Christmas in Surrey and London

Admittedly the Christmas holidays are great because you don’t have to get up and walk to school each morning, you can just take it easy and lazy the two weeks away. Two weeks is a long time though for not doing that much; so why not go and explore some amazing things on your doorstep…

The Christmas Lights at various locations around central London won’t cost you anything to look at and will certainly get you in the Christmas mood.

If you have a bit of money to spend you can also head to a Christmas market. If you are getting the train to Waterloo (national rail) then a 5 minute walk towards the Thames river will lead you to the Southbank Christmas market and if you were to head east along the river (staying on the side of the Oxo Tower) you’ll eventually get to the little market in front of Tate Modern too.

At the main galleries and museums there are some special (usually involving a cost) exhibitions which might whet your interest:

  1. Tate Modern – Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture (a big thumbs up from my seven year old daughter)
  2. Tate Modern – The World Goes Pop (pop art but not the obvious names you’ll have heard of, making it very interesting, especially on a political note capitalism vs communism)
  3. Tate Britain – Artist and Empire (it’s on my list of places to go this holiday; a mix of history and art is usually a good combination)
  4. Tate Britain – Frank Auerbach (you’ve really got to be into art to make sense of this exhibition)
  5. British Museum – Celts: Art and Identity (this might be a good idea if all you can remember from primary school History is the Romans)
  6. British Museum – Egypt: Faith after the Pharaohs
  7. Science Museum – Cosmonauts – Birth of the Space Age
  8. Natural History Museum – Wildlife Photographer of the Year


Willing to risk an ice-skating injury? So much fun if the weather turns properly wintry, you might go ice skating outdoors in some amazing venues such as in the moat at the Tower of London or in the courtyard of Somerset House. Last year my daughter went skating at the latter and it was beautiful the atmosphere.

ice skating

If you don’t want to head into London then there’s the French Market in Woking this weekend (18th – 22nd December) with traders from the North of France offering you the opportunity to practise your GCSE French!

Offering some Surrey history and possibly special Christmas events too are the multitude of National Trust places to visit on Ashford’s doorstep. I typed in the school’s postcode and found ten National Trust properties within a half hour’s drive.

For some botanical and horticulture learning, or simply a relaxing day out in nature, then make your way to RHS Wisley on the A3 just outside the M25. Sure the gardens look best in spring and summer but in winter they have a beautiful Winter Glow Installation and the glasshouses though a tad smaller than those at Kew still take your breathe away.


A song called Agape

Coming from the London pub/folk scene like Noah and the Whale and Laura Marling, Bear’s Den have an interesting array of songs on their album Islands.

bear's den

First up is Agape and here’s the lead singer and songwriter Davie explaining what the song is about:

“Agape is a word that has been taken and used by Christianity to mean something it didn’t originally mean and I guess I kinda did the same. Agape, to me, is about being open with people and not hiding anything from the people you care about. As a word, strange as this sounds, Agape to me sounds like a book opening and we were looking for a song that had that kind of feel to it for the first song on the album. We were also listening to ‘About Today’ by The National a lot and lyrically I wanted this song to come from a similar place.”

So they’ve taken some poetic licence by calling their song Agape when it actually means: the highest form of love, especially brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.

Next song with an RE link is Isaac  which tells the tale of Isaac nearly being sacrificed by his dad Abraham from the Old Testament. Davie explains:

“There is a biblical story called The Binding of Isaac that I’ve always found really interesting. I was reading Wilfred Owen’s war poetry and stumbled across a poem about the binding of Isaac in relation to war. After I read that and really thought about the story I found the whole thing very confusing. I started wondering what Isaac’s life would have been like after his father nearly sacrificed him and how it would have felt from his perspective. Whether I could have understood it or not. The song is imagined from the perspective of a friend of Isaac’s.”

Maybe I won’t need to use the Bob Dylan song Highway 61 in the Year 8 lesson on the Binding of Isaac anymore!

The final very folky song from Bear’s Den is Magdalene which is about what happened to Irish unmarried women who got pregnant in the 20th century. Here’s Davie again:

“I was really shocked when I first heard about Magdalene laundries and the stories that have emerged about them. They were designed as institutions for “fallen” women who were sent there in order to repent for their sin in the pursuit of becoming pure again. In reality many of these institutions essentially practised slavery on these women. A lot of the reasons why women were sent there in the first place were ridiculous and were often through no fault of their own. I watched Philomena after writing this song and my feelings are similar to Steve Coogan’s character in the movie. The song allowed me to vent my anger, frustration and sadness for all those who needlessly suffered.”

Perhaps you’ve seen the film Philomena with Steve Coogan and Judie Dench in it which tells the tale of these women being forced to repent their sins and lose contact with their birth children.


Doug Tompkins: it’s sad you only learn about someone once they’ve died



A day ago the name Doug Tompkins would have meant nothing to me. But today, randomly reading the newspaper I discover this amazing man who died in a kayaking accident had founded two world renowned clothing companies, North Face and Esprit, but more importantly had preserved some 2.2m acres of land in Chile and Argentina with his wife; slowly transforming it into protected national parks. A multimillionaire philanthropist and conservationist who we only learn about after his tragic death.

An article in The Guardian studies this amazing man’s life from pusher of consumerism with the brands of North Face and Esprit, to an eco warrior.

“You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”

The man who said “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”after the Leytonstone train station stabbing last week, has said he was just upset at the generalisations people make linking Muslims to extremism.

The bystander said he just said it naturally and he was pleased his son had been proud of the way he’d reacted.


Maybe ‘John’ has broken the definition of bystander though, as he actions have meant he is actively participating in our discussion and thinking about extremism in the world today.

C of E: It’s not a sin to be gay; enjoy lifelong commitments… but don’t get married if you’re a vicar!

When we learn about religious attitudes to homosexuality in Year 10’s Religious Studies lessons we learn that:

  • in the Catholic Church it’s okay to be gay, but don’t have gay relationships;
  • in the Evangelical Church there’s the belief that nobody should be gay and that the holy spirit will save people and change them to be straight;
  • in the seemingly more liberal Church of England it says it’s not a sin to be gay, that you can enjoy lifelong homosexual relationships (in other words don’t be promiscuous, which is the same message as to heterosexual/ straight Christians) yet if you are a gay minister or vicar you are only allowed a civil partnership not marriage.

Well to support what we’ve learnt in class here’s an article about a gay minister who’s been banned from leading religious services in the church because he’s got married. Jeremy Davies married opera singer McEnery, who has performed with the English National Opera and Welsh National Opera as well as teaching and composing. McEnery said the decision to ban his husband from leading services was “insulting and offensive, and doesn’t make the church look good. I dislike the idea of the church being allowed to discriminate against gay people when it is increasingly outlawed in civil life.”

Stewardship or Dominion over the earth’s creatures?

Stewardship in Christianity follows from the belief that human beings are created by the same God who created the entire universe and everything in it. To look after the Earth, and thus God’s dominion, is the responsibility of the Christian steward.

Dominion is the idea that God gave the earth to humans to use at their will. This idea comes from the Bible: Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ Genesis 1:26-27

The debate over whether it’s stewardship or dominion over the earth can be brought to play in some news about IVF being used on dogs. A litter of seven puppies are the first to be successfully created through IVF treatment. Scientists are excited about what this will mean for procedures that may save endangered species and possibly eradicate genetic disorders in animal species too.


Still choosing your A’Levels: why not pick Philosophy?

Top Five Reasons to Study Philosophy
1. Fascinating subject matter      2. Wide variety of interesting classes
3. Skill development   4. Great preparation for any career or graduate study
5. Personal development


What do people say about A’Level Philosophy?

“I’ve picked Philosophy for my 5th A-Level and have been studying it since September. Personally I enjoy it so far, there are times when I find it challenging and other times where I find it relatively easy; It’s nice to ask and think about the questions posed in the subject. Philosophers we’ve studied include British ones like Hume, Locke, and others like Des Cartes and Plato.”

“It’s important to learn about genetics, but it is more important to learn to think. Philosophy makes me think!”

“I am currently doing A2 Philosophy (AQA) and Karl Marx hasn’t come up yet, now we are doing Sexual Ethics Module after doing Freewill and Libertarianism and Virtue Ethics and last one for this unit would be Science and Technology module. Philosophy allows opinions to be voiced without being scared on being unaccepted as people are more willing to listen.”

“Philosophy courses give you more than just knowledge of the world; they give you a deep understanding of how the world works, even how it should work.”


If you choose to study Philosophy A’Level at Strodes in Egham (needing at least a B grade in English Language at GCSE to qualify) the course will look something like this:

It’s the AQA exam board and Philosophy looks at the central issues of human life, focusing on problems and arguments relating to morality and politics, knowledge and understanding, philosophy of religion and philosophy of the mind. On this course you develop critical and analytical skills through your understanding and use of philosophical theory. There is a strong focus on enhancing independent critical learning through reading, writing and discussion. You will produce an in-depth investigation of philosophical ideas on topics such as “Moral Philosophy”, “Political Philosophy” and a textual analysis if Plato’s Republic. Assessment is done by two written examinations each year.