Sunday, 29 May 2011

Inspiring youngsters

I’m not very often moved by an article in the papers but this one from Friday really got to me:

Mrs Obama taught me Oxford can be more than a dream

She made me feel so confident I forgot about the cameras

Aneesah Siddiqui
The Times, May 27 2011 12:01AM

Before Wednesday Oxford University was totally beyond my aspirations. I knew about its elite status, but I believed that, because of the expense, I would never get there. After my unbelievable experience I now believe that any money paid to attend this university would be worth it. No price can be put on such an amazing education, surely?

On the coach from our school to Oxford to meet Michelle Obama, the atmosphere was electric. First we took part in a workshop led by three inspirational female academics. The physics lecturer really connected with me because I love science — I’m taking food technology, health and social care at GCSE and I began to think about working with her one day. This day was already like a dream.

Lunch at Wadham College was incredible. I was captivated by the room, the stained glass, the portraits, the people who had been there through history. It seemed wrong to be sitting eating sandwiches, as it felt as if the room had only been used for banquets! This was a good opportunity to talk to the Oxford University mentors looking after us. I was paired with a PPE student who said that he would help with my application when the time comes. He advised me to go for hard subjects at A level, so now I’m going to put my head down and do maths, physics and biology.

When we were walking to the room where we would meet Mrs Obama, I was petrified. My hands were shaking. When she finally came through the door we were beaming. I finally met my role model. She looked angelic in white. When she was delivering her speech, I was transfixed. I couldn’t believe that she cared so much about my school in Islington. I was amazed at how close I was to her and when she came to sit with us, I was just a few seats away.

When we began to ask questions, I was longing for my turn. I was overwhelmed as she gave me her microphone, I was holding Mrs Obama’s microphone: how amazing was that? As I asked my question she made me feel so confident that I forgot there were cameras in the room. I felt as if we were speaking in private — that’s how comforting she was. She made me forget my fears. She said that we were all future leaders and must start now. Then she gave us each a long heartfelt hug and she smelt lovely.

Before I met Mrs Obama I thought that I would have an ordinary job. But now I want to be something that really makes a difference in the world. My name is Aneesah Siddiqui. If I hadn’t met Michelle Obama, you would probably have never heard it. But now — just watch this space!

Aneesah Siddiqui, 15, is a pupil at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, North London

Does it really take someone with Michelle Obama’s image and character to inspire our children?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Vauban at Saint-Martin-de-Ré

We spent two days at St-Martin-de-Ré, on Ile de Ré, an island in the Atlantic just off La Rochelle. I say an island but it is now connected to the mainland via a 2.9 kilometre bridge. The island was of strategic importance and St Martin was fortified in the 1620s by order of Cardinal Richelieu. The original fortifications are said to have inspired Vauban - the architect of the French defensive buildings. 

In 1627, an English invasion force commanded by the Duke of Buckingham(!) attacked the island in order to relieve the Siege of La Rochelle. After three months of fighting against the French under Marshal Toiras, the Duke was forced to withdraw in defeat. Vauban was engaged to strengthen the fortifications and the result is the walls which today surround the town, together with a stronger fortress that is now a prison. The fortress has it’s own small but well defended harbour - presumably to supply the garrisons posted there.

Today St-Martin-de-Ré is a holiday destination although entry is still defended: cars can’t enter the inner area unless they can pass the barrier. We had to park outside and negotiate the code from our hotel but I don’t think this aimed at keeping the English out!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Saumur and the Loire

We’re just back from a few days in France. The first few days were at Saumur in the Loire valley. We’re always drawn to the magic of the Loire - the river glides through the countryside and seems to be unchanged for centuries. The Chateaux are equally magical - can you believe this really exists?

The crafts which constructed these buildings are still being taught today - the building school in Saumur was doing a masonry lesson...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Looking back over Easter and Lent

Phew, over 2 weeks since I blogged - but it’s been a busy time. OK, so I failed to keep to the Love Life Live Lent activities - although I did manage quite a few. And Zone Plus, the week before Holy Week, was, I think, a success. There are lots of pictures on the web site - We had nearly 50 youngsters involved and the grinning faces say it all!

Then there was the reading of the Gospels from the King James bible. Very moving for everyone and fascinating to hear the whole story, rather than just extracts. On of the regular volunteer Church cleaners has reported that when he is mopping the floor or whatever he feels in touch with people who have looked after the building - and worshipped there - for hundreds of years. I think we felt the same - the readings will be echoing round the stonework...

The Easter services were good, too. Quiet until Easter day - and then the Churches were full and joyful. Then a day afloat - but mainly spent clearing bird poo off the deck! The oystercatchers are flourishing and look and sound wonderful - until they land en masse on the deck! They completely ignored a neighbouring owner’s attempt to keep them off with yards and yards of strings with attached orange ribbons.

So I think I have caught up at last - at least until I started to draft an application for a grant for the youth activities. But I think we are ticking enough boxes against the Chiltern District Council’s criteria - time will tell!