Come along for the ride!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Herbert Spencer was right

"Children all learn at different speeds".

How many times in these politically correct days have we heard those words?

"Don't worry if the other parents are saying that their child is already reading and yours isn't interested in books; all children will get there eventually". (Wherever 'there' is!).

I was talking to a teacher the other day about my concerns over certain pupils lack of basic skills and what were we able to do to help. After all, when you drop your child off at school, you fully expect them to be getting all the help they need in order to learn whatever it is they require to get into a desirable secondary school and from there, to enter the job market in an advantageous position.

What I was told pretty much boiled down to, 'not much'. It seems that unfortunately, if a pupil isn't on target to do well by then end of Year 5, then the attention of the school 'must turn' to children that are expected to do well.

"Eh? How does that work then?" I enquired.

She explained how the SAT's and Ofsted inspections were to blame. Consecutive governments (in their infinite wisdom), deem a school that does not meet a minimum target of (very high) grades as set by the government, to be a "failing" school and graded appropriately. As you are no doubt aware, these grades are published nationally in the form of league tables. Governments tick off the school governors, the governors tick off the Headteacher, the Headteacher ticks off the teachers and the teachers tick off nobody - they are the end of the line.

So what happens?

Teachers realise that in order to avoid all this telling off, filtering from Downing Street to their classrooms, they have to focus on the children that will do well; it really is the
survival of the fittest. Unfortunately, in the wake of the strong learners are the many who just don't get equivalent fractions; those who just don't know where to put their full stops and capital letters.

As a parent though, I can't help but feel slightly horrified by this set up. I mean, M and I both spend several hours each week reading with our children, having them (well, Joseph at the moment) read to us, working on writing, going through maths questions etc but I know for a fact that many of the children at school don't have anyone to go through their work with them; no-one to push them to achieve, to help them, to nurture them.

So if they're not getting the support at home and the schools can't afford to spare the time to bring them fully up to speed (which is the bottom line, let's face it), it would seem that their young lives are over before they've really started! If they walk out of primary school with vital knowledge missing, they sure ain't gonna be able to really catch up in secondary - I'm talking about the real basic building blocks of education.

Have you got children? Make sure you read to them, every day, hear them read to you, sit and go through their maths even if it isn't your strong point. Do whatever it takes to support their learning. On a daily basis I see what a busy and demanding day they have at school and they're only 4, 5, 6 .... 8, 9, 10 years old!!

Man, who'd be a kid again??

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Pop in my CD and let me run a rhyme, and put your car on cruise and lay back cause this is summertime"

Well no, actually, it isn't, but you would be forgiven for thinking that it still is, such was the beauty of the weather today. It is making our new years resolution (the academic year, natch), to walk to school and back rather easy, as opposed to jumping into the car for the fairly short journey.

I have to be honest though; I am not sure how much longer we'll be travelling "green". The mornings are darker, the evenings are getting shorter and this morning was distinctly 'fresh'. The cold I can handle; the rain is another story though.

I don't like it, plain and simple. I can almost stomach getting a drenching on the way home when we can all change into something warm, but on the way to work? To school?

As Daryl Hall and John Oates once said, "I can't go for that, no-o-o ...... no can do".

Ne'er a truer word spoken.

Us happy campers at 8.20am this morning.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Another win Mr Abramovich!

Today's the day.

The Big One.

In place of his annual birthday party where Joseph and 15 or so of his friend's get to scoff cake and run around like loons, I took Joseph and his bestest chum to watch a game of football in trendy Chelsea.

We had lunch near the stadium, went shopping for scarves, flags and programmes, and managed to time everything to perfection, finding our places just 5 minutes before kick off.

One thing I learnt today was this; keeping a close eye on your own children in busy places is one thing. Being entrusted to keep a close eye on a child who isn't yours in a very busy place is another thing entirely.

I was happy to sit down!

We were treated to 3 goals, two of which were scored in front of where we were sat (ie, at "our" end) and afterwards, our football fanatic neighbour had invited us up to the private bar where he entertains corporate clients. I have to admit feeling just a teensy bit smug at being waved through by the all-in-black suited and booted doormen, whilst listening to others being told that it was a private bar. "Sorry, your name's not down, you're not coming in".

I have no idea what those people thought a scruffy, rucksack wearing individual such as myself and two 7 year olds wearing football tops were doing being waved through security but who cares though, hah, we were going in!!

Actually, those strangers whom we glided past at the door had the last laugh I reckon, the drink prices in that bar were extortionate!! Having said that, Ron Harris himself was swanning around the place and I know enough about football to know to get a picture of that man!! I'm sure the two boys will appreciate the picture I took of them with "Chopper" Harris in years to come.

Either way, it was definitely a day to remember.

And just in case Joseph's memory lets him down in years to come, I had his picture put in the programme wishing him a happy birthday.

There's nothing like a bit of forward planning!!!!

The big screen.

41, 293 in attendance.

Watching a "chopper" of a different kind come in to land at Wandsworth heli-pad.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Hippo birdie to you, hippo birdie to you ..."

Hippo birdie dear Joseph
Hippo birdie to you!"

Well well well, seven years old today and dammit, if he doesn't look a day over ....... 7.

What's yer secret Joseph, c'mon, tell us all, what is it, hmm ... hmm ...?

A birthday on a school day - it's fine now but wait until secondary school; then it won't be so great, trust me - so up earlier than usual for brekkie followed by present opening. A postal strike meant that minimal cards arrived; not that this was noticed thanks to pressies from us.

Actually, I think things worked out rather nicely for Joseph this year. He had his gifts from us today, he is due more gifts at his tea party on Saturday and on Sunday, I'm taking him and his best friend to a football match in place of an actual party proper.

To be honest, we were relieved when he said he would rather not have a full blown par-tay this year; we have no room for anymore toys!

When we came out of school this afternoon, he was smiling on our walk home, saying that he'd had "a really good day".

Music to my ears!

Happy birthday Smudge - we're glad you enjoyed your day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Damn my slowing metabolism!!

Short but funny conversation between Joseph and I on the walk home from school today.

Joseph: "Dad. What's a six pack?"

Me (after sniggering): "Why?"

Joseph: "Because Michael in my class says his Dad's got a six pack".

Me: "Heh heh ... yeah, lots of Dads' do have six packs Poops. They're the muscles in your stomach. They stick out a bit and they're are six of them".

Joseph (pulling up his shirt and peering at his belly): "Can I get a six pack one day?

Me: "If you want".

Joseph: "Co-o-o-oool!"

Me (continuing): "Then they (meaning me) get older, do less exercise and their six pack slowly disappears. You have to do about a million sit-ups a day to get a six pack".

Joseph was smiling by now, not hearing what I was saying.

I however, was not smiling.

I must stop eating those biscuits in the staff room.

Monday, September 07, 2009

"In the name of love, what more in the name of love"

In a complete reversal of "what to expect", M and I mis-read todays events almost as much as we'd mis-read them for Annabels' trip to the doctors last week (see here).

With that day, we'd expected tears and crying but we were wrong.

Today, we expected only excitement and happiness and again, we were wrong.

Actually, 'wrong' doesn't quite cover it, we were well off the mark!

As has turned out to be the case on more than one occasion, what we managed to do for our first born, we didn't manage to replicate for the second. The week before Josephs' first day at school, we dressed him in his uniform, got him used to it, took some pictures, made a fuss and so on.

With Annabel, we didn't - more out of a lack of time than anything else but a 'lack of time' doesn't mean much in a childs' eyes. Having said that, perhaps it wouldn't have made any difference and we are beating ourselves up for nothing, such is the tragedy of parenthood!

Either way, with me at work and lucky enough to be keeping an eye out for her arrival and to see her for the first time in all her finery, M had a devil of a job getting her to keep the clothes on. Much screaming and tantrum-ing later (two hours worth), they appeared at the locked gate.

I could tell something was amiss thanks to the colour of Missys' sobbing face, the tears still fresh on her cheeks. My cuddle did nothing to alleviate her stress, nor could the appearance of her previous nursery teacher (whom Annabel loves!).

M did the only thing she could do and walked away (as did I, it was my lunch break) and I sat and looked at M across a coffee table looking upset herself, worrying about how our daughter was getting on.

She needn't have worried.

Upon my return, I saw Annabel playing happily with her friends, old ones and new ones, pleased with herself at having been asked to help make them feel at home in their new school.

I have watched her play in that playground for the past 8 months and all that has changed really is that she is now wearing a very smart uniform.

This small difference however, has proved more than enough to make me need to keep swallowing the lump that kept threatening in my throat.

That lump called "Pride".

Sunday, September 06, 2009

"I'm a Goofy Goober .... "

Another week, another seaside town to discov .... oh no, hang on, we went back to exactly the same place we went to last week for M's birthday - Whitstable.

The reason we were so keen to go back was quite simple; we wanted to sample the seafood that we weren't able to try before. The difference this time around was that we went on the train; a different kind of adventure entirely.

On the journey down there I discovered words that I don't usually use on a jaunt across country. Words such as, "hey, look at that amazing yellow field", or "quick, look at that light aircraft skimming the trees".

This was a huge departure from my often repeated phrase of "can you be QUIET, I am trying to drive" and "do you want me to turn around and go home?"

Upon arrival, our day went something like this;

Walked to harbour, ordered half dozen oysters, plate of whitebait, some cockles, some prawns and a portion of fries. Continued to ice cream van for 99's, walked along stony beach (admiring beautiful narrow houses) to a quiet spot on the beach where we had stone throwing competitions. Walk back to harbour, pausing to sample local (well, as local as they could) ale, pausing to stop off at alternative oyster house for another half dozen, some King Prawns (they deserve the capital letters, they were massive) and some more whitebait, albeit minus the wonderfully creamy tartare sauce as had earlier been the case.

The oysters were all delicious, the whitebait freshly fried in a lovely light breadcrumb and the prawns extremely meaty. I could tell you how well the oyster stout accompanied the oysters but that would be stating the bleedin' obvious, so I will leave it there.

Visit Whitstable.

It's lovely.

Friday, September 04, 2009

"The Queen's Commendation for bravery goes to ..."

I remember being taken to see the doctor or the dentist when I was little and as I reminisce, I don't seem to sense a great deal of bravery being present at the time.

One of my clearest memories surrounding health workers of any kind is of going to see the dentist with my Dad. It was near London Bridge (sort of) and every 6 months the reminder would obviously land on the floor and off we would go.

Now, my Dad has never had any major health issues - long may it continue (come to think of it, he's never had any minor ones either), not so much as a single filling. And so, being totally devoid of any fear of health practitioners, off we would march to see le dentiste.

It was, I suppose, a relatively run of the mill dental surgery in what was then, a fairly run down pocket of London. It was on a main road so I remember the front was incredibly dirty from all the car and bus fumes, the narrow corridor and staircase up suffering a similar fate thanks to the front door opening and closing.

We would sit, we would wait, Dad would get his teeth looked at (never any problems) and then I would get mine done. This invariably involved a filling of some description but the trauma of it was lessened by being allowed to wave my index finger at the dentist, this seemingly insignificant action resulting in him ceasing to inflict discomfort upon me.

Momentarily, at least.

Finally, job done, my Dad would get a smile, I would get a pat on the head and we would leave, not to return for another 183 days or thereabouts.

And then it all changed.

It was the first time I'd made the journey by myself. I can't remember exactly how old I was but I was feeling pretty pleased with myself; off to the dentist alone, not bad.

My suspicions that everything was not as it should be were first aroused when my arrival wasn't met with the same enthusiasm as when my Dad was present. Nevertheless, I forged ahead with the appointment.

"Perhaps his last patient was a troublesome one", I thought to myself, still waiting for him to recognise me as surely, the son of one of his favourite patients, my Dad.

The crowning turd in the water pipe however was still to come when it appeared that waggling my magic finger appeared to have no impact on the dentists' actions whatsoever.

I waggled (he drilled), I waggled some more (he drilled), in fact I almost smacked him in the nose with my waggling finger but the smell of burning stone continued to fill my nostrils.

Holding back some (admittedly slightly wimpish tears), I sat and listened to Christian Szell (not his real name, obviously), tell me what he'd done and that he would see me in 6 months time.

No pat on the head, no smile, no nothing.

Out you go son, on your way.

I can't remember that I ever went back to him and hence the need for dental treatment to this day. Actually, I never thought about it but without his rough treatment, I may not have needed to visit the dentist all those years later when I met my lovely wife so perhaps I should thank him?

Anyway, my dental visits weren't what I wanted to tell you about; it was about bravery in the company of white coats and today Missy showed exceptional bravery when neither M nor I thought she would.

It was a simple pre-school booster and, armed with a 'treat' for being good, we went in to the surgery.

I tried to distract her from the needle but it didn't work; she saw it. I tried to keep her talking while the nurse wiped her arm with a sterile wipe but it didn't work; she looked intently at her own arm. I drummed my fingers on the table and tapped the box in which her treat was contained but it didn't work; she looked off into the distance as the needle punctured her little fleshy arm.

I expected a jump and a wail but no, nothing.

Even the nurse said how brave she had been and not all children her age were as good.

Well done Missy.

' hope you don't have to have too many of those!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Ma fille l'artiste

While Joseph enjoyed many hours at nursery and in reception class drawing various pictures, he rarely chose to do the same when at home. He would rather play 'with' something than create or draw something.

Annabel on the other hand, loves drawing. Perhaps I shouldn't say this but it is actually a little heart breaking to see her so engrossed in her own company, happily sat on her bedroom floor, pens scattered all around her, creating a multitude of colourful pictures.

And what an artist she is!

It's amazing though, seeing how much her pictures change in such a short space of time. Just a couple of months in fact.

From weird and wonderful grinning freaks .....

.. to a bed full of people with far more human faces than before (not sure who the 5th person is!) .....

.. to an apple.

But take a moment, if you will, to observe the shape of the fruit, the shading, the cross hatching, not to mention the highly accurate stalk.

Honestly, I don't know where that girl gets her talent from!!

No, seriously, I dunno where it comes from??!?