Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Highers - finished!

Relaxation all round in our house tonight. The last of our daughter's 5 Highers was today. Phew. This is part of the second paper of the two Modern Studies Higher papers. From Higher English on 13 May, through History, Italian and Music, it's been a long 3 weeks. No maths or science, you'll note. They were left behind with a sigh of relief after last year's Standard Grade and Intermediate 2 exams. As we don't have a baccalaureate system (tho daughter's school is going to be the first Scottish school to offer the International Baccalaureate alongside Scottish qualifications), there are no compulsory subjects. You might argue that this produces lop-sided students, tho plenty mix History and Physics, or Chemistry and Art. You could also argue that it lets students play to their strengths. I know it took every ounce of willpower that I had - and zero understanding - to scrape a pass in the equivalent of Standard/Intermediate 2 Maths, dyscalculic that I am. Don't ask me to explain the difference between Standard Grade and Intermediate 2, or why we have a mixed economy at this level. They're going to be replaced by the new 'Curriculum for Excellence' soon.

The exam timetable is centralised, so all over Scotland school students will have been sitting the same papers at the same time.
Exams are set by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. If you're really interested, you can access the timetable here.

I'm impressed by the Modern Studies syllabus and exam. The syllabus covers contemporary social and political issues in Britain and worldwide. I would say that my daughter has a greater understanding of these issues than I do. As well as the knowledge base, the exam format really nails transferrable skills. The 'decision making task', above, involves using information from a variety of sources, including statistical data, to make a reasoned case for or against a proposal.

The earlier paper this morning took the form of 'classic' discursive essays on four topics, which in daughter's case were on voting behaviour, the interactions of health and wealth, social and economic change in China, and factors affecting development in Africa.

So now all that remains is to wait for the results in August.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Assembly

This is 'Assembly week' in Edinburgh - the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The Assembly is the supreme court of the Church and has the power to make laws governing the operation of the Church. The business is conducted by debates about reports presented to the Assembly, with the 850 delegates, or 'commissioners' voting on issues. The commissioners are ministers, elders and members of the diaconate from presbytries in Scotland, England, Europe and Jerusalem. Delegates also attend from churches across the world. The Assembly hall on the Mound, above, is thronged with commissioners, and accents ranging from Aberdeen to Africa. There's a video stream on the Assembly website, and TV coverage on BBC Scotland.

My husband is a commissioner this year, taking a week of his annual leave allowance to attend. The days can be long. Yesterday's debate on same sex relationships and the ministry understandably went on late in the day.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Grip Fast

As part of the flood prevention works in my home village, the road bridge over the Burn of Rothes was replaced. It's turned out to be a fairly utilitarian stone structure (tho the previous version was even more so). However it has two redeeming features apart from being less likely to be swept away in the next flood. It's built of a reddish stone, which is perhaps a nod to the red sandstone cliffs in the upper reaches of the burn and along the River Spey. Perhaps. I'm just thankful they didn't use the horrible fake stone that's a feature elsewhere in the flood defences.

The other is the crests carved on either side of the bridge parapets. The castle in the village belonged to the Leslie clan. You can see what's left of it here, here and here. The founder of the clan was a Hungarian nobleman , Bartholomew, who came to Scotland in 1067, and became chamberlain to the Queen. One of his duties was to carry the Queen on his own horse, with the Queen riding pillion behind him and clinging on to a belt round his waist. One day they were crossing a swollen burn when the horse stumbled. Fearing she would be thrown off, the Queen cried, understandably, "Gin the buckle bide!" (I hope the buckle's going to hold!). Bartholomew said the only thing he could have said, "Grip fast!", and they reached the other side safely. After this near miss Bartholomew added two further buckles to his belt. Three buckles on a belt became the Arms of the Leslies, with the motto "Grip Fast!". And from heroics to the mundane - the shield with the three buckles formed the crest of my primary school blazer.

I was pleased to see that the new bridge has already been decorated by a passing bird, probably a swallow. They skim up and down the burn in summer, chasing the insects that dance above the water.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Of trees and floods

In Spring the Spey valley is lit up by blossoming gean trees. They shine out among the shy birch and larch foliage and the dark winter green of the conifer woods. It's difficult to take a photo in my home village without a distillery popping up as well. So here I give you the Glenrothes distillery pagoda with geans, and below, the distillery warehouses.

Elsewhere in the village however trees have been sacrificed to the new flood defences. Two severe floods in recent years have led to a flood prevention scheme being put in place. Three burns run down from the hills to converge on the village. When they're in spate they're tremendously powerful, and changing rainfall patterns mean that drought is followed by concentrated heavy rains. Of course homes and businesses need to be protected, and that has to be the main concern, but walking up the course of the burn recently I wondered why so many trees needed to be cut down.

On the left in the photo below was a line of graceful, mature trees. Access was obviously needed to get in to the opposite bank, but did they need to take them all out?

Below, two houses stood where there is now new planting and a paved ramp down to the burn. The householders have been rehoused in very lovely new houses built to a high specification.

The new wall alongside distillery warehouses has led to the removal of a line of poplar trees.

Below, what used to be a small grassy field has now been landscaped within an inch of its life. It is quite startling to see urban landscaping along what used to be a natural river bank.

But here, this is where I suddenly felt a lump in my throat. They have cut down a magnificent lime tree which stood at the burn side of the green hut you can just see in the centre of the shot. It was a stately, grand tree. One of my happiest childhood memories is of standing under it when the blossom was out, listening to the "murmuring of innumerable bees" and breathing in the sweet scent as if I would somehow capture the essence of summer.

I'm doing the only thing I can do, which is to dedicate a tree through the Woodland Trust. If we had a big enough garden I would plant my own lime tree. But longer term, I have a plan for a bit of guerilla planting. I will bide my time.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Taking shape

It's taking shape again - but what is 'it'? Answers in a comment please.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Extreme Edinburgh cycling

Sometimes the extreme bit is where you park your bike, especially if you live in a Ramsay Garden flat.

This is the whole block of Ramsay Garden seen from Princes Street, giving you a better sense of how elevated the bike rack balcony is.

And 'life size' as seen from Princes Street, with the next door neighbours' place, that castle up the hill, to give you a sense of scale.

Sometimes, the extreme bit is how you ride your bike. Thanks to Jane for pointing me to this YouTube clip. See how many Edinburgh locations you can identify while you marvel at Danny MacAskill.


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