Sunday, 30 September 2012

Spiral Galaxies in Coffee Cups


Ok I am overtired and slightly ill so while my bath cools down so I can get in it let me share with you something I spotted a while ago but was reminded of today while my hungover brain watched my tea brew in the cup.
So prepare for a silly blog post...

It will link this;

With this;

 Yes my friends I am going to link galaxies and the universe with making a hot drink. Or something!

Ok so the first thing we have to do is put some coffee in a cup.

Now what we are going to do is add hot water and give it a stir.

It is already looking slightly galaxy ish... (well I think)

If we add some milk gently to the drink.


We have a more visable spiral pattern. Although if we add some more milk this pattern will go, however we will also get areas of differing darkness depending upon how much milk is present.

Let us compare a slightly better photo with our galaxy.


Wow... Yes I know its not exactly the same but I do like it as an idea. Imagine for a second that we are in fact nothing more than living in a spiral arm of some milk in a hot cup while it cools. Eventually as the drink cools down to be all the same temperature (entropy in action) then the drink would get drunk ending the universe. Kettle gets reboiled and the universe all starts again. Reminds me of this from the end of Men in Black;

I know, told you it was silly, but at the end of the day its is always fun to think of things from a different angle.

Also I now have a drink!

Happy days.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Perspective in Reflective Practice

I had an abysmal last lesson.

It's true there was not much in it that went well.

Items were thrown, very little work seemed to get done, some students felt like a law unto themselves and I felt like an inadequate teacher.

Two years ago it would have made me cry and question what I was doing in teaching.

Last year it would have made me question what I was doing in teaching.

This year it made me take a deep breath. Work out why it failed - lack of energy from me due to being at open evening last night, presence of a student who is not there very often and acts like a catalyst to poor behaviour in others, other 'high level' students, and a task being too open ended and requiring independent work from 'weak' students (so probably not suitably differentiated).

Then after the briefest period of moping I clicked into gear and went to speak to people. I spoke to a member of my department who had the same year group last lesson - her group were hard core for her too. I went to speak to my second in department about moving that group out of a lab for a few lessons in order to give them a more confined area to work in while they focused on some theory. I spoke to the year head about the 'catalyst' student. He pointed out that student had been similar in other subjects - I logged his behaviour on SIMS and put a science report in place (which the key stage coordinator has agreed to mediate on).

I flicked through some of the work that did get done, and thought about the positive behaviour of the students who attempted the tasks I set. I will admit this didn't really lift my spirits too high. 

Two years ago I would have left school as soon as I could, a year ago I would have thrown myself on the floor then left. This year I saw some of my tutor group - who were being rewarded for 100% attendance/good behaviour last year with a 'pizza and movie night' and ended up eating lots of pizza and watching Kung Fu Panda with them in the lecture theatre.

It reminded me that my year 9's and 8's who I had also taught today were pretty awesome for me (as normal). That my tutor group are awesome. That my other classes are also very enjoyable to teach, and normally my year 10 group who I had just had are - although hard work - fairly enjoyable to teach.

All of that reminded me that I am not an inadequate teacher, I just had a bad lesson, something that when I started teaching never seemed to be an option when evaluating my performance.

So is there a moral to this? Is there anything to learn? Well yes and yes. One bad lesson doesn't a bad teacher make (also true the other way with 'outstandings' and some AST's I have known) and that with experience this is more believable than when you are an NQT. It also shows that while it is good to be a reflective practitioner often the reflective side is on the things that didn't work. Or the things you could have done instead. When actually it should have equal weighting with the things you do well, the moments of good learning you have seen and the times when it has felt good to be doing your job. So take a deep breath and put some perspective on a bad lesson, there is probably a reason for it that doesn't boil down to 'I'm a s**t teacher!'

After all there are enough politicians, parents and ignorant people out there trying to drag us down. Make sure that you are not one of them as well!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sundays; The Diminished Weekend and Working Longer

Amazing, whether misquoted or taken out of context this is still a fantastically farcical story to kick the blog off with.

While I understand the basic sentiment - that teachers who are doing the bare minimum and getting by should not be promoted - the way in which he went about his statement is just shocking. After all this is not the first time Sir Michael has said something controversial.

This is also in the first term since OFSTEDs new stricter guidelines have come into force meaning that there is no longer a satisfactory finding for inspections. Now I agree that there are many teachers still in the job who are not suitable or inadiquate I can't see how what seems to be amounting to 'bully boy' tactics is going to motivate a work force already out on their feet and annoyed over pay freezes and pension meddlings.

But ignoring whether we are good teachers, outstanding or inadiquate. The job takes time. No teacher I know starts the moment the bell rings and leaves when the learners day ends.

At my school the 'school day' runs from 8.30 a.m. - 3.00 p.m. I do not work as much as some of my colleagues but my working day begins at 7.45 a.m. and I leave school at 5 p.m. (on average).

But that is not the end of my working day.

There is enough time to come home have some food exchange stories with the other half and then at least 2 hours more work with an agreed cut off time of 9 p.m. (although 9.30 at a push!).

I get about 40 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for break during the day - often partially worked through- and have spent the last two Sundays working almost all day.

And I am behind, and my to do list is growing.

The reason we need the holidays we get is because during the terms we work flat out. Often in stressful and demanding circumstances.

And you know what? Almost all of us are fine with that. It is the job!

Just don't try to pick on us if we attempt to have a life outside of the job.

Don't mock us for the holidays we earn.

Don't accuse us of being glorified babysitters.

Just allow teachers to teach so that students can learn and the cycle can keep going.

Constant moving the goalposts for political points scoring is only going to screw over the next generation of voters.

After all political trends are like any fashion they all go in cycles!

As a P.S. I would like teachers to record their working hours this week and complete this if you could. I did it when the story first came out and it is a bit of an eye opener and explains why stories like the one right at the top of the blog grind my gears so much.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Pace and expectations

I am having a pretty great day - very good lesson observation with some great feedback, fixed the door on my greenhouse - finally, collected some pots and cacti via freecycle, found a tenner in my wallet and I have had smoked fish for dinner.

So feeling very smug and content.

Now a few things  came up during the course of the day and I think this post is going to reflect that (no wine tonight though).

I will split the blog into two parts - the first part will concern assessment of work and the second part will concern PVC (which I shall explain later).

Now before I go much further I will just clear one thing up. I am not writing another teaching based blog post because I think I am a great teacher or have the answers or anything overly big headed like that. It is simply that they seem to get more hits than my more science based blog posts and these were things I have had on my mind today.

Yup I am that simple!

Right first up is assessment.

A conversation between two members of the department this morning went like this;

'I want to run a CDP on assessment'
'I am not sure we need it as assessment is pretty obvious'
'Oh thought it might help our NQTs'
'Chris what do you think?'

I am paraphrasing but that is the gist of it. Right here is the basics of what I remember being told when I was an NQT;

Level 4 - List
Level 5 - Describe
Level 6 - Explain
Level 7 - Link
Level 8 - Synthesise

The rest of levelling was based on APP tasks which had levelled outcomes (my current school uses end of unit tests predominantly).

And I found it hard. Really hard. And I got scared. Really scared. The reason? So much pressure is on getting levels right what if, in my inexperience, I graded students wrong, what if their parents complained.

Now I am not saying I have it cracked. I am not saying my marking is amazing - it really is not - but I do find it easier now. I think that is partially down to experience but it is also down to confidence in my ability (something which I felt took a kicking on my NQT). Would I have benefited from formal training/CPD? Absolutely! So what advice do I have? Well the level guides I listed above are a pretty good starting point. If a student is clearly linking different ideas in science together in order to make a coherent argument/point to fully explain an answer the chances are they are a higher level than someone who just offers and description and nothing deeper.

However there are also lots of other factors age/topic/question that can affect the level you give a student. So here are three things that I have felt really helped my marking since the dark days of agony;

  1. Talk to other teachers and show them work. Most people will be more than happy to agree/disagree with what you might think is worthy of a level. The more you IV your marking then the more comfortable you will be with the marks you are awarding.
  2. Use levelled success criteria/WILFs that allow you to link the activity done to the level expected. Again ask but if you start with the level ideas above e.g. 'Level 5 - Accurately describe the structure of the heart' and have an activity where students draw and label a heart diagram. Then you can link the two together to give you an idea where the student might be - this also helps when you do peer and self assessment of work!
  3. Mark regularly. I do not mean go mental with marking but if you pick a lesson and fully mark it and do this regularly (once a fortnight for example) you will gain a good idea of where that student is working. Especially if you regularly just 'once over' other class work - something I am still poor at doing if I am honest. This will also help feed into future planning so that you can focus on specific things different groups of students need in order to progress - e.g. how to link ideas together. In other words when your marking improves it can also help improve the standard of teaching and learning (or something like that!).

You may disagree or you may agree but they are things I have found helped my marking no end.

Which moves me on to PVC.

Or Pace, Variety, Challenge.

This was one of the best pieces of advice I was given on my NQT year - along with find something they can do as a starter to get them involved and try to do one really outstanding lesson a week with each group to keep them on side - and one that I work on a lot. Following on from my obs today these were three areas I got praised on so I thought it worth mentioning it here.

Pace does not have to mean leaving students behind or rushing about. What it means is making sure you are setting timings for activities, having confidence in yourself to move forward after a suitable amount of time and having enough work to remove 'slack time' from lessons. It is also a great way of dealing with low level disruption because if there are plenty of tasks students won't have time for talking or disrupting each other. Time lines and countdown timers help with this, it can also give your lessons a good structure so that you fit your plenaries etc in. It is also something OFSTED are very focused on apparently!

Variety for me means mixing research, writing, drawing, talking, practicals and allowing for the production of work in different forms. I get bored if I am doing the same task again and again so I don't expect my students to be able to deal with monotony.

Challenge can help show high expectations. The work needs to stretch the students without being impossible. At first this can be difficult to achieve but it links in to what I said above about marking and assessment. Very quickly (and it gets quicker each time you do it) you get an idea what students can do and what they struggle with. By having a variety of activities, by offering different route through and by having levelled tasks you can ensure students will be able to find an appropriate challenge in each task. This also allows you to push students who may be surprised with what they can achieve.

Again this a personal thing but I find when planning or teaching remembering PVC really helps my teaching.

As I said before this post has come from things that have been mentioned today and have been on my mind. It is not a be all end all but just some things that I have found helped my teaching develop and I hope someone can find something useful in what I have written. If you agree/disagree or have your own advice on these topics I would love to hear from you in the comments box.

Seriously though don't disagree with me!

Now where is my red pen?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Difference Timetables Can Make

Right, this week has been busy. Seriously I feel like I haven't stopped so, well, yeah welcome to the new school year!

Honestly with full teaching days and duty and frees being taken up with actually working my day seems to be completely full. Poor little me!


I actually have no grounds to complain at all. Well maybe about the greenhouse door that still has not been put on properly - I can see one of my frees on Monday being taken up by fixing that myself - but other than that I do not have any cause to complain.

So as I pour myself another glass of red and break one of my pieces of advice last week I would like to explain why after a week of getting to know my classes I am sat on a Thursday evening nicely relaxed and not panicking about the year ahead anymore. 

It must be my timetable.

Yep my timetable, that simple piece of paper. Or to put that statement in a bit more context the classes I have on my timetable do not seem to be an issue at all. However it is more than that. It is the realisation that after 2 pretty turbulent years I have in most cases seen worse. Yes I know but it's true! Lets run down a list of classes that I have.

  1. Year 7 class that I see once a week.
  2. Year 8 class see them 3 times a week are a lower ability group but very small - under 20 - may need some support but seem generally very keen to work.
  3. Year 9 class see them 4 times a week a bit noisy but do not seem to have the 'attitude' some prior year 9's have had so far seem hard working bunch.
  4. Year 10 BTEC see them 3 times a week might be the only class to cause me issues but then so far at least 3/4 seem hard working and diligent just a few well know 'characters' to deal with.
  5. Year 10 triple science option group that I see once a week very able and very lovely to teach.
  6. Year 10 triple 'fill in' group which I am picking up odd bits with, see them twice a week some overlap with the group above equally as awesome to teach - very much enjoyed me using them as birds in a bioaccumulation practical today.
  7.  AS biology group that I share with another teacher, see them twice a week so far seem very able and willing to work.
To the list you can add my form who now they are used to me being their form tutor seem to have 'grown up' and are a pleasure to have.

At my old school I had at least 3-4 classes that I would worry about teaching. Last year at my current school there were classes or periods with classes that I would dread someone walking in for a spot observation on. So what is the difference - and yes I am well aware that I am only in the second week of term but something feels different already (maybe the wine?). 

It has to be my timetable surely? 

After all I have higher ability sets who are bound to be better behaved and more focused on their work. Well that has to be a contributing factor surely but counter to that is the fact that I still have students who could easily 'step out of line' and cause an issue. I still have wide ability ranges within my classes. I still have to manage expectations with realism and ensure sufficient progress of all my students. This all with the specter of a definite OFSTED visit at some point this academic year - which means internal observations have stepped up a gear to ensure teaching and learning is at the highest level it could be. 

This is also within a learning/teaching framework that is starting to be increasingly virtual - something I have blogged about before - which goes against my love of dusty textbooks and practical work (see last blog for love of Faraday and experimental scientists).

And also being a year 10 tutor my day has shifted to run on a slightly different timetable to how it was last year - myself and my form are still getting used to that - which seems to have had a big impact on how tired I am at the end of a day. So is it just the timetable? Really?

Of course it isn't. 

It's experience. Nothing more and nothing less. Most of what I am teaching now I have taught before several times in different forms. I know what works. I know what doesn't. I know what students are likely to find difficult and how to counter that. I know different ways to put things so that they become more readily understandable - bioaccumilation like a bowl of chips for example - which naturally makes the job easier. That doesn't mean that I don't make mistakes still or confuse students (I think I confused my year 9's today - bad times!). 

But it is easier. The job gets easier.


And here is the interesting part. Because I think it is getting easier - regardless of whether it is or not - I am more able to deal with things. Seriously if you read some previous blog posts (or just know me) you will know I started this as a way of seeing the good in each day as I focused on the bad. The difference now is astounding. Yes moving schools and scenery has helped with that but being more experienced in the job has certainly been the biggest driver in my mentality shift. 

Now that is not to say things are perfect and I can put the carpet slippers on and the feet up. Just because tonight I had two glasses of wine and chilled out does not mean I don't have work to do - I have a big stack of marking in the corner of the room trying to star me out - but it means I don't feel destroyed by the job to the extent I have done in the past. 

So what can teachers in the position I was in 2 years ago take from this?

  1. There is something inherently good in what you are doing or you would not have passed your PGCE never forget that.
  2. The longer you are in the job the more savvy you become with it and that improves the work-life balance no end.
  3. As bad as it can seem at times someone else has been there - talk to people about it.
  4. Even people who have hated the job can end up loving it again (honestly).

I won't say much more - the wine is quite potent -  but I will finish with a quote that I can't get out of my head since I heard it in Brian Cox's TED talk on why we need explorers;

 "When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did".  - Alexander Fleming.

Maybe all of the above is rubbish and the main difference this term is that I have that quote ingrained in my skull and it is making me appreciate the opportunities to make a difference that each day might bring. 

Or maybe I have now had too much wine to be allowed to type...?

Whatever it is I am glad for it. Although half term is only 6 weeks away...

Monday, 10 September 2012

Nikola Tesla, Michael Faraday and being a forgotten scientist

I was reading this article on the saving of Nikola Tesla's laboratory by a 'fan group'. The article refers to Tesla as being a 'forgotten genius' which I suppose to most of the population he may be. It brought to mind a conversation at the weekend regarding music and how some bands may be phenomenal but fail to make it big owing to not being perceived to be popular at the time.

Now I am not saying that a situation as subjective as music can be totally compared with science but it is odd how someone who did so much to do with the development of AC electricity - which Tesla worked on - is largely forgotten by the masses. Take someone like Michael Faraday a man who my old physics teacher introduced me to as being 'the greatest practical scientist ever'. Faraday was prolific with the things he worked on but apart from being on the £20 note most people would probably know nothing about him. However had he popularised his burner in the way Robert von Bunsen did then every schoolchild in England would know of him straight away - and believe that you have to use his equipment for a science practical to truly be an experiment! I must admit even though I am a biologist I do consider Faraday to be my ultimate hero in science so I might be biased towards him (yes above Darwin I know!).

So is it that some scientists have things named after them and so get remembered? Is it that if people slip out of social conscious then they no longer seem to get mentioned? Take Dian Fossey for example, she showed that Gorilla's were not the vicious beasts which they had been believed to be but gentle giants. She became an international celebrity due to her appearance on the cover of National Geographic and had a film made about her life. All in she was incredibly important for our understanding of one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom and at the forefront of the conservation of Gorilla movements. However I would be very surprised if any of my students could tell me her name or why she might be famous. Which is very frustrating when some study comes out claiming girls don't have science heroes to look up to! Especially as people like Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Mary Anning are such excellent examples and were so so so important in their fields!

Maybe it is my inner geek that means that I remember people and what they have done for science, perhaps I am expecting too much from my students or the 'media' to make a bigger deal of them. I am also pretty sure that the majority of scientists do not do their craft to be remembered years down the line but because the question drives them. Which means that other 'role models' get pushed on young people - but that is a question and a blog for another time. Curiously though I wonder if Prof. Brian Cox wasn't so charismatic/cool/'rock and roll' would he be so in vogue at the BBC? (just a 'Wonder' as personally I really like Prof. Cox as a TV scientist).

I suppose that is the point, maybe, that people like Tesla and Faraday were too busy working on their research to worry about self promoting themselves in a way that someone like Thomas Edison did. Edison who famously started with an idea he thought he could market and then worked backwards to create something that would work and be sole via trial and error. This is not to say that that was a bad way to work but maybe because Edison was looking for things people would use all the time that might be one of the reasons he is well known and Tesla is not?

After all Faraday spent 10 years perfecting electromagnetic induction and its not like that has any marketable value that would make him a household name.


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Using filter feeders to clean water

Half way through last year I decided that science club at my old school was to undertake a serious science investigation. This was easy as science club consisted of myself and two students.

After a very short deliberation - someone mentioned looking at a way of purifying water - we decided to investigate the usefulness of using bivalves as biofilters.

Now there is plenty of research out there about the use of bivalves - freshwater mussels in most cases - so I will not add to that. What I will do is talk about what we found and some advice for anyone who fancies having a go at this experiment themselves.

Ok in all good experiment methods let us start with the equipment set up;

  1. A net of freshwater mussles (alive) from the meat counter at your local supermarket.
  2. Two large (we used 30 litre) fish tanks for experimentation (1 for control, 1 for dirty water).
  3. A light sensor - we used a plug and play data logger.
  4. A light to shine through samples.
  5. Cuvettes for taking readings.
  6. Pippettes for water sampling.
  7. 'Dirty water' - ours had sand, dirt, silt and stagnant water in it.
For the first experiment we placed half the net of mussels into a tank filled with dirty water (around 20 mussles) and had a tank which was our control. The first days results were the following;

The water had seemed cleaner however the transmission of light through the sample was not higher - as you might expect - but lower. This would indicate that the bivalves had not cleaned the water at all. However as disappointing as this was it was not the worst thing that had occurred...

All of the mussels had died over the weekend. The smell was atrocious - something my classes were not slow at pointing out. When I say atrocious I mean it it was a rancid smell - which was fun trying to get over sensitive Y9 girls to ignore it and concentrate on their work. 

However we set up a second experiment this time though we reduced the number of bivalves used (6) - to hopefully stop them dying. 

The results from this second experiment were much more promising;

As you can see from the graph the level of transmitted light through the water increased during the sampling time. This means the water - in our very crude experiment - was getting cleaner and more like the control/tap water. Unfortunately the bivalves again died - we believe (someone said) this was due to the build up of Nitrogen in the tank. 

Now the point of this article...

  1. Having an experiment set up in your lab is a really good way of drawing students into science - questions get asked, makes you seem like you actually like doing science, it is something out of the norm and a bit different.
  2. This experiment does need repeating - I would be interested to see if anyone else could improve on it or find some better (more robust) data.
  3. Science is fun and this is a really good experiment to show this - it uses a live animal and relates to a real world issues (the presence of clean drinking water). There are probably loads of fairly simple experiments that would easily link to the real world and not require a large amount of resources or time to do.
  4. Often there is plenty of equipment in a science department prep room which never gets used. Investigations like this are a great way of utilising this forgotten equipment. In my experience technicians are often more than happy to advise and instruct you on the use of the dusty stuff at the back! (providing you ask really nicely)
  5. Finally if you are keen on doing this experiment or any experiment using bivalves or fish please please please make sure you start with a small amount of organisms because the smell when they die is just horrible!
Ooooh finally finally, I know there might seem to have been lots wrong with the method but this was a simple experiment put together in order for science club to try something different. We had planned to move on to a move expansive experiment but then I moved schools and it all got scrapped! 

So in other words I do know how to do a proper science experiment, honest! 

Have fun with it if you try it or use the comments to tell me of any short science experiments you may try/use at school or home. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Don't Panic!

Well I had to start with a classic line didn't I?

Right, first an admission so pull up a chair and form a circle.

My name is Chris and I suffer with back to school blues.

I know, shocking isn't it! Especially for teacher but it is true I dread the start to a new term - any term - and it can make me feel very down. Luckily this does pass but it made me think back to my NQT year - not many happy memories there - and wonder what advice that was not to do with the teaching and learning side of the job might have helped me?

Now this is not a definitive list in fact I expect some people will disagree strongly with a few things I put down here however it is a list of 5 things that regardless of teaching ability, subject or school might help. Who knows non-teachers might find something there that helps. You may find nothing of use at all and that is fine. It is literally just a few things that I find help get me through that rough time before everything is up and running again.

  1. Alcohol is not the answer! I try not to drink during the week purely because I find when I have a beer I get very little work done. I may have a whiskey before bed - especially in the Winter - but that would be all. I know some people will massively disagree with me and might be able to plan or mark with a few glasses of wine but personally speaking I can't. So for the sake of staying clear headed and focused I stay away from booze when there is work to do.
  2. Everyone needs sleep. Your body is pretty good at knowing when it needs to rest. Don't try and survive on caffeine and plow on regardless. There is nothing worse than trying to do your job while you are tired. Make sure you rest when you need to, after all you still have to function again tomorrow and I find being tired significantly affects my ability to deal with things. 
  3. Its good to talk. Talk to people about how you are feeling, but be prepared to listen to what they have to say. Seek out help and don't be afraid to admit you are struggling with something. Most people will be more than willing to help you especially if you are trying to improve your practice. Be warned though people will very quickly work out if you are just trying to get them to do bits of your job for you! It is also good to talk to people about stuff not related to your job - when suitable - as it helps build that sense of unity which I find really helps make you settle into a place. I am not saying you need to be best mates with you colleagues but being able to approach them and talk to them when you are having a rough day definitely helps. From a teaching point of view it also helps to be able to see how students are in different subjects or techniques that you can 'magpie' and use in your own teaching. What I find important is to remember if you don't ask they can't help you and they probably don't know you need help unless you tell them!
  4. Music helps. I find music helps in many ways but it is - for me - much less distracting than having the TV or a film on while I try to work. I find that in the car on the way to work a good sing along helps set me up for the day and equally on the way home I find it helps de-stress me no end. So yes music really helps set my mood. 
  5. It is only a job. The hardest one to remember and the one I certainly need reminding of the most. As hard as it is, as stressful as it can be at the end of the day it is a job. Regardless of how much it seems like it is the be all, end all. Most of the times I am really fed up or stressed is because I have work to do that I know I should have done. When the work is done and I am clearly planned I find the stress levels much lower and the job much more manageable (strange how that works eh?). Remember though that you can't do everything - something on my NQT I could have done with being reminded of. Just make sure you have done your best and that you have communicated with people anything you are having difficulty with so you are covered. 

There you go, highly controversial and decadently subjective. 

I hope someone out there can find something in there that makes sense to them!

That post (believe it or not) was rewritten 3 times and during the pondering and rewrites I probably could have made a significant dent in my to do list...

Oh well always tomorrow I guess!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Big cats in Britain (or not)

It seems you can't go longer than 5 days without another sighting of a British big cat somewhere. In fact the sightings are so prevalent (if blurry) that I taught about the possibilities of big cats in Britain as a tenuously linked science in the media lesson. I then went on to do at least 2 other lessons about cryptozoology but that is neither here no there in this article. 

I must say I quite like cryptozoology especially the sightings that are so fake they make you physically laugh out loud! Sorry they make you LOL! In fact the fabled Beast of Bodmin Moor is a classic example of as cryptozoological big cat (there is more on the Natural History Museum website). 

This summer there was a report about the Essex Lion which in my opinion looks like a fat tabby with a mane. In fact someone tried to claim as much by saying it was there large cat which likes to hunt. These stories tend to have credence lead to them by the fact up until 1976 private owners of big cats were allowed to walk them in public. The question of how many have escaped and not been reported and so could be hiding somewhere is too good to not ask. Added to that the fact we still have large open areas for them to potentially live in allows peoples minds to run wild with the possibilities! 

I do believe that there is also the allure of the unknown and the potential for something 'exciting' on peoples doorsteps - see the cryptozoology article. Plus as an island nation the 'Little Britain' mentality tends to sink in and we almost want a large higher order predator living locally. Remember it is possible for large numbers of larger animals to live without people really realising it; think Roe Deer numbers and Britains Wild Boar population.

If you intersperse in this the odd sensationalist story such as the mangled deer carcass in Gloucestershire early this year. In case you didn't catch that story there was a Roe deer found torn up to a degree that it was believed that the marks on the deer could only have been caused by a large cat. Cue lots of speculation as to what had killed the deer. Fortunately they did DNA test on the corpse and found that the only DNA present other than deer was fox. This may seem weird but like the large house cat foxes have been shown to get very large when there is an abundance of food. It makes you wonder about photographs like this one that show a large black cat. Could this be a big cat, a large domestic cat, or worse a fake?

In fact I doubt there are big cats in Britain at all, especially over 800 (I know that is a misreported figure it is based on the amount of people reporting 'big cats', I just find it funny!). I think if there really was a population of big cats regardless of the species then there would have been better evidence supporting this than just some blurry photos from afar. However as long as it is still a seductive thought I am sure people will continue to report our 'big cats' to newspapers - who naturally will run the stories!

In fact we do have a 'proper' big cat though. I know stop the press! Well I say big cat the big should be in '' really. The Scottish Wildcat is probably the closest we have to a big cat in Britain. It is a shame that they are becoming increasingly rare - same old issues of competition, habitat destruction and breeding with domestic cats (creating hybrids) - hopefully though they will be conserved and not go extinct. 

Although as with the boars, it is possible for large animals to be 'accidentally' introduced back in the wild and survive very well. Unfortunately for the wildcat - maybe - there are still people working to reintroduce Wolves to Scotland. Whether this will go ahead, and if it does whether they will be in competition with the wildcat I don't know. Until then though we should celebrate our wildcat, or as I like to think of it as the Highland Tiger!  

I do love that thought - Highland Tiger - much better than a fat cat with a mane!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Transfer Window Musings

Right I have looked at the transfer window's comings and goings and have decided to pitch into this.

This is George's fault as he told me I need to blog on football! Ok so I am going to write this as someone who isn't going to look up facts and figures on each footballer but just comment on the overall business.

So this is opinion and basically made up.

Works for the tabloids....

Arsenal - still look lightweight up top even after their dealings, how they are hoping for Giroud and Podolski to find their feet quickly. However they do seem more defensive savvy (Steve Bould may be their best signing/appointment) so having trimmed their squad down they might be ok. That said a lot of their junk went out on loans with a view to permanent deals so they may still be left with players Arsene doesn't want/need. They may be ok providing the aforementioned find some form and they don't have too many injuries this season.

Aston Villa - I think they will struggle again this season. Although I can't see them being as bad as last season - no one could be - but signing Championship players 'to give them a chance' just seems a bad policy. Especially with the release of some more seasoned players as well. Lambert is clearly a very good manager and has a long term game plan, I just hope for Villa's sake it works this season or they may be in trouble.

Chelsea - their early business was very good - Hazard already looks incredible - however I still don't see how Victor Moses will fit in (maybe to start taking over from Lampard?). The signings of Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta will be very interesting to. Their movement on the last day seems to have been to loan out squad players to keep them ticking over/get first team experience. They may be better for having a more settled squad with a few key pieces filling in. That said can they keep up their impressive start or will DiMatteo struggle to build on this like he struggled as West Brom. Time will tell but I feel they will be contenders this season.

Everton - I think David Moyles is finally getting the hang of the transfer market, he picks up relative bargins who can fit into the system he has and so don't disrupt his first team. He has also managed to get Everton playing from the beginning of the season. Getting a bit of money for Jack Rodwell was very shrewd as was using that to bring in several players to increase the strength of a small squad. Providing form and injuries stay the same/away Everton should be pushing top four this season.

Fulham - A curious final day for Fulham, the way they have started the season they seemed to be settled and playing some very good football under Martin Jol (a criminally underrated manager IMO). The purchase of Berbatov is a good piece of business as will be Richardson. Dempsey had to go although £6m seems a little bit on the cheap side to me. However I think Dembele might be a player they will miss more as he started the season in fine form and has been improving since he was bought by them. Will Jol keep the squad settled with 4 new faces on the deadline day coming in? I think so and I think they will be comfortable mid-table. I would like to see them punching for Europa cup places but I worry that too many of their players may have off-days and so consistency will be an issue.

Liverpool - Oh dear! They got rid of Charlie Adam (very poor never should have been bought) and Andy Carroll (doesn't fit with Rogers plans it seems) but failed to bring anyone else in really. Liverpool's squad is pretty strong and Rogers' ethos is very good. However they still struggle with the profligacy of last year. Unless that is sorted - and sharpish - they will struggle again this season. I don't think they are top 4 contenders. Despite how well they played against Man City last week (remember it is the games against lower teams they threw points away in last season). Adding the pressure is Everton's blistering start to the season. One of my best mates is a Liverpool fan and he is worried, makes me worry for them.

Man City - Richard Wright?! Scott Sinclair?! Nastasic and Garcia may prove to be shrewd pieces of business but do Wright and Sinclair truly belong there? Are they good enough for the richest team on the planet. The clear out of squad players had to happen which will make them slightly more manageable. However the biggest worry for Man City fans should be Mancini's recent 'tactics'. It felt last week at Liverpool like he was trying to make a point to the chairman that he needed centreback cover. I think providing Mancini picks his best 11 in the best formation and stops trying to either make a point/be stubborn/be smart then they will be in the top two again. However if he keeps trying to do the above he may find results start to dry up. Also for Joe Harts sake he needs to pick a stable backline that is strong to allow Hart to continue to develop and not be so exposed. The more exposed he looks the worse he looks, especially under the high ball, and that is a worry from an England perspective.

Man United - Kagawa looks amazing and the signing of RVP is very clever and between them I can see them getting plenty of goals. I still think United could have done with some midfield and defensive cover but then they have a huge injury list still with some of those players starting to filter back in (Jones, Ferdinand, Smalling and Young are still all out). Glad Berbatov has gone off to get first team football. Generally United look strong my big concern is with the form on Rooney. I personally (controversy ahead) think they should have sold him a while ago. On his day Rooney is destructive however too often he is not on his day and the ball bounces off him, he is ill disciplined tactically and well discipline wise and never looks like scoring. At the moment he looks off the pace and rusty - and will be worse when he comes back from his injury lay off. I don't think a team like United need someone who blows so hot and cold. I also think England shouldn't have taken him in the summer and felt we looked a better 'team' without him. Though looking at my trophy cabinet and comparing it to what Sir Alex has won in his time shows that he probably knows more about professional football than I do.

Newcastle - a tidy transfer window, Pardew (as much as I don't like him) has shown to be astute in transfer dealings although his scouts should get lots of acclaim (which they have so I won't say anymore). The important think for Newcastle was to keep their key players, which they did so job was a good one. I think they will push the top quarter of the table and may sneak a Europa place this season.

Norwich - again a worry, some good signings and held on to some key players however are they good enough to hang in the premiership. Last season they took people by surprise will they do the same this season? That said I rate Chris Hughton very highly and I think they will be ok again this season - perhaps not as good as last season though - mainly though because there are worse teams below them.

QPR - speaking of worse teams. Oh boy. The ins at QPR are mental. 12 players bought in this summer. 12! While Mark Hughes has shipped out a lot of players to trim his squad down that's still a whole new team bought in. The have got rid of twitter's Joey Barton (and get extra points for getting him out of the country) though it is only on loan at the moment. I struggle to see QPR gelling to become anything remotely like team for a while. I hope for Sparky's sake they do and they survive well. I just don't see it though. I see them being a shambles for a while to come and then it may be too late. In part my worry is based on them seeming to panic buy. Time will tell and some purchases - Park, Granero, Cesar, Mbia - seem very good but will it work out? The next few weeks might give us an idea but I think not.

Reading - a tidy transfer window adding to a squad that is greater than the sum of its parts. Last season Reading got promotion on the back of an amazing run. Will they replicate that this season? I don't see it I think they will struggle and prove to be too lightweight. However I think there may prove to be worse teams in the Prem than Reading and they may survive by default of not being the worst team. If they click and keep their heads up they will issue out a few shock results. I just hope they get enough momentum to survive on their own merits.

Southampton - again very tidy kept hold of their best players while strengthening within their means. As with Reading I hope they have enough in tank to stay up. Southampton played without fear against Man City in the first game of the season but need to get their tactics and personnel right from the start of matches otherwise they may find themselves out of matches by half time. Ramirez is a surprise signing and hopefully it will pay off for them. I think like Reading they will stay up but only because others are going down.

Stoke - Stoke are the Prem's stuck record. The mantra of if it aint broke don't fix it seems to ring out at the Britannia. As does the retort of if you ask Stoke fans they would take being mid-table and a Premiership fixture. To that mind the purchase of Charlie Adam makes some sense. Edu is a good signing though I am not convinced about Nzonzi. I think Stoke will bully their way to mid-table safety again this season.

Sunderland - Interesting buys Fletcher, Johnson and Rose will prove to be useful additions and getting Saha and Cuellar on frees is a win-win as far as I can see. The trimming of the squad also needed to be done following Steve Bruce's homage to Mark Hughes. I think Sunderland's biggest boon for this season is having a full preseason under Martin O'Neil. I think a top half finish has to be expected maybe with a home victory over Newcastle.

Swansea - Swansea's transfer dealings was a success when Michael Laudrup signed on as their manger. I have to admit I was not keen to have Swansea in the Prem purely based on them being a Welsh team. However I have to say they are a well run club with a good footballing philosophy and I should never have had those thoughts. Laudrup is a shrewd operator and a very good manager and their signings in the window showcase their insistence on not over paying and getting players who will play their way. They will miss Scott Sinclair I feel although Hernandez and Sung-Yeung should fill that gap. Oh and we can't forget Michu who may just be the signing of the season! (especially for my dream team) I think Swansea will be more than comfortable in the Prem and will bloody a fair few noses - not just those of the teams around them. All in all a very good Summer for the club.

Tottenham - AVB has shed lots of squad/old/broken/unwated/want away players. While some loses - Modric and VDV - will be felt more than others -Saha, Pineaar, Button - I feel AVB has bought well and Levy has ensured the bank has not been broke. Dembele looks an amazing player, Lloris is within the 3 best keepers in the world (not giving into hyperbole and including Hart in the list), Dempsey is a proven Prem goal scorer and Adebayor was a must to make permanent (£5m is a steal). All in a very tidy summer for Spurs and I think they will be pushing the top 6 again, however I feel the Champs League places might be a stretch to far at this stage. I just hope AVB gets enough time to really put his stamp on the club.

West Brom - signing Foster was a must getting Lukaku was a boon, Popov may prove to be a shrewd signing. Some free signings and lots of loans mean we have actually made money this summer. Again the key this summer was keeping our important players which was accomplished and also finding a new manager. In Steve Clarke we have a very well respected coach who seems ready to make the step up. I think we will be comfortable again this season I just hope we can sort Olsson's contract out soon. Other than that I am not saying anymore about the Baggies so I don't curse us. Oh and it's nice to have Zoltan Gera back for us. Welcome back we've missed you (I know he signed last season but he was out injured).

West Ham - see QPR accept where I like Sparky - purely from his playing days - I have no sentimentality for 'Big' Sam. I also don't like the way he blames his players publicly - just lacks class IMO. Another team that has bought in shed loads of players I hope Benayoun gets lots of playing time (criminally underrated I feel) and having balls pinged into him means Carroll will start to score regularly again. I think that 'the Allardyce' method will get them to survive a la Stoke - but with less elan - as much as I don't like it. However I think the survival will only be accomplished at the last minute as they look a little weak/slow/old at the back so will struggle to keep clean sheets at this level. What fills me with dread is the self congratulation 'big' Sam will give himself when they stay up by a goal on the last day.

Wigan - some interesting signings, however I think Wigan are too lightweight. I think this is the season where lack of serious investment, lack of interest from the locals and lack of being bothered for 3/4 of a season by the team will catch up with them. Sorry Wigan but I can't even be bothered to look up a few players as I don't think its worth my time. Goodbye Wigan we won't miss you.

So there it is, my long review of the transfers/teams chances. I still feel the transfer window should close before the season starts although I understand why it doesn't.

Anyway enjoy don't slate me too much these are just my opinions.