Posts Tagged ‘school’

Genetics and education (part 2)

It’s Wednesday morning and time for my weekly contributor, Rambler5319, to take over with his guest post.

This week we’re looking at the second part of the subject I started last week (13.11.13).

If you didn’t catch it here’s the intro again and then I’ll go on to the second two speakers and the subjects they covered.

The results of a study (in the UK) and a recent book (G For Genes) about the academic achievements of 10,000 sets of identical twins have caused something of an uproar. Why? Firstly because the report was leaked to a newspaper when it was meant for internal use only and secondly because of its potential implications. The senior policy advisor to the UK Government’s Education Secretary reckons that genetics are the largest factor in educational achievement.

Let me explain. The identical twins were born 1994-96 and the results of their GCSE exams (at 16 yrs old) have been analysed. A recent radio programme (The Moral Maze, Radio 4) tackled the subject and one of the authors of the book quoted a figure saying that 52% of the variance in the results was down to genetics. Their suggestion was that we should consider the idea of “genetically sensitive schools”. Wow! Does that make you think (like me): “I wonder where this is going?”

If you fancy a listen to the discussion programme here’s the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03fdjsp

Ok so the next speaker (the third in the prog) was asked if he thought that using genetics for human enhancement is immoral. His answer was that it was immoral “not to use it”. He believes humans don’t want sickness and ultimately death so if there is a way to get round these by using genetic information he thinks we should. However the panel made a good point on this by saying that surely our humanity (and its limited lifespan) is what gives us the ability to display certain characteristics. The example was given of say a normal person who walks through a minefield is showing great courage but if that person is immortal they cannot demonstrate courage because they cannot be killed by stepping onto a mine. I think you can see the point – as humans with a certain lifespan we can demonstrate things that an immortal person cannot. The panel believed that imperfections in everyone are what make us what we are as humans and the idea of getting rid of these takes us into a very difficult area. His response was that certain characteristics (not all) should be got rid of.

He then took the discussion into the area of cruelty. He believes everyone would like to get rid of cruelty. If they could discover what makes people cruel then they could change something in the genetic make up to stop it. One of the panel’s responses was quite simply – the idea is mad. The research seems to be going into the area of altering what is a human being. Who is going to do the deciding of what (and who?) is changed? You? Me? The scientist? The Government?

The last speaker felt that this whole area is just a short step away from eugenics. History demonstrates that genetic research has definitely gone down the wrong road he said. However he did agree that if the genetic information seemed to suggest that a person may have a pre-disposition to a particular medical problem, say heart disease or something else it should be made available and used to hopefully treat that person. This sounds ok but what do you do if you find evidence of something which may have serious implications about the life expectancy of a person? Do you tell the person? There is certainly a moral issue there. Is it right to let them know or will they be happier not knowing? And once again who is going to make that decision? And who is going to have the conversation with the affected person?

The more I listened to the various points of view on this the more I thought that the implications are too far reaching for us to know the answers. It’s a bit like asking the early travellers on a railway train which ran at say 15 mph whether they could imagine a world in which trains would travel at over 100mph and even 200mph. (Incidentally, in June this year, it was reported that Japan is trialling a new series of magnetic trains which will be able to travel at over 300mph cutting the Bullet train times – between Tokyo & Nagoya – by just over 50%. However you have another 14 years before they’re due to come into service!)

Who could have imagined those first ships that were built to carry just a few containers would end up the monsters we have today. Ships launched this year are just short of 400 metres in length and capable of carrying the equivalent of up to 18,000 containers. If all the containers were laid end to end they would stretch for 110kms – wow just read that again 110kms of containers on one ship!

Imagine a conversation say 40 years ago when many people had to look for a phone box to make a call with someone and telling them that in the future nearly everyone will be able to be contacted at any time of the day or night because they’ll all have a device which they can carry around with them; it will track their exact position anywhere on the globe and enable many other things to be done. Of course it would have sounded fanciful but aren’t we facing a similar conversation now about genetic information?

And so it is with this whole area of genetics. How can we possibly imagine what will be in 50 or 100 years time? Will those people look back on us as short-sighted & resistant to change. They probably will. By then any moral issues will have been passed by in some way and that new world will be functioning very differently to the one we know today. We may or may not be part of it (well the 50 year one for younger folks) but would we want to be?

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Genetics and education

Morning all. I’m handing over to my guest blogger today as it’s Wednesday. Enjoy!

 

This week’s subject is quite challenging so get your thinking caps on.

The results of a study (in the UK) and a recent book (G For Genes) about the academic achievements of 10,000 sets of identical twins have caused something of an uproar. Why? Firstly because the report was leaked to a newspaper when it was meant for internal use only and secondly because of its potential implications. The senior policy advisor to the UK Government’s Education Secretary reckons that genetics are the largest factor in educational achievement.

Let me explain. The identical twins were born 1994-96 and the results of their GCSE exams (at 16 yrs old) have been analysed. A recent radio programme (The Moral Maze, Radio 4) tackled the subject and one of the authors of the book quoted a figure saying that 52% of the variance in the results was down to genetics. Their suggestion was that we should consider the idea of “genetically sensitive schools”. Wow! Does that make you think (like me): “I wonder where this is going?”

If you fancy a listen to the discussion programme here’s the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03fdjsp

Now it’s this radio programme I’d like to refer back to for this brief survey of some of the issues involved. For those who don’t know the format there is a panel who question the speakers (called witnesses in the prog) about the view they are putting forward either in favour of the subject or against it. The idea is to focus on any moral issues that do (or could) arise from the subject under investigation.

The first speaker was one of the authors of the book. Their view was that, as scientists, they simply put the facts out and it’s up to others to interpret or from the government side formulate policy based on the results of that research. In other words they did not see any moral dilemma in deciding whether to publish or not. They’re basically saying they do not see they have any responsibility for the possible outcomes. Do you agree with that? Should science incorporate a moral responsibility to the society round about it and possibly further afield? Despite the authors of the book claiming that it was not the scientist’s job to formulate policy one of the panel (who had read the book) said that they did actually suggest policy matters towards the end of their book.

The genetic information would enable schools to be able to personalise learning through understanding a child’s genetic as well as social background. I’m wondering at this point how on earth they could possibly keep data like this safe. I don’t what security is like in whatever country you live in but over the past few years, here in the UK, there have been a number of whole databases lost, stolen or compromised: laptops have been stolen (one from the seat of a car of a Ministry of Defence employee), memory sticks have been left where they shouldn’t have been and sometimes corrupt employees have changed information on a person (and more recently even patients in a hospital have had their “information” changed). Just think of the implications of say your whole genetic make up being stolen. Supposing you play in a group and someone finds out that you don’t have a “musical” profile in your genetic make-up. Do you get fired or asked to leave?

When a panel member suggested that it seemed that the research was leading us to a situation where when a child is born their genetic “profile” established & stored so that when they were of school age their learning could be tailored to suit that child; the author said that the research did not support such a view. They re-iterated the view that their role was simply to put the facts out and let others make decisions based on it.

The second speaker was a teacher from the south of England who works in a school (Years 1-6, ages 5-11) where they have a different view about how children should learn.

There is a video of some of the kids and the teaching in class on their site (http://www.thewroxham.org.uk/).

Now before giving you their idea he claimed that their results in exams provide proof that the system they use works. So what is the system? I can base what I write only on what the speaker said as I have no experience in the field (and don’t know anyone with it). The school ethos is “Learning Without Limits”. The difference is that they do not use the term “able” or “ability” (either high or low or any variation of it). He explained that the school allows the children to “choose their level of differentiation (or challenge)” in each lesson. If you watch the video you can see children explaining a bit about how this “challenge” idea works. The children make the decisions that affect the pace of their learning and ultimately I suppose their future. “Able” he feels has negative connotations so they speak of a child working at a particular “level”. The child makes the choice on the next level of challenge. They are the learner in the process; they are part of a “learning journey”. Now obviously I don’t know how that works in practise but I think most of us probably came through the old system of “streaming”: the clever ones in a subject went into “Set 1” (the top set) or whatever your school called it with the rest going downwards in 2,3,4 etc so it is very hard for us to imagine how we could choose what our next learning level would be. All I can say is that, if the school results which he says are very good are anything to go by, it seems to work where he teaches. When asked about whether genetic information would (or could?) help him in his job he was rather non-committal. I wonder what you think of the idea. I also wonder how the children will fare when they have to go into a senior school where this particular idea is not used; how well will they be able to adapt? Well, it’s food for thought for anyone who has left school behind even just a few years ago. Would this system have suited you?

The programme couldn’t go into many different areas because of its remit but think about some of these scenarios. Can you imagine a staff room conversation in which teachers would be talking about whether pupil X or pupil Y should be taught music or art because they did not have the “musical gene” or the “artistic gene” in their profile? Suppose a child just loves music and wants to do it. Why shouldn’t they? They might not be the next classical composer or pop sensation but they could enjoy doing music for its own sake and be willing to practise. Under this new idea they would probably be excluded because they didn’t have the right genetic profile for musical ability. Don’t know about you but it sounds scary to me! More importantly where does it go next? Do interviewees, for example, take their genetic profile to a potential employer to demonstrate why they should be given the job rather than someone else? What about relationships between people? Would dating agencies request genetic profiles so they could “match” the same sort of people? You might be offered potential dates only with those who are “most suited” genetically. Suppose the country is short of scientists would you be happy if the government decided to look for any of the population who had the scientific ability gene? They might then be given special “treatment” in certain areas: educational, financial & even social. I’m sure you can think of a number of other areas in which research like this would have a major impact. If you thought 1984 (Orwell) was scary the potential of this research takes things to a whole new level. If you weren’t scared before I hope you can see why now you could have reason to be. I’ve only been able to look superficially at some of the implications but where do you see this sort of thing going?

(There were two more speakers in the programme but I’ll leave them till next week as they cover a number of different areas to the two people I’ve covered here.)  

Breaking the rules

This morning, I am joining in with Emily and Kelly’s Remember The Time blog prompt.

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For some reason, the first thing that sprung to mind is the following story. It’s a bit feeble but I’m just going to run with it.

When I was about ten years old, I had an operation on my hip and spent about six weeks with plaster down both of my legs. A lady used to bring me work from school so I didn’t fall behind. I think, actually, because I didn’t have anyone around me to distract me, I got quite far ahead with things. When I then went back to school, I was ahead of everyone else and bored so I got a bit restless and naughty.

Because my operation meant I had to use crutches for a little while and had a huge healing scar, I couldn’t go swimming. I used to still go along to the swimming pool but would just sit on the side.

This particular day, I had an idea that I wasn’t going with them, I’m not sure why. Then someone came and found me and said I was supposed to be on the bus. So off I toddled towards the school gates to the bus. My teacher, Miss Moore, saw me as I approached the bus and came over and really bollocked me.

She was going, “We were looking everywhere for you. We’re really late now. You’ve held everyone up.”

And this, my friends, is the moment at which I totally broke the rules. I broke the rules of the teacher-pupil relationship. I broke my own rules of good behaviour. I broke the rules of respecting authority. This was the first thing that sprung to mind when I saw that I had to write about breaking the rules.

When my teacher shouted at me for being naughty, I said…..

“So.”

Wowzers! What on earth was that about?! That is crazy talk.

I remember being quite shocked that that had come out of my mouth and being like, “Omygoodness, she’s gonna go mad!”

And even though I’m 28 years old and have done lots of other things in my life, had numerous jobs and lived in many different places, for some reason, this singular incident when I was 10 years old is my first thought when I am asked to write about breaking the rules. 

Gradbach Mill (day 2)

This is day 2 of a trip to a Youth Hostel (which opened in 1984) called Gradbach Mill. It seems like an odd name to me. Looking up the history tells us the name possibly comes from a Henry Gratebach mentioned as living in the area in 1374.

We decided on the full breakfast to start us off: orange juice, grapefruit, cereal, big fry-up, toast, & tea. We set off walking up the hill. Initially on the road we soon came to a turn off and began the cross country stuff. OS map in hand we were making for a village I’ve mentioned in a previous post but will keep it as a surprise for now. Here’s a narrow bridge over a stream

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Then just a bit further on a TV aerial attached to a drystone wall. We couldn’t immediately see which house might be using it but closer inspection revealed the wire to it was broken. It does show how difficult it is to get reception in the area and the lengths people will go to to try and get a signal. (You might remember I mentioned that the hostel didn’t have any for TV, phones or PC.)

After crossing a few more fields we were onto tarmac for a short while. The road had been resurfaced recently and there was a 10mph speed limit sign. Here it is.

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This gentleman had obviously fallen over. We deduced he had probably been running and therefore exceeded the speed limit causing him to end up flat on the road. (He seems to be pointing at the sign to warn us.) We thanked him and moved on. There wasn’t time to help him but we hoped he was ok.

Across a few more fields and we were nearing our target. Here’s the sign

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Yes, it’s the sign for a village called Flash. If you remember the post from 10.4.13 (I is for interesting) you will know that this is the village whose height above sea level has been measured and found to be the highest in England and in fact the whole UK. We wondered what to expect but set off on the 1 mile to get there indicated by the sign; not surprisingly it was all uphill! The edge of the village is some way out from the houses and here’s the sign. Shortly after, a cyclist went past us and we almost felt as if we should be cheering and running alongside like they do in the Tour De France and maybe shouting Allez-allez. We didn’t.image

And a little further on in the village itself we saw this sign on the wall of the pub

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Yes that’s right – the highest pub in the British Isles. If you need an edge that’s not a bad one is it? After 2 hours walking across fields, up hill and down dale we were ready for a quick stop: a drink in the highest pub in the UK would be nice. We knocked on the door and were told that it didn’t open till 4pm! (It was 10.58am.) There are some who believe the term “flash money” comes from the alleged counterfeiting of banknotes in the village. It’s a nice idea and seems to fit but it’s probably an inference made from a novel (Flash) written in 1928 by Judge Alfred Ruegg rather than historical facts.

The next building was the old schoolhouse.

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And a little bit further

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Of course there’s no “new” police station.

We carried on and came to the local primary school. Here’s the sign.

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Now read that motto under the logo at the top: ‘Reaching Ever Higher’. Remember where we are – the highest village in the UK! I liked that. However after a bit of research and a conversation with a local person we found out that the school was actually closed. Apparently, in Sept 2012, the school roll fell from 7 in 2011 to zero pupils and the school closed at the end of Dec 2012. The local council said that in the last 10 years only one child had been born in the catchment area. Property prices also meant it was difficult to attract younger families to the area. The village had had a school for over 250 years (since 1760) so very sad it could not continue. (The Ofsted inspection in April last year gave a figure of over £22,000 funding required for each pupil; a comparable figure for my local urban primary school is £3,700 per pupil.)

Next building of interest was this one

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It looks like a large square house but originally it was a Wesleyan Chapel built in 1784 (and rebuilt in 1821 according to the date stone). There were 60 members of the Methodist Society which grew to 90 by 1790. In the 1851 Census there were 180 attending the evening service. It closed in 1974 and, as with many old chapels, is now a private house.

We walked on. Although a fair way out of the village we came to a place called “Flash Bar Stores And Coffee Shop”. We got some food here as it was almost lunch time. As we sat outside this vehicle pulled up in the parking area next to us.

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On the top right above the windscreen you might be able to see “Your Library”. Yep that’s right in these more isolated places there is no local library so the villages depend on a mobile one. I spoke to the driver who told me he covers quite a large area. Each stop has a scheduled time so people know when to expect him. While we were there a couple of folks came; one lady had an armful of books. I do hope this service will keep going as it’s a big help for those who can’t get to the town libraries often miles away.

After lunch we walked all of 20 feet (6 metres) across to the Traveller’s Rest for a drink. The place had a bit of a theme of “ye olde England” with the toilets being labelled – Knights & Damsels.

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Soon it was time to head off as we were only half way round on our walk and it had taken 4½ hours so far. (Lunch and drink though had taken longer than we had anticipated!)

On a lane we came to one of those stalls left unattended with an honesty box for stuff you buy. Although we didn’t buy anything there was a note hanging on it

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I think you can probably read it. Imagine that a colony of Wallabies once existed in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

This next pic looks simply like a stone bridge.

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Could be anywhere? No, this is quite a special place called “Three Shires’ Head”. It’s the point on Axe Edge Moor where the borders of 3 English counties meet: Cheshire, Derbyshire & Staffordshire. It’s an 18th century packhorse bridge over the River Dane; remember that’s the river that our Youth Hostel in its original incarnation used to drive the big water wheel that powered the mill machinery.

The rest of the route back had one difficult part. We came to a field of cows and of course we needed to be the other side. When you get close up to cows you realise just how big they are and how easily just 2 or 3 could cause you a lot of damage. You don’t mess with cows, you will lose! (Same for horses by the way – when our kids were younger we were walking across a field and a herd of horses surrounded us. Unsure of how to react, and being townies, we tried to push our way through. Man versus horse – another one you’re not going to win. Fortunately something took their attention and a small gap appeared so we could make our escape.) We skirted the herd of cows keeping close eye on them. Heads came up and a few started heading towards us. We took a bigger sweep out onto a farm track behind another wall before coming back into their field and heading for the stile at the other side.

And soon we were back at the hostel. Then it was evening meal, more backgammon & head off to bed for night 2. We liked this place.

 

Careers advice

When I was in my late teens and still at secondary school, there was a lot of talk about forward planning for a possible career. We had talks from people who gave us advice about this or that, there was a careers advisor on hand most days near the sixth form common room and we had various computer programme things that asked you questions and suggested possible careers that might match your likes or dislikes.

I didn’t know for definite what I wanted to do. I had played with different careers in my mind – popstardom beckoned at one point, the literary life at another, not to mention my brush with TV presenting fame.

I hadn’t settled on one for definite because my main thoughts, in my last year at school, were on the gap year I had planned. So I just kind of let these career talks go in one ear and out the other. I had my place at university sorted, I was off to study theatre and English literature when I got back from Africa, although I didn’t really know what I could do with it as a career. I just liked them!

One day though, I must have been wondering what career the computer might suggest if I took the questionnaire. I secretly love stuff like that as it often comes up with something hilariously off-kilter. In a free moment between classes, I decided to take the careers questionnaire.

It took a long time. Long, long, long. And it went on and on and on about things that were so similar to one another that I thought that surely I must have answered it already.

“You enjoy working in a group.”
Agree

“You enjoy working with other people.”
Agree strongly

“You get on well with other people.”
Agree

“You like to lead a group.”
Neither agree or disagree

“You like to be in charge.”
Agree slightly

“You are good at taking control.”
Agree slightly

“You like to fix things.”
Disagree slightly

“You like to take things apart and figure them out.”
Disagree

“You work best alone.”
Neither agree or disagree.

And so it went on. Click, click, click went the mouse, on varying degrees of agreeing or disagreeing with certain statements. Until finally, five billion questions later, I got a little egg timer on the screen while it came up with my results.

I waited in anticipation, thinking about all the things it might suggest for the career I was best matched to. Based on the questions I had been asked, I thought it might come up with things like ‘Team leader on expedition of huge world importance similar to that of Shackleton,” or “Queen’s best friend,” (is that a job title?) or “World famous travelling sensation.”

Think, think, think, went the egg timer and then, finally, up popped my results!

I’ve long since forgotten what my number 1 most suitable career came up as because right there, sitting in the number 2 spot, was the word ‘Embalmer.’

You’re thinking, no, surely not? Is that what I think it is? Well yes, it is what you think it is. The person who embalms dead bodies and gets them ready for burial.

At number 2! That high up! Did I fall asleep during part of the questionnaire and accidentally click ‘agree’ on the statement “You like working with the recently departed”?!

Laura Maisey, Future Embalmer.

My favourite Namibia memories

Making pizzas on Friday nights with one of our student’s mums.

Stuffing our faces at the Nest Hotel because we were pretty poor and ate mostly rice at home.

The time Fiona and I took a road trip round the whole country and had no radio so had to sing to each other all day.

Our comedy dog, Diaz, barking at the kids at school or following us around or weeing on the floor.

The time we were stranded in the desert with no water, no money or bank card, no ID, no suncream and no keys to get back into our car.

The time Lucy and I were painting murals on the wall in the creche where we taught and the kids started singing Atomic Kitten to us.

When I used to jump in the freezing cold swimming pool every morning at the guest house where I lived and worked in Namibia.

The time we walked out to Diaz Point, which took hours and hours, and we had three apples between us.

The time I lost control of the car and went on a little spin off the road with Fiona yelling “Steer into the spin!” and clinging onto the dashboard.

Singing the Amarula song with the kitchen staff at Grootberg Lodge.

One of my students, Zara, saying “Thank you for teaching us,” after a class.

Bungee jumping, like a loony, over the Zambezi River during a stay in Livingston.

Sleeping through the most important day in the Namibian calendar, their independence day, then making a story up for the newspaper afterwards (we ran the local town newspaper and we had to make up the main story of the whole year. Shoddy).

Climbing into the big wardrobe in Lucy’s room with our friend, Andre, to look for Narnia. We were sober, by the way.

Packing a tent, some sleeping bags, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a knife and walking to the campsite just out of town, Shark Island, and camping for the weekend to get away from it all.

Flinging ourselves in the pool to cool down after a hot sweaty bus journey back from Victoria Falls to Windhoek.

Taking a load of disadvantaged kids away for an activity week in the desert and, among other things, teaching them how to swim.

Drinking cups of rooibos tea and watching the sun set over the Atlantic ocean and the clouds and sky turning pink and purple and orange.

Fiona and I going to the coolest bar in town, Rumours, and graffitiing our names behind the bar.

Cutting my own hair because I had no money for hairdressers.

Going out to an old abandoned town in the desert with our friend, George, and him giving us Namibian names. Mine was Naufiku, which means ‘born in the evening.’

Fiona chucking a glass of triple shot Jaegermeister and coke on a car.

Going to badminton club on Tuesdays and being rubbish at it.

Written by a future Booker Prize winner. Sort of.

Last week, I went to Liverpool to visit friends and family and thought I’d follow one of Rambler5319’s walks as the recent one, around Woolton, looked really interesting.

I set out in the morning, the threatening drizzle making me worry slightly but I kept going, hopeful despite the obvious. By the time I reached John Lennon’s house, my view through the car window was this….

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Still I continued to Woolton and thankfully, by the time I wanted a photograph of me at the highest point in Liverpool, the rain had stopped….

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I then got out and visited the church graveyard where two gravestones bear the names which gave inspiration to the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby.

Over the road from here was, what looked like, a community centre which was part of the church and I realised in a flash, I came to Weight Watchers here when I was 17! I had been a teenager with some extra ‘puppy fat’, I would like to call it. And my friend Nicki and I came to Weight Watchers together. We would drive into the car park and in front of it was the entrance to the Weight Watchers group while behind it was the hall where John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met! And I’d had no idea all that time. I was big into The Beatles as well. That is a fact I would have liked to know.

There is so much interesting history at your fingertips in Woolton. For example, just the little hall where I went to Weight Watchers had been there for almost two hundred years…

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(I don’t know if you can see but it was built in 1823.)

There was also, at the furthest point on this walk, a little school which was build in 1610….

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I also realised, with fond memories, that as I walked along a small path with two quarries falling away either side of it, I had walked this way many times before when my brother and my Dad and I used to walk to my Nanna’s house every Sunday for lunch. I remembered my brother and I having nettle stings and finding some really good dock leaves at the end of the path to rub on the stings to stop the pain.

As an aside, I checked in the window of a small shop which had been on Rambler5319’s walk and, sure enough, they’re still looking for a paper boy/girl, if anyone’s interested.

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I walked back to my starting point through Woolton Woods, from where there is a fantastically clear view over Liverpool, (it’s hard to see it on a photograph though).

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On my way back from this walk, I stopped off at 192 Booker Avenue, where the Liverpudlian writer of a book I’m currently reading grew up.

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Her name is Linda Grant and her novel, The Clothes On Their Backs was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. And no, it not just a coincidence that the name of Booker is the road where she grew up and the prize – it’s the same man! He was a business man based in the area who, among many things, had spent time in Demerara in the West Indies and was responsible for bringing Demerara sugar to England.

I grew up in a little cul-de-sac off Booker Avenue and spent eight years of my life attending Booker Avenue Infants and Junior school. I think that means, by default, that I will have a Booker Prize-winning novel out soon?

P.S. Due to my slight telling off by a fellow blogger, for not having any Christmas decorations up, I asked my favourite 5 year old to make me a Christmas tree, which is now in living room. See?

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