Oliver * has a huge, bellowing, hearty laugh. His pink face lights up behind his glasses as he responds to a joke told by his friend. He is a larger than life character…
I worked with Oliver from when he was 18 years old to 21 years. If you did not know him, you might think he was just one of those loud, occasionally foul-mouthed teenagers you see around the UK. He would speak too loudly in class, he laughed too loud, he laughed at inopportune moments, he swore regularly and brushed it off, when staff commented, with a wave of his hand and a ‘whatever’ sound.
Whoever said people with Asperger Syndrome do not smile, were so wrong…
It’s an exciting day for some people! Others are less so, and then there are the ‘meh’ crowd. All of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun.
I can’t get too excited as this eclipse will not be visible from the UK; many things are not visible from the UK, clouds and rain have a lot to answer for (as well as too much street lighting). I believe in London they might see a slight, partial eclipse – but I don’t live in London either! Besides, weather is dull, drizzly; British! Not conducive to astronomical activities.
When we have had eclipses that can be seen in Britain, we mostly all see it at around a similar time. But as America is so huge in comparison, there is a kind of timeline of viewing which will peak at 2:44:59 pm EDT, when the moon obscures 71.6% of the sun; beginning at around 13:20 and ending around 16:00.
In the past, civilizations held differing views of the reason for an eclipse: dragons (China) or demons (India) eating the sun, dogs stealing it (Korea), a bear taking a bite out of it (Pomo; Native Americans), the sun was angry (Ancient Greece), the sun and moon quarreled (Inuit), a vampire tried to swallow it (Tatars, Siberia). There are those who still hold that it is a magical moment and traditions are carried out around the world to ‘reclaim’ the sun.
My husband is interested in astronomy. He also makes sundials; small pieces for the windowsill (hence name of his business Windowsill Art). He was contacted by a gentleman in America who is the head/secretary/leader (I don’t know what you call the person who runs an astronomy enthusiast society!) who asked for 38 sundials in time for the eclipse. He got to work. The number was increased to, I think 42 eventually. It took around 5 months to complete them. They were carefully packed off on their journey last month and arrived safely (no thanks to USA Customs!!!!)
I like the idea of the members of the society all turning up and this chap handing them a sundial each as they take their places; like children on a picnic getting a lunchbox!
I am looking forward to seeing the videos/photos/news reports later showing hundreds of ‘those weird Americans’, waving their arms while painting their chests like something out of ‘The Wicker Man’ and wailing for the return of the sun. It so could happen!
Whatever you are doing today, have fun, protect your eyes, don’t whoop into your neighbours ear, and pick up your litter before you leave!
Today saw the posting of my first piece for the School For Autism Blog.
We can see the growing numbers of people diagnosed Autistic/Asperger’s across the world, not as an increase in this ‘condition’, but as the ability of specialists to recognise it due to increasing their understanding and knowledge through constant research.
India is one continent that is noticing an ‘increase’ in Autism, and some are dealing with it beautifully; with understanding, kindness and positivity.
I first heard about The School for Autismvia Linked In and a woman who was advertising for writers. The piece I wrote, entitled ‘Working with Benedict’ retitled ‘Benedict* – A Special Child With Regular Needs’, can be read here:
We have all felt pain at some point in our lives, whether it be physical or emotional or psychological.
Last night, we had to go to A & E with a family member as she had such bad pains in her chest, she thought it was how a heart attack felt (she is 19 years old) – she is fine by the way; nothing found, heart is healthy; unexplained.
She was asked by various medical practitioners throughout the evening, “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most painful, where would you say your pain is?” She said 7 – which surprised me.
Why did it surprise me?
It got me thinking about how we measure pain, who is to say my pain is worse than yours? On a scale of 1 to 10, to me 7 is really high.
The word pain, comes from 11th century French peine “difficulty, woe, suffering, punishment, which in turn came from Latin poena “punishment, penalty, retribution. The earliest sense in English survives in phrase on pain of death.
We can also be a pain to another person by being annoying and/or irritating. Take pains to do something means taking great care. Plato and Aristotle, considered pain to not be a sensory experience, but an emotional one. So if the heart experienced pain, it was from an external source – anyone who has had their heart ‘broken’ in love might relate with this idea.
I have never broken a bone (touch wood -we’ll do superstitions another time!), but I have dislocated a toe – kicking someone – no, I am not a hooligan, I was training in Tae Kwon Do and didn’t pull my toes back! I have cut myself on numerous occasions, I have stubbed my toe many times, I have stabbed myself with a chisel – I studied sculpture at Art college – I have torn ligaments, damaged both Achilles tendons, twisted a joint, fallen down stairs,suffer from migraines, have osteoarthritis and have given birth -once – once is enough!!
So, you see I am no stranger to pain – physical pain. I have been dumped by a boyfriend and had depression in late teen to early twenties, but what’s the worst pain I have ever felt? Besides giving birth, (definitely a 10!) it was a pain that Aristotle would say came from outside my body:
On a family and friends holiday in Cornwall 15 years ago, on a beach. Me and my friend ‘K’ and our girls; one each, were building a sandcastle. K’s daughter was 5 years old, mine 3. In the blink of an eye, my daughter was suddenly not there. We called and searched the immediate vicinity – a crowded beach filled with bathers, children, pod-tents, beach toys, surfers, rock-pools, caves, you get the picture. My husband and male friend ‘P’ had gone for a walk along the beach to investigate caves. K’s daughter stayed at ‘base camp’, keeping a lookout, I ran along the shoreline, K searched the rock-pools! The ensuing panic was horrendous, my chest was tight, I was crying in gulps and almost choking – I understood the phrase ‘heart in her mouth’ and grasped my chest in pain, it felt like my heart was literally in my throat and I was going to die from emotional pain. I ran along the beach yelling at the top of my lungs for my husband and P; they joined the hunt. This went on for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably closer to twenty minutes.
Eventually we found her, less than fifteen feet from the sandcastle, crouched behind someone’s pod-tent digging away, oblivious to the activity and the search and our calls. You can imagine the relief; my body shook with it.
So on a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain was I in? Well, it cannot really be compared to the pain I experienced giving birth to same child, but I would still say a 10 – maybe 11 – because I’m dramatic. I cry when I see starving, dying or abused children on TV, I actually feel a pain in my chest – btw, it gets worse when you become a mother!!
People feel pains at different levels, we have thresholds, and some have a higher threshold than others – it does not mean that their pain is not real, or painful. Your pain is yours, and no-one can tell how much it hurts. Is a broken leg more or less painful than a broken heart? Who knows, but one things certain, you know you’re alive when you feel it!
Born in 1821, Richard Francis Burton was something of a celebrity in his own time. Think of the typical idea of the Victorian male:
Manliness was a virtue, a form of control over maleness, which was considered brutish.
The Victorian man liked to form secret societies, such as the Masons.
He was not only the head of the household; his duty was not only to rule, but also to protect his wife and children.
Working was manly; whether working-class males in heavy industry, or middle-class males, upper class males could become involved in philanthropic works or other enterprising actions.
Sport! They watched it, read about it, did it. Sports and cold showers; to keep the ‘little man’s’ desires in check and to prove his worth – to be ready for attack. E. M. Forster, apparently said that this “then led to “well-developed bodies, fairly developed minds, and undeveloped hearts”.
And most of all, Victorian man was British. And proud of it! The expansion of the Empire became entangled in what it meant to be a man, and so he served the Queen, he hunted creatures to near extinction; he pioneered and subordinated non British peoples. He was top man, the dog’s bollocks, king of the world (with little k.)
Burton fits some of this characterisation; however, his views on the rest of the world and in particular Islam and women were light years ahead of his fellows. He was ‘sent down’ from Oxford (meaning he was kicked out), after a series of mischievous events. He took it well, bid his tutors farewell and headed cheerily off to become more than they could ever imagine.
RFB was not only an explorer, he was a geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He seemed to excel at everything he did. I cannot think of anyone else alive or historical who was so accomplished. He was extraordinarily open-minded for a man of his time:
Burton did not think of women as inferior to men. He was very much interested in sexuality and erotic literature – his accurate translation of ‘The Book of a Thousand and One Nights’, is full of steamy sex scenes. He translated the ‘Kama Sutra’, the most famous book in the world on sexual techniques to this day.
He slept with woman of all race, colour and creed (males too some reports say), he smoked opium, drank cannabis drinks with holy men, he hung about with prostitutes with no particular judgement on their profession. He took a spear to the face, when his and Speke’s encampment was attacked one night in Africa, and survived. He was spy in India. An Afghan pilgrim in the Middle East; he had himself circumcised so he could pass as native, one of the few white men to have entered Mecca in disguise. He spoke a fair number of languages too – fluent in 29!!! I can barely speak my native one right. And on and on his adventures go.
I first heard about RFB in my teens I think. Then later on a friend who was interested in him lent me a book, ‘Sir Richard Burton’s Travels in Arabia and Africa.’ I read and studied it, sort of. But what really enticed me to discover more about the great man was a work of literary fiction.
‘The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi’, by Mark Hodder. The first of four books in Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne Adventures. In this alternative 19th century, Hodder really brought Burton to life for me – the outrageous behaviour, that British stoicism partnered with emotional passion, a huge, physical, Brainiac of a fist-fighter paired with the slight, red-headed, waif-like Algernon Swinburne; poet.
Two real persons from history partnered up for some beautifully written and roistering, boisterous adventures. And so I began my love affair with Ruffian Dick; I even wrote him into one of my own short, Steampunk stories, in which my protagonist, Lucy Lockhart encounters more of Ruffian Dick than the average English woman did!
Burton was adventurous of mind as well as body. He seemed to fear nothing. He did not judge other cultures as his fellow Victorians did (and some of us still do today), he was bold, brave, liked a laugh and a drink, and he was devoted to the love of his life, his wife; Isabel. His energy, enthusiasm, his curiosity for the people and world around him should be held as an ideal to work for today I think.
Sir Richard Francis Burton died, 20 October 1890.
This August, I hope to make my own mini pilgrimage from the North, to London to visit his tomb at Saint Mary Magdalen Church, Mortlake.
‘The same superficial view of holding woman to be lesser (and very inferior) man is taken generally by the classics; and Euripides distinguished himself by misogyny, although he drew the beautiful character of Alcestis.’ RFB. On Arab womanhood in 1001 Nights.
‘Women, all the world over, are what men make them; and the main charm of Amazonian fiction is to see how they live and move and have their being without any masculine guidance.’ RFB. On Arab womanhood in 1001 Nights.
When I turned 18 (oh so long ago), I got extraordinarily drunk whilst at college. I spewed copious amounts of vomit around the girl’s toilets and had to be taken home by a member of staff and a student. My mother was confused – she did not recognise drunkenness when she saw it, my father thought it quite funny. I was ill for about three days. When I turned 21, my parents turned up at my university digs with a cake, my two main childhood toys (Tiny Tears and Teddy) and a bottle of champagne.
Fairly typical for Many UK young people on the cusp of adulthood; most people I know of my age, also got ridiculously drunk on their eighteenth birthdays. It seems to be the norm here. Celebrations dropped down to 16 after a while, so massive parties and lots of alcohol consumed, usually in the celebrants family home, but more and more people are hiring halls, or restaurants or clubs these days.
So when do we become an adult? What do we do to celebrate and mark the transition from childhood to adulthood? And why are the laws and customs regarding what a teen can and cannot do not unequal throughout England? It seems like other cultures have a handle on this, traditions which continue over the generations and are acknowledged by the whole community. You can have a tooth filled in Bali, do a land-dive in Pacific island of Vanuatu, or be beaten and scarred with the Fulani of Western Africa. But what do we do in England and when do we do it?
For those of you who are not English, let me fill you in –
The legal age of consent (to have sexual intercourse), is 16 years.
You can drink abeer, wine, or ciderwith a meal in a pub or restaurant if you are with an adult, at 16 years.
You can get married with parental consent, at 16 years.
You can smoke, (but you cannot buy cigarettes or tobacco) at 16 years.
You can drive a vehicle ,at 17 years.
You can vote in Elections, at 18 years.
Now you can buy your own cigarettes, at 18 years.
The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol, 18 years.
The minimum age for enlisting in the UK armed forces is 16.Those who sign on when 16 or 17 must serve until they are 22.
Join the Royal Navy at 16 years; although that may vary for certain roles across the different branches. If you’re under the age of 18, you will need the consent of a parent or guardian.
Legally – in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – a minor is a person under 18 years of age.
In London, under 11’s travel free on most public transport.
On most public transport across the UK, adult fares begin at 16 years.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, you’re paying for adult tickets from the age of, 12 years.
Kids go free at Legoland, up to and including the age of 15 years.
In England, you must stay in full-time education, for example at a college, start an apprenticeship or traineeship, or spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training, until you are 18 years.
So let’s have a quick re-cap. At 16 years of age you have to pay adult fares for theme parks and the like, you can smoke cigarettes, but NOT buy them. You can marry with parental consent (so presumably have children), you can join the military, which presumably involves in weapon training. BUT, you have to be with an adult to have a drink with a meal. You must remain in education and you cannot vote. Not forgetting, that legally, YOU ARE STILL REGARDED AS A MINOR. YOU ARE A CHILD! There is little, or no consistency.
Does this picture look skew-whiff to anyone else?! I have been boggled by the age issue since I was 13 years old and I was charged adult price for a ticket for Madame Tussauds Waxworks Museum. I argued for ages with the guy on the counter:
“I’m not an adult”
“It’s adult for 13 and over.”
“I’m a school kid!”
“But I’m not responsible enough to be an adult!”
I paid anyway – wanted to see the wax heads on sticks.
Can we not all agree on what age is the one true age of reaching adulthood? The complications are sometimes related to money. In the consumer age, corporations and conglomerates want your money, regardless of whether you earn any or not. This is a ludicrous situation. Not only can we not agree on set ages for ‘coming of age’, but we don’t now know when to celebrate. So, 16 years old’s celebrate that they have turned ‘Sweet 16’ (So What?! I cry), then 18 year old’s celebrate their ‘coming of age’ – as we have seen already, usually by getting very, very drunk.
Then along comes 21 years. This used to be the age recognised throughout the UK, when a child became an adult. This changed in 1970, in England (1969 in Wales and Scotland). It was a huge moment marked by celebrations, party, gifts and, a once well-known song.
Now we are being told that, mentally and emotionally, we are reaching adulthood around 25 years. So isn’t it about time to have parity across the board? If we are saying that people are minors/children until the age of 18, shouldn’t all laws and charges reflect this?
Having something definite to mark this passage provides us with a ‘mental landmark’, we all know where we stand. Make it a real celebration, something that is recognised by all, a ceremony of sorts. A Tradition.
Mazal Tov! Around the world, young Jewish boys and girls celebrate their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at age 13 and 12 in order to demonstrate their commitment to their faith and recognize that they are now responsible for following Jewish law. After the religious ceremony, a reception to celebrate the young person’s hard work and accomplishment takes place; as they have often spent weeks learning and preparing for this day.
Amish Coming of Age Tradition: Rumspringa
In Amish tradition, Rumspringa marks the time when youth turn 16 and are finally able to enjoy unsupervised weekends away from family. During this time, they are encouraged to enjoy whatever pleasures they like, be that modern clothing or alcohol. The purpose of this period is to allow Amish youth the opportunity to see and experience the world beyond their culture and upbringing. It also recognises that youthful exuberance exists and needs to be allowed to happen. In this way, returning to their community and way of life thus is entirely their choice. Those who return are then baptized and become committed members of the Amish church and community, marking the end of Rumspringa (but they must do so before turning 26).
In North Baffin Island, Inuit boys have traditionally gone out to the wilderness with their fathers between the ages of 11 and 12 to test their hunting skills and acclimatise to the harsh arctic weather. As part of the tradition, a shaman would be called to open the lines of communication between men and animals. Nowadays, this tradition has been extended to young girls as well, as “out-camps” are established away from the community in order for traditional skills to be passed down and practiced by the young men and women.
In Malaysia, 11 is a special birthday for some Muslim girls, as it marks the time when they can celebrate Khatam Al Koran, a prestigious ritual that demonstrates their growing maturity at their local mosque. Girls spend years preparing for this day, reviewing the Koran so they can recite the final chapter before friends and family at the ceremony.
The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have several rites of passage that carry boys into manhood. Boys between the ages of 10-20 come together to be initiated as the new “warrior class” of the tribe, placed in dozens of houses built for the occasion. The night before the ceremony the boys sleep outside in the forest, and at dawn they return for a day of singing and dancing. They drink a mixture of alcohol, cow’s blood, and milk, while also consuming large portions of meat. After these festivities they are ready to be circumcised, making the official transformation into a man, warrior, and protector. Similar to other rites of passage the boys cannot flinch, because doing so would shame their families and discount their bravery.
In Japan, the second Monday of January marks a special day- the day in which 20 year olds get to dress up in their finest traditional attire, attend a ceremony in local city offices, receive gifts, and party to their hearts’ content amongst friends and family. It’s their Coming of Age Festival, otherwise known as Seijin-no-Hi. The tradition started nearly 1200 years ago and recognizes the age when the Japanese believe youth become mature, contributing members of society (it’s also the time when they get to vote and drink).
It is interesting to note, that whilst I was searching for images to represent each culture’s way of celebrating this rite of passage – I could not find anything to represent the UK. There were very mixed images of different types of parties, the odd one of teens drinking or smoking, but no consistency – because we have no recognisable, traditional way to share and enjoy. This will have to suffice…
The word can bring the usually stout of heart and joyous of personalities to a stuttering, heart-in-the-mouth, stomach-churning (occasionally pants-filling), halt.
Thousands of young people across the UK will have sat, or be currently sitting these horrendous GCSE/A level/End of Year papers. My thoughts are with you guys.
But why do we do exams? For years I have gone along with the mentality that exams are there to assess how much we have learnt, to grade us for the next level of education, to see where our skills lie (academically) and so direct our employment options.
Imagine our ancient ancestors – ploughing the fields, milking the cows, thatching roofs, building homes, smithing your horse’s hooves, sewing your clothes, brewing ale, grinding corn and so on and so forth. Did they sit written exams? No. They didn’t, but managed to make, create, produce and thrive in a continuously moving environment.
The problem lies with numbers; not those hated calculations involving equations and formulas – or that might just be me. I mean numbers of students. In the past, authentic assessment was the norm; we had apprenticeships; an expert would take on an apprentice, provide individualised training and constant feedback. Apprentices were evaluated on how well they applied the skills, not how well they answered a multiple-choice question. The tradition continues today; the construction industry being a point in question.
But as the population grew, we needed a way to assess huge numbers of potentials. And now we have a kind of production-line mentality to education and exams. We go in one end, age 5 years (3 ½ if you go to pre-school), and come out the other aged 18 years, having sat numerous tests along the way: IQ tests, 11Plus, Aptitude, End of Year, SAT’s (thanks America!) Mocks, GCSE’s (O Levels if your over 40 years), A Levels. THEN, you can go to Further or Higher Education where you do further exams – or retake those English and Maths GCSE’s you failed at school.
And this in an age where we talk about the individual; about how we’re each different, how we have differing needs, how we learn at different rates. So why the rigid, one-size-fits-all attitude?
And what do exams do anyway, besides stress us out? So you happen to be able to remember a bunch of information that someone spewed out for 10 months, so what? Just because you can pass a written exam, does not mean you will be successful in life, as a person – you know, the REAL important stuff?!
Should we be looking at a new way to educate people? What should we be educated in?
We’re so busy stuffing our heads with dates and measurements and names and so forth, that we do not stop to think what we should be learning about.
Education, after all means – the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university, “a course of education” (OED) Origin – Word Root of educate
The Latin word ducere, meaning “to lead,” and its form ductus give us the roots duc and duct. Words from the Latin ducere have something to do with leading. A duct is a tube that leads from one place or organ to another. To educate, or teach, is to lead to knowledge. To induce is to lead into a particular state. (Merriam-Webster)
So, instead of stuffing words, dates and formulae in, we should be spending half the time, drawing out from the pupil.
And anyway, who decided that if you don’t get the grades then you’ll never ‘make it’ in life. Let’s have a look at how some well-known people fared in their school exams and ask ourselves, Do we really need exams in the form they currently are anymore?
Imagine if every student across the land – every single one – refused to do their exams. On the same day, at the same time, they all agreed to down pens and refuse to take part in this pointless ritual that measures nothing but an individuals ability to regurgitate information in a given time frame…I wonder what would happen?!
Simon Cowell –Music Entrepreneur – left school with just 1 O Level.
Jon Snow– journalist/News Presenter – Grade C in English.
Lord Alan Sugar – Business Entrepreneur – 1 GCSE.
Sarah Millican – Comedian – D and E in her A Levels.
Jeremy Clarkson – TV Host – “If your A-level results aren’t joyous, take comfort from the fact I got a C and two Us. And I have a Mercedes Benz.”
…and extracts from some school reports of the good and the average:
“This boy will never get anywhere in life.” Eric Morecombe, Comedian.
“Judi would be a very good pupil if she lived in this world.” Judi Dench, Actor.
“Certainly on the road to failure…hopeless…rather a clown in class…wasting other pupils’ time.” John Lennon, Musician.
“Inclined to dream. Could do better if he tried.” Nick Park, Animator.
“Jilly has set herself an extremely low standard which she has failed to maintain.” Jilly Cooper, Author.
“Constantly late for school, losing his books and papers….regular in his irregularity….” Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister 1940-1945/1951-1955
So you see, if at first you don’t succeed; become an entrepreneur, a comedian or a politician, can’t go wrong!