Saturday, 23 May 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

For those of us who live in the UK, and especially for those who work in education, the word “Ofsted” probably rings many bells. Ofsted stands for the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. However, ask most head-teachers and they will tell you that a shorter way to describe this independent body is as a career-breaker. To say that Ofsted is feared as much as Islamic State is currently feared in the Middle East, is putting it mildly. The fate of many schools rests on the final verdict of an Ofsted inspection.

This post is not about Ofsted, though. I shall leave that for another time. This post is about what happens once the inspectors go. You see, we had our very own Ofsted inspection a few days ago. I must admit that there was nothing extraordinary about it; it actually felt like another day at work. Maybe because were ready for it, or maybe because we are just too bloody good and sometimes we need someone else to validate our quality as educator. As a member of staff whose main role is to work with parents and carers I felt remarkably relaxed. I was interviewed by one of the inspectors and at no point did I feel under pressure. In fact the inspector was able to see one of our parenting courses in action.

On the Friday that week, with the inspectors gone the day before and the school returned to “normal” (whatever that “normal” means), I had one of the most enjoyable experiences on my way home.

Riding my bicycle at the end of the day and with the weekend to look forward to I slid into a TGIF mood. As my two-wheeler devoured yard after yard on the high road, I slowly became conscious of my own body acting like a set of gears. It was almost as if my legs, knees, calves and other muscles were part of the bike frame. Both machine and I were working in unison and to a syncopated rhythm.  I could even hear an internal sound acting as a bass hook. The warm sun was on my right. It was beautiful. It was also truly human. I felt a sense of freedom. Not just because the inspection had gone well but also because through my physical exercise I had become aware of this other dimension to life. It is a dimension of which I have been aware before. When I listen to a piece of music, or when I watch a new film I am really keen on. Or perhaps an oldie I never tire of seeing. This dimension is a sign from nature – even if I am surrounded by concrete – that I am at one with it.

Last week my daughter phoned me up from the shop where she has just started volunteering. She wanted ten pounds. As a rule for many years now, I very rarely carry cash with me. Small change? Yes, I still do. But pound notes are rarely found in my wallet. My daughter was surprised about this and yet how many times I have explained to my children that my weekend money for the last ten years has amounted to five pounds, the price of my two weekend papers combined. That means that I do not spend money unnecessarily. However, recently both publications put their prices up which meant the fiver I used to take out has become a tenner as the combined price now is £5.60. On top of this you cannot get five pound notes at cashpoints anymore. It is from ten upwards, which means I usually end up at the supermarket buying a very cheap item (for instance, sugar) in order to get my five pounds. But now that strategy is no more. It is ten pounds at the till as cash back with the remaining change from the purchase of my two newspapers being put away for the next weekend.

In times of need, thrift is still king and queen.

© 2015

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday27th May at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Living in a Multilingual World (The One About the Dying Languages)

I have just become acquainted with the music of Tanya Tagac, a Canadian singer with firm roots in Inuit culture. Her melodies – if they can be called that by western standards – are a blend of feral intensity and heavenly lyricism. But on the whole her songs lack words. They are made of sounds, very often of  a guttural nature. Yet, I can’t stop watching this performance of hers here and this clip from her latest album here.

Tanya reminded me of an article I read recently on the last known speakers of some of the world’s oldest languages. I am afraid to say that I did not recognise the names Wukchumni, Kusunda and Amurdag. It probably says more about me than about the languages themselves. Nevertheless, I did wonder what those last speakers must have felt like. Seeing their lexicon disappearing in a multilingual horizon, being swallowed up by the likes of English, Mandarin and… why not? Spanish.

There is a certain romanticism of mythical proportions in being the last bastion of a cultural phenomenon, like language in this case. Especially ancient ones in which words are much more than carriers of meaning. As explained in the article, some languages echo the voice of the plants, animals and objects around us, from trees to stars. That is philological magic.

Yet, linguists reckon that by the end of the 21st century fifty percent of the world’s languages will either disappear or remain only on hard drives and online archives. We are talking vanishing here, not assimilation, not development, not evolution. A language, one day, will come across a cul-de-sac. And will die. End of the story.

It is not a surprise that many of these endangered “linguistic species” are to be found in places like Papua New Guinea and Nepal. Remote places where there is still a strong connection to the elements, to the natural world and to the spirit. Personally, I believe that by losing these languages we are also losing a vital link to a part of humankind whose cultural worth is on a different level completely. Neither higher nor lower, just different.

I know that there will be some who will say that this is all part of human evolution. Languages appear as a need to communicate with one another and with the passing of time, some become predominant and others are obliterated. My only response would be that a language covers more than a body of words and systems for them to be used. A language means more than a distinct manner of conveying ideas. Sometimes, a language is the only way through which  inanimate objects come to life or a singer, like Tanya, expresses her emotions.

© 2015

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 23rd May at 6pm (GMT)


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