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“… you have time to write a novel on FB ” said my brother.

… or “How to lose it in August”

So, one minute you’re sipping the last dregs of a cold cuppa after ‘tea’ (the working class still have their main meal around 5-ish – with a cup of tea as opposed to posh people who have dinner at 7 with wine) and you’re chatting about nothin’,  as you do in August.

And then a Sainsbury’s advert for ‘Back to School’ gear flashes across the screen in the background and suddenly my children have a violent, foul-mouthed monster on their hands … and Facebook gets this lashing: My brother commented Nice to see you aren’t really busy ‘working’ as you have time to write a novel on FB !!!! FFS. Get a job. Later he said it was a blog not a post – so I decided to blog it as well: 

Whilst I may kid myself that I can imagine the stress of a brain surgeon or the pressure of stock broker, when it comes down to it, no-one can actually pin-point what teachers do that is so stressful.

Let’s be honest: I drift into school at 1/4 to 9 five days a week for 39 weeks – talk to some kids for a few hours, fill in a couple of forms, do a bit of writing on the board, do a bit more reading and then dart out of the place just after half 3, when most people are still on their afternoon tea break. After tea I do a bit more reading, ticking as I go and – crawl into bed totally exhausted.

Teaching is a bit like football – anyone who has ‘watched enough games’ and of course, read enough back pages can do a better job than Jose Mouriniho – and everyone knows what teachers are doing wrong, why kids aren’t learning and hate school.

Of course, teaching may be so stressful because in order to do my ‘talking’ to kids (i.e. not adults) I need to have a degree in my subject and to maintain that level of knowledge regardless of the amount of new material constantly available; I also need to have to stay up-to-date with the latest and often contradictory research on the latest teaching methods to squeeze every last mark out of every last child, and despite the population not getting any more intelligent, produce better and better exam results every year; I have to absorb a range of details about every child – I teach up to 150 different ones a day in my high school; I have pages and pages of rules and regulations to bear in mind before a single sentence comes out of my mouth – language awareness, school and government policies, as well as dividing my attention between 28 pre-adults who really really would rather be somewhere else. I have to keep them physically safe, emotionally secure and educationally motivated; I must not be political or evangelical – but I must be politically aware and correct, and imbue the religious ethos of my school – without disparaging or undermining the religion of a single pre-adult in my care.

In order to continue my bit of reading/ticking at homeI need to take in and assess each pre-adult’s performance, correct their errors (without proof-reading for them) and despite the number of hours spent on lectures, activities, discussions etc in class, now find two sentences which will finally force that penny down, so that the pre-adult learner will finally ‘get it’ and improve their next piece of work – which must be written by the way – despite most other real-life performances being assessed by ‘doing’ (think marital arts belts, sports trials, performance auditions, etc). I do all this with the memory of reams of level descriptors and their numerical demarkers at the back of my numded brain.

I haven’t even mentioned dealing with parents – many who, whilst generally giving in to their child’s every whim to keep them quiet (See – Christmas now begins in the middle of November) and who has failed to entertain them for the summer six-weeks, and who deal with most confrontations by shouting/grounding/slapping/threats of pocket money withdrawal etc etc – (see tantrums in super-markets) now expect me to be Mother Theresa, the entire Disney Channel and Socrates rolled into one – depite having 30 of them with the only acceptable sanction is now some form of supper-expressive but non-threatening raised eyebrow because  parents don’t ‘do’ teachers raising their voices to their ‘loved ones’ anymore.

So excuse me if I rant off the day before my GCSE results – with Sainsbury’s Back to School adverts stuffed into my eye balls, Mrs Psychologist, Guardian editorial writer this week – if it were as simple as you make out, vodka shares would drop like the second Depression. ”

 

My Extraordinary Daughter – the best idea I ever had.

IMG_0368When I first posted ‘My Extraordingary Daughter’ she was just about to begin her degree at Glyndwr in Wreham. She was working for Calon Lan Caring Services and had just become the youngest Special Constable in North Wales. I talked about her: ‘pounding the beat in Rhos and on Wednesday and Friday she will be sat in university lectures on Crime and Criminology. She will also spend at least one morning or afternoon doing housework at home. She will walk the dogs, pick up some grocery and go out with her friends.’ I said: “And she will do all this with grace, and humour and energy and above all, enthusiasm. Because that is what my extraordinary daughter does. And as if all of that is not enough, she will do all this looking absolutely beautiful. She will light up each and every room she walks into. Because that is what she is: a little ball of love that lights up everywhere around her.”

She has now left home for her final year at ‘uni’ – house-sharing (shacking up, we used to call it) with Mr ‘Well Fit’, and is working for another caring service. Now approaching her 21st birthday next week, a lot has happened, but little has actually changed since my original post: she continues to be the best idea I ever had. 🙂 

E. was my idea. The best one I ever had. She was carefully planned because I didn’t want any more maternity leave, we simply couldn’t afford it and because once I had finished changing nappies, I really had finished changing nappies.

It was quite a fun pregnancy really – I ate zillions of tins of fruit cocktail, and cream cakes, and drank loads of tea for the first time in years. I also went off alcohol. I got really fat really quickly, and Eddie, the caretaker, commented immediately. I remember starting to worry about ‘doing this one properly’ – ‘natural birth’ ! And just like last time, I started making crap, nervous jokes about the crap system of babies having to come out the way they got in again. And again, it didn’t happen.  I was marking GCSE exams, as usual in those days: the deadline was the 12th, ‘it’ was due on the 21st. But then it all went pear-shaped when the final scan was mis-read. It appeared she had stopped growing and she had to be whipped out sharpish. Unfortunately, I told the nurse, that was not going to happen: I still had papers to mark. The nurse was aghast; the doctor was fairly calm, and agreed I could have till Wednesday night and come in on the Thursday morning.

We got up at the crack of dawn to get to the hospital by 8 am. I was wheeled down into the bowels of the hospital and put in a queue. And that is where we stayed pretty much all day. There was one emergency after another all morning. After lunch, which I didn’t have, there was one emergency after another. It was 3.30 in the afternoon before she was unzipped.

At some point, flicking through a baby magazine (I bought loads, read some and ignored all) I learned that the worse age gap between siblings was between 2 and 3 years – apparently it was the age difference which created the greatest sibling jealousy, which in turn could create loads of other issues. GM was 2 and half. Great. To combat this we presented E to him as his present and his responsibility, which he took to with the same gusto he had for all his toys. So when we finally arrived home with her, not only did Benjy the dog take a couple of sniffs and immediately hop into her carry cot with a protective stance but GM raced upstairs and returned with his sunglasses and placed them over her face.

E could hold her head up within a matter of a few weeks: GM watched her like a hawk, imagined every possible harm that could come to her, anticipated her every need – and picked her up at every alarming gurgle or cough. He would waddle across the sitting room with her in his arms – her arms, legs and head flopping all over the place – much to the disgust of many a visitor. But she thrived on it. And could hold ber own bottle around 5 months, could walk in her ninth month and could use a small knife and fork before she was one. In fact she surpassed every baby and toddler milestone miles ahead of all the textbook expectations. Until she went to school.

She went off to O P  Primary nursery before she should have. She could, and did, dress herself completely and was appalled to learn one of her first targets was to be able to put her own coat on. S., the childminder, was equally appalled and pointed this out strenuously. S. was a governor at a local Catholic primary school and didn’t like taking E to O P. S. also pointed out and then demonstrated that E could even ride her two-wheeler bike without stablisers. This did not go down well with the other ‘mums’ – they had 7 year olds with theirs still on.

E. had an extraordinary vocabulary for her age. She could calculate and was extremely dexterous for her age. But her school work was ropey. She was chatty in class but clearly struggled to get on with the other girls. She did make one friend, J. E. and J. were always falling out though.  J. tried to bully E. and E. soon got fed up with this. J. tried it one time too many – pinching E. in an afternoon lesson. E. did not pinch J. back. E. punched J. hard. J. did not try to pinch E. again. 

By the end of the third week  she declared that school had been great so far, but she wanted to know how much longer she would have to keep going. S. and I laughed – I told S. she could tell her it would be another 11 years. E. gave up on other girls somewhere around the end of Year 1. And she also gave up on her school work. I didn’t have the time to coach her at home, didn’t know how to coach her at home, being fearful of making matters worse by confusing her, and decided rather than to work on her school work, we would make sure she was good at other stuff. 

E. was again bullied by the girls at W B Gymnastics club. It was quite a big thing, the ‘choosing the activity’ decision. GM was doing football with T. FC and also went to kick boxing with H. from next door. E was told she had to find an activity to do when she was 6. And just before she was 6 she announced her choice: gymnastics. We were gob-smacked. Where on earth had she discovered gymnatics and did she even know what it was? But I was impressed, and made enquiries.

I still remember the first few sessions. She was obviously new and couldn’t do anything. The girls overtly shunned her, and she came over to me quite a few times and said that no-one would partner her. I sent her back. Just do it anyway. And she did. I was appalled at how the mothers of these girls condoned their behaviour. But it was one of the best things that ever happened to her. Because when she was no longer the new girl, she didn’t avoid the new beginners, she offered to partner them. And my extraordinary daughter began to take shape.

She decided to be a policewoman just before her fourth birthday. They had been playing in the dress-up box and the toy kitchen had bored her as usual. So had the dolls and the princess stuff. And then she found the police uniform. And came home and declared this is what she was going to be.

We moved to HK in 2002. She went to Y. D. She was in year 4, and surprise, surprise, not, the girls bullied her. She was the new girl again, and was shuffled around from ‘friend’ to ‘friend’ for the next 3 years. Eventually she settled on I. Just like J., I. tried to bully her. They argued and fell out all the time. But things were different this time because she was discovering she didn’t need girls at all – she made friends with the boys instead. And go down well this did not. This is  probably best illustrated by describing the party to which every girl in the class was invited except I. and E. This remains one of the most callous and rude things I have ever witnessed: people drive through what looks like this idyllic little Welsh village, and yearn to live somewhere like this, oblivious to that old adage that money can’t buy everything, including class.

Towards the end of the first term at YD Emma brought home a piece of school work. It was a history piece. It was paragraphed. The sentences had capital letters and full-stops. The names and places had capital letters. The words were spelled correctly. More importantly, it made sense. Half-way through reading it I burst into tears. Finally, E.’s academic performance matched her ability. and there was loads of it. When E. left YD we bought Mrs J. a thank you card, and I wrote a note in which I attempted to express a fraction of the gratitude we felt for the difference she had made to E., to the difference she would continue to make to E. In deed everything she went on to accomplish would be based on the difference she had made to E. Mrs J. cried when she read the note, I cried when E collected her A level results – and thanked Mrs J. all over again.

“No-one bullied M. again …”‘

When E. started secondary school she didn’t get bullied. This time she ‘got’ bullies. She didn’t attempt to make girl friends, they attempted to make friends with her. But they were too late, her best friend was M. and D. and A. All boys. Because she couldn’t pursue her gymnatics here she took up judo instead. When someone tried to bully M. she stepped in, hooked his ankle with her toe and floored him. No-one tried to bully M. again when E. was around.

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And despite, or even because, she had given up on the girls, she was elected form rep. year after year. She was on the School Council as Year 11 Year Rep when the school was inspected –  the School Council was deemed one of its outstanding features. She organised and sorted out the room allocation on the Year 10 skiing trip to Austria ensuring no-one was left out, and as a result of her intervention in a couple of other incidents, was then invited back the following year to help with the next year group: Year 11s aren’t even usually allowed to go at all. She raised huge amounts of money for charities each year selling sweets. She made Flintshire Senior County String Orchestra, playing the violin in one of the country’s most predigious junior orchestras. She got her orange belt at judo and played netball for the school. When she went to Wakestock at the end of Year 11, a fortnight before her sixteenth birthday, she spent the first night in the First Aid tent helping to sort out an O-D case. It’s what she does.

102_4832And when she wanted to go to Leeds Festival, she went. Going to Leeds was more than a matter of just buying a ticket. She had to pass her History GCSE with a C. Which was not going to be easy: she had worked her little butt off at the beginning of the course, and got an A* in her coursework by writing everything that could be written about some castle somewhere, without understanding a single word of it. Her end of Year 10 exam was an E, her Year 11 mock was a G. She had two evenings left before the exam and she knew nothing about the history of medicine or the American West, and frankly, cared less. But I didn’t want anything below a C spoiling her certificate. So if she wanted to go to Leeds she would have get the C in History as well. It’s not easy learning an entire GCSE syllabus in two evenings. But it can be done, because she did. And that is why she went to Leeds.

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So when she became the youngest Special Constable in North Wales Police for as long as they could remember it was no surprise to anyone who knows her. As they read out the personal synopsis of each candidate at the Attestation Ceremony most began “and X has just left Y Univeristy, where they attained a degree in … ” : E.’s began “and E. has just completed her A levels… “.

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GM with his favourite’toy’.

My daughter is everything I would have liked to be. She is a talented athlete and a very talented musician. She is kind and  caring and thoughtful. She will work till she drops. She does not know how to give up. She is absolutely stunning. Above all though, she is totally unaware of most of this. And that is why she is my extraordinary daughter, and why I love her so very much.

Summer 2013

So, WordPress congratulates for having my blog one year today. And I realise my attempt to capture a whole year of my life for my children and for prosperity didn’t quite work out. It was the summer that did it. I booked a holiday to Manhattan at Easter and immediately regretted it. And everything kinda went downhill after that.

At this point I am tempted to copy and paste a load of Facebook statuses (?): I can’t remember the last period of my life when I was so sociable, the ‘dates’ just kept rolling in – an excellent season at Theatre Clywd, I seemed to be skipping in and out of the underground car park every five minutes.

It was a great catch-up.

It was a great catch-up.

And then there was a wedding. As ever I dreaded it – I hate weddings, and I especially hate wedding parties. There is this exotic mix of people from all the different parts of the couple’s and their families’ lives – schools, workplaces, social clubs and anywhere else friendships spring from. They invariably have little in common – except being absolutely over-joyed at the prospective happiness these wonderful people can now look forward to! This almost heady enthusiasm for the next 40, 60 or even more years of mortgages, gas bills, nappies, toddler and then teenage tantrums, Christmases spent spreading themselves between in-laws both loved and loathed, had always seemed forced and false to me even before I got married/divorced, but since I got divorced – and so many of the people whose weddings I have been to have also got divorced, nowadays it all seems totally unrealistic as well. Fortunately, this was an O’Brien wedding and the dread of the  tired lettuce leaf decorated finger buffet, with the almost statutory processed ham and blurrr paste sandwiches and scrawny, dehydrated chicken legs would not be a problem: O’Briens have always known how to feed guests. However, even an O’Brien wedding involves the most dreaded element of all: the wedding/wedding party uniform. This is  an odd combination of formal, slightly posh but not too formal, smarter than smart-casual but not quite prom. Dresses continue to dominate the female wardrobe – this is still the one place even the silkiest, satiniest trousers will not do. Having given up even trying on dresses two dress sizes/two babies ago, I knew I would end up praying someone else had had the bottle to dare to dress up a pair of flares – and sure enough, yet again my prayers weren’t answered. Oh well.

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‘Because We Can’ Best tour name ever!

Next up was Bon Jovi ‘Because We Can’ at Manchester. But Richie ‘couldn’t’ and a very brave little man had to stand in for him. Courage is a universally respected human quality: unfortunately it is no substitute for talent – and I wanted to rip my ears off half way through the ‘Bad Medicine’ solo. ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ got a round of applause but we all knew it was for effort. Jon worked his bollocks off as usual, but it was a Roll-er firing on 3 cylinders.

And then it was July. I remember thinking that I hadn’t seen many wasps for years. When I was a  kid they were a perennial part of summer. And then the day before the dreaded holiday was due, from out of nowhere there seemed to be millions of them in our garden. Most of them outside my kitchen window. In a moment of madness I tried to clear them out by hosing them- their retaliation was swift and emphatic –  three of them stung me on the head. It was like a scene from a cheap, slapstick 40’s comedy – one of my hands was slapping my head and hair, the other was frantically clinging a thick spray of water from an out-of-control garden hose pipe. Squealing. Like an hysterical Stan Laurel. I can still feel the needle-like stingers jabbing into my skin. The rest of the day the stings were a bit throbby and that night, as I checked and rechecked everything for New York the next day I put down not being able to sleep to the dread of the long flight and the fear of whether there would actually be an apartment at the end of it of. And this is how the great Manhattan/Harlem adventure began – and pretty much ended.

I was already itching and unwell when instead of the plane continuing to drvie down the runway, the pilot announced the first 20 minute delay. I was itching worse and really unwell by the time we eventually took off 7 hours later. All forms of modern communication were employed to contact the host before we finally got to the apartment: email, text and finally mobile phone. And the first thing I had to sort out was a pharmacy/local store which sold anti-histamines.

View from the apartment.

View from the apartment.

The next three weeks were dominated by first this wasp sting, then an allergic reaction to possibly some shampoo which made my eye, and then my whole face swell up and finally an insect bite on my arm. Even walking along Madison Avenue didn’t feel the same. Gary Martin was frustrated I didn’t feel like wandering around on my own – which I usually did with total confidence, so had to hang around with me all the time. We did the usual and the galleries were awesome this season. ‘Starry Night’ and Pollock’s ‘Let’s just chuck a load of paint around’ were breathtaking; the Frick was WOW! and the MoMA’s Monet was massive! Harlem was hot, and noisy and full of jazzy-kinda stuff, very atmospheric! We did the 9/11 Memorial, which despite its obvious commercialisation was still extremely moving: the blue and white John Lennon Memorial, which despite its obvious tininess continues

John Lennon's Memorial in Central Park

John Lennon’s Memorial in Central Park

to be the most moving and respected 6 foot of New York. We discussed Washington and Boston, and then discovered they were both even hotter, couldn’t agree on how to get there, and so came home a week early. Into the even bigger nightmare of E’s new boyfriend – which fortunately lasted only five months and is best forgotten beyond the now-obvious lessons learned by all.

And so it was back to school: record exam results all around – including the English Department’s, which did not beat the Maths’ and were, therefore, still unsatisfactory and the Head pointing this out to the whole staff, pretty much set the tone for the rest of this school year.

A memo to all toddlers re. your diet

I Love this but you have ‘better’ to come: teenagers.

Teenagers’ lives in brief … remembering this is a much larger ‘chunk’ than many believe, beginning at the end of primary school long before they hit 13 years old, and lasts well into their  early 20’s : their lives can roughly be divided into 3 important sections – their bedroom, their friends, and school.

  • Their bedroom. Before they hit their teens, this is a room to sleep in and it is difficult to get them to go to it. Now they will live in it. You are not allowed in – which is just as well because as the floor is the main storage facility, there’s no room for you anyway. Wardrobes and cupboards have become superfluous so have to be covered up with stickers, posters, To Do lists (which must not be ‘done’) and pictures of (females) ‘cute’ animals in strange poses or (male) cars, guitars or other objects of desire. Notice, there is no category for their diet on this one, as they refuse to eat with you. The only evidence of what they may be living on is indistinguishable mould covered leftovers which you eventually discover by stepping on when approximately every few months you do have to prepare both your mind and body  for a Search and Rescue operation  to retrieve your best china/plates/mugs/crystal glasses/plastic mixing bowls/picnic plates from what will be increasingly accurately known as ‘The Pit’. The only other occasion you have to enter this sanctum is to collect laundry. (You will give up on bed sheets and duvet covers around the age of 14, finding it easier to just buy new ones annually.) The laundry is actually quite a fascinating collection: the last time they had nothing to wear, you took them to an expensive fashion purveyor and purchased tasteful, hard-wearing items which fitted them properly. You will, however, rarely find any of these items in the laundry – instead there will continue to be the shapeless, foul-langauge bearing T-shirts bought from music or sports events (male) or £3 ‘tops’ from New Look (female), the latter designed for women at least 10 years older.
  • Their friends. These are the best/worst people in the world. They hate their friends until you comment on them. Then you are the worst person in the world and they hate you. Their friends have everything they do not. Their friends are prettier/’fit’-er, allowed to do everything they are not and apparently have the only reasonable parents in the world who constantly leave their friends unattended at home, do not make them visit grandparents or go shopping and who NEVER go in their children’s bedrooms. They also have better mobile phones, and a ‘decent games console’ despite you only ever buying exactly what they asked for themselves. They spend a lot of time reduced to tears by their friends. It is useless trying to console them, because it is the end of the known world and you don’t understand: which obviously you don’t as you are not allowed to actually meet most of these friends because you are embarrassing.
  • School. All you need to know about school/’uni’ is that it has changed beyond your imagination since your day. They return from this place exhausted daily. When you enquire what they have been doing, you will be told ‘Nothing’. This is shorthand for “I’m not telling you because it’s none of your business and even if it was, you wouldn’t understand because you do not know any of my friends, and you would have the teachers arrested if you knew how they treated me, which would be embarrass me in front of my friends.” After having to talk to you for this long, they will then retreat to their bedroom where it will take them the rest of the evening to ‘chat’ on their mobiles, laptops and even games consoles about everything that happened at school that day.

 

 

Hurrah For Gin

I’ve noticed an alarming trend at pre-school, some of my fellows seem to be eating what is presented to them on their plates without query. I have also witnessed some voluntary consumption of vegetables. It makes me sick.

Take heed people, follow these simple rules and exert some fricking authority!

  • Set the tone – spend a week detoxing on jam toast.
  • Refuse anything but Cheerios for breakfast. Have them without milk on Mondays, Thursdays and every other Friday. Hyperventilate if they get this wrong.
  • Don’t try anything new EVER.
  • Just because you liked something yesterday does not mean you have to like it again today. It is perfectly acceptable to change your mind and you do not have to explain yourself.
  • Fruit as a pudding is bullsh*t.
  • Be suspicious of anything that was recently alive. Beige, dead looking stuff is safer.
  • Request a wide variety of food at the supermarket…

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