Applied Life Skills

Like most people who are out of school for a few years, I despair for those kids coming through now. It seems that ever since I left all those years ago the level of education has been going downhill. Of course, when I think about it rationally I can see that this has been happening for a while and was happening while I was still in school. And the reasons for it are fairly reasonable when you consider the kind of adverts that used to feature in women’s magazines to sell kitchen appliances such as the one above.

With most girls doing some for of cooking and typing in school while boys did woodwork or machining, something had to give if we were ever to see equality and as a result most of these kinds of gender-stereotype subjects have simply been dropped. This has resulted in a generation of uselessness IMHO – but I think I might have a possible solution. That solution is a new subject for the curriculum, taught with the same level of classroom facing time as the traditional maths and english. I’m going to call it Applied Life Skills and this is what it will cover:

Spelling and Grammar – I remember having an English teacher in year 8 (when I was about 13) who told us that he thought the curriculum changes to English were appalling and as such he was going to teach us what he had to but also teach us what he thought we should know. Now most of it I did know as I was one of the rare kids in my area who read books for fun but what he covered was things like basic spelling and basic grammar – stuff like the you’re/your and their/there/they’re. The biggest lesson I learnt from him personally was that if you honestly believe you’re right, make it happen. I still think of him when I read CVs from people who cannot spell correctly. (no checking my spelling here now – that would be petty and rude!)

Filling in Forms – sounds odd, but the number of supposedly educated people I’ve come across who couldn’t fill in a form, it really makes you wonder.

Cooking – I was lucky enough to have access to a subject called Home Economics in my high schools. It was considered a soft subject because we would get to make cake and eat it. I baked at home so to me it really was just the fun part of the week but I’ve been shocked at the number of people who cannot cook basic things, and many of them complain that they can’t follow a recipe. If you can’t follow a recipe in a cook book, how can you be sure that you’ll follow a set of instructions given by a boss? If I could have things my way I’d make following a recipe part of a job interview!

Life Maths – the kind of maths that you encounter every day of your life and which many people can’t cope with because it was part of the bigger and often hated maths subjects – things like calculating interest off in a sale, understanding accumulated interest, understanding how odds work in betting, how to convert currencies and how to recognise that the deal being offered by the banks is gonna send you bankrupt.

Hand Craft – if everyone knew how to sew on a button would we perhaps get less wastage? What if everyone could darn? Yes it may be cheap to pop into Primark/Pennies and buy a sweatshop cardigan*, but surely it’s better for the world if you didn’t? And if everyone learnt how to knit or crochet sure they may not ever use the skill again, but they’d also learn that they CAN do these things, and they’d learn to read a pattern – which means learning to follow instructions which translates into being able to pick up new skills from instructions later on which in turn makes them more employable.

First Aid – every person should have a first aid certificate.

Nutrition – we should all have a basic idea of simple nutrition and how that can change – for example when a woman is pregnant, or for children or even for vegetarians.

Basic Computer Use – everyone should be able to install and uninstall programs, know how to search for things online, effectively use word/excel. Not necessarily to macro level but they should be able to at least not panic when they are resented with a screen and perhaps even understand that things like macros and mail merges exist.

Hygiene – wouldn’t it be wonderful if every person left school with a certificate in basic food hygiene? Add to that a basic understanding of how disease is spread and perhaps we can reduce our reliance on antibiotics and also reduce the number of productivity days lost to avoidable illnesses.

World Culture – we all tend to live in our own worlds, we see the same kind of people who, because they live in our worlds too, have the same experiences. If we had a subject where we learnt about different cultures and their views of the world – both secular and religious, perhaps we would have a greater understanding and tolerance for them. Kind of the bonus of learning a language without trying to memorise conjugation tables.

History – I know, history is already a subject and many find it dull, but if you permeate all of the above with a light smattering of history related to it you may be surprised to find that it ain’t so dull after all. For example, learning how to cook a recipe from a 200 year old cook book would be quite fascinating, as would understanding just how bad things were before doctors discovered that washing their hands was a good idea. History gives context to the why we do things this way now and context means greater understanding.

So, that’s my idea of things that should/could be taught in school – what would you add to the list?

*I suspect that, being such a large chain, Primark actually doesn’t use sweatshops but the clothes are so cheap that this is the impression that they give.

Memory Monday

Memory Monday – Audrey the Skipping Vinegar Girl

Audrey the Skipping Girl sign was erected for Skipping Girl Vinegar in 1936. Her design was created by Jim Minogue in 1915, who won a competition to create a symbol for vinegar manufacturers Nycander & Co. Pty Ltd. When the factory was demolished in 1968 the sign was removed, but following a public outcry, a replica was created in 1970 and placed on the roof of the Crusader Plate factory in Abbotsford.

The sign, which is one of the most loved and recognised icons of Melbourne, was switched off in 2001, after it’s owners decided to pull the plug on funding and maintenance.

Following generous donations from nostalgic Melbournians, the Heriage Council of Victoria, the Melbourne Heritage Restoration Fund and an electricity company, the sign was restored to her former grandure and returned to light up the Melbourne skyline in 2009.

Nowadays Audrey is powered at least in part by solar energy, which hopefully means she’ll be skipping away for many more years to come. You can read more about her on AGL’s dedicated website.

I used to pass her daily on my way to work just a few doors away, so when shortly after arriving in Dublin I found that a Josh “Shag” Agle print was for sale on eBay which featured this icon, I just had to have it!

Geek, Memory Monday

Memory Monday – My First Mobile Phone

I was going to buy myself a shiny new iPhone 4S last year. When they came out I had only just moved to the UK (wasn’t even aware that I was pregnant at that stage) and on a pay-as-you-go type of thing with O2. Apparently this means that with O2’s infinite wisdom, I am not a good enough customer (despite 6 years of being on O2 in Ireland) to be able to get a new phone. I have to wait until they’ve exhausted the market that is their contract base and allowed the riff-raff in. This was estimated to take 4-6 weeks. I’m still waiting. In fact, I’ve given up entirely and decided that I’m going to skip this round of iPhones all together.

But this has me thinking about mobile phones in general, so in a fit of nostalgia I had a search around to see if I could find any details of my very first mobile. It was about 1994 and they had only just come out. I bought mine at Myer, through their catalogue and paid outright for it. It was the NEC P100 shown here and it was the most amazingly tiny thing you could imagine. A friend of my father’s just a couple of years before had walked in with his portable car-phone, complete with separate battery pack, compared to that, this was incredible.

The specs were state of the art –

– LCD Screen including a 2 line back-lit Information Display
– Phone directory memory storing up to 24 numbers
– Signal strength indicator
– Battery level indicator
– Any key answer
– Last Number Re-dial
– DTMF dialling tones
– Adjustable ringing volume
– Noise-cancelling microphone
– Included NiCad battery gives 22 hours standby or 120 minutes talk time
– Complete with battery Desktop Charger

Can you imagine that, 22 hours of standby – we didn’t know ourselves! There was no such thing as SMS on this, well if there was I didn’t know any other person with a mobile so it would have been useless.

Do you remember your first phone?

Memory Monday

Memory Monday – A Mystery!

I stumbled across this hidden doorway with it’s sculpture of Queen Elizabeth I while in London back in 2001. At the time I remember being quite in awe of the fact that here was a sculpture of Elizabeth outside of one of her palaces – for some reason it seems to me to be exceedingly rare. If I remember rightly, this was a little hidden church. The only trouble is that I have no idea where it is and despite kind of looking on subsequent trips, I’ve been unable to find her again. If you know the answer to this mystery please do let me know!



News & Updates, Travel

The Queen’s Speech

“A Uachtaráin agus a chairde”

With these words, followed by the Irish President’s gasped “Wow!” and the 170 odd guest’s applause, Queen Elizabeth did more for Peace in Ireland than can ever be imagined. The speech that followed set the perfect tone and was, quite frankly, a masterpiece. The tone was of mutual admiration, understanding and desire to move forward. The focus was not on politics but on families and relationships – the things that really matter. In her own words, all involved were “able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it”.

At the time I was a few blocks away, yes – in a pub. With much of the city centre closed at various times during the visit it has been a strange feeling – you certainly cannot ignore that there’s something going on. And despite the full contingent of Gardai, the miles and miles of barriers and the strangely sealed post boxes and manholes, the feeling has been boyant and positive. Yes, a bomb was found on a bus and a few hoaxes discovered since, but the feared protests have been so pathetically small that they have helped to highlight to the world that peace can prevail.

I remember as a kid thinking that Ireland was just a place where everyone bombed everyone else. All I saw of it was the bombs on the news. When I arrived, I had a sence of trepedation – not knowing what I would find. And I’ve heard so many stories since coming here of people crossing the border and having guns in their faces, of being singled out for special security searches and the like.

We’ve come an awfully long way – and no doubt we still have a way to go. But the light at the end of the tunnel is nolonger a pinprick, it is bright enough that we can see the door.

Oh and my gosh she looked fabulous!


1917 Shuttle Development

From the June 1917 edition of Popular Mechanic Magazine… It strikes me that this shuttle is an early prototype for the beloved Aero, although this one does look extremely fiddly to use. Has anyone ever come across one of these in the real world?

Tatting Shuttle’s Bobbin Winds Like a Reel

A new tatting shuttle has several novel features. The frame is made of resilient metal and holds a bobbin which is turned by means of a small crank when thread is to be wound on it. Near one end on the inside of the frame is a channeled guideway which receives the crank when it is not in use. Since it is somewhat wider than the normal space between the shuttle’s two leaves, the crank tends to spread the latter apart slightly, so that the bobbin is allowed to rotate freely. Instead of the ends of the frame being held together by spring action they are entirely closed. At one end, however, there is a small hole through which the thread passes from the spool. This arrangement makes it unnecessary to turn the shuttle continually in order to unwind the thread.

Popular Mechanic Magazine shuttle

Stuff, Travel

Hofbräuhaus Dinner and a Surprise

This evening I met up with Christian at Munich airport, which was just lovely after a couple of weeks of skyping. We headed to town, dumped our things in a hotel room and then went on to the Hofbräuhaus. Inge had been expecting to spend a weekend with Florian and was quite surprised to see Juli who had travelled up from Barcelona. Imagine her surprise then to see Christian and myself 🙂

The beer was poured, the food delivered (I had the schnitzal), the music played and we all had a lovely evening. On the way out we popped downstairs to look at the beer hall – the roof decorations used to include swashtikas which have since been painted over with Bavarian flags.
There’s also a Hofbräuhaus in Melbourne – must add it to my todo list for when I’m next back home.
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