Four women on a train – one of many possible stories

This story is dedicated to Heli Nurmi whom I have known since we worked together on the CCK08 MOOC in 2008. Heli blogs about open learning, and regularly participates in MOOCs. She has extensive experience of research and practice in education, brings much insight to discussions at blogs and on forums.

I have visited Finland twice- the first time in 1999 was to meet up with educators using digital technologies and the second time was to attend a conference in Turku in 2004.

View of lake at Repovesi
Repovesi by CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the first trip, with a colleague I travelled by train from Helsinki to a college in Kouvola, then on to the University of Tampere and back to Helsinki. Train journeys are a great way to see a country and I remember the landscape of lakes and forest we saw, though checking the map reveals how little of Finland I saw.

On one of our train journeys, we sat in a pair of seats facing two women, one old, one young. The older woman was very keen to speak to us though she spoke no English and we spoke no Finnish. She soon established that the younger Finnish woman spoke English and so she persuaded her to translate. We struck up a conversation about where we were going and where we came from.  The translator seemed to become increasingly bored and uncomfortable until the older lady launched into an animated story that lasted about 5 minutes. Our translator turned to us, shrugged her shoulders, and said “Shit happens”. We smiled and got off the train at the station where we needed to change trains.

In writing this story, I struggled to remember details (apart from the memorable ending) and it occurs to me if either of the other women remembered the meeting they would very likely tell the story differently, as would my colleague.

Women making social media work for good causes

On International Women’s Day I would like to highlight the work of three women doing good with the help of social media and those who participate.

Kate Granger is a witty and engaging woman doctor who has used her experience of being a patient with terminal cancer to launch a campaign that has made life better for thousands of patients worldwide. Watch the video of Kate telling her own story.  You can see the impact of the #hellomynameis campaign at  and Kate in operation at @GrangerKate.

I met Cristina Vasilica when she was a student at the University of Salford where she is now a lecturer and PhD student in the College of Health and Social Care. She is still in my networks, and so I have seen the good work she does at the Greater Manchester Kidney Information Network ( ) at Facebook as part of her PhD. As it’s a closed group I can’t link to it but if you are from Greater Manchester and could contribute/ benefit, please contact them via the web site or at @gmkin on Twitter.  You can find out more about her PhD work here – she is doing practical good and contributing to knowledge.

I came across Lou Mycroft on an online course last year, and she has introduced me to an area and philosophy of education that I knew little of before – social purpose education.  Lou works as a teacher educator at Northern College but it isn’t just her student teachers who can learn with and from her – you can too.  She is generous in sharing and the TeachNorthern web site is stuffed with goodies and is a jumping off point for even more. Visit the site, follow her on Twitter at @lounorthern

It’s no coincidence that all three of these women are great learners and teachers.

Archaeology of family life

Diving through the layers of ‘stuff’ in our home office that was virtually unusable because of all the ‘stuff’, I found this  lovely artefact in my late aunt’s Scrabble set. It is a diary that reveals two layers. The diary dates from 1965


My aunt Celie was a civil servant and she had acquired this 1965 diary in her working life. It reveals glimpses of her 1965 working life when she was 53 (having been born 6 weeks after the Titanic sank as she liked to remind us).
The next layer is her Scrabble games with my mother Elise Richardson who married Celie’s brother Vincent in 1940. Celie and Elise were very different but became friends and their relationship survived the death of both their husbands.


I love the way that their Scrabble scores from the 1970s/1980s overlay the 1965 diary entries.
For me this multi-layered evidence reveals my aunt and my mother and the life that they had that extended beyond their official relationship of sisters-in-law.
They were two different women who shared a poverty – stricken background, connected by a brother/husband, separated by temperament and political views. But they did connect and enjoyed each other’s company.
I celebrate and miss them both – Elise and Celie, I love the bones of you.

Ice Bucket Challenge – the woolly liberal version

I suppose it’s almost inevitable that once you comment on people doing the Ice Bucket Challenge, you have raised your head above the parapet and should expect to catch a bullet.  In my case it was my dear sister-in-law Moira Richardson, a recent entrant to Facebook, who challenged me. Although I am rather too old and overweight for the wet t-shirt competition, I thought that I should stand up to the plate, and try to make the best of it in my best woolly liberal manner.

First question – to which charity should I donate?  I figured that the ALS Association in USA and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. in the UK had probably done very well from it already. I wondered about Macmillan but, alerted by my son Dan Bell, I noticed the paid ad at the top of the Google Search. I wondered how much they paid for that ad. So I decided to donate to a good cause dear to the hearts of friends Toni and Si Blower who lost their precious firstborn son within days of his birth.

Next question was the thorny issue of wasting water on this #firstworld tomfoolery.  I decided to stand in a tray and try to recycle the water.  The video will reveal my success? in this aim.

Finally whom should I challenge?  I have a lifelong horror of chain letters (and now emails).  The emotional blackmail makes my toes curl so this is my challenge:

To anyone in my network and circle of friends, I challenge you to choose to

  • Do your own version of the challenge and donate to the charity of your choice
  • Don’t do the challenge and donate to the charity of your choice
  • Ignore the tomfoolery

Whichever you choose is just fine with me.

I had some concerns about the exploitation around this initiative – teach your two year old to swear on video as she drenches herself, endless media feeding frenzy on the topic, competitive social media strategies by charities.  But…. If it means that we are stirred into some sort of action and give more money to charity than we have done otherwise , it’s not all bad. So do think about donating this good cause or any other.

P.S. I forgot to say that if nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to see me make a fool of myself.

Strong as silk

Silk chiffon
Silk chiffon from my silk stash

Silk is natural, light, prismatic, gossamer.
We know no fibre stronger than silk.
One cocoon yields over 700 yards of filament.

Silk can be reeled, spun, woven, sewn, knitted,
patterned by weaving, printing, stitching, piecing,
made into beautiful artefacts, to wear and to enjoy.

Silk is beautiful and multiple.
Silk can be chiffon, organza, crepe, satin, raw, taffeta, velvet.
Silk keeps us cool in summer and warm in winter.

You are silk, we are silk.
You are more than silk, we are more than silk.
We cocoon living things.

From you and with you, beauty is created.
You are many,
you are strong,
you are beautiful.

A poem is quite a departure for me  – and was inspired by many strong women I know, some of whom will be receiving a tangible version.

Wonderful Women I follow on Twitter

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I trawled through those I follow on Twitter to create a list of women I follow on Twitter, then create a composite image of their avatars.  This was quite a labour-intensive task but was time well spent as it made me think about these women.  I am impressed -they are a very interesting and talented bunch.  As my gift to you on this day of celebration of women, I offer you:

This Twitter list – as you  might find some lovely new people to follow.

The lovely image that makes me smile

women I follow

A sorry tale of wood-burning stoves and miscommunication

Courtesy of @heloukee on Instagram

A morality tale

This is a morality tale for those who have or intend to purchase a wood-burning stove to help bring down their energy bills, and those who are crafting home grown gifts for family and friends.  If, like us, you fall into both categories beware the hidden dangers.

The excitement

On Friday, I decided to light our relatively new wood-burning stove ( a very high tech model the Burley Debdale) whilst dh Terry was hunter-gathering provisions for our supper (pizzas from Tesco).  I cleared out the ashes from the previous day and put them in the peely bin.  Some were still glowing a little so I  decided to empty the peely bin in the very large compost bin at the bottom of the garden.   Ten minutes later, I glanced out of the window, and saw a minor towering inferno.  I investigated and discovered that one of our three 700l plastic compost bins was blazing away.  I was a little surprised by the combustible nature of our compost but duly fetched the hose and deluged the blaze with water.  It took some time before the flames and smoke were eliminated.  I was shaken!

The unknown event

When Terry returned, I confessed the results of my ash-disposal.  He was able to add some background.  Earlier in the day, whilst starting to clear out the garage, He decided to dispose of our failed attempt at Peaches in brandy.  This was 2 jars – with approximately one pint of brandy and 8-10 peaches and he put them on the compost heap.

The morals of the story

1. Glowing ashes + brandy-soaked compost = conflagration.

2. We need to invest in an ash carrier so we can safely cool our ashes before disposing of them.

3.  We need to talk to each other;)

Learning more about WordPress

My timing for going on the WordPress Intermediate course at Madlab was excellent  – just as I am recreating my online presence as I left Salford.  This will be one of my last posts here but I’ll be re-directing everything to the new site.

Madlab has lots of really cool courses , and Mike Little who did such a great job of teaching the WP course also runs a WordPress drop-in (whose details  I will post when I find them).

In the interests of informal learning I am also sharing this WordPress infographic.
WordPress Most Popular Plugins
WP Template

Identity under re-construction

moocardproof by frances bell
moocardproof, a photo by frances bell on Flickr.

I leave the University of Salford on 31 January as a member of staff, continuing as a student for 6 months as I complete my PhD by publications.  Although my usual workload has gradually declined, I am very busy with the ‘work’ of re-constructing my identity. (I have also had some really bad stuff in my personal life in the last few months). On leave this week, I am busy thinking about my web site, moving my blog, getting business cards, changing my email on as many logins as I can remember.

I have described myself as Consultant and Itinerant Scholar, so I can put on that identity and see how it fits.  I thought that I was borrowing the Itinerant Scholar term from a delegate to ir13 but Google tells me there quite a few Itinerant Scholars.

I have taken my pension a little early (I was 60 in December) and I am looking forward to working less than full time on things I enjoy, and having more time to do unpaid work and have fun.  Now obviously, I will still be me but I think I need to build a professional identity that I can grow into.  As I may be  a PhD in 6 months, this gives me the perfect opportunity to have a temporary record of my identity with the business card above, of which only 100 will be printed.

So what do you think of the image and the identity?  Is it the me you know?


Listen to the mother’s voice

IMG_9388 by frances bell
IMG_9388, a photo by frances bell on Flickr.

This blog post is a bit of a departure for me – it is intensely personal and provoked by the tragedy of the death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital following the miscarriage of her 17 week foetus.  I don’t usually post on personal issues but Savita’s tragic death has provoked me to reflect on my own experiences. It’s not up to me to pronounce on Savita’s medical treatment – I’d rather talk about the mother’s voice in this.

I grew up in a Catholic family in the North East of England, encouraged to form my own opinions but with the expectation that I would retain the family faith.  As I grew up, I found myself to be increasingly sceptical about the totality of Catholic doctrine – a pick and mix Catholic. By the time I started my own family, I had worked out that although I was entirely in support of contraception and the availability of abortion, I would be very reluctant to have an abortion myself and, having discussed this with my husband, hoped that we could bring up a child with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida.

32 years ago in 1980, I was pregnant for the second time.  As with my previous pregnancy, I had declined an Alpha feta protein test because of our willingness to accept a disabled child (and the AFP test might have indicated problems or multiple pregnancy).  I had (as was typical for that era) a 12 weeks scan that showed one healthy foetus. At 30 weeks in 1981, I had another scan and discovered I was pregnant with twins, one of whom had a serious neural tube defect (described to me initially as microcephaly) that was incompatible with life.  Naturally, whilst I was very sad that I was carrying a foetus that would not live beyond a very short time, my attention focused on the twin who could survive (he did and is a great contributor to our family and society in general!).

My twins were born – one thrived and Martin lived for only four days, having a peaceful death in our presence.

There is no teacher like experience. What became blindingly obvious to me was that had I had been carrying a singleton with the same neural tube defect diagnosed at 30 weeks, I would have requested an induction of labour so that I could have said hello and goodbye to my child that had no chance of prolonged life.  That early induction of labour may be regarded by some as abortion.  All I know is that forcing me to carry that foetus to full term would have seemed to me like an abomination.

What if my pregnancy had not been twin and the neural tube defect had been identified at the 12 week scan? I honestly don’t know what my reaction would have been but I know now that I would have come to the right decision for me and for my family.

So the message of this post is – listen to the mothers.  Don’t make laws that stop women from making their decision about the viability of their foetus.  And don’t jeopardize mother’s lives – they should live for their own sakes and they may have others who depend upon them.