Ahhh, this is so lovely. So Marks and Spencer contacted me recently about their new campaign: Decades at School celebrating over a century of helping parents get their kids ready to go back to school. They’re showcasing their back to school archives, focusing on the evolution of everything from uniform to packed lunches.
It’s pretty hectic here at English Towers at the moment. First of all there was the small matter of a slightly broken car (‘Mum, it wasn’t my fault – she stopped REALLY suddenly!’). I thought we’d be cross but honestly? When it came to it we were just relieved he was okay.
He’s a bit of a wag is The Dude. Not in a bad way. Oh no, I’m far too scary a parent to allow anything like that. I do, however, feel that we shouldn’t crush every bit of individuality and personality out of our children. I want my children to be respectful, kind and considerate, but we do have a bit of a giggle at home, and sometimes there’s a bit of banter and the odd swear, but that’s fine by me too. On the left, I present his recent protest at being asked to eat lettuce. He hates lettuce.
Since returning to school after half term, Charlie’s been on ‘lockdown’. This is basically because this particular school moves the kids up into their new school years after the May half term. So Chas is now in year 11. This year is special because it’s their GCSE year. They wear a different coloured shirt and tie and are allowed more freedom, including the right to leave the school at lunchtime. Unfortunately, since the now infamous ‘tie shredding incident‘, his punishment, along with his friends, was to have this freedom rescinded for two whole weeks. It’s actually a pretty great punishment. Allow the whole of the school year to leave the premises at lunchtime, leaving the ‘naughty’ ones behind to earn their freedom again? I get that. I totally do.
Trouble is, the policing of this ‘lockdown’ is all wrong. On the first day he came back looking less than happy. I assumed it was the enforced loss of freedom and didn’t say too much. Actions have consequences, etc and I fully support the school’s right to give punishment where it’s due. On the second day, I actually asked what was up, and it turned out that the lockdown is being enforced by them having to report to their house office EVERY TEN MINUTES. Yup, you read that right. Wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, they have to walk all the way back to a specific office to report every ten minutes.
This is all wrong. Removing a privilege if they misbehave? Totally fine. Removing their freedom and their right to a break at lunchtime, when they’re studying hard for GCSEs and working hard in class? Wrong. Ten minutes is not even enough time to queue up in the canteen and eat. Had he eaten? No. I was fuming.
I sent one of my emails. I kept it firm. I expect Charlie to be allowed a proper break to go eat, drink, read a book, revise, muck about, play football… whatever. Just as you, as a teacher, are allowed one.
The reply was a bit sarky: ‘if Charlie’s that keen on revising, he can always go to the library, where the staff there will record his presence’. Oh I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that one bit.
My reply, I feel, was firm but fair: ‘it’s not about revision. It’s about giving the kid a break, not making him perform like a trained chimp for the entire lunch period.’
That’s me off the school Christmas list, then.
During a recent shopping trip to find him a suit for my Disreputable Dad’s upcoming wedding (the girl in the shop was rather taken with my handsome boy and I was laughing as she practically climbed into the changing room with him), we were discussing parents’ evening, which is fast approaching. And while he’s doing well at school, I’m under no illusion that my youngest enormous offspring is any sort of an angel. I did ask him, somewhat nervously, what I was to expect at parents’ evening.
He’s obviously been giving it considerable thought: ‘well I’m going to skip the RE teacher completely, then start you with my biology teacher, Miss C, who hates us all… then I’m going to make sure the appointments are in the order of how well I’m doing and ending at my drama teacher Mr G, who is a legend and who absolutely loves me. By the time he’s finished, you’ll waft out of the door and won’t even remember the others.
Then I thought we could go to Tesco and buy you some wine’.
So after his devastating exam results, things were looking pretty darn dreary for Sam. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that he had a bit of a shocker in his AS levels, and had been told there was no funding for retakes. His choice was to leave school and retake at college, or find new subjects to study and start AS levels again.
The school have been absolutely brilliant. After a ‘crisis meeting’, where we met the head of Sixth Form, he was eventually offered a compromise: come back to school, retake the Biology (you’ll remember that this is the exam he slept through when I was in Florida) and choose two new subjects.
Sam is bloody delighted and all of a sudden the future’s looking fabulous. This prompted a flurry of back-to-school activity that we’d been putting off, where we rushed around looking for suits, buying Charlie new school uniform (he starts his GCSE courses tomorrow) and the ubiquitious new pens and pencils to boot.
And look at my gorgeous young man in one of his new sixth form suits.
God, I’m old….
So AS level results day yesterday. For those of who haven’t reached this milestone yet, AS is the first year of A levels, A2 being the second year. To be honest, our Mad Professor, Sam, knew that he’d not done brilliantly. After breezing through his GCSEs, the workload was a bit of a shock, and the first term he knows he really didn’t do enough. The school insist that they take three subjects, and he was struggling with the huge workload, struggling understanding the physics, and obviously missing the first hour of his biology exam didn’t exactly help, even with a B in his first module. He ended up just scraping through in two of them with an E and failing the physics. Ungraded. After all that hard work and revision…
The school have told him that he can’t retake. They’ve told him he can come back and do three completely different subjects at AS level, just not the ones he’s just done. I don’t understand. Its something to do with funding.
After initially being devastated, he’s a bit more philosophical now. He’s got his Royal Navy fitness test next but, bar a disaster in that, is looking forward to a career in the Navy. BUT he needs at least two A levels for what he wants to do, so if the school really won’t have him back to do the same subjects, he’ll have to pick three new ones, or he’ll have to go on to a sixth form college and repeat his A levels there, away from his friends and the teachers that he likes so much…
Ah well. As his Grandad said to me this morning: ‘a kick up the arse propels you forward’.
Ahhh the school holidays. Bane of every working parent’s life and moneygrabbing bloodsucker to boot.
I’ve had so many conversations recently about how much it’s costing us poor Mums (and Dads – I’m all for equality). So far I’ve heard tales of horse riding, swimming, rock climbing (indoor) and swimming (outdoor), and I’ll add gym memberships, kickboxing classes and skate park membership to that list as well. Oh wait, and don’t forget ‘can we go to McDonald’s/can we go to the cinema/can I have some money for sweets’. And the PETROL! I feel like I’ve spent the whole week in the car so far.
And if you’ve got littlies, no doubt you’ll be hard at work building tents in the garden out of old sheets and garden chairs, and (if you work from home) there’s the nervous pacing from paddling pool to laptop while you juggle working with trying to make sure nobody drowns, or if you’re working, there’s holiday clubs, grandparent-bribing and/or precious holiday to be taken because, frankly, you tried locking them in the shed last summer and it’s really not a goer.
This summer I know for a fact that my youngest is not going to last without a new blazer, shoes and possibly sports kit for September too (I mean, look at them both – they’re growing to ridiculous proportions – have I spawned giants?). We buy a lot of our schoolwear from Tesco and it really saves us a bomb, but other things like school rugby kits and special uniform bits and bobs can only be bought from the school’s supplier (and of course cost a fortune).
I’m torn, to be honest. As I wrote recently, my boys are growing up fast and I’m determined to savour every minute while they’re still under my roof before they spread their wings. Trouble is, they don’t really want to spend much time with me – they’d probably much rather be down the gym with their mates or in Costa drinking some extortionately expensive frozen raspberry lemonade whatsit (that I’m paying for) than doing any serious family bonding.
Still, at least the sun’s come out, which means that those of us who couldn’t afford to buy our holidays out of term-time (or be faced with a fine) can at least get out and about…
Don’t get me started on the price of suncream though…
So the Biology A2 level syllabub (yes I thought that was a creamy dessert too) includes a trip away for a week. A field trip, but not in a field, by the sea.
Yesterday, we attended the pre-trip meeting. We sat in a little gaggle at the back (because we’re the ‘cool’ parents – it’s the equivalent of getting the back seats in the bus): me, Mr and Mrs Marsh (parents of the adorable Marshes, The Prof’s mates), and various other mates and mums.
It was a bit boring, frankly, apart from the startling slide show which they ran in the background with pictures of last year’s trip: people in wellies, people wading in the sea, people inspecting something they’d just picked up off the beach, a teenage boy in a bikini, the hostel where they’re staying….
WAIT! A BOY IN A BIKINI?
That woke me up. Not exactly sure why that was in there but I’ve spoken to the Prof and he swears that there’s no bikini mentioned on the packing list so we’re all good.
Basically it was the same old stuff that was on the letters home: no smoking, no fraternising, no drinking, no wandering waist high in to the sea…
I amused myself by chatting on Twitter, until I accidentally dropped my phone and was rewarded by a stern look from my offspring. That’ll teach me.
The teacher warned them that they would be sharing the hostel with a class of primary school kids. He went into detail about dealing with adoring ten year olds and creeping around in corridors so that they don’t wake the little buggers up (nobody wants to be adored at 11pm at night, let’s face it).
One bit that did make me laugh, though, was the tick box on the bottom of the form:
”In the unlikely event that your child becomes ill during the trip, do you give permission for staff to administer:
Ibuprofen (if so, adult or junior)
Travel sickness tablets
Bearing in mind that he’s a 5’10 strapping 17 year old, I couldn’t resist. I ticked yes to all, but added:
‘and if he gets an ouchy he’ll need a cuddle‘.
So it was parents’ evening last night for the Prof. In a chilling premonition of what was to follow, his teachers all said the same thing: ‘he’s LOVELY!’, they chanted en masse, like the crowd in The Life of Brian (‘Yes! We are all individuals!’) – not really, it’s just for dramatic effect – there were large sections of waiting in drafty school corridors between each appointment… ‘but he’s SO disorganised…’
Tell me something I don’t know. He’s the cleverest clever person I’ve ever met, but he’s tackling his A levels with a jaunty smile and a devil may care approach to organisation that would, frankly, make a toddler look like the MD of a FTSE 100 company. There are papers EVERYWHERE and and at 8.20am each morning, when we should be in the car, he is rummaging around trying to find lost books and missing papers. ‘He forgets to hand his homework in’, they tell me, over and over again, ‘and he missed out the last three pages of my Powerpoint homework assignment’, another tells me, ‘I’m still wondering how that’s even possible. But he’s LOVELY…’
Which brings me neatly to this morning. After dropping them off at school and arriving home just in time for my first cup of tea of the day, my phone rings. I know it’s him. It’s just a case of what he’s forgotten today. The conversation goes like this:
Me: ‘What have you forgotten?’
Him: ‘Erm… my paedo tag…’
Me: ‘Please don’t call it that, darling’
Him: ‘Sorry, my ID tag, my lunch money.. oh and [suddenly he’s gone a bit muffled] Ineedapigheartbyelevenforbiology’
Me:’I’m sorry, I missed that last bit. It sounded, ahaha, as though you said you needed a pig heart by eleven’.
Mad Prof: ‘Erm… yeah, I do’
Me: ‘WHAT THE BLOODY HELL?! Where the HELL am I going to get a pig heart by eleven?! You are a NIGHTMARE!!!’
So I rouse the husband (it’s his day off) and, thinking now that I’m a bit like Anneka Rice on Challenge Anneka, implore him to pop to work and pick up a helicopter so we can do it for real. Having been knocked back, ‘IT’S MY BLOODY DAY OFF!’, we’re forced to do it like normal people and rush to the car instead. Screeching up to our local butcher, we rush in and yell at him about needing a pig heart.
‘You and everyone else’, he shrugs. I sold out yesterday. Most people ordered them last week’
WAIT. They ORDERED them? Last week? I’m going to kill him.
We rush back to the car again. Hubby drives, while I frantically Google butchers. My phone screen is TINY and there are suprisingly few in the Herts/Beds/Bucks area and we’ve now got under an hour to get the heart and get it to school before Biology begins.
Cue Benny Hill music.
On the bypass to Hemel Hempstead, I ring my mum. She’s used to odd demands but this one takes the biscuit: ‘QUICK! I yell, I need a pig’s heart, STAT!’
English Grandma is the fastest Googler in the west. Within two minutes she’s got the names and phone numbers of several butchers. I start ringing round.
‘A pig’s heart? Nah sorry, we’ve got some frozen ones…’
‘Pigs hearts? No, don’t get the demand really…’
And then finally, like J R Hartley, we strike gold: ‘I’ve got lambs hearts – will they do?’
Swinging the car around like the curly haired one in The Professionals, Hubby heads for the butcher’s. I leap out before he’s even stopped, grab the heart, hand over my £1.11 and sprint back to the car, shouting my thanks as I run.
Back at the school, I hand the squishy package over to the receptionist. ‘Right, there’s a heart for his biology lesson, his ID tag, and his lunch money… oh and give him a slap round the head from me’.
‘Okay’, says the receptionist, ‘but I’m afraid we’re not allowed to deliver the slap’
‘I tell you what, next time he does this to me, it won’t be a lamb’s heart nestling on this reception desk, it’ll be his own, removed with a blunt and rusty spoon…’
She looks at me a bit funny
‘Never mind. I’ve had a hard morning.’
It’s been an interesting week. First of all, there were the spam comments, the best of which, in my humble opinion, was:
‘You’re seriously pathetic. Even a monkey could do better than you’.
My second favourite was:
‘The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one’ (yeah, that was from a spammer promoting ‘thebestwaytoloseweights.com’ (sic) so he can talk… The best way to lose weights? Leave them at the gym? Drop them on someone’s toe and get them confiscated?
And then it was the big bro’s birthday for which I bought The Single Most Expensive Bottle of Wine that I’ve Ever Purchased (thanks indeed go to the lovely Helen from Knackered Mother’s Wine Club for her invaluable assistance.
But mostly, this week has been taken up with Operation Get Charlie into School Without Getting a Detention.
This took a bit of work, I have to say. The school has a new Headteacher. She set her stall out with her first speech at the sixth form meeting in September: ‘I won’t allow children to be taken out of school in term time. And no, I don’t consider that a two week trip to Orlando is in any way educational’.
She’s also cracking down on those pupils who continually flout the uniform rule. Sneakily, she’s taken to posting staff members at the various entrances to the school to spot pupils coming into school with incorrect uniform in the morning and hand out detentions, or even send them home to change. Usually, these are girls who have those teeny stretchy skirts that look like the belts I used to wear in the 80s, girls without their blazers, girls with inappropriate jewellery, girls with too much makeup… oh, and Charlie, our very own Death Wish Dude.
Charlie gets stopped every bloody morning. And while the Mad Professor (who, being a sixth former gets to wear ‘formal business wear’ and goes to school looking like an advert in GQ Magazine every morning) and I initially found it quite funny, we then started to worry that he was going to get into trouble, so decided to help him out.
Let me explain. I’m not a bad mother (well, I probably am, just not on this occasion), but he’s 13. And although I appreciate that he’d rather be doing this:
… than working hard to look like this (first day of term – tried to get a sensible photo for the Grandparents, but let’s face it, it was never going to happen):
I’m sorry, I just don’t have much sympathy. If the child can manage to waft down the stairs smelling gorgeous and with perfectly gelled hair, then he should be able to dress himself in the morning, and if he can’t then it’s his own fault and he should sort it out or live with the consequences. Misdemeanors that caused his arrest at the gate included:
- Having no laces in his shoes (WHO LOSES THE LACES IN THEIR SHOES?!)
- Not having a school tie (it’s a sodding clip on, for goodness’ sake – clip it somewhere)
- Having the wrong colour tie (don’t even ask)
- Having his top button undone and his tie hanging from the buttonhole
- Not having his shirt tucked in
- Having his blazer sleeves rolled up
It got to the stage where his big brother was dreading walking into school with him in the morning for fear of being somehow tarred with the same brush. It was at this point, we developed our five point Operation Get Charlie to School Without Getting A Detention plan:
- Pester Charlie constantly as soon as the alarm goes off to remember each item of his uniform. This has escalated into a hilarious (to us) and constant badgering of ‘have you got your undercrackers on?’ and ‘have you cleaned your ears?’ that drives him insane.
- Pester Charlie constantly in the car on the way to school to clip on his tie and do up his shoes
- On parking at the school, pester Charlie a bit more – perform irritating check list shouting ‘CHECK’ very loudly after each item.
- On disembarkation from car, perform spot check on aforementioned Charlie and pester a bit more to do laces up and tuck in shirt.
- Perform covert undercover surveillance during the 5 second walk from the car to the point of inspection (ie the school gate) to ensure that Charlie gets inside the school without hindrance
So far, it’s working quite well. The Death Wish Dude is getting a bit fed up with all the pestering (and still hasn’t found his own tie – there’s a lad in the sixth form who collects abandoned ties and rents them back to the younger lads, but sadly he didn’t have the right house colour) but luckily most of the teachers posted on sentry duty don’t know what colour he should have so he gets away with it, and so far he’s managed to go unmolested for an entire week.
What a team eh?
I reckon Tesco should make me Mum of the Year.
My Mum was cleaning out a cupboard recently and found my school report. Oh how we laughed. It’s actually a pretty solid reflection of my strengths, weaknesses and… erm… character. My mum and I cackled. Especially at the needlework bit. I ‘persevered’? She means I was crap, doesn’t she? Here’s some other highlights:
Rebecca, aged 13.
A fairly good report for Becky this term. However, if she is to achieve her true potential she will have to work harder and overcome her tendency to talk in the classroom.
Talk in the classroom? Moi? Shurely shome mishtake.
‘Rebecca’s attention and interest are a little unreliable but she can do good, intelligent work. She tends to skim through things she is supposed to read’.
Yup. Still do that.
Mathematics (set 4)
Despite her all too frequent outbursts and protestations Becky is better than she thinks. A little more self-confidence and self-assertion would not go amiss.
Set 4! That’s for the people that have to take their socks off to add up. Rubbish. I’m shit at maths. This teacher was clearly deluded.
Becky has made outstanding progress with her writing this year. She has creative flair which should be encouraged. In drama, she has made valuable contributions. She would benefit from continuing to read widely over the summer holidays.
Fabulous, inspiring teacher. I bloody loved English. Still do.
Becky could do a lot better if she concentrated harder in class. She must resist the temptation to gossip to her neighbours. Her test marks were very good and her exam work was very satisfactory but I am sure she still has more to offer.
Gossip? How very dare you.
Rebecca has produced good work and achieved a fair level of understanding. I feel, however, that she is under-achieving and that her level of understanding would improve significantly with more effort and concentration.
Hmmm, you see, effort and concentration? Not my strong points.
I was impressed with Rebecca’s performance in the music competition. She seems a musical girl.
A musical girl? Press my nose and I play a tune.
Her somewhat individual approach to this creative activity is most welcome. Attentive and conscientious, she has made a very favourable impression.
I love this one. I have no artistic ability at all. Hence my ‘individual approach’ no doubt.
Rebecca has persevered with her towelling robe. This fabric is quite difficult to handle. She has achieved a good standard in dressmaking and toy making.
We were howling by this stage. Persevered? Needless to say, I don’t remember a towelling robe. I don’t think it ever made it home. I still can’t sew on a button.
Rebecca has been a lively contributor to the group’s discussion work this year. She has expressed her ideas clearly and has displayed quite a mature approach to the topics covered. A good year’s work.
Mature. Hmmm. This was basically sitting around having a chat. I’d have been epic at that.
On the whole, Becky has participated well, but she requires greater determination if she is to improve further
For ‘requires greater determination’ read: she’s a lazy little cow and I often have to go and get her from round the back of the bike sheds where she’s generally having a fag’.
Rebecca has had an excellent year in this subject. She seems to enjoy her work and get a lot of satisfaction, especially from her practical work.
Cooking, see? Awesomes.
So. English and cooking: fab. Everything else? A bit poo, really.
What about you? Got some snippets from the ol’ school report to share? I’d love to hear them.
So it’s all change here at English Towers, then. September brings that most alien of sounds… the bloody alarm clock, startling me out of bed at 7am whilst simultaneously alerting Bert to the possibility that breakfast-providing people might be conscious. This starts the pacing, the head-butting of our bedroom door and the pathetic whining – more efficient than any alarm clock to stop you returning to your pit. Yes, I know, back to the real world and all that, but when you’ve had nearly three months off it’s a shock, I can tell you. Anyhoo, #1’s new school (the one containing all the bigger boys) is a whopping 27 miles away, and he and his mate, J, (you know, his Dad C’s got the boat upon which we had such a lovely day) need to get down to The Cross (that’s the Dublin Road crossroads to you English people) to catch the Bus Eireann at 8.06am precisely. I know it’s 8.06am as yesterday I got there at 8.05am just as it pulled up:
‘But wait!‘, I cried, ‘C isn’t here with J yet – can you wait two seconds?’ ‘Nope‘, came the self-important reply, even as he was pushing the button to shut the door in my face, ‘my official time is 8.06am and I must depart’.
Oh, I thought, that’s a pisser, especially as the clock in my car only just clicked to 8.06am as I got back in, but then I headed C off at The Cross and he went hurtling after the bus like a Galway version of Jensen Button and managed to catch the bus up and deposit his child. This morning, then, we were all huddled at the bus stop bright and early at 8.00am. No way we were going to let the same thing happen again. at 8.10am we were a bit worried that we might actually have missed him after all, at 8.20am, we were anxiously craning our necks towards Dublin, and at 8.30am, C decided to put the kids in the car and drive them to school himself, lest they didn’t make the journey by 9am.
A bit put out, especially after Mr Jobsworth wouldn’t even wait half a second yesterday, I decided to call the bus station. Now I don’t know if Bus Eireann’s interview questions include: ‘ do you faithfully promise to not give a shit about our customers’, ‘can you answer the phone in a caveman-type manner that sounds a bit like ‘ugh’ and ‘can you do your best to sound half-arsed and completely ignorant’, but if so, this one passed with flying colours:
Bus Eireann Genius: ‘Ugh’
Me: ‘Er, hello? Is that the bus station?’
Me: ‘I’m calling about the Dublin Bus. It didn’t seem to turn up this morning’
Genius: ‘Hmph traffic… meh nothin’ we can do… ugh out of my hands mumble’
Me: ‘So is this a regular occurrence? In future is there any way we can find out if he left early or is delayed? A phone number maybe?’
Genius: ‘Ugh… sniff… traffic… no guarantee… harumph’
Me: ‘Oh, okay then, thanks so much for your time and for making your position so clear’
So okay, at least I know where I stand: Bus Eireann don’t give a sod if my child gets to school on time, there appears to be no way to judge whether the driver has arrived half a millisecond early and rocketed off to the next stop before we’ve arrived, or whether he’s been caught in traffic and yet to turn up. Well you know me, I’ve rifled off a strongly worded email, which will no doubt make absolutely no difference and whether my child makes it to school or not will continue to be a total lottery. Ah, rural life eh? And you thought it was all sheep and green pastures…
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