I’ll begin the way all the best stories begin. Once upon a time the city I live in was small and compact which was a very fortunate thing because it is built on a number of hills with a river winding its way through the centre of the town. In the days not so long ago when most people walked and the lucky few had a horse and cart, there were plenty of green spaces and lots of trees on the slopes of the hills. It was and still is the administrative centre of the county and in the nineteenth century established its own university close by the Cathedral which has been there for a thousand years. So you will see the history of this spot today places a very important role in the twenty-first century life of the place and its people.
The geography is another important factor the river forms an oxbow loop and the cathedral and castle were built on the hill protected by the river, a superb defensive position. Other important buildings were built in a square on this protected hilltop, the approach by land is narrow and steep. In the Middle Ages this worked perfectly, in the twenty-first century with a huge population increase the daily business of life becomes very inconvenient. The roads leading to the city are now packed with cars and buses, at this present time road works are causing delays and inconvenience. It seems to me the shorter the distance people have to travel, the more a car is seen as absolutely essential and parking close to the shop or office, school or factory is a must have.
I suppose what I’m grumbling about is we can’t seem to value what we have until someone threatens to destroy it. Action not words.
To be honest I’m not talking about an Olympic medal, I’ve always been barely adequate at athletics, not able to make the netball team or any other team come to that. But something happened to me when I was 11 that changed my life. I passed the 11+ exam to go to grammar school. For me it was a chance to start believing in myself, there was something I could do.
Now there are quite legitimate criticisms of that exam, I have made some myself. A once in a life-time chance is by no means a good idea, and chances for the few are shameful in a wealthy country like ours, and the destruction of all our hopes for the future. Children have a large number of different talents and abilities and every boy and girl should be encouraged to be the best that they can be, we all change as we grow older so there must be; second, third and further opportunities to acquire the skills that in this complicated life we will all need. That is why the re-introduction of grammar schools is a bad idea because it carries with it the idea of success for the few and failure for the many. Of course the idea of success for the few still is present in our society in independent schools. There the deciding factor is money, if your parents can afford it that’s accepted by society.
The world is changing at an astonishing rate, if computers take over most office jobs what are the office workers going to do? Probably more impotent than skills is the self -belief that every human being needs that they are versatile,flexible with the ability to change whatever the circumstances they find themselves in. We know this to be true in the brief history of mankind since they left Africa and settled in the snow and ice of the Arctic, in mountainous terrain to bleak inhospitable deserts. There is no one right answer just many adaptations.
Many changes come about almost unexpectedly to most of us but some come slowly and with a great deal of effort on the part of a few. The Suffragettes began organising in 1903 to gain the vote for women on the same terms as men: this was finally achieved in 1928. New Zealand gave all women the right to vote in 1893, the ability to stand for election came in 1919. Many provinces in Canada and in other countries were ahead of Britain. This may seem a detour from the railways, although not from the making of a nation. I was delighted to see that a young woman, Liz McIvor presented this series of programmes with great skill and the ability to organise many factors into a coherent narrative.
I was struck by the number of female academics and historians who appeared in the programme. I believe that over 50% of undergraduates in British universities are now women, an amazing increase in my life-time. There was a time when academic education was thought completely beyond women, their brains could not cope with it. Some male academics were convinced that this was simply a statement of fact.
The change in business methods; the accurate keeping of accounts, the organisation and training of the work force and the careful organisation of safety procedures. All these were set up by the numerous private companies in the 1830s, 40s and 50s who decided that faster, more efficient transport could more profitably be arranged if heavy goods like coal, iron ore and steel ran on wagons which ran on steel rails directly from production to required use.
The first public steam railway system was opened in September 1825 from Phoenix Pit, Old Etherley Colliery to Cottage row Stockton, with a half mile extension to Darlington. It could be said that County Durham saw the birth of the railway system unaccountably this fact was missed out of Professor McIvor’s programme.
The photography was superb, a few sketch maps could have been added to add to the understanding of the land covered. The story told was extremely well done. Films are a wonderful addition to the story of how change takes place and the often unintended consequences. Who could not be interested in history when the pictorial and the verbal explanations are married together so expertly?
I’ve seen another episode and there is still no mention of the Stockton, Darlington Railway. This is beginning to look like another of those London-centric programmes, real Liz I thought better of you!
I’M sitting comfortably, I have a glass beside me, glasses on nose I’m ready. I check the clock and switch on the television, one minute to the start of my highlight of the week, yes I’m a Strictly fan. The programme begins with the glitter ball spinning and the music begins. All human life is there; lights creating pictures, beautiful movements, athletic young men, , beautiful women twirling feathers, sequins (briefer than the last series), feet moving with incredible speed, gorgeous colours, lights, make-up, music, what’s not to like? A varied cast of characters , the villein (Craig), the kind thoughtful fairy godmother (Darcy), the serious expert (Len) and the exuberant funny comic ( Bruno). Far be it from me to mention a script in a live programme, shall we say a pantomime with breath-taking elegant movement in place of jokes. I love it.
I have my favourites, there is a certain charisma about some professionals and a boyish charm about others. I’m sure you will have your own favourite.
This section of the blog has been written in response to questions about how we taught Jonathan. It is not intended to be prescriptive as a way to teach children like Jonathan, just as an account …