Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On getting the results of my 11-plus

There's a scary scaled-down 11-plus test on the BBC today. I did common entrance in my day, but I'd heard of the 11-plus and the brutal way in which an 11-year old's future in the state education system - and possibly their livelihood and life - was determined by a single childhood exam.

So I took the mini-version and found it harder than I expected in the time. To my surprise I received 11 out of 15 marks - a pass, which would have qualified me for grammar school. Looking at the answers and explanations, I'm sure I could do much better with a little practice in this kind of problem - but then it's a long time since I was 11, so there's not much comfort in that! 

Dear reader, how would you have done?

All I saw of Mumbai was the airport!

Just to let people know, yes I did travel to Pune via Mumbai and yes, the trouble did happen while I was out there, but as I've explained to many kind questioners - when you're over there you realise exactly how far away from the trouble you are.

In the event I had two long stopovers in the airport and in neither case did I actually leave it, except in a large Boeing of  Jet Airlines.

I have visited Mumbai as a tourist, a few years back. I had a good time, and I was really sorry, this time, to see the harm and hatred that had come to town. But from what I've seen of this city and its inhabitants they will rise up, not roll over, rise up to life and business and all the rubbing-along cosmopolitan attitudes and activities that those who attacked Mumbai probably hated most about it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Traffic in India

It takes about 25 minutes to drive back from our temporary office in the Eon Free Zone to the Central Park Hotel in downtown Pune, and as far as I can tell there isn't a second when I'm not hearing car horns in action.

Back in London I'd be distressed - horns there generally mean anger or imminent collision. Here it feels more that they are simply a way of gently nudging your fellow road users. Nobody follows the rules much, there's no lane discipline, yet curiously no visible anger or discourtesy, no audible screeching of brakes, and the bikes keep weaving through the road with their one, two, three or even four helmet-less passengers chatting away cheerfully.

It seems to me that it's a kind of non-aggressive anarchy. You don't follow the written rules much, but you have a lot of respect for the unwritten ones, of keeping people alive and property undamaged and tempers cool. 

I wonder if Gandhi ever talked about the traffic?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Music matters

Just been listening to my friend Jessica Duchen on radio 4's Music Matters. (You can catch it for the rest of the week here, starting just after 20 minutes in).

I may end up tied to a stake by hooded culturati, the first wisps of smoke emerging from the Enid Blytons piled up by my feet, for this comment, but I really think that Jessica writes about music far better than Ian McEwan does. If I sound surprised or defensive about this, it's only because I have such high respect for Ian McEwan in general (but my all time favourite is in fact The Daydreamer, which probably marks me as the childish Philistine that I am) and because he takes such a serious interest in writing about music.

Anyway, the prospect of nice warm feet starts to feel appealing as the wind and rain wail round our extension on this Bank Holiday Monday.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

from beans to mug - brewing up envy and pleasure

We've just got a lovely Italian coffee machine - not something I'd been planning, an impulse buy when I spotted it on sale, ex-demo at half-price, at my local Ringtons.

It quietly grinds the beans to make a truly delicious cup of coffee with luxurious layer of crema, and I am now an overnight convert to espresso.

Apart from the pleasure of drinking the coffee, there's also the secondary pleasure to be had from other people's enjoyment of their coffee.

One of our friends last night quietly asked me how much it cost. Will they get one too? There's a potential third pleasure, given that we don't normally think of ourselves as trend-setters.

But what if they do - will the fact that our coffee machine no longer surprises and delights them reduce our secondary pleasure? What if their machine makes even better coffee than ours - will our beautiful espressos turn to ashes in our mouths?

Ah well - time for our nice leisurely Sunday morning coffee, I think. Oh, the comforting power of little rituals to crystallise and replicate emotions.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gin and Soap-operas

Brilliant essay by Clay Shirky, I like the fact that someone can combine history, a few key numbers and a four-year old's hunt to give you a radical and persuasive perspective on why our recent decades of exclusively passive media consumption may soon come to look as archaic as rotten boroughs and the gin-wagon.

I can confidently say that this is the first time I've heard (and now used) the phrase "Cognitive Surplus" - and I don't think it will be the last.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Art, science and meaning

As Jimmy Gutterman says:
Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard neuroanatomist, eavesdropped on her own stroke. As I wrote the day of her talk, she walked us through what she felt and thought while her brain was going wild, from the borderline-metaphysical ("I can't define where I begin and where I end") to the borderline-hilarious ("I'm a busy woman. I don't have time for a stoke"). Her description of her time in that strange state, caught between two worlds, the rare researcher who has been able to chronicle a brain-changing event from the inside, was astonishing.
Eighteen minutes of purest drama. For me it crystallised something I've long felt but haven't quite been able to articulate - that art and science are, at one level, in the same business, which is making sense of our lives. See it for yourself.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

note for a friend

Anyone with no principles is a cynic.

The person with one principle is either a simpleton or a fanatic.

Someone with any two good principles is a nut - because at some point in their life the two principles will come into conflict like the two arms of a nutcracker, with him or her feeling the pain in the middle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Opting out off organ donation - a helpful proposal?

So our Prime Minister thinks it should be assumed that we are all willing to donate our organs to medicine unless we explicitly opt-out or our families object.

Though I'm not a great fan of yet another state intrusion into a pretty damn personal realm, on consideration I think I'm coming round to this idea.

After all, symmetry and reciprocity are always good ingredients for any ethical recipe. And it seems to me that there is an implicit assumption that we would be willing organ recipients, though of course some have principled objections to that, too.

So perhaps it would be helpful, in more ways than one, to include on the opt-out form this second question:
Would you be willing to accept a donated organ if it was determined that you needed one but, due to unconsciousness or other problems, you were not in a position to give your consent?
Personally, I'm willing to donate. It's right there, in writing. So I feel free to accept. And to indulge myself with perhaps odiously smug comments on the matter.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

In praise of sleep

Much as Johnny is good-natured and agreeable, we still haven't mastered the business of getting him to bed promptly. (This is more important than it may sound to those who haven't experienced it - the parental partnership needs time spent together before parental exhaustion sets in.)

I read somewhere that childrens' reluctance to sleep was a form of separation anxiety - something that had never occurred to me, but made intuitive sense.

So now, when he's had his (at least) three stories, this is what I tell him:
If you shut your eyes tight
and look very carefully
you just might see
the moon and the stars
It seems to help - in fact he's prompted me for it a couple of times recently when I forgot.

What little spells have helped you with your children?

And did your parents have any for you?