Tag Archives: namibia

Ofsted – Buy A Goat?

23 Sep

During tea-time my 11 year old provided me with the highlights of her day. Usually this takes an hour or so, whereas with my lad – even if ISIS had turned up in the middle of Indoor PE and created a hostage situation in the hall – I’d be lucky to hear about it. But anyway, the girl started telling me all about the fact that her after-school childminder was reet chipper because she “got a great result in her OXFAM inspection!

I corrected her use of the word ‘OXFAM’, reminding her of the term ‘Ofsted’, it’s aims and objectives, mission statement and long-term strategic plan. (Okay – I exaggerate.) After that, the conversation went something like this:

HER: So Cameron and his lot pay people to come to schools and snoop on us all? That’s well out of order! I didn’t know that that happened!
ME: You do. We’ve had this conversation before. You’ve been at school through at least three different Ofsted inspections. Don’t you remember telling me about the teacher’s ‘different smile’ for the inspector?
HER: Oh yeah! Ha! Mrs [Nameless] had such a different face and smile and voice for visitors from outside to our school, than the ones she used for us.

Snooping kid grows up to become OFSTED child care inspector?

Snooping kid grows up to become Ofsted child care inspector?

ME: Well, to be honest, most grown-ups do that from time to time when faced with the fear of public humiliation, loss of career and the cost of paying for the anti-depressants.
HER: The inspectors – are they horrible then?
ME: No. Most of them are very nice. They were when I’ve dealt with them, anyway.
HER: Oh! So how did that happen? You don’t normally like to come anywhere near school! You tell Dad that it makes you feel ill and that you’d rather stab a knitting needle in your eye!
ME: I never do!
HER: You did! You said it the other week and I remember because you had a fork in your hand and you were doing this (mimics me pretending to stab myself in the eye with a piece of cutlery.)
ME: Well, alright. But that’s not because of your school. I love your school. And that’s why I like to speak to the inspectors. To tell them the specific bits that I really rate.
HER: So … even though everyone else is scared of them – were they nice to you?
ME: Well, they always seem a bit guarded at first. Because if a parent contacts them of their own accord, they assume that they are going to get a nasty old moan and horrible things said about the school.
HER: So they’re shocked that you say lovely things about a school?
ME: Yeah.
HER: Bet they think just that you’re being a right old crawly-crawly bum-lick for the school.

Ofsted. Raising Standards. Improving the profits of the pharmaceutical industry specialising in anti-depressants...

Ofsted. Raising Standards. Improving the profits of the pharmaceutical industry that specialises in anti-depressants…

ME: Don’t be rude. And I feel sorry for them too. The inspectors. They’ve got a ridiculous system of regulation that they have to wield and the criteria for assessment is constantly changing.
HER: Speak normal.
ME: Well… there’s a huge long list of things that a school or a childminder has to do in order to get top marks. And if they miss out on only one or two of them, they won’t get 100%.
HER: Like…?
ME: Right. Let’s google the ones that the teachers have to demonstrate. (I google.) Ruddy Nora! There’s millions of them! No wonder the poor buggers always look so knackered!
HER: Stop swearing. Grandma doesn’t like it
ME: Well… here’s one of the more ‘hard to prove’ ones. It says here that a teacher has to prove that their kids in the classroom feel ‘safe and valued’ by them.

Right! Which of you little swines told the Inspector that I didn't value you you all?!

“Right! Which of you little swines told the Inspector that I didn’t VALUE you?!”

HER: That makes sense. But they have about 30 kids. And what if one of them hated their teacher? Or just felt not-valued. They can’t prove that sort of thing! Like, for example – YOU say that you value me and love me and all that but you’re always….
ME: (interrupts) And look – here’s the list for childminders. In their home-setting, a childminder has to provide an area for ‘outside mark-making.’ That’s just insane. That’s just encouraging the little sods to grow up to become graffiti hoodlums!

HER: So my childminder wouldn’t get top marks if she didn’t let my brother scribble all over the garage door with a biro?
ME: Something like that.

We ended our very adult-conversation by concluding that some form of regulation for those who we palm our kids off to is a necessary evil. But that it’s all gotten very much out of hand these days.
And we decided that the world would be much better place to live in if the folk from OXFAM *did* regulate childcare and educational provision instead of Ofsted, after all. i.e.

Why should our pals in Namibia always be the ones who have the hand-me downs?

Yessir. Why should our street children pals in Namibia always be the ones who have the hand-me downs?

“Greenway Junior School failed to meet ‘OXFAM Outstanding status’ because several children were found to be wearing new school uniforms and NOT hand-me downs! This meant that the resulting money saved and sent to Namibia for the children’s school uniform and clothes in that country was reduced considerably. Shame on you.


“This childminder is rated as ‘OXFAM Improving’ because she drives a Hummer, which directly goes against our carbon-neutral policy and indirectly harms the indigenous people living in the Amazon basin. ‘Good’ status will be re-instated if she takes the children to school on horseback or via unicycle.”


The kind of thing you’re expected to do in order to achieve the coveted ‘Ofsted Outstanding’…


No Iron Age. No Iron Lady.

28 Jun

The Kid (aged 7) mooched into the room. He took one look at me and shrieked “Muvvah!” (yes…that’s how he refers to me – he listens non-stop to Just William audiobooks as read by Martin Jarvis.) And then he goes;

“Hey, Muvvah! What on Erf are you DOIN?”

I felt a little bit disgruntled. Knocked off-kilter. So I said (somewhat defensively.)

“I’m ironing.”   And he replied;

It might look vintage. But it's not-cool.

It might look vintage. But it’s not-cool.

“Wow. No. Really? That’s so weird!”   So I answered; “Why? What’s the problem?” and then the laddie came out with;

“Well. I’ve never seen you do that….fing before! How do you know how to DO it? Make the iron actually WORK. Like. I didn’t know that you could *use* it.  I mean – Grandma does it all of the time. But how do you know…how to work it? And where do you hide that… Iron-fing? And the funny table-fing what you use it on? I ain’t never seen it, Muvvah.”

But I’m not too ashamed of my lack of ironing prowess. In fact, some more sharp-as-a-knife crease obsessed pals of mine have accused me of being perversely proud of the fact that over a period of the last 12 months, I have plugged the iron in just twice (and yes, have ironed 2 items only.)

So please believe me, that there are a number of VERY valid reasons for my ironing-impotence:

1) Time. I don’t have much of it. And the precious few minutes that I do have, I refuse to waste – hunched up over an ironing board.

Another Iron Lady whose examples we do not need to follow...

Another Iron Lady whose examples we do not need to follow…

2) Scruffiness. That’s me. That’s my family. Like it or lump it.

3) Aspiration/Class. I’ve experienced enough of such misled working-class aspirations to know that the phrase ‘Oooh and her children are ever so nicely turned out’ is simply a way of keeping the masses chained to an ironing board (especially the women-folk.) In fact, the filthy-rich sorts; the uber-confident types that I’ve encountered across the world – couldn’t give a rat’s ass if their t-shirt looks like it fell down the back of a radiator for several months. So if it’s good enough for the likes of them…

4) My son. He has a strange fascination with anything that borders on the hot/flammable/dangerous.  Keep the hissing red-hot steam electrical products hidden well away from the little varmint, I say.

5) Domestic workers/ Cleaners. Similar to point (3). When  I first moved to Namibia, the more fortunate women of the poor in society, that I lived and worked alongside there –  considered themselves to be lucky to have landed a job as ‘a domestic.’ And these women had standards and dignity in spades. In fact, they held such a fierce pride in their ironing and knicker-folding ability, that it put me off fannying around with ironing boards for life.  They felt sorry for me – for my inability to do anything remotely impressive on the domestic front. They even mocked me and said stuff like “Aw Christina – did your Mama never teach you to peg out your washing nicely? Naughty Christina’s Mama!”  (traumatised by this, I am. Traumatised.)

6) ‘No Need To Iron Material!’  Especially the fact that you can now buy school uniform made out of this clever-cloth. So, nuff said. I mean – why *would* you even bother? My two tykes couldn’t give a monkey’s if their skirt or shirt is screwed up to buggery. Okay – once they turn 13 or 14, they might start to care a bit more – when some stuck-up, appearance-obsessed little twerp at the local high school tries to have a bit of a pop at them. And so, when/if that ever becomes the case, my kids can sodding well iron their own. And no, they will not be receiving a financial reward/incentive for such actions.

7) Men and Shirts.  See the last sentence above. He can, he always has and believe you-me; he always will.

sad man, ironing board, wash clothing and iron, isolated

You know that he loves it really…

8) The coolest people that I know don’t even OWN an iron.  These people are my role models. They also tend not to own hair dryers, hair straighteners or those funny little vacuum cleaners for the car (I know! How the hell do they manage? Bloody eccentrics.)

So as a constant reminder to me – never to back down on the Me No-Iron vow, one of my favourite artifacts that takes pride of place in my home, is the little beauty in the photos below.  Ironing is hateful enough when you’ve got the latest state of the artTefal model which promises to rattle through even your most hardcore ruffles at the speed of lightning – but can you imagine what it used to be like? What the experience was like for the women who lived less than a hundred years ago? Having to shove these heavy as hell things onto a range (if you were lucky enough to have one), to wait for it to heat up and then totry and minimise the dirt, the soot and the perils of it accidentally falling onto your husband’s head?

They don't make 'em like this anymore. (So we're supposed to be grateful.)

They don’t make ’em like this anymore. (So we’re supposed to be grateful.)

No. We owe it to oppressed people all over the world to sling the damned iron and the ironing board in the nearest skip.

(And if you respond to this blog and tell me that you actually ENJOY ironing, then that’s fine. Horses for courses.  I mean,  I quite like cleaning my children’s ears out with a cotton-wool bud, but I realise that it doesn’t tickle everyone’s fancy.)

Feel free to chuck this at the nearest person who makes you feel that you *should* iron...

Feel free to chuck this at the nearest person who makes you feel that you *should* iron…

Everything Is Lovely

12 Apr

I’ve been asked by the marvellous Anne L Harvey to carry on the torch of ‘My Lovely Blog.’ This is simply a relay-blog between fellow writers who share similar interests and take in life.  I’m going to have a stab at answering these questions and then will pass you onto two further buddies…

My First Memory

Plenty of little ‘flashes’ – lying on a pink and black checked blanket outside my parent’s house in East Manchester.  Feeling as though I was going to melt like one of those sticky lemonade lollies that we always clamoured for from the ‘Faircloughs’ ice-cream van that used to do the rounds. Yes, this was *that* summer of 1976 and my parents clearly hadn’t heard of sunscreen, sun hats and the fact that pale, white-blonde baby girls shouldn’t be dumped outside a house in order to sizzle.

Another memory from outside of our house – me doing a Houdini – escaping from the reins that bound me into the big red pram. Me bouncing up and down on the edge of it. Yet still more parental neglect? I bet Mum was havin’ a crafty fag out the back door. Or had gone to the Costa del Sol with the milkman or something.

What *was* it about parents in the 70's and their insistence on dumping kids on blankets in the sun?

What *was* it about parents in the 70’s and their insistence on dumping kids on blankets whenever there was a sniff of  the sun?

But my strongest memory is of 1977. I had just learned to dress myself and proudly trundled downstairs. Our kid was sitting at the kitchen dinette table that our Dad had lovingly built. The bro’ was eating in his usual disgusting fashion (‘I’ll mash up my Weetabix, add loads of sugar and then scoop it up with my fingers.’ And he was nearly 3 years older than me, for goodness sake!) Sadly however, my mother paid me no notice whatsoever. She was hanging around ‘the wireless’ and crying. The newsreader had just announced the death of Elvis Presley.

(Did I tell you that Elvis Presley was my dad? No? Well. He should have been. I bet he wouldn’t have tried to fry me, or allow me to abseil off the end of my pram or ignore my early efforts at wardrobe-assemblage.)


Of course – I jest about my horribly neglected childhood.  One of the things that I am most grateful to my mum for, is the fact that whenever she had a spare minute she would try and shove  her nose into the nearest book.  I can’t think of a better role model for a child. Interestingly however, I was never that impressed with the books that she urged me to read; Milly Molly Mandy, the Famous Five, Black Beauty, Janet and John.  No I reckoned that these sorts of choices were too ‘posh, too ‘up-itself.’ The stuff that my mother had been urged to ‘develop’ her reading muscle with as a kid, just left me cold. I guess this was the beginning of a lifetime enslavement to my own form of inverted snobbery.  Poor Mum. She did her best to introduce me to a lot of the decent, more literary stuff for kids. But I just wasn’t buying it.

It wasn’t until a thirty years ago that I came up with the idea of ‘Chrissy’s Book-It List.’ All of the classics – the most critically acclaimed high-fallutin’ stuff – that you’re supposed to read according to University Literature departments across the world. The Top 100 or whatever – that the critics who reckon themselves to be ‘in the know’ – say that you just gotta rifle your way through. I produced my own list and yup! Am steadily working my way through them all. Plus scribblings produced by writer friends and books by friends of friends (such as those published by the northern company Bluemoose – their productions are always worth hurling a Tolstoy across the room for, when you’re in need of a modern, well-written read that isn’t accompanied by the usual silly, London-centric literary PR-fanfares.)

Thinking about my grown-up Book-It list a bit more though, it does very much reflect the themes that titillated me the most as a child. So I’m doing plenty of political and historical sagas, satirical stuff, tragedies and wisdom with a twist of spirituality.  Chick lit, bodice-rippers and aristocratic oppression of the masses ain’t on the cards, pal.

Libraries/ Bookshops

Bookshops? BOOKSHOPS? In your dreams. In my childhood’s neck of the woods, there was never any point in entering a bookshop unless you had recently had a birthday and a very thoughtful Auntie (who happened to you know you very well) had treated you to a book token. Even at University there was very little point in locating a bookshop. I couldn’t afford them. Neither could kids from similar backgrounds to me who managed to get to university on that hallowed grant system (there was one lad at Uni however, who was also working class and who always had the recommended texts on our course – but he used to nick them from Dillons, so he doesn’t count.)

So it was libraries for me. The library was just a few hundred yards from our house and I visited it several times a week. Walked on my own. Crossed a main road. From the age of 7. Swigged a can of Special Brew on the way (okay, okay – I made up the last bit but you know what? Those were FUN days to be a child…)

It felt like that I lived in the library during the summer holidays. My earliest ‘library memory’ involved me and my best friend getting told off by one of those really scary librarians whose face looked like a cat’s bum. Our crime? We had both taken out 4 books just after 9am and returned them during the afternoon. Wanting 4 more out each. We got a bollocking; “You’re not supposed to visit twice in one day! Our system doesn’t allow for things to be checked out more than once!”

Fortunately even at the age of 9, I realised that even our marvellous municipal libraries end up having to employ the odd miserable old trout or so and who hates kids.

And even though that particular ratty old bag has been pensioned off into the great beyond – it does seem  these days, rather too many of her relatives  have been employed by local authorities. You know the sorts. The guys n’ gals taking the decisions to shut down over half of our public libraries.The sorts who don’t have an imaginative bone in their body and for whom it wouldn’t even occur that a library isn’t just a place to borrow books, but that it’s the very heart and soul of a locality. That it’s a blueprint to mental survival. A lifeline for many a curious and contemplative child and for many a lonely adult. Or simply  a sanctuary for those who live, learn and lust for a bit of bookish adventure

Damn. See what you started?

Some people think that these kids are the lowest of the low. San children of Namibia. Go google.

Some people think that these kids are the lowest of the low. San children of Namibia. Go google.

What’s Your Passion

Apart from libraries, you mean? Okay… People who ‘lack the contacts’ in order to get a fair deal in life. Whether they be unemployed ex-offenders in Manchester, working class Pakistani-British in west yorkshire or impoverished and starving rural communities in Africa.  Looking back, I guess that this has always been the thread that has wound its way through my work and my life. Not consciously….

But somehow I always end up getting involved with the outcasts, the unlucky in life and the folk whom people in the positions of power all too often perceive to be ‘unfortunate scum’ (NB at this point I am tempted to add ‘And yes dear reader, I married him!’ Heh heh.)


My brother and I were the first in our family to go to University. It was all a bit of a culture shock for me. I spent 3 years crying into a public pay phone and naffing off the other kids in the queue. My conversations seemed to consist of ‘I hate it here! Please can I come home? Everyone is so much… posher than I am. They’ve all read these books that I haven’t. And I’ve eaten Mum’s frozen Quiche every day for four weeks now, so can she make me some more to freeze? Oh. And someone fed all of my Cup a Soups to the fish in the pond.’

Other kids on those pay phones seemed to have chats with their parents along the lines of; “And Oh My God – Jemima was like – so drunk, Mum – that she like, totally like, projectile vomited all over the President of our Hall – but he was like – totally cool with it and even, like – shagged her afterwards.” Or “I don’t care, Mummy. You just have to send me the extra £100 because I wore that ball gown last term and there is like, no way-over-my-dead-body that I’m wearing the same gown twice.”

Sadly I am not exaggerating about the conversations between these girls and their mothers. I remembered rushing back to my room at University in order to jot down these exact conversational shap-shots.

I was so poor at University that I couldn't afford a haircut. Or a longer skirt.

I was so poor at University that I couldn’t afford a haircut. Or a longer skirt.

So yes, I was the last of a dying breed. Kid who got to go to university on a government grant. Kid who felt like a fish out of water and worked her backside off in order to do her parents proud.

Theoretically, I think that I would have done well at university, whatever (that hard-work ethic) but the real learning that I accumulated there came from the adults  – a couple of pretty special tutors and the Brummies that I worked alongside in the local shop – rather than the actual courses that I took.   Which is why – when it comes to the big question of ‘University or Not’ for my kids – I feel pretty ambivalent. I reckon that true learning in life is not at all about academic – or career – achievements.

But I’ll save that for another blog and another day.


I struggle with writing about writing. Because for me, it’s just the same as breathing. If I can’t do it, I’ll explode. But then … to admit the NEED to write for me, took a long, long time.

There still exists a massive class barrier for those from the poorest sectors of society who want to write. The Writing World is still 99% controlled by well-off, well-educated, white folk who lack the societal, economic and often physical barriers faced by the masses who might be pen-savvy. Did I also mention that they’re almost exclusively London-based too? I did?   😉

Thankfully the internet and the indie route to publication and artistic expression is rocking the traditional world of publishing to its very core.  It certainly was more than time wasn’t it?

And maybe I’m just bobbins at promoting myself, my own writing (or maybe I’ m just lazy and simply just enjoy rather more rather more alternative avoidance tactics than watching The X Factor on telly) but I’d rather spend lots of my own time championing the writing of others. And especially on upping the writing chances of the underdog. Which reminds me. I must tell you more about why I’m involved with the fabulous writing charity ‘First Story.’ One for another blog methinks….)


Anyroadup. That’s this ‘My Lovely Blog’ shenanigans over for me. I’ll now pass you onto two writer-chums of mine.  Tim E Taylor and KB Walker. Both have been fantastic help to me in terms of advice on my own writing and both are hugely talented in other areas of life (I shall drop in some key words here – such as ‘musician’, ‘educator’, ‘farming’ and ‘community’) and also need to add that the two of them also happen to be incredibly nice, witty and charming people. (People like that. Make you feel sick, don’t they? Not that I’d ever say that about them in public, of course.)

Over to Tim and Kim!

KB Walker

Tim E Taylor


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




Zip It!

10 Jan

‘Zip It!’ A popular expression in our house. Normally employed for smaller human beings who are gobbing off beyond a reasonable level. But the recent horror of Charlie Hebdo has left me and many other parents that I know, wondering if we now need to be uttering this phrase a bit more at the kids.

Interestingly, it seems to be the more switched on, politically aware, well-read and generous folk who are fretting the most about their children saying or doing something that might offend someone else – in this stoked-up atmosphere of religion, politics and race.

Regular readers of this blog will know that me and mine represent everything that your anti-multiculturalist sorts love to hate. So you might think that I have all of the perfect answers when it comes to discussing such sensitive issues with my kids. In fact, no. No. And I certainly didn’t have all of this off to pat before Charlie Hebdo.  Here are some recent examples of the level of dialogue that has always been ongoing within My Fam:

Scene 1 Namibia (southern Africa). Me, Him and 2 kids.  Driving through a police check-point on the road outside of the Capital. Unlike the rest of us – my 6 yr old lad is a chap of very few words….

10 yr old: It’s not fair! They never stop us. They never search us!

Him: You don’t want to be searched. Look at the people in the cars over there. They’re really naffed off.

10yr old: But it’s not fair! I really wanna get searched! We’ve been through these road-blocks about twenty times now and they never stop us. Why?

6yr old: It’s because we’re white.

Me: Whaaaat?

"I'll swap you a Stop n' Search exemption for the Right to Wee"

“I’ll swap you a Stop n’ Search exemption for the Right to have a Wee”

Scene 2- Namibia (southern Africa) a few days later. Visiting a national monument which is only usually visited by people from the different black ethnic groups. We are desperate for the loo.

10 yr old: This is awful! They keep telling us the wrong way to the toilets and we’ve been back three times now and ask and they still just flap their hand at us and tell us to go the wrong way.

Me: The seem to think that we’re just being a nuisance. We should have gone to the loo before we got here, though. Oooh – I’m bursting!

10 yr old: Well, they’re hardly busy… we’re the only ones here in the car park! Why are they being so rude and unhelpful? I feel like they don’t like us! People! Why aren’t you helping us? Before our Mum wets her pants!

6 yr old: It’s because we’re white.

Me: Pardon?!

Of course, in both of these instances the normally oh-so quiet 6 yr old was making a mere observation. One which very much shocked us. Because of his lack of verbosity, we simply haven’t  sat with him and explained to him issues of race, apartheid, politics etc in the way that his older sibling might have had our attention…

Scene 3Leaving our semi-rural immediate neighbourhood we are now driving through an inner-city suburb, somewhere Up North.

6 yr old: Hey, Mum! I think you’ve got us lost, Mum. Hey!

Confused of Africa? Or of UK?

Confused of Africa? Or of UK?

Me: Why?

6 yr old: Because I think…we’re in Africa

10 yr old: What are you on about? You little weirdo.

6 yr old: Look – outside – everyone’s looking like…we’re in Africa! It’s well cool!

10 yr old: Yeah, right – Stupid! Do I see any giraffes? Or those termite mound things? It’s raining! Are you totally thick, or what?

6 yr old: Well – that one over there in the doorway-thingy is a street child. I think.

10 yr old: It’s a drunken man asleep in a pile of sick! You idiot!

Me: Stop being horrible to your brother. I think he only means that there a lot of black people in this area.

6 yr old: Yes – that’s what I meant. I just never knew there were so many black people in England.

Him: (to Me) Keep him away from the English Defence League and their lot, eh?

6 yr old: (sulking) And anyway. I want to go back to Africa now. It’s better than living with you lot.

Me: (to Him) I don’t think his sentiments lie with the EDF, dear. It’s just his use of language and terminology that we perhaps need to work on…

Scene 4 After a troublesome time in the playground

6 yr old: I don’t like them brown boys. I won’t ever play with them.

Me: (shocked) What do you mean? What’s wrong with them?

6 yr old: I just don’t like them.

Me: But … well. You can’t say that you don’t like ‘brown boys.’ You shouldn’t…

6 yr old: Well I just don’t like any of them.

Me: But you can’t say that! You can’t go round saying things like that. Your cousins are… well – ‘brown.’ Aren’t they?

6 yr old: Yeah. But they’re different. I know them.

(NB – It turned out that what he meant was the Pakistani-British boys all knew each other and he found it hard to break into their games. One week later it was “Mum – I always play with the brown boys now and they’re all my best friends!” “Great,” I replied. “But shouldn’t we maybe not use the word ‘brown?'” Only to be corrected by daughter who goes “Well, my auntie always says she would rather be called ‘brown’ because that’s the shade she is as she isn’t the colour of black or of Pakistani. And calling someone a ‘Paki’ is just nasty and upsets people and like… has gone out with Martin Luther King’s time. Or whatever. Although…I heard someone say ‘that Paki shop’ the other day. But there were old and a bit stupid so you can forgive ’em”)

Scene 5 – Our kitchen. Children sharing out coloured sweets.

10 yr old: I’ve made little piles of the different ones, see? But I’m not having any of the blacks as I hate them…..(thinks)  Oh no!! Did I say something racist, Mum?

6 yr old: It’s okay. I hate the whites. So it all works out fair dunnit?

Got sick of discussing matters of race. So promptly lobbed the bitter lemons back at the grown ups.

Got sick of discussing matters of race. So promptly lobbed the bitter lemons back at the grown ups.

These kind of conversations go on all of the time in most households across the land. And each of these little scenarios were remembered by me – not because the kids said something cute and funny – but because my own reaction felt confused. Blustered. I wanted them to know ‘how we try and say things’ in the adult world. But without doing the whole politically-correct overkill thing on them and without squashing their right to expression and to just be… an innocent little kid.

But sure – there was a bit of me that was thinking ‘Gawd, PLEASE don’t say that in school – will you?’ Even though the school knows us, our background and work etc and probably realise that I don’t stomp around in jackboots of a weekend.

So if I feel like this – with my own family, experiences and interests… how the hell must most other caring and concerned parents feel about what their kids hear, see and say – at this particular moment in time?

I can only remind others (and myself) that all of us – whatever our ethnic or religious background – we are only human if we trot out some ‘corkers’ from time to time. At my Nan’s funeral for example, the Minister said “Edith was the kindest soul ever. Who still clung to what some perceive to be old-fashioned language. But this ‘Blackie Preacher’ knew the love in her heart and the kind of woman that she was, so he never minded the out-moded words.”  And a Pakistani friend told me that on preparing to marry a white woman he was told by his elderly relative “first thing you must do is to teach her to wash her hands properly. If they’re not a muslim, these goras are very dirty.”

So maybe we shouldn’t be panicking and maybe we should be more gentle with the kids and with ourselves. Less of the gut reaction of telling the kids to Zip It (unless they’re calling me a ‘clumsy old tart’ again.) If we are the kind of people who are worried about causing offence then our hearts are already in the right place.

And maybe those of us who genuinley care about this kind of thing are exactly the sort of people who can stop the status quo from worsening. I believe that the attach on Charlie Hebdo was a deliberate act to kick off yet another secular versus religious and racial war.  It didn’t even have as sophisticated an intention as trying to flag up discussions about the freedom of speech. It was an act of contempt and hatred –  spread by psychotic nutters who claim to be religious but who haven’t got a breath of compassion or love left in their bodies. People who are rubbing their hands with glee at the confusion and division that they have created between folk this week and because of whom – hundreds of thousands of more innocent civiliants in the Middle East may well end up losing their lives.*

So let the kids speak. They often make far more sense than the adults do.

*Note the cunning refusal to write ‘muslims’ and ‘non muslims’ there. Because we are all just human beings at the end of the day…

Christmas Cards. The Good, the Bad an th’ Ugly…

19 Dec

At the end of November, I decided not to send Xmas cards. This was for a number of  reasons:

1) I have 275 people on my list. When taking into account sheer costs of purchasing cards this amount to £23.37

2) Add to this some 55 UK 2nd class stamps (£28.60) and 32 overseas airmailed cards (£70.40) and the running total amounts to £122.37

3) Include the amount of time that I miss out on work-wise whilst doing scribbling, sorting and posting cards. I shall use a standard -rate for ‘consultancy hours’ of £35 per hour.  So, 275 cards x (@ 2 mins per card) = 550 mins (9 hours.) Add time spent at post office (20 mins) and we have some 9 hour and 20 mins – resulting in £323.57.

Final total amount of money ‘spent’ on the Christmas card production line amounts to £426.70

And when you factor in the (needless) lopping down of trees, cost of print, production and packaging for the cards themselves you can see that we also have a rather unenvironmentally friendly pastime going on here…

Chuck in the erosion of my mental well-being and the domestic arguments that card-writing induces (my other half refers to this as the ‘maryrdom factor’ – but he’s the lazy sod who has gotten away with not doing any – for 40-odd years…) and ultimately, the case against me sending ANY cards at all is overwhelming.

So I will be giving the money ‘saved’ towards our little project to help kids in Namibia receive reading materials (see the blog for May this year.)

Cards from dear-hearts on our mantlepiece this year (NB if you're wondering who the hell vandalised the mantlepiece - it's been there since 1790 so it was probably some Georgian or Victorian scumbag)

Cards from nice people displayed on our mantle this year (NB if you’re wondering who the hell vandalised the stonework, the house was built in 1790 so it was probably some Georgian or Victorian scumbag or other…)

However. There are a few exceptions to the rule who might well end up receiving a card from me and mine:

a) Orphans, widowed people, elderly folk and the vulnerable (’cause Jesus was really into caring about that lot wasn’t he? And seeing as though I’m far too often accused of being a martyr…)

b) Muslims (because despite what the far right may like you to believe – I do have some muslim pals who like to send me a Christmas card. Fab, I say! Deserves some reciprocation!)

c) Family at the other end of the country who we never get to see

d) Good friends overseas

e) People who send me a really nice, thoughtful card with a special message

f) Really posh and important people who would be horribly offended if I didn’t send them one and….


See! I’ve fallen for it again! Sodding hell.

Anyway. All I can say is this – if you DO enjoy writing cards then carry on with it. There has been the odd year where I enjoyed card-writing (although I was probably drunk) so yeah, just carry on keeping the Post Office alive. And if I receive a card from you – rest assured that it will duly be recycled into a gift tag for pressies to people next year (or even this year, if I’m bored and fancy a tinker with the crimping shearts.)

Oh – and the same rules as above tend to apply for the sending of birthday cards in our wee family. It doesn’t happen that often…(in fact my daughter has never received a card from us. She doesn’t seem to be that arsed about it, funnily enough.)

So am I saying that the whole greeting card-writing thing is redundant in my life? Not at all. In fact, over the last year or so, writing and sending greetings cards has become a lot more fun. A certain old buddy of mine (old as in ‘we met at Brownies’ not as in she’s a bit musty-smelling) and I have created a new and very enjoyable pastime. We hunt out the most horrible, old-fashioned and/or tacky cards that we can possibly lay our mitts on. We both get very excited about the hideous monstrosity which we expect to receive at birthdays and at Christmas time.  The clincher this year was one that I had saved from 1978 (I kid you not…just ask my other half about my squirelling tendencies…) Even back then, as a tiny nipper just about to embark on the art of card-sending… I couldn’t believe how vile it was.  Neither could my buddy when she opened the damned thing.

So although me and my pal’s families think that we’re both crackers, it’s definitely brought the joy – and certainly the ‘thought’ back into our card-sending. As well as spreading knowledge about dialect (oh come on – don’t tell me you don’t know what the word ‘fow’ means?!)

The FOWEST card imaginable. And a genuine relic - saved by me from a 1978 rubbish bin - and lovingly sent to a pal who appreciates utter crapness at Christmas...

The FOWEST card imaginable. And a genuine relic – saved by me from a 1978 rubbish bin – and lovingly sent to a pal who appreciates utter crapness at Christmas. (Do google ‘Fow’ if you are unsure of the meaning of this Lancashire word)

So if you don’t receive a card from me this year. Please don’t sulk. Or think that I don’t love you. I do. It’s just that I’ve decided to write to people throughought the year instead. Seems a bit more meaningful that way. It means that I can spend more time thinking about you, making a greater effort to reach out to people and putting more care and consideration into my written communication.

Well. That’s my bloody excuse anyway…


Neanderthal Nativity

1 Dec

Back in the 70’s me and my big bro’ never participated in all of that nativity biblical re-enactment stuff.

This could explain a lot of things for me and mine.  Like the fact that as a small child I hated those new-fangled advent calendars that came with crappy choccies behind their little doors. The ones that didn’t possess the ‘Jesus in the stable’ theme. Nativity was a rare story for us – not something to be trotted out, year on year.

And this might explain the fact that last year I felt the need to buy my mother a book on the Gnostic Gospels for Xmas (she looked at me as if to say ‘the usual packet of American Tan tights would have suited me just fine, love…’) And manger-deprivation may even tell us why my brother converted to Islam over twenty years ago (hey- sorry Our Kid, but I put it to thee that this lack of nativity-ing year in and out at school could have played a key influence on you too. Just don’t tell the BNP about this, alright? Or they’ll be calling for the government to enforce nativity plays across the UK as a cunning new anti-terrorist measure designed to rid our country of pesky muslims like you and your own wee family…)

We lacked Nativity. It led us to wicked and depraved lifestyles in later life.

We lacked Nativity. It led us to wicked and depraved lifestyles in later life.

So no. East Manchester 1970s. We didn’t get to prance about with teatowels on our heads. Or shout ‘THERE’S NO ROOM HERE’ at the audience (although come to think of it – I do remember hearing about a rather snotty-nosed little lad, many years older than me who was born into shed loads of dosh and who attended public school…went by the name of Nigel Farage.  Apparently always insisted on playing that Innkeeper role…)

Nah. The Three Wise Persons and all of that, were not a year in year out feature of our fledgling children-led productions. But this wasn’t because of a deliberate policy on our part. We didn’t opt-out of the nativity-ritual because of any particular religious preferences. And it wasn’t because we were home schooled or anything like that (I can hear my Ma laughing like a drain at the thought of that one…) Neither was our lack of over-familiarity with shepherds and angel throngs because we lived anywhere particularly exotic, where other more foreign cultures predominated (I mean – hello? I’m born n’ bred East Manchester. Eating sausage rolls on a Friday tea time instead of fish n’ chips was tantamount to pledging allegiance to Kaiser Bill himself.)

Nope. The lack of a stable and a star was simply because we grew up in your 70’s poor, urban area where Labour authorities prevailed. This was a place where schools were encouraged to try and be a tad bit more creative and a bit more experimental.  So we had … a Festive Tarka The Otter production. The French Xmas with Naughty Rudolph Who Swindles the Elves Show. David and Goliath (straight up. No funny or homo-erotica business, mind.)  The Jungle Book.  Pinocchio.  Peter Pan. Oliver Twist.  Proper Dickens’ style, mind. Today’s Disney-overkill or Pixar-mainstream gubbins simply did not exist back then. And finally… I remember clearly some weird Icelandic saga where I had to play the part of a boy (again.)

I’m glad about this. The bit about the lack of nativitying I mean. (Although playing the part of a boy was something that I also appreciate. It has helped me understand my own testosterone surges a little bit better.) And I’m grateful that I spent the first couple of years with a firstborn in Namibia. Where come December time anyone who can rub a couple of Rand together, buggers off to the seaside in order to avoid the blistering heat. Where talking about a chubby guy with enormous white beard who dons a sweaty red suit in the midst of this ice-cold ‘snow’ thing which no one has ever seen … just seemed downright stupid. And where talk of the traditional nativity performance just never – in four years that we lived there – seemed to hold anything like the sway that it recently has cottoned onto in the  UK.

A few people. Call them cynics if you like – have identified this uniform need to ‘do a nativity’ in schools with the growing adoption of USA customs and traditions (such as Halloween Trick or Treating…themed kiddy parties….and hell – even Black Friday Sales!) Such people are rather terrified that we might soon be quaffing dead turkeys TWICE in the space of a few weeks and  thanking the Lord that we got shot of the Royal Family and all things lovely and UK-ish. (Not me! I’d never say that kind of thing!)

So I won’t be commenting on that in this post. All that I want to say is that … Quite frankly – I find the whole nativity thing to be Ultra Dull.

In 1973 my brother's school were very creative. NASA astronauts met Tarka the Otter.

In 1973 my brother’s school were very creative about Xmas. NASA astronauts met Tarka the Otter.

Not because of the kids. The kids always carry the shows don’t they? Regardless of content. But I’m bored with the story. With the traditional way that it’s told. I want a fast-forward version… where the plastic dolly-Jesus suddenly morphs into JC aged 33 and he starts chucking over tables and chairs and foaming at the mouth about the excesses of our evil western Christmas pressie-culture.

I want a bit of controversy.

Which is why I was glad when I heard that – at last – my own very funnylad has a part in HIS school nativity! Excellent. Here’s a real chance for some thrills n’ spills and irreverancies (hope to Gawd that his teacher isn’t reading this.)  And this latest development has also provided me yet again, with an interesting insight into the differences between the boy and the girl.  I recalled a conversation with my daughter when she was 6 years old (the same age as the lad is now).  It went like this:

DAUGHTER:  It’s so not fair! I never get to be Mary!

Miserable looking Angel Gabriel? Or perhaps feeling spiritually superior to the rest of us.

Miserable looking Angel Gabriel? Or perhaps feeling spiritually superior to the rest of us.

ME: Who cares? You’re the Angel Gabriel! This entire nativity that you’re doing with school … the way that the teachers have written it… it’s all about the Angel Gabriel.

D: But I’m never Mary. It’s always the same girl who is Mary. Because she looks like a Mary. Why don’t I look like a Mary? It’s not fair!

ME: But you have the big song – all on your own! They’re even putting you high up in the church pulpit so that you pop up and surprise everyone with your performance! With a massive golden star! And a host of other little angels behind you! You’re… the leader!

D: But if you’re Mary you get to wear a blue dress and everything. And to be the mother of God. And I’m just like… some servant. Oh. You don’t understand.

(SEE YOUTUBE LINK below – evidence of her lack of Mary-ness)

Now. Compare this with the conversation of the other day with my 6 yr old lad:

SON: Ha! This is soooo coo-wul! I can’t believe they’re letting me be the donkey! It’s soooo coo-wul!

ME: I know! Well done.

SON: It’s ’cause I’m so brill at my HEEE-HAAAW! Everyone laughs! I’ve been doing it all day! HEEE-HAAAW

ME: Yes – it is a good one. Good braying there.

SON: All the teachers keep laughing and then they have to say – ‘okay now, let’s stop it with the HEE-HAAAAWs for a bit!’

ME:  Yeah. I bet they do.

SON: Because the more I HEEE-HAAAW the more Mary might fall off me. An’ it’s even better’n what I thought actually! Being the donkey. ‘Cause one of the other boys – one of my best friends – plays a snowman!

ME: A snowman? In a nativity?

SON: Yeah! And it’s well funny, ’cause I have to bite his nose off.

ME: What?

SON: ‘Cause it’s a carrot an’ that.  An’ I was thinking that it might be even funnier if I put my leg up…to the side. Like a doggy  – you know like when they’re weeing? An’ pretend to wee all over the snowman!

ME: No. I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

SON: (thinking) Yeah. Maybe not. Mary would fall off me again.

Studying for the part of Donkey. Even 3 years ago!

Boy studying hard for the part of Donkey. Even 2 years ago!

And there we have it. So much as I prefer a bit of a shake-up in terms of Christmas performance material for kids, the good old-fashioned nativity has reminded me of the differences between boy and girl. Or perhaps just this particular boy and girl.  Nothing other than the dizzy heights of headline billing (and birthing God Himself) will ever be good enough for my daughter.

Whereas my lad’s aspirations are to be the humblest of creatures. And to widdle over inanimate objects for a cheap laugh.


You tube link below demonstrates my lad’s ambition. Over 3 years ago he was already employing Method Acting in order to prepare for his great moment. Note nappy and donkey costume. And tantrum, squealing and shoe being thrown at his sister. These artistic sorts always have a temper….

Barclays! Nowt Wrong With a Bit of Chest-Staring!

24 Sep

I was a bit gutted to see that in their latest LifeSkills advert, Barclays have opted for the old ‘C’mon kids! If you can’t make effective eye contact – you’ll be on the job scrap heap forever!’ approach.

I would have hoped that Barclays – given their oodles of dosh – could have thought a little bit longer and a little bit harder before they decided to embrace such an off-the-peg and unhelpful approach to customer service training. The last thing people who really, truly struggle with this issue need is a an advert going out there – telling all and sundry that they are somehow ‘wrong.’

Sure, it’s important to tell young people that *some* people (not me, for example – good grief, no) prefer being looked slam-dunk in the eye when they’re asking you where the tins of baked beans are located.

But it’s equally important not to discriminate against those of us who cannot do this – and who cannot be trained to do this. Whether due to cultural differences or disability issues.

Get the balance right, Barclays!

Get the balance right, Barclays!

So c’mon Barclays! We all liked the nice, chirpy lass who stars in the advert…but please drop the emphasis on Eye Contact Or No-One Will Ever Give You A Job tosh.

(and now to re-blog my original article…)


Now that I’ve got your attention…

This is a semi-serious post. Yesterday I began a discussion with my daughter about ‘eye contact.’  I was trying to pre-empt some of the social misdemeanours that she might commit when we return to southern Africa. The thing is, my lass has *the* most incredible staring prowess. When we lived in Namibia, she used to freak the locals out. We’d often hear ”Why must your daughter stare at me so much?” and “That kid is scaring me with the way it is looking at me!”

Even the cat buggered off and left home after the babe in arms trumped it in a staring competition.

My girl isn’t being rude. But in certain parts of Africa, as Libertina Amathila (freedom-fighter against apartheid-turned politician) outlines in her autobiography, youngsters in southern Africa are taught that it is a sign of disrespect to hold eye contact with an adult. And yet – when Africans from this tradition meets a westerner  – all too often this comes over as a very negative action to the likes of you and me. This person cannot be trusted. Is shifty.

During the early days of living in southern Africa, I found this lack of eye contact to be distubing. Once (when pregnant and probably feeling even more paranoid than usual) I became convinced that Africans were looking at my crappy footwear. Regarding it with total disgust. Probably thinking “Buy yourself a new pair of shoes, you crazy and scruffy white lady!” But it transpired that they were simply moving their eyes away from my face, then away from my bump – and finally resting on my feet. (Well, this is what my partner explained to me. But the tightwad was probably making an excuse up not to have to treat me to a new pair of shoes.)

And of course, the apartheid system also had an effect on whether a black person dared to hold eye contact with a white person. And the legacy of this still very much remains.

And as I was giving my 9 year old a very nurturing and compassionate mini-lecture providing sage advice such as “so don’t go gawping at people. Okay?” I was reminded of the similarities with regards to misunderstandings about autistic behaviour and eye contact.

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don't GAWP at people. Okay?

Yes wear the Springboks top. But don’t GAWP at people. Okay?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I try to raise awareness of autistic spectrum conditions and of any kind of ‘exceptionality.’  And thanks to initiatives such as World Autism Awareness Day and some of the incredible charities and associated campaigners (with a special nod to Potential Plus UK here) society now knows more than ever about some of the more common autistic traits.

Lack of eye contact is often cited as a key characteristic of autism.  And this is just one of the huge barriers that ‘autie sorts’ really suffer from a lack of understanding about. Classroom teachers – if the signs of autism are more subtle in a child – might well simply write the kid off as being surly or rude, if they don’t make eye contact.  Adults with autism can ‘bomb’ at job interviews, for this reason alone. Even some of the organisations that you might expect a bit more awareness from haven’t clicked just how excruciating it can be for an autie to meet your gaze (The Co-operative retail outlet once asked me in a customer feedback questionnaire ‘Did the till operator make eye contact with you?’ Yes dear reader, you can imagine what my response was….)

And finally – a distressing example – I know of one young man (then undiagnosed autistic) who was mercilessly bullied because he couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Several of the more immature teenage girls in his classroom took hysterical offence to the fact that his eyes would always drop downwards when talking to them. He’s Staring At My Tits.  Cue regular beatings by the other lads and for the rest of his life being known as ‘weirdo’ or ‘pervert.’

So today on World Autie Day – let’s try and not judge everybody else by the eye-balling Stepford Wives cultural and customer service standards.

Let’s convince ourself instead, that it is polite, it is pertinent and sometimes it is the proper thing to do – to look away and to give someone that extra bit of peeper-space.

(So long as you don’t look at my chest today, poppet because this T-shirt has got gravy stains all down it.)

Longing for School (Kicking Off At The Post Office!)

2 Sep

It’s well depressing for the them, isn’t it? Just look at their mugs on the photo.

Please Mother! We need school! We are tired of being your lackeys!

Please Mother! We need school! We are tired of being your lackeys!

Gawd help ’em. Having to go back to a life of riley where they receive a free education, free nosh (well…if they’re attending an infant school – from this term onwards) and free access to a whole host of adult educators – whether teachers, teaching assistants, admin and secretarial staff, reading helpers, lunchtime supervisors, cooks and caretakers. Crazy folk who seem to want to hang out with the the little critters from 9 am till about 3 ish.

Mad as a bag of frogs these people may be, but they spend their lives educating our children and they deserve way, way more than a medal. ( And the next time that I’m off on one – moaning about how ‘the summer holidays are too long….’ please poke me in the eye and remind me of this.)

Because from what I hear from my teaching professional mates and relatives, these days bringing education to kids in the western world is harder than ever. The all-availability of non-stop TV channels for kids, the never-ending drizzle of the internet and the fact that so many of our bairns have screens all over the show in their homes and carte blanche to do whatever they want to whether it be the X Box or tablet or Playstation or iphone app game gubbins…

Well, it all seems to lead to one things. A nation of kids who are expecting to be entertained with the ‘Wow!’ factor, every second of the day. And generally speaking, learning and retaining information is -and should be – a long and laborious process – both for the pupil and the teacher. The important lessons in life take a bit of time chewing over.

So I reckon that in 20 years time, we might well be beating ourselves up badly as we reflect on how we didn’t police our nippers’ use of screen time effectively enough. How we didn’t take the time to repeat repeat repeat and to use some of the more old-fashioned methods that involve less stimulation and immediate reward. And how we ourselves as adults, perhaps got too hooked, too quickly into soundbite and wow-factor instantanous habits in terms of electronic communication.

My kids – and my family –  have been lucky enough to see the extremes of ‘lack of access to’ media stimulation for children. (See the blogs below where me and my mini funny lass chat about kids, education and life in Africa.) What I didn’t write about in these posts were just how amazed we were to realise how we could cope for several weeks without phones, TVs, internet access and all of that. Sure – I had done this before in Africa – but last time round and living there, it was sans kids. When you have the nippers – its so much easier to reach out for Mr Tumble or Walt Disney to babysit the little varmints…

So, back to why the kids are looking like miserable little critters in the photo. This was actually meant to be a HAPPY photo. It was meant to be a “look – we are sending our first parcel of comics to the kids in namibia and aren’t we proud of ourselves and everyone who has helped us!” shot.  But we were all rather weary by this point. This was the last day of the school holidays. Following on from our African experience, the kids have had a no-TV and no screen time during the weekdays rule  imposed on them. And only limited access at the weekends.

Actually, it really has worked very well for all of us. Time in the garden, time playing with friends and grandparents, time making up games and plays. Best of all – time READING BOOKS. But please don’t think that I have turned into one of those sanctimonious parents who wants to tell you what a wonderful job of parenting I am doing. That the TV is evil etc etc. The simple fact for me, is that I actually much prefer the company of my kids when their brains haven’t been mashed by the screens. They are nicer. They are less wound-up. They are less gobby.  We have less arguments about moving them away from the screens.

My other half actually calls this approach our ‘Reverse Psychology Summer Strategy’. i.e. “We don’t let them have access to anything quick and fun. We give them loads of dull ‘down time’ like we used to have in the summer holidays when we were kids. We ignore them. We take them on boring shopping trips to Boots. We tell them that we have important work to get done. We make them clean cupboards. And at the end of the six weeks they are utterly sick of the sight of us and desperate to get back to school.”

So the photo above? They were pretty much sick of the sight of me by this point.  And also – I was rather at my wit’s end too – having just shrieked “This is a Post Office for God’s Sake! It’s not a playground! Everyone in the queue is staring at you! Just behave yourselves! Our entire village will be down the police station trying to get you ASBO’d if you don’t pack it in!’

Ah the bliss of packing them off with a an un-ironed jumper and an illegal Twix bar in the lunchbox this morning…


The Boris Test…

7 Aug

Love him? Or hate him. I am enjoying the Marmite analogy…

I have my own views on Boris’ politics. But the power of the charisma, the affability mixed with the sharp mind…means that even those who are ultra-cynical about the fella, even those who consider themselves to be committed Commies can be fallable.

A few months ago me and mine were hanging out in the Kalahari – the African bush. No phone, no TV, no internet access. All good fun – once we had gotten over the initial shock of being back there again. We managed to convey the lack of telecommunications to our nearest and dearest back in Blighty and every now and then – when we hit a town – we were able to pick up the odd message.

And a so-called friend of ours had sent us a gabbled email. Something along the lines of “Hope you’re having a great time! Must be weird not having access to outside world news etc. Bet you haven’t heard about Boris Johnson! He’s been a tragic accident and things are looking v bad for him.”

End of quick message.

We didn’t have a strong enough signal to find out more about Boris. Instead, we spent the next few days saying things to each other along the lines of;

HIM: I wonder what happened?  I wonder if he fell off his bicycle and went under a London bus or something.

ME: Either way, it’s awful. I mean – I don’t agree with his politics and all of that….

HIM: And the acting like a total twonk thing – that was always SO transparent…

ME: But even so – it’s just dreadful. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I quite like him. In a sort of….

HIM: … Perverse kind of way?

ME: Yeah. That. I hope he pulls through. From – whatever happened.

HIM: Let’s try and ring your dad when we can get a phone signal or something.

We spent the next few days begging African friends to try and find out the info on this ‘London Mayor with Yellow Hair’. Whom they had never heard of. But the Namibian papers were either not interested in Boris J. Or they also thought that he was a bit of a twonk.

And then we managed to get a phone signal and I called up my dad.

Phonecall to Manchester:

ME: Hi dad! Gotta be quick – costs a fortune from here!

DAD: Hello back. What time is it there? What’s the weather like there? It’s spitting here! Spitting, I tell you!

ME: Never mind the Peter Kay jokes, Dad. What’s happened to Boris Johson?

DAD: No idea what you’re on about. He’s still as bloody annoying as ever.

ME: So he… hasn’t been fatally wounded in an accident with a pigeon in Trafalgar Square, or anything?

DAD: Not what I know of. Anyway. What do I care about London? They can do what they want down there. Nowt to do with me.

So that was it. End of Big Filthy Lie about Boris Johnson, which our ‘hilarious friend’ decided to spin for us whilst we were On Incommunicado.

It certainly taught me a thing or two:

1) Rumour can be a powerful thing

2) You think that you dislike a politician but when push comes to shove – you discover that you may have a secret soft spot for them (Durr…! I *do* mention the guy in my book…go figure!)

3) You think that you’re trying to raise your kids not to be too partisan, but even your kids catch on (‘I never like the bad blue party – but the jolly mayor wasn’t so bad. I’m sorry that he drowned on the Underground thing.’)

To conclude. Boris Johnson is clever, clever. And capable of shrugging off the amiable buffon image.

Watch this space.

Don't look now! But is Boris about to fall foul of a London Bus?

Don’t look now! But is Boris about to fall foul of a London Bus?