Category Archives: Education

Harvest Festival

Foodscape photograph by the wonderful Carl Warner

Aha!  I am back amongst you!

However, I am in such bad humour about so many things today, that it’s hard to know quite where to start.

I will begin with Harvest Festival because I attended the Harvest service at Boy the Younger’s school today.  As we went in, I said to my friend “what do you think the chances are of us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ or ‘Come ye thankful people come’.? “Zero,” she said, laughing.

Well it was worse than zero.  I realise that in some aspects of life, I am an unspeakable old fuddy-duddy, but why does everything that involves children have to be turned into an entertainment?  In a moment of desperation, I fed my programme to the beaming baby in the pew in front so I am unable to delight you with the nauseating detail of the ‘service’.

The children sang several feeble pop songs with the word ‘Jesus’ in them, most of which had stupid actions with which the parents were encouraged to join in.  When we were asked to clap our hand to our heart, I’m sorry to tell you that I quietly intoned “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America…” followed by a hand-jive, which had the parents on the row behind dissolving into nervous giggles.

Then there was a really good bit where it all stopped and young and delightfully handsome young man from the nearby CARE village stood up and thanked us all for the donations of food which would be given to the residents.

After this, the Reverend Blodwyn stood up and began the ‘It’s behind you’ section of the service where all the children were encouraged to shout out stuff about vegetables, after which she delivered a lecture about the environment.  Just in case the children hadn’t worked out what rain was, she put up a handy Powerpoint presentation with a character from a ‘Peanuts’ cartoon in which the character gets rained on. Ha bloody ha.

There is absolutely no need for church to be boring.  A good minister can deliver a sermon which will not only uplift and encourage, but will leave the congregation with something to think about for the rest of the week.  Hymns can be joyful and spirit raising, a reading in the hands of a decent reader is a lovely thing to listen to.

But Church, among many other things, is one really good opportunity to teach your children that there are times in life when they have to be quiet and behave with decorum.  There is an unending stream of complaints about how children can never sit still, can’t concentrate, can’t keep quiet.

A large part of the problem is that children are not taught to be quiet and behave with decorum.  Everything they do has to be entertaining.  Well life isn’t always entertaining, in fact, quite large chunks of life can be a bit boring and require us to keep our gobs shut when we’d rather not.  Sometimes we have to be quiet for the comfort of others.

Children need to be taught that there are times to have fun and times to be quiet and still.  How can they learn to think and reason if their minds are being swamped with a constant and unrelenting cacophony of sounds and sights and ‘stimulation’?  How can they learn to appreciate the small and simple things with which they’re surrounded if they never have a moment’s peace in which to do it?

I love Harvest Festival; whatever one’s spiritual pathway, it is completely reasonable to be grateful that we have enough food and that we still have farmers out there producing it.  It is a gratifying experience to share some of that produce with those who have less than us. I personally thanked the farmers in the next pew for growing our milk.  They did the narrowed eyes thing and left.

When I was at school, the Harvest service was a beautiful thing.  The girls doing cookery baked fabulous loaves to look like sheaves of corn, flowers graced every windowsill and the joyful Harvest hymns rocked the rafters as the organ thundered and the choir sang descants that could have lifted the tiles off the roof.

The last ‘hymn’ was called ‘Harvest Hoe Down’ accompanied by a tinny recorded sound track and a bazooka solo from some invisible children – I don’t need to draw you a picture of how awful that was.  I left Boy the Younger’s service with my teeth ground down to powder.   I accosted a teacher in the playground and pleaded that, just once before I BTY leaves, could we sing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’? Just once. “Why?” she answered.

It all makes ‘Cauliflowers fluffy…’ seem positively Wesleyan.


Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Education, Life in general, Religion

Today Boy the Elder starts at his new school

This morning we will be taking Boy the Elder for his first day at his new school.  This is the culmination of a year and a half of tutoring, swotting, entrance exams, begging, pleading, writing letters and finally getting a place at what I hope will be absolutely the right school.

Boy the Elder is a very natural mixture of excited and anxious; what if no-one likes him, what if they discover in the first week that he’s thick, what if he gets expelled?  None of this will happen but, as any other mother would be, I am anxious myself but naturally I don’t show it.   His uniform is all labeled and hanging up ready to go.  Two and a half thousand items of sports kits are bagged up and waiting to be launched by a skinny boy onto the rugby field.  Pencil cases are filled, his schoolbag is packed and we are ready to rock and roll.

Yesterday I knocked off work early and we went to Pizza Express for lunch and spent a couple of happy hours talking and laughing and eating too much pudding. Afterwards we wandered around the garden centre and chose some flowers for the hanging baskets, and then slid into Argos and bought a bumper pack of Nerf gun cartridges so that he and Boy the Younger could have a battle when we got home.

This is a new and significant phase in the life of the whole family; routines will change, expectations will change as Boy the Younger will go there as well and the goal posts have been well and truly shifted.  Phew.


Filed under Children, Education, Family and Friends, Life in general

Music and Murdoch

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play at the Glastonbury Extravaganza. Music, picnics, cocktails, fireworks, dancing fountains, a thrilled and enthusiastic audience... put THAT on an MP3

I think we can all agree that Rupert Murdoch is an arse, for so very many reasons.  At the moment there’s all the stuff with the ‘phone hacking and the media buy-outs.  All ghastly, no doubt about it.  But he is an arse for more reasons than that.

Technology is changing the consumption of music.  As a child or teenager, the sight of an undisguisable LP under the Christmas Tree was a beautiful moment and record collections were prized and protected.  Young people would gather to, genuinely, listen to records and music was shared and joyfully consumed.

CD’s then made one’s record collection more portable and less bulky, whilst remaining scrumptiously tangible and ‘on show’ as a testament to one’s taste and general grooviness.

But now there is the MP3 player.  I love my iPod with a big love, but I use it in the same way that I used to copy my LPs onto cassettes; it is a way of making my physical music collection portable.  I also download podcasts which is utterly marvellous because now I never have to miss my favourite programmes from my beloved Radio 4.  I then burn these podcasts to disc, catalogue them and place them on a shelf so they become REAL.  MP3 files don’t feel really real to me – they feel like a backup.  But before you say it, I am clearly an old git.

The one thing that seems to have evolved from the intangibility of downloads is that live music is more popular than ever.  The public spend on live concerts has rocketed in the last few years and, if that is a side-effect of digital music, then hooray to that.

There is nothing, but nothing, to compare to the joy of hearing live music performed in front of you.  I remember, as though it was yesterday, the night that Sister the First took me to the Albert Hall to hear the soprano, Margaret Marshall, perform.  I was twelve years old, we sat in a box to the right of the stage, and I had never heard anything so enrapturing and beautiful in my life.  I could feel the tears in my eyes as the combination of her voice, the orchestra and the company of others enveloped me and swamped my senses.

The point is that the people who make the music are playing the music, right there in front of you, and everybody present shares your enthusiasm and your desire to be there.  I have floated to Madame Butterfly, roared along with The Proclaimers, crooned (in harmony) with The Andrews Sisters and lost half a stone through excessive pogo-ing  to The Undertones.  Live music is brilliant beyond words.

Not according to Rupert Murdoch though.  According to Rupert Murdoch in The Times a couple of weeks ago, “If you love music, instead of paying £100 to go to a great concert, you pay 99 cents to get it on your iPod and you’ve got it for life, wherever you are.”  Not instead of, you tosser – as well as!

And while we’re on the subject of Murdoch, here’s another tossy thing he said to the poor beleaguered Times correspondent (and I paraphrase):  All children should have computer tablets and through such advances … the finest teachers in every course, in every subject, in every grade will be available to every child.

Now, children.  Can you guess who owns 90% of a $360 million company called Wireless Generation in Brooklyn, USA?  And can you guess what they sell?
Well, well, well.


Filed under Education, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Politics, Technology

The School Reunion

My School

Gosh, what a day.  As you know from my post back in March, I was rather apprehensive about going back, as one of the girls who bullied me was also going to be there.  I had arranged to meet my Naughty Friend, who I have not seen since we left school, as well as a couple of other girls, Orville and Vivienne Ferret, who I was really looking forward to seeing.  Also, to my delight, Denise Gnasher contacted me the night before to say she was going with her family and, although we’ve kept in touch, we’ve not actually met up for nigh on seven years.

One of the first people I saw as I approached the Old Girls’ Marquee was the bully.  I wouldn’t have recognised her and I said so and she appeared to be ill at ease.  I didn’t have a chance to speak to her alone, but as the conversation progressed among the group and I made the point that we had all been sent to the school in order to be safe, that many of us were bereaved or had very dysfunctional home lives.  Wasn’t it a pity, therefore that, because of the behaviour of other girls and certain members of staff, it turned out that we weren’t emotionally safe at school either.  I saw the look on her face and left it at that; she had been as troubled as the rest of us.

The rest of the day was spent touring the school, seeing all the wonderful changes that have been made, and exchanging histories and reminiscences with many other women who had come from all over the country to share the day.

We talked to lots of the girls who are still at the school, as well as one of the current House Mistresses and they listened wide-eyed to our tales of how the school used to be.  The girls were obviously very happy there and the whole feel of the place was one of nurture and contentment and it seemed impossible to them that we had lived in such a regimental and strictured environment and had never thought to complain.

It was a cathartic day.  The last time I went back I was very bitter that the school had changed and become such a comfortable place, too late for my generation to have had the benefit of it.  Now that my children are growing up, I am genuinely delighted that it has become such a healthy, happy school full of lively, well-adjusted girls.

Ghosts well and truly laid to rest.


Filed under Children, Education, Family and Friends, Life in general

More evidence that the world has gone mad

Boy the Elder came home from school today with the following information. There are nine hundred children at his school between the age of 11 and 14 and they have a large playing field with lovely country views … which they have not been allowed to use for recreation at lunch or break time.

They have now been told that they may use the field in groups of no more than twenty two children at a time and, if they do manage to get a go, they have to wear hi visibility tabards.

I have nothing more to say on the matter, mainly because I can’t speak properly with my fist in my mouth.

Boy the Elder has only three more weeks left, until  in September, he starts at a school where getting dirty, climbing trees and roaming the grounds is positively encouraged.  And hurrah to that.


Filed under Children, Education, Outdoor Activities

Ejukashunal success!

Many of you will have read my various articles regarding the education of Boy the Elder.

The first one explained the problems I was having at his state school

Then the joys of tutoring for the Common Entrance Exam

Followed by a comparison between the two shortlisted schools

And finally the difficulty of how to phrase letters to charities and trust funds and how he will feel if we fail

At some point, when I have gathered all my information together, I will write a post on how to approach the problem of finding funding as, hopefully, I have found out a great deal which may help other parents in the same situation.

But today, I have the wonderful news that Boy the Elder has been accepted into School A and will start in September.  We will have to move house to be a little nearer to the school, which is fine, as my current house is ghastly.  The whole process has taken nearly a year and a half and thankfully it has all been worth it.

I would also like to thank all of you who have shown me so much encouragement and sympathy – you have been a great support.



Filed under Children, Education, Family and Friends, Slider

Lunch at MacDonald’s so only myself to blame

Have a look at the artist, Andy Councils website, its amazing. Click on the link below

As Boy the Elder was spending the day with a friend, I allowed Boy the Younger to choose what he wanted for lunch.  ‘Can we go to MacDonald’s, please?’ he asked nicely.  We very rarely go (for so very many reasons) so off we trotted.

We sat down with our food, when in walked a giant group of people.  Two enormous women with two children who were so fat they couldn’t walk properly.  There was also a very thin woman and her thin daughter – I feared for them.

I have never seen so much food on a table, all mixed up with piles of wrappings and cardboard and tubs.  The children were running about, the women were getting crosser and crosser and the children got louder and louder.  Then they got up to get more food.

We all know the dangers of being severely overweight – heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes etc.  I’m a bit overweight myself, but I am an adult who is responsible for my own health and wellbeing. My children have hearty appetites and enjoy their food, but they also get plenty of exercise and, because they eat healthily, they can eat junk from time to time with a clear conscience.

Adults who allow their children to get that fat, and therefore expose them to lifelong health problems, to say nothing of the teasing they are likely to get at school, are guilty of neglect and consequently abuse.  There is no excuse.

Andy Council is the illustrator who made the above picture:

I downloaded his picture off Google without asking and his picture on this site does not indicate Andy’s endorsement of my article.  His work is fabulous so have a look at his site.


Filed under Children, Education, Food, Health and Fitness, Nutrition & Sensible Eating