What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Scouting for Parents

My eldest just joined Cubs and she's the proud owner of a Naturalist Badge (or Naturist as she mistakenly called it, resulting in a very hasty chat over breakfast). There's nothing like sewing on Cub Badges to make you ponder your life as a parent and it occurred to me that I really ought to have earned some Parenting Badges by now.

Wouldn't it be great if all your hard work, sweat, tears and the odd bit of blood as a Parent actually got rewarded? If you could somehow pin your day's achievements to your sleeves? If you could give people a quick visual to prove that you don't just sit around watching daytime telly while your brain atrophies?

So, here are my suggestions for some Parenting badges, with syllabi...


1.  Be able to give an answer to the question "What animals live at the very bottom of the sea?" before 7am on any given day.

2. Prepare an answer to two of the following questions, to be delivered during the school run:
       a) What is underneath soil?
       b) How do traffic lights work?
       c) You know how people are gay? Well, why does that bus say    "get over it"?
       d) Can we go to Disney?
       e) How many teeth do you have?
       f) Why wouldn't people let Rosa Parks sit wherever she wanted on the bus?
       g) Are baked beans one of my 5 a day?

3.  Answer a series of questions, including at least three "Why?" questions without resorting to the following: because I said so, it just does, shhh Mummy needs to concentrate on the road, I don't know, I really don't know if I did know I would say so, ask your father/mother/look it up in a dictionary.

4. Be prepared to answer any of the following sensitive questions asked at high volume in awkward circumstances:
     a) Why does that man look like that?
     b) Do all old people die? 
     c) What is The Big Issue?
     d) Is there a baby in that lady's tummy?
     e) You know sex? How long does it take?


1. Choose one of the following vegetables and demonstrate how you would hide them in food:
     a) carrot
     b) broccoli
     c) peas

2. Provide a packed lunch for one year without ever including crisps, chocolate, sweets or Capri Sun making sure you stay within the school's Healthy School Policy (Note: Healthy School Policy does not apply to revenue raising events run by the school, such as discos)

3. Cater for a child's birthday party including three of the following foods:
     a) Sandwiches that won't be eaten
     b) Pizza without any discernible topping
     c) Sticks of cucumber and carrot to display prominently when other parents check your food out for healthiness
     d) Orange coloured crisps
     e) Cake
     f) More cake
     g) A birthday cake in the shape of a cartoon character/animal/musical instrument/tweeny pop idol
     h) Fruit for the one kid who isn't allowed to eat any sugar until he's 18.

4. Prepare a selection of cakes for the fundraising cake sale using one of the following methods:
     a) Lovingly baking a batch of cupcakes to avoid the cake walk of shame past other parents
     b) Buying shop cakes, removing the packaging and doctoring them carefully so they look homemade. 
     c) Buying a load of Mr Kipling's finest and giving everyone a look that dares them to comment.

5. Demonstrate how you would deal calmly and sensibly with two of the following:
     a) The friend of your child who is a Fussy Eater
     b) The words "I don't like that" after 3 hours of cooking
     c) the baby's patented method of scraping unwanted food out of his mouth onto the floor
     c) vomit


1. For a period of one half term:
     a) Ensure full school uniform is clean on Monday morning without having to dry any of it with a hairdryer
     b) Arrive at school without having to sign the Book of Shame for late arrivals
     c) Provide a coat if wet, gloves if cold, tracksuit if cold and doing PE, hat if sunny, sunblock if very sunny, all appropriate footwear.
     d) Keep wallet/purse fully stocked for non-uniform day money, cake sale money, veg sale money, book sale money, school photo money, "Wear a picture of your dog to school day" money.

2. Complete and return a Sponsorship form with the correct money and without making up all the names on it and just writing a cheque.

3. Prepare a suitable costume for one of the following events:
     a) World Book Day
     b) Comic Relief Day
     c) Multicultural Tokenism Day

4. Take the baby for a day out without having to borrow a nappy from a stranger or coming home with      the baby wearing a muslin sarong because all other clothes are covered in something disgusting.
    Prepare a child for their first day at school by naming everything they own in 4 separate places and enjoying their last nit-free days.
    Take two or more children to a Family Wedding, ensuring that everyone arrives on time and no-one    is covered in banana.

5. Without traumatising your child, perform two of the following parental duties:
     a) Write a letter from the Tooth Fairy, and place successfully after drinking a bottle of wine
     b) Take the family pet to be neutered
     c) Remember to leave Santa's empty mince pie plate for the morning after drinking a lot of sherry
     d) Visit a Farm, avoiding questions about what happens to the animals.

There are, of course, badges to commemorate each year in Parenting. They are as follows:

Year 1 - Coffee Lover
Year 2 - Wine Lover
Year 3 - Gin Lover
Year 4 - Whatever gets you through the day
Year 5 and so forth - Whatever.

Well done, Parents everywhere! Dib dib.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Adventures in breastfeeding

There comes a time after the birth of every baby when the lure of a morning on the sofa with Phil and Holly begins to lessen. Son of Bird is one month old today, and that time has come.

With the need to Go Out comes the need to feed. I'm breastfeeding, and SonofBird's two hourly schedule means that either I stay at home, always, or I feed in public.

This is my third time round with the old hide-the-nipple-from-Jo-Public malarkey, and you'd think it'd be no big deal. But breastfeeding isn't like riding a bike. In oh so many ways, but in this instance I mean that it takes a bit of getting used to. Feeding in public initially takes a bit of brass neck and stiff upper lip (as well as toughening up in other key areas of anatomy). It's daunting. To be perfectly honest, I am anxious about encountering a hostile stranger.

I know that soon it won't bother me, and in terms of putting areas of breast on display then Jo Public will just have to suck it up. So to speak.  I'm proud of my breastfeeding credentials. I've fed on trains, in classy restaurants, on the lawn in front of Sandhurst military college, and even (gulp) at my Mother in Law's house. I know I can get the job done discreetly and efficiently, with no casualties; something that I'm sure Sandhurst would have been proud to support, had they realized what I was doing.

I like breastfeeding, and after a couple of months when it's become a comfortable routine, I love it. (I know that breastfeeding just doesn't work for some women. However, it is right for me because I'm essentially very, very lazy and the thought of having to leave the bed at 2am to fill a bottle or to have to sterilise everything before every feed makes me groan half-heartedly... because I'm lazy, d'you see?) I think breastfeeding is important, and I'm glad that I can do it. I do wish though that it was more accepted as normal, positive, and brilliant in this country so you didn't feel uncomfortable when you do it in public. I've never felt like a freak, it's not that bad, but I do often feel like a bit of a show off, wondering if people think I'm only doing it to get attention. I feel more exposed mentally than I do physically. It leaves me seeking "safe" places.

There are some lovely safe places to feed, top of the list being John Lewis coffee shop. Aaah, lovely middle class John Lewis: a haven for all parents of children who know their fairtrade guava juice from their cherryade, but also a great place to sit undisturbed and feed your baby. In fact, most coffee shops are good for feeding. Breastfeeding can be heavy on the pocket as well as the bra if, when feeding time arrives, you make straight for the nearest decaff skinny latte and hunker down in a corner where people will discreetly ignore you, going to painful efforts not to be looking in your direction in any way at all. I use them despite the expense because I feel secure behind my coffee. And because of the muffins.

Imagine my alarm then to see the Starbucks refit in town today. Gone are the discreet little booths and benches, gone are the screened off areas. The whole shop is open to the elements and the view of all passers by. Plus, there is an excessive use of hard wooden stools rather than comfy chairs. And the stools are teeny, such as you could barely fit a thigh on. No good for the beginner breastfeeder. Oh well, I thought. I don't need coffee, I can find somewhere to feed that doesn't involve buying cake. This is how I found myself using the Marks and Spencers "Mothers' Room".

Oh, the horror. It was clearly designed by someone who got so far over their Oedipus complex that they set out to make life hideous for all mothers. It looked like the worse class of urinal and smelt of dubious surgical procedures, a smell backed up by the presence of one of those rolls of paper towel that you find on doctors' couches.  There were four bins. I only mention this because they outnumbered windows by 4. The room was tiled in three shades of vile green, from bacterial infection to 1950s institution. Here is a picture. Oh yes.

If you sat still, the lights went off. It must have been designed for women who like to do laps whilst they breastfeed. Depressing doesn't even begin to cover it. I think if you were having one of those vulnerable weepy days that come with the new baby territory, it would set you off a treat. But it's ok, you could wipe up your sea of tears with the surgical paper towel. There were two chairs, but I locked the door anyway, because the thought of having to share the experience with a stranger compared unfavourably with Beckett's Endgame for laughs and jollies.

It was also hotter than the sun, and I kept imagining SonofBird dehydrating at precisely the same rate as he was feeding, thereby ensuring I would never, ever leave the room. Again, enough to bring on the tears.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad some shops provide places for you to feed. I just don't think they should be cupboards that would make Room 101 feel a bit inadequate or sap 30 minutes of joy from your life at a time when your reserves are low. Next time I want a quiet spot to feed, I will sit in a corner of the cafe, without an expensive coffee, and if anyone asks me what I'm doing I shall say "I'm waiting for a kind stranger to buy me tea and a bun."

Soon I won't need Mothers' Rooms, I'll have got my priorities straight, toughened up, and may even be wandering the shops with SonofBird on one boob, and a devil-may-care look in my eye. In the meantime, should you see a feeding mother who might be me tucked in a corner somewhere, feel free to buy her a cup of tea and a bun. It's always good to be a kind stranger.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The myth of the brilliant teacher

So, who was *that* teacher for you? You know, the one who inspired you, who set you on your life’s path and made a difference?

It’s ok. You don’t have to answer that; please put your hands down. I only ask because it’s a question that surfaces a lot in teaching circles. The TES loves to ask a sleb who inspired them and it’s something we teachers are fascinated by. Maybe a little bit of us dreams of being mentioned by a Nobel Prize winner, “And I never would have even considered going into particle physics if it wasn’t for Miss Bird. Without her, there would be no Grand Unified Theory of Everything on a Shoestring.”

I think though it’s perfectly ok not to remember a teacher in that way. I’ve several memorable teachers. They were fascinating and funny and made learning a good experience. I’m not sure any of them changed my life and I wouldn’t list them in Facebook under “Inspirations”, that spot is saved for Thor Heyerdal (if only I didn’t get seasick) and Bagpuss (all-round zen-like guru).

So, where can we look for inspirational teachers?

Teachers are a tough crowd, it’s not easy to impress them, as a whole. I think many of us watch the Teaching Awards with a slightly derisive sniff and a large glass of wine thinking, “But that’s not special - I know loads of teachers like that!” And we do. We know lots of good teachers, but inspirational? That’s hard to find. Jamie Oliver struggled to find people who could teach his “Dream School” in an inspiring way, and he was looking amongst great minds and talents of our time. And Rolf Harris. I love Rolf.

Maybe there was a golden age of teaching past when teachers were good and wise? Ah, the Socratic method, the community of enquiry. Yes, that’s a lovely dream of teaching. But, and be honest now, how many of us got into teaching so we could be just like Socrates ( and I am pronouncing that as in Bill & Ted, by the way)?
Who are the famous teachers? Famous great teachers? I’m looking to the world of fiction. Classic novels are full of incredible teachers, men and women providing a pivotal point in the story of their society: Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Bhaer, Mr Chips. Hollywood loves a tragically heroic teacher: see Dead Poet’s Society, and MonaLisa Smile for the girls version, Dangerous Minds and, um, School of Rock. Look, I didn’t say they were good films.  We also love fictional mentors: Mr Miyagi, Merlin and, of course, Yoda. Children’s fiction obviously features an abundance of school stories. I loved Malory Towers and my daughter loves its contemporary equivalent, Glitterwings Academy (It’s a boarding school for fairies. Don’t ask). Children’s authors such as Roald Dahl and JK Rowling create legendary teachers, who invest their whole being in their charges and through their nurturing relationship with the child not only do they release the child’s potential but they defeat a greater evil: Miss Honey and Matilda, Dumbledore and Harry.

All marvellous teachers. All fictional. So is the legend of the inspirational teacher really a fairytale? I don't think so, I think it's a myth. If, that is, we take myth in its truest meaning.

A myth is not a groundless fiction, it’s not a fairy tale; it has roots. In many cultures, a myth is a teaching story. We learn something from the trials of the characters, their adventures serve to show us how to act, how to think. All world religions have their teaching myths. In Australia, many aboriginal teaching myths are based around the visible landscape so the whole world becomes a reminder of our Learning Intentions. Look at those three rock pillars, the Three Sisters: they were turned to stone for throwing rocks down onto the Bunyip’s lake. What Are We Learning Today? Don’t throw rocks over the edge of cliffs, silly, it’s dangerous.

Some theories of myth suggest that it should be seen as a model for action, what Karen Armstrong refers to as a “call to arms”.
So the myth of the brilliant teacher is our call to action. It reminds us of who we want to be, of everything we should be. The stories of inspirational teachers, whether they come from the fevered minds of Hollywood or our own cobbled together childhood memories, lodge in our minds as a constant reminder of what teaching is about. We should be striving to be that wonderful, inspirational, illuminating person who turns classrooms into new worlds with a Mary Poppins click of our fingers.

Another role of the myth is to provide access to the divine, the fantastical, to provide a sense of awe and wonder. There is no-one so open to a sense of wonder as a 5 year old child. You can tell them we’re going to do something very exciting....... tidying up the home corner! and they will believe you and get excited. We can all be wonderful, as least to children.

It’s good to have a glimpse of teacher perfection nagging at us, not just because it make us better teachers, but because it is a view of a more exciting life, one that isn’t bogged down with APP and endless paperwork. Sometimes, we should all pretend to be the maverick teacher from stories, who laughs in the face of authority and takes the students to sing in the park instead of writing up their reports. Fake it till you make it.

I think it’s ok to secretly be a little bit inspired by fictional teachers, or wish you had a nomination at the Teaching Awards, or to imagine shaking hands with an ex-pupil as they show you round their new pad at No 10 Downing Street. It’s ok to grab a metre rule and do your best “Fame costs...” speech when no-one’s looking or slip Yoda-isms into your PSHE lessons or even call your student "grasshopper".

The myth of the inspirational teacher keeps us looking at the stars from Gove’s gutter. We need it more than ever.

And while we’re sharing, what’s my favourite teacher myth? It’s Sean Connery in the Untouchables (accent not withstanding) educating the naive Elliot Ness in the Chicago Way. Here endeth the lesson.

Monday, 2 January 2012

In real life...

In memory of @littlemunchkin

One of the things that makes me itchy on twitter is when people say it’s not real. It’s only twitter. It’s not real.

It makes me uncomfortable because that’s one step away from saying all the people on there aren’t real. And if people aren’t real to us then we can treat them how we like, can’t we? It doesn’t matter. It’s not real.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that reality is subjective. I can cheerfully spend days inside my own head, planning a post-apocalyptic commune or practising my oscar acceptance speech. Soap Stars who have their character name yelled at them know about the flexible borders of reality, so do kids who spend hours being a dinosaur or a rice pop. Or is it just my kids? Twitter can let you head off into realms of glorious nonsense too, re-writing Waterloo Road or discussing the merits of a poached pear (none). But the people you talk all this crap to are real.

Each tweet is a beautiful little glimpse into their mind. Each dinner announcement, each gripe about colleagues, each cleverly crafted gag or weepy moment comes from a real person doing real things in their real life. But we forget this easily.

It comes home to us sometimes. When we meet a twitterer and discover they’re just the same off screen, but in 3 dimensions, possibly more
, and they talk in longer bursts. Or, as happened to many of us this week, when we lose someone.

This week Lucy, who we all knew as @littlemunchkin, died. And it was a bloody horrible shock. It feels odd to talk about the loss in twitter terms, but that doesn’t make it less real. You realise that you’ll never see that person crop up in your timeline again, you’ll never laugh at their
tweet or chat about trivial stuff. And that produces grief that is real.

I never knew Lucy outside of twitter, but I knew her there for nearly three years. She was warm, caring, hugely positive and funny. After talking with her, you felt better about the world. She often said she wanted to be a teacher, and a few tweets later I would go away believing that my job teaching was as rewarding as she said it was. She made people happier.

Lucy was the first person I talked to on twitter. I found her through a RT of Neil Gaiman’s. She had sent him a link to Pimp That Snack. It was a photo of a giant custard cream. How can you not like someone who tweets pictures of humungous biscuits? I followed her instantly and plucked up the courage to chat. A few days later, my class at school were having a ball making giant fruit pastilles, thanks to my inspiration from Lucy. 

Over the next couple of years, Lucy was an enthusiastic supporter of my unusual cooking ventures, like the cream egg baked in a cake. She was a keen cook herself, sharing her own experimental recipes on her blog. Had I had a less warm introduction to twitter, I might have missed out on a lot. Her tweets were so enthusiastic and vital that, despite knowing how long she had been ill, it didn’t seem possible that her illness would win. I didn’t see the signs in her last few tweets, I found the news hard to believe.

What do you do with twitter loss? Well, firstly you accept it’s real. As real as the person you won’t be seeing around any more. As real as an illness like anorexia that not enough people take seriously.  Then you grieve. In real life.

So let’s not say twitter isn’t real. Because that belittles all the wonderful people on there who you share space with, who let you into their worlds for a bit, and with people like Lucy, that’s a real privilege.

Twitter is fun, it’s silly and it’s not usually 100% located in reality. But the people on there are real people, and you can really lose them. And it’s really sad. So let’s not take these little interactions with real people for granted or dismiss them, especially when they’re as lovely as @littlemunchkin.

It seemed appropriate to me to donate to b-eat, a charity Lucy supported.