A Tartan Tale

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Lairds! Castles! Heraldry!

On Ne’er Day Thea and I, one of us a little the worse for wear having rolled in at 9a.m., were on a mission in Buenos Aires. My daughter had promised to take me to the grandest shopping mall in town – Galeria Pacifico –  to buy me my Christmas present. The picture above is of the ceiling, I kid you not.

As you do when you’re with a teenager, we chanced upon the MAC (make up not computer) window. We we caused utter bemusement amongst the good citizens of this sophisticated city as, after a stunned silence, we shrieked with hysterical laughter, holding on to each other in paroxysms of glee.

The summer theme (it averaged 37 degrees while I was there) was tartan: a ‘Tartan Tale to celebrate holiday, in all its posh, punk, ancestral, anarchic, noble and naughty glory. Royal and raunchy, colours and patterns collide, fantasies come true, punk fairies take flight with enchanted new looks’.

True, the model portrayed a maiden who had apparently stepped from a book of Celtic fairy tales, right enough: straight-backed, green-kirtled; side-saddled, caparisoned palfrey awaiting beside a stylised thicket of medieval roses (I may have made it up about the horse).  Her proud demeanour suggested a damsel in captivity destined to grace the Round Table – and only to be released from the spell of an ancient and evil witch by the application of top quality cosmetics.

The lengthy story filling the shop window told of Castle McGregor by the banks of the River Laird in bonny Midlothian wherein lived the handsome Prince Edward who was yearning to marry the humble servant (who, we knew was in reality an enchanted princess). It was the name of the heroine that sent us completely over the edge to hysteria: Myfanwy.

You couldn’t make it up.


The 2nd best bookshop in the world

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One of the El Arteneo shops in Buenos Aires was voted by Guardian readers (so it must be right) in 2008 as the 2nd best bookshop in the world. Borders in Glasgow (now defunct I think) was 5th.

I certainly could have spent a whole day there even though I was able to decipher only a handful of books – all of them for little ones!


P.S. The 1st was Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht and the 3rd. Livraria Lello in Porto. Perhaps I will plan my holidays to take in all 10.

Paradigm shift

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New Year’s resolution: beware hardening of the categories and celebrate challenges to fixed thinking!

I shall refer to this picture if I feel a ‘It’s always been done this way’ moment coming on!

Mind you, I do want to spend Christmas in the cold next year!

My daughter  in Buenos Aires last week.

Books + Chocolate = perfect end to the holiday

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Ending the long summer holiday with a bang not a whimper, I’ve just spent a few ‘misty moisty mornings’ and sun drenched evenings in the beautiful Scottish Highlands before the long autumn term consumes me.

Visiting the lovely Victorian spa town of Strathpeffer was pure joy, not least because of the superlative chocolate (both to eat and drink) on offer at Maya.

Another delight was Leakey’s Bookshop, which claims to be Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop with 100,000 volumes. Fabulous.

What more could anyone desire?

Practice makes Permanent

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As the long summer break draws to an end I’m thinking about a couple of articles I’ve glanced at despite my resolutions to focus exclusively on fiction.

First, John Connell refers to a colleague’s contention that school will never again be ‘out’.

School will never ever be ‘out’ again given that digital and networking technologies have rendered the walls of the school invisible and are rapidly disrupting the notion of ‘the school day’. And the implications for the definition of school itself are profound. Many will continue to defend the age-old and venerable form of this particular institution, but it is a definition that cannot survive in its current form for very much longer.

Then there was the article flagged up by David Gilmour, School’s still out for summer which discussed the implications of the ‘summer learning loss’ caused by a lengthy absence from school.

With policymakers focusing on staying internationally competitive through improving education, school may be out for a shorter summer in the future.

Now I fall somewhere in the middle of all this.

I have no truck with the assumptions of the latter stance that implies that attendance at school is the only way youngsters learn – and that education is exclusively about becoming economically productive. And I firmly believe and celebrate the fact that digital technologies are ushering in an exciting and creative era of ‘classrooms without walls’.

However, my problem with the long summer holiday and the wider notion that we can do away with formal schooling altogether is this: practice makes permanent. For little ones in particular, regular rehearsal and repetition of basic reading and writing skills are of immense importance in the early acquisition of literacy for example. The summer break is too long even for those children whose families are able and willing to dedicate the whole time to development and exploration. There is evidence that the gap between students from different socio-economic levels is widened over the summer. Children forget stuff and precious time is spent from August to October in revision which could best be spent building on prior knowledge and understanding.

This is in no way to diminish the invaluable experiences that children have in the days when there is no need to turn up at school. I have listened to so many authors, for example, who attribute their creativity and ability to create new worlds to the times when they were ‘busy doing nothing’.

Here’s an example. With the best will in the world I have not done my summer homework and I fear I have slipped backwards in my endeavour to learn Spanish. I am highly motivated – emotionally (my future grandchildren are likely to live in a Spanish speaking country), cognitively (I enjoy the stimulation tremendously even when my brain hurts), socially (great group of fellow students) and financially (I’ve paid a lot for lessons already).

But have I studiously listened to my invaluable podcasts from Coffee Break Spanish? Did I review my learning from last term to embed the knowledge and understanding I accrued? Have I even watched ‘Volver’ with subtitles as I promised myself?

A resounding ‘No’ is the answer.

Why? Because – despite my avowed and heartfelt commitment – I’ve had other things to do. Like sleep, read novels, see friends, go on holiday, move house, nurture relationships.

So, until we are able realistically to ensure that all our children – including the youngest – will have their learning needs met without restrictions of time and place, a shorter summer holiday seems to me to be a sensible option.

But I’ll miss those long lazy weeks!

Summer Holidays


No rain on this plain

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Seville is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I shall return.

We stayed at the summer palace of the king in Carmona for 2 luxurious nights after 4 nights in a hostel in Seville. (Thanks to carlosviajero for this photo). We went on a bike ride around the city; took a walking tour and ate a lot of tapas with international students staying at the hostel. We chose not to view a bull fight but did go to a flamenco show.

Here we are cycling through one of the wonderful green spaces in the city. I’m in the white top; my daughter’s the glamorous one to my left!

And this photo of the lovely peaceful gardens of the Alcazar is by SaffyH.

Absolutely fantastic.

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