A poo story

Today I am going to talk about manure and what happens when a lot of middle class mothers get together and rub each other up the wrong way over a load of horse poo.

A school gardening club requests some manure for their environmental garden. The delivery turns up and they have forgotten about it, the delivery is at lunchtime so the school start panicking about health and safety. The manure guy asks the school to contact one of the mothers from the gardening club, who is at a coffee morning. She asks him to wait but he is too keen to dump. So pleases the Headmaster by dumping the manure right outside a classroom and then gets stuck in the school sports field, churning up the pitch. When the Gardening Mums turn up, they have an angry headteacher waiting for them, school office ladies fuming about health and safety, children running around a manure heap and the manure guy stuck in a churned up pitch.

Then ensues lots of confrontation, a few people with their noses out of joint, and Mums giving each other frosty stares the following day (not o mention sore hands and dirty nails from all the quick shovelling they had to do.

A poo story, but an entertaining one. A shit day but delightfully full of puns that would make a Bond movie scriptwriter proud.

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Maternity leave or better pay?

Today I broke the news to my boss about HMRC’s decision. The option to improve the salary was quickly squandered and the other alternative that he offered was to work from home, although he later back-tracked from that idea. So, since receiving the news from HMRC last Thursday, i will now be leaving my job next Thursday after four years (because i was due to finish for the school summer holidays anyway). I have yet to find out from HR  whether i will be required to return to complete outstanding notice in September, I hope not as I will incur further childcare costs that exceed my salary.

I was also interviewing for the maternity cover post for my colleague. Three candidates were interviewed. Myself and my colleague favoured the woman with the most experience and skills set. My boss wasnt so keen, feigning surprise at her independent school background saying she was “a little rough around the edges”. What he really disliked was the lack of a posh accent and her short skirt. If I was to be brutally honest, the woman he preferred was very pretty and lovely but with nowhere near the same skills-set or experience. He felt that she would be a better ‘fit’ within the department – more like he has one eye on the hareem of good-looking women he has in his office. The only problem is that women have children and need maternity leave and money for childcare – damned inconvenient.

When my Mum had me in 1980, there wasnt such a thing as maternity leave, but she did at least get paid enough to afford childcare when she returned to work a few weeks later. Supposedly in 2014 we have ‘moved on’ but what is the point of maternity leave if most mothers cant afford to return to work anyway?

This blog is for Unicef. Thanks for reading.


My name is Michael Caine…

Our road is an eclectic mix. When Maggie Thatcher put council houses up for sale a few decades ago, the resulting social implications is an interesting cross -section of society, living together un-harmoniously or harmoniously, depending on the severity of occurrences. Problems can range from noise to racism; domestic problems to varying degrees of alcohol intolerance (or too much tolerance; parking to dangerous dogs and even……chicken killers. Yes i thought i had heard it all until our neighbour next-door but one accused our next door neighbours of sabotaging their chicken. Animal politics is an issue too, our two little jacks are sandwiched between a grumpy spiteful cat and a giant alsatian.

I have woken up to a fight in the street with the women chucking flower-pots all over her partner’s car, the other next door slinging suitcases into the road and dont even get me started on Halloween.

When i used to sell poppies, i got an insight into the block of flats on our road. From the outside, its just a boring square building but on the inside it is a hotch potch of different tastes and age brackets all swirled together, with the resulting mix of smells and sounds fusing together as you walk the communal stairway. Unsurprisingly, the older lady gardener has her front door surrounded  by greenery, some doors have children’s scooters outside, while others give no hint at what lies behind until the door is open. A polish chap answered the door with so mch smoke behind him that I thought he was about to do an episode of ‘Stars in Your Eyes’….’tonight Matthew i am going to be..’. Then a child pops up behind his legs and I wonder if he will be a smoker too when he grows up or whether he ill completely rebel because of his smokey childhood environment.

There are single mums trying to make a living, divorced mums trying to merge families together and Mums (and Dads) that quite frankly scare the s*** out of me. There are those who try toretend they are elsewhere on the social scale, clinging on to materialistic trappings like a clematis trying to get to a better garden. Then there are the ‘Boo Radley’ style questions… such as ‘are they father and son living together or are they a gay couple?’, ‘Is that their Dad or brother’?

Most of the time we go about minding our own business, but when you stop and think about your neighbours, all doing the same as you, earning a living (or not), coping and not coping, it makes you think about whether UK society is different to other countries because of our culture and politics or whether behaviours are similar because we are all human?

I never forget while in Malaysia, being told, on a visit to a village, how the neighbours were clubbing together to sustain the livelihood of a widow and her children.

Here i wonder how long it would take for us to realise she had been widowed and then how long it would take to help her?

This blog is for Unicef.

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Didis and dodos

Every now and then you come across a person who fits their stereotype as neatly as a white upper middle class conservative. It was at a country club, surprise, surprise.

I don’t frequent country clubs, I neither have the budget nor the inclination, but, as most of my life experiences have come about, I was offered a freebie visit through a family friend who happened to be going with her friend ‘Didi’ after school. As it turned out Didi had a daughter the same age as my friend’s daughter and a boy the same age as my own daughter. I met Didi soaking wet in a swimming costume with a frill around her hips (which tend to be worn strangely by apple shaped women who wear it at an attempt to detract attention away from the bottom and thigh area when in fact they may as well have a sign pointing to below the hip saying ‘look here’). But don’t let the cutesy costume fool you from the Didis of this world, one look at that her steely glaze with unflinching direct eye contact told me that:

A) she probably rides horses

B) most likely to have been privately educated

C) is going to be a tad bossy and domineering as many of the ‘pushy middle class mums’ tend to be

At this point I had to scold the little voice in my head with ‘dont judge a book by its cover, she hasn’t even said a word and already she is in a box’. “Hello I’m Didi, nice to meet you, the boys are in the pool already, lets get this lot in their costumes, I assume you are staying for supper, I have lots of kindles and iPad we can ‘plug the children into’ (while she haw haws over a glass of wine…… shut-up voice in my head). I smile and nod and before I know it my friend’s children and mine are ‘cluck-clucked’ to the pool by Didi. Then pool session over, in the showers and then she is going round brushing everyone’s hair with aussie miracle spray (including my daughter who loved it), sorting the seating arrangements out in the country club bar and recommending the most expensive items on the menu.

After she has got half of PC World out for the kids and got a glass of wine in hand, she then embarks on confirming my inner voice’s assumptions. “well of course I said to the teacher, the forest school route hadn’t been properly risk assessed, it was far too close to a bridleway and any rider knows a horse can spook at anything, then buck and goodness knows what could happen” (I found this scenario so far fetched that she may as well have been including in her assessment earth tremors and hurricanes. What she really meant was ‘i want to demonstrate that I am a horse person and this tenuous link is the best way I can do that). Then came assumption b) “I have my eldest down at prep school and my daughter will follow suit, you just can’t beat the class sizes”. In between utterances she was clucking round the table like a mother hen seeing to everyone’s children and paused for rather too long at something situated on my son’s chair, prompting me to look and notice he had wet his trousers as she flounces away in quiet merciless judgement. Before her posh chaos exits the room she makes some remark about her husband playing golf’ (apparently better than her first husband), how she ‘travelled the world and London’ before settling here and listened to my views on co-education with a stony expression before saying “what a funny idea”.

So stereotypically middle-class Brit was this encounter that I was half expecting someone to say ‘cut’ and finding myself mistakenly placed on the set of the next Bridget Jones movie. If this indeed had happened I would fantasise that ‘Didi’ would once again return to her actual name of ‘Diane’ and say ‘thank god that’s over, it takes effort to play the part of a point-scoring, social climbing bitch’ and then tell me how she graffitid all over the local UKIP signs.

But that would be a fictitious character.

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Private education is better?

Us Brits are very good at social engineering. Our education system is good, on the whole, at keeping people in their place (with a few notable exceptions of course). It cannot be contested that the private schooling system upholds the class system in Britain, making it difficult for talented children to progress onto further education when they have to compete against the cream of the crop from private schools, who will always take preference in universities.

Pupils at private secondary schools are coached rigorously to achieve grades. Private schools court the Principals of top universities. Profiteering companies charge private schools a fortune to train their pupils to secure places at Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. When people come into money they pay for private schooling, mixing old money with new money so that children from poorer backgrounds have the confidence in later life to converse with people from rich backgrounds.

In addition to grades, independent schools encourage confidence bordering on arrogance amongst their pupils. It takes a strong person from a state school background with a localised accent to talk on equal terms with someone with Received Pronunciation from a private education. This is simply down to confidence. The better classes expect subservience and the lower classes do not have the confidence to override this.

The one benefit, to those who cannot afford private education, is that schools are not burdened with educating the privileged. But, if private schooling did not exist, surely there would just be more schools to cater for increased demand? Private schools cream some of the best teachers from the state system. Many of these teachers turn their back on the state system because they are feidup with the restrictive national curriculum, targets, poor funding and big class sizes. I admire good teachers who have remained in the state sector. Are teachers ‘chickening out’ by working in private schools, tempted by the smaller class sizes, facilities and other benefits such as discounted school fees and housing?

I dont think this system is right but who am I to argue? When no-one, as yet, has come up with the answer? Anything that de-segregates society is a good thing but there will always be the haves and the have-nots – its a shame but that is what our society classes as important.

However there are schools that exist that take the best of both worlds providing, at best, a level playing field for talented children regardless of background – The Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Surrey and Christ’s Hospital in Sussex. If more of these schools were in existence across the UK I think we would be stepping in the right direction.

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Planning and Poetry

Last night I promised an update on our little village’s planning saga following my husband’s return from the meeting in the Church. All sounds a little bit ‘Vicar of Dibley’ with a packed church of NIMBYs wanting a say in where 100 houses should be located. Everyone was given a pair of dots (green for yes and ….. yes you guessed it…..red for no). They then placed these dots on a map of the village.

We are self confessed NIMBYs. We back onto a field with uninterrupted views of the countryside and lots of sky – we are very lucky considering our heavily populated island. Forgive us, therefore, for wanting to preserve the bit of green out back. We also live on a council estate, one of three estates in a small area (hard to imagine isn’t it?) One the one side there are lots of fairly ugly post-war houses built to accomodate families bombed out of London. On the other rolling fields, trees, a bit of a wasteland/ hunting ground for owls and buzzards and the odd pylon. This field, like many others surrounding our village, is owned by developers keen to cash in on the local authority target to build 100 houses in the area over the next 5 years.

At the meeting a lot of red dots were placed on the field near us. However, there were a few red dots on the other option. I don’t envy the people trying to put together this ‘neighbourhood plan’ as you can’t keep everyone happy. What I resent is the short-termist thinking of our successive governments. For example, two schools in neighbouring villages were closed down in the past decade. Yet within the past few years, more and more families have moved into the area following an increase in housing. What a surprise, the schools are now oversubscribed and class sizes are bloated as a result. Doh! They seem to think its OK to dump housing down like they are playing The Sims with no thought on infrastrcuture.

Anyway it looks likely that the conclusion will work in our favour. The council don’t like putting social housing amongst existing social housing developments for fear of creating a ‘ghetto’ (“Too many low income people in one area is bound to cause trouble darling”). Snobs in the village, however, prefer it that way – “at least we can keep an eye on them when they are all together, God forbid we have a mixed population across the village”. Yes the class divide is still as strong as it ever was in Great Britain – particularly in the rural South-East. I will let you know the result…

Changing the subject completely, I aim to get my daughter in bed by 7pm. I could count on one hand how many times I have managed to achieve this during the Autumn term, in fact, the whole year. Tonight she was a ball of enthusiasm and did  everything she was asked without any protest (thanks to some harsh words about her behaviour last week). After completing some work on maths and English (we bought those books that ‘support’ the curriculum at home) she started talking about poetry writing, as her class is currently learning about poetry. The subject is the great fire of London and they are learning about adjectives to use in their poems. Lots of sparking and igniting going on. My daughter said she was struggling a bit and I wanted to help her out before school the following day (although it was 7.30pm already so bang goes the rule on bed by 7pm). I dug out one of my old poetry books in the hope that she would be inspired by poems such as The Jabberwocky by CS Lewis and The Listeners by Walter de la Mare (I think!). She was engrossed and then started writing a couple of lines herself about fire. I was amazed how it quickly went off on a tangent about poos and loos but she was enjoying herself so if toilet humour gets her inspired so be it.

It made me wish I had appreciated my school days more, because in my case, once you have analysed and assessed the text for an exam, it is rare that you pick it up again for pleasure. If I returned to the classroom now I would have enjoyed the experience so much more. But Im glad my daughter is enjoying school….I think it has come along way since the state system in the 80s and 90s. I just hope Michael Gove doesn’t cock things up again – I don’t believe the Torys have a good track record when it comes to education.

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Charity shop boutiques

I live 15 minutes away from quite an exclusive area. Before you get any ideas, I live in the poor part. But it is nice to rub shoulders with the posh wankers to see what could have happened to us if we had sprung from the loins of a middle class gent. (Don’t have a chip on my shoulder at all). Anyway just to give you an idea, the town is a picturesque scene of tudor style (and a bit of mock tudor, georgian etc), ‘I saw you coming’ shops, Range Rover sports, agas, labradors and more private schools than you can shake a lacrosse stick at. Its also very handy should you need to pop into ‘town’. (Posh people’s slang for London).

A lot of workforce from the Met live in this area so they can earn the big salaries plus the London weighting but can escape the bad streets and apartheid like education system at evenings and weekends.

My Mum and I had a mooch around the shops today. My 10 month old is already a dab hand at shopping and is quite happy pontificating over bracelets and matching handbags while strapped in his buggy sucking furiously on dummy. It had been a very unsatisfying shopping excursion due to the astronomical prices. I pick up a barely there bracelet £20. Those boots look nice (£110). Oh, well what about those? (£90) slightly better but not much. “Would you like to try those on?” I glance up and towering above me is a very tall, very slim and slightly scrawny, brunette version of Joanna Lumley with eyebrows plucked almost to oblivion and a Princess Diana accent. “No thanks I’m just browsing (or dreaming)”. My Mum and I scuttle off to another area of the shop keen to discover the sale rail. We admire  the cashmere jumpers instead and start caressing them wistfully. “They are lovely aren’t they?” says brunette Lumley “particularly with the lace trim, fantastic for layering” (like I could afford to buy something else to go with the top after spending £60 alone on a skimpy little sweater).  Thankfully my baby boy distracts her, “Oh isn’t he a dear little thing?” she coos.  I would love to know how these people justify such astronomical prices – what exactly is their mark-up? You can tell it is of better quality than Tescos but really? Even if I had the money I don’t think I could bring myself to spend the best part of a £1000 on a couple of tops and jeans. Its just obscene.

As we leave the shop we cross the road to the Cancer Research shop. As soon as we are through the door, my eyes alight upon 2 tops by Whistles, a skirt complete with tags from White Stuff and a couple of other tops and cardigans – my Mum kindly bought them for me, the total? £30. I could almost make out brunette Lumley uttering ‘cheap-skates’ under her breath as she saw us emerge from the shop with a bulging bag. But you have got to be a mug to spend a fortune on clothes. My recommendation? Take a journey to the nearest town where most toffs tend to congregate and then rifle through their cast-offs in the charity shops. Its a whole new boutique shopping experience. plus helps a few other people too in the process.

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Can children in care go on to become Olympians?

I was reading an article today on Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds. Her achievements are an inspiration and the article features quotes from her family and her teachers detailing her strength of character, her competitiveness and her determination. Her mother said that she was always like this from very young and her teacher said that she is the same with her schoolwork.

Paralympians overcome physical scars to achieve their goals. What about people who have deep-seated emotional scars from a childhood that was far from perfect? Children who were forced to be independent and lead their own lives in order to survive from a very young age. Children in care have inconsistent emotional support and most of them have attachment disorders (they are incapable of forming bonds with parental figures because of abuse suffered earlier in life). If you were born determined and competitive does this stay with you despite a crap mum and dad who can barely feed you, let alone support your personal ambitions?

I read a column by Guardian journalist Lucy Mangan the other weekend that touched on the inequality in standards of education. More specifically, the percentage of privately educated children that go on to Oxbridge and Russell group universities. She quite rightly argued that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to educational inequality. There are children born into a world of domestic violence and abuse. Many just don’t have their most basic needs met, such as a bed to sleep on, a meal every day, a book read and are left to fend for themselves until social services are called in. Having gone through the first four years of life existing in this way can you imagine what these children must go through when they start school for the first time? As Lucy put in her column, these children are exhausted before their education has just begun because they have been too busy trying to survive the hell that they have been born into. That is the real inequality. They haven’t even got a chance in the first place.

The Olympics and Paralympics aims to inspire a generation and I wonder about the generation growing up in the care system  who have been watching the games? They may have been battered by their circumstances but do they have the strength to pull through and realise their ambitions? I would be interested to know of any athletes who have made it despite their childhood experiences growing up in care. Can you be born determined and still achieve despite suffering from attachment disorder? Adoption UK has a really good online animation – The Wall – that explains how abuse and neglect in a child’s early years can cause attachment disorder and other psychological conditions. Strength of mind overcomes physical barriers but does it work vice versa?

I hope you enjoyed this blog. If so please donate £1 to Unicef – the whole reason for my daily blog to combat child poverty and neglect worldwide. I am still hunting my first donation – so if you do donate you will be the first and I will thank you in my next blog. (the money raised so far is through the fee I pay to Unicef for missed blog days).

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What age is the best?

What age is the best? Well debatable that 32 is that good. I can’t complain. I think I am just still young enough to behave a bit recklessly:  speed, get drunk occasionally, listen to Radio One. As a parent though I am trying to be the cool Mum, which in my view involves the following:

– avoiding wearing too many tunics (done all too deliberately to cover up the hip and bum post-natal problem areas)

– I try not to embarass my 6 year old going on 16 daughter (not very successful on this one)

– avoid conversation with pushy middle-class social climbing Mums (not hard)

– Make a point of talking to the group of Mums that are often classed by the snobs as ‘have nots’ (easy as am one of them because I live in an ex-council house who cares?)

– Avoid Boden, Joules and other brands of a similar ilk like the plague.

Its very crude I know and probably come out looking a complete twat but I don’t care.

My friend’s oldest is about to embark on a career with the Royal Marines and he has been told the training he faces will be ’15 months of hell’. To an ambitious young man that sounds too good to miss. To a 30 something male with a mortgage etc that’s Ok providing there is a fuckin big pay cheque at the end. Our priorities change as we get older and that makes us more boring. Just like  switching from Radio 1 to Radio 2.

When you are 6 it seems, by observing my daughter, that the world is your oyster and anything is possible. Six year olds also don’t have a social filter when talking. As I discovered when she told the owners of our holiday property exactly how fast Mummy was driving to catch the ferry. Oh and reading my Dad’s rude card out loud in the pub without hesitating to say the word ‘arse’ as I mentioned in the previous post. I am now starting to educate her on what is and isn’t appropriate to say –  which results in  a barrage of questions – “why can’t I say that you did 130 to catch the ferry mummy?” ….”because they don’t need to know that”…..”why not”…..”because Mummy shouldn’t have been doing that speed”….”I keep telling you Mummy that you go too fast”. At this rate my daughter’s best time in life will be when she is finally in a role of authoritaaaa either as a headmistress or a cop. I am just going to have to settle with going too fast at 30.

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