Long hot summer, short hot take

19751976 was the summer I spent mostly barefoot, staying up the park from early in the morning till the gates were locked after dark. That was the year I started at what was then called the Upper School, in the “third year”—what is now called Year 9. The great joy that year was, on my paper-round, seeing faces in a window who turned into friends-again, kicking off a summer of closeness and camaraderie, the inseparable team for tinpanalley and the other endless games of that endless summer. The pain came in September, at the Big School, when those same friends blanked me for no reason other than the new environment, because they felt like it, and because there was more space and more distance to make it stick.

1975 had been a good British summer: great in comparison to most of them, but there hadn’t been a drought, so it’s easy to forget it. It had been a warm June (average temperature 14.5ºC), followed by the warmest July since 1955 (17.1ºC), and then, the kicker, the hottest August on record (19.2ºC)—until 1995, which beat it by just 1/10th of a degree. Were it not for that summer of ’76, in fact, 1975 would have been the summer we (Gen Xers) all look back upon with nostalgia.

But 1976 was even hotter—in June and July at least, and there was a long, unbroken stretch without rain. There was a Minister for Drought, and hosepipe bans, and we were encouraged to share the bathwater, then water the roses with it, and put a brick in the toilet cistern. But August wasn’t that great, it was 2º cooler than the year before. The damage to 1975’s reputation was done, though, and it was forgotten by history. I’ve always felt about it the same way I do some beloved records. You know, like Beatles for Sale, or even Rubber Soul, as compared to Revolver. But 1975 is like the girlfriend in the distracted boyfriend meme. 1976 caught everyone’s attention and held it. But isn’t a summer in which you’re not obliged to get into someone else’s dirty bathwater as a matter of routine better than one in which you are?

Back then, when I was twelve and thirteen, I was young enough to see two years as the beginning of a pattern (all summers will be great from now on), so when the summer of 1977 came along, oh man. What a disappointment. June was a frigid 12.2ºC, July and August a gelid 15º. I went on a school camping trip that year, a week in the Wye Valley, and, boy, did it rain. And rain. That was the year of “God Save the Queen” and the Jubilee and street parties, none of which held any interest for me.

A couple of years ago, we had a bunch of people round towards the end of August for a night of pizza in the garden. It’s our usual way of returning dinner invitations. My kitchen in France is primitive, so I do most of our entertaining on the barbecue, whether it’s pizza or grilling. We sat out there long past sunset, lighting candles when it got dark, and enjoying the warm evening, not noticing the rolling thunder that might have been in the hills, even then. Because suddenly, as if someone threw a switch, the wind picked up, and the umbrella blew over, and the big orange awning started to flap like a mainsail in an Atlantic swell. By 11 o’clock, it was raining, big drops, and our guests were helping us get everything we didn’t want to get wet inside. Like that, summer was over.

This year, the weather changed a few days ago. We’ll be eating indoors for our final dinner with friends tonight, and I’ll be barbecuing in the rain. But it has been a hot one, hasn’t it? We’ll know in a couple of days whether this August has beaten 1995 and 1975. I’m going to guess not, though, as I think the weather broke in Britain before it did over here in France. It was dry; I think I can count the number of rainy days on one hand. But no 2018 summer month has been a record breaker as far as I can tell. July was hot (19.5º), but not as hot as 2006 (20º) and June was 0.4º cooler than 1976. Other places had it worse, and I suppose that global temperatures might tell a different story. All those wildfires. How many had natural causes, I wonder?

Back in 1976, Farmers were still in the habit of burning stubble in the fields, so we’d see palls of smoke up in the hills. This practice was banned in 1993, but it would give some kids ideas. We, my friends and I, sometimes hung out with some other kids, not really friends, but the same age as us. We’d come together for cricket matches or giant tinpanalley games. I remember going up the Downs once (the Downs behind my parents’ house), and we encountered a bunch of them setting fire to the railway embankment. Great swathes of dry grass were left scorched. How many of the wildfires in North America and Scandinavia were started with a match?

It’s easy to buy the narrative that extreme weather events are increasing in frequency. I’m sure there’s an upward global temperature curve, but looking at localised UK data from the last fifty years, it’s hard to see much of a pattern. 1975 and 1976 felt like something was happening, but then 1977 brought us all crashing back to earth.

I think it more likely that the negative effects of climate change for the UK will involve quantities of water coming from the sky rather than anything special in terms of summer temperatures. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed this summer: I tried not to complain too much about the heat, even when I was sweating in my classroom back in June and July. But sitting inside today as it rains intermittently outside, I can already feel my cycling tan fading. And we lit a fire to help dry the washing, so…

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Retweeting to the scene of the crime

sysk-crimesceneselectWelp, it didn’t last. But being away from Twitter for a few days was helpful in focusing my mind on just what it was about the place that vexes me in particular. Sure, Nazis etc., but there were a thousand other things that niggled at me too. Many of these things also niggled at me on Mastodon.

So I feel like, coming back, I want to clear the decks a bit. I think I absolutely have to be ruthless about certain things, even if it means I lose some followers (I’ve lost one already – although I don’t use a service that tells me just who it was), and so I’m going to be unfollowing or muting a lot of accounts. It really is about the content, often in the form of retweets, rather than the people.

Let’s start at the top of the list, with the hate. I’m fairly liberal as far as free speech is concerned. I draw the line at harassment and inciting violence, but I think there’s another line I’ll draw, which is something that my brief time on Mastodon made me think about. On Mastodon, the interface doesn’t have an option to quote-retweet. I’ve used this feature on Twitter a lot, but I appreciate now that in certain cases there has been a power imbalance. For example, if someone with half a million followers quote-tweets someone with 250 followers, it’s like pointing a klieg light towards them with potentially unpleasant results. So I’m kind of done with people who misuse the power of their following. Anything that encourages the pitchfork wielding twitmob, in other words, whether that’s directed at political opponents, or poor customer service from brands. I did unfollow radio presenter Danny Baker some time ago because of his worrying tendency to get publicly mardy about a poor retail or customer experience. By all means, take it up with the organisation concerned, like the rest of us have to, but stop invoking a mob. Stop using your clout.

The twitmob has always been the absolute worst part of Twitter: everyone piling in. It doesn’t matter which side of the culture war you’re on: the majority is always wrong. And I’m not holding myself up as a paragon: I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone of piling in at times. But I’ll try hard not to.

It wasn’t just Mastodon’s no-quoting policy that brought this home to me, but the very fact of viewing a more or less unfiltered Mastodon timeline, on that first couple of days when a lot of twit-refugees were turning up. There were a lot of in-jokes, and a lot of jokes about toots, which is what the Mastodon equivalent of tweets are called. And watching all these people having their fun by all piling in and making the same kind of jokes over and over, well, it kind of irritated me. Because I’m not, as you know, a joiner. And when I see this kind of phenomenon, I just think, groupthink, yuk. And I turn away from it.

So twitter mob mentality is out, and when I encounter it, I’ll be unfollowing.

I also went through my follow list and cleared out some dormant accounts (at least two of the people I followed were dead 😔).

Temporarily, I have more followers than I am following. Wonder how long that will last?

A final word on Mastodon. In that unfiltered timeline, there was an awful lot of neediness and attention-seeking, disguised as joining in the fun. No different from Twitter in that respect. And there were a lot, as I’ve said, of passive-aggressive “helpful” messages to “new users”.

And I’ve been thinking about the final staw(s). One was just another passive-aggressive set of rules for new users (actually, the site already had a set of rules, so this was just a redundant set of snarky rules designed to put people in their place). The other was a message from one of said new users, asking for recommendations of people to follow, “who aren’t men”.

Well.

This new user appeared to be a man, first of all, from his profile pic. So it looked like a certain amount of self-loathing was going on. Now, I’m not going to go down the “not all men” route, but I am going to point out that one of the main problems with Twitter is/was not that men didn’t follow enough women. The problem has always been that men would choose to follow a lot of women, and then harass them endlessly. I mean, there are so many accounts that were essentially middle-aged white men following a lot of younger women. It’s a thing, on Twitter.

So the “problem” that this newbie was trying to be so right-on about was simply being reproduced in his self-loathing toot. He might as well have asked, “Please direct me towards some hot chicks I can follow.” So. My eyes continue their rolling journey back to their origin.

The absence of tweeting

  • I’m not returning to Twitter for the nonce, but I have deleted my experimental Mastodon presence*
  • I don’t often wear plasters. But it struck me putting one on a blistered heel that your standard “flesh” coloured plaster is totally racist.**
  • There are apples everywhere.***
  • Went to a craft fare yesterday, and found a stall selling jewellery made of recycled Nespresso coffee pods. Cool stuff. There are lots of how-to YouTube videossummer - 1 (2)
  • Yes. But the only thing that interests me is how do you fall off a cruise ship in the first place?

Footnotes

*The overall atmosphere was “friendly” – very much with the inverted commas. My personal response to that was to see it as “passive aggressive”. As I said, Mastodon was not for me. I won’t share what the final straw was, but my eyes are yet to return back from the place they rolled to.

**Mostly, I cut myself when chopping or slicing, and I prefer the blue plasters for obvious reasons. They’re not so racist.

***We have loads of apple trees in the garden (as well as two apiece of walnut and chestnut), and a pear tree. Apples are falling all over the place, and throughout the village. I would like to get the kit to make cider.

 

 

Things I’d have tweeted etc. and thoughts on Mastodon

  • West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire? Are they on drugs?*
  • Too depressed to be on Mastodon much today.**
  • Spotted a tiny, tiny lizard at the front of the housesummer - 17
  • And this is what happened when Oscar caught sight of itsummer - 18
  • Today’s bike ride was up to St. Antoine again, an old favourite.***
  • Found a terrifying bug in the kitchen. Had the body of one of those black beetles and the back legs of a grasshopper****

Footnotes

*I never thought I’d say this, but I’m kind of glad right now that the school I teach at isn’t under local authority control. If this kind of thing spreads, if more local councils collapse under the burden of cuts, schools will be among the services suffering (even more than they currently are). What struck me about this story is the complete lack of joined up thinking in the naming of the two proposed “unitary authorities”. Seems symptomatic.

**Mastodon, the safe-space alternative to Twitter, has been around a couple of years, but didn’t gain much attention till this week, when so many people decided, en masse, to leave Twitter. It’s fun on a superficial level, in the stupid joke phase that Twitter went through in its early days; that said, its roots are starting to show to me, a “normie” (in the site’s terms) and a middle-aged white male – the kind of person many on the site were hoping to escape. I feel no resentment about this, but don’t think it’s really the place for me. I appreciate more than most people in my position the importance of pronouns, but it still grates somewhat to see people who are really only talking about themselves in the first person refer to themselves in the third. Anyway, I don’t belong over there, and I question my own motives. With just 300 followers on Twitter (lost very few after the bot purge) after nine years, the heart sighs at the thought of starting from zero again. (Probably just as much as a Twitter celeb with half a million followers.)

I’ve long held the belief that a minimum of 100 of my 300 have muted me. Probably 10-20 of them don’t even see my tweets in the algorithmic timeline. Another 100 or so probably have dormant accounts. And of the 80-90 remaining, probably only a dozen or so actually read my hilarious tweets.

Of course, the Twitter experience is asymmetrical, and I enjoyed reading more than posting, but, after the initial rush of interest, I’m really overwhelmed on Mastodon with feelings of ennui.

***The St Antoine forest is dark and beautiful, with roads that melt in hot weather, cascading waterfalls, and cold, cold mountain water. But getting there involves a lot of climbing. I’m always surprised, heading back down, how steep it was; still, I love the descent, once it gets flatter. It’s my kind of cycling: a long stretch of ever-so-slightly downhill road.

****It was too terrifying to photograph. I just took it outside and stamped on it. Mutation!

Things I might have tweeted today if I’d still been on the Twitter

  • I miss Twitter*muted-bird
  • Currently reading Shelby Foote’s narrative history of the (US) Civil War**
  • I don’t think I can be bothered to go through the rigamarole of finding new people to follow on Mastodon***
  • There’s a complete stranger of a German teenager coming to stay for the next week. I don’t know how this happened****
  • They found a concealed bit of the Berlin Wall. Is this a metaphor for something?*****
  • The seeds are in the sweetest part of the watermelon. Is this a metaphor for something?******

Footnotes

*Of course, if I was still on Twitter I wouldn’t have felt this sentiment, so this first one is a lie.

**A gift from my daughter, who has been very critical of me not starting it. But I was saving it for these dog days of August and now she’s nicked it off me. Shelby Foote was the engaging, bearded contributor to Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on the Civil War. He weaves a good yarn.

***Actually, Mastodon has been quite a lot of fun today, and I followed a  few people, although you don’t really need to. You can just scroll through the Local timeline, and it’s okay. Some of it is silly, but none of it is hateful.

****This has been organised by my wife and is the source of much tension around here, because nobody else thinks it’s a good idea. Inviting the daughter of an acquaintance (???) to visit for a whole WEEK? I said no, bad idea, but it happened anyway. Send help.

*****It was in the Mitte district, which is where I stayed when I visited the city. I think I even remember the park where they found it. If it’s where I think it is, I’m not surprised.

******Of course it is. I actually tooted this on Mastodon, along with a picture of a salad I made with it.

IMG_3604

Give me this at least

biscuit-brew-2-e1521459133832
This.

If I could make a bargain with the universe over what I was allowed to eat without causing an eczema flare-up, I wouldn’t ask for much.

It turns out, if I don’t eat butter I eat a lot less bread, and if I eat a lot less bread I eat a lot less cheese. I miss it, but most of it isn’t a deal breaker. The vast quantities of mature cheddar I used to get through were just gluttony.

It also turns out that the only thing I really miss about milk is the tiny amount I put in a morning cup of tea. I like to drink. Just one. Cup. Of. Tea. Per day. I’m not your typical British person (or teacher) in that respect. I don’t even like it in the afternoon, unless there’s a Fortnum and Mason Dundee cake in the vicinity.

So I will set wheat bread* aside. And I will forego butter. And I will put oat or almond milk on my cereal and peanut butter on my glutard toast.

But if I could have the following, please, universe:

  • Mozzarella (*on pizza, yes, made with wheat flour), no more than once a week;
  • Parmesan (with glutard pasta or in soup);
  • A tiny drizzle of milk in a single mug of tea, once per day.

That’s it. I’ll stir oat cream into my soups and try not to think about cheese on toast, and I’ll drive to Woburn Sands for glutard fish and chips, if I could just have a carbonara occasionally, and a Saturday pizza made with my own hands, and a mug of Yorkshire tea.

Is that too much to ask?

(Eczema is substantially reduced – currently getting by with aloe vera gel and a nightly Benadril.)

Creams and potions and lotions

6102182sayL._SL1000_When you suffer from eczema, when you suddenly suffer from it in your mid-50s, you encounter a bewildering number of possible causes and cures. Some people, I note, seem to just live with it. My own mother always seemed to have a tube of Betnovate on the go.

But I’ve always been convinced that my own sudden onset eczema has an external cause, such as a food allergy or intolerance. Maybe it’s pollen. Maybe it’s stress (which is still an external cause). Maybe it’s a side effect of medication (most of the ones I take list “rash” as one of the possible side effects). Or maybe it’s gluten, or dairy, or bio washing powder, or simply heat or pressure from sitting or wearing elastic or a belt. Anyway, tracking down an actual cause seems nearly impossible. You’d be here to the end of time, trying to establish one using the scientific method.

Which brings us to the treatments. What you mainly want to do is stop the itch-scratch cycle. The guilty secret of scratching is that it brings a pleasurable relief. And if you scratch till it hurts, your spine releases serotonin, which brings relief, but also stokes the itch-scratch cycle. Strong steroid creams (on prescription) offer relief for several hours at a time (though sometimes take too long to work) and can clear up an eczema patch after two or three days, but in my case, the eczema just moves elsewhere. Most of my time is spent chasing it around my body.

But strong steroid creams are bad, and should only be used for a day or two. Chasing the eczema around means I’m not constantly putting the cream on the same spots, but I still don’t like to use it. Taking antihistamine pills seems to work, too, though they do seem to stop working for me after a few days. I’ve been taking Piriteze: two tablets, staggered over a few hours in the evening, can give me an itch-free night. But such a dose does leave me feeling a bit zonked. One tablet isn’t enough.

Looking for alternatives, you will come across many a web site making extravagant claims for various creams. I’ve tried a lot.

First, and most basic, is Dermol, which you can use as a moisturiser and as a replacement for shower gel. I get this in 500ml bottles on prescription. Used regularly, it can offer relief for a few hours: enough to get you to sleep, perhaps, though nothing stops you from waking up in the middle of the night itching like crazy. Dermol is good for spreading the steroid more thinly, and it absorbs well and is non-sticky.

Something similar is Cetaphil, which I think some people get instead of Dermol. I tried Cetaphil in mousse form, but felt it left my skin feeling slightly tacky.

Bog standard moisturisers like Vaseline Intensive Care can be used, and I’ve tried a Vaseline lotion with added Aloe Vera (and a Garnier equivalent). They’re okay, though no more effective than Dermol. The most pleasant moisturiser to use is Aveeno, especially the one with almond oil. Problem with Aveeno and the other commercial brands, they have too many SKUs, and almost nobody stocks them all. I also tried their after shower mist, which was okay, but didn’t seem to last very long.

But nothing is quite so effective at providing a protective barrier for your skin as actual Vaseline petroleum jelly. Which is nasty and greasy, but lasts a long while and promotes healing.

When itching is at its height, aloe vera gel can be very useful in cooling the skin and relieving the immediate itching sensation. If you then apply another moisturiser on top, you might get relief from itching for a few hours.

I’ve also tried coconut oil, the only real benefit of which seems to be its pleasant smell, if you like that kind of thing. Doesn’t work particularly well as a moisturiser, however, and doesn’t help the eczema.

Finally, I’ve also tried cannabis-based cream, such as Atopicann, which contains hemp oil as well as coconut oil and zinc. No THC, though. It smells a bit like the Mytosil ointment we used to use for nappy rash: not very pleasant.

At the moment, the combination of antihistamine tablets,  aloe vera gel and Atopicann seems to be working to keep the itching at bay. And who knows, maybe giving up gluten and dairy is helping too. But probably not.

 

On giving up everything*

127171_Perfect-with-Dairy-Free-70s_0001
How does this work, then?

Older readers will remember that I’d been controlling my eczema, reluctantly, by following a gluten-free diet. So well was this going that I started to play fast and loose with the strictness, reasoning that one pizza on a Saturday, made with a properly fermented 48-hour dough, was unlikely to cause more than the mildest of itches.

Even when the dermatology clinic tested my blood for the gluten allergens and reported “inconclusive” results, I stuck to the (almost) elimination diet on the basis that even if the effects were psychological they were no less real for that.

But the eczema made a gradual return, to the point that I asked for a refill of my steroid cream prescription.

At the end of March, I had a small slice of birthday cake on my wife’s birthday, and decided to go back to strict enforcement of the diet. Two and a half months later, and here we are. Still itching. And on a scale of 1-10 when anything below 6 is mild enough to resist scratching that itch, I’ve been 8-10 for weeks on end now, with big patches of eczema on the back of my legs, and my back, anywhere there might be extended periods of pressure. So the back of my thighs, for example: that’s worse when I’ve been sitting down, and the base of my back is bad especially after a car journey of any length. And around the waist band of my underwear, etc.

Went to the doctor (not the clinic, which had discharged me back when the eczema was under control), and he suggested I might try giving up dairy.

Groan.

*Once you remove anything with wheat in it from your diet, and then anything with milk in it, ugh. I now look at those “wheat and dairy free” labels ruefully, when once I used to wonder why the two so frequently went together. I tried, at first, a compromise, and went lactose free for a few weeks. This wasn’t too bad: there’s a pretty wide variety of lactose-free products, and they taste acceptable.

But that didn’t work of course, and so I now embark on the dairy-free part of my life, half-hoping this isn’t going to work. I mean, I like rice, and I’ll eat a bean salad, and I’ll grill some meat and so on. But I fucking hate that watery quinoa gruel, and all those bitty vegan options are just damp leaves. Soya and coconut cheese substitutes are gross.

I think I’ll try till the end of July, see if it works. And if it does, can I have a slice of bread to celebrate?

April in Paris

April 2018 Paris - 12My wife was running the Paris Marathon, so we were in Paris (and environs) for the weekend. Our place in France is about 5 hours drive from Paris, but B has a cousin who lives in the ‘burbs, and they very generously put us up for the weekend, and ferried us to and from the RER station, so we could catch the train without worrying about parking etc.

The RER was more or less unaffected by the national strikes affecting the SNCF network, so there was no issue getting into town. The RER is a regional network of commuter trains, something like the DLR, I guess, though the trains are long double deckers, so you’re less likely to spend a whole journey on your feet than you are in England.

Saturday was the day for picking up the race number and after we’d done that, we had a bit of a walk around. I didn’t want to queue for anything, or pay for anything, so we did just that, apart from at lunchtime, when I overpaid for an undercooked gluten-free pizza at a restaurant that offered that speciality. (There are a lot of pizza restaurants in Paris, by the way.)

The first spot I was keen to see was the Île de la Cité, for the simple reason that it’s a key location in my favourite Tim Powers novel, Declare. I didn’t have an epiphany, though, so we had a look at the queue to get into Notre Dame Cathedral (these kind of places always make me think of Don DeLillo’s Most Photographed Barn in America* in White Noise) and then crossed the Pont Notre Dame (bloke playing an accordion? Check), passed the Hotel de Ville and walked to look at the Pompidou centre.

It was quiet at first, but as the day wore on, the streets and cafés became a lot more crowded. We’ve always been early morning people, quite out of synch with French habits. It was clear that, even on a Saturday, people didn’t rock into town until lunchtime (even then, sitting down for lunch later than in rural France), and then set out for serious sightseeing and shopping in the afternoon.

I won’t complain too much about the undercooked pizza: it’s by no means the first such I’ve eaten in France, so can’t solely be blamed on the glutard crust, which does typically require a longer cooking time. My other half had a salad that she enjoyed, and at least they did Vezelay gf beer.

After lunch, we wandered around the left bank’s narrow streets, stopping for a Coke when the amount of walking we were doing threatened to ruin the methodical Marathon preparations. 

When we visited Berlin, my phone recorded 60,000 steps for the 3-day stay, and Paris wasn’t quite that extreme. By Saturday’s end, I’d walked 10km, had done nearly 16,000 steps. Given that B does about 1.5 for each one of mine, she was on 24,000. These prosaic details are what such visits are built upon. You either stand around in queues, sit around underground, or put in the miles. I always put in the miles.

Which is what I did on Sunday, with about 5 hours to kill while B ran the race. I checked in on her at 26km (near the Jardin des Tuileries), and then timed my arrival at the finish to coincide with hers. She took it easy, enjoyed the views, and suffered a lot less than she did for the London run last year.

Meanwhile, I walked from the Arc de Triomphe to the Paris Opera, and then down to Les Halles shopping centre. The streets were eerily quiet: a lot of the traffic had been cut off by the street closures, and I guess a lot of people were avoiding the area anyway. By the afternoon, Paris was back to its horn honking, impatient, irrational self as far as traffic was concerned. But I had the pleasure of crossing nearly deserted streets against the lights and enjoying the city as it ought to look more of the time. I’m a big proponent of banning motor vehicles from city centres altogether. There were bikes for hire all over the place, including those Chinese ones that just get left anywhere. I was tempted to download the app and use one, but I felt more confident navigating on foot, and didn’t want some dodgy bicycle hire company having access to my bank account.

I knew I’d need the loo at some point and also that France is extremely reluctant to provide decent public toilets, so my day revolved around arranging a couple of expensive pees. This started with the withdrawal of some cash, which was quite an operation. My wallet was zipped into one of the two rucksacks I was carrying, and I didn’t want to faff around with it while I was at the cashpoint itself, so I did all that down the street and across the road, and then wandered over to withdraw the money. The majority of people around at this time seemed to be shambling wrecks, people who looked through bins and talked to themselves, or yelled incoherently at passers by. This is not to say that Paris has more of a homeless problem than anywhere else. In fact, you can see more street people on a visit to Belfort than I did in Paris.

Two €10 notes weren’t going to get me a wee, so I then had to make change. Once I reached Les Halles, I found the target toilets: 50¢ entry, but nice and clean. Around the corner was a Starbucks, so I went and got myself a big Americano. What was I thinking, going to a Starbucks, underground, in the city of a million cafés? Well. No reason. But I sometimes can’t be doing with the faff of table service, and since I was on my own, I wasn’t obliged to. Also, shipmates, as bad as Starbucks coffee is, the French can’t make a decent espresso either, so let’s not pretend those pavement coffees are worth having. And, no, I didn’t want to sit on my own at a corner café. Instead of meeting an intriguing woman in that romantic setting, I was more likely to be approached by a dreadlocked homeless person.

Having filled up on the Americano, I pissed it away for 50¢, which felt like money well spent.

I then walked down the Seine to kilometre 26, waved at my wife, and then wandered into the Tuileries, waved at the Louvre pyramid, and found a place to sit down to eat some lunch.

I probably went for the second pee too early. But I needed to get across to the Avenue Foch for the fucking finish, so I paid 80¢ for the privilege of pissing near the Place de la Concorde. And set off along the Seine again. The closest I got to the Eiffel Tower was the Palais de Tokyo, from where I set off up the hill and down again to the crowded finish line.

I was there about 20 minutes before my other half. The grass was damp, so I sat on her pre-race jumper, which I’d had permission to throw away if it became too burdensome.

Sunday step total: 21,428

Saturday: 15,994

Total: 37,422

Total spent to pee: €1.30

Sights seen: lots.

Seine-side joggers who were visibly irritated by the presence of Marathon crowds: 3.

*Nobody sees the barn.

Apple and Education

Ibera - 4Apple held an education event last week at a ridiculously huge high school in Chicago. It was squarely aimed at what used to be one of their core (and most loyal) markets: K-12 schools in the United States. On this side of the pond, there have only been isolated areas where Apple gets a look-in. I used to be one of them, when I taught Media and Film Studies, but even then I didn’t have enough computers in the classroom for anything other than group work.

In these financially straitened times, Apple have been losing share to Google. Schools are starved of funds for ideological reasons, teacher salaries are rock bottom (also for ideological reasons), and Google offer both cheap computers (Chromebook) and a “free” suite of software that integrates with school systems.

Apple’s event introduced a new, cheaper iPad aimed at schools, which supports their (expensive) Pencil and has a suite of software aimed at school IT managers and teachers.

Now, if you take the iPad and consider what it can do, it’s great value. Whereas a Chromebook, like most cheap laptops, will fall apart within 3 years, an iPad will go on forever (as long as you don’t drop it). An iPad can be a still or video camera, and includes software to edit photos, create documents, and edit video or make music. Nothing in the Google suite of apps matches the quality of Apple’s software. Throw in the Pencil, and you can use the iPad across the curriculum. Which is not to mention the privacy concerns I’d have regarding Google and their “free” software.

It seems, however, that Apple has a problem when it comes to implementing class sets and multiple log-ins. Their user-switching tools are reportedly clunky. I don’t think, personally, that this is unique to Apple. I’ve watched students log into networked (PC) computers and (especially if it’s the first time they’ve used that particular machine), it can take a ridiculously long time. I’ve had students in my lessons who’d been issued with a laptop because of special needs, and they have sat waiting for it to log in for an entire lesson.

But if I was in charge of a budget and had the power to make things happen, would I buy iPads?

I don’t think I would. I’d replace suites of Windows PC and Chromebook computers with Apple in a heartbeat, but I’ve never been sold on the iPad.

Here’s the thing. A computer is only as good as its software, and while Apple’s software may be good (the best, even), here in the real world, teachers don’t have time to learn it. It’s not just budgets and salaries that are constrained, but time. You offer me a class set of brand new iPads (or even a one-iPad-per-child policy), and I’m going to shrug my shoulders. Those iPads are going to stay locked away, or in the students’ bags. Not only do I not have time to get to grips with the software I’d be using to assign work and set homework, but I don’t have time to design lessons and activities, or the inevitable administrative tasks that go along with setting class and homework.

We already get pointed towards online services that can be used for homework and resources. “It’ll save you time in marking,” they say. “It’s all marked automatically.” But it’s not just the marking time I don’t have. I don’t have the setting time, the thinking time, or the time to deal with the students who don’t do the assigned tasks (because, when a student doesn’t do the homework, you’re supposed to do something about it).

You think I’m whining. I teach seven different sets of students. Outside the extra time I choose to put in, I get 21 minutes per week, per class to plan lessons, set work, mark books, and do the admin for that class. Obviously, that’s impossible, so the extra time I put in is dedicated to those basic tasks.

So you can hand me the greatest IT tools in the world, the most amazing hardware and software, but I still don’t have time. It wouldn’t be so bad if the students themselves had any IT savvy, but it’s a rare student indeed who knows how to do anything beyond the basics. I spent 10 years teaching students how to use Page Setup and calling out, “You’ve got caps lock on,” when their log-in “wasn’t working.” These days, not being able to do something on a computer has replaced the dog as the the most common reason homework isn’t done. I’ve decided that life’s too short to watch any more people accidentally lose all the work they did in an hour, or not know how to resize an image.