Friday, 19 February 2021

Stop daydreaming!

 You know, there are still a few people who think teachers have it easy, what with "all those holidays". I imagine they're getting fewer and further between as frazzled parents realise there's a lot more to making learning happen than turning up at school at eight-thirty in the morning. 

But I digress. If, like me, your mind is already beginning to turn to next week and another term of homeschooling, read on. Because in my now semi-regular resources round-ups, I've come across Wales-based educational resources provider Daydream Education. And it has just made a selection of its downloadable study tools available FREE to support home education during lockdown. 

Chris Malcolm, MD of Daydream, says: "Home study can be stressful for both parents and children and we hope that by providing a selection of free resources via our website, we’ll be able to help them through this challenging time.”

You can find out more about Daydream Education by clicking here:

And to go straight to free resources, click here: 


Monday, 15 February 2021

A Delicate Contrivance

A Delicate TruthA Delicate Truth by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Cold War is a very real memory for me: living under the permanent shadow of a mushroom cloud, CND marches, Greenham women, those massive North Korean shows of arms that used to trundle through Red Square before the waxwork mannequins of the politburo welcomed them with their robotic, pathetic applause. But the dark recesses of the spy networks that spread like mycelium were hidden, intentionally, behind the biff-bash bravado of James Bond. Although I admire le Carre's Smiley novels for their craft, enjoy them for their plot and engage with them as wonderfully written entertainments, I don't quite have the same personal investment as I do, say, for the ideas behind shady, state-sponsored arms deals (The Night Manager) or, as in this case, the ethically abhorrent notions of private security and extraordinary rendition. Add to that another extraordinarily well-crafted plot (ok, with one or two rather remarkable - and fictionally necessary - coincidences) and you've got another cracker of a book from a master storyteller with a ventriloquist's way of inhabiting a wide range of characters. A plan goes wrong, as it was almost destined to: another fuck-up not, this time, by "the service" or as the result of treachery but plain old, simple stupidity. But that's not the end of the story. Because things then slowly unravel like so many loose threads then, as events move on, unspool with all the rapidity of a roll of film unhinged from the projection apparatus.

I see from other reviews that many people found the ending of this novel unsatisfying. It’s ambiguous, sure. But that’s fine by be: I enjoy being given the freedom to fly at the end of a book like this, if only because it staves off the disappointment of not agreeing with the author’s chosen ending. That happens, even with a Master of le Carré’s stature. The end of "Tinker, Tailor” certainly qualifies: I want Bill Haydon to get away to Russia on some agent exchange and be condemned to live an alcoholic half-life in a dreary Moscow apartment: this is what your treachery was for, this, your promised land. A swift (and merciful?) death at the hands of Jim Prideaux is too good for him; he deserves the death-in-life of a dismal exile. There are no such problems here: far from it. And I like that. What I found harder to credit were the odd (and slightly less-than-credible) plot twists. How did Kit find Toby? And who delivered the letter at 3am in the morning? And would Toby have travelled to Cornwall so readily? Other characters conveniently disappear: the corrupt junior minister; the Foreign Office senior mentor (in the latter case to reappear almost as conveniently). It’s all a bit too contrived, and although I can’t not say I liked the book, it had just a few too many irritants like this for me to love it.

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Tuesday, 9 February 2021

18+ Fun Science Experiments

Hands up who's teaching electronics during #homeschooling?

No, me neither. Or I wasn't, until we were sent this little marvel courtesy of

18+ Fun Electronic Experiments is a simple and effective was to learn all about electric current and how it powers different devices. And above all, it's FUN! They're spot on when they says that these wonderful STEM kits will "brighten your child’s day, and perhaps even free you up to make an uninterrupted cup of tea at the same time". 

Except for the tea, that is. Because I want to play too!

The kit, which is manufactured by Small World Science, contains 19 experiments (hence, 18+... that's not an age restriction!) ranging from simple "on/off" circuits powering LEDs and flying fans to more sophisticated morse code kits, delay switches and even voice-activate and speed adjustable controls. The wires (supplied) are secured in position on the circuit board by nifty little spring clips, perfect for little fingers: no screwing or soldering in sight!

All you have to do is supply a couple of AA batteries and you're away... quite literally in the case of the flying fan which has so far provided hours of entertainment, while at the same time sneaking in a decent dose of learning. It's like hiding the veg. kids don't like in something they love so they won't notice!

And they'll love this. 

Highly recommended!

18+ Fun Electronic Experiments rrp £27.99 is now only £22.99 right here:

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is no poetry after Auschwitz, as Theodore Adorno almost said. There is nothing: no poetry; no music; no love, no joy, no life. Late to the party once again I’ve only recently got around to reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz. But I'm very glad I did. 

Everyone who has any curiosity about the world they inhabit and its history already knows about the horrors, the degradations, the sheer inhumanity of what happened in the Holocaust although it’s always a shock to be brought up against some sinister fact you hadn’t heard before, like the fact that there was a punishment block in Auschwitz - a deeper circle of the hell the prisoners were already in, being punished daily for being who they were. But... but... I don’t think that’s the takeaway of this book; not for me. 

Strangely, after the inevitable horrors, after the stomach-churning tension and the deep, aching, existential sadness, there’s the smallest glimmer of hope, a pinprick silver star of light in a cold, black sky. But that pinprick of light, of hope, is bigger than the earth, bigger than the sun, biggest than the biggest of our neighbour stars. And it hasn’t been extinguished; it hasn’t been destroyed. Because even in the depths of the worst despair, amid the depravity of the worst man-on-man evil ever, even in such a seemingly hopeless situation, there is kindness. There is the small act of anonymous kindness that saves the eponymous Tätowierer, Lale, from an early death; the kindness of a French prisoner who decides to enlist him as his assistant in the grim (but relatively safe) job of inking numbers on the new prisoners. The kindness of the local builders, smuggling small amounts of food in for him, even as they build the crematoria. 

Then there is the kindness shown in return: to those who need it, and to those he loves. These small, almost incidental acts of kindness and humanity build and grow like flakes of snow so that slowly, gradually and eventually, they beat the bullets and evade the gas chambers. Because above all, this is a story of hope in the midst of the utmost adversity, of a huge triumph against all the odds. It's difficult at times, in the middle of a global pandemic, amid such relentlessly depressing daily news, to see even a glimmer of hope for humanity. But there is poetry after Auschwitz after all, and this book proves it. That tiny, distant star in the coldest sky is still up there, shining brightly.

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