Windbreaks are well Brexit

windbreak 16

Last summer I got a bit obsessed with windbreaks and started photographing them. I liked their colour, their Britishness, the opportunity they afforded for a bit of sub-Martin Parr brightly-coloured photography.

windbreak 3

This year I see them in a slightly more jaundiced light. Yesterday I was sitting on that rarest thing – an almost windless, sunny Cornish beach. This is the same beach that Simon Armitage accurately describes in Walking Away; to walk along this beach is often to invite a sand-blasting by air that renders conversation impossible. But this day there was almost no wind at all – if anything it was too hot. And yet still the windbreaks came, each one blocking a bit more view.


This year I feel as if I should have counted the windbreaks last summer and seen Brexit coming… taken account of the effort that goes in to carrying multiple windbreaks down to the sand, to construct windbreak fortresses, villages and towns in some cases as extended families enclose an area of beach that is forever off-limits to outsiders – at least until the tide comes in and forces retreat. Windbreaks are exclusive, not inclusive. They are territorial, beach land-grabs that are sometimes hilariously counter-productive: on every beach there will be at least one windbreak that has been put up to catch not protect from the wind, one that blocks the view of the sea, one that falls flat on its face.

the hokey cokey

I am possibly guilty of hypocrisy, as I must confess we usually take a 2-person pop-up tent to the beach, which clearly must also block views. But we try to site it thoughtfully, and it does at least offer protection from the sun and privacy for changing, which a windbreak is about as much use for as an ashtray on a motorbike. Or on a windy beach.


Click on the image below to see the full gallery:


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Prime real estate

We were walking round the back of the O2 in Greenwich today and saw this artwork marking the Greenwich Meridian. I wondered why there seemed to be several different lines marked on the ground, one of which had some white metal or plastic extensions (containing a light, I assumed) stretching over the edge of the path and over the water. Behind the fence in what is now the back of a hotel I could see some stores let into the ground with names of different countries, and assumed (correctly it seems) that these are poorly-maintained markers from the millennium just a few years ago.

The Prime Meridian in all its glory

The Greenwich Meridian web site is very useful here. It turns out that there are many different possible meridian lines. The one that is usually marked is the Airy Transit Circle, the main one that runs through the Greenwich Observatory, though it’s not the line shown as 0 degrees longitude on a GPS device, and it actually no longer has any connection at all with the UTC time standard.

As well as the Airy Meridian, three other Lines were marked [round the back of the Millennium Dome] – the Bradley Meridian, roughly 6 m to the west and still used by the British Ordnance survey, along with the rather spurious ‘Halley’ and ‘Flamsteed’ Meridians.

This article explains in some detail why when you visit the ‘Prime Meridian’ at the Greenwich Observatory, your GPS locator does not read 0 degrees of longitude – you’d need to move some 100 meters East:

zero degrees my ....

If you’re feeling overly joyous and need a downer, read this account of the doomed Millennium Tree Project.

The prime meridian hasn’t fared particularly well in my neighbourhood either. I hadn’t even realised it had been marked out in an artwork in Hither Green, but it’s all but vanished now.

estate office
There was a stone marking the place where it crosses Lee High Road (close to where the photo above was taken) but I went looking for it yesterday and couldn’t find that either – possibly because they’re digging the road up. I hope it gets put back.

All of which leads me to think that meridian lines are really quite silly, arbitrary things. A bit like New Year’s Eve or Millennium night itself…

millennium night

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Are we all meant to be racist now, Father?

I have a confession to make: I am a bigot.

Let me explain. I voted Remain in the EU referendum and was angry, upset, dismayed, asthmatic at the result. For me it was a binary choice, the ballot paper looked like this:



This view, and the way I voted has its roots not in urban or student politics, but in a Church of England primary school in North Somerset in the early 1970s. I can remember being told in assembly by our head teacher Mrs Hutchcroft that we should treat people the same regardless of the race, colour or creed. I had to ask what ‘creed’ meant.

Ours was an almost entirely white village, aside from the family who ran the Chinese takeaway. Even my secondary school had, when I was there, ONE black pupil, and even then only temporarily. So perhaps it was an easy statement for my head teacher to make. But her words stuck with me, I can even picture where I was sitting cross-legged in the hall and the smell of the varnish and school dinners.

Stunned yesterday by finding myself one of the 48%, I concluded that 1 in 2 of us in this nation is just not a very nice person, possibly racist. It was a binary question that revealed our view of ourselves and what kind of country we want to be.

People are saying we need to ‘reach out’ to the 52% and understand them. But what if I think they are wrong? What if I refuse to accommodate racist, inward-looking views? Why should I? I feel like the residents of Craggy Island asking Father Ted “should we all be racists, now father?”

So why am I a bigot?

Dictionary definition:

having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others.

That’s sounds like me.

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First week class teaching BBC microbit – reflection

I’ve introduced 3 year 7 classes to the BBC micro:bit this week – here are some thoughts.

  • Organise your kit. I strongly recommend individually numbering each micro:bit, especially if you are keeping them in school in term time, and logging which pupil has each device. This will save arguments if they are lost or damaged and they’ll get their code on the micro:bit next lesson.
  • Allow plenty of time for packing away. The supplied boxes seem to prove a challenge for many Year 7s, though mine were getting better by the end of the week. Get a bigger box? Also, keeping track of the USB leads is going to be a challenge. I can see these getting lost.
  • The Technology Will Save Us demo supplied on each device is a great opening lesson. I used it to familiarise the pupils with the handling requirements, they didn’t even need to log in, just turn their computers on to provide USB power.
  • They want to take them home. But the micro:bits are so late arriving we will only get 3 full lessons out of them – some sets will only get TWO! Part of me wants to hold on to them and let them next term (in Year 8) get proper use out of them and take them home at Christmas. What is anyone else doing? Did the BBC want them to be used for only 2 lessons in class?
  • I have had a lot of failures with demo units – so far, as far as I know, only 1 died this week. It was mine. I was demonstrating it in front of the class and it utterly died, about 5 minutes after I plugged it in. I was handling it carefully – indeed that’s what I was demonstrating. I must be cursed!
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First whole-class micro:bit lesson – reflection

I did my first whole-class lesson with the BBC micro:bit in a Year 7 class today – here are my impressions.

It was a very short lesson so I just used the Technology Will Save Us demo that comes on box-fresh micro:bits as a starter to allow Year 7s to get to grips, literally and metaphorically, with the device.

I gave a LONG talk about safe handling – you can see my slides here – and explained that I’d had several fail because of static shocks given to them by children touching the gold pads on the back of the A button when they are plugged in.

I then gave the pupils USB extension leads to unravel and plug in (our base units are buried inside their desks, and the supplied micro:bit leads are far too short) and got them to plug the micro:bits in to the extensions and see what happened.

There was a very mixed response in this group. I gave minimal input, I just wanted to see what they would discover – some sailed though the demo so quickly I had to give them the heart easter egg to unlock the Snake game (you knew about that, right?).  One girl was frozen in terror by my safety lecture, too scared to push the A button.  A few got totally foxed by Chase the Dot – they needed others to tell them to tilt the micro:bit, though when I quizzed them after, they ALL said they’d played iPhone / iPad games that you tilt to play. We had a discussion about what an accelerometer does, and one girl said “is it a sensor?” which led on to talking about other things the micro:bit can sense.

I have to say I think the handling requirements – earth yourself, don’t touch the back when it’s plugged in, hold it by the edges – are unrealistic. Despite my dire warnings, I saw several violations. It’s really hard to give kids a new toy with shiny lights to explore, then expect them not touch the back when pressing the buttons (which really is the natural thing to do).

Next time we will do my Python intro lesson using the excellent standalone Mu editor. I found that the Microsoft Block Editor does not work at all well on our Virtual Desktops, and Nicholas Tollervey kindly did lots of work with us to get Mu to work well with the Citrix VDI. It makes transferring the code to the micro:bit much simpler than the browser-based coding platforms. You just click the ‘flash’ button and it copies it across.

The other huge challenge which I did not allow enough time for was packing them away. I have numbered each device and made a note of which pupil has each unit. This is partly because I am keeping them in school for now and I think it’s best they have the same unit with their code on. Also it’s to try to avoid arguments if they break. And I have had a high failure rate in testing, so I am braced for this possibility.

Already several pupils have asked about having them at home in the summer, which is great, but I have mixed feelings. They arrived so late, and we have trips and all sorts going on this short half term, we will be lucky to get even 2 or 3 full lessons out of them. I kind of want to hold on to them and teach more in the Autumn term with the same pupils, who will then be in Year 8, and let them take them home at Christmas.  I can’t see them all coming back to school after the summer hols…  one to ponder.




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