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Reflections on teaching, working in tourism, and other details of life over 60-plus years.
With all of that space outside the school – and tempting views to the moorland horizon – we were limited at junior school to the use we made of it. The playground and sports field areas were the most used. I remember sitting at the top of a grassy bank with paper and pencil, trying to drawn the view down towards a Victorian lodge house. In the foreground were the entrances to wartime air-raid shelters with curved brick walls to either side of the doors. They were set in the slope from the field down to the road. They were never used, as far as I know, and years later were filled in. On another occasion, a teacher led some sort of nature walk round the edge of the fields along a hedgerow and the railway line. Trains ran through a tunnel almost underneath the school grounds. This was part of the North Staffordshire Railway, known locally as the Knotty, after the Staffordshire knot shown on the county’s coat of arms. The line closed in 1965.
Classroom teaching was different. At least by the upper years, we were learning about far-off places in geography lessons. Some of these were led by the Schools Broadcasts of BBC Radio on what used to be called the Home Service – now Radio 4. Booklets were available to schools to support the programmes (never ‘shows’ – that term was only used for ‘variety show’ back then). I have some in front of me. There were broadcasts in a series entitled Geography and another headed Travel Talks. In the spring of 1954, the first group was about countries in Asia. The booklets had photos to supply a visual element for the radio programmes plus a few maps and graphs. They started with Turkey and moved east to finish in Japan. Broadcasts were twenty minutes long on Thursday mornings, from January to March. The next were for the summer, on Life and Work in Asia. Java, Singapore, the Himalayas featured here.
Most of the photos are about economic life – farming, manufacturing and transport subjects, with a number on culture – a mosque and a pagoda for example. One picture shows a rubber tree being tapped at a plantation in Java. That year, our form teacher was Miss Pickering (a classmate of the day tells me he thinks she was really Mrs Marion Pickering). She introduced project work. I was ‘librarian’ with five other children studying rubber plantations in Malaya. I had to keep a copy of all the information we could find from school or home. It was much more fun than ordinary lessons. I got a real taste for geography that was stimulated by things like old Ordnance Survey maps at home and wanderings in the nearby countryside. In later life, I would realise the shortcomings of project work, but the strengths were coming through loud and clear then, back in 1954.
As far as I know, I started school in September 1948, two months ahead of my fifth birthday. My memory is quite scant as you might expect. It was raining. Mothers and new pupils were gathered in a sheltered extension to one wing of the building. The story I heard later was that the school should have been shaped as an open square. According to this, only half was built. The Second World War was approaching and priorities went elsewhere.
The first day didn’t go too well as I fell in the playground at break-time. I copped a lump on my head where it clouted the tarmac. I do claim that I still have a slight division in the lines on the noble forehead as a result.
The reminiscences of six years’ primary education seem limited, but there are a few floating around. I seem to remember we each had a matchbox with counters inside that were used in practising with numbers. This was in the second or third year. The teacher inspected each box and if counters were missing, delivered a slap on the wrist. Christmas decorations were made. One kind used a flat, circular piece of cork with half a dozen dead matchsticks pushed in round the rim. Woollen yarn was wound round each in turn from the centre outwards. The result was supposed to look like a star. Or spider’s web, we thought. A paper tube the size of a toilet roll had vertical slots cut in to it. Pressed the ends towards each other made the middle bulge out – Chinese lantern. Of course, the biggest were the paper chains. Short strips of coloured paper were threaded into each other and glued to make long chains to festoon the windows and the room from corner to corner. We made those at home, too. There would be a Christmas party in the early evening. It always felt so strange to be in school in the dark.
There was a fund-raising event for charity. It was a ‘mile of pennies’ – well, maybe a furlong! Pennies were collected – the old currency, bigger than today’s tiny version and with far greater buying power. They were laid along the side of the corridor, edge to edge. The headmaster gave me a packet with five shillings’ worth in – 60 coins – making me feel very important laying them out to extend the collection.
Our school was Westwood Road County Primary School in Leek, Staffordshire. Facebook says it’s part of Stoke-on-Trent, which would have been a great insult in those days. We were definitely not Pot’erbs. There has been a bit of building extension, but the school is still graced with an enormous expanse of playing fields and magnificent views of the edge of the moorlands. And right across the road was the Boys’ High School that we would go to if we passed the 11+ exam.
Adding Some Sparkle to Student Days
The Leeds Met Tourism residentials in Malta represented a module’s worth of work and the alternative field week in Yorkshire the same. I should explain that all students took part in one or other – seven days in Malta cost around £350, the Yorkshire one much less. Both consisted of tailor-made lectures by government and industry specialists, tours of places and student projects. Malta scheduled one day off for relaxation, but most of the trips required evening sessions of workshops and student-led presentations. The last evening would always have some kind of social. When we stayed at the Bugibba Holiday Complex the Marketing Director, our good friend Trevor Zahra, included a quiz, followed by a karaoke session in the bar.
There were also birthday celebrations. The booking forms required students to state their birthdays. Virtually always, there would be one or two students, whose birthday fell during the residential. A quiet word with friends of the unsuspecting celebrant would set up a cash collection. This was used to pay for a birthday cake, suitably iced with birthday greetings and the required name, which tutors arranged with the restaurant manager. More than once, there was some money left over to buy a bottle of wine and another gift or two.
Dinner was always in the restaurant in the early evening. Word was passed around – without the chief subject knowing – not to go for a dessert after the main course. Someone usually kept the birthday boy or girl talking. The restaurant manager had to choose the moment because the student group, sitting in one area of the room, was actually less than half the total number of guests who were eating. At the right moment, the manager tipped off the tutors, who had primed the student ‘choir’ to be ready. Off went all the lights and the birthday cake was carried in with sparklers burning. Of course, the other guests had a moment’s surprise, but then saw what was happening, and quickly tuned in to the singing of ‘Happy Birthday to You’. The lights came back on, applause broke out and photographs were taken. Birthday greetings followed, often with handshakes and hugs (from tutors as well) and on several occasions other hotel guests joined in. Usually the birthday student took pieces of cake all the other tables.
It illustrated another interesting fact. When the general hotel guests had found a student party in their midst a day or two before, there was usually some suspicion about what the behaviour would be. But gradually a few conversations opened up friendly contact – the Leeds group had been encouraged to chat to other residents in order to collect opinions about Malta, and to break down any problems of the generation gap that might occur. When the singing of Happy Birthday was heard, many of the older guests seemed to see the students in a new light – as young people like the ones they used to be. Quite a few conversations opened up and continued over the week. It became a discussion point with the student group on returning home, and something else learnt about managing a tour group.
Leeds Met in the Lakes
A lot can be packed in to a day. The Tourism Management course team as Leeds Metropolitan University set up a day in the Lake District around 1997. Two coaches headed up the A65 towards Windermere. It was going to be a busy day, ending in the late evening back at Leeds. And it went wrong rather quickly – though not through anything we had done.
As we approached Kirkby Lonsdale, a queue of traffic appeared in front. The road was blocked where an articulated lorry had come off the road and hit a tree. The police were directing through traffic down the Lune Valley towards the motorway. It would add time to our journey, but there was no alternative. We went. The problem was that our carefully planned day was due to start with a trip along the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, a steam-hauled run on a heritage line. But it became obvious we wouldn’t get there in time. A call on a mobile to the Railway people warned them we were unlikely to catch the train. Plan B was put into action.
Plan B consisted of driving to the end of the steam railway line instead of the beginning. Well, what did you expect? So on the way north we had to pass a message to the second coach behind us. As in those days mobiles were less common and we didn’t know who on that coach had one with them, the message was written large on a big sheet of paper and held up in the back window. It worked.
The rest of the day went smoothly. From Lakeside, we took the regular lake ferry along Windermere to Bowness. Our coaches met us there and took us to the National Park Centre at Brockholes. One of the staff gave a lecture introducing the National Park, its work, and its efforts in tourism management. There was time to look around the exhibition and get some lunch overlooking the lake. Next, we made the journey back round the south end of Windermere and up narrow roads to the Forestry Centre at Grizedale. Besides its own exhibition, Grizedale is the location for excellent walks through the forest, some of them having sculptures along the trails.
Once more, back to the coach to travel to the north end of Windermere. By the time we arrived at the Ambleside Waterhead Landing it was late afternoon. The next stage was special and exclusive to our party. We had hired the Tern, an attractive lake cruiser built in 1891. For three hours, we made a slow journey back down the lake, taking a few side turns to explore views of the islands and coves on Windermere – the full journey could be done in much less time. This was not just a sightseeing trip, though, but also a course social with buffet food available and the bar open. It was possible to inspect the engine room and go up to the bridge as well. It was a pity that the weather was not the best – damp mist and at times a light rain – but the party on board was the thing.
Towards 9pm, the Tern moored at the Lakeside landing, everyone trooped down the gangway and back on board our coaches, and the journey home began. Those were the days!
This is going the rounds. It appears on several blogs. Not sure who wrote it, but they should be acknowledged and thanked! It could be called A Song of Travel Experience.
I have been in many places, but I've never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can't go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone.
I've also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there.
I have, however, been in Sane. They don't have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and work. I live close so it's a short drive.
I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I'm not too much on physical activity anymore.
I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often. , but only when it was very important to stand firm.
Sometimes I'm in Capable, and I go there more often as I'm getting older.
One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenaline flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the
stimuli I can get!
And, sometimes I think I am in Vincible but life shows me I am not.
People keep telling me I'm in Denial but I'm positive I've never been there before!
I have been in Deepdoodoo many times; the older I get, the easier it is to get there. I actually kind of enjoy it there.
So far, I haven't been in Continent; but my travel agent says I'll be going soon.
Natural Childhoods and the Roaming Radius
The National Trust report on “Natural Childhood” by Stephen Moss is important. As with Richard Louv (“Last Child in the Woods”), it identifies just how so much has changed over a generation or two. Richard Louv uses the term Nature Deficit Disorder to label the result. Moss agrees, pointing out that in the UK kids watch on average 17 hours’ TV a week, day in, day out, plus 20 hours a week online, mainly on social networking sites. Nine out of 10 can recognise a Dalek but 1 out of 3 couldn’t identify a magpie. Three out of 10 in England aged between two and 15 are overweight or obese.
Fiona Reynolds, the Director of the NT, says in her introduction that “a recent survey [of parents] revealed that one out of three now believe that their children have less freedom to roam than free-range chickens”. Louv quotes a US survey that calculated that the ‘radius of activity’ round a child’s home in which they were allowed to roam unsupervised has declined by 90% since the 1970s.
Anyone of one or two generations back will say the same. In the early 1950s when I was around 10 years old I could go as far as I wanted so long as I was back for the next meal. It was my choice where I went – though it does occur to me that I had no choice in the meal or its timing. You ate what you were given, at a set time. I wonder if that is why children are often asked what they want to eat nowadays – because they have little choice in where they can play and explore. No wonder they get so finicky with food and end up with strange diets. It is also thought to be part of the reason children get to choose where the family holiday is taken – too little choice in exploring round the home so they might be given control over the holiday choice. The other reason for that is said to be that with both parents working, the kids get less of their time and so holiday choice is compensation.
It might be tempting to dismiss the grandparents’ memories as outdated, but remember – we were freer, often fitter, and much more experienced about the real world around us.
Not Always According to Plan
Things don’t always work out on field trips. I once managed to leave someone behind on a commercial package weekend. You don’t do that more than once.
It was a Leisure Learning event for Embassy Hotels in the 1980s. We were based at a hotel in Bingley. As usual, I counted the numbers on the coach before setting of on the Saturday for a set of local history visits in West Yorkshire. Somehow, I got it wrong. We were well on the way when my colleague said, “Where’s Mr X?” That pit-of-the-stomach feeling followed as I looked back along the coach. Thankfully, Leisure Learning Weekends had a well-established track record and I never led one – out of more than 80 over 24 years – with less than about 80% repeat visitors. Mr X, who was on his own that weekend, hopped in his car and followed to the first venue, near Hebden Bridge. Profuse apologies, a refund of fuel costs and a pint at lunchtime were all passed on to him by me. He was not at all bothered, though I was.
We had a university group in Malta one year. All the students were aboard the coach in St Julian’s, on time, and ready to go. But we had a slight delay for something or other. In the pause, one of the lads decided he needed the loo and got off. We didn’t notice. The delay was sorted out and off we went. No one said “Hand on, wait for Y” – the others hadn’t realised either. Poor Y got back relieved of one problem to find he had another. He had to spend the day feeling embarrassed. Huge apologies from him on return. Well, it was his fault....
Back in my own student days in Swansea, Dr David Herbert led a Geography residential in Southampton. It was early 1967. As part of it, we stopped in Portsmouth to visit the dockyard installation. In those days, there was HMS Victory, the Naval Museum and some general views of the dockyard. Some of us decided we should join a tour of HMS Victory. DH had not sanctioned it. The rule about knowing how long visits would take did not occur to any of us. About an hour, or whatever it was, later we knew the worst – we were late. We got back to our coach with the rest of the party silently waited. Dr H was icy: “You have ruined the rest of the day. We are now running late for everything else”. It took an afternoon and early evening of apologies to thaw him out.
A New Geological Era
It is a pity that Simon Winchester’s book ‘The Map that Changed the World’ gives an out of date description of the Scarborough Rotunda (see the previous posting). The “Map” in the title is William’s Smith’s 1815 map of British geology. Winchester tells a detailed life history of Smith, spent battling financial problems and social opposition as he struggled to establish himself and his work decoding the language of the nation’s bedrocks. William Smith found Scarborough and its people late in life. Winchester records the man’s delight in discovering a community often deeply interested in the geology of its Yorkshire coastal home. Smith found a comfortable home for some years in the town and enjoyed the support of its leading residents. The design of the Rotunda Museum and the collections it displayed were largely thanks to William Smith. But in 2001 Winchester found the Rotunda sadly neglected, filled with bric-a-brac rather than fossils and rock samples. Smith was by then a forgotten man.
A visit this week showed a very different picture. Four years ago, the revitalised museum opened as a celebration of William Smith. His life, as well as his geological collections, is now well represented. New state of the art displays with touch-screen audio-visuals have been installed. It is a place bright, colourful and fun. Events are held frequently. Schoolchildren are admitted free. The adaptation has not lost any of the unique Smith-designed galleries with its painted coastal panorama and custom-made glass cases.
I’m not sure that the displays in the gallery work so well, however. In essence, they are still old-style, with the artefacts given labels, which are sometimes not so easy to read in the shadowy wall cases. Each individual item is numbered. Standing in front of the cases are holders for ring binders with pages of corresponding numbers and the necessary information. It isn’t enough, however, just to say that one example of a fossil is ‘A Brachiopod’, or a musical instrument is “A Cello”. That is information, but not interpretation. What is the significance of each and what do they mean to the modern viewer – and what did it mean to people in William Smith’s day?
In one of the modern side galleries, I spent a happy quarter-hour adding colourful icons of prehistoric plants and animals to a flat-screen picture of a Jurassic landscape. Touch-and-tell technology led me through the stages of identifying and then positioning each one on the screen. A friendly geology professor from Sheffield appeared on screen and explained something about each one. He then commented on whether I had chosen and placed the figures correctly. “Use the displays in the gallery behind you to get the right choice” he said – I report his words as best I can at this stage. I can’t see that working well for a school party, excited and competitive about having a go and getting in each other’s way. Leave the screen for a moment to check into a glass case nearby and another junior geologist will have taken over. Yes, it might encourage an interest in geology, but how far school kids will get in relating dinosaurs to proto-Jurassic landscapes is more questionable.
Incidentally, we drove out of Scarborough towards Scalby and then took side roads through the area round Hackness. It was there that William Smith worked for Sir John Johnstone. The wealthy backer of Smith’s work also supplied, free of charge, the stone for the Rotunda from his estate. Now there is a Geological Trail along a section of the river valley cutting through that part of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. We haven’t yet tried it, but will. A printed two-page leaflet can be found online under the heading Forge Valley Geological Trail – link given below.
The Seamier Side of Life
What? In Scarborough? Surely not. Well, no. This is about geology....
The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough is unique. It has been popular since it first opened on 31 August 1829. That was two months before the Rainhill Trials of the new-fangled steam locomotives established ‘Rocket’ as the clear winner and the railway age began. That development would in turn make Scarborough outstandingly successful as a coastal resort. The Rotunda Museum, close to the Spa, the Grand Hotel and the South Bay beach was a very distinctive landmark.
Its shape allowed visitors to stand in the centre of the tower looking up at a balcony running the complete circle. Along the wall of this structure was painted a cross-section of the coastal geology from the Tees to the Humber. Below the balcony were display cases designed on two levels. These contained rocks and fossils illustrating the geological section, with the older examples lower down and the younger ones higher up, as in the actual landscape sequence. Two wings were added to the circular tower in 1860. Only a tiny fraction of the Museum’s 5,000+ fossils and 3,000+ rock samples could put on display at any time. It was, and remains, an important national collection with material from the Carboniferous period to the Cretaceous. The Jurassic collection is outstanding.
Four years ago, the Museum was reopened after refurbishment. The masonry was restored and the roof protected by a new lead covering. The display cases were repaired and cleaned. A lift was installed with a new spiral staircase round it in the centre. Shell UK was one of the main sponsors and named the Shell: Geology Now! gallery in one of the wings. The specially designed steps, which gave an easier view of the main display cases in the early days, have been retained. Visitors could stand at the top of them and wind a handle, which drove wheels, making the steps move slowly around the circular gallery.
There is a new name for the Museum. It is now the Rotunda, William Smith Museum of Geology. Smith was one of the science’s national pioneers. In 1815, he produced the first geological map of the British Isles after years of work surveying mountains, valleys, coastal exposures and the cuttings made by quarries, canals and railways. However, he ran in to financial trouble. Smith came from a humble background and lacked society contacts. Much of his surveying was done while unemployed. He paid for the printing of his geological map and sold copies. Other people plagiarised his work, selling maps at a lower price. Smith ran in to debt and went to prison.
In 1819, on his release from jail, he worked as a land surveyor for different people. In 1824, he was taken on as Land Steward by Sir John Johnstone, of Hackness Hall, near Scarborough. The young Sir John had employed Smith for survey work. He was impressed by Smith’s geological pioneering. The move to Yorkshire revived his fortunes. In due course Adam Sedgwick, President of the Geological Society of London, referred to William Smith as the ‘Father of English Geology’. The Rotunda has become another memorial to him.
A Clerical Error
Sitting in history lectures at university in the ‘60s could be pretty boring. Maybe it still is. The geography and geology sessions invariably had at least a drawing on a blackboard. At best, the lecturer pressed a button, the window blinds closed, the lights dimmed, and a technician projected slides. Not quite as sophisticated as running a video or PowerPoint. But 45 years ago, it beat the history lectures hollow.
In University College, Swansea, the history people often read their lectures word for word. Bruce Waller read at high speed as if trying to get two in for the price of one. A couple of hundred students would be sat, attempting to write down either every word, or at least a meaningful summary. There was no such thing as support teaching on how to take notes (or answer exams, write essays or anything else by way of transferable skills). The geography people were better, more conversational, and there was always a chance of slides or at least a diagram on a blackboard. No PowerPoint. No OHPs. Mike Bridge was once so genial that he once got a round of applause at the end of his lecture.
The Reverend David Walker was one of the history tutors. He introduced himself in genial fashion by giving his name and then said, “Sometimes known as the clerical error” – reference to his church position advertised by wearing a dog collar. He then apologised for reading lectures word for word. “I didn’t realise how unchangeable my lectures are” he went on – I think I précis his comment accurately enough – “until I saw a student who was repeating the year. As I read from my notes, page by page, I saw him reading his notes from the previous year. As I turned a page, he turned a page. He found nothing new to add to what he had already written”.
Kingsley Amis is said to have based some of his characters in ‘Lucky Jim’ on his days teaching English in Swansea University. One vignette has the history professor answering the phone with the portentous reply “History speaking”. It did seem a bit like that in lectures when I was there. The tutor came in, said good morning, opened their script, read from it, and departed. History had spoken.
A Matter of History and Campfires
At school, geography was my old flame. Geology was my later love, my sweetheart in the Sixth Form, but a flaring candle doomed to extinction in university for want of a background in physics and chemistry. On the other hand, geography introduced me to landscape history. In my hometown in Staffordshire were the artefacts and culture of the silk industry. A few miles away in Stoke-on-Trent lay a landscape of pottery, coal mining and iron smelting. Early canals, bottle ovens and furnaces abounded. An inspirational teacher friend from my textile town talked about the Industrial Revolution and one day we drove round some of Stoke’s landmarks in his two-seater Ford special.
For two years, I taught in secondary school while picking up a missing language qualification to enter university. There, teaching geography and some history led to running a couple of excursions tracing industrial remains. The kids loved it. Out of school, with the realities of historical remains to explore caught their imagination. Keeping a step or two ahead of them meant I had to read and research areas of history I didn’t know, and I began to develop a deeper interest. The problem was that I had dropped history aged around 15, so never got beyond the Tudors. And most of the interesting stuff that I came across in studying local geography was linked to the mid-eighteenth century onwards.
For teaching 11-13 year olds that wasn’t much of a problem. It was a secondary modern school, though had dropped the ‘modern’ as being too divisive, part of the segregation of kids into brains or brawn, grammar school high-flyers or secondary modern school also-rans. As a grammar school product myself it still didn’t take me long to realise how much brighter and better behaved some of those I was teaching really were. But they felt stamped for life with a label that said, “second class”.
It showed on our excursions. It also showed when one of the PE teachers (a much civilised one, I should add) and I took a party of boys to the Staffordshire Youth Camp at Penkridge for five days. They cooked their own food, sorted their own tents, climbed, scrambled and paddled their rafts with gusto. Those who were shining examples in class were shining examples in camp. Those who were, shall we say, lesser beacons in the schoolroom generally became able and willing to take on the tasks of life in the outdoors. My colleague and I joined others from another school that were there. On three days, we each took a small group of lads, drawn in equal numbers from the two schools, backpacking. The challenge was to hike on our own choice of route making two overnight camps where we could. So there was kit to carry, farmers to approach for permission to use their fields, and all of the jobs involved in pitching tents and cooking food (and finding loos that we could use: thank goodness for the Bridge Inn at Brewood).
I’m not sure whether the kids learnt more or I did, but on reflection, it was probably equal measures, just as it would be teaching adults and students in higher education much later. We all survived and rolled back to school with teachers unshaven (point of honour, that) and the lads full of stories of our successes and failures. That week, back in 1964, was my one and only encounter with outdoor adventure education. But it brought home to me just how valuable it is. My nearest next meeting with it would be decades later on the beach at Scarborough with university students, and that was really fun – but another story.
Shoes, Sharks’ Teeth and a Shock
It was in the Spring Term of 1960 that I went on my first residential field week. My school taught geology at A-level. It was a small school. In that year there were only two of us taking the subject. My friend Edgar probably went to the Field Studies Council Centre at Preston Montford in Shropshire. I went to Juniper Hall in Surrey. Why we were not on the same residential, I don’t know. But it was a good experience for a teenager, getting to know other schoolchildren during seven days away from home.
Every day there were trips to places of interest. An early one was to walk from the Hall up Box Hill on the North Downs. The escarpment faces south across the Weald, but Box Hill has its steepest side overlooking the River Mole. Here it cuts its way through the chalk ridge, flowing north. We would get to know the chalk scenery well during that week. Some of the girls on the residential were not well prepared, having brought shoes – some with raised heels – rather than walking boots. A few pairs were quickly written off in the mud, of which there would be a lot that week.
Another visit was to a water treatment works. The hard water from deep in the chalk had to be softened by removing minerals like calcium and magnesium carbonate. I don’t remember much about the process used but the sight of brilliant white deposits of the minerals in settling pools was quite remarkable. The guide explained that much of it was sent to Colgate for use making the base of toothpaste.
There were coach trips much further away to places where fascinating rock samples and fossils could be had. Exotic-sounding strata like the Gault Formation and the Lower Greensand (of which, if memories serves, some is not lower, green or even sand) yielded samples which gathered dust back home for years. Somewhere or other the tutor took us to a commercial sandpit where there were sharks’ teeth in abundance. Not having a camera that year, and having lost the notes I took somewhere along the line, I have no idea where it was. But I always wondered when Dr Who started on TV, whether it was one of the film locations where he met some nasty aliens. Probably led by Gault and the slime-dwelling Lower Greensand creatures from the distant Planet Weald.
Much is made of modern Health and Safety requirements causing the cancellation of field trips for fear of accidents. In over fifty years’ experience of hundreds of visits of one kind or another I have only seen two significant problems. One was on the Juniper Hall residential. The whole group was stood at the top of a cliff overlooking a river – possibly the Mole – where it meandered from bank to bank. Below us, the water was cutting into the cliff. The tutor was describing the scene. Suddenly one of the boys began to sway and before anyone could grab him, he fell over the edge. The cliff was not a sheer drop. Some bushes were growing on ledges at intervals. One of these broke his fall a little. He hit the water and went under. Luckily, an angler was on the opposite bank. He jumped in, waded across and pulled the lad out. Someone ran for a phone. He was taken to hospital and arrived back at the Hall later, head bandaged but otherwise OK. He had had a mild epileptic seizure and blacked out. It had been a dramatic event, though. The whole group had been in a state of shock until they knew he was safe.
One last experience: I finished the week out of money and had to borrow ten shillings. With my return rail and bus tickets, it just about got me home, though I did have a walk of a few miles between Stoke Station and my bus home from Hanley. A special addition to that week’s pocket money was posted off to my friendly creditor in Manchester.
Geology was not the only subject I learned more about on that first residential.
Martin and Osa Johnson
[From the Idealog page for 31.05.07 - see the list to the left]
It might be nice to go to see the world for ourselves, but we can only manage at best a fraction (unless you're David Attenborough). So we rely on TV, movies, books and newspapers. What we discover about the world is therefore heavily mediated by someone else's adventures and opinions. But they are also shaped in turn by the people and pressures exerted on them. It's always fascinating to see how changing cultures and societies have altered the way the world is judged - and used - in the past.
During the 1920s and 30s here was no television and the cinema was the venue for travel films, backed up by shows to societies and schools. The format was developing into a distinctive genre in those years. The work of Burton Holmes was the subject of an earlier posting - he in fact began just before World War I along with people like John L Stoddard from the USA and Cherry Kearton from Britain. Foreign travel was always an adventure, the destinations were exotic and film audiences thrilled to spectacle and the unusual.
Martin Johnson was an American adventurer who had travelled the Pacific with Jack London between 1907 and 1909 and made a film of the trip called "Cannibals of the South Seas". In 1910 he met Osa Leighty in Chanute, Kansas: the married, and became partners in traveling and moviemaking, an enterprise that lasted until 1937 when Martin Johnson was killed in a plane crash that Osa only just survived.
Osa Johnson wrote a lively, readable account of their lives together in 1940. Like the films it is bright and breezy, in a style of storytelling that went down well with the public. The couple were attractive as star characters in their own films. As with Armand and Michaela Denis and Jacques Cousteau in later years they inspired many people to go see for themselves what the world was like - and gave a picture of the world to millions more who never strayed quite so far from their local cinema or TV set. The style of the films was of their time, reflecting social mores as well as shaping them further. One of them, "Congorilla" of an African trek in 1932 is available on videotape, although only in NTSC format. Much of it is still attractive, and sympathetic to Africa and its peoples. Some of it is not. A shot of a hippopotamus, mouth yawning wide open, is accompanied by a comment that it is a great place to dispose of used razor blades. Another shows natives listening to a wind-up gramophone playing a jazz record. Mrs Johnson is enjoying her status as some kind of superior being and is delighted when the Africans show what she sees as their simple delight in the rhythm: the tourist is presented as the teacher, not a student, of the people she had met. David Attenborough she was not.
Johnson, O (1940/1997) "I Married Adventure", New York, Kodansha International
ISBN 1 56836 128 9
In Chanute, Kansas, there is also the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum opened in 1960 by Osa.
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Very early on in the Tourism Management course at Leeds Met, we planned a residential field course in Scarborough. As the Course Leader at the very beginning, Irena Snowden wanted to have the equivalent of a management residential operating within a purely tourism context. Other courses typically gathered in field centres and spent a week in generic activities like building rafts or doing domestic chores like cooking their own meals. Irena was keen to bring our student group together more closely by running visits to attractions and having lectures from tourism managers. In the evening, there would be group exercises. These might be management games or they might involve the preparation and delivery of short talks by students to the rest of the group.
Tim Paver, a tutor on the HND Tourism course at Wakefield College, suggested the Bedford Hotel in Scarborough as our base. And so it was. Just a month into the course we took ourselves to the Yorkshire coast for three days of work with some socialising thrown in. Small sub-groups went to Filey and Whitby and into Scarborough itself to interview managers and District Councillors. Tours were arranged at the Sea Life Centre, the Castle and Museums. The students had to report back in the evenings after preparing flip-chart presentations. They looked at marketing, operations, transport, planning, environmental and social issues and more.
After the evening sessions finished around 9:30, they all set out on thorough programmes of research of the town’s nightlife. So thorough were they that often individuals arrived back in the early hours, richly rewarded by their experiences in clubs and bars. Work hard and play hard? Yet (with some occasional prompting from their fellows) they were ready for the next day on time and raring to go. Well, gradually reaching full consciousness, anyway. There would always be the odd transgression, of course, which would bring forth certain retribution the next day. On a later visit, the midnight incident at the floodlit front of the hotel as a young lady student said goodnight to her newfound Scarborough gentleman-friend comes to mind. But hey! – Shadow plays were popular entertainments in Victorian gatherings. One could consider their revival of the art worthy of praise. On that occasion, my tutor-colleague did not share the view and the young lady was sent back to Leeds by an early train.
Scarborough became a fixture for several years until large student intakes in the first year made them impractical. One year the residential visit ran for five full days and we all returned exhausted. The last year it ran there had to be three residential visits running back-to-back in order to get every student there. It was too unwieldy. The next year day visits took their place.
But that first visit, with the very first student group, was a great success. Cold, yes, being late October on the east coast. After every year students repeated the opinion of the first ones who went – that it was after the Scarborough visits that they really got to know each other, and to know their tutors as well. And that very first group asked if it was possible to organise another visit. We did. For two years, until it also got too much for the schedule, we ran a second trip, to Edinburgh. Students all went. They also all had to pay for themselves. But the educational experience was worth every penny.
School Factory Visits
Do schools still organise group visits to see working factories? I would be pleased to hear from anyone who went on such a visit from school. It may be that with the decline in UK manufacturing and growth in higher education school have different aspirations. The Health and Safety issue must have put a stop to many visits.
From my secondary school in North Staffordshire, we went on several visits. Though it was a small school – it happened to be a boys’ grammar school – there was a strong tradition of visits and fieldwork. School holidays also figured – to Belgium, Switzerland and Italy that I remember. Even though academic subjects were important, so were jobs in management and on the shop floor. It was also thought essential that all pupils knew what factory life was all about. It didn’t half add a great deal to our knowledge of geography, too.
The first visit I remember was to Wedgwood’s to see fine china being made. In the mid-1950s that meant seeing the real thing, not a demonstration area under the gaze of public-relations people. We saw the factory environment and could ask questions of the work people. Actually, that was one reason why Wedgwood’s opened its visitor centre. Skilled staff on piecework rates could be slowed down by questions and possibly make costly mistakes.
We were allowed to try our hand at making the raised figures in clay that were used to decorate jasper ware. Clay was pressed into a flat mould, and then eased out with a curved spatula. For years I kept the one I made, stuck onto a piece of clay for me by the factory guide. Unglazed and unfired it finally dried out and crumbled away, a sad loss.
Groups from our school also went to the Lotus Shoe factory in Stone – it closed years ago – and the railway engineering works in Crewe. Some went to the Quickfit Quartz glass factory. Others went down a coalmine. Some went on non-factory trips to the docks at Salford on the Manchester Ship Canal, and to Liverpool Docks, both of which around 1960-62 were still handling cargo ships. Two parties went to visit adopted ships, one in London, one in Garston near Liverpool. It was part of the former Schools’ Ship Adoption Society programme, which linked schools to world-travelling cargo ships. Talks, visits and question-and-answer exchanges were arranged. Thanks to a quirk of timing, we had two ships for a brief period. I went with one group to see one of them in Garston Docks. At the end of the tour of the ship, the teachers went for drinks with the captain and we had a feast in the officers’ wardroom. And by ‘feast’, I mean ‘feast’!
Everyone seems to have a campaign on TV these days. Cooks and chefs set the trend. Jamie Oliver wanted to improve school dinners. James Martin wants to improve hospital food. A whole kitchen-full of chefs want us to use quality British meat and veg. Other TV personalities promote better-looking bodies, clothes that look good on those bodies; better homes to house those bodies and things for under-active bodies to do like sing in choirs or play in brass bands. We seem to have a nation of – busibodies.
Now Sarah Raven has joined in: “My campaign is for pollinator-friendly gardens”. It’s on BBC2.
Sarah Raven does have a very useful campaign. She wants to persuade homeowners and community groups to convert patches of ground from bare grass or ornamental flower beds into the kind of insect-friendly, colourful collections of blooms that we used to find in meadows. The nation’s bees are in peril, she reminds us, and without them, all kinds of crops are threatened for lack of pollination. So Sarah sallies forth to places round the country, a kind of female Johnny Appleseed, spreading bountiful blossoms in her trail.
Like all TV presenters, she develops a distinctive style.
In Ms Raven’s case, it sounds quite authentic. She has an in-built tendency to talk down to people. Several times, she tells us she has “sent” a parks director or community leader to study a good garden example somewhere else in the country. It doesn’t occur to Sarah that it is better to have ‘suggested’ a visit. She forever wants to have communities follow “my campaign” and see things “my way”. Every now and then, she pops back to her home at Perch Hill, East Sussex, to prepare another move or try out an experiment. Looking at the gardens and greenhouses she works in, it slowly dawns on the viewer that Perch Hill is a very upmarket operation.
A glance at the web confirms that Sarah Raven runs a gardening and cookery school there. It might be an unkind thought to see her TV shows as several hours’ advertising for her commercial activity, but that is what they are, as well as promoting the good of the environment. In one way or another all TV makeover shows are examples of the symbiotic relationship between the media and the commercial entrepreneur. Rick Stein has his restaurant kingdom in Cornwall. Kevin McCloud runs a design practice and has fingers in several journalistic projects. Jamie Oliver earns handsomely from TV, books and advertising and has a range of kitchenware on sale.
You can argue that it’s only by having proved they can attract popularity among customers that they are qualified to be given time on the telly to tell us what to do. And after all, they all help improve the attractiveness of places. Brings in the tourists, too. So let’s hope Sarah is successful, sowing good ideas all over the place. We need her good work. So do the bees.
The naked truth is – that you can’t take photographs everywhere. I have been taking pictures for fifty years and more and have been stopped several times. No, I’m not a paparazzo snapping pop idols off duty. I never fancied riding a get-away moped. It has been a matter of academic interest or business.
The business one was in Sainsbury’s in Eastleigh, Hampshire. I was working for a design studio and had been talking to their head office about a project. Happening to be down there, I went in to take a shot of an area that might have been used in the work (which didn’t go ahead as it happens). Almost as soon as the camera was raised to my eye a security guard came across and said, “You can’t do that there here” or some such.
In the Louvre Museum there are large banners stating that photography is not allowed, yet the number of people snapping – using flash, too – is legion. It must be difficult stopping so many and the use of mobiles without flash can be tricky to spot however alert the attendants. Anyway, I took a few with no comeback. My mistake was to try in a gallery with no other visitors. A cry rang out from the far corner and I hastily behaved myself. The same happened in a museum in Corinth. I could have been planning a robbery, I suppose.
The funniest was to do with Norfolk years ago. I taught evening classes in industrial archaeology at the time. We were travelling round the coast and came to the gas terminal at Bacton. Ah-ha! Having snapped the old gas works at Fakenham (no, it’s not sad – it’s special interest tourism) the chance to add the modern equivalent was not to be missed. I didn’t miss it and took a few pix looking across the entrance to the pipes and drums beyond. We went on our way.
Three months later I sat at home as a police car pulled up outside. A slightly embarrassed Calderdale constable came to the door. He was investigating a report that the occupants of a car with a certain registration – ours – had been seen by Bacton security people photographing the terminal. I explained. I found the photos and those of Fakenham, in a box marked ‘Norfolk Industry’. He took his leave, satisfied that I was not planning to destroy the energy supply to South Eastern Britain.
I never quite decided whether to be impressed that the alert had been checked out, or whether to be unimpressed that it had taken three months to do it.
Biggles to Bond
“My name is Bigglesworth, James Bigglesworth”. No, it isn’t quite the same as Ian Fleming’s 007 hero. But the fictional ‘Biggles’ shared with James Bond the fun of daring adventures all over the world and they may both have introduced generations to exotic and challenging places by their travels. Perhaps few modern teenagers read Captain W E Johns’ adventures. At one time many boys devoured them, me too. I found copies in local bookshops and still have several on my shelves.
Johns had been a World War I soldier and then fighter pilot before transferring to bombers in 1918, being shot down in France. He survived but his observer was killed. Johns spent the last months of the war as a prisoner. After retiring from the RAF in 1927, he took up writing, first for magazines and then books. ‘Biggles’ was his most popular hero. Johns wrote for flying magazines. He started writing about Biggles to bring home to readers what wartime flying had been like. His hero was young with traces of nervous impatience brought on by the stresses of combat.
The first book of stories was called ‘The Camels are Coming’ after the Sopwith Camel biplane that he and his squadron flew. It was published in 1932. The next year saw W E Johns publish his second book, but this was not about the war, but instead was an adventure story set in South America. It had villains a-plenty, much flying, and finally the discovery of silver in Bolivia, which will give Biggles money enabling him to become a pilot-for-hire. With his cousin Algy and their working-class friend, Ginger, Biggles is set for adventures around the globe recounted in about a hundred books. Early editions are collector’s pieces: a first edition of ‘The Camels are Coming’ sold in 2011 for almost £11,000. But reprints and second-hand copies of Biggles books are available for under a fiver.
The Biggles stories were written in a different age and for a young audience. There are all kinds of criminal and wartime activity, but told about in a restrained style, often using a vocabulary popular decades ago. Sex, alcohol and heroes with feet of clay are not to be found.
The James Bond stories revel in them. This is even more so in the films which for half a century have proved internationally successful, using the novels by Ian Fleming – a navy Commander in World War II – but turning them into the kind of cinematic, glossy, high-life romps that have made them so famous. Bond also begins his adventures with an air, like Biggles, of world-weariness. He has his famous 007 ‘licence to kill’ but dislikes having to use it. The cinema version is different. In ‘Goldfinger’ Bond is a man who can deliberately electrocute a villain in a bath of water with the jokey comment: “Shocking. Positively shocking”.
Fleming wrote his first Bond book, ‘Casino Royale’ in 1953. By his death in 1964 he had penned a further thirteen. The executors of his estate have allowed new stories to be produced by other authors. New films continue to appear, either more outlandish than the ones before or more tied back to the character of the Fleming novels. The elements, however, are always those of high-class adventures in exotic locations.
Biggles and Bond: they reflect the age in which they were written. Their settings penetrate into every corner of the globe. During those same years, travellers have done the same. Have tourists followed their heroes, or have those heroes gone where the reading public went before them? I suspect they both opened up ideas about all kinds of exciting new destinations. Without the bombs and the bullets, of course.
Piece of Cake
One for the pioneers who graduated in 1996 (and those others who were there!)
In the 1990s every Tourism student went on placement (like every student had to learn a foreign language in the 1990s). Now, every course needs some elements of magic – things that will be remembered long after the nuts and bolts of Academic Learning have been forgotten. And we had a few. To celebrate the return of the group from placements at the start of their final year in 1995 we organised a party at the Old Glen House pub near Shipley Glen. The idea was also to bring together the new freshers with the ‘old hands’.
So in the afternoon the newbies were taken to Saltaire, the model village just below Shipley Glen. They had a tour of the attractive houses, public buildings and shops nestled around the big textile mill. Then they had a talk in the community hall from one of the local tourism staff about the village becoming a popular attraction – the mill had closed and interesting, unusual shops and a restaurant were being developed. Then the whole group walked into the park below the Glen. Running up the side was the Shipley Glen tramway, a cable-hauled set of carriages, which takes people up to the top of the Glen to where there was once a fairground and the pub. It was a good day out for Saltaire and Shipley folk.
Meanwhile a coach arrived with the returned students about to start the final year. Both groups met in the pub where food was laid out and the bar was well and truly open. But the highlight were two large cakes, made and iced by the chefs at Thomas Danby College for us. One had a map of the world in coloured icing, the other a map of Britain. For each ex-placement student there was a marker with their name on it, stuck in at the right location on the map where they had spent their placement year. Needless to say, the idea went down (literally as it was sponge cake with icing!) very well indeed. The tuition team and course administrators were along as well.
As it turned out, one cake could probably have been enough – it was pretty difficult to estimate how much was needed. So the remainder after the social was taken back to a cold store in F Building at the City Campus, and for several weeks it supplied rather good eating for a number of events up to, and just beyond, Christmas. By then the final years were in to their dissertations and needed all the help they could get – plus cake.
Germans Know a Thing or Two about Experience
The German word ‘Erlebnis’ translates as ‘sudden insight’ or ‘experience’ and is used to refer to the immediate sensations of living through an event or an encounter. It implies a momentary or passing phenomenon. There is no direct equivalent in English. We could try to say, “there is an Erlebnis“ in the particular sensation of movement and noise experienced by a passenger in an airliner taking off.
Another German word ‘Erfahrung’ also means ‘experience’, ‘practical knowledge’. It derives from the Old High German word ‘irfaran’ = ‘to travel’. This form of experience is that which is accumulated, thought about and can be communicated as a teacher communicates to a student. So someone who has built up experiences about flying can teach someone else about what it is like. But it is not possible to pass on the Erlebnis of flying completely, since it has to be experienced by the individual directly.
It can be said we can read, listen to and view the mass media in a travelogue, but that is to received information and opinions mediated by someone else – coloured by their interpretation of places. We can attend a class in school, college or university and listen to a lesson or lecture, but however good the teacher is and however much they try to be objective and informative, it can only be another mediated exercise. Both the mass media and educational systems can only select, edit and present knowledge that is shaped by those systems and the people they involve.
The only way to get close to real experience of a destination (allowing Erlebnis) and to build up our own store of experiences that we could communicate to others (Erfahrung) is to go to see it for ourselves. Travel to understand: don’t just take the word of others – see the world for yourself.
Incidentally, the Germans have another word - ‘bewandert’ meaning ‘skilled’, ‘well versed’, ‘clever’. In fifteenth century usage, it meant ‘well travelled’. They have another word ‘Bildungsreise’ that we have to translate using two words. It means ‘educational journey’.
Bright Dew on the Grass
What was my first travel memory? – following on the previous posting but one.
It would have been a trip to the seaside by coach – a one-day excursion. I think it was to Skegness, though from North Staffordshire that would have been unusual because of the distance. I might be confusing more than one trip and it would have been over sixty years ago.
We went as a family and took provisions with us. Actually, we didn’t, because somehow in getting on to the coach at the Dyer’s Arms in Leek (a textile town, the pub opposite a dye works) the little suitcase with a flask of tea, milk in a bottle and a bag of sugar, got left on the pavement. At the end of the day when we got back, a man appeared from the pub with the case. It had been taken in and looked after until our return.
The pick-up point for the trip was about half a mile from home. What has stuck in my mind was the unusually early time to be out in the morning, in time for the coach. The grass on the field across the road was covered in dew that sparkled in the early summer sunshine. Everything was fresh, early-morning quiet and yet full of the excitement of the day stretching ahead with the journey, the beach and its sand castles and sea waves and all the rest of what would be a great day out. That thrill of leaving for somewhere new with lots to explore and much to do has stayed with me all this time. That must have been the start of my delight in travel, whether with the family, school groups or close friends ready to share a common interest – in the new experiences offered by a distant destination.
Along the Way and All Round the Wrekin
Back in Shropshire yesterday for the funeral of an old Ironbridge friend. Ken Jones MBE was aged 90. For over forty years he had been a stalwart member of the Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. There was a large turnout of local people who knew him as "a real gentleman" as several called him. Ken was one of the first to show me around the Museum sites when I started in 1973. I spent two hours with him last year catching up on news. Yesterday also gave the chance to meet John and Mary Marcham after 34 years and Neil Clarke, also of the Friends. There is a saying in Shropshire about “All friends around the Wrekin” - a prominent hill close to Ironbridge. Yesterday was one of those days when I could look back over thirty years at some of the long and winding road travelled in those days.
What was being a tourist like for your parents or grandparents? That was the subject of an essay assignment devised by a part-time Leeds Met tutor, Hilary Myers. It was for ‘The Tourist’ module. What a fascinating range of memories it drew on! With students from around the globe and contrasting backgrounds, there were all sorts of tales. The ‘then and now’ comparison brought up all kinds of insights. More than once, we had students comment afterwards that having talked to some older member of their families they learned things they never knew before. There were stories about the annual fortnight’s holiday at the seaside. Some reported visits to holiday camps. Few talked about going abroad – unless by coach tour or a day across the English Channel by ferry. These were stories of people on holiday rather than compilations of statistics about commercial industries. What did holidays mean to them in those days? How did people in the family react to the places, old and new, that they visited? And some students said they established a new relationship with the person they talked with, based on a better understanding of them and their lives.
A Strong Coverage of Tourism
For around the first ten years of the Tourism Management course there were 10 modules in the first year (‘Level 1’). Then it was reduced to eight modules. I heard recently that it is now down to six. Some might argue that this gives scope to be flexible and to integrate different aspects of tourism within modules. I don’t agree. I think it reduces the important clear definitions between contrasting modules. It reduces heavily the depth of teaching on each. And it has led to some elements being skimmed over and taught by tutors without the same specialisations – law, accounts and finance, business planning (all at level 2) and misses out extremely important perspectives – in economics, sociology and culture, for example. The reason looks like the problem of class sizes and therefore the quantity of work to be marked at the end of each module. Reducing the number of modules goes along with using joint assessment exercises between modules as a way of solving a problem of having too few staffing resources. Tourism Management was also for a year or two in a School that devised its own annual curriculum schedule different from those of other courses. This meant that specialist tutors from other courses could not be fitted in to the timetable. Modules like Law for Tourism Managers had to be deleted.
These were the Level 1 modules (ie taught in the first year):
Introduction to Tourism
Geography of Tourism
Travel and Transport
Introduction to Management
Tourism Marketing and Sales
Computers and Information Systems
Language and Culture
Our first tutor team was very small. For a few months, it consisted of Irena Snowden and me. Students with good memories from that first intake might remember that Irena’s surname was ‘Lewandowska’ until she married Christ Snowden from the University of Leeds. It was Chris, by the way, who labelled us “Butlin’s University” as we taught Tourism and took students away to Scarborough each year. At the start of the second term of our first year, we were joined by Keith Hollinshead who had taught in Australia and then Texas. Keith was – still is! – a redoubtable character with a strong academic record and a memorable teaching style. Being part of the course management team, it has to be said, was not so high on Keith’s list of priorities.
We were also supported by some excellent tutors from other course teams: Tim Birtwhistle on Law, John Spink on the Geography of Tourism, Roger Perry on Accounts and Finance, for example. There were also a whole set of tutors from the School of Languages – every student had to spend two years studying French, Spanish or German in those days.
Green Boards to White Screens
The revolution it information technology is well known. It happened in Leeds Metropolitan University at the Headingley Campus in quite a big way. Back in 1992, the distinctive 1930s buildings such as Carnegie Hall where the Tourism course began had classrooms equipped with greenboards. Yes, they were not blackboards but a lovely shade of dark green, set into art deco wooden frames. These matched everything about what in those days we called Beckett Park. The doors, the handrails in the stairwells, the window frames and many other details had been beautifully designed to complement the brick and sandstone architecture. Most of it survives, well maintained and now with the luxury of carpeting throughout. Lecture theatres and a much-enlarged library now occupy what were once internal quadrangles, open to the sky. But the greenboards have gone. They were by far the best surfaces for writing with chalk that I have ever used, smoothly taking each line and letter and cleaning off when required very easily. Much better than the old blackboards when I was in school, and a million times better than those dreadful, shiny, squeaky roller-blind contraptions in use when I taught in secondary school.
Then to the University along came better visual aids. Pull-down screens for projecting overhead acetates or 35mm slides were added. Later, there were video systems and computer projection of PowerPoint presentations. I delighted in the new technologies, but I was sorry to see the greenboards go. Not only were they better for using than those felt-tip pens on whiteboards, but they were easier to clean. It always seemed that fifty per cent of tutors never bothered cleaning felt-tip pen ink off the whiteboards. When dry it took a special spray-cleaner to dissolve the stuff, especially if some careless soul had used a permanent marker by mistake. You only have to press a switch to remove PowerPoint.
HND group at Wakefield
As well as the degree course class at Beckett Park in 1992, Leeds Met had a ‘franchised’ HND group at Wakefield College. It did the normal three-year HND curriculum. After that, I seem to remember some of the students might have come to Leeds Met to top up to the degree by joining the final year group. Like the degree people the HND set also had to do a placement. After the first set of students completed the course, the franchise was ended by Leeds and Wakefield continued its own HND course. Leeds Met would start to run its own HND course at Beckett Park later. It ended the tie-up with Wakefield but it introduced us to the teaching staff there, including Tim Paver. It was Tim who helped us set up out first residential in Scarborough by telling us of the Bedford Hotel. He was using it for his own students. Scarborough and the Bedford Hotel became famous with our students for quite a few reasons!
In September, it will be twenty years since the start of the Tourism Management course at Leeds Met. And twenty years since I began teaching in higher education.
The first intake of students numbered 38. This meant lecture groups were small. In more recent years, there could be that many in a workshop or seminar group, which is a hopeless number for proper teaching. Lecture classes now might be a couple of hundred. That is no problem unless the lecturer is put off by facing large numbers or if there is a problem with students trying to talk to each other during the session.
In 1992, in Carnegie Hall, a class of 38 students fitted easily into one of the old seminar rooms. Some of these spaces were larger for bigger groups but there were no lecture rooms with tiered (‘raked’) seating. But with a relatively small class, it was no problem to relate to every one of them in a lecture. Does that sound odd? A lecture is traditionally a one-way flow of information from the tutor to the audience of students. One speaks; the others take notes, scribble on handouts, or – yes, maybe gaze out of the window dreaming about something else. Even the kind of one-way communication in a lecture has elements of conversation, though. Relating to the class means keeping track of whether they seem to be taking things in. A puzzled look might call for an impromptu bit of additional explanation. A note on the blackboard or a quiet question could help. It’s visual, silent feedback.
With those first students, it was easy because they were generally quite confident about being at university. There were fewer tourism first-degree courses around then. Quite a few of the class had already worked in tourism or some similar occupation. Most wanted academic training for future careers. One or two, often quite a bit older, were changing direction. What a contrast later years would be in the age of expansion – towards a factory assembly-line system. In the last years when I was teaching – up to 2009 – there were still the students with mature attitudes. On the other hand, there were far more who were in university “because these days everyone goes” - so they applied and got in though with little idea as to why or where they were heading. Higher Ed had become a buyer’s market. It’s a condemnation of the system - marketing has taken over. Quantity counts – not quality.
Image: Bamburgh Castle
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