Friday, 22 February 2013
Friday, 30 November 2012
Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Thursday, 4 October 2012
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
It’s one of life’s great little gifts to start seeing a stretch in the evening, having a bright morning to wake up to and some colour in the burgeoning buds. It’s at times like this, as we bask in the glow of global warming, that I wish I lived in the countryside full-time. Whether by the sea or surrounded by green fields, as long as I’m removed from cars, footpaths and bus stops I’m a happy camper.
It’s also at times like this I wish I was Jenny Bristow. Visions of her cooking lemon meringues and mouth watering chicken dishes in her perfect country kitchen take me right back to my childhood and the formation of my dream that I too could one day own an aga cooker and have an island in my kitchen (I’m still dreaming in case you’re wondering.)
She always got it right did our Jenny. There was a freshness to her recipes, a rise in her soufflés and a spring in her chickens as she cooked local and seasonal food, all served up in those dishes your granny used to hit you for using - they are exclusively for visitors don’t you know (even though I technically was a visitor, but anyway).
Modern cookery shows just don’t have that sort of quality. It’s all kitsch kitchens with little dolly birds dressed in faux vintage polka dots and heavily made faces with dark red lips droning on about organic pigeon or some such random creature. They look like they’ve barely ever eaten a dinner, let alone cooked one.
Their hair’s always perfect and their flour never spills as they dance around their penthouse apartments decked out in the most modern of ‘vintage’ furnishings. So original, and all so the same.
And I don’t know about you but I don’t have a little French market of a Saturday to jaunt down to and pick up some specially sourced bree – more like some extra mature from Tescos.
No, Jenny’s perfect kitchen was more attainable, as were her ingredients. How bizarre that shows like Jenny’s are now out of foodie fashion and it’s seen as some sort of conscious lifestyle choice nowadays to eat locally and seasonally – surely that’s the natural order of things, in every sense of the word.
Thanks goodness our schools have taken this on board, with their new Agri-Food challenge for Key Stage 3 pupils. The idea is simple; come up with a two-course meal using fresh, local and seasonal food and win an opportunity to cook it with a professional chef. I am glad an appreciation of the resources around us is on the curriculum and education chiefs have found a way to make their use fun.
It may create another generation of aspirational aga owners, but more importantly it will counteract the deluge of the flavour of the month kitsch cookery that is just junk food by another name.
For further information visit www.nigoodfood.com
Thursday, 26 August 2010
This week's opinion column in the Community Telegraph (I'm gonna try and upload these every so often after they go to press)
Last week my father retired after a nigh-on 40-year career in the civil service. It was a happy day all round as we toasted his new-found freedom and looked back with fondness on his career.
As all these family things go, it was a time of old memories and new perspectives.
My father was one of the many benefactors of the introduction of educational reforms in 1960s
These exams he duly passed, and with student grant in tow, completed a degree in
Before you think I am getting lost in indulgent family history I must remind you that the backdrop to all this reminiscing was other news in the family – exam results.
Although none of my extended family were receiving A-level results some are waiting on GCSEs, and many of my friends had younger siblings receiving those all important results last week.
It is well-documented how tough the younger generation will now have it in terms of career choices. The irony was not lost on us that a career like my father’s would probably never be emulated again in our extended family.
For good or bad, the 11-plus is being done away with and secondary education as we know it is changing forever. Subject choices in schools are more diverse than ever, again for good or bad. There has also been the introduction of the A* grade at A-level, which, in my opinion, is simply for bad and has put more pressure than ever on students.
Yet despite this pressure, exam results are improving year on year - only for the number of university places to be falling. Northern Ireland’s two universities received applications from more than 21,680 people for just 8,378 first-year places available.
Even if you do get into university the trouble doesn’t end there. Student grants, as my father’s generation received, are now student loans and a choke-hold on any young person trying to make a start in life. I say this from personal experience.
And, at the end of your degree, you’re odds-on not to find a job in your chosen field, if at all. This is the situation everyone is familiar with by now and is one which doesn’t make for comfortable reading.
When I sat my A-levels in 2003/4 the notion that everyone could be a doctor, podiatrist, teacher, solicitor etc was still being peddled by our elders. ‘Get your exams, get to university, get a job, get a pension….’ With the benefit of hindsight this was nonsense, of course, as many of my smart, talented, unfulfilled and/or unemployed graduate friends will tell you.
We were the tail-end of the Labour government kids who got all the easy access to education and none of the benefits it was supposed to bring.
My generation were sold a lie and in a way I’m glad that those opening up exam results this week are at the beginning of everyone waking up to this fact.
Yes, the picture’s bleak but at least this is being acknowledged, now it’s time to adapt and to do so from the top down.
Those with the power to make changes to education are finally recognising the value of apprenticeships, as well as degrees. This, I hope, is the beginning of an introduction of more practical-skilled subjects in secondary education.
Hopefully these changes will also incorporate more creativity into the mainstream and not push art, design and elements of technology to the side as specialised subjects.
Computer skills must be compulsory too and not just word-processing, but elements of computer science. Finance also must be brought to the fore in schools showing students not just how to balance cash flow but how to discern between banking rates, interest rates, mortgage rates etc.
The top will need to adapt in this way to prepare young people for a new type of job market and new type of society where pieces of paper with letters after your name are no longer valued but where know-how, initiative and a willingness to work are. Those same young people, disappointed with their exam results, need to realise this and understand that patience, diligence, adaptability and kindness to your fellow man are the most important characteristics you can bring to life and to the workplace, not an ‘A’ grade in General Studies.
From my point of view, as a journalist, I have ended up in a profession far removed from where I saw myself when sitting A-levels. I am doing a job more creative than
I thought I was capable of and more demanding than the subjects I chose at A-level ever prepared me for. And I love it.
I wish my peers and I, at 18, had been given the time and space to consider all our skills and were not pushed into studying specific subjects, regardless of our aptitude..
This time, space and opportunity is now there for those receiving A-level results, and there is something liberating about the end of the poisonous and pervasive ‘you can have it all’ mantra. No, you can’t have it all, but you can now take some time to go and find out what it is you want the most.
So as my father toasts the end of his successful career I’ll raise a toast to all the younger ones starting out on theirs, whatever it may be.