Saturday 9 December 2017

Ello, time

I mentioned once before, I think that I like to devote my spare time to photography, and also that I posted my efforts to a particular website... Ello.  If you'd like to see my efforts, click here which will take you to

The site has encouraged me to think about my photography and try and get better...and I can't help but admit that I like that my pictures have been viewed over a quarter of a million times.  For some of them, if you click on the picture there is a mini-gallery of related images.  It has also encouraged me to join the Royal Photographic Society, and to consider applying for the LRPS award...but I find it a little daunting at the moment

I can't say which is my favourite, but here are a few that are as good as any

                                         Unexpected Amsterdam

                                         The cyclist

                                                         Brighton in motion


                                         Ground zero


                                         The Tower of the hill

                                          For the homeless there is no light at the end of the tunnel

                                         21st cafe society

                                         Contemporary architecture near the Old Bailey
                                         Fire lilly from Amsterdam

Monday 4 December 2017

The refugee issue

This is a piece written by my son.  I am extraordinarily proud of him, and hopefully you can see why when you read it 

"While a student at school (having left in 2013) I took a great interest in the German language, spending a year living in Kitzbühel, Austria before taking up my place at the University of Edinburgh, where I (eventually) settled on the degree of ‘German and Scandinavian Studies’. Since starting in Edinburgh, I continued to visit and work in Austria, as well as learning Norwegian, and working in the Western Norwegian fjords during my summer breaks from studies.

As with most modern language students, the third year of my degree is to be spent abroad, and as I am a dual honours student, I chose to split this between working in Germany, and studying in Norway. Since September I’ve been living in Mainz, working as a teacher in the towns of Bad Kreuznach and Wiesbaden.

Since 2015, Germany has (for the most part) welcomed hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million asylum seekers Angela Merkel decided the country had a national duty to suspend the Dublin accords for, with the famous phrase ‘Wir schaffen das’ (We can do this). Germany is particularly well suited to achieving this, given the two previous major migration events in the country’s recent history: The 1955-1973 ‘Guest workers’ from predominantly Turkey, Spain, Greece and Italy, invited to participate in the manufacturing increase as part of the West German ‘Economic Wonder’, and the 1990s ‘Resettlement’ of Germans who had been sent to keep German national Catherine the Great company in the 18th Century, who had since found themselves firmly within the Soviet Sphere of influence. Compare the 438,190 asylum applications of 1992 with 441,800 filed in 2015, and we begin to see clearly that while history does not necessarily repeat itself, it very often rhymes.

Whilst my personal mandate during this part of my year abroad has been to work predominantly as an English language assistant, to ignore the impact of current migration events in Germany is to ignore both the history of the nation, and its current culture. As such, I was given relatively free reign to design my teaching timetable as I saw fit and in September and October I would spend my mondays on a farm in the village of Ingelheim, looking after children who lived in the nearby asylum center. The importance of giving these children the chance to get some fresh air, away from the former military camp they are calling home, to sit on horses, feed sheep and relax cannot be understated. The level of German is hugely variable, but clues as to the journey that has been taken can be found; one child was able to understand most of what was said to him, and the social workers knew he was using actual words to respond, but couldn't make out the language. I realised he spoke a mix of German and Swedish, apparently having been in Sweden for some time before his family ended up being sent back to Germany where they had been registered, but not yet recognised as refugees.

In the nearby town of Bad Kreuznach, one of the schools I work in runs “German as a Second Language” courses (Deutsch als Zweitsprache or DAZ) parallel to the “normal” school day, from learning the alphabet up to the level required for University studies, accommodating for the 80% of students attending who come from a migration background. Teaching the German language, often without having another one to communicate it is a unique challenge, and the staff here do exceptional work in bringing their students up to the required level, many of those who arrived in 2015 about to leave secondary education with great marks and university level language skills. Imagine trying to explain the term Past Participle, when your students understand neither word, and you will have an idea of what my classes have entailed. Watching students from all over the world helping each other to understand, translating for new arrivals, is truly heartwarming. As one member of staff remarked “our playground looks like the UN, just with less shouting”. The challenge of a parents evening where you rely on an 11 year old to translate the fact that they haven't done their homework to parents also trying to learn German requires an enormous amount of mutual trust, and a sense of humour - rarely does it take an extra two sentences and pointing to others in the room to translate ‘I didn’t do my homework 3 times in a row’.

Whilst this work has had some truly wonderful moments, and been incredibly rewarding, it can be exceptionally tough at times, in particular when all some of these kids want to do is go home, not sit in a classroom and learn a language they had never heard of before arriving here. Especially difficult was finding out from a colleague about a family whose paperwork had not checked out, and that the little girl we had got to know over the course of several weeks in my case, and months for my colleagues, was being deported. That will stay with the people who work here for a long time.

But so will the smiles once the words ‘Schneller!’ or “Nochmals!’ (Faster and again) have been learned by the swingset. Or the moment this week when a young chap from Eritrea explained with barely hesitation that he had been to the doctor yesterday, and would pick up his glasses next week, having worked on the past and future tenses for two weeks. Completely selfishly, helping others to learn German has done wonders for my own, and teaching English in another school has provided a good mix of work to keep me engaged in both sides of the language teaching component of my current semester.

I would thoroughly recommend anyone to seek out a spot where you can assist with teaching languages, and particularly seek out those who have arrived in a country with nothing but a desperate desire to be safe. Get to know them, laugh with them, and accept that they will speak the language better than you far faster than anyone might have expected.