Sunday, June 27, 2010

jemima+the boys

I finally got to see Jemima for the first time this weekend (Moira had been staying up in Leyland with Alice+Dave+the boys since last Monday). She’s very pretty, has a shock of almost black hair and seems absolutely tiny - I always forget just how small new-born babies are! She seems none-the-worse for her three days in hospital (her temperature had reached a frighteningly-high 39.7 degC at one stage). I’m not quite sure how Alice+Dave cope with the three children, but they’re a brilliant team. The boys are so gentle with Jemima (so far!) – especially Mikey. It was great playing with them again and there were LOTS of giggles and laughter. They particularly liked seeing themselves in my camera’s swivel-screen. It was a very sunny and warm weekend and the boys also very much enjoyed playing in their new paddling pool. Amongst a variety of outdoor play equipment, they have something which appears to be some sort of cafĂ©. Dave ended up plonking it into the pool – which made it feel a little like an outdoor Caribbean bar, with the boys playing the roles of bar staff!
Photo: a variety of images from the weekend.

Friday, June 25, 2010

leavers' day 2010

Leavers’ Day is definitely one of my favourite school days of the year. It’s a chance for the Year 11s to put on their suits and their posh frocks and arrive in various modes of transport in front of the whole school. Yesterday was even more special because this year’s Year 11s started at the school on the same day as I did. Difficult to imagine that these young adults were the same nervous individuals who started at the school in September 2005! Despite my reservations regarding the ridiculous amount of money that some of them spend on the occasion, they looked amazing. Some poignant, touching moments too – for example, a hug from one girl (who’d been an absolute “pain” as a 13 year-old, but who had developed into a really lovely young lady) who then presented me with three bottles of red wine(!)(how did she know?) and cards from her and her parents…. Mum had written: “thank you SO much for your help and support over the last few years. Your support and encouragement have been invaluable. We’ve both always had you to turn to… your understanding and humour have always been apparent!”.
I know that lots of similar gestures and sentiments were received by lots of other teachers too.
Very special.
Photo: I COULD have posted pictures of some amazingly elegant young people, but this one seemed to encapsulate the day – a chance for parents to capture their own memories!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

andy ripley RIP

Really sad to learn that Andy Ripley, former England rugby union international, died last week from prostate cancer at the age of just 62. Although I never met him, my claim to fame is that I slept in his waterbed (he wasn’t in it, I hasten add)! It was probably 1974(?) and Moira+I were staying in London with our friend Joan (from our Oxford college days). She was living in the same house as Ripley at the time and he allowed us to use his bed. Not sure how she’ll feel about this, but I suppose Moira can probably claim she is the only woman who slept in his bed and with whom he didn’t have sex! Actually, there were probably lots of women who just wanted to sleep in his waterbed at the time….
The England no.8 was an absolute hero of mine – even in the poor England team of the early-/mid-1970s. He was 6ft 5in tall, with flowing locks streaming out of a headband, knees pumping almost up his chest and the ball under his arm. Someone once wrote “Ripley in full flight will remain forever an image to brighten the day” and that’s exactly the image I have of him. I’ve seen him described as the last of the great Corinthian sportsmen who just played sport (rugby, athletics, rowing, triathlon, swimming and sailing!) for fun – with an intellect to boot (“a man with a brain like Einstein and a pen like Shakespeare”).
In the foreword to his 2007 book on cancer, he wrote: “Dare we hope? We dare. Can we hope? We can. Should we hope? We must, because to do otherwise is to waste the most precious of gifts, given so freely by God to all of us. So when we do die, it will be with hope and it will be easy and our hearts will not be broken.
They don’t make them like him any more.

family get-together

Another reunion yesterday, but this time it was nothing to do with old school or university friends. My cousin Keith and his wife Maria are in the UK briefly - Keith and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1958 and this is only the second time he’s been back “home” since then (they were last here in 2005). Moira+I met up with them for lunch in Cowle, Worcestershire together with my cousin David+his wife Sally, my brother Alan, his wife Lesley and their girls Megan+Eleanor.
Lovely day.
Photo: Keith, David+Alan (yesterday) and Keith, David+me (1957). Hardly changed at all!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I listened to an interview on Radio 4 this evening on the Shannon Matthew’s case. I was particularly struck by a quote from the Serious Case Review which concluded that the family's history was characterised by "neglectful parenting interspersed with periods of adequate parental care". This is something that I come across again and again in my role at school (even in comparatively well-off North East Somerset). It’s an aspect of my job that I find really depressing.
Just two examples from TODAY (and I could quote at least a dozen if I extended the time period to perhaps a month!):
1. A year 9 boy’s behaviour and attitude has become very concerning of late and a meeting was called to review the situation (the boy, his Mum and his grandmother were present). During the course of the meeting, it transpired that the boy’s behaviour at school generally seemed to be fine when his mother had been at home the previous evening/early morning (she worked a night shift). Unfortunately, when his mother was at work and in the “care” of his step-father, the step-father would simply disappear down the pub each evening leaving the boy at home by himself; the boy’s behaviour at school the following day was invariably awful. It was absolutely clear that the grandmother knew nothing of the step-father’s life-style and she immediately suggested that her grandson came to stay with her whenever Mum was working nights. The boy appeared to be absolutely delighted by the suggestion - perhaps his actions/behaviour were a cry for help?
2. I’m dealing with a Year 9 girl (whose brother left school three years ago and has just got out of prison). Both the girl and her brother are very bright (both could/can easily get to university if they so wished). Since Easter, the girl has been attending school only three times a week on average; she’s also been truanting from lessons. Mum complains that she finds it very difficult to get her daughter out of bed in the mornings. We are aware that the girl takes drugs/drinks excessive alcohol on a regular basis; she’s out every evening until late and appears to be mixing with some very “bad company”. When asked why she allows her daughter to do the things she does, Mum simply replied “well, what can you do?”.
It seems inconceivable to me that we might have been prepared to abandon a child of ours while we were “down the pub” on a regular basis or to have allowed any of our children to go “into town” every evening.
Children DO need boundaries; they DO need to understand discipline. I just can’t get my head around some of the so-called “parenting situations” I regularly come across… and I really worry about some of the next generation of parents – and their children!

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I like Fabio.
I think it’s only my inability to speak more than six words of Italian that has held me back from international football management. I’m writing this less than half an hour before the England team starts its over-hyped bid to win the 2010 World Cup. The opponents in the first game are the USA (but you knew that didn’t you?).
But I digress. My co-driver on the school-run, Andy, reckons that Fabio bears an uncanny resemblance to Wally (as in “Where’s Wally?”) and I just wanted to share this with you BEFORE the first match - so that people wouldn’t accuse me of being quick to mock a poor performance!
I think he might have a point.
PS: England should win the match comfortably, but I actually have a sneaky feeling it might end up a 1-1 draw.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

child protection

Two school colleagues (Karin, who deals with child protection issues at school, and Andy) recommended that I watch Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme entitled “undercover social worker”. From my own fairly limited experiences of dealing with CP issues and social services departments, I knew I’d find it depressing.
John Coffey, who had been a family support worker up until six years ago, went into Surrey County Council’s Children Services Department as an undercover reporter. He worked as a family support worker but, even though he wasn’t a qualified social worker, he was thrown into critical, child protection situations which legally need to be handled by suitably qualified staff (and with absolutely no induction training). Ridiculous work loads, lack of resources, red tape and lack of suitably qualified staff.
Very depressing.
It made me feel really sorry for the people working in the department – most of them appeared to be committed, dedicated individuals who were just trying to keep their heads above water.
“The RSPCA remove animals in danger, but it’s more difficult for us to remove children”.
“I feel like a first aid kit and I’m being asked to do brain surgery”.
“I’m not achieving anything… it’s crazy, absolutely crazy”.
“We’re led to believe that there’s a net to catch these kids, but there isn’t”.
“Instead you make a million calls and you don’t know what you’re doing anyway;
I think I care too much and I don’t think you’re meant to care”.

From my own experience, I used to think that a referral to Social Services was going to provide a solution…. but, all too often, this hasn’t proved to be the case. Where one feels that there are real child protection issues involved, matters frequently appear to be fudged or fended off.
It seems to me that such situations are only going to worsen over the coming years (with more and more dysfunctional families?) and that, if this service is going to be run in an adequate way, then it’ll have to be paid for. In these times of massive financial cuts, it just isn’t going to happen is it!
A truly frightening prospect.
PS: I suggest you check out the "Dispatches" link and read some of the comments from viewers.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

jemima amelia buckley

Alice was due to give birth on 6 June, but didn’t. Instead, she and the boys disappeared off to the seaside (as you do). Alice was suffering from a cold; Moira waxed lyrically about how Mother Nature would take this into account and that Dave+Alice’s daughter would be born a few days later than predicted. Jemima ignored this and was born first thing yesterday morning instead. Everyone is well and, as Dave stated in his text, “God is good”!
Sadly, for us, it’s not quite like when Rosa was born last year (on the last day of term before the school summer holidays) and we went virtually straight round to Ruth+Stu’s to greet her. With Alice+Dave living in Lancashire and school term started, it might take a little time before we see everyone. Obviously, this is completely incidental…. we’re all absolutely delighted!
Just lovely lovely news.

Monday, June 07, 2010

bath fringe

Hannah had a stall at the Bath Fringe Festival yesterday selling her lovely art stuff. I’d gone along as taxi driver and occasional stall-holder. Despite early rain, it proved to be a very good day as her stall also overlooked a performance area (and she also sold a reasonable amount of work). The above pictures are of the audience for Skate Naked – two virtually-naked male street performers (can I say that?) who were absolutely hilarious and, who somewhat amazingly (given this description), provided wonderful whole-family entertainment.
PS: Hannah’s flying off to Singapore today to meet up with Felix, so I don’t want to spoil her story of one of the other “acts” before she sees him!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

the time that remains

Moira+I went to the Watershed cinema for the first time in ages yesterday afternoon (can’t believe that the last time was early March!) to see Elia Suleiman’s film “The Time That Remains”. It’s a deeply personal depiction of Palestine from 1948’s War of Independence to the present day – and loosely based on his own family history. Although it’s certainly not a film which chronicles a political history, I did find that it provided a fascinating perspective on today’s Israel-Palestine struggles. Bizarrely, it also made me realise how much I’d changed my own attitudes towards Israel and Palestine – in 1967 (six days’ war), I was definitely “pro-Israel”; that’s certainly not the case these days.
The film depicts his father’s early struggle as a member of the Palestinian Resistance (with no means whatsoever) and goes on to paint a picture of his parents’ declining, latter years – these are a lovely mixture of poignancy and deadpan comedy. Sadly, there were just a handful of people in the cinema but, with a full house, I suspect the entire audience would have roaring with laughter at times.
A rather beautiful film.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

the shed

We now have a shed.
Sounds impressive doesn’t it? I’d like to say that I was typing this from the aforementioned shed, but that would a bit of an exaggeration. Actually, the photograph above makes it look quite grand (remember, the camera never lies?). Well, if I tell you that its door is only 1120mm high, you’ll realise that it’s just a glorified “wendy house” (in plan it’s a mere 590x1055mm - you might recall that our garden is only a little over 5m square)! But, I have to tell you, it’s BEAUTIFULLY constructed – by Alan+me as part of our GrowZone morning. The other images tell the whole story (from left to right): this is the mess that used to occupy “shed corner” (I think Moira’s just been dumping stuff to emphasise that we needed a shed); when we unpacked the shed, we discovered that the “back wall” had a large piece hacked out of it (“invisible” from the way it was packed and clearly damaged in the factory as there was no sign of any broken bit – our lawyer is working on the case as I write); the giant shed; slightly worrying – this is the stuff that’s SUPPOSED to be going INTO the shed (I’m currently checking the manufacturer’s details as to whether or not it possesses “Tardis qualities”).
PS: the shed is so flimsy that I’m anxious that it IS filled with stuff – because it’s likely to be the only way to stop it being blown away in anything more than a light breeze!

Friday, June 04, 2010

driving over lemons

I bought this book second-hand in the Tobacco Factory Market last Sunday and have really enjoyed it. It tells the story of the author, Chris Stewart, and his wife setting up home in a remote, dilapidated, peasant farm in the mountains of Andalucia, Spain – virtually on a whim, with no farming experience and little in the way of practical know-how. It’s over 10 years old, but I loved it – it’s funny, optimistic, beautifully-written and has a refreshing innocence.
I have absolutely no desire to emulate him, but I found it absolutely enchanting.

far away

Intimidating, intriguing, frightening, powerful, mysterious, challenging, surprising, refreshing, depressing, hopeful, dark, dramatic….
Moira+I went to the Bristol Old Vic last night to see Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” and these are the words I scribbled down to try to sum up my “instant” reactions to the play. It’s in three parts and lasts just 50 minutes and left me with a whole host of emotions at the end. It felt like part-“1984”, part-“Animal Farm”, part-“War of the Worlds” and even part-“Climate Change Summit”. Brilliantly conceived and designed (set, lighting and sound). Director Simon Godwin decided that it would be interesting (helped, no doubt, by the shortness of the play) to invite a series of guest speakers - including such names as Jonathon Porritt and Jon Snow – to provide their own insights into the play (afterwards) and to act as a catalyst for the audience to talk and to question. Last night, in addition to Godwin and one of the actors, Cara Horgan, the speaker was Nina Raine – who had been assistant director to Stephen Daldry in the original 2000 production of the play. It certainly helped to crystallise my own thoughts.
There is something rather wonderful about live theatre.