A Busy Birthday weekend

Well, it was my birthday on Monday. Celebrations started on Friday last when Sharon took me to Leeds for the night. We’d decided to go on Friday because many of the Last Minute hotels in Leeds were booked up on Saturday. Even our recently favourited Ibis.

We stayed at the Hilton which was surprisingly dour and second rate. Sharon worried constantly about the 1″ plus gap beneath the fire door but I had more positive views about the likelihood of fire anyway (Positive in the sense that there wouldn’t be one). We had no towels and two phone calls plus a face to face request at reception failed to make these appear. In the end I had to visit the housekeepers myself (as they ‘sorted’ a room down the corridor). Then having been out and bought a bottle of wine, we noticed that there were no glasses! Sharon sorted that one with the same housekeepers. And, to finish, the room was noisy – all night. Cheap but hardly cheerful.

We had no luck with our planned meal either, at Strada, Red Chilli or La Tasca as they all professed to have hour long waiting lists – but this turned out to be a good thing as we ended up at Anthony’s, one of the finest restaurants in the north of England. I suspect that this was down to timing: At 9.15pm they had probably ‘sat’ all their bookings and could see just enough room for two more. I believe that an hour earlier our cold call would have received a ‘no’. The food was delightful. Each morsel had flavour, taste and texture and the ‘service’ was unobtrusive – which is, in itself a delight and far from the normal “is everything ok?” you get as you sit there with a mouth full of food, listening to your co-diner tell you something really interesting. All restaurants should take a leaf out of Anthony’s book and teach their waiters to hover – wait – watch – be invited to talk.

On Saturday, we had a nice relaxed breakfast at Bagel Nash. Their coffee turned out to be the best I’ve tasted in England this year and coupled with an ‘everything’ bagel (with butter and jam) was a great surprise. We went to Gill and Tony’s on Saturday night, a last minute invitation which, once again, turned out to be gem. We’re always relaxed in their company and it was a nice addition to a stretching birthday weekend. Emma and Charlie brought the girls around on Saturday afternoon – which is always  nice. Ben and Shiv came around on Sunday. It’s so great to see my kids from time to time – but like the old song by Harry Chapin suggests http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH46SmVv8SU time is always tight.

Then I began one of the busiest weeks of recent months. On my actual birthday, Monday, I travelled to London to meet my colleagues and friends before our delivery of the Advanced e-Guide/PDA programme Day 2 on Tuesday. I went early so that  could attend the MoLeNET event being held at the Apple Store on Regent Street. I learned lots of things here – one of which I will pursue at some time in the future – the iPhone accessibility features. I think I need to reflect on the week a little more.

Anyway – many many thanks to everyone who sent me birthday greetings and best wishes. I like to think that my electronic replies of gratitude reached you – but as I can never be sure: Thanks you again. 🙂

Leeds 2

Cold Turkey.

I’m now at the end of a rock and roll week with only one more day to go before I can put my feet up for a short while [I wrote this on Saturday – I’m now on my ‘feet-up’ day]. I’ve booked myself a day off on Monday [today – yippee] but have already committed to make many phone calls and ‘quick’ replies before it starts again in earnest on Tuesday.

Since Saturday last, Sharon and I have been in Leeds working with a large group of adult learners, here to improve their language, understanding of British culture and ICT. Also see https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/leeds-1/ Through Monday to Wednesday, we were joined by Lilian (@xlearn : www.xlearn.co.uk).

Advanced e-Guides and PDAs
Late on Monday afternoon, I had to leave the group and go to London where I worked with other colleagues to deliver the Advanced PDA/e-Guides course. Sally Betts, Nigel Davies and I worked through the day to deliver this course for the first time. We’d spent Monday night having dinner at a place on Tabernacle Street, just behind the hotel on City Road. Apparently, the restaurant was a member’s club but really – you had to be a member to find it. The only recognition that it existed at all was a small plaque above a buzzer, by the side of an innocuous door. Inside it looked great and the food was good – what we could see of it. The light was so dim, we each had to use our mobile phones (or iTouch in my case) to read the menu. We shared the most wonderful and most green bowl of olives I’ve ever seen.  On Tuesday, we repeated the course again in Birmingham but without the excellent food.

And then it was back to the Europeans.

Back again
It sounded like they had had a great time in Bradford on Tuesday, where they had gone to explore the Pakistani culture living within the British culture. For many, this was the first time they had witnessed women wearing the burkha outside of television news and made them stop and think. They also visited a Mosque and were given a talk about Islamic tradition and culture. The National Media Museum also provided them with a two-hour workshop, where they learned the tips and techniques of television. http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/ Their enjoyment of this day was reflected in their blogs (read on)…

Lilian had introduced blogs on Wednesday, so my plan on Thursday was for them to continue with blogs for a while and to move back onto their Bonfire Night web quest before lunch.  Which is what we did, but there was such a lot of questions about blogging that many neglected the web quest. Although Blogger is remarkably simple to set up and use (and links directly to all the other iGoogle tools) it was not the best choice within the University.

Techie Stuff
Each room we used represented the interface differently. The Thursday room even had different versions of IE – which the techies told me was impossible. But IE 7 has tabs and prior to that there were no tabs: Our room had a mixture of tabbed IE browsers and non-tabbed! Then some machines needed Flash updating, or Java updating or simply updating. WHY oh why can’t this be done automatically? Why do learners have to suffer because the technology is bollocks? On Friday, Internet Explorer simply would not show the normal Blogger interface. Learners could not ‘add’ pictures or videos because the buttons were simply missing. I eventually got most of them onto Firefox – but then Blogger had updated itself since Thursday (it probably hadn’t, and probably has a slightly different interface for Firefox) and the video button was missing until you went to settings and asked it to revert to the ‘older version’ – which caused huge amusement amongst the older participants (all except two were over forty and many fifty plus – one was 21 on Thursday).

Reflection
It has been the most wonderful, entertaining, wet, though-provoking, funny, rewarding and exhausting experience. The group; from Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Latvia, Italy and England have worked together well this week and to say that they had not met each other before last Sunday, they have made remarkable progress.

Outcomes include the sharing of experiences and of each other’s cultures. Both of these were addressed in abundance. It became very clear to everyone that when national boundaries and prejudices are set apart – we are all the same. We share the same concerns and the same pleasures. This has been a wonderful week.

The group had said during their first day (last week) that they wanted to be bloggers – let them tell the story:

(Please note the use of videos, pictures they have edited and pictures made into movies too)

Our blog addresses:

http://leedsexp.blogspot.com Roberto

http://unver64.blogspot.com Fahrettin

http://vonweitzel.blogspot.com/ Christoph

http://eduwholearning.blogspot.com Eduardo

http://jnmarin.blogspot.com Javier

http://guntistravel.blogspot.com/ Guntis

http://secretary-fall-secretary.blogspot.com/ Mairita

http://learningwithpeople.blogspot.com Angus

http://mpwbauhuette.blogspot.com/ Edith

http://annavuerich.blogspot.com Anna

http://leedsandbradfordexperience.blogspot.com/ Gabrielle

http://siegfrieddierl.blogspot.com/ Siegfreied

http://vivianapurina.blogspot.com Viviana

http://cristinadelfabbro.blogspot.com/ Cristina

http://atanurcaglayan.blogspot.com/ Atanur

_________________________________________________________________________________

http://xlearn.co.uk/blogger.html Lilian’s blog

http://sharonsugden.blogspot.com Sharon’s blog

Leeds 1

We’re at the end of what really is day two, but is officially day one now. The Improving Language and Culture with ICT course has started well.

On Thursday, we’d heard that there was to be a right-wing English Defence League rally in Leeds on Saturday with the inevitable opposition rally occurring at the same time. Because our visitors were coming to Leeds to witness and learn more about British culture (and given that the postmen and local refuse collectors were striking anyway) we decided that as the Latvians had arrived a day early, we
would ask them to visit York on Saturday instead of Leeds! This turned out to have been a good plan because the two that did go to York had a brilliant time. The third Latvian went to Bradford and enjoyed herself too – the only problem being that we’re spending a day in Bradford this Tuesday. Never mind.

So that was three participants sorted – but the rest were arriving at various times in the day. Only one, from Germany, was affected and then, only because the police had put a ring around the railway station, that prevented taxis from operating out of there. The poor man had to walk all the way to our hotel, with his luggage, not understanding why there were no taxis!

Sharon and I arrived mid-afternoon.

We first went to Leeds Metropolitan University to drop off all the tools and equipment we will need on Monday through until Friday and then to the Novotel in Leeds, where we had our first meeting today. They knew we were coming today, when we called in last week to check and they knew who we were on yesterday when we came along with all our ‘stuff’ for Sunday (today) – but today (Sunday), they had no idea who we were (but that’s another story and one that a stern voice and no nonsense but polite attitude took five minutes to sort out). Then we arrived at the Ibis, where we are to stay for eight (8!!) days.We’d arranged to meet everyone at 7.00pm for dinner at 7.30pm – at the
Ibis. Which was ok, but fairly confusing because no one had met anyone else. Luckily I have a distinctive visage and was able to attract people from all over Europe to our table. There were fourteen of us for dinner and as it was Halloween (another story), a special menu too. So the meal went ok and the group got on well. Four people were still traveling as we went to bed.

Breakfast was nice and relaxed but the weather had changed. Outside it was pouring down. Torrential rain followed by strong winds was the story of the day. Everyone was drenched by the time we got to the Novotel. We’d planned that everyone would introduce themselves first and then tell us a little more about their countries by means of a newspaper collage. But most of them didn’t bring their newspapers to the Novotel. So we moved on to the ‘what do you think England is, what
do you think the English are, what do you think about English culture’ activity. We were investigating preconceptions and asked the group to mix themselves up to reach a common understanding of ‘England’. This turned out to be a brilliant get-to-know-each-other activity that
highlighted some real stereotyping. The idea is that we re-visit the activity again next Saturday and see how things have (or have not – gulp) changed.

We spent the afternoon at The Armouries (after another stern voice and no nonsense but polite attitude with the taxi company). Now we’re preparing to go out into Leeds for a communal dinner – at La Tasca!

Leeds

Improving language and culture with ICT.

Tomorrow, Sharon and I will meet most of the sixteen people arriving from all over Europe to take part in this course. Some won’t arrive until very late evening, so we’ll meet those people first thing Sunday morning at breakfast.

The course is taking place in Leeds.

This is a city I’ve hated with a real passion ever since I was dragged there twice a year as a cub-capped, short-trousered boy needing summer, then winter clothes from C&A (do you remember C&A?). I used to find it big, noisy and far too full of shops for comfort; the only good thing about it was the train journey from Huddersfield. Yet things change, and whilst it is still big (too big), noisy and far too full of shops for comfort, my preparations for this course have changed my view of Leeds.

The course was conceived by Khawar Iqbal and she’d asked me to help her deliver it if she won the European funding required to run it. Both Sharon and I have been heavily involved in the planning. Basically, Khawar has done the early people-stuff (recruitment, flight and transfer booking, hotel booking etc.) and Sharon has done the later people-stuff (venue planning, food, goodie finding and purchasing, bag packing, David pushing). I have had the leisure of planning the course around Khawar’s original ideas and with Khawar’s support and input.

And the planning has been a real pleasure. I’ve learned more about Leeds than I ever thought existed. I’ve walked the streets with new eyes. Until September this year, Leeds was still the place of boyhood dread; these days even the train journey was (is) to be dreaded (mainly due to the times I generally have to visit Leeds, the trains are overcrowded for about three hours at each end of the day). But researching the history, the culture and the city itself has opened my eyes to it’s (mmm, lost for a word here – not quite beauty …) Well.

So  we start on Sunday with a full-on day and continue through to Saturday with another full day planned (although the afternoon, like Wednesday is fofo).  We will also visit Bradford to look at culture within culture and part of our historical/cultural research will include Bonfire Night! What is it? Why is it? What does it say about us?

Because I have to help deliver Advanced PDA/e-Guide courses in London and Birmingham this week, the lovely Lilian Soon will be working with the group Monday through until Wednesday – so I know they will be in good hands.

Which reminds me – I plan on reading through the Advanced course today (as well as the Leitch 2006 Report, the Digital Britain Report and another big paper I’ve already lost the will to read), so I’d better go.

10 years of Blogging

I was out walking with John Rousell yesterday, as usual on a Saturday morning [see the more recent photographs taken on Saturday jaunts here], when it occurred to me that I had actually been blogging for over 10 years. It came as quite a surprise to realise this, but in many ways quite rewarding to become aware that my ‘first’ blog post hadn’t been that made back in May 2005, just a few months before leaving my employment at Dewsbury College. As I’ve said before, I’ve always been something of a diary writer, but our conversation yesterday made me realise that I’d also been a blogger for some time too, even before I knew what the word was or meant.

Our conversation had drifted back to the time John and I spent a week cycling from Barmouth (in Wales) to Great Yarmouth (in East Anglia). We’d not realised that it was now over ten years ago (July 1999) since we’d done that trip. We had wanted to cycle from coast to coast and not only did this accomplish that feat at the widest point of the country – but the names rhymed!

John had been showing the cycle trip website to a friend last week http://www.village-e-learning.co.uk/cycleride/cycleride.htm and was telling me of his friend’s reaction (incredulity!), when I realised that this was indeed a rudimentary, early blog. We’d photographed our way across the country and kept notes about the journey, which then ended up online as part of my personal website. I had web space at the time from NHL (that might be wrong – they started as Cabletel, then became whatever they were called beginning with ‘n’ and were themselves taken over about the time I moved house and over to BT for my internet). Nevertheless, my ability to edit etc, was lost after my move but I eventually managed to regain the pages and re-post the site a few years ago by simply searching for it (this was before Google offered such a service). I lost some images, but was able to reform it in pretty much the way it was presented originally and to put it back online – back under my control. I’ve never really advertised it as part of my Village e-Learning site – but that’s where it is. Some of the pictures we took that week (on on subsequent Saturday mornings) were later used as part of John’s brilliant SimDis web pages not hosted by TechDis at http://www.techdis.ac.uk/simdis.

This week I’ve been to Birmingham (picture above) once and Leeds twice for work. I learned much more about each city during these visits and although I’ve always liked Birmingham as a city, I’ve similarly always hated Leeds. In both cases – my visits increased my liking for the cities themselves. Well done Leeds. I’ll write more about this later as my interest in Leeds will become a developing theme.

Whilst in Leeds the second time, I was helping Dave Foord and Lilian Soon to deliver a conference/workshop event at The Carriage House for the RSC-YH. This introduced a support service for regional ‘Pathfinder’ bids. We all felt that it went well and now look forward to the contact from delegates to ask for advice and guidance regarding the equipment side of their bids. Whilst there I took this video of Lilian making paper boxes.