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You Can’t Cuddle a Fish

Peter King of the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust  is an enthusiast for rivers and their landscape, the Adur and Ouse in Sussex in particular. At the River Summit held in the Pavilion as part of the River Festival hosted by the Lewes Railway Land Wildlife Trust and Love Our Ouse. He gave a fascinating talk on the work that is required, the work that has been done and the work that needs to be undertaken to improve the Ouse , to help return some of it to the way it was naturally, centuries ago – before people came along to exploit it, tame it and pollute it. 

Peter King of the Ouse & Adurs Rivers Trust talking at the River Festival, Lewes

“You can’t cuddle a fish”

Part of a display of fish drawings coloured in and annotated by children at the River Festival

“You can’t cuddle a fish”, he said, apologising that trout and eels may not have the appeal of otters or behaviours, but their health is a good indicator of a healthy river system. 

We have made a mess of our rivers across the British Isles over the centuries and the Ouse is no exception.

  • 85% of all UK rivers are failing to achieve a ‘Good Ecological Status’.
  • Only 19% of water bodies are good for fish … 

Human pressures: exploitation, containment, extraction and discharges have all caused problems. There has been an impact on the landscape and ecosystems affecting, resulting in damaging invasive species and the ability of native species to survive.

Peter made a compelling case for our doing far more to address the problems and improve the condition of our rivers. 

Regarding the single issue of discharges, he persuaded us that whilst Southern Water has 123 discharge points, and is clearly responsible for sewage discharge, that there are over 1,200 discharge points in the River Ouse catchment, and that as well as legal trade waste there are too many illegal discharges and therefore an urgent need to review permits.

“Put the wiggles back”

Having gone through the science, indicated the level of detail of surveys, worried us about multiple historic and ongoing problems, Peter also proposed fixes, showed how much has been done, how much more there is to do and tried to end on a positive note. That we can ‘put the wiggles back’, mitigate against flooding, improve habits and ecosystems, work with farmers and other businesses and landowners. 

Lots can be done, he explained, and illustrated some of the initiatives taken from the grandest engineering works to put meanders and pools back where straightening and canalising has occurred and removing locks where the river had been contained to form a lake for shooting ducks, to smaller, more modest improvements like adding logs and gravel to slow the flow, or putting in groynes and branches where sediments can collect. A visit to the higher reaches of the River Ouse downstream from the Ouse Valley Viaduct showed where this kind of work had been undertaken.

Branches pegged into the river bed to create a slight meader and pooling

We can all do our bit too. “The first flush of rain creates 80% of the pollution” – we can slow this run off with rain plainters, or with more space, a rain garden. 

Peter concluded on an upbeat note convincing us that it is not all bad news, there are plenty of stunning bits of the Ouse to enjoy.

He invited us to volunteer with the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust; tasks include: tree planting and river clean ups, river maintenance, monitoring and much more.

Peter.king@oart.org.uk

Publications

We realised there were gaps in the information available for certain Natural Flood Management techniques and measures. With the help of our partners we have produced a range of nationally available, printed and online materials which will help others to deliver NFM with more confidence. 

These include :-

Focusing on Flow in SussexA Woodland Trust case study and related reading.
Sussex Wildlife Trust > ‘How you can help with flood management

A CaBa case study

Rewilding Britain on How Rewilding Reduces Flood Risk
Rain Garden Planters from East of Eden
Stormwater or ‘SuDS’ Planter

Life Drawing at Charleston Farmhouse

There’s art on show everywhere you turn this weekend with Lewes Art Wave – so how about creating your own works by joining a life drawing class?

Even if you are completely new to it you’ll find you are welcome with this small, eclectic (and eccentric) group.

The Walled Garden, Charleston Farmhouse, East Sussex (CC BY SA 4.0 J FVernon)

What is more, the next two sessions, owing to our usual venue in the Hay Barn at Charleston being unavailable, the session this Tuesday 6th September (and in a month’s time) will be outdoors in the Walled Garden, or if chilly/wet in the ‘Outer Studio’ of Charleston Farmhouse itself, making this an even more of a unique ‘Bloomsbury’ experience.

All levels from absolute beginner to experienced artist are welcome – what marks you make and how is entirely up to you. I started out when we met in the Outer Studio back in October or November 2016.

The sessions are run by the sculptor Silvia MacRae Brown.

Silvia MaxRae Brown (CC BY SA 3.0 J FVernon)

The models (male/female) are always extraordinary, and have the talent for creating and holding a pose, or creating a sequence of slow movement that we artists/students must somehow capture. Bring a picnic (the restaurant is closed), coffee/tea and biscuits are provided – as are all the materials if you turn up empty handed (easels, boards, paper, clips, charcoal/pencils). £55 for the day, from 10.00am to 4:00pm.

To confirm or enquire (part days are possible too) Email: silviamacraebrown@btinternet.com

Water is not working and the water companies are entirely to blame – yet they pay out generously to executive and shareholders

Feargal Sharkey – guardian of UK Rivers (and all round cool guy, songster, musician, environmentalist and campaigner)

I guess you missed the ‘lively debate’ on Radio 4 Today this morning on the despicable state of our UK rivers. We learnt about the exploitative behaviour of privatised water companies, paying out £75bn in dividends rather than spending the £60bn required investment to fix leaks, provide adequate water treatments, plan for and build reservoices and even build then operate desalination plants.

There was a gripping six minute exchange in the debating ring that can be the BBC Radio 4 Today programme at its best. If you put Chris Packham, George Monbiot, Bob Geldoff and Ian Paisley in a blender with a pint of rain water from Northern Ireland and a splash of English Chalk River you get the 21st century Feargal Sharkey.

After several sharp rebuffs Sharkey had Mike Keil (Senior Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns at the Consumer Council for Water) agreeing that consumers could not “tolerate water companies that behaved unsustainably and damaged the environment”. Keil started out on a ridiculous PR spin learnt no doubt from nearly seven years working for Severn Trent Water. He selectively quoted ‘the good bits’ from research saying that the “Sector was not failing, customer survey, with basic water service, 91% satisfaction, but, some issues: charges, trust, 

This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve caught Feargal Sharkey at his best –  in full flow taking the UK water companies to task about their appalling treatment (or failure to treat) water they take from our rivers. As a teen I loved the ‘Undertones’, but not all musicians and singers keep at that task for the rest of their lives (Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones excepted). 

None of us should have to tolerate raw sewage in our rivers – but the water companies far from limiting emergency outflows to flood conditions repeatedly, you could see constantly, flout the rules and let raw sewage into rivers – which lines banks and spills out into the sea.

Feargal Sharkey accused the water companies of exploitative and unsustainable practices and called on George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to issue an enforcement order to water companies to comply with a series of exacting orders or face a fine of 10% of their annual turnover. 

Mike Kiel initially sounded like an apologist for the water companies, making a deliberate and frankly ludicrous spin with the line that “Sector was not failing, that customer surveys showed that customers were 91% satisfied with “basic water service” … this is based on research he/they commission and interpret for public consumption. He is hardly an impartial observer being the product of the water industry working for Severn Trent Water for nearly six years. 

Feargal Sharkey was impeccable in his response: extraordinarily reserved by saying that he took “a completely converse view” – a euphemism to me as I would have been rather more blunt and Anglo-Saxon in my response. Well versed in telling the truth to the PR spin, he explained that water companies had experienced “decades of underinvestment and profiteering by water companies”. It has been their “failure and mismanagement” which has brought this crisis upon us. Water companies, he explained, dumped sewage into our rivers for 6 million hours – that’s the sewerage issue, and now we are facing a water shortage. Water companies have given out £72bn extracted in dividends, yet they are saddled with £60bn of debt. To my ears this reads like asset stripping; running the water companies down, paying out maximum dividends, paying executives exorbitant sums and leaving far, far too little for investment in improvements – the very purpose of their existence. Feargal pointed out that between them just three senior water company executives got paid £10m between them.

It has been a catastrophe for rivers, lakes and trout streams, he explained. As a monopoly they can only be held to account by a regulator which is toothless (my words). 

George Eustace, Feragal explains, has been writing  letters to Sunday Papers asking the companies to behave nicely. Rather, he should  (grow some balls – my words) and hold them to account.

Feargal says what we consumers should be making clear, that water “bosses should not be rewarded for failure. That there should be a link between salaries and what they deliver for people and the environment”. This is missing.

The waterworks are “about as Victorian as our roads are Roman. Water companies have a statutory obligation to build, operate and maintain sewage systems capable of effectively dealing with all of the effluent in those systems”, said Sharkey. He went on to explain that OFWAT argues that the water companies have had all of the funding required over the last 30 years to make the funding possible for the improvements that are required. Rather water companies have reduced their spend by over 40% and that is leading to the catastrophe we are now facing both in terms of sewage and water supply. 

Feargal added that “London is now No.9 on a list of the 10 cities most likely to run out of water along with the likes of Cape Town, Jakarta, San Paolo and Mexico City”. We have indeed become a ‘third world country” (my words) – not thanks to the Tories, Thatcher and leaving the EU. 

Water companies have paid out over £72bn in dividends; perhaps they should have spent more of that money on fixing their leakey infrastructure. 

The answer according to Feargal Sharkey is that George Eustace, who has the power to issue an enforcement order, should do so – this is a clear legal instruction to the companies to do exactly what he wants and when he wants it done – any failure to comply with that instruction he then has the power to fine them up to 10% of their annual turnover.

Listen here >

Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacRea Brown

I attend with trepidation. It’s not like singing. Imagine singing and finding for the first half-hour you are out of tune and that on a bad day there will be a lot of duff notes. Or is that just indicative of my lack of experience, that I should be drawing every day. That’s how the college student does it: all day, most days down at the studio. You have to train the connection between the brain and senses, the arm and the page.

Getting ready the night before would help; I don’t. Rather I’m making lunch, looking for paper and deciding how much clobber to take from first thing on the day of the class. I cannot transport my ‘studio’ to Charleston so some choices have to be made. I could turn up with a packed lunch and a smile and be able to enjoy the day: everything is provided, easels, materials, coffee and snacks. All I need is enthusiasm and a willingness to make mistakes, to listen to constructive criticism and to keep having a go.

We aim to start soon after 10.00am. The fifteen minutes before hand easels and boards and large wedges of paper are transported from Silvia’s car.

Setting up in the Charleston Hay Barn – the model’s point of view. (CC BY SA-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

Charleston is closed to the public on Monday and Tuesdays so we have the place to ourselves – though the office is open and someone comes over to help make sure we have all that we need and the chef comes into the restaurant to order and take deliveries and prepare food.

we used to meet in Charleston Farmhouse itself; not in the studio space used by the Bloomsbury group (that would have been cool), but in a small alcove. That could only take a handful of people. I have no idea at all how I heard about the session; this would be November 2016. I’d been attending sessions in Brighton at the Sussex County Arts Club a few times a week for several months. Did I hear about it from someone there? Did I learn about it on a visit to Charleston? Or pick something up online when I was searching for something in Lewes? I know I was getting fed up of going into Brighton but found the life classes in Lewes were booked up.

There were twelve or perhaps thirteen of us today. I got myself tucked over to one side as out of the way as I could be while still able to get a clear view of the model.

Set up. Blurred as I tried a panoramic image on my phone. That’s my whiteboard on the left hand side. (CC BY SA-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

The last couple of sessions I’ve taken a large whiteboard; I like the scale. I tape a section of wall paper lining to this with the intention of putting all the initial doodles and sketches together. As the model, it is Ruth today, will move slowly through a series of many short poses I like to try to fit them all onto the one page.

I use Crayola wax crayons; I don’t think wallpaper liner deserves pastels. I would try pastels if I had a large enough piece of cartridge paper – perhaps. Though I have found I can repeat the exercise, ‘copying’ from this sheet to further sheets once I get home.

Ruth Moves – wax crayon on wallpaper liner (CC BY SA-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

For half an hour it is like being in a library, or better still, like sitting a formal exam. You can sense the concentration. The model moves like Salome in front of Solomon – but in slow motion, a movement that from time to time pauses for a minute. We sketch feverishly; one artist attacks their page as if they are shoveling coal into a coal-hole, most pick away studiously with less vigour.

I make the first mark. I have three complementary crayons: bright green, dark green and black. I work from left to right across the page alternating colours. I then fill in the spaces with small doodles or larger sketches. Afterwards I reflect: next time I will think of the entire sheet as a composition with the model smaller on the back of the sheet creating a timelapse effect (I hope) where I have captured her around the room as she moves.

There is no stage, possibly for the first time to my knowledge. In the past the model has been on this platform under a large window. Once we brought the model into the centre of the barn. This brings the model onto the floor and closer to us. We can draw in the round, she can approach us. Our angle will change without us having to move.

There were then two short static poses: two ten minutes each I think. I should note it down at the time, but I don’t and by lunch time the order in which I have produced multiple sketches on different sheets of paper using different tools is lost to me.

This might have been where we are invited to do a couple of exercises: drawing with the non-dominant hand (in my case my left hand) and drawing from memory – simply not looking at the model (though later in the day she was rather elegantly covered in a translucent piece of chiffon).

We break to give the model a breather, to admire each other’s work, talk about it and share notes and practices. Silvia was keen for us to take a look at ‘I Live Here Now’ by Liza Dimbleby.

It reminds me of how I used to sketch in my teens and twenties, on the beach in France, in the bars in Val d’Isere and even on the chairlifts. And then it died away until recently. Certainly in my teens my mother had encouraged me to have a pad of paper with me all the time and I did.

Chairlift from La Daille, Val d’Isere, January 1991

We drink tea or coffee and eat biscuits. We get some air or disappear into the barn for a bathroom break (an experience in itself as The Charleston Trust invested into new gallery and restaurant space some years ago – all swish with oak and glass around a small courtyard – like the corner of an Oxford college, a small one, like St.Edmund’s.

Round three: more poses, of course, always getting longer and with length a chair. I think it was 30 minutes or so to begin with, followed by an exercise where we draw from memory – only looking at the page. What I find I do is I recall all the problem solving moments, the insights I gained, and the techniques I used at the time to position things, to use negative space, to use the window from and chair … I lack natural insight from knowing my anatomy and underlying skeleton. But I give it a shot – whatever I am invited to try I give it a go and learn something from it, from what works and what does not.

I’m aware of Silvia doing the rounds, commenting, suggesting and helping correct other students/artists. As my mother would do when she was around she appears at my shoulder but I’m unaware of her presence until she speaks. It is like a voice through an earpiece, almost as if your own subconscious is pointing out something you are failing to see: her head is too large and the neck couldn’t support it.

I don’t question this nor fret about the marks I have already on the page, I simply add more, drawing over what was there even if it risks my having what could look like a model with two heads, or a model who had moved her head and I’d caught both positions. I am not here to produce a finished piece, mistakes are necessary and they tell their own story on the page.

Then lunch. I had mixed up various vegetable/plant based casseroles from the fridge with rice – this is ample. I could vanish off to Middle Farm Shop, we have an hour. The cafe at Charleston is closed. Several of us gather around a large round table in the restaurant. Today I get to know Ruth, our model. I have drawn Ruth three or four times now over 8 years; you’d have thought I would have drawn her more often – once or twice a year. I rather think that if we have twelves sessions a year then we generally have as many models, maybe eight with some duplication.

The truth is when you draw you see shapes, negatives space, limbs, tendons, patches of light and dark – not the person. Is this my mistake? There isn’t time to get a likeness of the model. I can do that, but it is an entirely different skill and requires a long pose, or the same pose repeated in order to spend 3 or more hours at it. (Note to self, a regular Saturday or Sunday slot at Sussex County Arts Club would give me this).

Ruth, Coloured charcoal on paper. (CC SA BY-3.0 J F Vernon 2022)

Onwards to a long pose so Ruth lies down. A bench/platform is created from tables with blankets and cushions. We draw on. And once again, as it produced some interesting results and a lot of positive comment we are invited to have a go at drawing this from memory – after Ruth had got up and gone.

Ruth ‘from memory’ in a minute or so. Black drawing pen.

Tea. More looking at what others have done and talking approaches. I asked a lot of questions about adding colour and the problems I’ve been having with watercolour and pastels. Keep it simple. Just two or three colours was the tip I took and will apply once I am home.

And then a warm down of shorter poses to end the day.

I scribbled these onto A4 or A3 sheets in quick succession. There wasn’t the ‘flow’ we had with movement first thing. I kept at it hoping to get the essence of something but wasn’t overly happy with the outcome. I keep everything regardless and will file it away once I get home. Sometimes I see a shape, or a get a feeling for a pose later and have ideas of doing something with it.

Once again we compare drawings, talk tools and technique and eventually depart, a few staying behind to chat and help load the back of Silvia’s car with the easels, drawing boards, materials and paper.

Should disposable BBQs be banned?

Disposable BBQ

It’s been in the back of my mind having found local park benches burnt where I BBQ was placed, as well as ashes tipped against a fence and the sharp grill and foil ineptly stuffed into a litter bin.

Disposable BBQ’s lasting scorching to a park bench (Juggs Lane, Jubilee Gardens, Lewes)

This morning on BBC Radio 4 Broadcasting House there was a short item on banning disposable BBQs ASAP.

Helen Bingham from Keep Britain Today explained that as they reach 400 degrees they cannot be get rid of safely as you cannot pick them up or put them in a bin – ‘An environmental catastrophe”.

National Trust Scotland are calling to have them banned.

Craig Carter, London Fire Brigade said that sales of disposable BBQs should be banned. He is joining a petition set up by Toby Tyler whose 11 year old son Will stepped on the remains of a disposable bbq and was severely burned – so badly that Will needed skin grafts. 

The petition can be found here https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/618664.

The call in the past had been to “enjoy the summer responsibly” is this good enough; it only takes one or two careless or irresponsible users of these BBQs to result in considerable damage – even danger to people, wildlife and infrastructure.

Playing devil’s advocate I thought. Paddy O’Connell wondered if we were being killjoys, that common sense is enough.

From my experience (and occasional use of them down on the pebble beach at Seaford), responsible users douse their disposable BBQ with water before bagging it up to take home. 

Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacRea Brown

Life Drawing at Charleston – Model ‘Dave’ (C) Silvia MacRea Brown (2022)

I look forward to the first Tuesday of each month with trepidation; I’ve been attending a life drawing class at Charleston (in the Hay Barn conversion for the last few years). The models are always very well chosen: good at their job! able to hold an interesting pose and ready to try all the things that Silvia suggests, which includes continual movement, as well as movement into a short poses, and then of course the class short pose (one to five minutes), the longer pose (ten to 20 minutes) and about as long as we go (45 minutes).

I was brought up on the 3 hour pose. The single, carefully executed effort to reproduce exactly what the eye can see. This is not Silvia’s approach; this is art from the heart and soul, on the fly, capturing the sense of the movement, the essence of the model. I’ve come to prefer sketches completed in a few minutes, while last time I ran off more than 30 ‘doodles’ onto a lengthy sheet of wall liner paper using wax crayons – the movement continual, each sketch possible a few seconds each.

This has been invaluable on my recent efforts to capture the ‘essence’ of club swimmers slogging it up and down the pool. Capturing the feeling, sense and movement of limbs and water, with the added complication of reflections is proving one heck of a challenge! Going out to sketch trees is proving easier – though fraught with its own problems. Does a tree keep still? How do you fit it onto the page? How do you different between tree species without going into the detail of a leaf or the bark?

The cost is still £55 for the day – which is excellent value for 6 hours at Charleston. We start at 10.00am and finish at 4.00pm. It isn’t all drawing. There are a few coffee/tea breaks (coffee/tea, milk and biscuits provided). And we break for an hour for our picnic lunch. We can sit in the Charleston Café (they are closed on Tuesdays) or find a spot in the yard. Or make a dash for Middle Farm along the A27.

I go away mentally and even physically exhausted. I like to ‘knock ’em out’. I also keep everything – religiously. This was my later mother’s mantra. I still have drawings I did with her in my early teens, and a few self-portraits done even younger, and the odd girlfriend from my mid to late teens (clothed I must add!). I never attempted a nude until my early twenties (and the drawing wasn’t what either of us had in mind). Then one class in Primrose Hill in the 1990s and nothing until we moved to Brighton in 2000 – and the first classes with Sussex County Arts in Brighton from 2014 or so, with Silvia at Charleston since November 2016.

With the unusually fine and dry weather the back ‘yard’ here in Lewes is a temporary studio. Feeling like San Diego I feel confident to leave boards, easel and all the accruitments of my ‘practice’ out – currently just watercolour onto cold-pressed cartridge paper.

Liz, the model, while she moved continually (Crayola Wax Crayon on wall paper liner) CC SA-BY 3.0 J F Vernon 2022

No budget sees me being resourceful. I have come to love wall paper lining and wax crayon. The very materials my mother started us kids off on when we were little: I cannot remember when I started to draw as it would have been age 3 or 4, as soon as I could hold something in my hand and not be inclined to eat it or shove it up my nose or into my ear.

I’m wasting time. I have two drawings marked up to paint and want to press on. Both are someone in water – both are of one of Silvia’s models ‘Dave’ in this instance (my wife has said she is fed up of seeing naked women all over the house so I’ve been working up sketches I have of ‘Dave’ and ‘Tim’).

Come to think of it, that is ‘Tim’ falling into the water (clothed as a swimming coach who someone has pushed into the pool, while the swimmer is ‘Dave’ – as Dave is bald which makes it easier to turn the top of his head into a swimming cap. Neither actually look like they are swimming, which is the problem.

I have been drawing swimmers in action – a challenging task! All swirls, shapes and somewhat reminiscent of a series of too short time-lapse photographs in which everything is blurred.

Students at one of Silvia’s recent classes in the Hay Barn, Charleston (C) Silvia MacRea Brown 2022)

I digress. There is a class coming up, this Tuesday 2nd August, at Charleston – in the fancy new Hay Barn rather than in the infamous Farmhouse. If are planning to attend or have questions get in touch with Silvia by email: silviamacreabrown@btinternet.com. If you want a lift from Lewes email me: joanthanferugsonvernon@gmail.com

Kenneth More appearing in “Reach for the Sky” got me thinking

My late mum, Sheila Vernon and me as a ‘King’s Guard Special’ on the set of ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle.

In 1978, though suffering from Parkinson’s, Kenneth More was working on one of his last films ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle. Separated from his wife of 10 years he asked my mother out to dinner. My dear late mum, then 47 years old, had a ‘steady boyfriend’ and had dubious thoughts about what might be expected if she dined with the elderly Kenneth. I think they would have enjoyed each others company. Kenneth went back to his wife (or she had him back). He died a few years later.  I’m just reflecting. I was 16: it was not the start of any film career (though one assistant producer I became friends with did try to persuade me to run off to London to work on another film. I had A’ Levels and Oxbridge in my sights) Other aging actors on set included Ron Moody and John Le Mesurier.

I’m only dwelling on any of this because for the upteenth time (it would seem) I caught ‘Reach for the Sky’ on Channel 4 Films, or BBC Two, or Four, or somewhere, the other day. It’s dated, stilted and of its time. Badder has a closer relationship with his batman than his girlfriend. It is gosh and coy. Anyway, I like the few flying shots because it gives me an impression of what my grandfather must have experienced.

Flight Cadet John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM, RAF Crail December 1918

In 1918 my grandfather, then 22, was learning to fly with the RAF. He flew Avros and Bristol Fighters. My interest in Kenneth More’s film “Reach for the Sky” is that it features flying sequences using these planes (mostly from the Shuttleworth Collection), as well as planes of #WW2. So that’s what it was like? Just as I thought, a 2-stroke lawnmower with wings attached (and a Vicker’s machine gun).

So there you go. My daily drivel.

Online Learning Revisited

It won’t get me a job as a learning technologist (aka technician) but I’ve said it (in a presentation interview online) and will repeat it now and develop the argument, that the best learning experience a student can have is you in the room with them; if this cannot happen, then it is you LIVE, online, talking them through a topic, guiding them and praising them, correcting them and challenging them, responding to their individual stops and starts. Of course, one to one is not scalable. Nor is it sexy tech. So there have to be compromises.

In my five years completing a Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, taking the five required modules, and in due course another two or three to complete the ‘set’ I can recall two positive modules and equally positive experiences – and outstanding results. No longer the 42/53 and odd 70 I got in other (and admittedly earlier modules), but 92/93 – If I’d retaken the entire MAODE I guess I might have gained a Distinction. Though I am certain I would have needed the kind of support these tutors provided, but they only provided that support on their modules.

This was all online, ‘at a distance’ and very little of it was live. Rather we were ‘as live’ as much as anything putting content into a common OU Student Blog that our tutor and fellow students could dip into. I know that one or two students did outstandingly well and barely interacted at all … but I’m a social learner, I like the praise, I like to be ticked off and corrected too – and to put awkward questions, and to ask ‘why?’ over and over again. I don’t mean to be annoying but when I don’t ‘get it’ I just don’t and it takes a new angle, a new link, something else to read, a chance comment, an analogy or visualisation to get me over the line. Then once I understand it, I really understand it 🙂 I wear it on my sleeve, it is tattooed into my brain.

So where does this leave online learning?

It requires engagement, it requires responsiveness to the individual, even tailor-made – it requires direct engagement from the tutor – ideally the course chair, and where not that someone highly qualified in the subject – NOT a ‘nanny’ moderator who knows f*** all on the topic. Expertise matures over time, it is not last year’s PhD student or this years MA student, it is ideally a professor, or a senior lecture, who lives and breathes their subject.

But how can this be scaled up to teach hundreds, even thousands?

When I last checked there were over 223 million young people around the world hoping to go into tertiary education. There aren’t the professors and senior lecturers to teach them. So we have to create learning, create learning, gamify it, modulerise it, make it ‘smart’ and compromise. AI will do a better job that some tutors and mentors in due course – what is the point of a jobsworth mentor/tutor who restricts their engagement with you to a couple of hours on a Thursday evening – because, they tell you, they are only paid X to do X hours. This is where you need people who teach as a vocation, whatever the risk is to exploitation. This is for their line manager to protect them from, their union to negotiate or challenge if it goes wrong. Can a Chatbot behave like someone whose vocation it is to teach? To experience students finding and developing their strengths?

You have to make the time. And where time is limited you have to use Tech to make more time available – but it is always diluted. Online learning needs to be simple and effective for very particular tasks – I love the determined simplicity of the language learning platform LingVist for example. Involved tangentially in the development of a language learning platform in 2000/2001 I have followed developments closely, tried many apps and approaches (including failed attempts at an A’ Level, and even a undergraduate degree).

In conclusion

Online learning in the form of a course or module must be offered in a multitude of ways to provide a complete experience which includes live/as live, interaction, solo study, old fashioned reading and essay writing, lectures too, as well as smarter IT elements to ingrain specific necessary elements which are suited to a Tech approach.

Goings on

I promise to ditch this URL in favour of a .blog to reflect what it is – my ramblings. Why I even make it public is another matter. Ever since I started blogging in 1999 all I ever wanted was a ‘mind dump’, somewhere to gather thoughts, express ideas and set down in one place stuff that I would then be able to readily find at a later date. Thus the tags and categories. Thus the eclectic nature of it. But remember, I am ADHD. Or was. Or still am. Depending on if I pay for a diagnosis or turn to the NHS! Or whether I am seeking medical advice in the UK or the US.

I thrive on it – most of the time. For the rest there is CBD.

I have promised a friend to make a start blogging about my activity on social media – on Twitter in particular. I used to be very content dependent – as if I could be a one-man publishing industry with Tweets at the ready, several a day, ready to fly, retweet and regurgitate every year. Now that I am reaching out to a global community of Greens I find I am more likely to be seeking out the content produced by others, identifying themes, sharing, liking, commenting … and retweeting with comments.

The outcomes are in the stats: not simply followers/following all the rest of it from Twitter Analytics: shares, likes, links and so on.

Ultimately, with Greens it has to be about influencing change, increasing membership, developing activities, nudging policy and … raising funds. Not surprising that big business and those in it are least likely to push funds our way, so I rather think we need to be attracting the wealthy philanthropist with a hankering for nature conservation and saving the planet and all the things in it: plants, animals and people. I am ready to be corrected. I would hope renewables as they take over from fossil fuels, if not an offshoot of the oil/gas industry, would wish to back us.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my trees, shrubs, life drawing and swim lesson plans. Trees are shedding leaves early to save water I have notices, shrubs are doing the same. My fern is dead, along with a 15 year old beech I replanted early this year and failed to water thoroughly these last few months – and the mint has died. The succulents are thriving, as is the ivy and brambles. I encourage both.

Life Drawing is on next week. I should ‘get my hand in’ a bit over the next few days reworking previous drawings and drawing anyone who will sit for me.

As for swimming? The club has a handful of elite performance swimmers at the Nationals. We’ve had several in finals, a gold and a few bronze medals too. Did I teach them seven or eight years ago when they first joined the club? Most likely. I have coached them the odd session while covering for the Head Coach. The amount of work they have to put in is quite extraordinary, truly superhuman (and the time parents need to dedicate to their elite athlete too getting them to training and galas).

Onwards. The day is young.

Companion Trees of Markstakes Common

I can’t find much written about so called ‘companion trees’ in the world. We marvel at some of the contorted shapes trunks create as they appear to bounce off each other and imagine the relationship is symbiotic: I’ve come to believe that this is not the case. Whilst horticulturalists and gardeners may speak of ‘companion’ planting, this is not the same as two or more trees or shrubs competing in the wild for light, water, nutrients and a footing.

Oak and Birch ‘companions’ Markstakes Common July 2022

Visiting Markstakes Common often over the last few months I have come to know the area reasonably well and with the aid of a map created by the Friends of Markstakes Common in 2011 I can pick up some, though certainly not all of the 34 ancient trees one or two of which have notable companions.

It would appear that dominant tree survives, more often birch over everything else, with oak and hornbeam in a close second place, followed by birch while holly, though often abundant, becomes leggy or where there is little light simply dies away. To my eyes birch trumps all others, though it depends clearly on which tree gets a 10 or 25 year head start. It is also clear that where both trees are able to survive their ‘companionship’ my last many decades. Of course in depends very much on the context as to which tree may weaken and fail.

For example, this birch and oak, both of which continue to thrive – although the holly tree identified in 2011 has clearly died back and since tried to reestablish itself with little success: it is barely a bush.

Around the wood, on closer examination as many as 1/5th of every mature tree shows some element of companion growth at some time. The overwhelming pattern however is that the companions eventually fail … leaving a hollowing, rotting trunk, or breaking off and falling to the ground.

These ‘messy’ companions and the amount of dead wood littering the woodland floor is a feature of a natural deciduous wood. It is litter that in a warming climate must be distinctly vulnerable to fire especially where a visitor is careless or thoughtless.

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