Bitter gourd is bitter

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I went for a wander down Wilmslow Road, aka the Curry Mile, in Rusholme, Manchester. We passed a vegetable market and decided to buy a few things for dinner. We got some onions, aubergines and okra, and then spotted something that looked like this:

It looked amazing, like the sort of vegetable you’d expect to encounter just after landing on an alien world. Continue reading

Chris McGovern and the Campaign for Real Education on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

The Campaign for Real Education is a pressure group which aims to raise standards in state education in the UK. It is not politically affiliated, although its proposed changes to education policy – grammar schools, a return to a ‘traditional’ teaching philosophy and increased parental choice – are more typical of right wing or conservative agendas.

The chair of the CRE is Chris McGovern. The organisation’s bio notes list his experience as including 35 years as a state school history teacher, independent school headmaster and Ofsted inspector.

McGovern appeared on BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme this morning, to discuss an academic paper published in the Economic Journal. The study analysed primary school performance data to show that, contrary to what some might expect, having a high proportion of pupils from non-English-speaking backgrounds in a school class does not reduce its performance.

I’m not going to discuss the paper, nor the CRE’s policies. I would just like to quote some of McGovern’s responses to the paper, and leave open the question of his credibility as an educational advocate.

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What I hate most about opponents of equal marriage

What I hate most about the opponents of equal marriage – aside from their closeted homophobia and blocking of decent egalitarian legislation, obviously – is when they claim to object to “changing the meaning of the word ‘marriage'”.

Last week it was reported in the press that the Oxford English Dictionary had updated its entry for the word ‘literally’, including a second definition, “informal, used for emphasis while not being literally true”, thereby legitimizing its longstanding misuse.

Now, obviously this enrages me to the point of bloodlust. However, I don’t see any of those people who suddenly appeared from nowhere, claiming to be linguistic purists when ‘marriage’ was at stake, protesting over this.

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Pub bans soldiers to appease Muslims? – Exposing a neo-Nazi lie

A story is currently doing the rounds that the Globe, a pub in Leicester, has banned all British soldiers out of respect for the local Islamic community.

I first saw it shared on Facebook via a post [no link, I don’t want to support it] on a blog called the Daily Bale.

That the story is completely spurious should be obvious with half a second’s thought: how many teetotal Muslim customers is the Globe likely to have, causing tensions with others?

It takes less than 10 seconds of investigation to confirm that it’s complete rubbish, via an announcement on the Globe’s Twitter feed.

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Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2013

Last weekend I was at Cropredy festival. It was the third time I’ve been to it, and I absolutely love it. Here are some awesome facts about it.

  • “Cropredy” is pronounced “crop-ruh-dee”, although you’ll hear a lot of n00bz calling it “crop ready” or “crop reedy”.
  • The full name of the festival is “Fairport’s Cropredy Convention” because it’s basically a vanity festival organised by 60s folk rock pioneers Fairport Convention.
  • It started when Fairport performed a farewell/breakup gig in 1979. A year later they decided to do a reunion gig. The next year they did another. And another the year after that. It’s been going ever since.
  • It always starts with Fairport playing an acoustic set. It always finishes with Fairport playing a three hour long headline set.
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India: the plan

As almost anyone who knows me will already be aware, I’m planning to travel around India for a few months later this year. I’ll be blogging the journey on here as I go.

The rough plan is: fly out to Delhi on 16th September, buy a Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike, explore as much as I can in three months, return to Delhi, sell the bike, and fly back to the UK on 16th December.

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Beyond Belief on organ donation

I don’t usually listen to BBC Radio 4‘s religious discussion programme, Beyond Belief, but I happened to be driving yesterday while it was on. The programme, broadcast on Monday 12th August 2013, and as of the time of writing, available on iPlayer, dealt with the ethics of organ donation.

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The evils of social networks?

One of the events contributing to the current media and political fury over the evils of social networks and internet trolls has been the death of Hannah Smith, a Leicester teenager who committed suicide after apparently being bullied on

However, it has subsequently turned out that 98% of the anonymous bullying messages Hannah received may have been posted by herself using other accounts.

If true, this backs up my point in a previous article that blaming these phenomena on the social networks themselves is dangerously missing the point.

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Iain Banks: the other secret Culture novel


It’s an open secret that Inversions, the SF novel by the late Iain M Banks, is set in the universe of the Culture. The book itself disguises this: the cover omits the “A Culture Novel” strapline of the other books such as Consider Phlebas, the narrative is solely about events on a late medieval world, and there is no explicit mention of Culture society or technology. However, there are enough subtle hints in the narrative for anyone familiar with Banks’s other works to deduce that the two main characters are agents from the Culture, who have infiltrated the pre-industrial society in order to influence it. At one point, one of them tells a child a fairytale about a land where people can fly betweens suns using “ships with invisible sails”; in the Epilogue, the other excuses herself from a dinner citing “special circumstances” (the name of the Culture’s black ops department).

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The problem with #TwitterSilence

On Sunday 4 August 2013, a number of Twitter users followed Times columnist Caitlin Moran‘s suggestion of a 24 hour boycott of the site, in response to a recent spate of recent media attention on abusive and harassing tweets directed at high-profile female users. The boycott was promoted with the hashtags #TwitterSilence and #Trolliday (a pun on the common misuse of the term “troll” for online abusers).

Meanwhile, many other women and men didn’t take part in the boycott, confidently and eloquently pointing out that the way to stand up to bullying is to raise your voice louder, not to be silent.

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