Sunday, 4 November 2012

Technology, Dystopia and Young Adults IV

This list has been updated: a newer, expanded version can be found at
17 February, 2017
Although I had reached the bottom of the pile of YA books awaiting my attention, there have been a couple recommended to me, and there are a few which have been published over the last few months. This is therefore the next instalment of the reading I have been doing since my third such blog post in July.

As before, this is a collection of primary texts which are connected by the common thread of incorporating technology within their plots. In the main they have all been published in the last few years, so this remains - at present - an remarkably up-to-date list of current YA novels in this genre, although there are a couple of older novels which have been suggested to me and I include them for the sake of completeness. My Amazon account still has some yet-to-be-published novels listed in the current orders and I keep scouring publishers' book lists for new additions, so I assume this will not be my final reading list post.

The order of the list is simply the order in which I have read the texts, but there is no significance to the order. I have included a brief descriptions against each title, but each image links to Amazon where fuller descriptions and reviews can be found (along with the obvious ability to do some shopping!)

All Geared Up (Not Quite Human Book 2) - Seth McEvoy (1986)
The protagonist - Chip - appears as any teenage boy, but in reality he is an advanced robot. His sister knows and helps to protect his secret as he becomes the school's best drummer, but with a girl thinking he is really special and a rival drummer set on revenge keeping his identity secret gets increasingly difficult.
Catching Fire (Hunger Games Book 2) - Suzanne Collins (2009)
After winning the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen returns to her district, hoping for a peaceful future, but she hear rumours of a deadly rebellion against the Capitol which she and Peeta have helped to create. As they are forced to visit the districts on their Victory Tour they have to convince the world that they are still in love with each other or the consequences will be horrifying.
Mockingjay (Hunger Games Book 3) Suzanne Collins (2010)
Katniss Everdeen has, against all odds, survived the Hunger Games twice, but although she has made it out of the arena alive, she is still not safe. The Capitol is angry and wants revenge. She becomes the figurehead of District 13 and the rebellion against the Capitol and sees the life she wants becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
vN - Madeline Ashby (2012)
The protagonist, Amy Peterson, is a Von Neumann machine - a self-replicating humanoid robot - who for the past five years has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. However, a flaw is discovered in her synthetic heritage which prevents her failsafe, the mechanism which stops robots harming humans, working as it should turning her into both a deadly and desirable entity.
Variant - Robison Wells (2011)
Problem child Benson Fisher wins a scholarship to Maxfield Academy, but when he arrives there he finds himself trapped in a school surrounded by razor wire and monitored by an external agency. He eventually discovers the reason why he and the other students are cut off from the rest of the world and that escape may prove impossible.
Slated Teri Terry (2012)
Kyla's memory has been erased and her personality has been wiped blank: she's been Slated. The government claims she was a terrorist and that they are giving her a second chance as long as she plays by their rules. However, echoes of the past whisper in Kyla's mind and she starts to search for the truth.
Incarceron - Catherine Fisher (2007)
Incarceron is a futuristic prison world where the descendants of the original prisoners; it is a mix of high technology (a living building pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character), and mediaeval torture chamber. A young prisoner, Finn, has visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born in Incarceron. He makes contact with the daughter of the Warden, Claudia, in the Outer World, and his escape is planned.
MazeCheat - B R Collins (2012)
The sequel to Gamerunner, in which cheat programmers work with gamerunners to uncover the secrets behind the latest expansion to CRATER's Maze. If players finally manage to beat the game, it takes their brain and memories to use as material for new games for new Gamerunners, leaving them dead. But no one knows this yet. When the heroes realise what is happening they need to destroy the game, but the all-seeing CRATER already knows what their plans are.
Delirium - Lauren Oliver (2011)
Love, or deliria, is seen by society as a disease from which there is no recovery, but citizens receive the cure on their eighteenth birthday when love is eradicated and they meet their predetermined partner. The teenage protagonist, Lena Holoway, has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured but, with ninety-five days until her treatment, Lena falls in love.
Pirate Cinema Cory Doctorow (2012)
The sixteen year old Trent McCauley is obsessed with making movies by sampling and reassembling footage downloaded from the net. However, in the near-future Britain where Trent is growing up, this is more illegal than ever: if someone is caught three times, their entire household is cut off from the Internet for a year. When Trent is caught, the loss of the Internet nearly destroys his family and he runs away to London where falls in with a group of activists fighting a new bill that will further criminalise digital copying.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

To self-publish or not to self-publish?

In a discussion last week, the question of self-publishing academic essays and theses came about. Not in what could be called vanity journals which will publish anything for a fee, but uploading them to sites such as

Well before social media websites made people feel they should share every aspect of their lives I already had a personal website and decided to put all my undergraduate essays there. In doing so, I felt I was staking a claim to my tiny corner of the Internet but also contributing to the available collection of online knowledge. Therefore, when I joined a couple of years ago, I uploaded one of my MEd essays and my thesis with little concern.

It was suggested that there are inherent risks and issues with sharing in this way: the primary concern being that once ideas are online they can easily be borrowed without attribution. From another perspective, problems also arise as there is no peer review and the shared work could therefore be of no more value than articles in vanity journals.

As an inveterate sharer these two points, among others, gave me pause for thought.

Having thought about it, I have decided that I will continue to share my work.

Firstly, I believe that sharing work is important within the academic community. I understand that sharing globally is not the same as within the confines of an institution, but the serendipitous connections we make within the walls of a seminar room have the potential to be multiplied with a potential international readership.

Secondly, by having published it, the work is dated and archived for eternity. Should it be borrowed it is easy to show the date of the original work in the upload. However, I would like to think (hope?) that any readers would choose to reference it if they found it useful.

Thirdly, I believe that I am only sharing work that is worth sharing. I am sure – just as with any self-publishing – that some of the work that is shared is of a questionable standard, but that is where the reader has to take responsibility. Only a foolish student will think that the Internet can provide the easy answers to their questions: a wiser student can use the Internet to their benefit as they can access paper and other research to help them support and develop their own ideas. They have to pick and choose and judge the work for themselves.

Fourthly, the Internet is another way of networking and (as I have discovered) a useful way of letting people find and know about your work on top of conferences and more traditional networking.

Fifthly, it provides a means by which an individual can see how they have developed as an academic. In the same way as Facebook is my diary and photo album for the past five years (and counting), academia lets me see how my ideas have matured since the start of my postgraduate study. While I could simply look back through my Word documents on the computer, academia allows me to see them alongside people’s comments and search terms and thereby provides a helpful tool for personal reflection.

I will stop at five reasons for going public with my work as I know there are counterarguments to all of them. Ultimately, it has to be up to the individual whether they feel happy to share their work with the largest audience in the history of the human race and whether they feel there is any value to them in sharing it.

Originally written for the Children's Literature at Cambridge blog and first posted there earlier today.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Las Vegas and Free WiFi

This is a somewhat niche post which was initially written for my personal future reference, should it be needed. However, as it might prove helpful for other travellers, I thought I would make it public.

A couple of years ago, finding free WiFi in Las Vegas was a challenge. Over the course of a few days at the end of August 2012, it seemed that matters have improved to some extent. While the casinos still want to keep people focused on losing money playing on the slots and tables, the following is a list of places where I found free WiFi.

  • The Aria casino has the best gaming floor coverage I found with a decent connection guaranteed wherever your find yourself losing money
  • Bellagio's gaming floor appears to have some access, but it was a little patchy.
  • The Cosmopolitan casino has free access which was certainly available around the bar close the gaming floor entrance on the Strip.
  • Excalibur has no free WiFi in the casino itself, but on the first floor, krispykreme offers free access.
  • There is access to Luxor's service towards the hotel check in desks on the gaming floor.
  • Macy's in the Fashion Mall offers the 'Macysfreewifi'.
  • The Apple Store in the Fashion Mall has a multitude of devices connected to the Internet to use, and users can connect to the free WiFi too.
  • The Monte Carlo casino's gaming floor has access at various points, but the signal was never particularly strong.
  • The Wynn seemed to have coverage across the gaming floor, but in the areas near the entrance from the Strip the signal was not very strong.

In the past, I have found some Starbucks and MacDonald's offer free WiFi, but this is not guaranteed and not something I had chance to check on this visit.

If you are down town, WiFi seems pretty much non-existent. However, people braving the streets outside the Fremont Street Experience will find a cafe with WiFi for its customers at Emergency Arts.

This list is, of course, liable to change and living some 5,000 miles east of Vegas, I cannot guarantee the current validity of the information. Nevertheless, if it is useful to at least one person it was worth posting.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

My Kindle and Me

As of today, I have owned a Kindle for three weeks. In this time I feel rather saddened that my reaction has not been the one of complete and utter delight that so many friends and colleagues have experienced since buying their device.

I am now about half way through my third purchased book and this is the furthest I have got with the downloaded books so far.

The first book was a rash purchase: the publisher’s newly released blurb made it out to be a very different book to the one I started reading. Having made it a couple of chapters in, I was delighted to discover that it is possible to return Kindle books and get a full refund within seven days of the original purchase.

The second book was one that I had ordered a few months ago in a paper copy. I changed the order when I bought the Kindle and it duly arrived by magic during the night when the book was published. I managed a little more of this one, but was struggling to commit to the plot and when confronted with an unpleasantly visceral description of violence I was convinced to take advantage of the full refund again.

Knowing that I rarely give up when reading a book made me wonder about the Kindle as a medium: as I consume a lot of information through screens of different sorts, I began to wonder whether consuming a book in this way means that I see it as a more superficial and transitory method of delivery, or is the guarantee of a full refund – something not available for physical books without having to pay shipping costs – something that I would have used previously had it been possible?

The third book that appeared over night, when it was published, is the second book in a series I started reading last year. Maybe because I had some idea what to expect from the novel I am now reading this and looking forward to picking up the Kindle and continuing reading. However, I still do not enjoy the Kindle reading experience.

There are two things which I feel make me dislike it: firstly, the serif font is terrible (the sans-serif alternative is worse) and it is not pleasing or easy to read. I find this frustrating when the quality of some graphics available show that more artistic fonts could easily be offered as options. Secondly – and I know this sounds strange – I cannot stand the lack of page numbers as I do not feel physically anchored in the text (I know there a location reference, but its big jumps lack any sense of continuity). The lack of my physical position in the text also means that it is not easy to flick forward a couple of pages to know that I only have another two pages to read before stopping reading (as by the time the end of the chapter has been found there is no quick way to go back to the original place).

I know people bemoan the demise of the codex book and use that as a reason not to buy a Kindle. I forced myself to overcome that objection, but am really struggling to build any (for want of a better word) relationship with mine. I will continue to use it in the hope that the technology will become more familiar in due course, but in the meantime I think I will have to pick books for it carefully.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Technology, Dystopia and Young Adults III

This list has been updated: a newer, expanded version can be found at
17 February, 2017
In the way in which many of the best ideas are the simplest, I offer a third blog post to list the YA novels I have been reading since I posted the second such list in May. As before, this is a collection of primary texts which are connected by the common thread of incorporating technology within their plots. In the main they have all been published in the last two years, so this is - at present - an remarkably up-to-date list of current YA novels in this genre, although there are a couple of older novels which have been suggested to me and I include them for the sake of completeness. My Amazon account still has some yet-to-be-published novels listed in the current orders so I assume this will not be my final reading list post.

The order of the list is simply the order in which I have read the texts, but there is no significance to the order. I have included a brief descriptions against each title, but each image links to Amazon where fuller descriptions and reviews can be found (along with the obvious ability to do some shopping!)

Fair Coin - E C Myers (2012)
Science fiction in the best sense of the term: alternative worlds, quantum theory, teenagers, and a the flip of a coin. To say anything else would completely give the novel away!
The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E Pearson (US: 2008; UK: 2010)
A seventeen-year-old girl wakes from a coma and is told her name is Jenna Fox. Initially, she has no other memories, but she gradually begins to rediscover her identity and starts to find out what happened to her.
Hex - Rhiannon Lassiter (1998)
Set in 24th century London, the government is hunting down Hexes who are mutant humans whose mutation gives them an ability to interact with computers. The female protagonist, Raven, is a young Hex hunting for her younger sister.
1.4 - Mike Lancaster (2012)
The sequel to 0.4 sees another imminent upgrade to humans, but it is set against the backdrop of the protagonist, Peter Vincent (son of an internationally renowned scientist), uncovering a conspiracy amongst the leaders of the establishment to hide the knowledge of human upgrades from the populace.
Scored - Lauren McLaughlin (2011)
Set in a future in which teenagers are monitored by technology, they are all given a score which determines their ability to succeed. The reluctant heroine's scholarship-winning score is brought down by her best friend's behaviour. She is then faced with the decision between doing what feels morally right and her future.
The Night Room E M Goldman (1995)
A group of seven high school students are chosen to participate in the Argus project which offers them a virtual reality projection of their possible tenth high school reunion. However, one student is not at the VR reunion and the others try to find out why Argus predicts she will be dead.
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline (2011)
In a dystopian future, the teenage Wade Watts spends his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a virtual utopia where people can live the lives they want. In his spare time, he is one of millions searching for the solution to a series of riddles concealed within the online world by its creator, in a bid to inherit his massive fortune. Players know that the riddles are based in late C20th culture and when Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle he finds himself competing against many others in a competition which takes on real-world dimensions.
The Maze Runner - James Dashner (2011)
Thomas only remembers his first name and is welcomed to the Glade - a walled encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible stone maze - by a group of similar male teenagers. None of them know why or how they came to be there, or what's happened to the world outside: all they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything (even facing the half-machine, half-animal Grievers) to try and find out.
Soul Fire Kate Harrison (2012)
The sequel to 2011's Soul Beach sees its protagonist continuing to talk to her dead sister in the virtual world of Soul Beach as she tries to solve the mystery of its inhabitants' deaths from the real world
Divergent Veronica Roth (2011)
Reaching the age of 16, Beatrice has to decide which of five tribes she will join for the rest of her life. Turning her back on her family she discovers a new and violent life and duly has to make choices about where her loyalties lie.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Technology's Effects: 13 Years On

In 1999, on the eve of the new millennium and a mere four or five years after the birth of the Internet as we recognise it today, Eliza T Dresang identified technology changing children’s literature in three main areas. Writing in Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age she describes these as
  • Connectivity, or ‘the connections that readers make with hypertext-like links, both visual and mental, prompted by the changing forms and formats of handheld books’ (p12)
  • Interactivity, as ‘the changing format of books enables a more active, involved reading […] encourag[ing] a wide range of different responses […as readers…] approach the text in various nonlinear or non-sequential ways that the author does not determine in advance’ (p12)
  • Access, or ‘the breaking of long-standing barriers […which…] blocked off certain topics, certain kinds of characters, certain style of language’ (p13)

Looking back on predictions for the future from the safety of that future can be seen as a cruel pastime, but in a world which has – in some ways – been dramatically changed by technology over the past thirteen years, Dresang’s descriptions can be seen to be both prescient and slightly flawed.

The changing forms of handheld books can most readily be seen in Amazon’s Kindle (notably already a Hoover/vacuum-like synonym for ‘e-reader’) which first appeared in 2007. The Kindle does allow readers to interact with their reading matter in new ways and words can be glossed or ideas googled from the device. While I still do not own a Kindle, I know that having a smartphone has changed the way I read printed books as I am able to check references or explore related ideas without having to turn on the laptop.

Dresang’s connectivity category also includes books which use new graphic formats and where links between text and graphics are far closer than just, say, a caption or label. However, from the 2012 perspective, this seems to fall more into her second categorisation.

The rapid growth of tablet, or slate, computers since the introduction of the iPad in 2010 as an additional (rather than replacement) screen in people’s homes has already had a massive influence on the way in which texts can be accessed. Unlike the electronic-ink based Kindles, which fundamentally function as a directly replacement for the printed text, books – or more accurately apps – which are being produced for tablets are founded on the idea of interactivity. Last year, one of the 'Children's Literature at Cambridge' blog posts looked at the potential for picturebooks on iPads, and since then the number of such texts has continued to increase apace. However, while picturebooks are well suited for the transition to new media, YA texts are still, for the time being at least, adhering to the traditional linear narrative, even if they are now available on the Kindle.

Similarly, last year’s launch of Pottermore marked a new step in the production of interactive texts as it was web – rather than app – based. While the reception to Pottermore remains mixed, it wholly fulfils Dresang’s description, and as the rest of the series is made available to online readers, it will be interesting to see how a new generation of even more technologically-savvy Harry Potter fans respond to it as both a narrative and web-based experience. As a little aside, it is worth noting that although these examples do take advantage of new media, paper-based 'interactive' texts were available in the 1970s in the form of the 'Choose your own adventure' series.

While Dresang’s first two categories have stood the test of time well, her third is more problematic. In terms of ‘taboo’ subjects and characters previously without voices, these are things which children’s literature has never shied away from and, although not necessarily commonplace, examples going back to the nineteenth century can be found. While the ready online availability of information on any topic imaginable (and probably some unimaginable) in the twenty-first century may have made some ideas more accessible to readers, addressing taboo topics is not a result of the digital revolution.

In terms of individuals’ access to texts and the sharing of information, new technology has arguably made it more difficult for some people as ownership of a Kindle or tablet and Internet access is a pre-requisite. Indeed, despite having a penchant for gadgetry, trying to use the app to make the cover of Lissa Price’s Starters ‘come alive’ by downloading and installing it failed for me, as my two year old smartphone was simply not powerful enough to cope with it. I will nevertheless try it again when I have upgraded my handset. At a financial cost, of course.

Even though the Kindle will celebrate its fifth birthday in a few months’ time, and the third generation iPad was launched earlier this year, this is still a fascinatingly new area to watch for developments as Dresang’s first two categories continue to shape (or be shaped) by changes in technology. Whether aspects of her third will begin to be realised might also give a commentator in 2025 pause for thought.

Originally written for the Children's Literature at Cambridge blog and first posted there earlier today.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Technology, Dystopia and Young Adults II

This list has been updated: a newer, expanded version can be found at
17 February, 2017
At the end of last October, in response to an enquiry, I blogged with a list of the YA novels I had been reading recently as part of my academic research. A week ago, at the NCRCL conference, I was asked the same question. This is therefore a list of the primary texts I have read in the intervening six months which are connected by the common thread of incorporating technology within their plots. In the main they have all been published in the last two years, so this is - at present - an remarkably up-to-date list of current YA novels in this genre. While my Amazon account has some yet-to-be-published novels listed in the current orders, I will doubtless list these at some point in the future.

The list is in no particular order and I have included only the briefest of descriptions against each title, but each image links to Amazon where fuller descriptions and reviews can be found (along with the obvious ability to do some shopping!)

Soul Beach - Kate Harrison (2011)
When the heroine receives an e-mail from her dead sister she assumes it is a sick practical joke, but then she receives an invitation to join an idyllic virtual reality world where she is able to talk to her sister again but discovers it is only inhabited by the young, the beautiful and the dead.
Starters - Lissa Price (2012)
Callie lost her parents when a virus attacked the Earth and then she lost what to her was home. In desperation she tried to raise money by participating in an illicit scheme whereby teenager bodies are leased to wealthy, but aged, renters. Finally, she loses her body too but she is determined to get it back.
Monster Republic - Ben Horton (2010)
An explosion in a nuclear power plant leads to a class of visiting teenagers being patched up with scavenged body parts and bionic implants to create an army of superhuman soldiers.
The Future of Us - Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler (2011)
Set in 1996, two teenagers access the Internet and discover a site called Facebook which shows them what their life will be like fifteen years in the future; they are duly able to see the implications of their teenage decisions on their adult lives.
Unwind - Neal Shusterman (2008)
Unwinding means the end of a teenager's life, but such unwanted individuals are kept alive for their body parts. Three runaways fight the system and for their right to their life.
Gamerunner B R Collins (2011)
The Maze is a virtual reality game but one game does not allow the player to start again when they lose.
Cinder - Marissa Meyer (2012)
A retelling of the Cinderella story in which the eponymous Cinder is a gifted mechanic and cyborg.
Matched - Ally Condie (2010)
A dystopian society is controlled by technology and people's seventeenth birthday sees them given their perfect partner as dictated by society. Cassia's allotted partner turns out not to be the perfect match that society demands.
0.4 Mike Lancaster (2011)
A teenager's account of a life-changing event has been transcribed from audio tapes and appear to reveal the history of a world in which technological obsolescence becomes personal.
brainjack Brian Falkner (2011)
An extraordinarily skilled teenage hacker becomes involved in a world of espionage, intrigue and cybercrime when a remarkable hack grabs the attention of a secret government agency.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Pancakes and seventeenth-century music

Supermarkets and today’s secular culture make much of Pancake Day and it was doubtless celebrated with higher sales of sugar and lemon in the commercial world, and an array of experimental toppings in households up and down the country. I would like to think that lots of the pancake eaters know that they are really celebrating Shrove Tuesday, and that the pancakes offer them a simple way to use up foodstuffs which would not form part of the Christian’s Lenten fast that starts the following day.

Ash Wednesday now appears to be the poor relation of Pancake Day, even though there are people who continue to choose to give something up – often luxuries such as chocolate, cake or alcohol – between then and Easter in lieu of Jesus’ forty days’ fasting in the Wilderness. However, when all of the self-righteous abstemiousness is forgotten and the religious celebration of Ash Wednesday is considered, there is only one name on the lips of anyone who knows anything about cathedral music.

Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) was a singer in the Papal Chapel for the final twenty or so years of his life, but he is only remembered for his setting of Psalm 51, the Miserere, which people know for containing a top C (two octaves above middle C) for a treble or soprano soloist. The composition is surrounded by mystique as rumour tells it was only performed in the Sistine Chapel and the ornamentation of the soloist’s part (in which the top C occurs), or abbellimenti, was never written down but passed from generation to generation of soloists. The other famous story that frequently accompanies the work is that Mozart supposedly wrote down the entire piece from memory having heard it sung at its annual performance in Rome; there is, apparently, no copy surviving in his hand though.

Although the top C is unlikely ever to have been written by Allegri, it is now firmly part of the piece’s mythology, and every year top Cs flood out of cathedral services up and down the country on Ash Wednesday. While those who know will expect to hear the Miserere sung, few are likely to give much of a thought to the soloist.

In the majority of the cathedral choirs, the top C will be sung by a young boy, probably aged around 11 or 12. Their chorister colleagues – probably numbering a further 17 at most – will speak about him doing the solo in reverent whispers, but his other contemporaries at school will have little idea what pressure has been placed upon him. The solo is technically and physically demanding and cannot readily be performed well by just anyone. To the soloist, this is equivalent to shooting the deciding penalty in a football match or a Masterchef contestant cooking a dish for a roomful or Michelin-starred chefs. But the soloist has to do it five times during the course of the piece.

A recent sound snippet of a rehearsal at Truro Cathedral indicates that their performance included a top E, and the edition we used at Lichfield Cathedral extended to a top D. The recording and I can testify that both instances were, respectively, achieved gracefully by the young singers.

Two hours before the service, the soloists would appear typical carefree youngsters, possibly out playing football, or stuck in lessons at school, but in the services they are living up to the demands of continuing a tradition and upholding the Miserere’s mystique some 400 years after it was written.

As a postscript, I must add that I know many other performances will have been given in which the soloist was a soprano. There is no way in which I want to undermine the work they will have had to put into their rendition, but I do feel there is a marked difference between a professional soprano (who has probably been an Oxbridge choral scholar and studied singing at music collage) and an eleven year old living up to the demands of the piece, and this should not be forgotten.

For people interested more detail about the Miserere, an excellent essay can be found at There is also a variety of performances available on YouTube for anyone who does not know the work.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Visiting Granada (in Spain, not the motorway services)

I wrote this blog post last summer after returning from Granada but never published it. Having just been asked by a friend about what to do in Granada, I felt I could do worse than sharing it in case anyone else is planning a trip there soon. Unlike TripAdvisor, these are all my own genuine and trustworthy opinions.

Rather than keeping receipts and scraps of paper, I thought a blog entry about Granada would be a helpful – for me at least – means of keeping the information about a visit which we certainly hope to repeat and which we would encourage anyone else to try too.

Having flown to Malaga we had a car booked with, for whom it was necessary to take sterling to pay in cash, which worked out smoothly and only felt slightly dodgy. The drive to Granada took about 90 minutes, and it was only in the single-car’s-width one way streets that navigation and driving became a little more hectic.

However, we located our hotel - - and its car park, and found a delightful family run hotel. The husband could speak very little English, but tried very hard and was very helpful, and the wife spoke less English than I do Spanish. Despite this, they could not have been more helpful throughout our stay and the room, costing just €50 (plus €14 for car parking) per night, was lovely; our booking was apparently upgraded, meaning we had a terrace.

As a self-confessed foodie, discovering Tapas bars was high on the agenda. However, it soon transpired that finding bars which serve free tapas with drinks (as is traditional) is not as easy as it should be. The only way in which it seemed possible to find out whether free tapas would be served is to go into the bar, order drinks and see what happens. Sadly, this makes for a dangerous game when you don’t strike lucky.

On the same road as Hotel Almenas, we found Casa Enrique which is a lovely old bar, but where, sadly, the tapas (and a super range of hams were on offer) is only sold. Nevertheless, the range of sherries and watching the barman work out our bill by writing the cost of each drink and the tapas we ordered in chalk on the bar and totalling it up (all upside down) helped make this an entertaining bar and worthy of a visit.

In our couple of nights there, the tapas bars we found which did serve free tapas (and I would suggest going in and sitting at the bar where you will find air-conditioned, smoke-free environments, unlike outside where you will be charged more for the privilege of sitting in the smoggy sun with other tourists) include Restaurante El Deseo (forget their menu, especially the daily specials), and Restaurante Oliver which are both close to the Cathedral; however, do not be taken in by the establishment a couple of doors down from Oliver offering the ‘finest homemade traditional tapas’: we could not leave there quickly enough.

The Cathedral is worth a quick visit even if just to marvel at the large print sixteenth century part books, or the head of John the Baptist sculpture. However, in the Cathedral’s environs, avoid the old women trying to thrust springs of rosemary into your hands: they are fortune tellers and should you not cross their palms with enough euros they will curse you. Knowing this made it quite cruelly entertaining to sit for a while watching people get accosted...

One tradition worth exploring is the teterías, or tea shops, in the El Albaicín area of the city. While wholly unlike the English tea shops, the Moorish tea shops offer a variety of aromatic herbal teas (the Pakistani tea with milk is the closest to an English cup of tea, and I use ‘close’ in the most generous sense of the word), and hookahs for their patrons’ delight.

Continuing the Arabic theme is the Hamman Baths ( which offer a very pleasant couple of hours’ soaking in your choice of hot, warm and cold water, a cooking in a steam room, and – should you choose the ‘Anadalus Ritual’ – a thorough exfoliation and massage given by people for whom the employer’s insurance liability (considering the range of water-related health and safety issues) must be gigantic.

A visit to the Alhambra is included as a must in all the guidebooks and while it is clearly a worthy attraction it is, by its very nature, very touristy. However, lots of the queuing can be avoided by booking tickets in advance at where, for a general daytime visit, you pick morning or afternoon and within that specify a time to visit the Nasrid’s Palace. However, make sure you pick your tickets up at a la Caixa terminal (cash point) in town before you head to the Alhambra. It is simply a case of inserting the card with which you booked tickets and following the instructions. It is possible to walk to the Alhambra from town and going through the El Albaicin area of the city lets you discover some lovely churches and plazas, Spanish guitar players busking, and the mosque (if you time your arrival with their siesta driven opening times), but it is quite a long and uphill trek! There are some lovely views on the way, but the 30 or 32 bus from the Cathedral area at just €1.20 for a single felt the much more relaxed option.

The areas of the city we visited all had a lovely atmosphere; the people we spoke to were all friendly, the places we visited were all good, and we are already looking forward to facing the narrow one way streets with more confidence next time.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Week in the Life: Saturday

Waking at 7.30am is a sure sign of it being half term. While my internal body clock seems to think six and a half hours' sleep is sufficient my brain does not want to agree. Nevertheless, after trying to get back to sleep I give up and have a pot of tea at 8.15am.

Sorting out the washing, checking e-mails, setting the video timer for the next week, eating a bowl of cereal, and generally pottering around takes me until 10.00am.

I seem to fill the morning with odd little bits of faffing until our friends arrive at 12.10pm. We have coffee and then at about 1.45pm we go out shopping for comestibles (including a sneaky lunchtime scotch egg from the butcher's) while our wives go to enjoy a massage in town.

We are home by 3.00pm having shopped leisurely at the butcher's and Waitrose, and duly spend a pleasant hour chatting about our lives, current affairs and some of those things that keep us pre-occupied in our working lives. Wives duly arrive home shortly before 4.00pm, and my wife then dives out to the Cathedral to sing as the Cathedral School's half term means that her choir is on duty.

We start preparing dinner at about 4.20pm and then leave home to walk down to the Cathedral to listen to Evensong shortly after 5.00pm. I always find it a little odd to be in the congregation for any act of worship, but there is also something more relaxing about feeling no responsibility for any part of the service.

Home after the service for gin, and a relatively simple supper of scallops with celeriac purée and black pudding, rack of lamb with dauphinois potatoes, and sticky toffee pudding.

A lovely evening of conversation, conviviality and cookery ensues, and as 12.30am rolls around, it is generally decided that it is bedtime. It is at this moment that I realise that I have to write today's blog.

1.00am appears and I have written and checked today's post; considering the five bottles that I put in the recycling bin a couple of hours ago, I acknowledge that it might still not be completely error free. While I know it is a shorter entry that the past few days, today has been a quieter, and more relaxed day, and I go to bed hoping not to wake before 9.00am.

Friday, 10 February 2012

A Week in the Life: Friday

After having turned my light off at 12.05am, it was somewhat annoying to wake at 6.06am and not be able to enjoy returning to any form of sleep before Jim Naughtie started discussing snow and football. The alarm duly went off and the morning routine fell into its usual pattern. Strange snow/ice combination on the car needed scraping, but relatively light traffic meant an 8.15am arrival at school.

8.50am - Registration: Year 12 Tutor Group. No notices today, but lovely to be able to congratulate a handful of students whose teachers felt that they had made an improvement since their report at the end of last term; thanks go to colleagues who did not just delete my e-mails asking for an update on my tutees' progress.

9.15am - Period 1: Year 11 English. The second of two lessons re-attempting another controlled assessment. During the hour I managed to mark three from last week and then collect in a further 27 to mark. I made it very clear that there was no way in which the essays would be marked by next week as my posthuman essay hangs in a Damoclean manner.

10.35am - Period 2: Year 8 English. In a moment of weakness, I had booked the hall for this lesson and the students have the opportunity to recreate an updated version of the Mechanicals' first appearance in A Midsummer Night's Dream. There were some fantastic performances (and my opinion was seconded by the Drama teacher who came in towards the end of the lesson to prepare for his next lesson).

11.35am - Period 3: Free. Marking another small sample of last week's controlled assessments. Also check with friends whether they will be arriving tonight (as was the original plan) or whether the weather has changed anything; they will now be with us for coffee tomorrow.

I manage to have lunch at 12.40pm and at 1.00pm I return to my room in an unsuccessful bid to tidy my desk. I do not refuse when offered a slice of birthday cake by one of the friends of a form member lunching there.

1.35pm - Period 4: Year 10 English Literature. We discuss a Vernon Scannell's Nettles which the group had been reviewing for homework and then spend time making connections between it and Simon Armitage's Nettles.

2.35pm - Period 5: NQT Meeting. We usually bring cakes to help us through our meeting, but my mentee is not in school this afternoon, so I take advantage of the staff (and sixth form) privilege of being able to leave at the end of period 4 and head home.

I arrive home at 3.10pm having had the second of the bi-weekly hands-free parental conversations and sit down with a cup of tea, Facebook, e-mails and little blog writing until 4.30pm when I feel compelled to open my posthuman essay and consider the next section.

I quickly realise that a Friday afternoon after work is not the best time to be trying to write. I therefore read through what I have written so far, making corrections and developing a couple of ideas which now seem to be presented in a somewhat brusque manner. My wife arrives home at 5.15pm; we have a cup of tea and then I return to the proofreading at 5.30pm.

At 5.45pm it is time to get ready to head to the Cathedral for tonight's recording instalment and I am charged with picking up fish and chips on the way home at 9.00pm.

The recording session is hard work and by 8.20pm everyone is flagging. Nevertheless, we somehow manage to get through to 9.00pm by which time we have apparently recorded enough to make a CD.

I eventually escape from the Cathedral and stop on the way home to pick up food, encountering an eight minute delay while the fish is cooked for us, and arrive home shortly before 9.30pm.

We enjoy supper and a bottle of wine to the accompaniment of some more television from weeks ago.

Washing up completed, bed calls at 11.30pm, with the tacet reminder that friends will be arriving in eleven hours' time.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Week in the Life: Thursday

Radio. Alarm. Routine. At school at 8.05am.

In a manner not dissimilar to Tuesday, this morning's timings are all slightly altered to allow for this term's extended lunch during which a range of charity events will be held.

8.50am - Registration: Year 12 Tutor Group. Two notices this morning and then catching up with a couple of people before the bell.

9.00am - Period 1: Year 10 English. I model the planning process for their creative writing controlled assessment and speak to every student about their ideas for their piece. Official planning sheets all completed in preparation for the hour's writing straight after half-term..

10.15am - Period 2: Year 13 English Literature. Continuing work with the poetry collection and we hear mini-presentations on Browning, Dickinson and Rossetti.

Thursdays are the days on which I have all my frees timetabled in order to allow me to go to Cambridge for PhD seminars. However, because of tonight's recording I am obliged to save myself driving a two hundred mile round trip, and I have the opportunity to do some reading and add a few words to my posthumanism essay.

By 4.30pm my essay stands at some 2,740 words and my brain feels as if it has been clubbed with a hard club-shaped clubby thing (even helpful similes escape me), so it is clearly time for a break and a cup of tea. And the first bit of blog writing today.

Back to the computer at 4.55pm until my wife arrives home at 5.20pm. We get to catch up for a few minutes before I have to head out to the Cathedral for the recording session at 6.00pm.

From 6.00pm to 9.00pm we are in the Cathedral recording the first half of a CD that is intended to be a fund-raiser when it is released. It all seems to go well, but recording it a tiring process, both mentally and physically.

As the recording finishes, the Directors of Music kindly invite people to their house for food: having not eaten this evening, I gratefully receive a ladleful of beef stew and a glass of red wine.

I am back home at 9.55pm at which point I finish today's blog, check Facebook and e-mails and decide that I have finished for the day.

Bed and a book beckon at 10.10pm.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Week in the Life: Wednesday

Today programme. Alarm. Usual morning routine. No ice and lighter traffic so at school at 8.10am enabling me to photocopy some bits and pieces for the next couple of days.

8.50am - Registration: Year 12 Tutor Group. Just one notice today and then Year 12 assembly. The headteacher surprises the assembled crowd by apparently eating cat food in a bid to make them consider the fact it is not what the outside looks like, but what is inside that counts. Doubtless the detail that they will remember is that the headteacher ate cat food and then wonder why.

9.15am - Period 1: Year 12 English Language and Literature. Finish reading The History Boys and start exploring character. Due to the smallness of the group, I find myself completing the sheet for the character I was reading in which will be photocopied along with all the students' for their notes.

10.35am - Period 2: Year 7 English. We finish the section in the text book (see yesterday) and then assess leaflets that Year 8 have created for which the target audience was Year 7; a range of marks and critical comments duly awarded to their seniors.

11.35am - Period 3: Year 11 English. The first of two lessons in which students have the opportunity to re-try writing the second of their controlled assessments. I watch in the sad knowledge that it will result in a further 27 essays for me to mark.

Lunch starts promptly at 12.35pm and sandwiches and chatting abound (as it is preferable to marking the controlled assessments which I am still carrying around with me and probably will continue to do so).

1.35pm - Period 4: Year 10 English Literature. We continue working on essay writing technique and looking at how to approach the comparative examination question. Lots of good feedback and practice paragraphs fill me with some confidence.

2.35pm - Period 5: Year 9 English. A quick round of You Say, We Pay (courtesy of Richard and Judy) starts the lesson in a fun way before we return to Romeo and Juliet's initial sonnet and consider the physicality of their words; from there we look at Juliet's prophetic closing lines. Five headlines to summarise the events of each scene in Act I and character profiles show that everyone has taken something away from the past three lessons.

At 3.35pm I leave school promptly and remember I need to get some petrol on the way home. Some £70 later, I get home, wade through the post, manage a cup of tea, and check e-mails and Facebook.

Evensong tonight is replaced by a rehearsal for the forthcoming recording, so I head to the Cathedral for 5.00pm and we have a 75 minute session dealing with some of the minutiae that is usually forgotten in the daily routine of having to sing a service.

After the rehearsal, mention of a quick drink is made. Having been very organised this week, I accept and enjoy a pint with three colleagues. Back home for 7.30pm, cook supper, wash up and at the computer for 8.45pm.

I download and print a work-in-progress paper by a member of the PhD group which I may end up critiquing tomorrow and turn to writing the bulk of today's blog. Then, before reading the paper, I sort out books in preparation for writing some more posthuman essay tomorrow afternoon and remember I agreed to copy a few tracks from a recording of a concert for someone. Sadly, the CD is not where I expect to find it. Nevertheless, I eventually find it and set about ripping the relevant tracks and creating a new CD.

At 10.05pm, when the CD is burnt, books organised, papers in slightly more organised piles and today's blog finished and checked, I decide it is time for a fractionally earlier night (or at least opportunity to read for a little longer in bed tonight).

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A Week in the Life: Tuesday

Radio 4 at 6.37am. Alarm at 6.55am. Usual morning routine, but ice on the car and more traffic en route means arrival time at school is 8.25am.

Today's school timings are all slightly out of kilter as we have a meeting during period 5; rather than cancelling a single lesson, all five are curtailed.

8.50am - Registration: Year 12 Tutor Group. Notices and quick mention of Charles Dickens's anniversary as a colleague has sent an e-mail saying how to work out your Dickensian name (a grandparent's name and the name of the road on which you grew up). We are still playing with names when the bell rings.

9.00am - Period 1: Year 9 English. Exploring Romeo and Juliet and use the Zeffirelli film version to recap the story for five minutes before reading Act 1 Scene 5. The sonnet is duly identified and the question of whether Romeo and Juliet are really in love addressed by looking at the language used and making links to Romeo's first appearance.

10.15am - Period 2: Free. A couple of administrative minutes at e-mail, and then marking controlled assessments.

11.10am - Period 3: Year 12 English Language and Literature. Continuing reading through The History Boys and I am slightly surprised to get no reaction to the various uses of the f-word and the single c-bomb which was read as if it was an item in the TV listings.

Lunch at 12.05pm, and for the first time in three weeks I am able to sit down to my sandwiches (including homemade apple and chilli chutney) without having Year 11 repeat speaking and listening tasks hanging over me. I am so bored by 12.40pm that I mark another controlled assessment and gossip to colleagues who are also pretending to do something constructive.

1.05pm - Period 4: Year 7 English. Return to a section in the text book on presentational devices and organisation of texts after yesterday's foray into moral issues. I decide that I need to see how this can be made more engaging for next time.

1.50pm - Period 5: Year 10 English. Introducing the first of their creative writing controlled assessments which has to be inspired by a film's title or line of dialogue. Use the opening of Great Expectations (please note the Dickens link) to consider how a young person getting accosted by a stranger could be a starting point for a piece of writing. Set my favourite GCSE homework: raid your DVD collection and pick a film to use as your starting point.

It is 2.45pm and time for the staff meeting. We have opportunity to air concerns about any aspects of life at school and then good practice is shared by members of several departments. Sadly, time-keeping is not seen as good practice, so the meeting ends nearly 30 minutes late.

4.10pm and I jump in the car to try and get home for a cup of tea before Evensong. I telephone my parents for our bi-weekly hands-free catchup and mention the engine fault light; I subsequently prove that the car is running normally by using the kickdown to take the engine to somewhere around 7500rpm and a few miles an hour.

I reach the Cathedral Close at 4.40pm and realise that I can make it home in time for a very quick cup of tea. I manage half a mug of tea as my interest is taken by a Fever Tree bottle opener I have been sent for buying their tonic water and entering an online competition. I am, nevertheless, convinced I ticked the 'no further correspondence' box.

At 4.52pm I leave home to get to the Cathedral for the rehearsal, and notice as I start the car that the engine fault light is no longer on.

The 5.00pm rehearsal, and 5.30pm Evensong which is followed by a pep talk in preparation for the recording sessions scheduled for this Thursday and Friday evenings.

Home at 6.40pm (noticing that fault light remains satisfyingly off), supper, washing up, and then lesson planning by 8.00pm.

By 9.25pm lessons until Friday are organised, the bulk of today's blog written and there is just the ironing left on my list of jobs for tonight before tiredness overtakes me. An episode of The Saint and the ironing takes me to 10.30pm and bed.

Monday, 6 February 2012

A Week in the Life: Monday

Awake at 5.15am and dozing until getting up at 6.55am. Usual term time morning routine and arrive at school at around 8.15am. Worried that the car's engine error light came on during the commute, but as it still seems to drive as normal, I will endeavour not to panic and check it with the diagnostic gadget when I am at home in daylight at some point in the week.

The mouse for the computer in my classroom is not working, but helpful techy solves this so when I get back for registration after daily briefing and catching up with colleagues, it is working. Who needs a wireless mouse, anyway?

8.50am - Registration: Year 12 Tutor Group. Usual notices and quick glance at uniform to check for blatant contraventions of the the dress code (complicated by the fact that as there is snow on the ground, boots are permitted today) and then write e-mails to colleagues on form tutorly matters.

9.15am - Period 1: Year 8 English. Exploring A Midsummer Night's Dream and read the scene of the first appearance of the Mechanicals. Compare their characters to the lovers and Theseus and Hippolyta; show a short DVD about staging the scene and chaos ensues as groups consider and practise their own interpretations and characterisations.

10.35am - Period 2: Year 13 English Literate. We have reached Victorian poets in our chronological ranging through the Literature of Love from 1500 to the present and three students present their ideas about poems in the collection.

11.35am - Period 3: Free. Administrative bits and pieces, catching up with odd bits of marking, GCSE speaking and listening write ups, dealing with responses to earlier form tutor e-mails, and start today's blog (once I have launched my stand alone copy of Chrome as blogger no longer supports IE8).

Lunch is meant to start at 12.35pm, but it was closer to 12.50pm by the time I managed to sit down with a sandwich. 1.15pm and back to the classroom to listen to a Year 11 student give another individual presentation in an attempt to improve on their last attempt.

1.35pm - Period 4: Year 12 English Language and Literature. Starting to look at Alan Bennett's The History Boys so we share background details and information before making a start reading through the play.

2.35pm - Period 5: Year 7 English. We begin with something as old-fashioned as a spelling test and then discuss the final chapter of Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful, the morality of shooting soldiers for cowardice, and whether there are any lessons we can learn from Tommo and Charlie's actions and behaviour or the book in general. One student asks whether Private Peaceful is a children's book and I ask what she means by a "children's book": she is sated when her neighbour points out the age range printed above the barcode.

3.45pm is meant to be the end of school, but I choose to stay in school to save an hour driving to and from home and hopefully make profitable use of time before Year 9 parents descend at 7.00pm to help their children choose their GCSE options.

By 4.30pm I have finished the speaking and listening administration, checked a lesson for tomorrow, and written a little more blog before turning to marking GCSE controlled assessments. I realise I have forgotten to see a colleague at the end of school as we agreed, so I belatedly go to see her. We complete the short task and then spend the next twenty minutes chatting.

At 7.00pm, we start waiting for parents to arrive to discuss options for their children for next year and I have marked three controlled assessments. By 9.00pm I have spoken to a handful of parents and endeavoured to explain the differences between English, English Language and English Literature GCSEs. Repeatedly.

Arrive home at 9.25pm and decide to try reading the car's error code. Ironically, the diagnostic tool reports its own error thereby leaving me no better off than earlier. Switching it on and off several times and pressing buttons randomly to try and improve matters all takes about twenty minutes and makes no difference.

Go into the house at 9.45pm and have a couple of slices of toast and do the washing up.

10.00pm, onto the computer to check e-mails, Facebook and Twitter and complete today's blog and at 10.35pm it has to be time to go to bed.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A Week in the Life: Sunday

For this week only, I thought I would try returning to the idea behind the blogs from the early 1990s. Blogs (or web logs) were initially used as a type of online diary - or journal, to use the seemingly favoured American term - in which details of people's personal lives were recorded. Coupling this with the fact I always find myself desperately searching for time to do things, I thought I would try to find out where my time went by cataloguing this week a little more carefully.

Up at 8.00am, despite not being needed at the morning service at the Cathedral today, and spend an hour drinking tea, tidying the kitchen, sorting the washing, and doing a couple of administrative tasks on the computer.

By 9.00am, my posthuman essay is on the screen as I once again try to find the details of the creation of Talos in Greek mythology. Dinello's book Technophobia! tells me it is in Homer's Iliad, but I can find no reference in any online translation. I message a couple of Classics teachers on Facebook asking for help.

At 9.45am, I give up (again) on Talos, shower, and then pop to the supermarket to get the weekly staples. Back by 10.30am and find a very helpful reply on Facebook which gives me a link to a website which unfortunately appears to be down today. Out of frustration, I also post a status update asking for help from anyone.

Receive a phone call at 10.45am from my wife asking me to pick her up as she stayed in the Cathedral Close last night to avoid having to carry her costume and bits and pieces up the road while trying to maintain her balance in the snow, after the charity performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.

Back to the essay by 11.15am and manage to piece together bits and pieces from the suggestions offered on Facebook and some original texts: none of which is anything to do with the Iliad.

A lunch break of coffee and croissants at 12.15pm and then return to the essay at about 1.00pm. Tidy up and finish the section about Talos and rue the fact that some three hundred words have taken all morning to put together as a result of the poorly referenced comments in the original book I was using.

Having finished the section, I turn to start writing today's blog as I think it will be easier to try and do it in small chunks rather than a mammoth task before bed. 1.30pm and the next short section of the essay on Frankenstein's monster beckons.

At 2.50pm it is time to head to the Cathedral for a short rehearsal followed by Evensong at 3.30pm.

Home at just after 4.30pm, cup of tea and try to sort out lessons for Tuesday as I had forgotten that tomorrow evening will be taken up with a Year 9 Options Evening until 9.00pm at school.

Lessons for Tuesday and some school administration bits and pieces completed by 5.30pm. Return to the posthuman essay to clarify how to reference ancient Greek texts, and revisit and extend earlier notes on Frankenstein.

Finish the first draft of the Frankenstein section and synced my USB drive for school tomorrow by 6.50pm, and hope that my wife has also finished preparing lessons for tomorrow so that we can spend the evening together over food and catching up on a couple of hours' of television that is still waiting from mid-January.

Bed finally calls at 10.20pm.