Wednesday, 29 October 2008

From the archives of Fortean Times

Juan R Posadas

This article first appeared in Fortean Times of August 2003

Juan R Posadas was no ordinary Trotskyite; socialists from outer space, the benefits of nuclear war and communication with dolphins were all part of his revolutionary programme. Matt Salusbury tells the story of one of the World’s strangest political thinkers... Read this article on, which saved a copy of the now taken-down article from the Fortean Times website.

This links to "Posadism for Beginners", an overview of the ideology that mixed socialism and ufology in equal measures.

Weird Weekend 2007

Matt Salusbury reports on the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s annual cryptozoological gathering... Read this article on the Fortean Times website

This page will be updated shortly, and I will add the complete "Trots in Space" with never-before-seen photos, links and updates.

My articles from New Statesman

Caught on camera

This article first appeared in New Statesman of 15 September 2003

"I am a peaceful protester. I have no criminal record. Yet the police have been photographing me on a regular basis for the past four years". By Matt Salusbury
''What, you mean the police can take your picture in the street, just like that?" That's the usual reaction when I show friends the photo accompanying this article. It was taken by the Metropolitan Police's Public Order Intelligence Unit in January 2002. Although the police have been photographing me on average once every two months since 1999... Read this article on the New Statesman website

Photo not yet available, still clearing this with its copyright owners, the Metropolitan Police!

Give and thou shalt create havoc

This article first appeared in New Statesman Christmas issue, 13 December 2004

A man hands out gold coins, another throws around yen bills. Giving things away has become the ultimate act of subversion, argues Matt Salusbury

Fundraisers used to rattle a tin; today, we are more likely to encounter organised gangs of "charity muggers" intent on signing us up for tax-deductible direct debit giving. Old-style, spur-of-the-moment donations are no longer considered effective enough, and in August the Economist reported that Westminster Council denounces charities that "support chaotic lifestyles" by giving away soup to the homeless.
Yet giving, far from becoming better organised, may be taking even more instinctive and bizarre forms. Reports continue of strangers handing out money in the street randomly to passers-by. Read this article on the New Statesman website

Unsocial seating arrangements

This article first appeared in New Statesman of 1 March 2004, and broke the story of the European Social Forum coming to London's Alexandrea Palace

The European Social Forum is coming to London - all being well. This "meeting of movements" - the local version of the World Social Forum - brings together conventional campaigners such as trade unionists and the sexier "new social movements", such as anti-globalisers and feminists. Last November's forum in Paris pulled in 50,000.
London's bid, supported by the mayor, Ken Livingstone, is likely to be approved when the forum's European assembly meets on 7 March. The probable date is October and the main venue, with its plenary events and international activist stars, is likely to be Alexandra Palace. But there will also be 300-odd informal networking events on the periphery.
Some Londoners see it as a small-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympics, showing that the capital can cope with a big event and a sizeable influx of visitors.
But the left being the left, the bid to host the forum could yet come unstuck in the face of internecine squabbles... Read this article on the New Statesman website

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

You can see my regular news articles and features in The Freelance and English Language Gazette. You can sign up to the English Language Gazette digital edition here. It's free, but you have to register.

English for Starbucks

This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, November 2008

PRODUCT PLACEMENT has entered Chinese self-study EFL. This latest wheeze from free online internet-based EFL provider Speak2me uses cartoon ‘virtual tutor’ Lucy to introduce its students to the English language. ‘Conversational advertising’ allows ‘corporate partners’ (advertisers) to construct English lessons through which students learn English within the
context of the client’s product or service. Examples on Speak2me’s short demo video include Lucy, dressed in a Starbucks uniform, kicking off a lesson (set in a Starbucks) with ‘Hello! Welcome to Starbucks.’
Two less frightening fictional Chinese EFL teaching characters from the very different People’s Republic of the early 1990s are making a surprise nostalgia-fuelled comeback. Loveable goody-goody boy and girl companions Li Lei and Meimei featured in the state-approved national High School English Textbook (People’s Education Press in association with Longman Press, 1990) and were familiar faces for over six million students. Now Li Lei and Meimei smile out from a variety of merchandise featuring their images – stickers, badges, T-shirts, school bags, badges and other items that are part of a sudden youth craze sweeping
a 21st-century China that Li Lei and Meimei would scarcely recognise.

English retreats in India

This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, October 2008

English continues to play a controversial role in the regional politics of India. The civic authorities of the city of India’s financial
capital Mumbai (Bombay) have suddenly abandoned the official use of English and Hindi in favour of Marathi, the local language and an official tongue in the surrounding province of Maharashtra. Marathi is now the medium for ‘all official documentation’ in Mumbai, a city of 12 million people. The change from English and Hindi was enacted in August by Mayor Shubha Raul and his Shive Sena party, which holds a majority in the municipal corporation that governs the city. Mumbai’s vast business community were reportedly furious. The official formal version of written Marathi that will be used is unfamiliar to many of the language’s native speakers in Mumbai, who speak a very different vernacular version of Marathi and do most of their reading and writing in English or Hindi.
The police and the lower courts already operate in Marathi, but the higher courts and the state government will have to switch from using Hindi and English documents. The municipal corporation said that local government tenders and university-level training civil service training would stay in English. Citizens – many of them recent arrivals from around India – would be able to write to officials in English or Hindi, and their press conferences would remain trilingual.
The Mumbai-based Bollywood Indian film industry, the world’s biggest, increasingly recruits its movie stars from the Indian
diaspora. These actors often struggle to speak their lines in Hindi, and are given English-language scripts to read through at the casting stage.
Meanwhile, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the CNN/ IBN network has reported that members of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike party had attacked the office of state assembly member Derrick Fullinfaw after he addressed the assembly in English rather than the local language of Kannada. Assembly member Fullinfaw is an Anglo-Indian (of mixed British-Indian origin) and explained:‘I find it very difficult to speak in Kannada without any disrespect to the language. In fact my wife speaks excellent Kannada. If I knew Kannada I would have become a big leader in the state by now.’
The Karnataka assembly is located in Bangalore, world famous for its English language call centres. But the leader of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike Anajanapa party was unforgiving, and warned: ‘If anyone speaks in any other language besides Kannada in the assembly, they will face the wrath of our group.’

Emirati salary disparity

This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, October 2008

Matt Salusbury

FOREIGN ACADEMICS teaching on English-medium degrees at a university in the
United Arab Emirates (UAE) have rejected a pay offer significantly below that being offered to Emirati staff (nationals of the UAE). According to UAE English language newspaper The National, Zayed University offered expatriate staff a 5 per cent pay rise, while Emirati academic staff are to receive a 29 per cent increase. Zayed University, founded in 1998, recently gained accreditation from the US Middle States Commission on Higher Accreditation, making it the first UAE federal higher education institution to be accredited by this body.
The National reports that there have already been resignations at UAE universities by expatriate staff over pay, and that the Federal National Council was warned at the beginning of 2008 of this trend. Minister of education Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak then advised the council that academics were leaving universities as pay rises were failing to keep pace with inflation, now at over 11 per cent.
A Gazette source in the UAE said that annual salaries for native English-speaking staff at some universities had doubled in less than two years, following a major walk-out by Canadian staff.
However, salaries for Emiratis have risen even more over that period.
In addition to the 5 per cent on offer, expats will receive a separate 400 Dirhams (£60) a month pay award to offset ‘the impact of inflation’, backdated to June 2008.
The Gazette’s sources in the UAE pointed out that expat staff have their
accommodation, airfares and school fees for their children paid by their employers under a separate arrangement, which does somewhat reduce the pay differential with Emiratis, who do not enjoy these perks. But the same source reported that there’s a policy of ‘Emiratisation’ of the universities, and claimed that non-Emiratis are passed over for promotion in favour of locals with insufficient qualifications and experience.
While the Gazette couldn’t find any specific reference to ethnicity in its
guidelines for accreditation, the Middle States Commission’s recent conference included talks on best practice in ‘changing demographics… issues of retention… enrolment
of men and women of colour, the need to adjust the curriculum in the face of an
increasingly global society’, ‘successful efforts to develop a diverse campus environment
’ and ‘a framework for encouraging diversity’.
Expat academics who talked to The National described the 5 per cent pay award as ‘a slap in the face’ and ‘absolutely ridiculous’.
Sheikh Nayhan, president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, said he was looking into problems around pay awards for academic staff, and said: ‘Hopefully there will be a solution to this issue soon.’

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Pygmy elephants - talk from Weird Weekend 2008

My talk on pygmy elephants - on reports of modern sightings from Congo Brazzaville and Kerala, India, and the evidence from the fossil record - from the Centre for Fortean Zoology's Weird Weekend, August 18-20 2008. You'll need headphones or speakers and 59 minutes to see this CFZ TV film. (They gave me an hour, and I took 59 minutes. How's that for timing?)

See the film of my talk here.

Please don't be alarmed by the introduction in CFZ Richard Freeman's unique style, he does that to all Weird Weekend speakers!

There will be an article on pygmy elephants in Fortean Times before long.

Elephas tilensis, a five-foot fossil elephant from the island of Tilos, Greece, reconstruction in the Museum of Paleontology, University of Athens. Reproduced with their permission, © Museum of Paleontology, University of Athens/George Lyras

Tooth of a stegadon, an extinct branch of the elephant family, which lived in Asia, including dwarf varieties in Indonesia. Photo © Matt Salusbury

Near-complete adult molar tooth from a fossil pygmy elephant from Cyprus in the Natural History Museum's Bate Collection. By comparison, an adult African elephant equivalent would be breeze-block sized. Photo: © Matt Salusbury

Extract from a report on Weird Weekend 2008 for Fortean Times 242 November 2008 (p 42-43) by Gail Nina Anderson

“If any linking theme could possibly be winkled out from the diversity of topics throughtout the weekend, it would perhaps relate to interpretation/classification, providing new ways to approach established subjects or to reassess evidence. This led to some unexpected moments of interdisciplinary content, such as discussing the conventions of Ancient Egyptian tomb painting in relation to pygmy elephants following Matt Salusbury’s presentation on ‘Water Elephants of the Congo.’ The talk opened up a classic type of cryptozoological conundrum. The case for modern pygmy elephants (as distinct from now-extinct dwarf elephants) is reasonable and apparently well attested in both Africa and Asia by local tradition and modern observation. Then you get down to the nature of evidence and the questions start springing up, from the problems of scale in photographs to the bewitching possibility that reported tribes of pygmy elephants may just be gangs of teenagers living outside the herd. That some elephants are noticeably smaller is beyond doubt, but whether this indicates a distinct species, misidentified juveniles or interesting mutations hasn’t been established. There was a lingering touch of regret in Matt’s disclosure that even the pygmy ones wouldn’t be small enough to put on a lead and take on the bus. Any such cryptozoological wistfulness, however, was diffused after the talk by the (mature female) attendee who confided in me that she thought the speaker was a lovely boy ‘without and ounce of fat on him.’”

Migrants get to grips with the language of construction

This article first appeared in the building trade weekly Construction News of 12 August 2008. Read it on their website here

How can companies ensure foreign workers face up to the challenges of English and their new jobs? By Matt Salusbury

Employers, especially those in London, are increasingly recruiting migrant workers where English is not the first language. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) report on skills shortages this spring said that Polish andother Eastern European migrants are beginning to return home in large numbers, with 18 per cent fewer Poles registered for work in the UK in 2007 than in the previous year.

The workforce will increasingly be made up of long-term migrants – those who have settled in the UK permanently, often after they or their family members arrived as refugees, and who have often been learning English as a Second Language (ESOL) for several years before entering the workforce.

The long haul

and Somali
migrant students from the ESOL Construction class finish off making an section of electrical trunking for their BTEC assigment in CONEL's workshop at its Seven Sisters site

Some sites in London employ as much as 40 per cent migrant labour. CIOB already notes that long-term migrants have a better chance of getting long-term work than short-term EU migrants from Eastern Europe.

While migrants can find work easily as low-grade labourers, and often have manual skills and experience, their lack of English is holding them back from developing their careers – becoming more skilled and qualified specialists, supervisors and managers. Several Kosovan and Somali builders on a College of North East London (Conel) course say they felt their lack of
English most keenly in marketing themselves to prospective employers and agencies, and in compiling CVs.

There are increasing demands for all builders to give evidence of their qualifications and skills in written assignments – which many native speakers find challenging enough. While teams on some sites are monolingual Polish, with only the foreman needing to speak English, the building sites of London in the near future will be multilingual, with everyone needing to keep raising the level of their English.

What specialist training in English for construction is there and where can employers go for advice on training?

Training on offer

More workshop practical work for the ESOL Construction students
There seems to be a fair amount of ESOL training around at the most basic level, such as health and safety, and preparation for Construction SkillsCertification Scheme card tests. Some are run by large companies, some on site and some that include among their students those who work for their subcontractors.

Bovis Lend Lease, for example, runs ESOL classes at its Canary Wharf training suite in London, in partnership with union Ucatt.

But the availability of training that combines ESOL and construction skills to take migrant builders to the next level is lacking. Several colleges say the funding regime changes so often it's almost impossible to keep pace and adapt.

This – and the scrapping of the BTEC qualification in favour of new types of diplomas – mean some colleges that have successfully run specialist ESOL construction courses still don't know if they can offer one this September. There's more work for industry lobbying organisations to be done in this

Aside from labour shortages in the future and, increasingly, quotas for ethnic minority workers written into big contracts, there are other reasons for employers to take on migrants who have English as a second language. Many are entering the (formal) workforce after two or three years of a full-time general ESOL course, at least 15 hours a week of ESOL, plus several hours of maths and IT.

These ESOL foundation courses have an emphasis on self-study and organisational skills, and they instil the importance of punctuality and self-discipline. Students need a record of 80 per cent attendance to graduate.

The students on Conel's ESOL construction course had all been through such a regime before arriving and they accepted that it would take a long time before they fully qualified. They somehow found time to study in their half-term alongside family commitments.

A CONEL electrician tutor confers with Sunilza, a Portuguese national of West African origin and the only female student on the ESOL Construction course

Some of the building lecturers on their course had initially been sceptical about a class of English-language learners, but were quickly converted and now regard the ESOL construction class as among their best students. These students "have got the manual skills, but language skills and lack of qualifications are holding them back," according to David Lambert, who heads Conel's construction department.

Taking the first step

Where should employers go for English language training for their workforce? The best first stop for advice is a local further education (FE) college. These will now have a dedicated employers' forum or employer relations team, with an employers' page linked from the homepage of their website. They can advise on possible funding such as Train to Gain, ESOL for Work and other initiatives.

These colleges run on a September-to-July teaching year, so after mid-September it will be harder for them to find the experienced teachers they would need for a specialist ESOL for construction course, but FE colleges are becoming better at starting up tailored workplace courses throughout the year.

If your workforce has a union rep, Ucatt can also work with you to set up a part-funded ESOL course delivered by an FE college.

A taste of construction

The BTEC Introduction to Construction with ESOL at the College of North East London is a taster course, exposing students to plumbing, electrical, painting and decorating work.

Assessments in literacy, communication and numeracy are the same as for nativespeaker English students, but with intensive teaching of the language students need to complete these paper-based elements of the course.

The ESOL tutor for the course also attends the students' workshop sessions so she can identify any language areas they need help with.

The students are mostly men from Kosovo, Albania, Somali, Eritrea and Ethiopia. When the current version of the course started three years ago, students were mostly older men who had practised a trade in their country of origin. But now students are younger and some of them are joining building businesses already started by relatives who have settled in the UK and retrained.

A second year student works
on his assignments
for the BTEC
Construction Diploma. Tasks for the workshop session are displayed on the workshop's whiteboard in the background

Text and images © Matt Salusbury 2008

Farewell to Colindale

This article first appeared in Fortean Times magazine, no 241, October 2008

Colindale is drab North London suburb that most Londoners, let alone people from out of town, would be hard-pressed to find a reason for visiting. For many, its only draw is the creaky 1930s building at 120 Colindale Avenue, which houses the British Library’s national newspaper collection.

Charles Fort, of course, spent way too much time in the British Library (BL) newspaper collection, back when it was still housed in the original British Library complex in Bloomsbury. That circular reading room, where Karl Marx also researched Das Kapital, is now a permanent exhibit surrounded by the British Museum, but don’t expect to find Fort on the list of famous BL ticket-holders displayed there. Shortly after Fort’s day, the newspaper collection shipped out to leafy Colindale.

Most researchers have a love-hate relationship with Colindale, and its reliance on the world’s least user-friendly format, microfilm. Most of the newspaper collection has ended up as fiddly spools of this albatross-like intermediate technology. The BL admits its surveys of Colindale users found their experience of Colindale was ‘very poor.’

But frustration with Colindale now turns to teary-eyed nostalgia, as the newspaper collection will soon be leaving. Its digital and microfilm elements will move to the excellent British Library site at St Pancras, close to the Channel Tunnel train terminal. Old-school physical periodicals on actual newspaper will go to 262 km of shelving in the ‘low-oxygen’ building in the BL’s Document Supply Centre in distant Boston Spa, up North in West Yorkshire. The BL press office scotched rumours put about by a marketing manager that the new facility’s automated newspaper handling machines looked like Daleks. (Source: author’s notes on ‘A Library for the 21st Century’ presentation by Barry Smith, senior marketing manager BL St Pancras, 21 April 2008)

Scanned or photocopied newspaper pages can be ordered (for a fee) but once the newspapers have moved to Boston Spa, you will only be able to get your hands on the actual physical copies there ‘in extreme circumstances’ and at least 24 hours notice. (Source: email from BL press office Lawrence Christiansen, 15 August 2008)

You won’t be able to walk into Boston Spa unannounced and expect newspapers to be delivered to the desk in as little as 45 minutes, as you currently can at Colindale. Once a newspaper is on microfilm and digital, you’ll usually have to go to St Pancras to see it on these media. An ever-shrinking proportion of newspapers will remain that they’ll let you actually handle at Boston Spa.

Why the move? 30,000 people trek out to Colindale annually, to hasten the destruction of the collection by handling it with their own fingers and thumbs. 15 per cent of the print collection has been ‘rendered unusable’ by those pesky readers handling it, with another 19 per cent of newspapers ‘high risk’ enough that they’ll will need withdrawing soon.

Fortean researchers have until December before the newspapers start their gradual migration out to St Pancras and Boston Spa. The collection will go within three years, and Colindale finally closes its creaky doors in 2012.

Colindale’s opportunities for local procrastinatory skiving for researchers will also be a thing of the past. Gone forever will be work avoidance breaks spent browsing in the Japanese pound shop in Colindale’s ‘Oriental City’ shopping centre and Hannants, Britain’s biggest aviation model shop nearby.

So be quick about it if you’ve ever wanted to hold in your hands the 13 March 1986 print edition of The Sun newspaper with the headline ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’. If you’re curious about whether the Westmoreland Gazette reported any pre-1950 sightings of giant eels on Lake Windermere, or have even wanted to check a century’s worth of North Wales newspapers for possible references to Llangorse Lake’s giant pike, do it now if you’re a technophobe or you dislike microfilm as much as I do.

One day the BL’s complete collection will be ‘digital surrogate’ - digitised copies of microfilm spools. Digital will hopefully get cheaper and easier, but until then, the BL will continue to transfer paper copies onto microfilm and (maybe) digitise these. They hope to have 3 million pages of microfilm digitised by the end of 2008, but with 750 million pages of the stuff at £1 a page to digitise, expect to be swearing at snapping, scratching and jamming microfilm for a long time to come. My favourite microfilm ritual is discovering a spool that’s never been ordered before, so you have to take it to the enquiries desk where they loudly ‘trepan’ a spindle hole into the spool using a hammer and a centre punch on the library floor.

By keeping its microfilming operation, the BL wisely hedges its bets about digital formats, pointing out that the long-term archival permanence of digital media like CD-Rom is still unproven. Most customers going to the BL still want to handle paper books and newspapers. And despite BL’s stated aim to get its customers to ‘migrate’ to digital document delivery, 70 per cent of all BL copying is delivered at the request of punters in paper format and sent by post.

© Copyright Matt Salusbury 2008

The excellent British Library St Pancras site. Photo: © Matt Salusbury

Note: since this article was written, the British Library has announced that it will also be moving its "low-use" science and humanities serials and monographs from its depot in Micawber Street (round the corner from the St Pancras site) to Boston Spa, starting in January. The BL's estimate of when the newspaper library collection will start to move is now being reported as "later in 2009". See for details.

See also British Library collections leave London from the Freelance of October 2008.

Goodbye mattsal dot com

It seems I have neglected to renew the domain on, my creaky old handwritten html seldom-updated website. Or more accurately, the guy who renews for me the domain when it comes up, which for historical reasons is in France, is no longer contactable. As it's much easier to put up showcase my published material on this blog, thats' what I'll be doing from now on. I'll be migrating what's on the website to the blog a bit at a time, and re-organising it as I go. ('Matt' plus the beginning of the word 'Salusbury' up to the point beyond which people can't spell it) seems to have been bought by a cyber-squatter, who's put a picture of some corporate types in suits on it in the expectation of being able to sell it to the Mattell toy corporation. They're welcome to it.