Friday, 15 May 2009

As the storm clouds gather...

...and the future looks ever more uncertain, sometimes one stumbles across something that raises the spirits.
We could all learn, I think, from Archibald Clark-Kerr, 1st Baron Inverchapel.
As British Ambassador to Moscow in early 1943 he could be forgiven for feeling gloomy. Nevertheless he found time to write a letter to Reginald Herbert, 15th Earl of Pembroke and 12th Earl of Montgomery - a panjandrum of some note at the Foreign Office.
The world was falling around them, Hitler was still untamed and things looked decidedly bleak. Yet Archie, I feel, hit the spot:

God bless the Freedom of Information Act.

A remarkable sale...

The sale of a Victorian village at the Shambles Museum, Newent, Gloucestershire:
Some remarkable things there, from coffin handles to taxidermist's equipment. And the chance to place a bid online. The temptation is too much...

Monday, 11 May 2009

An alloyed success

I've always been a huge fan of the Open University. It's one of those legacies of the Wilson years that really seemed to catch the spirit of an age and to have gone on to make a truly positive long-term contribution to the country. Only a churl or some embittered whey-faced academic, too long in his ivory tower, could dare say anything nasty about such a cuddlesome concept.

Then I enrolled as a student, one of the 180,000-odd people being churned through the machine. And now, three years into a history degree and nearing the end, I have to wonder if the OU really does cut the mustard as a 'proper' university.

From the start the OU has had an open entry policy - hence the name - whereby students' previous academic achievemnts (or the lack thereof) are not taken into account when enrolling for courses. For someone like me, who chucked away the chance to do a Botany degree many moons ago, that's probably irrelevant - a reasonable crop of A levels would have done the job regardless - but for many who left school without qualifications, the policy is the only key to the door of higher education.

Once through that door, though, the open policy appears to continue in a way which does little credit to its much-vaunted status as a pukka university. I have no idea what the courses were like in 1969, but in 2009 they seem to be too bloody easy.

The OU states that one of its 60-point undergraduate courses requires 14 hours a week of study to master. Currently I'm signed on for two concurrent 60-pointers. By rights I should be spending pretty nearly a full working week just on the university work. Am I buggery.

Yet, on the basis of the results I'm getting, it would seem to be perfectly feasible to trouser a 2:1 with about three hours' study a week.

The material - beatifully produced, it has to be said - is effectively spoon-fed to the students and the essays (tutor-marked assigments in OU speak) are set about with so many notes, guidelines and hints that it would seem to be impossible to fail.

The pass mark is 40 per cent, but one would have to be monumentally dim to fall even anywhere near that level. Even among the Desperate Housewives who twitter on the online OU conference forums, there is never a mention of failure, and if the semi-literate, solipsistic and frankly stupid level of writing on the boards is any indication, then failure bloody well should be an option.

Yet a simple regurgitation of the materials you have seems to be adequate for a second, and it appears possible to complete a degree entirely without once looking something up in a library.

I can't help but feel I'm taking the piss. Someone like me, with a cavalier attitude to the course, who never attends tutorials (they would involve five hours of travel, for Pete's sake) and who stuffs his study into odd moments in the week, surely shouldn't be able to get away with it?

So, the OU is undoubtedly a good thing. But does it have to be quite so dumbed down? Certainly it's hardly surprising that was rated the top university in England and Wales in the 2005 and 2006 national student satisfaction survey, and second in 2007. Who's going to grumble when things are quite so soft?

Anyway, enough wittering. I've got an essay to hand in today, so I'd better get started...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Quem pastores

The last ewe finally lambed a full two weeks after the others. Oddly the raddle mark on her bum showed that she had been tupped at the same time as the others, but biology and calendars have a habit of confusing the unwary. Or perhaps she was just the ugly one, and the ram deliberately left here until the last (she looks attractive enough to me, but maybe that's rather more information than one should put in a blog post!).
There's always a slight pang of reget when the lambing comes to an end. The long, chilly evenings spent in the lambing shed are tiring enough, admittedly, but there is also something magically atavistic about seeing a new life arrive. Sitting there in an old chair, cat dozing on the lap and just a dim light from the lamp and the sounds of rustling,breathing and cudding, there's a feeling of a bond shared with every shepherd back to the dawn of time.
They're out on the pasture now, though; the ewes happily working through the fresh grass and the lambs alternately running in packs up and down the hedge-line and dozing in untidy heaps in the sun. The swallows have returned and the days are longer, so (for now) all is at its best. And I'm finally catching up with sleep.

Work continues to come in, thank goodness; thus far the recession doesn't seem to have deterred people from wanting work done on their houses, although the new builds around here are nearly all on stop, and lay-offs are continuing. Interestingly the website stats show that around a quarter of the hits over the past month have come from searches on 'penetrative damp'. Has the Daily Mail done a feature on this lately? I'm intrigued to know the reason for the sudden surge in interest for penetrative damp.

Meanwhile the conservation project work seems to have settled into a routine of 10 per cent 'useful' work and perhaps 90 per cent bureaucracy, with seemingly endless paper-trails to be laid and followed. Today's exercise is 'branding'. To quote, 'In accordance with Annex VI of EC Regulation 1974/2006 it is a requirement to acknowledge and promote the assistance from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development also known as “EAFRD”.' and so on, for 16 bloody pages, until the clincher; 'It is important to adhere to these European requirements. If they are not met, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) payments to beneficiaries may be withheld or “clawed back”.'
That's telling me.