2022, 07:15

A set of positive lateral flow tests spread over 16 days from Day 1 to Days 15 & 16.

Covid Free (mostly). It has taken 16 days of testing positive. Fatigue was the most prevalent symptoms: I needed a siesta - usually for a couple of hours, then an early night; one day I slept through pretty much to the following day. No fever, no loss of taste. Heightened allergy symptoms but hay fever and being in bed a lot would do that, however the aggravation of tickly cough has persisted now for a further week. I'm on antihistamines and nasal sprays and for the first time in a decade or more have a reliever inhaler - not that using it makes any differences at all to the wheezyness.

The testing was interesting. On Day One, -1, I tested negative with a lateral flow test. For a couple of days I took the symptoms to be hayfever. Then I got a positive PCR test. As part of the Zoe Covid Research I log my symptoms everyday and 'they' had prompted me to get a test - still free at the end of March. The first positive lateral flow test produced the two line indicators within seconds. By the end of the infection I had to use a timer as the second line would appear 15 even 28 minutes after doing the test. Finally, there was no second line at all, ever, not within the 15-30 minute window, not overnight. This restored my faith in these as for 18 months I had been testing negative; obviously because my asthma/hay fever symptoms are possible indicators for Covid. 

Having had two vaccinations and the booster I assume I got off lightly. 

There were nights when my breathing become very light and my blood oxygen dropped to a level that required me to get in touch with my GP. I did breathing exercises to make sure I was filling my lungs, not something you want to do when you feel you lower chest is wrapped in elastic bands ... or your are wearing a corset.


A collection of benches: traditional, pine log and oak timber.

Others have been dropping like flies; two council members recently, many others too. I went in, masked up, windows open, to make up the numbers for the Landport Bottom Committee. (Apparently Government guidelines permit this and the Town Clerk provided the advice. We've already had this meeting postponed twice). I wanted to steer the inventive ones away from complicated responses to a bench with a dedication; my thinking, based on 50 or so photographs of benches from across East Sussex, was that something simple can be suitably aesthetic, easy to maintain and not too expensive to purchase and site. I also wanted to share my insights on signage (information boards) and rules/guidelines about dogs on leads around sheep. 

I have watched a lot of TV, and far too many videos on Instagram and TikTok. 

I will be deleting social media once more now that I have my brain back. 'Brain fog' was an interesting one because it was some imperceptible; I could work where this required proofreading i.e. a mindless repetitive task, but I was disinclined to read or write. Interestingly, which might be indicative of brain fog of sorts, my scores for the language app I do several times a week, LingVist, dropped to an historic low of 26%. On a good run I get 80%+ consistently. I'm still floating around the 50% mark. It's as if my brain is unwilling to retain new information. 

I used the fact that I am watching masses of TV and film to revive an interest in storytelling; once again I am spotting opening scenes, 'beats' and turning points in scripts and stories. 

April bluebells in Laughton Common Wood, East Sussex

Unhealthily I had been spending an hour or more in a local wood seeking out bluebells, wood anemones, wild garlic and marsh marigolds. For someone who gets seasons hayfever this has probably not been a great idea! 

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Day 13 - Still Positive for Covid-19.

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 20 May 2022, 09:18

Carpets of wild garlic in an East Sussex wood in April 2022

Despite feeling full of the joys of spring these last three days I am still showing positive for Covid. To recover from ten days in bed watching Netflix boxsets and binging on TikTok I have taken to long woodland walks seeking out the best that East Sussex can offer.

I have revisited several Woodland Trust woods, while adding other privately owned woods, and woods owned and managed by the likes of the RSPB, Natural England and county councils.

Wild garlic foraged, made into a pesto and added to pasta

I have found some gems: great swathes of wood anemone, carpets of emerging bluebells and dense banks covered in wild garlic. I've even perfected my wild garlic recipe:

Blanch a large handful of wild garlic. Chop finely.

Blend with olive oil, salt, pepper and juice from half a lemon (or less)

Roast a handful of pine nuts. Put through a spice grinder.

Unless vegan, add parmesan and enjoy with pasta.



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Positive Covid Test

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After two years it has finally got me. This is despite teaching in a busy FE College in the first 18 months, though probably a consequence of engagement with large groups of swimmers at the swimming club three times a week. 

I've had so many tests to date, all negative, that I have come to brush off symptoms as 'allergies' or a 'cold'. This time I wasn't satisfied with the Lateral Flow Test so got myself booked in for one of the last 'free' PCR tests. And here I have it; 24 hours later. 

Being the kind of person who follows guidelines as well as rules I'll be at home for a week and have cancelled everything. No brain-fog, no loss of appetite, just a headache I thought I could 'cure' with a stiff cup of coffee and an inclination to 'nap' every four or five hours.

I'm sure others have had it far worse. We're now following the guidelines by wearing masks (FP2 standard) at home, keeping windows open, washing hands and staying apart - like students who aren't getting along we take it in turns in the kitchen and use separate bathrooms.

I'm not stretching my head too much: there are some routine tasks I can get on with, mundane proofreading for example. I'll leave reading books for review to another day. 

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The Joy of Swimming Teaching

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The Triangle, Burgess Hill - Mid Sussex Marlins Gala

Of all the things I have done over the years, the one thing that has been a constant is teaching club swimmers. Today Mid Sussex Marlins hosted over 150 young swimmers in a Level 4 Swim England event (the times are recognised on the national register). 

These days I just teach - my first love. I enjoy the challenge of identifying and fixing many faults with a stroke in an 8-12 year old and so set them up for a swimming career. We are a competitive club so their efforts and mine come to fruition in a gala. For many of the swimmers today is their first gala, and possibly their first event at the Triangle, Burgess Hill which is far bigger, brighter and noisier than our teaching pools which include The Dolphin, Haywards Heath.

Although there to a Timing Official, I was also a familiar face for my swimmers to speak to. One felt sick, another was confused about whether they were allowed to dive and so on. An eight year old can become quite overwhelmed by it. Two somehow missed their race and another got confused by the starting process and wanted to change he mind about diving in (she didn't want to) as the race was about to get underway. I was relieved that they were given a second chance in empty slots a little later.

I have blogged about swim teaching in Swim Coach Blog  I keep meaning to refresh all my lessons plans, especially now that I have got through each of the competitive strokes, dives and turns this term.


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Writing

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Posters for the films 'The Rifleman' and '1918: Battle of Kruty'

After a few months prep: I am now writing a script set during the First World War. In parallel I am reading and reviewing over 14 novels writing by men (and one woman) who served during the Great War and adding these to The Western Front Association Book Reviews pages. I'm also watching movies made about #WW1 which includes 1918: The Battle of Kruty which has Ukrainian students fighting to delay an attack by the Red Army and the brilliant 'The Rifleman' or 'Blizzard of Souls' from a book of the same name. This is about a teen in the Russian/Red Army but includes in its conclusion the brief attempt by Lithuania to form a state apart from the Russian Empire / Soviet Union. I'm yet to find if Estonia has produced the equivalent, while Poland has many.  I've created a list of over 180 films on or about the First World War in IMDb > http://www.imdb.com/list/ls539199369/ 

My own writing concerns the antics, fictionlised, about Lieutenant HRH Edward, Prince of Wales. This is something I worked on as a novel five years ago and have returned to as the first of several scripts I wish to develop. Getting them in front of a producer via an agent will be another matter. 

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Richard Aldington and the Woodland Trust

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Flowers Wood, Ilmington

There is no connection between Richard Aldington and the Woodland Trust other than my current interest in novelists who wrote about the First World War and British woodland.

I find myself embedded in books a century old and when taking a break wandering through woods where trees are generally 25-200 years old. There must be a connection. Wood pulp into paper.


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Hugh Cecil on authors of the First World War

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In 1996 Prof. Hugh Cecil of Leeds University completed his magnus opus on the fiction written about the First World War by those who were there. He reviewed 12 books by 12 authors, and along the way mentioned many others. I have reviewed this and am now, one by one, acquiring and reading each of the books. 

I have just completed my second reading of 'Way of Revelation' by Wilfred Ewart. I feel I was transported to the sites and sounds of London and the Western Front between the summer of 1914 and late autumn of 1919, from the 'London Season' to the 'Victory Ball'.

I can think of no better insight into what it was like. 


Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 22 Jan 2022, 11:57)
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Inspiration Teachers Count

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 8 Dec 2021, 13:27

Teacher's matter.

Silvia Macrae Brown runs the life drawing class at Charleston on the first Tuesday of each month. I go along when I can, Covid permitting. I've taken the day off from work in the past to go along. It is just one day. 

It matters to have someone with a plan, especially if it is designed to stretch us. This isn't one of those classes where anatomical exactness created over a single pose over many hours is wanted, rather we have multiple poses, movement, drawing with our non-dominant hand, or with our eyes closed.

Today was different. There is an exhibition of Duncan Grant's work 'Duncan Grant: 1920' showing at the moment.

Duncan Grant's first ever solo exhibition is recreated at Charleston, September 2021 to March 2022

So the plan was to work the way artists at Charleston worked 100 years ago - a life model was a rare treat so what doodles and sketches they made were reimagined into later works, painted onto tiles, cupboards and wall panels.

Duncan Grant's 'Dances' 1925 Charcoal and pastel on paper

Now it was my turn. 

I've always embraced instructions whether from a coach or teacher - however awkward I may feel the challenge of the new can create insight. Today was such a day.

An idea that had been fermenting in the first idea for something to contemplate in the afternoon was brought forward. The model would hold a pose and rotate 45% every minute - that of put her on a rotating plinth. I prefer the short pose. I find 30 seconds is enough. The race is to 'grab' the essence of the pose for future reference. Silvia is a sculptor who often references her own approach to seeking to find the essence of a pose.

Having too much time to think while the model was delayed I put down some ideas for a story set in a life drawing class (model dies during a long pose), and also tried downloading a drawing App to my iPad (too old, not the write operating system), then my phone. A few experiments with a stylus and I gave this up as a lost cause (for today). My son uses swears by an iPad Pro - but I don't have that luxury.

Pen and ink will have to suffice. I use a regular Lamy fountain pen and black ink. I used to swear by an artist's felt-tip but have come to prefer ink on paper for its smudge-ability and inconsistency; I enjoy the fight. Just as I enjoy keeping one step ahead of the blunt pencil by having at least 20 sharpened (with a Stanley Knife, never a pencil sharpener).

I keep all drawings. 

This is a dictate handed down by my later mother who did her MA in Fine Art at Durham University in the 1950s; she studied under Quentin Bell. I will just show a few here to illustrate the progress. Plenty of my efforts fail - I correct minor errors and leave them on a page, with a disaster I abandon the sheet and quickly get back to doing another, and another, and another until it starts to look and feel right. I doubt I discard two sheets of paper in any day long session - usually I draw over, or mark out something that doesn't work. I rarely if ever use a rubber, unless it is being used as a tool in the creation of a particular 'look'. 

This is what is meant about getting your hand in ... like a gymnast or dancer practising moves before a session.

First three poses of a day long session - each poses lasting around 1 minute.

After another go like this and taking note of the instruction to be capturing the essence of the pose I went for something smaller. (Imagine trying to draw a horse, bird or cat that will not be so accommodating! I have tried drawing people in real life, but gave up, unless they were static: on the beach, or watching TV).

A set of eight 1 minute poses as the model changed her pose.

From these the idea was to take a pose and work it up as a single art piece, as bathroom tiles, wall paper or some such as the Charleston artists did (not the reproduction tea towels and place mats you might buy in the shop).

From here, whether or not the model was posing (which felt impolite and potentially a waste of a rare resource) we were invited to take a pose and work it up as a pattern, shape or draft for an artwork. I had a few goes with a single, double and various other repetitions and combinations.

Twisted Arms Pose repeated twice. Charcoal pencil on paper.

And a single pose with colour - something I've rarely ventured into using!

Single pose with twisted arms. Duncan Grant or Matisse Influenced. Charcoal pencil then oil pastels on paper.

This was a breakthrough moment for me. I've only ever thought of a life class to be a period of work that delivers its only outputs at that moment, on the day. That any reworking of something would be a lesser thing - akin to copying from a photograph. How wrong I am. Of course artists are forever gathering up ideas on pads of paper or working with models and items in the studio to work up into a distinct and separate work. 

For lack of ink and seeing a set of blue sheets of paper to use up I went for white charcoal and produced a series of five multiple sketches on single sheets, followed by a few single images. I was beginning to feel confident with what I was able to express with a few simple lines. The skill is to let the hand/arm draw what the eyes are seeing and the brain is feeling. Experience, practice and growing knowledge of where the bones and muscles are helps. 

A selection from six 'white charcoal on blue paper' as an exercise in capturing a set of poses from different angles.

We were then invited to return to a favourite pose and work on this. The model kindly took a number of poses as requested including the 'crossed arms above the head' which I favoured.

Francesca in my favourite pose from the morning's session. White charcoal on blue paper.

We ended the session with a seated pose. Enjoying using the white charcoal pencil I had only grey or green darker papers to choose from. A single pose for 35 minutes I did four sketches in each trying to do little more than get the entire figure on the page without making it too small. I then added the colour based on the model sitting under a bright orange/red heater in the barn where we are working.

Francesca in the same seated pose for 35 minutes. White charcoal pencil on grey pastel paper.




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Jed Mercurio Screenwriting BBC Maestro Course

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First time round I was dismissive of this course as a set of 24 10 to 15 minute long videos of Jed talking at us. I didn't realise until I was re-doing the course that there is a substantial 154 page 'workbook' that accompanies the course - not just 'support notes' as indicated, but something different, an accompanying text written, it would appear, by Jed Mercurio, saying more and summarising the videos. It also includes three or four worthwhile exercises after each 'module' which I am now doing as I once again decide to device, write and then send out a TV series proposal.

I got into the BBC, Children's BBC, Children's ITV, Zenith, Jim Henson and others, including a Paris based producer, to discuss ideas so feel I can do this again. This time older, wiser and enlightened. It justifies watching a lot of Netflix, Amazon and now Disney +

Whether I revisit the many old scripts and concepts is another matter. Whilst some of those ideas should still get the attention of producers I know also that they need to be written up from scratch - just as well, as I don't fancy transcribing the contents of various Really Useful boxes in the shed, or lifting scripts of CDs, Amstrad discs or other devices. 

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Trees Please !

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 24 Nov 2021, 08:08


A 150 year old Sweet Chestnut in Lake Wood, Uckfield

My new found interest in trees goes back many decades ... as a boy it was climbing in them and making dens from fallen wood. Today I want to plant them, see them grow through the seasons and identify them on dog walks. I had might as well be learning a new language; I am learning a new language.

Slowly but surely I am becoming familiar with leaf shape and size, trunk colour and texture and the tree's silhouette. Some I like to think I know: oak and chestnut, for example, only to discover there are two types of each. Ditto maple. As for the generic term 'fir tree' ... here of course there are many different varieties (few native to england).

This learning journey came about due to another staycation and a desire to do more that 'take in the view' so I joined the Woodland Trust and have ticket off most of their woods in Sussex (east and west) since September - despite a few weeks hiatus with a horrible cold. I know have a handful of my favourite woods not too far from Lewes. I have visited several three or more times: William's Wood, Warninglid; Moat Wood, East Hoathly; Lake Wood, Uckfield; Kiln Wood, Blackboys and Brede High Wood north of Hastings & Rye. 

Late summer has turned into autumn with winter nudging in from the north. I am getting used to the changing scenery and smells, though sadly in this part of the world two things remain constant: traffic noise and planes coming into or leaving London airports, mostly Gatwick but I suspect some of from Heathrow. I wonder sometimes if I ought to put in earphones.

I have reached that stage in the learning process where I have read a few books and started my own observations. This kind of thing, as well as taking photographs, and measuring the girth of tree trunks ought to be starting to help. I use Waze to get there, AllTrails around the woods, PictureThis for the fauna and flora and The Woodland Trust Management Plan for that wood for the detail. Early days, as I said, these plans indicate that there are many trees, and as much variety in the undergrowth on on the forest floor - but am I yet disentangle this. 

Teaching trees and woodland management might be the next step. I take an interest in the activities of Lewes Urban Arboretum.

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That cold from hell ...

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A three week cold. It took several days to get bad enough to stay at home, then stay in bed. A period of intense sneezing, a head produces bags of snot, then it went to my chest. I coughed for 5 days and nights. Then, slowly, things have improved. 

A month on I have the slightest residual cough which could be seasonal allergy as much as the left overs of the cold. My inclination is to keep wearing a mask as I don't want to give my cold to anyone else ... or for them to pass on further germs to me, like 'flu or Covid. 

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The worst cold ever ...

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Have you had it? I'm on day 8 and feel like I've got a few more days at least to get over this. Not Covid, not 'flu and it won't kill me, but this thick cold of sneezing and coughing is waring me out. I'm asthmatic so I monitor my Peak Flow. From my highs of 720 it has dropped to 500 and is just recovering to 620. Teens competitive swimming helped me develop big lungs, otherwise I might have been seeking help.

I am feeling like a race horse inadvertently jammed into the starting gate ... I want to be out there doing things especially with COP26 and being an active Green Party Member and elected Town Councillor. 

The world wont't wait. We're sliding down a steep mountainside with a cliff edge ahead of us - there is a tipping point and we are gambling with where this might be. 

I'm less worried for the British Isles - we are wet, and green. We have hills. I am deeply worried for 100s of millions of people living in marginal parts of the world who as the world sinks/dies, will be penned in by national immigration controls. Is this inevitable?

Or can Elon Musk offer them Mars?

Who will live long enough to know? None of us. Whose still around from the 14th century coming out of the plague? 

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Lewes Top Trumps

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A deck of Top Trumps Cards created for Lewes Town Council to form the basis for group and community discussion

I put it to the Council that a simpler way to communicate projects from the Neighbourhood Plan would be to create a deck of Top Trumps Cards. We are now close to achieving this - 31 cards and a blank template. These cover everything from improving the urban environment, traffic calming, pedestrian crossings, toilets, planting more trees and shrubs to major works to add foot bridges and riverside walks.



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Malta

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A view of Valletta with an October storm brewing in the distance

A week in Malta - ostensibly a 60th surprise. 

We had a flat in Sliema and spent a good deal of the time on foot back and forth along the coast to St. Georges's and St.Angelo's Fort on the other side of Valetta. The nights were too hot and humid, though we had air conditioning and the days were hot and dry. 

The history has us enthralled, though we did not venture out to the Neolithic Temples (rocks in a field) were were told. My wife's great aunt and a cousin (once removed) took us out to other parts of the island which is smaller that the Isle of Wight and crossed north to south in under 30 minutes and east to west in less than 45. From Ottoman sieges and the Order of St.John, the British History here and independence ... 

Having family on the island gave us a different insight, behind the closed doors off the old streets of Valetta we entered an extraordinary town home six stories or more high and far wider and deeper than the street would suggest. Rather than having air conditioning these older houses rely on shutters and drapes.


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60 is the old 90

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60 years ago, after an 8 hour lull, my mother went into labour and this time I made an appearance - it was 4:00am. I remember it well. Not. I remember the birth at home of my own son 36 years later.
I feel this one far more than 40 or 50. 60 feels like the end of term, like the turning the corner having dragged my way around the 400m on my hands and knees. No. It hasn't been that bad. I have my health, marriage, children, mortgage paid, friends, projects, work.
Each generation creates its own perspective on what has gone before; mine is birth, 30, 60 and death. Think of the profile of a marquee - up to the first mast (30), the long stretch across to the second mast (60) then the drop back to earth. The angle of ascent and descent can vary; I still don't know if it will be precipitous. I feel that I could knock in another mast to take me up to 70. This would require a change of scene - or would it. Maybe just greater focus on the things that matter: the environment, people's health and well being ... 
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What next?

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Scriptwriting beckons - again. I wrote my first in 1984 called 'The French Test' about a young female French teacher on secondment to an all male school in the north east of England. There have been many others since: science fiction, history series ... and for a couple of years I had an agent. But a short film for Channel 4 and an option on a script was all that materialised.

The Jed Mecurio Master Class from the BBC has inspired me once again. Its a series of 28 videos of him talking - its hard to call it teaching or a class, more a podcast with a face. But there you go. For me teaching requires activity and interaction with the tutor, teaching team and fellow students - like the creative writing course from the Open University via FutureLearn which is brilliant.

That and about to turn 60 is an opportunity to reflect. I find myself asking the same question I asked when I was 13: what am I going to do when I grow up. I used to roll a set of dice and say 'if I get a double 6 I'll be an actor' - I believed it sometimes, just as when I said, 'Sally loves me if I get a double 6' - she didn't, and neither did I.

All this and 'Normal People' has me returning to multiple efforts to write about teen love, but also a story that has been festering for a very long time called 'The Girl in the Garden' in which a  runaway from a nearby Children's Home hides away in the extensive wooded grounds of a all male boarding school. Does she end up dead and buried in a garden that wins the 'gardening cup' that year? I still haven't decided. I rather think 'they' should meet again ... 

On verra

Stomping along with Lingvist and French > 125 hours learning over 4 years (or is that 5) my vocabulary up from 370 words to 4,800+ My pronunciation fluent, my written French improving. 

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Long Time No See :)

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I'm busy being a Digital Editor - all things First World War 1900 to 1923 or thereabouts. I'll be covering the years 1850 to 1949 in due course ... and the entire 20th century! That war has a long shadow.

Otherwise Town Council stuff and Green Party.

Swim Teaching and Coaching.

And Life Drawing twice a month. Got to keep my hand in.

That and Lingvist for my French most days.

The only thing I put on a New Year's Resolution list 5 years ago that I have not done is pick up and play the guitar, or sail much or ski at all. 

Oh, well, you can't have everything.

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Zbigniew A Pelczynski 1925 - 2021

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Zbigniew Pelczynski, "100% Polish, 100% English - 200% Man"

My later father-in-law was an inspiration. I did not know him as a student - I didn't study Philosophy at Oxford. I got to know the family through his children a few years after graduating - and then married his eldest daughter.

His death on 22nd June has had us reflecting on life now that 'we' are now the oldest in the family. It is our turn. I see life now as nothing more prosaic then the conveyor-belt from 'The Generation Game' with a series of events and people passing you by. At some point there is nothing left, you lean in to see what's coming next and in turn you are gathered up and dropped over the edge.

If I life as long as Zbyszek (also known as ZAP) then I have close to 26 years to go - 27 years if I live as long as my maternal grandfather, 3 years my paternal grandfather, 12 years my later father ... we'll see.

ZAP remained busy despite being blind and wearing a hearing aid - he had his son as carer, Alexa and a rotation of young Polish helpers with whom he spent the last years and months corresponding with former students from Oxford and the School for Leaders, Warsaw or posting content on his website pelczynski.org. His books and papers are going to a couple of academic libraries. 

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All change ! Not quite

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Applying for two related though different positions, one in a college as the Digital Learning Manager the other in an national charity as the Online Learning Manager - both offer opportunities, both see my having complementary and overlapping skills, with a gap or two perhaps in my experience and skillsets to fill.

First interview on Friday, second interview on Tuesday so a busy few days doing what is expected these days to occupy a 1 1/2 hour interview process made up of presentations, tasks and interview.

I'm determined that whatever I do takes advantage of what I have learnt at the Open University otherwise it rather negates my having completed the MA ODE. I do rather think at times that an FE, practical skills in learning tools choices, design and outcomes would be of more value to get a foot through the door than the PGCE / Graduate level theorising that comes with the MA ODE.

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Pause for thought

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We humans have not changed, so all this tech coming along is not going to change that. The approaches that work are those that play to our nature. I am fed up of seeing EdTech people treating EdTech as something you grab from the shelf in the proverbial sweet shop.

The answer is in the learning, not the tools - by understanding the students, knowledge of the curriculum and working within your means. Shoehorning approaches into a class, or pushing inappropriately complex solutions on a teacher is wrong, They/we do not have time to master one platform after another, or another ... nor do we want an outsider parachuting in with their answer which too often is a fancy interactive thing that took days to produce, that students can do in minutes. What is the point in that? Has that investment in time and staff costs been well spent? Never.

Would a surgeon in a hospital stand back when a junior administrator with not medical qualifications comes in with a tech tool they say is the answer to everything. It is rarely the answer to anything and causes more problems than solutions.



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A year teaching - from a digital point of view in and out of lockdown

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 May 2021, 12:37

Running an adult class on digital literacy via Google Meet during the depths of the Covid-19 lockdown

My first year as a PGCE students is coming to a close as I deliver a 150+ page Module 3 document which tracks my learning experiences of the last year. Revisiting so much It staggers me how much I have done and how much I have learnt. I have gone from over-thinking, over-writing and over-working content like a web agency producer putting up a website for an audience, to being a collaborator and facilitator in a class (or remote). We learn together. I know the subject, I theme it, prep-things, know my learning aims and outcomes, trigger responses, get them all involved, say less and do more. 

Can stand alone digital do this? At great expense in a gamified environment perhaps, but not when your resources stretch to the Smart TV, some chromebooks and most valuable of all - some marker pens and a whiteboard. 

Just as I put my head down after a short, very early in the morning splurge of activity (I have a habit of doing an hour to 90 minutes from around 3:30am most mornings) I had an idea. One of those ideas which says to be either 'business opportunity' or 'story'. Today it is of the business kind.

Can I now develop something from scratch, again, and this time (for the third time), believe I can make it happen and run with it for at least three years to get it on its feet?

It is all about the business relationship between an educational institution and its digital learning team. Do you have a print room, or purchase in those services as required? 

Meanwhile, I promise in due course to feed some of the 150 pages of my module 3 in here. To write it I've picked out some jottings from here. But I also keep a 'day diary' - a sheet or a few paragraphs just noting emails in/dealt with, meetings. Also, which proved very useful and feasible during remote teaching is the vast gallery of screenshots I have - these reminded me of the number of Google Meets and Zoom Calls I have taken part in, or led and provides ample evidence of the learning journey I have been on and the learning curves I have travelled.

Despite loathing slides I did a 'death my power point' microteach - you do what others do and fail like them, if all you have ever seen is failing teaching. And then I replaced this with the equally deplorable 'death by mind map' - all text and my workings again. All I wanted to do was a TED lecture style, no slides talk. These days I go for TEDx with a few supporting slides and video, and a great deal of interaction where the students research, think through and share and make their understanding rather than me telling them what is what. 

Note to self:

JFV Ed-Tel blog. I kept this for my first two years at GBMET - private mostly, day to day activities and practices.

Day Diary. I call it this but it is a weekly document which can run to 100+ pages where I note down events, emails, link, and add screenshots so that I can back-up my Teflon brain.

Reflections on e-leanring. The external WordPress version of this ... just as Mindbursts.com was before it (and still is)

Google Photos: Weekly sets of screenshots 'dumped' into a monthly gallery.

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An invaluable resource

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Pulling together what might be a 60 to 100 page document evidencing my learning to teach experiences of the last year this blog, has, as alwys, been invaluable. I want something on 'engagement' I find it here via the tags or search. I have multiple notes from a variety of sources: books, papers and video. I can then reflect on what is said and quote it. 

11 years in the making. I ought to duplicate it offsite but don't - not much. Why repeat myself unless there is a risk of losing this. 

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Gosh ...

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Is something of an understatement.

Since I last wrote I have received a redundancy/restructuring notification. In this shake up my job has gone. I can apply for a marginally more senioir role ... in competition with others. I'm well suited to this, but not the ideal candidate. Or I could take a 40% cut in salary (far fewer hours and term time only) ... and again, I am well suited to the role, but not ideal.

This leaves me open to other opportunities around the college, potentially teaching (I am submitting my end of First Year PGCE module today), or coaching - using my range of subject expertise.

Meanwhile I have 20 hours of work to hold on to: 12-14 hours as a digital editor and about 6 hours teaching/coaching swimmers. Not much, but this is at least all year long.

While I approach 60, here I am still wondering what I should be doing with my life. I itch to write, to blog, to podcast, to get back into production, to head up a team creating branched learning (storylines that split in multiple directions).

And I am still an active Green Party Councillor with more important local elections in two years time after some spectacular local wins at the county level the other week - 4 Green seats gained from Zero from the Conservatives. 

Now what? All this and a DNA test from Ancestry says I am 58% Scottish, 23% Northern England and West European ... with 7% Irish and bits of Iceland and Spain thrown in for good measure.  I'd love to see how my wife comes out: her paternal grandmother left Ukraine for Poland to escape the Bolsheviks, her paternal grandfather was Polish; on her maternal side she is all Maltese (though her mother was brought up entirely in Italy, then Britain). 

Who cares? Netflix continues to please. Currently caught in 'White Lines' which I missed first time round.

And teaching has been magic. How many classes start with the trailers for Men in Black and Men in Black International and then challenge the students to identify the standards, values and morals of MIB agents and how these have changed 1969 to 2019. They got all the first three films of the franchcise for homework. We meet again at the end of next week: sexisim, elitism, secret societies, shoot first ask questions later, torture of informants, bribery, corruption and racism against certain alien cultures.

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