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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

RIP Terry Morris

Saddened to read in today's Guardian Louis Blom-Cooper's obituary of my old LSE colleague Terry Morris. By the time I got to know him, Terry was, shall we say, a mercurial character, as well as a charmer and a man capable of immense personal kindness - the latter of which I was on the receiving end of on more than one occasion. One thing that Blom-Cooper doesn't mention, but was, I think, important to him, was a certain sort of liberal Catholicism. I could imagine that this was one of the roots of his zeal for prison reform. Terry was still writing to the press as late as February this year on Catholic related themes. My office was in the same corridor as Terry's so we often ran into each other and occasionally drank a dram together in the Beaver's Retreat where he would regale me with stories about his latest cycling adventure.

One constant about Terry - at least in the time that I knew him -  was his rather relaxed attitude towards appointments. One day there was a loud knock on my office door and when I opened it I was confronted by a fuming Joan Bakewell complete with camera crew demanding to know where Professor Morris was. Having ascertained that I was not, as she seemed to assume, Terry's personal assistant, she  turned tail and stomped off with her retinue in search of the quarry. Just another ordinary day on the 8th floor of the St Clement's Building

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Happy Talk

Check out the repost of a nice Andrew Gelman piece on the perils of the "single definitive study". I'm not entirely sure what he means by "happy talk", but it's very apt as a description of the sort of academic gushing  that seems to be required by the "impact agenda". Nothing against publicity, BTW, but perhaps one should have something worth saying first. Anyway, a good excuse to listen to REM.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Credit where credit is due

One of the things I did after my early morning attempt to go swimming was to send an email to my local Labour Councillor Oscar Van Nooijen. I'm impressed. Within an hour I received a reply and later in the day a follow-up informing me that Councillor Mike Rowley (Board Member Leisure Services) was investigating. I'll keep you informed about the outcome. 

In the meantime, one little irony of modern media communication. Here is Fusion's strap line from their web-page:

"Providing first choice services at affordable prices with access for everyone."

You couldn't make it up.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Disgusted of Grandpont

I live in an Oxford Bildungsbürgetum ghetto, a few streets of overpriced Victorian and Edwardian terraces, close to the city centre, squeezed into a small area bounded by the river and the railway line. It's not a particularly physically attractive place, it's "inner city" with all the dis-amenity that implies. There is though one great advantage: approximately 150 metres from my front door is a park with a children's playground and a (publicly funded) open-air swimming pool.

For the last few years  I've enjoyed taking my daughter for an early morning swim either on a Saturday or a Sunday morning. The pool opens at 8.00 which is the perfect time to get in the pool on a sunny day. You can have your swim and be out by 9.00 with the rest of the day stretching ahead to do all the things that families like to do at the weekend.

Not any more. Turning up this morning for our first swim of the season we were blithely told that the pool was closed to non-members until 9.00. I wasn't the only "non member" who was both surprised and angry. Even more dismaying was the reaction of some of the  "members", brusquely pushing past us as we remonstrated with the manager, hissing that we were in their way.

Hinksey Open-Air pool is publicly owned and managed on behalf of Oxford City Council by Fusion. But now those that pay for this amenity through their council tax can only use it at certain times if they pay a hefty annual or monthly  fee to give them the privilege of early morning swimming without the presence of the hoi polloi. This is little more than the  purloining of a public amenity.

Of course we have to accept that public pools won't always be available to the general public.  Schools use them for swimming lessons, swimming clubs use them for early morning training and galas. Mostly though this doesn't interfere with reasonable access for joe public who is footing - at least part of  - the bill. It seems to me though that we are entering new territory when private recreational swimmers can buy themselves the exclusive use of a public amenity on a regular basis at the weekend.

I want to swim, with my child, at the weekend at 8.00 am (the offer of 7.00 am swimming on a school weekday isn't practical as any parent with a school run to do will tell you). I prefer to do that at my local, publicly owned pool. The only way I can do that is to dig deep into my pocket and join what seems to me to be little better than a middle-class enclosure movement stealing the commons.

Shame on Oxford City Council and shame on the ruling Labour group for countenancing this. I thought the point of public facilities was that they were for the commonweal. Clearly this is old, bad thinking.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Went to my daughter's school play yesterday - a fantastic musical version of The Wind in the Willows - performed by forty odd seven year olds. Miss Mills didn't have a starring role, but her home made rabbit ears were clearly superior and she delivered her single line with both alacrity and clarity so we came away feeling that  family honour was well satisfied.

The various preparations for the play caused me to cast my mind back to my old secondary school headmaster. My impression is  that he was regarded, not just by his pupils, as a faintly ridiculous character. He had been an Oxford rugby blue and began his varsity career studying medicine, before switching to history. Known universally, and without the slightest hint of innuendo, as Big Dick he seemed comically out of place in my slightly down at heal, though far from "bog-standard", comp.

Even in the seventies his habit of wearing an academic gown when taking school assembly as well as the stethoscope that hung in his office seemed decidedly odd. What put him almost beyond the pale for me was his robust insistence that The Wind in the Willows was the greatest book in the English Language. With the arrogant dismissal of youth I decided that the old fellow was either cracked or a philistine or possibly both.

And now here I am, probably about the same age as Big Dick was when I was under his tutelage, with an admittedly little worn academic gown hanging on the back of my study door finding myself much more sympathetic towards his views about Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece. Perhaps not the greatest book, but one of the greatest. Read it  aloud to someone you love and you will come to love it too (someone once gave me the same advice about Wittgenstein's Tractaus Logico-Philosophicus but I have yet to put that to the test).

Absurd as he seemed at the time, I've learned that there was much more to Big Dick than met the schoolboy eye. As well as having excellent literary taste it turns out that he was capable of immense personal kindness towards the children in his care and a fine history teacher to boot. The young are by nature quick to judge a book by its cover, but with time many of them will learn to appreciate the content. I suppose that is what education is all about.

Here's Van Morrison.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Making up the news

It's always gratifying when one sees reports of one's colleagues research in the news, so it was with interest that I read  the BBC education correspondent Angela Harrison's gloss on Tak Wing Chan & Vikki Boliver's research into 3 generational social mobility. 

What is really weird (and a trifle sinister) is the last two paragraphs of the BBC article. These have nothing whatsoever to do with the research being reported on and are nothing less than a shameless - and poorly informed - plug for the BBC funded Great British Class Survey. OK, so media organizations help create "the news" by selecting what to report, someone has to. But it takes things to a new level when the news organization is actually creating contentious content that it clearly doesn't understand and then  reports on it as though it is fact...

BTW I've sent a polished and (stylistically) revised version of my original blog post on the GBCS, including some new critical content, as a longish comment to the journal Sociology. It will be interesting to see if they will publish it.