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since the now infamous ‘tie shredding incident‘, his punishment, along with his friends, was to have this freedom rescinded for two whole weeks.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.
This morning, we had a letter from the school quoting Regulation 7 of The Education Regulations 2006 Act (it states that schools should only grant leave of absence during termtime if the school ‘considers that leave of absence should be granted due to the exceptional circumstances relating to the application ’).
The Governors, the letter continues, have therefore decided that they will not grant leave of absence for any of the following reasons:
- Availability of cheap holidays
- Availability of the desired accommodation
- Poor weather experienced in school holiday periods
- Overlap with the beginning or end of term
- Any other reason not deemed to be ‘exceptional’.
The letter goes on to state that any holiday taken without the authorisation of the school will now be subject to a ‘fixed penalty notice’ which means you may be fined by the Education Welfare Service.
Now yes, I realise that children benefit from being in school and getting on with their lessons, and I can see fors and againsts for only taking kids out of schools during holidays – we won’t, for instance, be taking #1 out of school as he’s currently in his GCSE years – but there are several points that I think schools are missing:
1. While holiday companies continue to inflate the cost of their products during school holidays, should we be forced to spend more money in order to have time as a family?
2. I am not anti-education in any way. My kids have to be dying before they’re off sick, and I always arrange dentists/doctors appointments after school, but can’t holidays be educational too? Can’t holidays be life-enriching and give children new and different experiences? Can’t visiting other countries and experiencing other cultures be part of their all-round education and not frowned upon?
3. I hate to sound like an old fart, but I was taken out of school for my holidays for years and years. My education went perfectly well. I got decent exam results and didn’t turn out to be a total brain donor. Should taking our children out of school really warrant a fine?
What do you think?
I’m angry. I’m just so bloody angry. Let me explain:
Recently, #1, The Mad Professor, came home with a face like thunder. He’d been given a detention, he said. Now, firstly, this is unheard of. As far as I remember he’s never been in trouble at school. He’s an achiever, more motivated in his schoolwork that I or his father ever were. He has endless potential. And I’m not just saying that as his very proud mother. Since moving back to England he’s had to contend with learning a whole new system, moving from Irish Junior Certificate to English GCSEs. He’s had tons of coursework to catch up on, and he’s never once moaned or complained, he’s just cracked on. The teachers have been brilliant, helping him after school and during lunchtime to work on the stuff he’s missed. He’s often to be found reading text books late into the night, if I don’t stop him.
So, as you can imagine, the detention was a shock.
Apparently, although the school didn’t bother to inform us, there was some kind of school maths challenge, where schools across the country enter their best pupils. All good, you’d think. But when do the geniuses schedule this inter-school p*ssing contest?
During the school day.
Worse than that, it was across two of #1′s GCSE lessons, in particular a French lesson where he was working on a very hard piece of coursework, which had, incidentally kept us up rather late the night before.
So I’m proud to say, my teenager made a choice. He chose his coursework. He duly attended his lessons, told his teacher what he’d decided, and worked hard. He then attended this next lesson as nomal. He was then confronted by a maths teacher asking why he didn’t attend the maths challenge. He explained that he was worried about his coursework and had decided to attend his normal lessons. He also told said teacher that he’d informed his GCSE lesson teachers of his decision. He was then given a detention and told that the school ‘cannot condone children making their own decisions’.
So the school would rather they were allowed to ‘pimp out’ my clever child in a maths competition, rather than let him get on with his work? What’s wrong with common sense? By all means allow children to enter competitions, I’m all for it, but schedule them at the end of the school day, or send a letter home informing parents and allowing them to decide, with their kids, whether they want to attend. Furthermore, I wonder if there’s some kind of ‘league table’ or ‘winners board’ in all this that’s motivating them?
I was furious. What’s more, a quite civilised email conversation about it with his maths teacher where I explained our position was ended abruptly, and next thing we knew, we received a letter from the head insisting the #1 do the detention to ‘draw a line under the matter’.
Well, we chatted to #1 about it, and assured him that we would support him 100% whichever way he wanted to go. At the end of this, it was decided that for the sake of his classwork (and for the sake of the 4 or 5 of his compadrés that also decided not to do the challenge and had already accepted the detention), he would attend, and get it over and done with.
And does it end there? Sadly not.
At the end of the detention, the Head of Maths decided that she’d take the boys to one side and spend ten minutes having a high pitched rant at them. One particular peach was a jibe about: ‘how much trouble you’ve caused the school’ (what? YOU caused the trouble with your crap timetabling) and, more seriously was the threat: ‘if you want to take maths at A level, you’d better stay on the right side of me’.
Er, pardon? Now I’m sorry, but by the time a pupil is nearly 15 shouldn’t he be treated more like an adult, and in return be expected to act like one? I appreciate if children ‘bunk off’ left, right and centre, or misbehave, they deserve punishment, but present a child with an impossible situation and then punish him for choosing his GCSEs? And worse, shout in his face, insinuating, whilst screeching at him in a hormonal manner, that you could make or break his school career? I never, ever shout in my child’s face. And I certainly don’t expect his teachers to either.
What is it with schools? Why take a perfectly good student and pursue a matter so far and so aggressively that you risk alienating him, turning him against the school, and almost encouraging him to rebel?
This, believe me, is not the end.
* * * * * * * U P D A T E * * * * * * *
And it wasn’t the end. After firing off a ‘Mrs Angry’ email to the head, I got a call this morning from #1′s maths teacher (also Ms Hormonal’s line manager), apologising for her actions, and assuring me that she will be told in no uncertain terms that she was out of order for both her manner and her words. I was told that it will be dealt with by him and the head, but if I wish to take it further I need to put a formal complaint in writing. He said that he had to take some of the blame also, for the fiasco. Now what?
Bloody snow. I’m so over it. Go away and let me go out to the shops already. I’ve spent the whole day at home AGAIN. It’s driving me ballistic. I went out and cleared the path only to be told that I could sued if someone slipped on it. How silly – if you’re coming down my path you must be coming to see me, in which case it would be a bit counterproductive to sue me, wouldn’t it? I mean, I’d be all cross and then I wouldn’t want you to visit me any more…
And then there’s the whole school/kid thing. Today, the school was open for year 10 to year 13 only, and then open only from 10am, and then only if they stayed on school property and didn’t go outside. For #1, this all proved far too much information. Apparently, the usual ‘one way systems’ didn’t apply, so they could break the rules (a good thing), but had to walk miles to get to a block that would take two seconds to get to if only they could walk across a teeny bit of playground (a bad thing). All this added to a head already stuffed full of quadratic equations and Shakespeare and tectonic plates… the poor child nearly spontaneously combusted.
Anyway, that first bit’s a bit of a lie as we did manage to walk to Tesco (imagine – a trip that once took up an entire day of driving and now I can walk there in ten minutes), did two crosswords, two loads of washing (another pain in the arse when it’s snowing – ten minutes of snowball fighting leads to a semi-naked pink child standing in the hallway surrounded by piles of soaking wet clothes, who decides to go back out an hour later and wants all his clothes back again) and read my old tweets back for several months (I do talk rubbish – did you know that Wiglet Noshers is an anagram of English Towers?).
Anyway, enough of this moaning. On the plus side, I’ve had a very exciting invitation (more news of this later), ordered some red mock-croc (well surely there can’t be real red crocodiles?) wellies on Ebay (yes, they’re a shameless rip off of the Jimmy Choo for Hunter wellies – and what of it?) and (after more emails, texts and phone calls than you can shake a stick at) finally decided to spend next New Year in a snowy log cabin in Sweden with my family.
Not a bad day then, really…
So things aren’t going well here at English Towers. In fact, that’s a total understatement. Things are going shite (recession, you b*stard, go take it out on somebody else for a change). Anyhoo, instead of making you read a whole big chuntering moan all about how terrible my life is, I thought I’d tell you about my little trip to the lovely little local school yesterday where I took great pleasure in watching as #2 turned puce with embarrassment as I manned a healthy eating cookery stall. See, they had a fabulous bash for the launch of their new School Healthy Eating Policy, and they kindly invited me along, knowing that I’d be tempted out of my kitchen here at English Towers with the promise of an afternoon of showing off and the chance to embarrass my youngest child.
Now as you probably know, in Ireland there’s no such thing as school lunches. Nope, Sir Jamie of Oliver’s magic wooden spoon hasn’t touched these vibrant shores, and kids are still taking a peanut butter sandwich and a Mint Club to school (ooh, I love Mint Clubs…), furring up their little arteries and basically making themselves into little chubby sumo wrestlers. So in an inspired bit of forward thinking, they took it upon themselves to come up with a healthy eating policy, encouraging the children to bring healthy food in their lunchboxes and banning the undesirables like sweeties, crisps and fizzy drinks.
Yesterday, the school launched their new policy with the help of a fabulous committee of children, a few random Mums (of which I was one) and a very nice lady from the HSE (sorry about the butter thing, Mary, I just can’t bring myself to cook with anything that starts with ‘mono-unsomethingorother). Mrs Galway C and a few other ladies spent hours peeling and chopping masses of fruit and vegetables to give the children the opportunity to taste everything from watermelon to spring onion, and yet more Mums brought in their fabulous home-grown vegetables and fruit (I kept quiet at that point, thinking that the comedy cauliflower from my garden would probably frighten the children). The kids did all sorts of pictures and displays (one of which was a fascinating wall display showing the sugar content of several items represented in actual lumps of sugar – scary).
For my part, I printed up a few healthy recipes and brought along some blueberry muffins, flapjacks with dates and apricots, some easy hummus with lots of dippy vegetable sticks, and a broccoli and salmon quiche (okay, tarte, if you’re posh) for the children to try. Oh yeh, sorry, the recipes:
Fruity Date and Dried Apricot Flapjack
2 tbsp peanut butter (or omit and use 170g total butter)
4 tbsp golden syrup or honey
100g brown sugar
30g dates (or chopped nuts)
60g dried apricots, or cranberries work well here too (see pic)
So melt the butter along with the peanut butter (if using), golden syrup/honey and brown sugar over a low heat in a large saucepan. Chop the dates (or nuts) and apricots very finely and stir into the butter mixture.
Finally, weigh out the oats and stir them into the mix. Press into a very well buttered non-stick baking tin (I use bake-0-glide as these have the potential to stick, concrete-like to the bottom of the tin). Now, I’ll let you in on a secret, if you let them sit for half an hour before baking, they’ll be even soften and more delicious when they come out. Finally, bake for 15-20 minutes at gas 4/180 degrees until just golden.
Hummus (especially for Anouk):
1 tin chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
Place all ingredients into a blender and whiz until puréed. Serve with breadsticks, sliced pitta bread and fresh vegetable sticks for dipping. Hardly a recipe, but very yummy all the same.
There was the odd ‘bleurgh, what’s THAT?’ to the hummus in particular, but plenty more of the kids tried things for the first time, and even vowed to have a go at the recipes at home. And let’s face it, if that makes one less teeny sumo wrestler, you’ve got to chalk it up as a success.
Last word, though, must go to Little Miss Lovely, who, when asked whether she wanted a recipe sheet, waved it away saying ‘oh no, I’ve got the internet’. Bless. My biggest fan.
Okay, so this is a long piece for me, but bear with me as I’d welcome any comments. Sometimes growing up is difficult: stuff happens and as a parent you’re supposed to have a solution – a piece of advice for the child to follow so that the situation doesn’t rear its ugly head again.
Take my youngest. I know I’m biased but he’s a lovely chap; happy, sporty, smiley and a lot of fun. He can be a huge pain in the arse, granted, but generally he’s pretty easy going. He lost his sparkle for a while when he had a difficult time at his last school, but he’s fitted in just fine at the local school and comes back full of tales of what he’s been up to, with a big smile on his face.
I do think, though, that what he went through at that school knocked his confidence. He plays well with a bunch of kids, but although he’s friendly and likes them all, seems to keep a little bit of distance. I’ve taken the opportunity, while the big fella’s away to encourage him to ask a couple of different kids round to play. We’ve had one so far, which went well, and he’s slowly getting used to the idea again.
Recently, though, a child that he plays with quite a bit said something mean to him. This is normal kid-to-kid stuff and nothing unusual – a little playground snipe. A play, quite cleverly, on the fact that #2 doesn’t hang around with many people. ‘You’ve got no friends’, said Child A. ‘Yes I have’, said #2, ‘go on, then, name them…’ said Child A.
Now at home, none of us are backward in coming forward – we are all quite quick with the wisecracks and #2 is no different – he’s very well equipped to deliver a stinging rejoinder to anything anyone can throw at him – in fact, on several occasions it’s how he gets himself in trouble: these little sarky replies going a little bit near the knuckle when directed at one’s parents. So what did #2 do? Did he redirect with a stinging comeback (of which he’s quite capable)? No. He dissolved into tears, tried valiantly (but failed miserably) to hide it and carried on. I went to talk to him and found out what had been said, and this is where I’m doubting myself.
In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m furious with myself. I talked to Jen about it afterwards who quite rightly said ‘what, and you didn’t say anything to Child A?’ Er.. no. I’m terrible with any sort of confrontation. If there’s any telling off to be done, I tend to direct it to the group as a whole and will ignore things with other children that I would no way tolerate in my own kids. I took #2 to one side, told him that he should brush himself down, ignore it and get on with stuff – that he knew better than to take any notice of silly ‘sticks and stones’ rubbish like that.
But have I made it worse? By not taking Child A to one side and saying ‘now hang on, that was mean and I won’t tolerate you being mean in my house’ have I shown Child A that spite has no consequences? That next time #2 gets on Child A’s nerves will they deal with it by another spiteful comment? By not encouraging #2 to fight back (verbally), do I make him less well equipped to deal with the slings and arrows of the playground?
Hubby is of the opinion that if someone is mean to you then you’re quite entitled to be mean back: ‘f*ck that’, he told #2, if Child A’s mean to you again you bloody well give it back double. You know you can’. However, I’ve always followed the tack that two wrongs don’t make a right, but now I’m starting to wonder if Hubby’s right and that the best course of action would have been for #2 to turn round to Child A and deliver one of his rather witty and stinging put-downs. Child A would be instantly silenced, and everyone would carry on.
We talked about it a bit last night ‘but you’ve always told me not to be mean’, argued #2, ‘in fact, the one time I did say something back to Child A when I was at their house, #1 told you and you went mental’. This is true. It was a lot to do with the fact that I feel strongly that my children should be polite in someone else’s home – I was furious to think that #2 could have been overheard saying something rude when he was a guest there.
Ugh. I’m so confused. As parents, should we get involved? Should we take a step back? And if we take a step back should we allow our children to sort out their own battles in the way they best know how, even if, to a certain degree, they’re doing stuff that we wouldn’t normally encourage?
Maybe I should borrow Rosie’s book?
So, as you may or may not be aware, we had a little false start when we first moved over here… that is to say I had a little false start. Hubby had already moved over and we stayed behind to sort stuff out. When we finally moved it was Christmas and I missed my folks (yes, I know they’re all mental, but they’re MY mental family), and I’m ashamed to say I had a little wobble and fled back home leaving poor Hubby wondering quite what he was going to do with his new shiny job and newly empty house in a new and strange country. The biggest problem was the school they’d started at. It was a weird, shanty-town type affair with portakabins and strange rules such as no running in the playground and poor #2 was the only child in his class whose first language was English. Now I know that one has to fit in when one moves to another country, and I know that outlying areas of big cities like Dublin will always be multi-national in their communities, but battling a huge move, plus sitting in a class full of Polish, Latvian and Senegalese children and not being able to communicate was tough. And they hated it.
Oh, it’s okay, I came back. And when we did all come back we chose a nice, quirky, fun school for them to go to. It didn’t matter that it was an hour’s drive away at the time as we kind of planned to head north anyway (at the time we didn’t anticipate quite how far north, but that’s another story). And they loved it. They played cricket (in Ireland! Imagine!), learned Latin and embraced their inner quirkiness. Reader, it was a success.
And then everything changed. #1 left for ‘big school’, and slowly, gradually, #2′s smile seemed to fade (and #2′s is a huge and cheeky smile generally – it was like an eclipse…everything seemed darker). Dropping him off became a constant, draining treadmill of pleas, encouragement, bribery…anything just to persuade him out of the car (yes, I tried the rolling pin, but a bruised child is just as tough to move as a sparkly fresh one). It became clear that a couple of children in his class were, well, let’s just say they weren’t particularly friendly. I’d stop short at the term ‘bullying’ but there were a few little incidents…games that he couldn’t join…his beloved watch smashed while he played rugby… His writing was rubbish, he told me, and he wasn’t very good at football. And it played itself out in typical ‘I’m the parent so I’m entitled to interfere’ fashion: parents were talked to, desks were moved…you know the drill. Still, his confidence was ebbing away and things had to change.
Long story short, then… Monday morning saw #2 start at the local school. He’s in the same class as Lou-next-door and Big Lovely, starts at 9.30 and finishes just after 3. He can hardly believe it. It’s like a half day. And yesterday when he arrived home (walked all by himself – it must be all of..oooh…300 yards?) he’d had a lovely day. He rushed to do his homework (which he did painstakingly, joined-up) and went to research WW2.
And no, he’s not learning Latin, nor will he play cricket. But do you know what? He’s actually not bad at Gaelic Football, and at lunchtime he played basketball with Middle Lovely and there’s this pretty girl that sits a few rows in front of him….
And the sun’s out again. I can feel the glow reflecting off him.
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…
So yesterday we got a pack through from #1′s new school. After nearly having heart failure at the book list (you have to BUY their text books! All of them! For the whole year! In advance!!!) and the uniform list (how can one child possibly wear that much clothing? It would be like Joey in Friends when he wears all Chandler’s clothes at once: ‘and I’m going commando…’) we look at the Code of Behaviour.
Me (reading aloud): ‘Explicit demonstrations of a sexual nature between pupils are strictly forbidden’.
#1 (looking worried): ‘Phew, thank goodness for that’.
Me: ‘Mobile phones are prohibited during all in-school activities, including class and will be confiscated if found switched on, regardless of whether it is being used or not’
#1: ‘Ooh, harsh’
Me: ‘Hair styles must avoid extremes of fashion and must conform to accepted rules of cleanliness, tidiness and safety’
#2 (snorts) to his big brother: ‘Heh, that rules you out, then’
#1: ‘Shut up Doofus’
Me: ‘Pupils must present a neat and tidy appearance at all times’
#1 (chronically incapable of tucking in a shirt or choosing matching socks): ‘Uh oh’
Me: ‘No facial piercings are allowed’
#1: ‘What about nipples, then?’
Me: ‘Hmmm… probably rules nipples out too – why, have you got something to tell me?
#1: ‘Nope, my nipples are a temple’
Me: ‘Okay, next one: Tattoos are strictly forbidden’
#1: ‘What, even on your johnson?’
Give me strength.
So I think I’ve said before that the school the children attend is a good old fashioned Irish preparatory school. They have boarders, and Matrons, and get to play in the woods and have proper lunch and cricket and rugby and stuff. #1 has spent two happy years there and today was his last day. He was tremendously sad, although this was slightly offset by being allowed to stay over yesterday for the leavers’ party, which seemed to include a day out to some mad place where they did ‘bog jumping’ (yes, really, in a peat bog – he still has it under his nails), an assault course, a proper outdoor barby (‘I had a burger…and a hotdog with loads of onions…ooh, and some really nice marinated chicked…ooh, and lemonade…’) and then back to the school for a specially arranged late night swim in the outdoor pool (a lovely detail was that the staff on duty used their car headlights to light the pool for them) and very little sleep afterwards, no doubt. This was a wonderful, memory-building last night for #1 and his friends, something they’ll no doubt tell their children about.
So it was with a certain melancholy that we took our places in the beautiful hall (I especially love it that one of the paintings shows a magnificent greyhound) for #1′s very last Prizegiving Day. Well, there were prizes for this and prizes for that, and I have to admit I’d kind of zoned out a bit and then… hang on, was that #1′s name I heard? Yes! And I could see him weaving his way up to the front to receive The Senior Music Prize, no less. I could see #2′s face all smiley and proud as he clapped double hard for his big brother. And then, shortly after, once again to receive The Latin Prize!!! Afterwards, breathless and red faced, he came rushing up clutching a distinction certificate for History too. Not to be outdone, #2 got a certificate for swimming – he is just coming up to his senior three years now, so I can see there’ll be some healthy competition on the prize front in years to come.
So on to senior school, then. Many new challenges ahead. And honestly? This school’s been the making of him (and continues to do a great job with #2). They arrived, uncertain in a new country and frankly unhappy to be joining a new school, and he leaves a confident, happy, sunny teenager. He’s still our mad professor, but he’s taller. And more argumentative. Happy days.
So, there was much excitement at the schoool this week. The children were strangely interested in being at school early and, frankly, I didn’t blame them. An enormous film crew descended upon the 200 year old pile, magically taking it back in time to the 1930s. It was really quite bizarre, when picking up your children, to bump into a 1930s schoolgirl, complete with bobbed hair and pinafore dress, or park up next to a beautiful old car on the drive.
The far end of the cricket pitch was a mass of trailers, catering wagons and trucks full of equipment, and the fellas tell me that some of the interior was repainted and altered as well. They’re miffed that it was supposed to be a girl’s boarding school as some of the senior girls got paid (yes! Paid actual money!) to be extras (‘and they got to use the catering wagon’ added #2, huffily). I did, I admit, have a very interesting conversation with one of the make-up ladies (who let me have a look in her see through make-up bag… woohoo!) so I could tell you what film it is that they were shooting, which incredibly famous and rather beautiful actress is starring and who the director is, but sadly I would imagine it’s top secret so I’d have to kill you.
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