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A pal of mine, Andy Dubieniec, was diagnosed with non-hodgkins Lymphoma in May 2008.  He’s currently undergoing chemotherapy and last weekend he completed the the coast to coast cycle ride in 17 hours.  He also managed to record a number of mini videos along the way and has incorporated them into an eBook.  What a great use of technology to share what is essentially a very solitary effort.  Great stuff Andy, well done, and good luck with the final chemo today.

Myebook - Coast to Coast - click here to open my ebook


Yesterday was an interesting one.  During the day as well as getting my car fixed (ouch!) I was at Accrington and Rossendale College for a day’s training on TextHelp Read&Write Gold.  This is a piece of software that helps computer users with reading and writing difficulties.  It can read text aloud, help construct words and sentences has advanced spell checking, document scanning and other tools.  Although I’ve used this for over 2 years it was good to have a more comprehensive look at the more advanced features. A few technical glitches with the network installation meant that some bits were missed out but it was a good day overall.  So thanks again Dave Foord – who did a great job.

In the evening by means of a contrast I went with a friend to see Cherie Blair speak at the Ilkley Literature Festival.  Unlike Alistair Campbell who opened last year’s celebrations, she didn’t sparkle or shine.  Although she does look much better in the flesh than her portrayal in the media, she was very much the loyal wife and had no intention of stealing Tony’s thunder – his autobiography is on the way.  She was interviewed by Francine Stock, BBC journalist and novelist and took questions from the floor for half the session.  There were no great revelations and she only really became animated when she was talking about legal cases she had won and lost.  She even managed to make her opinion of the return of Peter Mandelson to the cabinet slick and dare I say, embarrassingly unctuous.  An interesting but not riveting evening.

I’ve just finished reading a fastinating book by Tim Butcher. Subtitled ‘A Journey to the Broken Heart of Africa’ it tells of how he managed to re-create the journey of Henry Morgan Stanley from the Eastern shores of Lake Tanganyka across country to the Congo River and then down the river to the Atlantic Coast.  Stanley (of Dr Livingstone I presume fame) was a journalist with the Telegraph newspaper and could see the commercial potential of this vast un-mapped country with a wealth of natural resources.

The Democratic Repubic of Congo is unique of all countries on earth in that it is evolving backwards. Stanley claimed sovereignty of the country for the King of Belgium, King Leopold (the king only not the Belgian Government) in 1879 and then began one of the worst colonial regimes imaginable. By 1964 when independence came the Congo river was navigable between the two main sets of cataracts, there were railways and roads but they had been built at a price to the local population.  Various regimes have been in power since and a five year war in which millions were killed, finished in 1999.

The Congo has since literally returned to its roots. One leg of the journey, about 1,000 Km is done in a traditional dug out canoe.  At one point, as he is travelling through dense rain forest in which he cannot see the sun for the tree canopy, his foot catches on something in the ground – he scrapes away the earth and it is the remains of a railway line. There is no indication at all around him that a rail track ever went through the area. His journey was truly of epic proportions. He has empathy with the people who helped him and the plight that they find themselves in; one contact asked Butcher to take his 4 year old son along with him, as there was no prospect for him in the Congo.  Mostly this is a highly readable account of a journey which should have been impossible but he managed it.

Penguin books have launched a new initiative to tell six different stories in six weeks, using Google maps. Yes I did write that. The first one is available now and is called The 21 Steps – a homage to The 39 Steps by John Buchan. “One minute, Rick Blackwell is sightseeing at St. Pancras in London; the next, he’s caught up in a conspiracy that takes him far away from home. Rick needs to use all his skills to find out why a dying stranger seemed to know his name – and to stay alive”.

It’s an interesting exercise and I enjoyed it. On the longer journeys, my screen didn’t update quickly enough, but that is more likely a fault of my PC rather than the technology and be patient in Chapter 4 – you do get there eventually.  There will be six stories altogether, the next one will be available on Tuesday 25 March. This would make a great tool for teaching and learning.

I’ve been under the weather a bit in the last couple of days and one thing that helped me ignore the rather unpleasant effects of the ‘winter vomiting virus’ was a brilliant book by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greaves called The Naked Jape – Uncovering the hidden world of jokes.  It a study of what makes us laugh and why and loads of jokes.  It covers history, politics, religion, race – you name it, it gets a mention.  This is not for those who are easily offended though so don’t rush off and buy it.  It has such gems as:

‘I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do.  And for those who like country music, denigrate means put down.’  – Bob Newhart.

And – ‘Throwing acid is wrong, in some people’s eyes’ – Jimmy Carr.

I was concerned that perhaps analysing humour may well make it a bit earnest and remove the comedy value, but that wasn’t to be.  So Kev, thanks it helped a lot.

And finally, in all the mayhem of last week, I became a Great Aunt as my neice gave birth to a baby boy.  So welcome to the world, Finlay Jack McCarthy and congratulations and well done to your new Mum and Dad.  Big kiss and hugs from me – I’ll be down there very soon!

Well Happy New Year everyone. I suppose now is the time to look back at the year and pick out the highs and forget the lows.

Well the year started with all the preparations for going out to Tanzania and that was definitely a high. It prompted the start of this blog which will be one year old on the 14th of this month and I’ve enjoyed posting a selection of random thoughts and ideas. It does seem to have now got the shorter identity of ‘Lisa’s Cotton Knickers’ – thanks Dave for the public mention at the RSC Conference. I hope I’ve managed to raise a bit of awareness of the work that Steve and Pia are doing at Emau Hill for Tukae.

It’s been a year of conferences, some good – HandHeld Learning, some not so good, the afformentioned RSC event! Others have been our own at the De Vere in Blackpool, an excellent single day at Salford University where I was introduced to jaiku, and a badly organised day at Manchester University (note to conference organisers, don’t make the delegates wait till 2 pm for lunch – they get crotchety).

Books of the year must include Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, as well as Kalheid Hussein’s A Thousand Splended Suns, Julian Barnes’ Arthur and George and yet more Bronte stuff. I’m looking forward to reading one of my Christmas presents, Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer as well as two more Shakespeare books, The Lodger by Charles Nichols and Bill Bryson’s latest.

It has also been the year of Facebook. What will come next? Bebo will become more popular; they are already getting new fans with KateModern – a 21st Century soap starring amongst others Ralph Little – check it out here though I think it is the season finale today.

So here’s to a new year and new aspirations. I’ve got a few ideas of what might transpire in the next 12 months, but until I’ve made complete plans it will have to stay under wraps. One thing is certain – I’ll be a Great Aunt in the next few weeks – so Good Luck Sarah and Paul!

The town of Portland in Oregon in the United States has a campaign to rename one of its streets after the sadly deceased writer Douglas Adams. For the man who told us that the answer to life the universe and everything was 42 it is apt that 42nd street is the one that has been designated to become Douglas Adams Boulevard. The organisers, Geek in the City along with the specially formed have the following message on their website.

“Transforming 42nd Avenue into Douglas Adams Boulevard will reflect upon all those who live and work in the City of Portland.

It will reflect Portlanders’ commitment to the arts.

It will reflect Portlanders’ respect for the environment.

It will reflect Portlanders’ desire to provide technological access to all.

It will reflect Portlanders’ passion to further education to all people.

It will remind all Portlanders’ the most important lesson in times of uncertainty and fear…


What a great idea and a tribute to a superb writer and thinker. I heard the radio series, A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy way back in the late 70’s and have been a fan ever since. He was one of the few authors who could make me laugh out loud and I once embarrassed myself quite badly reading by a pool in Southern France and almost crying with laughter – it was from the ‘Long Dark Teatime of the Soul’ I think. One of his creations is ‘The Meaning of Liff’ with John Lloyd. This is a list of placenames which do nothing other than sit on signposts telling people where to go and have no other use so it’s quite apt that he may become one. They took these words and combined them with the hundreds of feelings, situations and objects which we all know and recognise but for which no word existed. So for example, if you were woking, you would be standing in the kitchen wondering what you came in for, or Gallipoli – the behaviour of the of lower lip when trying to spit mouthwash after an injection at the dentist. You’ll find hundreds more here.

So good luck to I hope you’re successful.

I went to look at the City of Manchester Stadium as a possible event venue yesterday morning. As always, I parked at one end of the stadium and the conferencing facilties where right on the other side. Although the stadium is now the home of Manchester City football club (I didn’t see Sven!) the conferencing facilities are not in any way jingoistic or football orientated. As part of this search I had telephone Old Trafford, of Man United fame, and stopped the conversation within about 2 mintues. The ‘hold music’ consisted of football songs about Man United and bits of commentary on games. I interupted his sales pitch with – ‘There is no point going on with this conversation, that music has annoyed me and I think the attitude will alienate half of the people we want to come, so sorry’. Anyway, the City of Manchester Stadium, where the Commonwealth Games were held seemed to be smart, slick and hopefully we’ll have a successful event there.

I took a half day’s leave in the afternoon and went to Haworth of Bronte fame to hear a talk by Margaret Drabble the novelist on the influence of the Brontes on her work. She was very good, funny and certainly knows her literature, or so I thought. I went with a retired professor of English Literature, who is a Bronte researcher. ‘Well she was wrong about that bit of Wuthering Heights, it was in the January 2 months before the baby was born that, that happened’. Somtimes you can know too much.

The Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary this week. I remember their Silver wedding and I’m pretty sure we all were given a day off school for that; things were different in those days and we were much more deferential. I’ve just finished reading Alan Bennett’s ‘The Uncommon Reader‘. What a smashing if very short read and I would love to think of her Majesty really being just like that, though it’s unlikely. I would happily read Alan Bennett’s shopping lists he writes so deliciously.

I visited a college early in the week and saw some fantastic creative and imaginative teaching with some very complex young people. It was a delight to see and I’m going back in a week or two, to get some video and possibly audio for a podcast and a case study. It’s been one of those week’s when I think, I really love my job, which is a luxury not many folks have, so I’m feeling a bit smug.

Last night I went to a meeting of our village book group. In fact I don’t think it is the only reading group in the village, but it is very much ours. Started in December 2003 we are nearly 4 years old and still going strong. Although when we started we would sit around and discuss various books and have the odd glass of wine, we have over the years become much more sociable. The host provides the wine and a few nibbles, but we all contribute about £2 towards the drinks and take our turn to be invaded. We tend to vary the themes quite a bit and not simply read one book, we have had themes of, comedy, travel ( spiritual or actual), poetry or even an author’s work or a single book. Last night was Doris Lessing in tribute to her winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in October this year. We had a selection of readings and a lively discussion, which wandered about to include Alfred Nobel himself, how sad people who blog are ( ahem!) and how her work seemed to have a constant theme of disenfranchisement and her early card carrying communist years. Books which were discussed included, The Grass is Singing, her first novel published when she first came to England in 1949, Walking in the Shade, part 2 of her autobiography, The story of a Non-Marrying Man and Martha Quest.

So in tribute to a great bunch of friends and to another productive and entertaining four years, hello to Ruth, Catherine, Gill, Irene (our leader), Michelle (welcome back), Joyce, Shelagh and Christopher, and to those who couldn’t make it last night, Karen, Robin, Jackie, Hilary and Steve. I had a ball.

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