Wednesday, 25 November 2009

THE LUNATICS ARE RUNNING THE ASYLUM

There is a school in Bournemouth which was, until a few years ago, a “Boys’ School”. It didn’t have a very good reputation – and deservedly so.

Then it changed its name. It became an Arts and Media College – and some of us “fell for it”. I am the proud mother of a hugely artistic son. I’m not proud for pride’s sake. My boy is very talented and has been published. He lives, eats, drinks and breathes art – it is quite simply “who he is”.

When the time came, a couple of years ago, for us to choose his secondary school, his father and I scratched our heads and worried a great deal. Bournemouth is rather better known for catering to an aged population than it is for its merits in either primary or secondary education. It would have been a “nice thought” to have my son crammed for the Grammar School entrance examination. He isn’t very good at Maths. The thought crossed our minds but I worried about what would happen when the “cramming” ended – and, to be honest, the Grammar School isn’t “grounded” in the Arts and our son needed a place that would help him to channel his talents.

I “did” the Open Day circuit and ultimately decided that the school that had the best facilities for an artistic kid was the one called an “Arts and Media College”. Everything that a child with a leaning towards the arts would need was PHYSICALLY there. I couldn’t fault the Arts studios, the state of the art drama and stage equipment nor, indeed, did the Radio studio seem to be too out of date.

My son started at the Arts and Media College at the beginning of Year 7 in September 2008. And the dream ended.

He was SO excited on the morning of his first day. The occasion was special enough for both his father and I to take him there – he was just a bit nervous ... but so was I on my first day at “big school” and who wouldn’t be? It wouldn’t seem to be quite right walking into a new environment cocksure and brimming with abundant confidence, would it? But some kids did. His father and I sat in our car watching what seemed to be a very vulnerable little boy walk in – thankfully – with a friend from primary school who’d arrived at the same time – but other boys hurtled in, charged in, blustered in and barged in – were they older children? No – the first day of each school year is for Year 7 children alone.

When I collected him in the afternoon, my son was quiet. I asked how the day had gone and he told me that he was in a class with only one other boy he’d known from primary school and most of the other boys in the class seemed rough, unfriendly and “bullish”. Some of them had older brothers at the school – they, apparently, were the ones who were the roughest.

Day 2 was less “special” than day 1 and on collecting him when school finished, I have to say that I actually felt quite intimidated by the raw, pubescent aggression that tumbled out of the building at 3 o’clock. My son, when he got into the car, was even quieter than he had been the day before.

Fast forward 18 months.

Every school day for the past academic year and a half my son has PLEADED with me to be allowed to stay at home. And every morning, I felt as if I was being the worst mother on earth by insisting that he WAS, indeed, going to school. If only I could have been just slightly reassured on collecting him each afternoon – but I wasn’t. Each day, it seemed that worse things were happening to him. He is a child who likes to learn. He is eager for knowledge. Each day, his “legal right” to a decent education seemed to be a completely alien concept for the members of staff at the Arts & Media College to get to grips with.

I am not, by nature, a molly-coddler. I know EXACTLY who my son is. He’s an artistic kid but no angel – quite capable of naughtiness and there are bits of me that punch the air in glee about that. I was no “angel” at school, myself ... fortunately I had an “air of innocence” that got me out of many a scrape.

He is an artistic child – not a wimpish one. He has a tendency to be a “thinker” and one who tries to rationalise the actions of those around him. I can’t blame him for doing that ... I don’t know whether it’s right or wrong, but I do it myself.

He has spent the last 18 months trying to rationalise the actions of lunatics – and for his efforts in so doing, he – as one of the more studious children at his school, was shouted at by his teachers when he required explanation about a lesson because his “teachers” – who often weren’t teachers at all, but teaching assistants, were so busy trying to keep the levels of aggression down in their classes and the “easiest” kids to shout at were the ones who wouldn’t shout back.

In 18 months, my son had 5 pieces of homework. Not 5 pieces of homework per night or per week. No; just 5 pieces of homework during his ENTIRE time at the school. There were some subjects in which he never had the same teacher for two consecutive lessons. The school appeared to be staffed by supply teachers and under-qualified teaching assistants. How wrong of me, I am leaving out members of staff who seem to have strange titles such as “Achievement Coordinators”. Their role, it would seem, is to smooth things over when the crowd control of the supply teachers and the teaching assistants fails to work properly. They don’t actually seem to do much about “achievement” at all. And I mustn’t forget the congenial Acting Headmaster whom, if a parent writes to him, fails to respond unless nagged ... rather a lot. On the last occasion when I wrote to him, I did – after many enquiries about whether I was going to get a reply – actually receive a ‘phone call from him.

He told me that the two days I’d requested for my son to be absent from school were authorised and that he’d had a very amiable chat with him about the various and very real grievances that I had written about. He also told me that he intended “consulting” my son on a frequent and regular basis because it was very useful for him to know what was happening in Year 8. I pinched myself quite hard and, with as much dignity as I could muster, asked him if it was not HIS job to know what was going on in his school with the help of the teaching staff rather than relying on a pupil to tell him of such. The fact that the pupil was my son is neither here nor there but the “legal right of a child to a good education” should not, in my opinion, include being a “lookout” for the Acting Headmaster.

Well, at least I was safe in the knowledge that the two days that my son would be absent from school had been authorised by the “man (not very) in charge”. I was stunned to receive a letter from one of the “Achievement Coordinators” a few weeks later asking me to justify why my son had been absent as his absence had NOT been authorised. I responded in writing, citing my conversation with the Acting Headmaster and expressing disbelief at the communication between the various staffing departments within the school. I delivered the letter by hand to the school one morning after dropping my son off. I saw (with my own eyes as opposed to borrowed ones) the School Receptionist open my letter. I heard no more until 10 days ago when I received a curtly worded text from the school DEMANDING that I give them an explanation for my son’s UNAUTHORISED absences. I blew.

During his 18 months at the Arts & Media College with really very excellent facilities for an artistic child, my son has been subjected to physical bullying and appalling mental intimidation. I do not believe he has learnt anything at all. I drove – with my husband – to the school and exercised my right as a parent to take him out of there. I asked to see the Acting Headmaster but he was apparently in a Disciplinary Meeting. Why wasn’t I, in the least, surprised? Instead, I was apologised to by two “Achievement Coordinators” who sent a timid looking boy (whose education appeared to comprise being at the beck and call of the School Receptionist) to get my son. My son arrived in Reception and I asked him to go and collect his PE kit. He did – and WE TOOK HIM HOME.

I am home educating him until the end of this term and next term he starts at a new school in London. It doesn’t have “Arts” or “Media” in its name – it doesn’t have to ... it has a reputation for absolutely no bullying at all, an ethos of celebration of children’s achievements and very close ties to Chelsea Art School. Well done, LEA – we are selling up and taking a severe downgrading in housing and monetary well-being because you are unable to provide our child with his legal right to a decent education.

A few weeks ago, I read in the Bournemouth Echo that a great deal of money had been allocated to refurbish schools in the Dorset area. Hello! LEA – are you listening? Get a load of this:

You do not need to refurbish school buildings. You need to spend every available penny that you have on employing some decent teachers who aren’t afraid to take charge of the children in your care, provide those who need discipline with it and impart your knowledge to those children who want to learn rather than shout at them, because they’re the kids who you know very well “won’t answer back”. You need to be in charge of the asylum – because currently, the lunatics are running the show and you are NOT – repeat NOT – providing the children in your care with their legal right to a decent education. You do, dear LEA need to get your act together.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Fish and Visitors

This article was first published by The Bournemouth Echo on 26th October 2009 and also by The Blog Paper on the same date.


Benjamin Franklin once said “Fish and visitors stink after three days”. I would agree with that.

I have just had my aged, spinster cousin to stay for two weeks. I usually have her to stay two or three times a year “for a week” which invariably organically grows into a fortnight or three weeks. A fortnight, on this occasion, was at least (if I’d have actually taken note of the Franklin quote) eleven days too many. I returned her to her own home on Saturday and believe that if she’d have stayed just one day more, I would have had to have been sectioned.

The people who follow me on Twitter were becoming used to my references to “Fanny in the corner”. My cousin’s name is not Fanny but it would have seemed rude to have used her real name – and, anyway, Fanny suits her. The line “Fanny in the corner” was, of course, on Twitter open to many interpretations – NONE of which did I understand!

My cousin is a frighteningly skinny Fanny. I’m fairly convinced that the only time she eats a square meal is when she visits us although she insists that she is very independent, goes out shopping every day and “takes care of herself”. How, then, does she always manage to look healthier and heavier after her visits to us than she does when she arrives?

She is very, very deaf and barely understands a word that anyone says to her – unless the word “food” is mentioned. Her ears suddenly clear at breakfast, lunchtime and at dinner. And although she doesn’t speak very clearly either these days, she speaks clearly enough to say “Oh, okay then” when I ask her if she’d like extra toast at breakfast time, two rounds of sandwiches rather than one at lunchtime and double portions of everything at dinner time.

She doesn’t “do” much when she’s with us. She’s an early riser, enjoys a leisurely breakfast which “has to be digested” properly by sitting in her dressing gown in one corner of the sofa until at least 11.00am, after which she goes back upstairs to perform her ablutions. She manages to get back downstairs just in time for her two rounds of sandwiches at lunchtime.

Several attempts at conversation are started but not finished. I am hoarse from responding to her fangled speech and however loudly I speak, it is never quite loudly enough. Fanny’s afternoons are spent “reading” which involves opening a book and then falling asleep and dribbling on the unturned page.

When I start to prepare dinner, Fanny follows me into the kitchen and manages to stand exactly where I need to be at any one given point in time. I am not a patient person. After about ten minutes, I gently say to her ... “You’re on holiday – why don’t you go and sit down” which she does & falls asleep again until dinner is ready.

After dinner, I think she enquires whether I’d like any help in clearing up in the kitchen. Last time I said “Yes”, she not only attempted to empty the scraps from the plates into the waste disposal but also the cutlery. These days, I say, “No, you’re on holiday – why don’t you just relax” – which she does, once again installing herself in the corner of the sofa.

She is of the belief that as my son and I spend a fair deal of time on our own because my husband works away from home quite a lot, I am in need of adult company which means that she will stay up until I suggest that it’s “probably” her bedtime. She’s probably right ... I probably would appreciate a little adult company but she isn’t able to provide this as mainly, once the TV is switched on she, I think, tells me that she’s finding whatever happens to be on, very interesting and promptly falls asleep and dribbles on the open TV guide.

Occasionally I ask her if she’s still interested in what we’re watching which causes her to sit bolt upright and tell me that she IS watching the television and that she’s NOT asleep, the exertions of which cause her to fall asleep again almost immediately. She does, however, wake up when I mention that I’m going to make a cup of tea and she also manages to speak clearly enough to respond to my enquiries regarding biscuits. The answer never varies – “Oh a few of the ones I had last night, would be nice”. Once refreshments have been consumed the sleeping and dribbling resume quite quickly again.

At about midnight, I say to her that I’m thinking of going to bed. I am lying. I turn the television off & Fanny prepares to go upstairs. I am to be kissed goodnight. This isn’t a pleasant experience but a small price to pay to have my sofa to myself for an hour or two before I actually DO go to bed and, I can wash the dribbly kiss off in the downstairs loo once I can hear that she’s at the top of the stairs.

I’m about the only member of my family who bothers with her and she does seem to enjoy her stays with us. But three days WOULD be enough and, at the risk of appearing on some Age Concern hit list, I’m prepared to admit that I am truly not a very nice person!




Monday, 26 October 2009

How to Have a Really Good Evening

This article was first published on The Bournemouth Echo's website on 19th October 2009 and by The Blog Paper on 20th October 2009.


There are, of course, many and varied ways of having a good evening but I reckon the one that my son and I had yesterday would take some beating.

It’s always a “good thing” to support a worthy cause ... in the current economic climate, it’s not always possible to do as much as one would like to – but if I have the opportunity to do “a little something”, then I do. Leukaemia Research is a charity very close to my heart – not least because my favourite cousin died of leukaemia in her early 30s just a month before my son was born, 12½ years ago.

Last night, the Criterion Theatre in London’s Piccadilly Circus freely opened its doors to be taken over by Leukaemia Research to host “A Special Audience with Stephen Fry” preceded by a champagne reception for a few hundred lucky people. My son and I were amongst those lucky people.

The Reception began at 6.30pm and prior to our National Treasure coming into the Reception, Alastair Campbell mingled and chatted amongst us. Alastair has supported the charity since his best friend, John Merritt, died of leukaemia and then tragically John’s daughter succumbed to the disease too. He’s a friendly man although – as an avid fan of Burnley Football Club – he was clearly distressed that “his” team had lost to Blackburn Rovers the day before. I hope that the Audience with Mr Fry went some way to cheering him up.

Nigella Lawson was also at the Reception and was gracious enough to write a note to my husband who is a great fan of hers and willingly posed for a photograph with me and my son. She asked if my husband was keen on cookery programmes. Naturally my response was “Oh, yes”. It would have been infradig to have been more honest and to tell her that he has more prurient thoughts than cuisine on his mind when he sees her on television. She’s a beautiful, intelligent lady and has at least two more outstanding assets than just her culinary expertise. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red was there and didn’t seem too displeased when I told him that we liked his music. He was also kind enough to have his photograph taken with my son.

Another guest was Ed Victor who is a very well known literary agent. I would very much have liked to have met him to tell him that I am, at least in my own not-so-humble opinion, an undiscovered literary genius but sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to meet him. I was, however, so pleased that he was there as – had it not have been for Leukaemia Research – he wouldn’t have been anywhere. Ten years ago, on the day of his 60th birthday, he was diagnosed with the disease and it was purely through the wonderful research funded by the charity that he survives in good health a decade on. It was Ed Victor’s idea to organise occasional “Special Audiences” with various celebrities in order to raise money for the charity.

One person who I was lucky and privileged enough to meet was the original Calendar Girl. Not Julie Waters – who played her in the 2003 film – but the real life lady, Annie Clarke whose husband had died of leukaemia and who raises money for and, who with her friends, gave a great deal of “exposure” to the charity’s work.

Shortly before 7.00pm, a very tall man appeared in the room. I’m sure that just about everyone in the UK (if not, since the advent of global sale of television programmes, the entire world) is aware that Stephen Fry is a witty, enormously intelligent, erudite speaker, talented actor and brilliant writer. Those attributes would be enough to make most people admire him. I do. I also LIKE him. He is kind, generous of nature, warm, friendly and has the most wonderful way of making everyone he speaks with feel as if they are really the most important person in the world to him. I was especially overwhelmed when my son (who was the very youngest person there), bravely and with great aplomb introduced himself to Mr Fry using his Twitter name – and Stephen, bless him, repeated his Twitter name and then greeted him, without ANY prompting whatsoever, using my son’s real life name. This man must have a memory the size of this planet! My son, who’s a talented young artist, gave a drawing he’d done of Stephen to him – at which point, the splendid Mr Fry knelt down and my son forgot to be grown-up, couldn’t help himself and gave this great, gentle man a hug. I chatted to Stephen for several minutes, easily fell prey to his delightful charms and hugs, kisses and photographs ensued.

The actual show began at 8.00pm. It was an intimate “audience”. The BBC’s Alan Yentob interviewed Stephen about his life, his work, his likes and dislikes, his successes and his self-perceived failures. He was astonishingly open about his bi-polarity. He had the audience laughing and crying. Two hours passed in a flash and members of the audience were given the opportunity of asking questions. Stephen answered each question with characteristic humour, empathy, kindness and honesty.

My son desperately wanted the chance of another chat with our National Treasure so, after the show, we went to the Stage Door. I managed to get my ‘phone’s camera muddled up with its video recorder so we now have a recorded moving memento of the evening.

I’m rarely at a loss for words but I truly can’t find the right ones to impart how wonderful the evening was. Perhaps my son described it in exactly the right way ... “It was the best time I’ve ever, ever, EVER had”. I concur.

If you ever have the chance of seeing Stephen on stage or of meeting him – do it! I can assure you that it really is a very good way of spending an evening.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the wonderful work that Leukaemia Research enables, do – PLEASE – visit their website at http://www.lrf.org.uk/)

Monday, 19 October 2009

2 o'clock in the morning

(This blog was first published on the Bournemouth Echo's website and also by The Blog Paper on 1st October 2009).


The house is mine. It is quiet apart from the low hum of the dishwasher, the beeping of the ‘fridge freezer which my husband, for the third time in six weeks, has tried to fix by defrosting the already pristine and frost-free freezer. He is slowly coming around to the idea that we do actually need a new one ... and it hurts him so!

I can hear the sounds of a sleeping house – at least one with two sleepy dogs in it. I have a small West Highland White Terrier sprawled, tummy upwards, at my side and an enthusiastically idiotic German Shepherd also lying on her back at my feet. Occasionally one of them snuffles or groans slightly and it is a very good feeling to be alone but in such congenially uncommunicative company.

I moan a great deal of the time about suffering from insomnia but at this hour, my gripes are very few as I question who exactly I would be if I didn’t suffer from it. I am a creature of the night. If I need to think about something carefully and logically I do so far better after midnight than I ever manage to during the daytime.

If there is ONE element of creativity in me, it never rears its “innovative” head during daylight hours. I just never feel quite confident enough during the daytime to write about how I’m feeling or anything about which I feel strongly; under cover of darkness, however, my fingers struggle to keep pace with the rapid release of some often very mundane thoughts – perhaps mistakenly assuming that what I have to impart is somehow important.

Sometimes I take a look at the time and think, “Heck, my son has to be at school in less than six hours” but such thoughts are fleeting and I don’t take much notice of them. This is my time.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Oh, Baby, Baby - It's a Wild World

This blog was first published on The Bournemouth Echo's website and by The Blog Paper on 24th September 2009.

About 5 minutes ago, I had a baby – hang on ... it was over 12 years ago – but my instinct to protect my son hasn’t decreased with the years and is probably more highly developed now, than it ever was when he was a babe-in-arms.

It’s been a roller-coaster of a week ... starting off with my son, once again, having been most dreadfully upset at being given “a hard time” at school and being distressed at being disrupted in his lessons by classmates whose only ambitions in life appear to become shelf-stackers at supermarkets.

Once again, on collecting from school, a very sullen and disgruntled little boy got into my car. And a very vociferous little boy started the familiar routine of pleading with me to be home-educated. I have to say, that home-education is a thought that crosses my mind with great frequency but I’ve always discounted it as I know my son and I also know myself pretty well. I quite simply would not have the patience to educate my son, myself, at home.

I am an impatient person and have a tendency to metaphorically tap my fingers in a most irritating fashion when people don’t “catch on” quickly enough for my liking – not an ideal trait for imparting anything to my son who, if he doesn’t want to know what one is talking about, is a manipulative little “wotsit” and will quite deftly bring the conversation around to what HE wants to discuss. We would not be a good teacher/pupil combo!

I wrote a polite but firmly worded letter to my son’s class teacher and also the headteacher querying why there appeared to be so much disruption in his school and why was he not getting what either he, or I, considered to be a fair crack at the whip at a decent education. Yesterday I received a call from the headteacher assuring me that my queries would be looked into and meanwhile, he’d spoken to my son who had voiced his grievances most eloquently and was now considered by the headteacher to be a child with whom it would be most useful to “have regular meetings”. I asked why. Apparently, as a “mature child”, he can impart very articulately what’s “going on” in his class. I wondered for a nano-second if I was going quite mad and then couldn’t help myself but say: “That’s NOT HIS JOB; that’s YOUR job. My son’s responsibility at school is to be a decent kid, commit to learning things and to try his very hardest to do that. And YOUR responsibility is to teach him stuff – not ask him to be your undercover man to find out “what’s going down in his year”.

Of course, son is now back to “running on calm” at school – helped, not least, by having been elected to be Form President ... although there didn’t appear to be much competition to gain this role. (I think I refuse to believe that any vote-rigging occurred). Nevertheless, son feels somewhat vindicated and seems to want to give his classmates a forum to express how they’re feeling and a forum for HIM to ask them why they feel the need to disrupt classes.

And I am confused. And the thought of home-education crossed my mind to such an extent in the last week that I’ve actually made enquiries about it and asked for some advice. Some advice was for and some against. I’ve decided that I come down more on the side of the “against” camp than on the side of the “fors”. Someone said to me that school isn’t JUST about education – there are other, equally important factors – such as social interaction with people who one may like or one may whole-heartedly dislike but it’s necessary to learn the skills needed to cope with both. And, so, my son who, of course, is still my baby IS going to have to learn that it’s a wild world.

But no-one can stop me from worrying!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

VERY STUPID INDEED

This blog first appeared on The Bournemouth Echo website on 17th September 2009 and in The Blog Paper on the same date.


Oh, what a miserable day I’ve had. I sometimes suffer with conjunctivitis and every now and then it flares up – which it did last night. I wear “day and night” contact lenses which I can sleep in. I’m meant to remove them and give my eyes “a day off” once a week. I rarely do.

So, I removed my contact lenses, peered into my 3 x magnifying mirror to see the blurred reflection of a rabbit with myxomatosis staring back. That would have been me, then. I fumbled around in the bathroom cabinet and eventually found some eye drops and gel and squirted and applied both liberally. And then I went to bed.

When I woke up, I found my glasses, and stupidly decided to look in the mirror. Where was the rabbit? It had been replaced with a boxer on the losing end of a bout with Prince Naseem. I couldn’t actually see my eyes at all, inspite of squinting out of them – they appeared to have been replaced by two small aubergines.

I couldn’t get on with any office work as staring at the screen was hurting me and words just looked a blurred, indecipherable mass. Heavens, I must have been feeling pretty grim ... I haven’t even been on Twitter much today!

I could see that the carpet was in dire need of a vacuum (I may be using “see” in a metaphorical sense, having a priori knowledge that owning a full-coated German Shepherd who moults continually in combination with a brown carpet - after 2 days, I KNOW it needs vacuuming whether I can see it or not). So, I vacuumed and figured I couldn’t cause too much harm by giving the kitchen floor a good mopping.

I’d very much hoped that my husband would be home in time to collect our son from school, but he wasn’t. I left in plenty of time to collect said son - as I was not going to risk driving at any speed whatsoever. And son, on getting into the car, took one look at me and said, “Are you okay? You’re crying” – which, of course, I wasn’t but the idea of a good sob at that time didn’t seem to be a totally off-the-wall prospect at all. I restrained myself and, very carefully, drove home.

I asked son what sort of a day he’d had at school and, very stoically, he said “Good, thanks”. Except from what I could see of the expression on his face and hear from the tone in his voice, this wasn’t really the case at all.

Year 8 seems to be proving to be a repetition of last year ... son is unhappy at being disrupted by noisy and unruly classmates and saying that he can’t concentrate on his lessons because of this. I am a vile mother. For once, I didn’t pursue his response to get to the bottom of what had actually happened at school today. And, indeed, this is a story for another blog, on another day.

I sat down and realised that my husband would be expecting a home-cooked meal when he arrived home and then remembered that I hadn’t been shopping because I’d been feeling so rough. It’s a good job that my husband is set on a course of trying to regain a youthful physique. (Please excuse me while I snort with laughter for a second or two).

He’s all but stopped eating lunch and now goes from breakfast to dinner without a morsel of food passing his lips. He’s also keen on reducing his carbohydrate intake – so I thought I could make a very sparsely topped Shepherd’s Pie – not least because I only had 4 VERY small potatoes in stock.

Chopping onions and conjunctivitis is not a good combination. By the time I’d finished that particular task, I could barely see anything at all. I managed to pour some oil into the pan, fry the onions, add the minced meat, chopped mushrooms, and tomatoes and then, as I usually do, I reached for the Worcestershire Sauce – and proceeded to pour several generous splashes of balsamic vinegar into the browning mince. I added about double the amount of Worcestershire Sauce to cover up my mistake and hoped for the best.

The result was a slightly more piquant-than-usual Shepherd’s Pie and no-one complained ... or died.

And now, having administered my fourth squirts of eye drops and fourth splodge of gel to my sore eyes, they’re still sore but not AS sore and still swollen but not AS swollen and I am resolving – as I always do – to remember the importance of sticking to the regime of giving my eyes a “day off” from contact lenses, once a week. I expect that resolution will fly out of the window like all previous ones have done and once again, I will kick myself for sometimes being VERY STUPID INDEED.

Monday, 14 September 2009

9/11

This blog first appeared on The Bournemouth Echo website and was also published by The Blog Paper on the same date.


My son was nearly 4½ years old on 11th September 2001. He was taking part in his first school Sports Day. The weather had decreed that the Sports Day planned for the previous term had been delayed until the start of the new school year.

Parents had gathered to watch 28 young children go through their paces. My son and his best friend hadn’t quite got the hang of what they should be doing. One of the “obstacles” on the circuit was a small tent. They abandoned running around the rest of the course and took up residence in it. And they laughed and they giggled. And despite the encouragement they were hearing from their teachers, they stayed in that tent and continued to laugh and giggle.

I couldn’t help myself ... my son and his friend looked so cute, I had no option but to stop joining in with the encouraging noises that their teachers were making and to laugh and giggle along with them. My husband was steadfastly continuing the encouragement whilst I could barely contain my mirth at these two happy kids having a thoroughly wonderful time in a tent whilst the rest of Sports Day continued around them.

Husband received a telephone call and had to go to work. Sports Day was nearing its end & we sought permission from the head teacher to take our son home a little early. On arrival at home, I switched on the radio to catch the news. And that was when I heard about what was happening in New York.

My towers were under threat. I ensured that my son was happy and occupied and switched the television on. And for the next 18 hours I didn’t move. “My towers”. I had lived in America, in Philadelphia. My ex was a pilot. We visited New York frequently and the last time I’d seen my towers had been 10 years previously when we’d flown in a Cessna by them en route from Connecticut back to Philadelphia. And I had fainted. I suffer from vertigo and whilst flying doesn’t usually affect me, I knew the height of the towers and had a “reference point” so I simply passed out. And now I would never be able to fly past them again.

I know I’d taken care of my son – tell-tale signs of having made something to eat for him, and having bathed him and put him to bed were evidential – but I couldn’t remember doing any of those things. I seemed to be welded to a seat in front of the TV.

The world had changed and it would never be the same again. A “war on terror” had begun and, however hard I tried, I couldn’t see that there would ever be an end to it. I still can’t. And I still can’t close my eyes at night without seeing images of the ‘planes flying into those towers or of the towers collapsing. The world order changed that day and it is never going to change back.

In 2006 on 11th September, I felt compelled to do “something” ... anything ... to release the emotion that I felt about that day. I’m no artist but with paper and charcoal I drew my interpretation of Ground Zero. And, in some way, found some sort of comfort for having got onto paper that which I couldn’t put into words. That picture hangs in our hall – barely on show, mostly hidden by a tall cupboard ... but I know it’s there.

Eight years on, I don’t need to watch the many programmes about 9/11. I live with that day in my head. I hope the images of it remain in other people’s heads forever too. If we refuse to forget, then maybe we can remember to not let it happen again. I don’t know. I only hope.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

From Cool to School in 48 hours

This blog first appeared on The Bournemouth Echo website on 9th September 2009 and was also published by The Blog Paper on the same date.

I’ve just spent six weeks with one of the coolest kids in Bournemouth. I am not just talking “cool”; I’m talking UBER-COOL. My son has been on school holidays for a month and a half – routine was abandoned to the four winds and, for the main part, inspite of an odd day here and there when the uneasiness of slight boredom crept in – he has occupied himself very happily by posting his artwork to an arts website and writing reviews of comic books for his blog. The weather – as we know – wasn’t up to much but we managed to have a really enjoyable time together.

We didn’t have a “summer holiday” this year as finances wouldn’t allow – although, the end of the school holiday culminated in a weekend in London. It would probably have been less expensive for us fly from Hurn to “somewhere” abroad for a week than the exorbitant amount of money we managed to get through in the capital. Never mind – it’s “only” money, isn’t it?

My son, at the tender age of 12, found his spiritual home at Camden Market. He’s a tad young to actually “be” a Goth or an Emo but his taste in clothing very definitely veers towards “Emo” and Camden is, indeed, Emo heaven. He’s been after a long leather trench coat for a very long time. He hasn’t actually nagged about getting one as he’s far too subtle for that – he just bookmarked so many webpages showing the sort of coat he wanted that my PC very nearly ground to a complete halt. I’ve now been able to delete all the bookmarks because, at Camden, he found one. Kerching. He also found some absolutely inappropriate tee-shirts (the kind that make grandparents spin in their graves prior to their actual demise). Kerching. We drew the line at some truly vile black boots which appeared to have coiled springs located in their soles.

From Camden, where 1½ hours’ parking cost us nearly £7.00, we headed towards Shaftesbury Avenue where the iconic Forbidden Planet shop is situated. Another paradise for artistic kids and adults who like comic books, models of comic book heroes and posters. I didn’t grumble (and what’s more I didn’t allow my husband to grumble either) when son chose a couple of books he wanted to buy. I’m just very happy that I have a child who enjoys reading. I realised we’d actually managed to find bargain parking in Camden when I was charged £11.00 for 2 hours in an NCP in Gerard Place in Chinatown. Kerching. My only solace was that public transport for three of us would have equalled the amount we spent and at least we had the convenience of having the car with us. But, by the time evening came and we were due to see Omid Djalili as Fagin in “Oliver” at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, I’d decided that I’d actually had enough driving in London for one day and we actually took cabs to and from the theatre. Kerching.

The show was marvellous – it far surpassed my expectations (because, having been a very regular theatre-goer when I lived in London, I’ve sadly now become accustomed to being rather disappointed by touring theatre companies’ visits to Bournemouth which, try as they might, simply DO NOT match up to West End theatre productions). Three seats in the stalls, however (well ... if I’m going to see a good show, I want to sit in good seats – very good seats) cost us more than two nights in our hotel. Kerching. Never mind. This was our summer holiday!

We headed back to Bournemouth on Sunday – early in the day – in order (a) that we wouldn’t be tempted to spend any more money and (b) that the uber-cool kid in the long leather coat could get an early night or two before re-starting school today. And yesterday son’s face showed the benefit of the first early night – the mandatory Goth dark circled eyes had disappeared and a 12 year old boy was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. But as the day wore on the bright-eyed kid transformed into a very, very subdued little boy.

He’d had a hard, hard year in Year 7 last year. He’d been looking forward to attending a school with fantastic facilities and specialising in his favourite subject – art – but the reality of actually being there had hit him with a huge shock. He’d been the victim of several very nasty bouts of bullying (actually resulting in the suspension of several older boys); his lessons had been continually disrupted by constant changes in staff and really he was NOT looking forward to his first day back in Year 8. When I took him to school this morning, he looked very young and very forlorn (his appearance not actually being helped by the fact that age 11 jackets and trousers were miles too short for him and age 12 apparel is miles too long). He didn’t glance back at me when he got out of the car but it pained me to leave him there and I have been worried all day long.

When I collected him this afternoon, a Year 8 kid got into the car. Not uber-cool, not forlorn, just a Year 8 schoolboy. Apparently the day hadn’t gone as badly as he’d been expecting it to and the Year 7 boys were now the objects of the derision of the Year 10 and 11 boys. Year 8 and Year 9 boys seem to escape the worst of the bad treatment. The Year 8 schoolboy I bought home with me was hopeful that the rest of this year will go well and that he’ll be able to settle in and get some work done. He was wondering whether there was anything that he could do to help the Year 7 boys settle in quickly and not have such a rough ride in their first year at “big school” as he did.

Good to know, as a parent, that despite his uber-cool holiday demeanour and his quite strange taste in attire, my Year 8 schoolboy seems to have his heart very much in the right place.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

about living by & breaking the rules

There are a few rules in life that really should be adhered to. As far as I can tell, (in no particular order of priority and probably more observational than autobiographical) these are:

  • If you have big ears, save up to have them pinned back and whilst you are so doing, cover them up with your hair.

  • If you have a fat bottom, a bulging tummy and “generous” hips think very carefully before purchasing, let alone wearing, leggings. If you have a cleavage, you don’t necessarily always have to show it.

  • If you switch on the TV for background noise, without paying attention to what is actually being transmitted and you happen to hear a phrase such as “basically, there’s a large bag, filled with hot air and attached to a basket” – do not automatically assume that someone has been watching you do your shopping and is talking about you when, in fact, you may have heard an item about hot air balloons on The Weather Programme.

  • If you have something that you want to do, then do it because nobody else is going to do it for you.

  • If you have something that you don’t want to do, then try really hard not to do it because it will probably make you unhappy.

  • If you have something that you SHOULD do, then just get on with it. If you let someone else do it for you, chances are you won’t be happy with the way they’ve done it and you will have relinquished the right to say a single word about it.

  • If you have something that you want to say, think very carefully before you say it because someone might actually remember what you’ve said and hold it against you.

  • If you like someone, tell them that you like them. If you don’t like someone, don’t bother talking to them because you’ll probably continue to dislike them and then hurt their feelings, which is something that could be avoided by not talking to them in the first place.

  • Try really hard not to frighten people and try really hard not to let anyone frighten you. If you are frightened, hide behind the sofa until someone who doesn’t frighten you assures you that it’s safe to emerge from your hiding place.

  • If you hear the name Arsene Wenger, do not think “what a coincidence it is that he manages Arsenal” as you will waste 5 minutes of your life that you will not be able to retrieve in wondering whether the football club chose him to be its manager because of his name.

  • Do not live in the past because it has a habit of being a happier place than the present and will make you feel very worried and fearful about the future which could well get better but all your doubts might just make it feel worse.

  • If you feel like singing, sing - and ignore people who don’t like the way you sing or ask them to join in with you because having a good sing-song will make everyone feel better (except people who don’t like singing).

  • If you don’t know how to spell something look the word up in a dictionary before committing it to paper because someone WILL notice and come after you with a pointy, pointy finger and a naggy voice. If you haven’t got a dictionary to hand – use a different word.

  • If you haven’t had any sleep, don’t write a blog post because it will come out all wrong. If you do write a blog post when you haven’t had any sleep and it does come out all wrong, don’t hit the publish key. If you do hit the publish key, be brave and brace yourself for the very worst thing that could happen ... someone might not like what you’ve written.

If you have your own set of rules, break them sometimes – just for the sheer heck of it.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

about Acronyms and Meaningless Hashtags

Twitter’s the place for people who have leanings towards media, all things literary, technological, News and Current Affairs, right? I’ve come to look on it as a social media site that is somewhat more grown-up than Facebook ... more for “thinking” people – but these days, I’m confused.

Acronyms such as LOL, ROFL, ROLMAO and even the blasted “hehee” have been appearing within those precious 140 characters and I’m wondering why people are wasting their character allowance on using mindless abbreviations when, patently, most of them are capable of expressing themselves in far better ways.

I never did like Facebook very much. It seemed, to me, to be full of people who knew people who I’d only ever met once or twice – and some who I’d never met at all – wanting to be my friends and then having the utter temerity to wish me to view their holiday photos. Soon after joining Twitter, I closed my Facebook account as I was really only ever using it to play Scrabble with a friend who lives less than 2 miles away from me and I truly didn’t wish to be friends with people of whom I’d never even heard let alone met. I was also plagued by the “gifts” that these unknown “friends” kept sending to me ... “Here, LOL, have a model Beefeater to make your day” and “Hehee, don’t forget to send a gift back to me”. Go away. Leave me alone. They wouldn’t – so I closed my account and shuffled in a relieved but adult fashion back to Twitter where I could actually form relationships with people who are capable of expressing quite complex, interesting and often witty thoughts in a succinct manner and who didn’t Laugh Out Loud at everything and anything that anyone said.

But what’s happening now on Twitter? The LOLS, ROFLS and hehees are creeping in and the succinct expressions of intelligent thought are on the decline and, what’s worse, I’ve even started to receive Direct Messages from people who are sending me “cuddly duckies” and such like with requests for me to send Direct Messages containing cute teddy bears back to them. But at least – as yet – I’m not being asked to view the holiday photos of people whom I do not know (and probably do not want to know). I enjoy looking at the occasional, amusing or interesting Twitpic but thanks heavens – as yet – no holiday photos.

Something else has started to happen on Twitter that is beginning to get ever so slightly too far lodged up my nostrils for comfort and that is the advent of the #verylongandoftentotallymeaninglesshashtag. Oh – and the swearing. I’m no prude. In fact I can – and often do – swear like a trooper but I’m not going to waste my 140 characters at proving this dubious talent to anyone who might happen to be reading what I write. I’ve been known under very stressful circumstances to use the occasional asterisk if I want to make a point very rudely but it’s not something I do often as I believe I am more than capable of expressing displeasure using other words than the usual F***s, C***s and whathaveyous.

And all of these annoying little factors are being sent by people who I genuinely thought knew better than to do so.

They know who they are and, without wishing to be a killjoy, I wonder if I may politely ask them when they’re going to stop or – if they don’t want to stop, perhaps they could restrict these inane practices to Facebook where I think they more rightfully belong.

You see, I am not LOL-ing, ROFL-ing, ROFLMAO-ing or even heehee-ing and I suspect quite a number of other people aren’t either.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

about Blood Brothers at the Bournemouth Pavilion

I had a bit of a health scare yesterday. I was quite frightened but, fortunately, I have a very good NHS doctor who's monitoring me carefully and I'm hoping to feel much better soon.

I tweeted that I'd had a bit of a scare on Twitter and, as ever, was amazed and touched at the many kind, supportive tweets I received in response. I'm aware that Twitter has come in for a bit of "flak" of late but you won't hear any criticism about it from me today. I'm very fond of my virtual friends and find that the incisive (and sometimes quite wicked) wit I read on the site lifts me when I'm feeling down and heartens me when I feel in need of a bit of virtual support.

I'd booked tickets for OP, Josh and myself to see Willy Russell's "Blood Brothers" at the Bournemouth Pavilion last night. It will be OP's birthday at the end of this month and as he'd seen the show many years ago and it had made quite an impression on him, he was keen to see it again. Tickets to see the show seemed to be a very good birthday present for him ... usually he never wants "anything" but I knew he'd appreciate this.

In all honesty, I really didn't feel very well and didn't feel too much like going to the theatre - however, as I'd bought the tickets and both OP and Josh were looking forward to going, it would have been churlish of me not to have gone too. We set out early, parked easily and had a super meal in Wagamama prior to the show and were in our seats on time. We sat in the Circle and we had a very good view of the stage.

The show was good - a very acceptable "touring" company production ... not, in truth, up to West End standards, but apart from some of the diction not being too clear and the air conditioning in the Circle not coping too well with the humidity of the night - it was a moving version of a good musical. Lyn Paul (who used to be in The New Seekers) took the rĂ´le of the Johnstone twins' mother and her voice was strong and clear throughout. I expect that many people are more familiar with Barbara Dickson's rendition of the show's main theme "Tell Me It's Not True" but Lyn certainly did justice to that song and others in the musical. She and Robbie Scotcher, who took the part of the narrator, carried the show and I was so glad I went. The cast received a well deserved hearty ovation and I wasn't alone in having tears in my eyes at the end.

So, after a not altogether happy or healthy day, when I wondered if the show should have been re-named "The Blood Pressure Brothers" especially for me - a little bit of culture has - as it often does - made me feel a whole lot better than I'd been feeling earlier. I was also lifted by the fact that OP had enjoyed his birthday present and that Josh, at the tender age of 12 years, understood the sociological connotations of the show and was - for one so young - also moved by it.

The production only runs until Friday of this week but, if you're in the environs of Bournemouth and can manage to obtain tickets, the show would certainly receive my recommendation!

Friday, 7 August 2009

About her Son's School and Education

So, we’re in school holiday mode and whilst The Joshua is not 100% occupied, he’s certainly 100% happier than he usually is during term time. I’m not having to listen to the weekday morning ritual of “Oh, PLEASE, why can’t I be home-educated?” whilst taking him to school each day nor am I having to listen to the tearful reports of the very real upsets that he has suffered during school hours on collecting him each afternoon.

My kid is not wimp. He’s not violent and he “walks away” from trouble if he can. During his first year at his school he’s been bullied quite badly resulting in the actual suspension of about three children. He’s on his school’s Gifted and Talented Register for his artistic prowess. Heaven only knows how kids are treated if they’re NOT on the register. His school is letting him down wholesale.

I received his school report in June which was, at first glance, pleasingly “okay” – when I’d managed to decipher the hieroglyphics that actually comprise the report. Once I’d had a more detailed trawl through the subjects, I was considerably less happy ... not with Josh but with the school. For Literacy (or for us older people “English”) – there was no report at all due to “staff absence”. English is a core subject. Joshua is good at English - probably rather more due to the fact that his aged mother is a slave to the language than from anything he is learning at school.

I discovered at an over-crowded and completely disorganised Parents’ Evening – also in June – that Joshua’s English teacher was on Maternity leave and therefore hadn’t written any school reports for the pupils she had taught during the year. Has the gestation period of pregnancy decreased or increased since I had Joshua just over 12 years ago? I thought it was still 9 months. Am I to believe that his English teacher was taken completely by surprise by her pregnancy? Or were her time management skills severely in need of attention? She had MONTHS in which to write reports for the children she was teaching – but she didn’t.

It’s usual during the last week of term for children at Joshua’s school to take part in “Activities Week” – where a little slack is cut from the usual routine and they’re allowed to do the things that they like to do in most lessons. FOUR weeks before the end of term, Joshua happily announced that on three consecutive days in Maths lessons, he and his classmates had been allowed to watch “films”. I wondered if the said films were in any way mathematically orientated. No. The Maths Teaching Assistant (Joshua has NEVER actually had a Maths “teacher”) was on sick leave and there were no other teachers OR teaching assistants to step into the breach in her absence.

Joshua has not had the same teacher or teaching assistant for two consecutive lessons throughout his entire first year at his school for Music. Invariably he and his classmates don’t learn anything about music at all ... they sit and draw.

His school is wonderfully endowed with the most excellent of facilities – particularly for a child like Joshua whose main interest and talent is Art. It is completely lacking in adequate staffing – and discipline for either teaching staff OR children. The whole place is in chaos.

I don’t say this very often but I am at a complete loss for words.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

About not being Menopausal AT ALL

Hormonal? Who ME? Who said? What on EARTH are you talking about? I am NOT hormonal. I am behaving PERFECTLY normally. I am not IN THE SLIGHTEST irrational and I have NO IDEA what you’re talking about.

I’m glad I’ve got that bit out of the way – because those words form part of the many repetitions of my daily mantra whilst I’m behaving in a very hormonal, incredibly abnormal and almost maniacally irrational way. And if any woman of 45-55 something years repeats similar words to those in my first paragraph then I would like to stand up right here, right now and tell you that she is (a) lying and that she is (b) very, very frightened that the person who she knows she really is, is someone almost completely unknown to her and for a goodly part of the time, not even liked by her.

So why do I persist in repeating my mantra when I know – yes, I really do know, that I am behaving like a woman possessed for a good 23 hours out of each day? What would actually be so, SO terrible in saying “Oh, look – I’m behaving like a complete loon; you need to ignore me. I have no idea why I’m doing it and if I did have an idea then I’d truly try to stop it”. Oh – and there’s another word I don’t say ... the really hard one: “Sorry”.

Is it JUST me? Am I alone in my deep, dark secret that I have no idea who I am any more, even less idea why I do the things I do or say the things I say and I’m SO full of self-doubt that my ONLY defence is attack? Or is this the malaise of the majority of ladies of a matronly age? (Did I just WRITE that?)

A matronly age? Oh, heavens – is that how I think of myself? Surely not? Or maybe I do? Maybe I do identify with the “Grumpy Old Women”. I know I have a son who I think spends far too much time telling me to calm down. That’s not right, is it? And what are the things I get so grumpy about? Oh, you name it. I can be grumpy because it’s too sunny, too dull or too rainy. I can get grumpy about being on my own so much but that’s quite often surpassed at the grumpiness I feel because I don’t have enough time on my own. I can get quite grumpy at seeming – even to myself – to have a life of complete dichotomy. I don’t KNOW why I get grumpy and I get grumpy about that, too.

I’ve said it before – in my blog and probably on Twitter, too: “Only women bleed? I DON’T THINK SO”. It’s no secret that my marriage was not made in heaven but even I have to admit that I wouldn’t want to live with me! Not right now, anyway.

If you happen to come across me, please bear with me ... I’m not doing it on purpose!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

about the New Blogger in her Family

All I really wanted to do today was stay in bed. Ha! Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

I seem, from somewhere – I know not where – to have acquired Mark II of the dreaded lurgy and am staggering around, off-balance, with earache, backache and just for good measure a throbbing headache. I think I could just about cope with one of the symptoms but all three together are just about flooring me.

Anyway, the school holidays are upon us, Josh needs occupying and OP is busy for which, of course, I am very grateful but – as he’s been pretty busy for what seems like an eternity (for which, of course, I am even more grateful), I seem to have been doing the lone parent thing for an awfully long time of late.

So, at crack of sparrow’s fart, I arose and started to make inroads into the ever-increasing pile of admin in the chamber of doom otherwise known as “my office”. Readers of my blog will know that I’ve become somewhat phobic about actually venturing into the doom chamber, so chaos would be a welcome sight on entry. The reality is that the mess in there has gone way, way beyond chaos and I have to swallow several Valium before crossing its threshold.

The Joshua was having a “lie-in” after yet another far too late a night and I thought that I could make use of the silence in the house by getting ahead with some admin without being perpetually coerced into conversations that oftentimes I don’t even begin to understand! I managed about 17 minutes in there before my darling child arrived on the scene. I am talked at and if I’m not paying attention, I am nudged until I do.

Today, Joshua had decided was HIS day for following in his mother’s footsteps and he wanted to start his own blog. In all fairness, he has worked away at it all day long and I’ve barely heard a squeak out of him – apart from being asked to check a few spellings and to look at his punctuation – neither of which, I was pleased to find, needed too much attention or correction.

I managed to get all my invoicing done and my EmoKiddy (yes, he now has his own Twitter account [very heavily monitored by me and, for obvious reasons, he is not allowed to “follow” me!] and that is his Twitter name) has thought long and hard about content and has actually written a very passable critique of one of the works of his hero, Jhonen Vasquez. And I am but SO, SO proud of him. So my 21st century boy-child is venturing ever further into the world of cyber communication and is far better at it than I could ever hope to be. And OP, needless to say, feels just a little bit more “left out” of things than he did yesterday. I can live with that!

This is a shameless bit of familial promotion. You can find Josh’s artwork on http://joshjdtv.deviantart.com/ - do take the time to scroll back – even if I say so myself (and, of course, I would say so, wouldn’t I?) – there’s some very good stuff on there, if you hunt for it! You could, if you’re patient enough, follow him on Twitter – he’s @EmoKiddy and, if you’re in the mood for reading yet another blog, his is at http://joshology.wordpress.com/


So, does the Redman family have the web covered? I’m sure for the time being it does – and unless by some technological miracle, OP suddenly becomes computer literate, perhaps all this “will do” for the time being?

Monday, 6 July 2009

about the iHat Application and some Curious Cures

I do SO love a barmy hat ... not to wear, you understand ... but at which to look and, often, I’m ashamed to admit, to rather cruelly snigger. The best time of year for really barmy hats is, of course, winter when I even look forward to going to the supermarket or to Winton to shop for the most mundane of items because I may spot someone wearing something on their head that will make me chuckle quite nastily for the rest of the day. My favourite type of barmy hat is of the brightly coloured variety, quite pointy – often with a bobble on the top and usually with strange string like contraptions which the wearer invariably doesn’t tie together but leaves hanging down on either side of the neck. However, there are no hard and fast rules and I’m quite happy to think snide thoughts about anything that makes the wearer appear as if they’ve been let out of an asylum as a special treat.

There are occasions in the summer when I see or hear about a head covering that will bring a smirk to my face and such has been the case very recently. A friend on Twitter, @Neets68, wrote that she had taken “the hat of badness” with her when she was fortunate enough to spend the weekend before last at the Glastonbury Festival. My virtual ears pricked up immediately and I wasn’t disappointed! Neets kindly posted a “Twitpic” of her hat and – if I’m honest, it was Stetson style and not too barmy at all, but the surreal conversations that ensued regarding its possible uses have now given it five star uber-barmy status. Neets had posted that she was listening to some music wearing her hat but that she really had some domestic chores to carry out and would therefore be removing it. The suggestion was made that the hat should remain on her head as it could be used whilst she was multi-tasking. I believe that she may have worn the hat for the whole day as it proved to have so many uses. And so was born the iHat with its many and varied quite ludicrous applications.

You can find out what they are by searching for #iHat on Twitter. I’m not entirely sure I should be advising you to do that as it may ensure you know (or perhaps confirm your existing belief) that not only do I love barmy hats but also that I’m actually quite barmy myself for being somewhat fixated with them.

Poor Neets managed to get herself quite sun-burnt at Glastonbury which not only had its mandatory share of rain but also some glorious sunshine too. She arrived home having enjoyed the delights of Bruce Springsteen, the TingTings and Tom Jones inter alia, very tired, caked in mud and in a great deal of pain from the effects of too much sun.

My past is very much “another country” and, in times gone by I’ve lived in some very hot climates indeed. I picked up a few useful tips on keeping cool (would that I could keep as cool emotionally as I’m able to physically!) and coping with such ills as sunburn. When I heard that Neets had burnt badly at Glastonbury, I contacted her and told her to cover her burnt and hurting skin in ... toothpaste! Naturally she thought that she was being advised by the founder member of the Yampy Brigade – but squirting toothpaste onto one’s hands, then mixing with cold water and smearing the mixture over burnt and blistered skin does, indeed, reduce soreness, redness and can prevent or ease blistering. She agreed to try my weird remedy ... and was relieved to discover that it worked!

I’d burnt very badly once many thousands of years ago when sailing on Long Island Sound. Fortunately, I was on board with a doctor who’d told me what to do (well ... actually he applied the magic potion for me – but that’s another story!) and although I’ve never allowed myself to get burnt as badly since then, I still use the formula if ever I need to.

As if being sunburnt, overtired and having some Stepford tasks to perform weren’t enough, Neets was also feeling too hot – as I suspect a lot of us were over the weekend which, judging by today’s weather, will no doubt have been the full extent of our summer.

I’d lived in Israel and South Africa during my years abroad and learnt that the very best way to stay cool was to take a shower with the water at the very hottest temperature one can bear – and then emerge to only pat oneself dry with a towel but allowing most of the water to evaporate by itself on one’s skin. It’s a method of staying very much cooler for considerably longer than by using the “instant fix” of a cold shower.

So, Neets tried that too ... and it worked! I don’t believe she thinks I’m quite as much of a nutter as first she thought! Well, at least not in the area of strange remedies, anyway!

I wonder if anyone else knows of any weird and wonderful ways of keeping cool or making hurty things better? I should imagine that we could save ourselves a fortune by using homespun cures!

Friday, 3 July 2009

about being A FAILURE

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece entitled "The Shaving Tackle Box" which was inspired by a picture that had been posted on The Elephant Words burst culture website. I posted the article on my blog and was OVERWHELMED by the response it received. The lovely people who read my blog regularly and a lot of virtual Twitter friends sent many comments to me - both to the Blog and via Twitter - saying how moved they'd been by the article. One of the comments I received was from the friendly journos at The Bournemouth Echo who told me that I really should enter the competition that was being held to find a new columnist. The criteria for entry into the competition was that the article had to be between 450 and 600 words and one could write about "anything" - so I did.

The competition closed on 1st June and from Monday to Thursday this week, the Echo has published runners' up entries. I was not amongst the runners up. Today the Echo has posted the winning entry. I am not the winner. You can read the runners' up entries and the winning article here: Bournemouth Echo Columnists.

So I am a failure! But just in case you'd care to see what a failing article looks like, this is what I wrote:





SIX HUNDRED WORDS

What is different about this piece of writing from anything else I’ve ever written in previous years?

Nothing really, because prior to embarking upon anything I write, I deliberate and worry, fret, write, re-write and fret again. I count the words and have come to the conclusion from counting very many words that the length of article I am happiest with and write most easily is between 750 and 800 words and I find it very hard to edit down.

So there IS a difference. This piece of writing must be between 450 and 600 words because if it is longer perhaps the Bournemouth Echo won’t read it. Or, if they do read it, a large red pen may strike out all words that come after the 600th. And that would be dreadful because that might mean that my entry into the paper’s competition to find a new correspondent might be void or disqualified.

Now that would never do. How awful would it be for me to screw up the opportunity of perhaps winning a competition which would allow me to be who I actually am?

I have always been a writer – but have only recently dared to start thinking of myself as one – let alone calling myself one, but I have always been one. Even at a very young age, I was the kid whose Mum didn’t have to nag her to write thank you notes after birthdays and Christmas. I would write lengthy tomes describing my glee at having received a hand-knitted cardigan from my Grandma (she had no reason to know that it had been placed in an out of reach cupboard and would never be worn), or expressing my severe disappointment that my second cousin had not been able (thank heavens) to attend my birthday party but who had sent me a truly vile set of handkerchiefs with her card. Words just flowed from my pen onto the paper – sometimes I wouldn’t even know how they got there. So I have always been a writer.

And these days, what is it actually that I do that’s so very different? Nothing really. I’m still writing letters ... perhaps not to individuals and maybe not to say thank you for anything – but letters to a wider and unseen audience are what I send when I hit the “publish” key on my blog or the “reply” key on Twitter. And the pressing of those two buttons is a two-edged sword. It brings with it a huge sense of freedom that I can say exactly what I want to say (and with that a great sense of gratitude that I live in a country where I still can say what I want to say – because so many people in the world can’t). I also have a huge sense of trepidation because what I am saying is right out there – straight away – in the public domain for anyone to read – and for anyone to comment upon. And, oh – that is just SO frightening. But it’s what I do and who I am.

Now there is the opportunity – however slim – that a newspaper may read what I have to say and choose me to make my lifelong dream a reality. (Only a few more words in which to convince you that I AM your new correspondent). I need to tell you something memorable, don’t I? I not only believe that you would be making the right choice in selecting me, but please also consider that I am very hungry and would greatly appreciate having lunch with your Editor. Thank you. [600 words].



Thursday, 2 July 2009

... about NOTHING AT ALL


It’s been a while. I’ve really felt that I’ve had absolutely nothing of interest to say and was once given some very useful advice: “If you haven’t got anything to write about – DON’T WRITE”! But the itch has started ... it usually does ... and now I feel compelled to ignore that good advice and at least tap something out and at the moment, that “something” is about nothing at all!

My last blog was highly personal, difficult to write and painful for me to read. I received many heartening comments about it but have now deleted it – not because the subject matter no longer holds true ... it does ... but because there’s simply nothing to be achieved by re-reading something that hurts so much. And I don’t need there to be written evidence of what’s already in my head.

I’m in a much more positive frame of mind regarding this post – without any justifiable reason at all ... I’m just feeling happier!

Wimbledon, the season of Pimms and strawberries is upon us – it even looks possible that Murray could get to the final.

Old Peculiar’s away for nine whole days. He went off to Europe leaving me not only with some precious space and much needed room to breathe but also with copious instructions about when to put the sprinkler on in the garden, dead-heading certain plants and throwing a few slug pellets around the marigolds. Of course, having been certain that it would rain today, I’ve already let him down – AGAIN! I can live with that.

The Joshua doesn’t care or even notice whether I vacuum or not. I’m reading a couple of excellent books and the weather’s good. It’s too hot to do any ironing and anyway I’ve nearly finished yesterday's crossword and I've completed both Sudokus.

Josh and I are both too hot to eat anything substantial, so I don’t have to cook and we’re going to have sandwiches followed by a great deal of ice cream. What’s not to write about?

Is there anything else I should be telling you? No – not really. NOT TODAY!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

ELEPHANT WORDS - TOE WORMS




From the creative commons, for non-commercial use, posted by Ashelia


The above picture was posted on
The Elephant Words website under the title "Mother and Child at Sunset" and inspired me to write the following:





He didn’t like it. Just like his mother before him, he didn’t like it one tiny little bit. In fact he woke up in the middle of the night, calling out, insistently:


“Mummy, Mummy – they’re in my bed. They’re wriggling and squirming.”


The mother got out of bed, yawned and in a resigned way, pulled her dressing gown on. She knew that she’d have a disturbed night, even before she’d gone to bed. It had been a gloriously sunny day, the day before, and her husband said that they should spend it at the beach – so the reaction from her boy was to be expected. A long, hot day at the beach and ever was it thus.


But it had been a good day. It had started early and ended late. They’d found a quiet spot on a beach that was really only ever visited by locals ... not like the main beaches which were swarmed upon by the hoarding masses of tourists displaying their bright white bodies with patches of lobster red sunburn in too little inappropriate clothing. This was a beach frequented by seaside dwelling people who knew about keeping covered up and who liberally rubbed SPF30 into their sensibly tanned skins. These were the people who although didn’t know one another, were at least familiar with each other as they came to that same beach year after year. It was a beach that had, she thought, a sense of community. Children who’d seen each other the year before made bee-lines for each other this year and resumed their sandcastle building where they’d left off. This was a beach where you could catch the eye of someone sitting not too far away and nod and point at one’s towels knowing that they would be watched over whilst one went to the loo or to buy an ice-cream or to swim in the sea.


They were keen on swimming – all three of them. The husband was a strong swimmer – the type of swimmer who could frighten other swimmers by diving into a pool, only to emerge after having spent two whole lengths under water. The mother could swim slowly but for quite a long time – it was nothing for her to swim 20 lengths and the boy had taken to the water from a very young age and was, now that he was growing up, quite a competent little swimmer. They all loved the pool; they all liked the beach but only the husband loved the sea.


The mother was determined that her boy would know how to stay safe in the water and had taken him for swimming lessons from when he was really very young. And they’d been to the beach from the time he was one year old. She used to leave it to her husband to wade, waist deep into the water while she watched his strong arms envelop the happily squealing boy as he’d carry him into the cold sea. And they’d come back out of the sea where she’d been waiting with two huge dry towels to wrap them up in and rub the salty water off them.


Yesterday, when the sun started to fade, the husband said, “Why don’t you both get the sand off your feet at the water’s edge and I’ll get everything together ready for us to go”.


And they did - but her insides churned and she had to get a grip on herself or she’d have happily run back to their car. She didn’t show any signs to her boy of how she felt. And before much more could be thought, they were at the water’s edge and the assault on her feet began. The tide came in and as the under swell caught her feet, they were there – wriggling and squirming and making her feel that the earth was moving away from her and leaving her behind. And she felt faint but she didn’t let it show nor did she look at the grimacing boy standing next to her.


She was busy remembering her futile efforts at consoling a much younger crying boy whose little feet had also been at the water’s edge and whom she had held whilst he stood in the wobbly way that belongs to toddlers when they stand.


She knew that although she’d hidden her revulsion so well, her boy had discovered his very own.

So when her sleep was disturbed, she wasn’t altogether surprised. She’d gone past the age when she used to dream of the toe worms but she remembered the dream very well indeed. And even if she’d have forgotten it, it would be seasonally bought back to her, when her now much more grown-up boy cried out on summer nights after long days - like yesterday - at the beach,


“Mummy, Mummy, they’re here”.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Elephant Words - The Shaving Tackle Box


By Matthew Hartwell, Attribution: Non-commercial. No derivative works 3.0 unported



(The above image was uploaded to the Elephant Words site on Sunday 3rd May 2009)



Elephant Words
is a burst-culture website, featuring daily fiction. Each Sunday, an image is posted. Over the following week, each of six authors takes their turn to write something inspired by that image. Visitors to the website are also encouraged to comment on the pictures and also, if they're inspired to write something to contribute. I saw the above picture during the week and was inspired to write the following so, with the encouragement and advice of Nick Papaconstantinou - to whom I'm extremely grateful, here it is!


THE SHAVING TACKLE BOX

Scroll back 46 years. It is a Sunday morning in 1963; I am 7 years old and I have a job! It is my job to balance on the side of the bath with my legs dangling, my feet almost touching the floor – but not quite, and unpack my father’s shaving tackle from its brown leather box. I am very careful because I know that razor blades can be very sharp indeed. First I hand the shaving brush to my Dad, then the razor which already has the blade in it – because I am not allowed to touch the blades. Then I pass him the styptic pencil. And my job – until he has finished shaving – is over.

I am now free to stand by the bathroom sink and watch him very carefully whilst he shaves which he does meticulously. I like watching him hold the skin taut on his face. It makes me giggle when he shaves underneath his nose and I giggle even more when he puts the thickly lathered shaving brush on the end of his nose so that he ends up with a white blob of foam where his nose should have been.

When the shaving ritual is completed, I resume my position on the edge of the bath and I am handed the damp shaving brush, the razor (which I am again VERY careful with) and finally the styptic pencil. I place everything neatly back in the brown leather box and press stud it closed again.

Now I am free again to watch my father rinse his face with very hot water and then very cold water. He pats his face dry and then splashes some aftershave on. And that aftershave is the very best smell in the whole world.

And if I put my mind to it, 46 years later – I can still smell it and it is STILL the very best smell in the whole world. It’s the smell of safety and security and has the faint whiff about it that no matter what, my Dad will make sure that everything in my world is all right.

Scroll forward to the new Millennium. It is January 2000 and my mother has just died. My father has come to stay with me, my husband and our then 2½ year old little boy.

My father doesn’t feel like smiling very much but it is a Sunday morning and he is in our bathroom, shaving. He has a helper. A little boy who is given a job to do. The little boy balances on the side of the bath with his legs dangling. A tattered, well-used brown leather box is placed on the closed toilet seat. The little boy is shown how to open the box and then asked by his Grandpa to first pass the shaving brush, then the razor - which he has to hold very carefully - because the blade is VERY sharp indeed, and finally the styptic pencil. The little boy then moves to the side of the bathroom sink and watches as his Grandpa holds the skin on his face very taut and moves the razor over the skin to get rid of all the prickly bits. I can hear giggling coming from the bathroom and go to investigate. A little boy is laughing because his Grandpa has just put his shaving brush on the end of his nose and he now has a blob of thick white foam where his nose should have been.

Shaving over and the little boy must complete his task. He is handed the shaving brush, the razor which he is again very careful with because he’s been told that the blade is VERY sharp indeed, and finally the styptic pencil. He’s shown where to place everything within the old leather box and enjoys pressing the stud to close it. And this will be his Sunday morning job while Grandpa is staying with us. It makes him smile. He hugs his Grandpa and his Grandpa smiles too.

Now we are back in the present. I look at a picture and with a sharp intake of breath I experience something akin to a physical pain. I see a brown leather box, a shaving brush and a razor and I am once again 7 years old and I can smell my father’s aftershave. I show the picture to my 11 year old, his head nods slightly and he says “Grandpa’s shaving box”. My 88 year old father comes round for dinner and we show him the picture. He looks at it and says to me “Can you remember when mine looked like that”?

I can.

I look at my father. I look at my son. And we all smile.

Friday, 8 May 2009

BOUNCING TOWARDS BIRTHDAYS




It has arrived and it is in use. It really shouldn’t have been bought until next month but it seemed a shame not to buy it now because whilst the weather is okay at the moment, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date” and there’s no guarantee that we will have a glut of dry, sun-filled days over the next few months.



We are talking about presents:



Every year The Joshua makes two lists. The first list is started on Boxing Day which carries him through the not quite six month period to his birthday. The second list begins on the day after his birthday and takes him through the just over six month period to Christmas. In theory, he is meant to add and subtract from the lists according to whether the items he places on it decrease in popularity. If they do, the items are removed. That’s the theory. In practice, Josh never goes off an item and the lists become longer and longer each year.



About four weeks before Christmas and about four weeks before his birthday, negotiations begin. Joshua, DH and I sit down and go through the meticulously prepared list item by item. Discussions are usually conducted without argument and, to date, we haven’t had to contact ACAS to help us reach agreement. DH and I are somewhat wary of the notebook that Joshua brings with to the negotiations because this comprises The Very Frightening List that we are sure he will present us with when he’s about 18 and that is when we will discover the going rate for the sale of parental souls.



There are, as you will have read in the first paragraph, items on this year’s Birthday List that have been purchased in advance of Joshua’s 12th birthday. He has been using a Wacom Pad at school which allows him to draw straight to computer. He is on the Gifted and Talented register at his school and attends a special Arts diploma class after school each week with other boys two or three years his senior – so he really is a talented kid and if he really does need and will use something that has to do with his art and drawing, we cut a bit of slack and buy it for him. He has wanted a Wacom pad for quite some time and since its purchase he has rarely been away from it whilst he’s at home.



Other items on this year’s list include an X Box 360 along with several games or programmes for it, some boxed DVD sets of his favourite programmes, various books that he want to read, a long leather coat so that he can (he assures me) just “look” like a Goth and he would like to have his hair dyed red during the Summer holidays. His ideal colour would be similar to Jane Goldman’s and that item meets with a maternal “We shall see”!



I have a fairly bad habit of encouraging Josh to write items on his list because I want to play with them. This year, I have been gently suggesting that he may like a silent drum kit because I want to play the drums. Josh has been adamant about not wanting one and I am forever destined to drum my fingers on most hard surfaces or, if I’m lucky and we eat Chinese, I occasionally get to syncopate with chopsticks.



On the whole, Josh isn’t a particularly sporty kid so DH and I were very pleased when the item that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog appeared on the list.



It is, of course, a trampoline. I agreed to its early purchase because I knew that Josh would use it right throughout the Summer and I’m always glad to see him enjoying outdoor activities as well as his many indoor hobbies.



Nobly, I also thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get a little exercise, too. I used to be quite good at trampolining when I was at school, so when it arrived, for the first time in 37 years, I had a go and was much chuffed that I could still remember how to bounce and not too many bits of me wobbled too much! Ignobly, I agreed to the purchase of the trampoline because it will give me a marvellous opportunity to spasmodically take a look at our neighbours’ gardens!



Joshua, having such expensive tastes, will prevent me from ever being able to say that I’m “too rich” but since the advent of the trampoline I may at least bounce my way towards being “too thin”!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

About Counselling

Last week was an easy week for me blog-wise. I handed my blog over to my guest, Mennard, who wrote most honestly about his marriage in “Indoor Fireworks” and I introduced his blog with my feelings about counselling. I discover this week, that I haven’t actually got everything I want to say about counselling out of my system – so, with a bit of a pre-amble about reaction to last week’s guest blog, I intend to ramble on about it for a while longer. And when I’ve rambled on, I shall be able to amend my profile on my blog – because I won’t have “recently” given up learning about counselling – it will have a been a while ago and I have very much moved on!

I was quite amazed by the first comment reacting to last week’s blog. The person who left the comment was apparently “astonished” and “horrified” and just for good measure actually came across as a bit “Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells”! My amazement was quite strictly down to the fact that a double-standard was occurring and I am perhaps naive enough to believe in this day and age, we should really be past all that.

The commenter was “appalled” that my guest was so upfront and honest about his wife’s tendency to physically and verbally abuse him. Like it doesn’t ever happen? Like, in truth, “only women bleed”? Not true. Fact. Many, many men are abused by their wives and I suspect many of them are too embarrassed to say much about it. But does that mean it doesn’t happen? Of course not. The person who commented had only a few weeks previously written a fairly hefty diatribe about her ex-husband in her own blog but criticised Mennard (who uses a nom de plume when blogging) for placing his wife in the public domain. It was therefore “okay” for her to say the most loveless things about her ex-husband (without his express permission, I should imagine) but NOT okay for Mennard to write honestly about his domestic situation maintaining an acceptance of and love for his wife throughout.

My blog attracts a very slim (but hugely appreciated!) readership. Mennard’s blog has not been splashed across the front page of The Sun. I do so love to keep things in proportion!

So, why am I so anti-counselling? I feel that throughout life things happen to us – nobody leads a completely carefree existence. Nobody. We have choices about how we deal with the “ess-aitch-one-tee” that is inevitably thrown at us. We can keep our own counsel; we can talk to our friends; we can talk to a stranger – ultimately we still have to continue, don’t we? For the most part, probably as I’m only child and I didn’t get married until I was 38 years old, I’m fairly used to keeping my own counsel – although, of course, I chat to friends about my life and in so doing discuss problems I’m encountering. Would talking to a stranger help me? I don’t think so!

I married into a family of counsellors ... probing, nosey, controlling, egotistical counsellors. If I moved at less than 30 miles an hour my sainted mother-in-law would stop me and advise me – whether I wished to be advised or not. She died a few years ago now but her probing and controlling tentacles do sometimes appear to reach beyond the grave!

Not all that long ago, DH decided that as we’d reached an impasse regarding a financial matter, we should go to counselling. We spent a fortune on reaching no solution whatsoever. DH, who had wanted to attend the counselling sessions, got nothing from them at all. I, on the other hand, seemed to “appeal” to the counsellor who armed me with leaflets, ‘phone numbers and advice to become a counsellor myself. I work from home, I own my own business and I am privileged in my time being my own – so I thought, why not?

I enrolled on an Introductory Course and from the outset was quite bemused that most people who were on it were either card carrying heroin addicts or people who were “earning” their job seekers’ allowances. None of them - apart from me (just call me Methuselah!) were anywhere near the age of 40. I didn’t see much evidence of their own life management skills coming to the fore in what appeared to me, to be facile role playing games using concepts so simple that I struggled with boredom.

The tutor (a suppressed thespian if ever there was one) told us over and over again about how a counsellor should paraphrase and repeat back to the person they are counselling what has just been said and how to ask an open-ended question. I thought I might be going mad. Why were my fellow attendees finding it so hard to do what I do as second nature? If I want someone to tell me about themselves, of course I ask open-ended questions. But if they don’t want to tell me about themselves, I’m not presumptuous enough to pursue them relentlessly about it until they do. It’s – after all – their business and not mine. I got out before I started to criticise the damaged people whose lives were imperfect but who believed that they could help others with damaged, imperfect lives. I expect they’ll gain their counselling qualifications and I hope they can help other people because I can’t – not in that way, at any rate.

I only truly have the right to manage my own life – not someone else’s. I’m a Mum and - of course – I have a duty of love and care to be responsible for my son until he’s old enough to be responsible for himself. Do I do that in a controlling way or do we discuss the best ways to go about things? I’m a forceful personality – I could oh, SO easily run his life for him – but would that be good for him? No. We discuss. Sometimes we argue. But we reach agreement on ways ahead that are right for us both and more importantly, he’s learning how to make decisions for himself.

I am not the perfect wife (I’m a sulker, an ingrate and on occasion, a plate-thrower). I’m not the perfect mother either but my little family unit muddles through. We don’t hold back on how we feel – be those feelings good or bad. We’re open with each other as much as we possibly can be. Would family counselling benefit us? I don’t think so.

If I have something on my mind, I write about it – and if it’s still on my mind, I write some more about it. Not everyone can or indeed wants to write to express themselves. There are times when I don’t. I haven’t come across a problem yet that can’t be solved by me or by me in conjunction with those closest to me. And there’s always a stomp across the Common with my dogs to allow me to let off steam – which is something I quite often have to do. The dogs don’t mind however much I rant!

Counselling – to either dole it out to someone else – or to be on the receiving end of it – is categorically NOT FOR ME.



(You may like to read a professional's views about Counselling ... Jackie Walker is the Divorce Coach at UK Divorce - she's a solicitor who speaks to her clients in plain English!)