Archive for September, 2012

I Hate Autumn

I woke the other day and left for work with the morning looking suddenly far more dark and feeling suddenly far more cold that it had been. This is normally a sign that autumn’s on it’s way. I know. I’m a genius. Just call me Michael feckin’ Fish.

Another sure fire indicator of autumn is that the football season has begun and we have gone past ‘deadline day’. This farcical modern invention starts about a week before the actual time as football fans across England worry that either they won’t buy anyone or that they will sell their prized asset. The day itself makes me fume as team’s message boards are flooded with false rumours, the BBC site is flooded with comedy texts about seeing Lionel Messi on the M6 (who does these things?) and Jim White spends the night cutting away to gangs of prepubescents in Mackenzie sportswear who have nothing better to do than hang around their team’s training ground in the vague hope of getting on the telly. I could write about this particular sweet hell all day but I’d better get back on topic.

Autumn sucks big hairy infected rodent bollocks.

There are people, including friends of mine, who love autumn. Who long for a clear freezing morning admiring mist and reddy-brown leaves. Who like snuggling up in front of the fire with a bowl of stew when the first truly horrid rain storm comes in. Who ENJOY frost. I am not one of them. There are three reasons.

The first is that I commute by train and the very mist, frost, storms and reddy-brown leaves so beloved of others are the kind of thing to make the train service I use fuck up in the most inexplicable manner possible. It’s not a secret that autumn comes every year yet every year it is met with ever longer delays due to ‘adverse weather conditions’ and ‘poor rail conditions’. Every year the platform staff look more and more confused at what’s occurring and every year the commuters get wetter and colder and angrier. This year someone may spontaneously combust. It might be me.

Then there’s the fact that Boy is now at school and soon, one of his school mates will catch a cold. In a heated classroom full of 5 year olds with quite basic grasps of personal hygiene this means that his classmates will start getting the cold. One of the little buggers will give it to Boy, Boy will give it to me and I will be sick until April, going about my business breathing through half a nostril, coughing like Dave Allen and talking like Barry White. Fucking awesome. Yay me.

But worst of all, any day now, the Bastard Tree That Hates Me will start shedding its leaves on to my garden. Our garden backs on to a graveyard (sneer if you want but they’re bloody quiet neighbours and no-one’s suddenly going to build a tower block that overlooks our garden) and the tree is enormous and is the only thing that lives in the graveyard, save a couple of urban foxes. It’s sprawling branches provide much needed shade at the back of the garden in summer but in autumn they shed all over every bit of the lawn.

One tiny gust of wind can make the Bastard Tree That Hates Me cover every inch of the lawn in leaves to about the depth of the Olympic swimming pool. OK maybe not quite that deep but deep enough. Deeper than a deep pan pizza. Deeper than a Jethro Tull record. Deep. This will happen when I am away working and because the bastard trains will also have gone wrong and I will have man flu from hell I’ll arrive back wheezing in the pitch black and my wife will take pity and make me a drink and only half mention that THE ENITIRE LAWN IS THREE FEET DEEP IN FUCKING LEAVES AGAIN.

At the first weekend I will go out and rake them in to a pile. This is where I must thank my mother for buying Boy a boy sized rake as he comes out and “helps”, helping generally involving raking the leaves back on to the lawn that I had just piled up or jumping in to the pile. Want to know why Peppa Pig jumps in muddy puddles? Because Daddy Pig has told her that if she jumps in a freshly raked leaf pile he’ll turn her in to so many gammon joints. Eventually we have a pile but the fun is only just beginning. I now have to get them in bags and take them to the dump which has a three mile tailback emanating from it because every other male with a tree and garden is doing the same thing.

Eventually I will leave the dump and come home to find the Bastard Tree That Hates Me has newly covered the lawn in even more leaves. Reluctantly I will rake again but this time I will not be able to clear as the dump is now closed and so you will just pile. On Sunday I repeat the dump step. On Monday I go to work and the Bastard Tree That Hates Me will produce a 4 foot deep covering. Twice.

At this point you have lost the battle. By Saturday the garden resembles a brown crunchy mattress and I will chase the leaves hopelessly with the leaf blower I bought that has never quite worked. The pile I vaguely created will be left to bio-degrade. Next door’s children will be invited round for a leaf fight. I will down another Day Nurse and think about writing an angry letter to my M.P. before realising that would be totally insane and that I might as well eat stew and drink scotch and watch football till May and that the leaves are fine so long as they don’t actually get higher than the house.

The next day they will get higher than the house. Roll on summer.



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Why I Wouldn’t Send My Child To An Academy

I don’t know if there is a name for the practice in the UK but on the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, quite near Derry / Londonderry, there is a practice called ‘granny-ing’ whereby children  or families go and live with a relative in Northern Ireland to get a school there or in the Republic to get a school there when in fact their normal residence is the other country. This is quite extreme but I mention it because it has a name I know about. The not dissimilar practice in much of England does not have a name though so I’m going to give it one. I’m going to call it Corrupt Underhand Neighbourhood Tweaking. Or C.U.N.T. Snappy eh?

People who indulge in being a C.U.N.T. in England generally do so thus. They find out the local OFSTEAD outstanding schools then they find that they are outside the likely catchment area for these schools. Then they find out that little Milly and Josh aren’t quite in that area and so they do one of two things. Firstly they actually short term rent in the catchment area  until their application has been approved, at which time they move back, safe in the knowledge that not only will Milly now get in but Josh will too thanks to the sibling link. Those with less cash but just as much underhand corruptness simply pretend that they live at an address in the catchment area when really it’s a relative or friend, get their post redirected for a few months and hope they don’t get caught.

In such a way local schools become less local.  Community schools become less about community. Class barriers are maintained as property becomes prohibitively expensive close to outstanding schools in middle class areas and the middle class gentrify working class areas with outstanding schools.

A couple of years ago I would have said I would never indulge in the behaviour of a C.U.N.T. but that was before Michael Gove came along. Michael Gove loves Academies and my local secondary school has just become one. I do not want my children attending an Academy. Firstly they are, by and large ex-failing schools. At Infant and Junior level this is less of an issue but at Secondary level you are talking about complete breakdown among hormone laden teenagers, some the size of adults, some about to take exams that will map out the path of the rest of their life. Rebrand all you like but the same kids will largely be in the school even if it will have a new name, logo and teachers. It will have teachers right? Well yes. But not all of them will be qualified.

On 27 July 2012 the BBC Education Correspondent Angela Harrison reported that England’s new academy schools can hire unqualified teachers with immediate effect. Government officials were quoted in the piece as saying this would mean they could hire “great linguists, computer scientists and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before”.

Excuse me while I choke on my lunch.

Great linguists I would expect to be in Universities or abroad, researching and lecturing. Not teaching French in an Academy in the middle of Stoke’s roughest council estate. Great computer scientists I would expect to be earning hundreds of pounds a day contracting or working at Google where they can choose a bit of personal space, get gourmet food and work out all without leaving the office cum chill out area. Not teaching I.C.T. in an academy in the middle of Stoke’s roughest council estate. So let me correct that for you oh Government Official. You should have said “this will allow them to hire unqualified people very cheaply who know a bit about the subject matter but nothing about pastoral care or how to control a class of 16 year olds, some of who may be high and/or tooled up.”

Why cheap? Academies are not meant to be profit making. However they don’t need to. All they need to do is demonstrate that they can be run more cheaply than the local authority schools and those on the right believe that they have demonstrated that Acadamy good, LEA bad purely on the basis of cost. However, anything close to a normal education is going to be thrown away as a result. Think I’m paranoid? Here is a quote from the Aldridge Foundation’s website (The Aldridge Foundation run my local comprehensive).

“Each Academy has entrepreneurship as its lead specialism which is integrated into all areas of Academy life – focusing on the development of entrepreneurial attributes, rather than just enterprise skills. Our definition of the entrepreneurial mindset is one ‘which strives to take action, solve problems, and rejects the status quo’.  The attributes that we reward in students and prioritise in all our work are passion, creativity, teamwork, risk taking, determination, discipline, problem solving and vision. ”

In other words the kids are going to be taught how to sell stuff in an office environment. Never mind if you’re from an area with an Academy and you want to be a poet or an artist or a nurse or a policeman or a writer or a truck driver or any of the thousands of other professions out there that DON’T need entrepreneurial attributes. Risk taking? REALLY? Yeah cos that worked out well in the banking sector. There are jobs where risk taking is an absolute necessity but of the ones I listed above risk taking would be a pretty bad idea for a nurse or a truck driver. How much teamwork does an artist or writer really do? What the actual fark does “vision” have to do with understanding Shakespeare or “creativity” to do with translating French? “Michael Gove est merveilleux”. Yeah I just creatively translated that as Michael Gove is a total fuckstick.

How about a balanced curriculum where the kids can shine naturally at what they’re good at, with teachers that a trained to recognise this? What, really, is so bad with that? Are we THAT far away from that with LEA schools?

Furthermore they say their schools run in “areas of disadvantage, low aspiration and poor attainment” Now if you have ever been to a football match and been in the market for a ticket or one of those ridiculous half and half memorial scarves, if you have ever drunk in a dodgy pub or been to a rave or festival or bought from a car boot sale you will know that entrepreneurial skills are not lacking in ‘areas of disadvantage’. We are talking about people who have had to make ends meet for generations in ways which are not actually dissimilar to corporations or bankers, simply on a much smaller scale. Del Boy and Rodney were funny for a reason – because they were instantly recognisable characters. The removal of the possibility of extracting yourself from such a place by means of education, science and art is an absolute scandal and it is being got away with largely because the people it’s being perpetrated on don’t realise.

Of course there’s the chance that Labour will get in to power in 2015 and start repealing the Academy laws but I suspect this will end up with things no better. It will be back to new (but qualified) staff, new Governors, new curriculum. The only losers will be the kids.

Our plan is to get out of the current house way before we end up having to select the Academy as one of our choices, a choice that is only open to us in my current circumstances which is rather unfortunate as we are talking about 5 years time. There is no doubt though – none at all – that if all that fell through I would consider being a C.U.N.T. rather than taking the Academy place.

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Boy’s First Swimming Strokes

So I had a post lined up in my head which itself was unusual as I’ve been far too stupidly busy to even think about blogging lately. But something happened today that blew that idea away. A true first, one of those wonderful moments as a parent that I know I am never going to forget.

I have previously written about swimming here where I admitted that, yes, once again, my children were so spectacularly unalike that I suspected some kind of practical joke on behalf of whatever it is that makes DNA. Baby is half mermaid. I first dunked her at the age of 10 weeks and in the name of Craig Mackail-Smith the little nutter fucking loved it. Boy meanwhile would have the biggest meltdowns known to man if you just washed his hair. We got him swimming lessons almost to pay him back as much as anything else but they have just paid off. His swimming teacher got him to put his face in the water towards the end of last term. However today’s milestone owes itself squarely to three things; Sonic the Hedgehog, The Olympics and my giving up the Saturday blog game SatCap. To explain.

A while back he got ‘a go’ on my wife’s old DS and loved it so much she gave it to him. I have not been happy about this to be honest because he can get addicted to it if we are not careful but never mind. You cannot undo what has been done and we have been careful to try to limit game times and make sure he plays games that are educational. His favourite game though is ‘Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games’. It’s one of the ones he can do by himself and one of his favourite events is the swimming. When the real Olympics came on he was glued to it and particularly the swimming because they were swimming just like Sonic does in the game. He loved the Olympics, we all did (despite my misgivings about the commercial side the sporting side was wonderful) and has been utterly inspired. He runs, he jumps, he throws things (not always appropriate things) and, on our regular Saturday morning family swims he started to have pretend swimming races. This is why i have not Satcapped for a good while, because we have made sure both children get a swim with us every week and Saturday has, by and large, been the day.

This week however it had to wait till this afternoon. After a few weeks of pretending to be a cross between Michael Phelps and Sonic, only in armbands, today he asked us to take his armbands off. He was in his depth so we said yes then I challenged him to swim a few strokes and he only went and did it. Then he did it again. He got the biggest hug ever possible in a public swimming pool plus a very wet high five. By the end he’d done half a width of crawl come doggy-paddle.

I haven’t been so proud since I can remember. We are not talking a natural here. We’re talking someone who used to cry in the car on the way to the pool. Now he wants to go every day. Now he can almost swim. A parenting achievement is about to be unlocked but the work is all down to him, his swimming teacher, the Olympics and a cartoon hedgehog.

Sorry that this is not one of my more amusing posts or, for that matter, one of the longest but I’m too busy bursting with pride. What a day.

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