Tag Archives: Dyslexia

Sharing the Love

23 Jul

Save-Our-Libraries-007Now this wasn’t planned, but my 100th blog post has ended up addressing the love of my life; Books. Reading. Writing. Otherwise known as literacy. But rather than wibbling on about why I’m so besotted with all of the above, instead, I’m going to kick off with a bit of Shock and Outrage (because hey, if you’re already familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I’m at my happiest when I’m frothing at the mouth. And I don’t just mean as a result of excessive consumption of Sherbet Dabs.)

A recent CBI survey highlighted that 1 in 6 pupils struggle to read when they leave primary school and that for boys in particular – especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, reading rates are actually dropping. And the National Literacy Trust tells us that the gap has increased – between  the proportion of girls (61.6%) and boys (47.2%) who say that they ‘enjoy reading’.

And yet we live in one of the most well developed, most affluent nations in the world.  So, what the hell is WRONG with us? (Apart from the fact that we’re axing libraries – 201 public libraries were closed down as part of UK government cuts in 2011-12.) Now, I could spend the next several thousand words trying to persuade you of that I’ve been researching this issue to death, that I know precisely ALL of the reasons for this societal dismal failure, but I’m: a) not a well-paid journalist – or indeed, paid-at-all in order to preach to you and; b) I’m a hard pressed mother of two, who also tries to juggle several jobs, plus replacing the toilet roll AND continuing with my ongoing battle with our recalcitrant bin men.

Meaning that I can only provide you with a smattering of speculation and my own recent observations on this issue.

Previous posts on this blog have alluded to the fact that I was an early reader, that I had a Ma who encouraged me to sit with my nose in a book and that although I grew up in a pretty poor working class area of East Manchester, I was fortunate enough to live just a five minute wander from a local library, that babysat me for most days of the week (joke there, Ma – joke!) We also had a set of very exotic neighbours who influenced me with this peculiar reading habit.

He wouldn't let me upload the photo of him reading on the bog...

If Kirklees Libraries installed a loo in the corner of the children’s section – we might even move into the place.

There were all very bohemian because their kids were allowed to read books at the dinner table … and even (even!) whilst the family bums were parked on the loo! Consequently, my dream as a small child was to grow up to become the kind of lady who had a bookcase next to the bog.

So if I’m going to be honest, I’ve never really understood the Other Species. Those folk who can turn their nose up at a book – or at any form of the written word. Reading came oh-so easily to me. But a good few years ago, I began to write to inmates – both on Death Row in the USA, and here in the UK. http://www.lifelines-uk.org.uk/

Me and our Ant, death row, Texas.

Me and our Ant, death row, Texas.

And the one commonality that I discovered – was this;  that incarceration bred the thirst for literature. As I began to hear the different ‘stories’ of an inmate, of those who had never really *read* before going to prison, the themes became all too common; the lifetraps of an impoverished background, poor attendance at school, a chaotic homelife, no teacher or other adult who took the time to prod and poke the kid towards the certain type of book that might appeal to them… And then added to this melting pot of low literacy, was all too often added the final ingredient of a reading disability (such as dyslexia.) Worldwide, it’s estimated that 60% of inmates are functionally illiterate – and this statistic is set to worsen as the prison system in the UK is still horribly hampered when it comes to supporting inmates with their literacy needs. Literacy Shame Stats  

The letter-writing provided me with a new mission in life – to either send books into prisons, or to furnish inmates with a long list of; ‘if you CAN – do try and get hold of this one …’ I’ve become sort of a nicer, fluffier version of Amazon’s ‘If You Like That – You Might Like This!’ pop-up box. And I don’t gain nowt from it, neither. Other than the warm gooey feeling of having helped a fellow human being.

So yes, I have to confess that I had been enjoying the rather saintly feeling that hurling book choices towards other people involves. But as they say, pride comes before a fall. And the smug grin was wiped off my face when Child Number One arrived in my life. Because Child Number One did not want to sit and read a book. No. Child Number One would happily command you (and I don’t use that term lightly, but hell – the kid is scary) to read to her. For hours on end. But would she pick up a book and read it herself? Nah. In fact, she would hide her school books so that you couldn’t find them.  And it wasn’t so much that Child Number One didn’t enjoy a ripping good story – no. I mean, now that she’s ten years old, she owns nearly 150 audio books (most of them pitched at the Young Adult or grown-up market – but don’t worry – I haven’t let her near Fifty Shades, just yet.) So how had this happened to me? How had I ended up with a kid – so similar to me in so many ways, but who would happily have carried out a ritual book-burning in our back yard, if I had mooted the idea?

‘Dyslexia’ is the fast answer to that question. But the solution to the problem has been less straightforward. So for the rest of this post – and in celebration of being Kirklees Writer in Residence for this month – and with me wanting to champion the Summer Reading Challenge which The Reading Agency created, I’m going to share a few tips and ideas for getting the reluctant reader to become a little bit more engaged:

1) AUDIO-BOOKS – Now, I’ve posted on this one before. Buying Cassettes You Oddball? The thing with audio-books however, is that they can be damned expensive. My own personal solution is to go all 1980’s and to employ the use of a good old fashioned tape recorder. That way you can pick up those cassette-tapes thingies that no bugger else wants at your car boot sales etc – and force your kid to listen to them at bedtime.  CD’s are fine too – but get a bit scratchy, don’t they? And downloands? Fine. But pricey. And they tend to be the newer books which ain’t always the most captivating for kids in my opinion… (But more on that thorny subject in my next blog.)

Once you’ve tried a few out, you’ll become familiar with the kind of stories and authors that are working best for your little wanabee book-convert. But then… the trick is this; DON’T let them listen to more than one or two of their ‘favourite’ authors or series in a book! Or to see the films first (see ‘TV’ below.) Otherwise you’re going to get – as have done – “Why should I read the book ‘Treasure Island’? I mean, Mum! I know it off by heart already!” (and believe me, she does.)

A small sample of the big cassette collection...

A small sample of the big cassette collection…

Because, you’re aiming for a teaser…. to get them hooked on the book. Which leads me to:

2) INTRODUCING A BOOK – I’ve stopped chucking books at my daughter and expecting her to break the ice with it. It’s exhausting enough having dyslexia, without some smart-alec grown-up ladling on yet more expectations for you. Instead, I read the blurb out to her – in a very amusing and quite frankly, very annoying – ‘Hollywood Film Trailer Voice.’ And then I read most of the first chapter out loud to her too.  And yes, if I’ve done my work well in terms of researching *the right book for her to begin with* (see ‘GO RETRO’), then the wee varmint, more often than not has been drawn into the story and has already overcome her initial reluctance to read.

3) LISTEN TO PROFESSIONALS – Librarians for example. They’re actually very nice people. Most of them.  (I won’t mention the one who yelled at me back in 1982 because she refused to believe that I had read 3 books in one morning and I wanted to get another 3 out and; “But our system doesn’t ALLOW for this sort of thing!” Old bat.) And most librarians DO want to keep their jobs and they DO love books themselves.  And they WILL guide you to different sections where the books have been printed on paper with different shades, or maybe has a different font, or is more spaced out.  And whilst we are on the subject of the professionals – an optician might also help you with dyslexic tendencies; try and find a local, small shop who can help you or your child out with a colourscreen test. Specsavers do them too. Here’s a bit more on how they may help you; Colour Screen Tests

But beware of signing up for the tinted glasses too early on. We just bought the overlays and the kid gave up on them after a few weeks when the novelty had worn off (and believe you me, the specs would have been a hell of a lot more expensive than the overpriced overlay things.)

4) BEFRIEND A  WRITER – Sounds a bit crazy, but it works. My lass has now written to several authors in order to thank them and to tell them that their books have had the honour bestowed on them as becoming her favourites. We have a little shelf of children’s books – all signed by the authors that the kids have met. Perhaps our favourite ever encounter was with Val Biro – author and creator of Gumdrop – Val sadly died last year at the age of 93. But not before he had painted my kids what is probably – one of the last ever images of that famous little car (see below). Gumdrop’s Page

Many authors are nice. And they like you too!

Many authors are nice. And they like you too!

People forget that us writer-sorts have fragile egos. We need to be told that we’re lovely and that you didn’t just hurl our book in the nearest skip (speaking of which – have you reviewed my book on Amazon yet? If not – please do. I might just give you a fondle the next time that I see you.) Chrissy’s Amazon Reviews

And the same goes for the Big Guys too – my daughter wrote to The Beano, explaining how the comic had helped her overcome her hatred of reading; and this actually led to an appearance on Radio 4 by the nipper – alongside fellow dyslexic Nigel Kennedy. Yup – nice, well brought up kids should say ‘thank you’, I reckon.

And it should go without saying that – like the bigger and scarier inmates in prisons – the smaller inmates in Da Family simply adore receiving proper, old-fashioned letters in the post. Makes them feel like important, worthwhile little souls. And if a real-life writer writes back to you? Coolio Daddio.

5) WORK WITH THE SCHOOL – I was the kind of kid who volunteered to be a school librarian. Not only did it get me out of many a primary school soggy playtime (jumping over strings of elastic a la ‘french skipping’ was something that I viewed with disdain) but it also allowed me to sit for hours and get to know different types of books and authors. However,  most school libraries today pale in comparison to those of yesteryear. I have lost count of the number of times where my daughter has brought home a book from the school library – and even from the public library – and has abandoned it, telling me; “I chose it because I just sort of panicked – I just grabbed the first one and it’s actually well- boring” or “They’re all dull-dull-dull in that library” or “If you don’t like girly things or football – and if you’ve done all the Dahl and Walliams already – then – there’s nowt left there to read!” 

So for the purposes of this blog, I was pleased to be able to find out about the School Libraries Association and to track down their Director and I’ll be sharing a bit about some of the marvellous work that they carry out in my next post.  Of course, one of the reasons as to why the reading books available at schools, or in their libraries may not the best in the world (or ‘they’re total bobbins!’ in the words of my girl) – is due to horrific budget cuts but … there is a lot more to be said on this subject, so I’ll hangfire with it for now…

Suffice to say though, that *most* schools will support you in your quest for discovering the best books, the most suitable sort – to pitch at your kids in order for the child to use as their ‘school reading book.’ Meaning that there is nothing to stop you from seizing the initiative and actually sourcing your own book to be used by your kid, when there is nothing available in the classroom that tickles their fancy.  Schools will generally encourage your kid to just damned well read; so they WILL let you use your own books if the reading standard is of a similar match. And please believe me that this also doesn’t have to mean a big financial outlay on your part. Because you can do this;

6) GO RETRO – Some may accuse me of being a bit of a hoarder (or a mucky old tart) but I am so very glad that I kept an awful lot of my childhood books (although let’s not talk about the entire collection of ‘Smash Hits’ from 1985 to 1990 still lingering in my parent’s loft eh? Or Dad’ll be onto me about it again…) Because those books – the Narnias, the Judy Blume’s, ‘Flat Stanley’, ‘The Silver Sword’ etc etc have been the saving grace for my family. Re-reading these books – through the eyes of my daughter – has led to me remembering the titles and authors of books of old; now out of print, or deemed to be unfashionable. Some of them, I’m pleased to say – are having a bit of a comeback or a bit of a re-print (‘Amelia Jane’ for example). And Ebay and Amazon are the bees-knees if you want to track down some second-hand copies of the books that really got you giddy as a child; not to forget the brilliant book sales which are ongoing at most public libraries too – cheap as chips, bless ’em! Get chatting to others adults too, about books that wowed them when they were or a nipper, or which have worked for their child (and yes –  a huge thanks to Sharon B – for telling us about ‘Mortimer the Raven.’)

An ancient copy of 'Mary Poppins.' My cousin coloured her teeth in pink.

My ancient copy of ‘Mary Poppins.’ My cousin coloured Julie’s teeth in pink.

Because the thing about a lot of kids and adults with dyslexia is this; they ain’t thick. Far from it.

The word-skipping and the letter-reversal and the sheer frustration with the stupid topsy-turviness of the english language (resulting in avoidance of writing, or of ‘poor spelling’) are more often than not, actually  the *signs* of a very intelligent mind. Of a brain that works *fast* – that wants to stream ahead and to ‘get to the point of the story.’ Of a brain that is good at de-coding information and which gets totally naffed off with the seeming lack of consistency in written English. So the worst possible sort of book for a noggin like this is something that lacks a riveting story; that purports to be your high-falutin’ literary stuff and that tends to witter on too much about watery sunsets, one that “takes about ten pages to describe a sodding tree-trunk to you” (that’s my other half speaking there – undiagnosed dyslexic, no doubt.) And no, I won’t mention any *specific* modern-day children’s authors here, because us writer-sorts do like to have a sense of solidarity. Just email me for their names instead…  😉

7) GET GRAPHIC – Graphic novels and comics were key in turning both of my kids onto books. The big favourites being ‘The Beano,’ ‘The Dandy,’ followed hot on the heels by Asterix, Tintin and the many Marvel and DC graphic novels from our local library, which my 7 yr old keeps himself amused with for hours (and his Dad too – “Hey! I’m sure that this one should have been in the ‘teenage reader’ section – look at Catwoman’s outfit in this one! That’s…. practically gravity defying!”)

Were you a 'Buster' - or a 'Bimbo' kid?

More of ours. So…Are you a ‘Buster’ – or a ‘Bimbo’ fella?

Another wonderful discovery at one of Kirklees libraries for us, have been the graphic novels for children that convey the Sherlock Holmes stories – along with the books that also illustrate the classics by Dickens and Shakespeare. The complex story structures of classics such as these, are indeed too tricky for children to read in their original form, but they are ideally presented in the medium of graphic art or using the cartooning approach. And they also lend themselves to good old-fashioned ‘Fam-Time shared reading’, where you can explain a little bit more about the socio-economic and political tensions of the time and about the inherent misogynistic attitudes of the Establishment during the 19th Century (or perhaps that’s just the bit that I enjoy telling the kids about the most, just before bedtime.)

When the comic books get ripped? You can upcycle a set of drawers. Here's one I did earlier.

When the comic books get ripped – or if you just want to fill more time when the TV’s gone – you can upcycle a set of drawers. Here’s one I made earlier. Ace, innit?

8) KILL THE TELLY – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The biggest enemy to the reluctant reader is excess screen time. Chuck the telly out of the window. And as well as providing you with more time to read, you can also fill all of the extra time that you will gain with the sort of project illustrated in this photo, instead. And if you *must* have a TV, don’t allow viewing on the week days.  Please, believe me – this little act of discipline is one that you’ll simply suffer the pangs of short-term pain for, whilst reaping the benefits of long-term gain. It can be a LOT harder to bin the box when they’re under the age of 5 (and I personally don’t think that I could have done it, back then) but the minute that they’re able to read, go nuts on getting hold of second hand books!  Let them lose on a pile of those instead of CITV or CSI. I now have to physically lock the room in our home, which houses our biggest collection of the most fun-to-read books (i.e comic/ annuals), if I ever want my kids to do anything other than read … and these days they rarely even think to ask me if they can watch the telly. Remember Roald Dahl’s poem on what TV does to your child?

But, if you had told me that life would be like this three or four years ago, I would have smiled politely to your face and mouthed ‘yeah, right – you weirdo,’ behind your back.

So there you have it. Just a few tips – but as always, I’m eager to learn from others. Please feel free to share any ideas on how to get ALL of us reading a bit more. We should all aspire to be like our next-door neighbour – a chap whom we never see without a book in his hands (even when he’s tackling the binmen for us! He’s a Trooper, indeed.)

And my next blog will involve passing on some thoughts about how we can start getting a bit choosier about our reading material, whilst still supporting our libraries.


Keep those books... you never know when you can captivate someone else with them. (And who remembers 'Chic a Boos'?)

Keep those books… you never know when you can captivate someone else with them. (And who remembers ‘Chic a Boos’?)


*NB – please note that NOT all of these measures will work with a dyslexic child or adult. The severity of dyslexia does differ between people – but I would eat my Tam O’ Shanter if the audiobooks don’t clinch it for you. Oh – and don’t forget that lots of our ‘Classics’ can be accessed and downloaded for FREE – by this amazing scheme… where the books are read out by a band of book-loving volunteers…  http://www.loyalbooks.com/

We don’t need another (Yorkshire) Hero…

29 May

I’ve got plenty of plans to post more blogs about the pull of Disney, Marvel, DC Comics and their marketing prowess. About the guilty crimes that they should all atone for when it comes to failing to effectively combat gender stereotyping (especially that Disney crew…) but just for today – let’s have a bit of non-political, family induced fun:

Boy (aged 7), converses with sister (aged 10) and their father

BOY: Dad. Why don’t none of our superheroes come from Huddersfield?

DAD: Hmm. I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it. They’re all American aren’t they?

BOY: Yeh. And it’s not fair. I’m not American!

DAD: Well, that’s one thing to be thankful for in life, I suppose.

GIRL: That’s racist, that is.

BOY: But I really want a superpower. One of my own.

DAD: Well, it’s interesting that America does have this obsession with being a superpower and even their cart0on characters needing to have a superpower. There’s sociologists and political historians who’d have some good views on why that …

BOY: (interrupting.) Well. I’ve got one anyway. I’ve just decided. I’ve got my own superpower.

DAD: Oh. What is it?

BOY: (holds hands in front of his face) I’ve got the amazing ability to SEE THROUGH MY HANDS!

DAD: Right.

A hand. With special superpowers.

A hand. With special superpowers.

BOY: I can see right through them. Like an X-rayed divisioning-machine!

GIRL: Yeah, right.

BOY: Just put my powers to the test!

GIRL: Okay. Dad. Get something that he has to see – through his ‘magic hands’.

DAD: (passes her a LEGO figure.) Right mister. Keep your hands there. What is it that your sister’s holding up?

BOY: (opens his fingers slightly.) It’s ahhhh. It’s a  storm-trooper LEGO man!

GIRL: (disgusted.) He cheated! He totally cheated! That’s pathetic!

DAD: (trying to avert disaster and a case of sibling pummelling) Well, you know. Everyone has different kinds of superpowers. Perhaps he just needs to work on his. A bit.

GIRL: Hey, it’s  true actually – that. I’ve got a superpower of my own.


GIRL: Yes it’s called… (punches the air) DYSLEXIA!

DAD: Ah. Your Mum’s been encouraging you to look on the bright side again.

GIRL: Yes. And it’s brilliant – it’s a dead good power to have.

DAD: Right. So what’s so great about it?

GIRL: Oh – it gets me off the hook with so many things in life!

DAD: I’m not sure that this is the correct attitude to have…

BOY: So anyway.What’s your superpower, Dad?

DAD: Mine? Ah. Mine is… Infinite Calm and Patience.

GIRL: That’s nearly as stupid as pretending that you can see through your hands. And anyway. I’ve never seen you use it.

DAD: Oh believe me, I’m using it right now. In order to get through this entire conversation. I need to go and lie down for an hour now in order to recharge my Calm and Patient batteries.

GIRL: I thought that ‘Infinity’ meant ‘endless’? Are you trying to get away from us?

On Superhero Day at school, the lad wanted to be 'Stupendous Man' (from Calvin & Hobbes) and the girl wanted to be Malala Yousafzai. Original, at any rate...

On Superhero Day at school, the lad wanted to be ‘Stupendous Man’ (from Calvin & Hobbes) and the girl wanted to be Malala Yousafzai. Original…

Bookish But NEVER Boring…

5 Mar

Reporting back from the promise in my previous blog – to expose the kiddywinks to those Public Information films that so many of us were nurtured with in post-war Britain, I have to say that I am rather disappointed.  We watched many – and the general consensus was “Freaky! Creepy!” or “well you never took no notice of them did you? ‘Cause you’re always talking to strangers in the supermarket. You shouldn’t be so friendly, Mum.”

In fact, my youngest (6) pointed out that “you make us read much more scarier books than those weirdy films what you had to watch.” And I have to confess that this is true. Not a day goes by without me exposing them to one of the classics. Last week it was ‘David Copperfield’ (the 19th century Dicken’s hero – not the overly-tanned n’ toothy American illusionist) and this week we are onto ‘The Man In The Iron Mask.’ (But please note – that clever little devils though they are, my two are not super-brats. I am talking about the graphic novel versions. With me there to read and to explain. No – I don’t shove them in the cellar with a dusty pile of The Classics first editions. Although believe me, the temptation is there on some days…)

In 'The Beano.' Again. But this time for an even more wonderful reason...

In ‘The Beano.’ Again. But this time for an even more wonderful reason…

Today has seen much cheer in the household – as we celebrate World Book Day. My daughter (10) commented to me that; “it was Dennis the Menace who got me reading wasn’t it? And who got me my first radio performance and magazine appearances,” (like she shares the same agent with Big Dennis or summat…) And this is all true. The dyslexic tendencies had led her to hide her school reading books and when I stumbled across an ancient pile of The Beano annuals, it transpired that I had suddenly found something that got her hooked into the world of books.  Which, some longer-term readers on here will know led us to a marvellous project that involved us trying to get reading materials to street children in southern Africa….(read the month of May 2014 for more info – and my girl’s own blog on it all here… https://funnylass.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/comic-remedies/  )

And the journey to the written word took the same ‘Beano’ pattern with the second child (who doesn’t have dyslexia) and who is now one of the biggest Dennis fan in the world. (Indeed, last night he informed me that he wanted all Horrid Henry books removing from his room (“I don’t like Henry. He’s not like Dennis. He’s a bit…. what’s the word…you always say? Sinister. That’s it.”)

Read... or you can watch the film. Or just summarise the story for someone else. The oldest methods are the best...

Read… or you can watch the film. Or just summarise the story for someone else. The oldest methods are the best…

My own thirst for new stories and fresh books (in between trying to write my own – which I am right now, patently avoiding doing…) is also never quenched. In fact, my daughter loves to read the books that I happen to be stuck into at any given moment. Albeit vicariously. Last night it was “I see that you’ve finished The Book Thief. Please PLEASE tell me what happens before I go to bed! Does she kick Hitler’s butt? Or what? Please don’t tell me she dies… I couldn’t bear it! I’ll never get to sleep if she dies..!”

But if you don’t happen to have access to small children yourselves in order to brainwash them with superb reading material – I would still recommend that you immerse yourself in the ancient art of reading aloud. Or of storytelling. Me and my other half  – before reproducing reared its head – covered thousands of miles in southern Africa as I read aloud to him on those deserted, long, straight and dusty roads (because they don’t have Radio 4 there and there are only so many times that you can listen to ‘Wicked Hits of The 80s’.) And even today I always keep a book in the car.  Of course, in the UK we have the opposite traffic problem. Standstill. So if we are having to suffer some (cough) ‘comedy play’ on Radio 4, then I just whip out a tome or two from the dashboard (“But just get to the point of the story,” he always says “You know that I can’t be doing with poetic and flowery so-called literary tosh.”)

Still. There are days when I don’t feel like reading to the kids. Or when they bring a book to me that happens to be a bit more drivelly; you know, something that I really don’t fancy wasting any of my precious minutes on. For example they learned a long time ago NEVER to try and get me to read the Disney book-version of anything out loud to them. And that I also really struggle with reading anything about superheros. (Unless The Life of Jesus counts, because that’s always a great one with which to go off on contemporary and political tangents with; “So sweetie. Jesus saved that lady from a horrid death. Do you think that it’s okay to chuck stones at a woman until she’s dead just because she might have been caught snogging a man who wasn’t her husband? Well that’s what happens in many countries all over the world today!”)c hamster 1

Yes, the world of my own offspring’s books tends to be funny, thrills n’ spills filled and … sometimes dark. Which reminds me of perhaps our ultimate favourite cheeky lad. That 6 year old Calvin and his precious ‘imaginary but real’ tiger, Hobbes.

I first found out about C&H when I was 14 years old and quickly amassed all of these incredible books by the insanely talented and hilarious writer/illustrator, Bill Watterson.  Watterson’s work is far cleverer and far more ‘LOL’ than Peanuts and the like. Calvin and Hobbes should be on the Must Read list of anyone who has ever been a child. In fact, it should be on prescription on the NHS for anyone who every suffers from ‘the blues.’ c hamster 2

As a young teenager I could identify horribly with the plights of Calvin and the nefarious schemes that his evil parents and schoolteachers always employed in order to stop him from simply enjoying life, not having not a care in the world and generally being a lazy little swine with no social conscience.  And now..? But of course. I can completely relate to the downtrodden parents who practically have to re-mortgage the home in order to find anyone crazy enough to babysit Calvin.

So, back to the Joy of Reading and a chance to share with you – in a celebration of all things bookish; what happens to be one of my all time favourite C&H strips.

And yes, gentle reader. I have utilised Calvin’s dad’s tactics on several occasions in order to bring one of the ‘less quality’ stories to a close….c hamster 3 final




Worms and Words

11 Sep

Certain kid turned DOUBLE DIGITS today. Enjoyed her pressies at the brekkie table (big thrill was being treated to a poached egg… I ask you! Is it a roller-coaster of giddy consumerist excess in this household – or what?)

And then it was over to studying the pressies. She was sitting and a-reading the packaging on her new ‘Wiggly Worm World’  (a kit that helps a child to set up a cross-section of a foot of soil so that they can observe an earthworm’s behaviour.)

And then she goes;

“Oh! That is absolutely outrageous! ‘Create your own garden for your worms to EXPLODE’!  Why would I want to EXPLODE worms? That is SO sick!”

And Dad goes;

“Sweetie. Slow down on your reading. It says ‘for your worms to ***EXPLORE***’

Oh the joys of a sharp mind, with dyslexia….that loves to skip the words…

The next Big Worry. Are we breeding worms in order to feed our ferocious budgie?

The next Big Worry. Are we breeding worms in order to feed our ferocious budgie?


Chocs Away!

19 Jul

Well, I thought that ‘Chocs Away’ was a much better title than ‘All About My Book Launch.’  If you are a newcomer to this blog (welcome pals!) then you will soon discover that my daughter has dyslexia and that it leads to many interesting ‘language moments’ … (See ‘Be Enterprising’ blog below.)

As we were chatting about the book launch in the run up to it all, I could see the cogs and wheels turning in my girl’s mind.  She is now (at the age of 9) beginning to realise that she does have a special relationship with language. A wonderful mynah bird gift and a strong tendency towards taking things very literally.

So I was rather chuffed when she said; ‘Okay, I realise now that you’re not really going to fire your books off into the air for people to catch them. Like a bride at a wedding with her flowers. ‘Cause, anyway – that would be really stupid as the building is right next to the canal,’

‘Good!’ I said. ‘We call it a launch because … like a rocket or like a ship. Or a missile – we want to put it out there. Get it started off.’

‘Chocs Away!’ shrieked the 6 year old (no idea where he got that from.)

‘Yes…..’ I replied.

‘Wow!’ she continues.  ‘So, are we going to be having a load of chocolate there too?’

I gave up trying to explain more at that stage (although it did turn out that the choccy analogy was a good one as the key protagonist in ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ is a woman who is running a chocolate social enterprise Up North.) Still, my budget didnt stretch to giving out complimentary chocolate bars – but my lovely guests did get to go hyper on some very posh coffee, on the best cakes ever to tickle the tastebuds of west Yorkshire folk (courtesy of Ma Longden) and to hear me doing a reading from my book.

Incidentally, for me – the most fun bit about having had a book published is the reading aloud to the audience thing. At kiddy bedtime, my other half often tries to prevent me from reading to them (‘They’re too old! They can read now! You get all giddy and an hour later you’ve got them looking at youtube on the film version of the book!’) But I just love to read aloud to them (unless its Michael Morpurgo which my daughter has banned because ‘even you with your weird voices mum, can’t make his stuff exciting for me. Soz.’)

So the best bit about the book launch was that I got to play at bedtime story reading AND unlike kiddy-bedtime, I got to swear throughout it!  Reading - lady behind me already asleep?

What else was special about the launch?

Give me Da Moolah! (And I'll lose it.)

Give me Da Moolah! (And I’ll lose it.)

Well… my kids attended (and behaved themselves. Although you should never let a 9 year old with dyscalculia collect money from your book sales. We still don’t know where the missing tenner is.) My parents were there and worked like trojans in order to make the place look dazzling (despite rather too many of my writer friends being arty-farty types who wouldn’t know an honest day’s work if it hit them.)  Everyone enjoyed the fact that we were in the middle of a brand new Coffee Roastery. And we were right next to the Huddersfield narrow canal (coffee and canals…two of my favourite things in life.)

Audience unimpressed with strong language. They are mostly from west Yorkshire. Nuff said.

Audience unimpressed with strong language. They are mostly from west Yorkshire. Nuff said.

And I loved the fact that I got to wear my Granny’s gold charm bracelet.  My good luck nod to Gran. Would she have been proud of me? Probably not. Shouting profanities in the middle of a gathering of very well dressed and rather well to do people? Nah. She would have accused me of being ”common’ or ‘a right Miss Kek.’

That bracelet - but a less than charming gob ...

That bracelet – but a less than charming gob …

Post-launch slump?  I’d missed the copy of the newspaper which covered the launch. Jim from the Gym had asked all of his mates to see if anyone had that edition. Thankfully someone had. That evening I happened to mention this to my other half. A look of abject horror on his face. ‘Oh God. I cleaned the windows today.’   Ten minutes later the precious extract – which I had been keeping for my children as evidence that their mother wasn’t a totally useless old slapper – was brought out from the recycling bin.

So…. we have lived in this house for nearly 7 years now. And we have only ever cleaned the windows three times (and one of those times it was my dad who did it – ‘Can’t bloody stand looking through that filth any longer.’)  And on the third attempt, my husband decided to scrub the grime off the windows. Using his wife’s face.    How very Freudian.

Anyway.  See below. This is what it looked like afterwards.   Moral of the tale? A most northern lesson. ‘Don’t Get Above Yerself Too Much, Lady…’


A scrunched up Me and the Local MP!

A scrunched up Me and the Local MP!




Be Enterprising. But don’t be Too Literal …

6 Jul

My day job involves fostering enterprise and ethical trading. Meaning that yesterday, I was all smiles when I saw a few of the locals in Addingham selling food and drink over their garden walls – to the thousands of people who have descended upon Yorkshire for the first leg of the Tour de France here.

I was gagging for a drink and had forgotten to pack my water bottle. So I nudged my 9 yr old (who is dyslexic and who also has a dab of dyscalculia – like her dear old mum) to accompany me to make a wee purchase and work out the change da dee dah.

We approached a local chappie who had set out a little table on the side of the street.

DAUGHTER: A bottle of water please. Is it fair trade water?

MAN: Dunno, actually. Can you get fair trade water?

DAUGHTER: Oh, believe me. You can get fair trade anything! So, if it isn’t … and if it’s a bad company what harms people with their water … my dad’ll have ’em for it – yeah?

MAN: Right… That’s 70 pence, my love.

DAUGHTER: (hands over correct money!) There you go.

MAN: Ta. Tell all your friends won’t you?

DAUGHTER: I will do. But it’s probably a bit pointless because it’ll be Monday- when I’m back at school. And none of them are old enough to come to Addingham on their own. And anyway – are you still going to be sitting here then? Selling water?

(Moral of the Story – Tell the world that dyslexic people tend to take things very literally …)

Stop! The water we have here in our Yorkshire taps is far nicer and cheaper than your bottled stuff!

Stop! The water we have here in our Yorkshire taps is far nicer and cheaper than your bottled stuff!




The only thing GRIM is the humour …

3 Jul

Very nice to see my mugshot and book cover in the biggest and bestselling mag for anyone in the UK who writes – ‘Writing Magazine.’  Wa-hey!

The title of the article was ‘It’s not so grim up north’ and this got me to thinking about why we associate the North with being ‘grim’ anyway.  Personally, I can’t think of anywhere less grim (apart from London, that is.) And I grew up in east Manchester, for Gawd’s sake!

Many of you know that I’ve been wittering on about street children in Africa in between having my head stuck in boxes of books and getting all giddy about my launch (photos of me in a FROCK coming soon folks!) But beyond all of that, there have been many light-hearted moments. Honest, guv!

So, I thought I would scribble ye a blog that contains some of the very un-grim chunnerings that have occurred over the last few weeks in our community.

One of my favourite magazines. Telling the world that we ain't grim!

One of my favourite magazines. Telling he world that we ain’t grim!

Un-Grim Scenario 1:

Daughter with dyslexia presents daddy with a ‘Hapy Fartrs Day’ card.  Yes. We said nothing. She gets very touchy about her spelling.

Un-Grim Scenario 2:

Walking the kids to school. Our next door neighbour slows down in her car and says ‘Do you want a lift?’ I reply ‘No! Go away with your flashy BMW, we’re walking! We’re a healthy family we are! Not like you lardy lot!’  Neighbour pulls away and gives us the finger. Just as one of the teachers from school crosses the road in time to see it.

Un-Grim Scenario 3:

Visiting our local Co-op shop. Note – we’ve always thought that wherever you live, in west Yorkshire – the Co-op tends to employ really …. hmmm…. ‘unusual’ people. I mean, they’re all really quite *nice* (apart from that pervy bloke that reminds me of a slug. In in the-village-that-cannot-be-named). But. They’re just sort of … different.  And recently, I’ve begun to suspect that our local Co-op staff have been on the Happy Pills. Perhaps senior managers have created a new staff incenctive scheme. Anyway, I was there, trying to rifle through the reduced items (they had mini pork pies AND sausage rolls) and my quest for the best bargain was being accompanied by a woman who was singing away as she cleaned the fridge section out. ‘You sound happy!’ I said. ‘Yeah!’ she goes. ‘I love cleaning the fridges. Actually – it’s my day off and I came in today ’cause I was bored and I like cleaning the fridges here. Can’t stand doing my own one, at home though. Well boring.’  I had noticed that she wasn’t wearing any uniform. ‘Hey – will you do mine for me?’ I asked her. ‘Only if it’s industrial-sized,’ she says. ‘They don’t do it for me, otherwise.’

Un-Grim Scenario 4:

DAUGHTER:  MUM! Guess what happened today? One of the dinnerladies told me that she’d read your book!

ME: Wow. That’s great. So what did she say about it?

DAUGHTER: Nowt. Just that she’d read it.

ME: Oh – okay.

DAUGHTER: But don’t worry. You know what people are like round here. If she’d thought it were right bobbins, she would have said so!

Un-Grim Scenario 5:

On being told that we had to leave early from the Yorkshire Yurt Festival at the foot of Holme Moss

SON (aged 6):  It’s not fair! We never get to stay in yurts! Everybody else can stay in a yurt forever! But not us! And Father Christmas never gets me what I want. And all my other friends have the best Skylander LEGO Chima Ninja whatever – but not me! We are so poor! I want to stay in the yurt! Everyone else in the world can stay in yurts! I hate this family! I want to live with another family!

A yurt that provoked yorkshire wrath ...

A yurt that provoked yorkshire wrath …

Un-Grim Scenario 6:

On being asked by my daughter (9) to sign a form so that she can join in with a new class at school which is all about  something mysterious called ‘Living and Growing.’ She seemed to think that this was the big “bleugh bleugh – word beginning with ‘S’ Education’ lesson stuff. I was trying to convince her that  the lessons would probably be about plants and animals. And general lessons about life. Nothing too hideous for the kids’ delicate little ears.  She wasn’t having any of this though (I mean, what the hell do parents know, anyway?) She became more and more insistent and animated and then shrieked something at the top of her voice. I was very shocked. And confused. But tried to stay calm when I said;

ME:    What do you mean, they ‘teach the lessons to us by using a cock’?  I don’t understand. Where on earth did you hear that from?

DAUGHTER: ‘I didn’t say ‘cock’. I said ‘cop’. A cop. From Huddersfield police station.  To teach us about dangers and drugs and things. Why would a cockeral teach us about Living and Growing? You’re so weird, mum!”

Sex education in the Victorian way. Never mind the cocks - there IS a fowl in the classroom here!

Sex education in the Victorian way. Never mind the cocks – spot the fowl in the classroom here!

Un-Grim Scenario 7:

DAUGHTER: Hope it’s alright mum, but we’re doing about drugs now at school, so I’ve taken the envelope of drugs in to show everyone in my class.

ME: What?

DAUGHTER: You know. The envelope by the back door which says ‘Drugs from Eric the dodgy policeman.’

ME: What? No! Those are flower seeds from Uncle Eric. For us to plant in the garden!

DAUGHTER: Well. Why did you write something so stupid on it then?

ME: Because …. we thought that it was funny. He’s a policeman. And he gave us an envelope with seeds to plant. It just seemed amusing …

DAUGHTER: Well it wasn’t. And he’s a policeman. So he should have known better. It would  have been really embarrassing if I’d brought drugs to show everyone at school and they turned out to be rubbish flower seeds.




Exceptional – NOT the Strange Ones…

18 Aug

‘Exceptional’ to me doesn’t mean ticking all of the academic boxes – being a super-duper all-rounder brainy bod. Exceptional people are highly gifted personalities whose traits often include ‘asynchronous development’ (a quick explanation of this; that a child appears to be ‘wise beyond their years’ in many ways – but may be less advanced than peers emotionally, socially or academically)

DANDA is an excellent charity in the UK that speaks on behalf of such Exceptional people. It chooses to use the term ‘neuro-diverse’ in order to describe the ‘catch all’ of such a wide range of often amazingly gifted people – such as those who also have Dyspraxia, AD(H)D, and Asperger Syndrome, Autism and Dyslexia. But all too often, society is NOT geared up to deal with the different needs of such people…and this is one that I could blog on about forever!

One of the most terrific websites I have seen on this issue, belongs to the marvellous Mr Stuart Vallantine.  Stuart grew up in the street next to me, in East Manchester.  Please take a few more minutes to read about him ‘Awkward and proud since 1979’….and then go and have a wee sing along with Mr Joseph Aquilina…another talented chap…