Archive | February 2016

Are you a poker or an India rubber?

It’s OK, I’m not talking about card games, this is about faces and the expressions they wear.

I’ve always been envious of people who can assume a poker face whenever they need to. It’s wonderful camouflage and very valuable because we all need to hide what we are feeling now and then. But I can’t do it. My face is made of India rubber.

When I was a child it got me into all sorts of trouble and I didn’t really see any value in it until I married my old darling, who was a young darling then and very tender and gentle. We were talking in a general sort of way and I was wondering whether it would be all right to argue with him and deciding against it, when he suddenly said,  ‘You don’t agree, do you?’  which surprised me because I hadn’t said a word. So I asked him how he knew. ‘It’s your face’ he said. ‘Your dear, little India rubber face.’ Being told I had an India rubber face could have felt like a criticism, if it hadn’t been for those two tender words ‘dear’ and ‘little’. They turned it into a love song.

After that, I began to see advantages in having an emotionally  transparent face and to notice how many people spoke without saying a word. For a start, the kids I was teaching knew I approved of them without me having to say a word and that was a reward to all of us. But now and then I saw the disadvantages, of course.

I was teaching at the time when all the gobbledegook of the proposed national curriculum was arriving in my office, incomprehensibly written, badly spelt and hideously ungrammatical and, as if that weren’t enough, usually accompanied by a 12 page form also incomprehensible or ambiguous or both which I was supposed to fill in – and usually didn’t. I was sitting in my office snarling at the latest horror when I heard a group of  kids talking outside the door. They were debating whether or not to knock and after a while, one boy said ‘Don’t let’s. She’s got her face on.’ It was true, I had. But I found another face just by thinking about them and went out to see what they wanted. India rubber, or to call it by its technical name ‘non-verbal communication’ is blessedly adaptable.

Since then I’ve seen it everywhere, in new mothers making their first loving contact with their newborn, in a baby overjoyed to see a loved adult, in two toddlers communicating with limited language and transparent affection, in the beautiful Monroe’s glowing face as she looked at Arthur Miller. And as the years have gone by, in my own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. To see the newest arrival with her face lit up with smiles just to see me, is pure joy. India rubber can’t get any better than that.





This entry was posted on February 25, 2016. 8 Comments

Why can’t we let our kids learn?

This one is by special request, because so many of my friends think that what is being done to our children in the name of education is damaging, senseless and often downright cruel  and I keep saying it isn’t necessary. So now I feel I must give you chapter and verse.


We’ve known all about it since the early years of the twentieth century when the first 
educational pioneers, like  Susan Isaacs and Maria Montessori discovered that learning is a natural and pleasurable process. And if we ever need proof of the truth of what they were saying, we only have to look at any young creature playing. Kittens may look cute but what they are actually doing is learning how to catch their prey, apes romp in the trees learning to maintain their balance and enjoying every minute of it, human children play all manner of games and enjoy them hugely. What they are doing, without knowing it, is using this natural learning process. It’s what all children do when tests and Ofsted inspections and league tables don’t get in their way. So how does it work?

It always starts with curiosity, which is natural and in-built.

If and when the child follows his curiosity, he starts a whole series of activities in which he learns what he wants to know, by trial and error. Mistakes are part of the process and not at all frightening. You learn from them.

And when you have mastered the skill and found out what you wanted and needed to know, you move on to stage three, which is a state of rapturous happiness. Just watch a baby when it’s learnt to feed itself.

When the skill is mastered and/or the knowledge absorbed, and the child has been making use of it for some time, he puts it to one side and seems to forget it. But there is a fifth stage. After an interval no matter how short or long, the child returns to the skill and hasn’t forgotten any of it, it’s part of his character now, once learnt never forgotten, like riding a bicycle.

So why on earth don’t most teachers simply make use of this process, sparking interest whenever they can, providing the materials so that child can satisfy his curiosity and enjoying the whole thing with the children? One sad reason is, that few of them now are taught about the process. All the information about it was removed from the PGCE syllabuses a very long time ago, to the disappointment of the great educationalists of our much maligned sixties, like Leila Berg and Mike Duane of Risinghill fame and the great AS Neill who ran Summerhill school.

But there is another factor which has to be considered today. Parents and teachers and children are all told by our politicians that they have to be tested to show that they are learning, some of the fiercer ones are even talking about bringing back the cane, god help us all. And of course what they’re saying simply is not true.

The real reason we keep imposing tests, exams, Ofsted inspections and league
tables is that the big “educational” companies make money out of it, it’s an extremely lucrative business and the more exams they can persuade our idiot politicians to impose on our children, the more the companies can earn.

We are in thrall to greed.

This entry was posted on February 17, 2016. 14 Comments

Liar, liar, pants on fire!

I don’t think I can be the only one who spits feathers when she watches a politician wearing a ‘caring’ face and plainly telling lies on television. I can smell the singed trousers, even at that distance, and it makes me so angry. Yet they lie with impunity on and on and on, and they even do it in the House of Commons which is the one place, given that they are elected representatives of their constituency and answerable to their electors, that they really should tell the truth. All of which makes me wonder how and why they are allowed to get away with it. So my granddaughter and I did a bit of Googling and it turns out that it is all to do with what is considered ‘Unparliamentary language’. We even discovered a list of words that MPs are not allowed to use in the House of Commons.

Some of the words on the list are quite comical and have fallen out of use many years ago. We found: blackguard, guttersnipe, hooligan, pipsqueak, wart and stool pigeon, but not ‘cokehead’ or ‘sniffer’. I suppose they’re too modern. But to our horror, we discovered, halfway down the list, the word ‘liar’. And another note we found on Google, explains why it is still in use: “The most prohibited case,” it said “is any suggestion that another member is dishonourable, so, for example, suggesting that another member is lying is forbidden.” But they are dishonourable, manifestly dishonourable, and the lies they tell are extremely harmful. Surely it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the speaker of the house to find a way to do something about it, maybe even remove the word ‘liar’ from the prohibited list.

As servants of a democracy – and they are all servants, although some of them seem to have forgotten that – MPs should be open, honest and truthful. It seems to me that if what they are saying is known to be a lie, then that lie should be revealed in the House and put under scrutiny until the truth is discovered. If you don’t check a liar, he goes on telling bigger and bigger lies because he knows he can get away with it. They use all sorts of tricks to cloak what they are doing, some turn on the charm, some play the fool, but the lies are potent and harmful, no matter what they do.

How about a change Mr Speaker that would allow our honest politicians the chance to challenge a lie on our behalf?






This entry was posted on February 12, 2016. 10 Comments

Have you thought about a boat, dear?

I used to have rather a nice lawn in my back garden, months ago when it was still summer, but when I went out to the compost heap yesterday I found it very much changed. Not so much a lawn as a quagmire. Every step I took squelched loudly and rather rudely and when I turned to walk back to the house, I saw that I’d left round pits wherever I’d trod on my way out. “Welcome to the world of ceaseless rain” Mrs Noah said to me, adding, “Perhaps you should start thinking about a boat, dear.”

Not that there’s anything new about floods. We’ve had several during the time I’ve lived in Felpham and Bognor. This was The Grove in a previous year
and below it is a picture of the beach at Pagham after a particularly high and destructive tide. But these scenes are nothing compared to the devastation that the people of Cumbria suffered last year, when there were five severe flood warnings and more than seventy flood warnings in the North of England alone. Their homes were flooded and their furniture and belongings wrecked and the army had to be called out to help build up the flood defences. It made me ache to watch the scenes of wreckage in the flooded streets, and I was full of admiration for the stoicism and courage of the people coping with the total disruption of their lives. As a nation, we’re not very good at flood defences at the moment.

Perhaps Mrs Noah had the right idea and we ought to build a fleet of arks, ready for the next one. Although I shall draw the line at all those animals. I wouldn’t mind sharing my accommodation with the odd dove or the occasional cat, but elephants, crocodiles, giraffes and hippos, no! There are limits. 

And just to remind us that flooding around our coasts is no new thing, here is a picture of Bognor taken in the early years of the twentieth century and featured on a postcard.

Pass me my galoshes!

This entry was posted on February 10, 2016. 7 Comments

Who remembers Violet Elizabeth Bott?

I’m probably going to show my age again. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of reading too many books all at once. At the moment I’m on ‘War and Peace’ which I’m following TV episode by episode, ‘Death Plays a Part’ by Lesley Cookman, ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ and Kate Atkinson’s stunning ‘A God in Ruins,’ which believe it or not brought the dreaded Violet Elizabeth Bott shrieking into my head. Now I can hear you all saying ‘who’s she?’ as well you might. Perhaps I had better explain.

At an early point in Kate Atkinson’s book there is a sequence called ‘The Adventures of Augustus’ which an aunt has written about our hero’s childhood, seeing him as a “scuffed, badly behaved schoolboy, his cap glued permanently to the back of his head and a cowlick of hair in his eyes and a catapult hanging out of his pocket.” That was such an exact description of ‘Just William’ I wanted to rush out and find a copy of one of the books, which I’d gobbled up when I was nine years old and read it again for old times sake. Just to look at the book covers made me quite nostalgic.

But then of course I went on to remember the dreaded Violet Elizabeth Bott, who was the next door neighbour to our William. She had ringlets and a lisp and was quite hideously spoilt, threatening to ‘thcream and thecream until I thick’ if she didn’t get her own way instantly. When I was nine, I simply saw her as a character to hate, now I can see that she was a bully and that set me wondering about bullies, because I’m also reading ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ and that’s a blueprint for how a big public school can and does produce hideous bullies. Flashman in that novel holds Tom Brown so close to the fire in order to torment him, that he scorches the kid’s legs. The cane is used by far too many people in this story, but Tom Brown has convinced himself that it’s all being done to “make a man of him.” Hmmm. But what sort of man? I ask myself. By that time my brain had slotted itself into a completely new gear and I got to thinking about how many bullies there are in our society now and wondering why it should be.

I wonder what you all think about it. More in my next perhaps.






This entry was posted on February 5, 2016. 7 Comments