Monday, October 27, 2003

Bristol, Bath and Everything in Between

I miss Aussie Beer.

Yeah, typical of me to start an email with a reference to alcohol. But the local beer here is just not right. It's warm and it's flat. But then, as we were taught on the Contiki tour when coming across things like this, "It's not wrong, it's just different!"

Then again, there's no escaping it. Warm Flat Beer is WRONG!

Anyway, let me tell you about Bristol/Bath.

Bristol is a nice city, though there wasn't really too much to see. I saw the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, not sure why it's famous, so if anyone knows then fill me in. Something about being the oldest suspension bridge in Britain I think....There is also the SS Great Britain, which is the first Ocean Liner ever built, and the Industrial Museum, which showed old printing presses and aircraft engines, including the Concorde as it was built there apparently...Bristol was known for building airplanes of all sorts, which is better than being known as a port of slave trade in the 18th century I suppose. There are some beautiful churches, namely St Mary Redcliffe’s, which was nearly blown up during WW2 (many buildings were destroyed in the war which is a shame).

As for the famed Bristol nightlife, well I didn't really experience it. Bristol is not particularly safe at night if you're by yourself, especially during the Rugby Cup season. Lot of drunken youths out on the streets because of it. Instead I sat in front of the telly with a group of other people in the youth hostel. It's interesting that some people have been in the hostel for months. It's not a bad hostel, people are friendly, the conditions are clean, and free unlimited tea and coffee and a big TV, no wonder people are still there.

Anyway, enough about Bristol, I left the hostel after that weekend to go rent out a room with a supply teacher (substitute teacher) called John Barnett. He's a 52 year old who gave up full time teaching because he felt
that supply teaching gets him enough money to live happily on, and more (cause teachers get paid well up here). He's been all over the world, speaks multiple languages, and has a zest for life. It's a bonus living with him because he knows where to go around UK/Europe and how to do it cheaply. And I could probably learn how to speak different languages from him that I could use on my trip (eg Spanish, which he teaches at home tutoring at the moment).

Not sure how long I’ll be there though depending on work etc. I'm being kept quite busy at work though at the moment. At the moment I’m setting up a teaching model using the Extranet system Etechgroup built, that the teachers will be using to deliver their lessons and tasks through. Also I’m creating lessons and material for a pilot group testing this model, the first of many pilots across several schools. So the school may keep me on after my four-week contract is up, I guess we'll know by then..

One thing though, it's great being here. The countryside is beautiful, (I’m located between Bristol and Bath) both towns are easily accessed through the local bus, the trip itself taking you through narrow roads and magnificent
countryside dotted with old houses...ah the serenity!

Anyway, I went to Bath on the weekend, which has beautiful architecture. Went to the famed Roman Baths, and had a taste of the hot spa water, which wasn't very tasty (43 minerals in it apparently, so it tasted quite metallic. Better than some English beers I guess Nah just kidding!) Also saw the Royal Crescent, the Circus (not the one with clowns), and took a photo of the house Jane Austen lived when she was a child at 4 Sydney Place.
Though someone else is living there now, so I felt weird taking a photo of someone else’s house. Oh well.

Anyway I get a week off next week due to school holidays, so I might spend that time travelling or taking it easy. I'm planning on visiting Stonehenge, Avebury, and all those places in the Somerset plain, or I may go towards
Cornwall... not quite sure yet, really depends if I need to go the Gloucestershire to run some training sessions for a reseller (AT Computers) of the Extranet.

Friday, October 10, 2003

James in Bristol

Hey guys,

I'm in a Youth Hostel in Bristol at the moment, spending the weekend sightseeing (and I also saw Bad Boys 2 which was pretty cool, a bit long and a little gory but eh).

When I left you last in my last exciting email episode, I was staying at Becky Zylberberg's house in Leyton, London. So many thanks to her. Met some interesting cool people living with her, and had some interesting brownies which seemed to contain more of something else than chocolate. Spent some time sightseeing and doing touristy things in London, saw Big Ben (cool), Buckingham Palace (okish, didn't go in), The good ol' monopoly streets like Pall Mall, The Strand, Regent Street to name a few (pretending to be the shoe by hopping on one foot was tempting but probably wouldn’t have gone down too well with the unsuspecting public). Saw Trafalgar Square (nice), National Gallery (nice), Leicester Square (nice apart from the Asian girl trying to get me to read the Bible to save my soul), Piccadilly Square (nothing really), Millennium Wheel (it's big but that’s about it), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (cool), Westminster Abbey (nice except on principal I refuse to have to pay to enter churches), St Paul’s (see Westminster Abbey), Westminster Cathedral (ok), and Starbucks (ok).

Anyway that was all done before being picked up near Heathrow by Derek, a good friend of etechgroup who works for Apple and this project that I was going up to Bristol to work for. He was nice enough to drive me to Bristol (well the school I was going to work for, called Sir Bernard Lovell which sits just outside Bristol in a place called Oldland).

Before I go on let me explain my job situation.
Etechgroup is working on something called the Extranet which is an essential part of what is known as the Kingswood Partnership Pathfinder Project, which is a consortium of 8 schools around the Kingswood area, St Bernard Lovell being one of them. In a nutshell it seeks to combine the resources of the 8 schools to allow students and teachers to utilise resources they don't have at their school (eg one teacher may access grade 6 art material at another school known for it's art resources, etc). The other part of this is developing a new educational concept known as an ILP (Independent Learning Plan). This will exist online, allowing students, teachers and parents to define their own learning modules (such as a student wanting to learn about fishing, or how to become a bakery chef). This has some influence on students getting jobs later on. I am one of the people currently involved in conceiving, improving, developing and pioneering this new concept which hopefully will be the model that schools across the UK (and perhaps the world) will adopt as their education module. Blah Blah Blah.

So, having arrived in SBL (St Bernard Lovell) I was working closely with people involved in the project, holding training sessions, providing support, and developing the ILP. However the plan was originally to work for 3 days with SBL, which Etechgroup was paying for, and also paying for my accommodation (which was in a converted Barn loft in Tog Hill Farm, which is the highest point in the area for 50 miles).But the school seemed very impressed with my work, and as a result have hired me to work for them for the next month full time on a good rate Woo Hoo! They are hiring me to develop content for the extranet, hold more training sessions and teach some kids web design using the extranet as a basis (so the kids are pretty much test subjects). I'll be developing the model of which we will use to educate other kids on the same topic at different periods of time throughout the year using the same resources etc).

Also a staff member at the school has offered cheap accommodation at his house that is 15 mins from the school. Only reason I’m in a Youth Hostel this weekend is because I wanted to be in Bristol to do some sightseeing before going straight back to work. (I'm working in a small country town exactly between Bristol and Bath.)

Anyway, that is my news to date. Future plans are to go to Bath, and to see if I can get an international licence and then see if I can hire a car or combi van for the one week when school is out and I might not have work, which I am thinking of using the week off to drive down to Cornwall and all the coastal towns to the south west of England as I’ve heard it's beautiful, (beaches and countryside). That’s the idea anyways.

Saturday, October 4, 2003

Back in London Again

Hey All,

Back from AmsterDAMAGE, now recovering in London for the last few days, after saying farewell to my Contiki friends and getting over what we all call "The Contiki Cough", which has affected almost everyone on the Contiki bus. It’s pretty much a sore throat and lasting cough cold. My main focus has been on just getting healthy again, and a few nights good sleep (without drinking) does wonders.

Anyways, etechgroup, the online software company I worked for back at home, have been nice enough to find me some work in Bristol, so I should be heading there later next week and stay there for 2-3 months. Its work for this government project called the Kingswood Consortium, which involves online education and 12 schools and a revolutionary new teaching learning method called Individual Learning Plans....that’s the gist anyways.

So that means it's Good Bye London and Hello Bristol (which is situated on the Western shore of England). My plans are to set up a base there and take small trips to places around me or maybe a big trip after 3 months is up to go to places like Bath, Stonehenge and other cool places in between...I’ll probably head back to London and from there I may fly to Lisbon, Portugal and spend some time going from there up to Spain, Italy, France and back to London again. That’s the idea anyways

I've just left Emily’s place to stay at another friends place (Becky Zylberberg), not sure how long yet, but I’m trying to avoid renting anything in London because I’m leaving next Wednesday anyway.....

I have 10 rolls of film I need to develop, but is so expensive (£72 is the cheapest I can find which is roughly $140AUD) I think depending on my financial status I’ll just get it done, but I don't know how things will go till I’m actually in Bristol and working. Hopefully accommodation won't be too expensive, because I need to earn enough money to use when I’m not working in Spain etc....I’m thinking some bar work to complement work for Etechgroup or something like that. I'll keep you all posted....

Anyways, in short everything’s going the way I sorta planned it to be, so I’m quite optimistic and happy..