The highs and lows of tour – and we don’t just mean topography

15th July 2014 by

This past week has been incredibly busy, and it is almost impossible to summarise it all in a brief blog post! We continue to harbour a complex love/hate relationship with the Welsh hills. And the ups and downs don’t stop there…this experience has been both a physical and emotional rollercoaster!

We have met the most amazing people along the tracks and roads through Wales. Hosts and locals alike have offered so much generosity to our team in the form of directions when we were lost, lifts when we were exhausted, music when we needed to dance and hot showers when we smelled more like sheep than people. We must mention our hosts who have made us feel so welcome in their cottages, barns and field corners through north and west Wales:

  • Awel, who let us stay on an explosions-factory-turned-nature-reserve with some shy sheep and made us a delicious vegan dinner;
  • Luci and Pontus, who welcomed us into their barn at 10pm, soaking wet and tired, with smiles, a bonfire, hot food, and well-deserved chocolate desserts;
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology, Luci, and Rod, who gave us a tour of the site, took us on a mountainous hike to visit Nora the wind turbine, and showed us the best place for an afternoon swim in the mountains that anyone could ask for;
  • Suzanne and Mark, who put us up in their golf clubhouse (complete with disco-dance mood lighting!), brought us their strawberries and drove our panniers and trailers all the way to Clunderwen on our 60-mile cycle day which ended up being a 13 hour hill-climb;
  • Chris and Wendy, who gave us full run of their cottage and beautiful outdoor space for a sunny afternoon;
  • Steve, who allowed us to stay in Pembrey Country Park for free and pointed us towards the beautiful sunset-lit beach and hot-shower building (much love!);
  • Tim and Catrin, who welcomed us into their home, let us take over their kitchen to cook proper food not made on a cooking hob, and gave us a workshop on stained glass painting.

We also owe great thanks to those whose names we do not know, who welcomed us into their farm and bike shops after hours, offered us free hummus and toffee waffles from their restaurants, and cheered us on from roadsides and car windows as we crossed paths. You have all helped us on our journey!

Our travel days have been tough, but we have not yet been defeated by hills.

We were confronted with the unpredictable Welsh weather immediately after leaving Felin Uchaf near Pwllhelli on our first day of tour. We followed the infamous cycle route 8, which took the first group to the top of a mountain – not recommended unless you are training for Tour de France! The rain was showing no sign of stopping, and we were only a quarter of the way on our 45 mile ride, so the team finally gave in and took the train to make it to our host Luci’s place before nightfall. While waiting for the train, a group of kids peeked above a fence and started chatting to us, so we decided it would be a good idea to present a play scene to them. Great success!

Some of our bikes were suffering with teething problems, or only had 3 gears to face the Welsh hills, so we visited Dan the bike mechanic to sort things out. He then cycled part of the day with us blasting out tunes from his mobile trailer stereo system.

This tour has brought us so many challenges, gifts, and new experiences. We’ve had late-night evening circles, we’ve had sunshine. We’ve had delicious food cooked by tour members and so much kindness shown to us by the lovely people of Wales have warmed our bellies and our spirits. We have so much gratitude for one another, and for the support we’ve had from so many people who helped us find one another on this crazy two-week adventure. Here’s to the second half of our tour and the blossoming of new ideas!

 

More algebra, less climate change

13th June 2011 by

There was a shriek from across the office as our officemate Melanie@MyBnk turned on her computer to read the news this morning. “Climate change should be excluded from curriculum” she cried, quoting the front page of the Guardian.

Tim Oates, government adviser on the new national curriculum for 5-16 yr olds, reckons schools should get to decide whether or not to teach students about climate change in science. Apparently we need “to get back to the science in science. We have believed that we need to keep the national curriculum up to date with topical issues, but oxidation and gravity don’t date.”

Excuse me Mr Oates, I don’t believe that the melting point of icecaps, carbon production upon burning certain resources and the effect of warming gases in the atmosphere date either. This is only, I politely remind you, THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE EVER TO FACE HUMANKIND and one that these students will have to find solutions for. Maybe schools should teach handwriting with a quill and ink rather than IT, good handwriting doesn’t date, does it?

He says, “we are not taking it back 100 years; we are taking it back to the core stuff.” Climate change has been part of the national curriculum since 1995, so no you’re right Tim, you’re only taking it back 16 years.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, points out that teaching science through topical issues like climate change makes core scientific concepts more interesting for students and can increase their understanding of science. “Certain politicians feel that they don’t like the concept of climate change. I hope this isn’t a sign of a political agenda being exercised”, I really hope so too Bob. He warns that giving skeptical teachers the option not to teach climate change “would not be in the best interests of pupils. It would be like a creationist teacher not teaching about evolution.”

What Oates would like is students to be taught algebra at an earlier age. Oh yes, it’s the lack of algebra that’s responsible for the ills of the world, climate change is just a minor distraction. I too would like to know more about algebra than climate change, but before I go and do that, shall we just deal with this pesky climate change thing together?

I apologise for the apoplectic tone of this blog. I am going to go and rage somewhere else now. But before I go, People & Planet are being much more constructive than I am about this particularly stupid bit of prospective policy, they’re created a campaign to keep climate change in the curriculum which you can join by writing to Tim Oates.

Mobiles, social media and mindbending technology- Part I

3rd February 2011 by

Anyone who’s ever met me will know that I am not a fan of mobile phones or anything beginning with i. I have a mobile and am as reliant as the next person on the internet. But I don’t like it. I wish all this information was in my head and not stored as bookmarks on my screen, I wish I could organise my life with people and not with my inbox. The problem with the internet and our constant connectivity is that, whilst it makes everything possible all the time, too much choice makes a simple life impossible most of the time.

Right now as I type I have seven tabs open on my screen, half of these are things that I am in the middle of reading. Everytime I pause for thought, instead of staring at the wall, I check my emails. This is arguably more productive than staring at the wall but I don’t think it’s helping my thought processes. Some days I find it really hard to read an entire article in one go.

I am clearly not the only one finding my concentration span disintegrating under a barrage of information. A friend confessed this week to checking emails in her lectures. Almost every conversation with friends involves some fact or figure being checked on someone’s i-phone, or being treated to photos of what someone else had for breakfast. Why do you even need maps anymore when the world wide web’s worth of information is all in your pocket? Because I like maps and I reckon lots of other people do to, otherwise why do people keep hanging them on the wall?

I am really really glad that I did not grow up with this much technology constantly vying for my attention. The advent of mobile phones has done more harm to education than a bulldozer in a public woodland. My experience working in schools and colleges is that some young people are umbilically attached to their phones, they would rather you remove their thumbs than their texting technology and, whether talking to peers or adults, cannot hold a conversation without their own personal soundtrack piped into one ear. At least when we wrote notes we were also practising handwriting, spelling and grammar. I’m sure some schools have managed to successfully ban phones from the classroom, but these handy pocket devices are just that and so they will always sneak their way back in. Now every young person has one it’s only a matter of time until technology mimics life with a Passing Notes App, a GCSE Cheat App and a The Dog Ate It App.

I’m not the only one concerned about all the the constant ringing, tweeting and flickering that’s interrupting our lives. The New York Times has written lots about how the internet is changing our brains. “Technology is rewiring our brains,” says Nora Volkow, one of the world’s leading brain scientists. Constant bursts of information are not just disrupting in themselves, they’re undermining our ability to focus even when we’re not online.

Whatever the effect of technology on our brains, it will be heightened in the young people who grow up without knowing what it’s like to wait for a roll of camera film to be developed, what it means to make someone a mix tape and what socialising is without social media.

End to End tour journal – Hope for the future

20th July 2010 by

Its time for the second journal entry and the Otesha LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats) tour is now in full swing. Yesterday we descended on our third school – the Maynard school for girls in Exeter – and we definitely made an impression on the girls there. And this is what this week’s journal entry is going to be about – the children that we have met so far. Read the rest of this entry »


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