Archive | April, 2015

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe

28 Apr
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I’ve had a bit of a bad run of late with books that haven’t been to my taste so I was pleased to say this has got me back on track.It charts the story of the narrator, nicknamed Monocle, whose foray into working in a high pressures kitchen leads to some very dark twists.

Given the shocking nature of some of the actions that take place in the kitchen of The Swan it is amazing that the author writes from an experience of being a former chef himself. That authenticity and knowledge does come through and adds a lot to the book with some highly individual yet believable characters starring along the way.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a book about cooking mind. It is a brilliantly dark comic novel that uses the restaurant industry as a springboard, albeit one it heavily relies on.

This was a really good read. Funny; well written; good plot and unique. Well worth picking up.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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“Call time on the exam-factory”

27 Apr

This article by Labour UK Education spokesperson, Tristram Hunt, makes for interesting reading and is potentially a pretty big departure from recent PISA driven reactions to education policies.  In the piece Hunt essentially argues against the continuing march across the vast majority of Western, or Westernised, education systems towards systems based on exams and testing.

He will not find much opposition to his views from me.  I have written several blog posts criticising the testing regimes here in Wales and the nature of education systems that put passing tests above developing a whole-child approach to education.  (As an aside I have also blogged on Ken Robinson’s TedTalks presentation that is referenced in the piece).

Now I don’t agree with everything that is said in the article.  However, it is refreshing to hear Tristram Hunt state views such as:

“We need to call time on the exam-factory model, ensure a broad and balanced curriculum in our schools, and focus on improving teaching rather than fruitlessly reforming school structures.”

Education is of course devolved and so what Tristram Hunt wants to see as the Labour UK spokesperson is not something that Huw Lewis may, or may not, wish to see implemented in Wales.  I think it is fair to say in recent years that the fact we have had the protection of devolution for education has saved a lot of misguided policy upheaval for our students.  Still, this is a view that may need to chime this side of the border.

Hunt’s views come at a time where we continue to have the intrusive and highly divisive standardised testing regime in Welsh primary schools.  We already know how unpopular and educationally disturbing these have been for teachers, pupils and parents alike since they were introduced, especially amongst the very youngest pupils.  We are also putting the Foundation Phase at risk by introducing assessment against age related expectations for those very youngest pupils.

Bizarrely, in some respects, while the above is ongoing in schools we also have the contradictory approach of the new curriculum review in Wales which is clear about the need for a more informative and light-touch assessment regime than we have at present.  Something I feel also came out of the OECD’s evaluation of Welsh education.

It certainly appears at present that the direction of travel we are aiming for in terms of curriculum design, as well as some of the principles of our system in regards to the Foundation Phase and philosophy of qualifications, remains somewhat at odds with the high-tariff, punitive accountability and testing measures currently in place.  We will need to square that circle at some point to ensure that the progressive changes that Huw Lewis is currently implementing are as effective as they can, and should, be.

On a separate issue it is also worth noting recent commitments by Tristram Hunt on class sizes.  This is something that Labour in England have put as a high priority with a specific election pledge on capping numbers.  At the same time we have seen a small, but steady, increase in the percentage of children taught in class sizes of 30+ in recent years in Wales.  With the state of school finances leading to redundancies there is a fear that number will only continue to increase.  It will be worth watching what all political parties say on that issue as we head towards the Welsh election in 2016.  I know from discussions with teachers that it is certainly one of the issues that trouble them most.

The Last Treasure Hunt – Jane Alexander

24 Apr

photoOne of my favourite authors is Ian Banks and there’s certainly something of his work filtering through in this debut novel by Jane Alexander. I don’t know if it’s the style of writing, the rhythm of the plot, or simply the Scottish mood music in the background but it is there, and in my view that’s no bad thing.

The story follows Campbell Johnstone’s thrust into public life after the death of a childhood friend, the actress Eve Sadler.  It is a tale of celebrity and how quickly people can get carried away and lose themselves when chasing fame.

The book has its moments and offers a good critique into the morality of celbrity.  It started off brightly but sadly for me it seemed to loose a bit of steam around the middle section and just didn’t hold my interest.  I got through to the end but I’m not really sure it was worth the work.

Manorbier Castle Cafe

21 Apr

The Place

Wales, as I’ve said before, is beautiful, and we don’t always appreciate what’s on our doorstep.  I was struck by that thought after returning for what is now becoming the Hathway’s annual family annual visit to Pembrokeshire.

On this occasion we took a trip to visit Manorbier castle.

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The cafe was perfectly placed to take advantage of the stunning surroundings having been established within the existing structure of the castle.

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Inside the cafe was modern but tactful.  The staff was very helpful, if a little overbearing at times.

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There was a glorious outside area which was highlighted by the fact this was a particularly nice day.

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The accompanying large garden area for boys to play in only made the whole visit that bit more relaxed and enjoyable.

The Drink

It has been a while since I’ve had a hot chocolate. This particular cup was strong with a bitter taste, as I like. While it was nothing special it did provide a nice pick me up after hours of seaside walking.

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The Cake

Even though we had been up and about for hours it was still a little early in the day for cake.  In addition to that while there was a selection of cakes available carrot cake sadly was not on the menu.

The Rest

Exploring the grounds was great for Gryff who loves that sort of thing.

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Some of the views from the higher points were magnificent and really let you appreciate the magic of the Welsh Western coastline.

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In additional there was a dress up room in the grounds for children which was a lovely touch. Here’s Gryff taking full advantage.

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Best of all however was this random waxwork in the dungeon which terrified an unsuspecting Lauren.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – WMC

16 Apr

I was bought tickets to go and watch this by my brother for Christmas and have been really looking forward to it.  I think the WMC is an amazing place and one of the best things about Wales, so I am always excited to go and see a show there. I read the book by Mark Haddon on which the play is based and loved it at the time but it was that long ago the majority of the plot was hazy at best in my memory. The cast play their roles excellently, especially the lead, Welshman Joshua Jenkins, who is highly authentic without overdoing the part. Their movement throughout the show highlight not just quality acting but an almost rhythmic dance performance at times. Choreographing is almost as important as the acting. The real star performer however, while taking nothing away from the fantastic acting, is the set. JPEG41-750x500

(Photos crdit Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)

The whole play is acted out within the above cube structure with lighting and props utilised to change scenery and atmosphere with ease.  The show comes alive through the stage production which is like having an additional leading actor.  There is a breathtaking use of sound and light.  Those behind the show have demonstrated stunning imagination and innovation to tell the story in a way I just can’t comprehend imagining from scratch. I absolutely loved this and would put it up there favourably with anything I’ve previosulty seen at the WMC or in any theatre for that matter.  I would highly recommend it and if you do get the chance to see this show please don’t miss out. As an aside: Kudos to the WMC for their continued innovative marketing.  After turning the Centre green for wicked; photo 1 and this guerrilla marketing shot for singing in the rain; photo 2 this was a nice touch on the pavement outside for this latest production.  You’ll understand why if you watch the show. 5fc2fd86ca6f11ea54c27718d9fd8138

Casino Royale – Ian Fleming

8 Apr

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I’ve decided this year to work through some of the original Bond novels.  I’ve done this partly as I thought it would be interesting to appreciate the differences between the books and the films; partly because I’m not 100% sure I’m fully aware of all the plots of the films and partly because the vintage Bond collection has some brilliant covers.

Starting from the start I’ve just worked through Casino Royale.  This is a film I am familiar with given it is one from the modern franchise.  The story is very similar to the film with the exception of a few minor changes which do not really alter the general thrust of what happens.

The Bond we encounter in print is much darker than those portrayed by Connery, Dalton, Brosnan or Moore.  Bond is more fallible and therefore more believable as a character with less of an emphasis on the humour and light-heartedness of the aforementioned actors.  While Brosnan Is my favourite bond on film I’d say it is Daniel Craig’s version that is the most authentic.

Overall I did enjoy this and am now moving on to ‘Live and let Die.’  As an aside I read ‘Solo’ last year and William Boyd did a good job of replicating the Fleming style in hindsight.

Antoine Laurain – The Red Notebook

2 Apr

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I read Antoine Laurain’s novel, ‘The President’s Hat,‘ last year and it made it on my honourable mention list when recapping at the end of the year.  Given that fact I decided it was worth following it up with his latest offering.

The plot follows bookshop owner Laurent as he tracks down the identity of the owner of a bag he has found based on the clues he assembles from its contents. What you get from Laurain’s books is a sense of feeling uplifted and an easy investment in what are usually quite gentle and charming plots. It is picturesque storytelling that isn’t particularly taxing but rewarding none the less and worth a read for sure.