Posts Tagged parenting

The Teacher’s Strike is not Black and White

Today Boy’s school is closed due to a strike. Having written about my concerns over his education (and my growing opinion that Michael Gove is an imperious cockwomble) you would perhaps expect me to be in full support of the walk out. But it’s not quite that simple.

Firstly his school seems to be ever more at odds between what they say to parents and what they do. A stream of letters arrived last school year urging parents to make every effort to get their child to school whenever they could. “Even missing one day can have an adverse effect on their education” we were told. The head teacher was even in the local paper saying that she would be requiring a letter from parents’ employers if they requested holiday time in term , to prove that was the only time off they could get.

This was rather unfortunate as the school’s reopening was delayed by over a week due to the building work needed to turn it from an Infants to an all-through Primary. A week of “inset days”. Now they are just beginning to settle in to the new routine and they suddenly have another extra day off. If you believed last year’s letters home this will be an absolute disaster for them. They’ll probably forget how to count or something. Or maybe parents are just expected to take education more seriously than, say, building contractors employed on school projects. Or teaching unions.

Obviously, education apart, the strike means parents (including us) suddenly have to change our plans to provide child care. As an employee on a regular salary at least I’m not losing any money myself but this won’t be the case for all the parents. The school is in what is euphemistically known as ‘an up and coming area’ and many parents will lose a day’s pay or have to spend today’s money on childminding. Some of these will be earning considerably less than a teacher. So is it fair to economically and educationally inconvenience parents in a deprived area to protect a middle class salary and final salary pension?

You may find this surprising given what I’ve written about Gove in the past but if the strike was just about pay and pensions then teachers would not have my support at all. Working, as I do, in the private sector then pay freezes (or even reductions) are common place. At the lower end of the sector zero hours contracts have become more and more enforced. At the upper end it is now impossible to get a final salary pension. The company ones based on fund value have been devastated both by Gordon Brown’s tax changes and a volatile equities market. While pound cost averaging  will help the long term prospects of pension funds there is no guarantee at all that a future government of any colour will not further raid the tax concessions offered by a proper pension. If they do we won’t be able to strike.

I know. I sound like a Tory. It’s actually quite liberating.

But here’s the flip side. Firstly there is another issue being raised by the strike, that of workload. I know several teachers and trust me, it is not the 8-4 job with enormous holidays that some people like to paint it. There are lesson plans, marking, inset days, parent’s evenings to be done. Again comparing my hours to a teachers there was actually very little difference. Since the pay issue being raised is that performance related pay will be introduced then it’s not hard to forsee a situation where teachers have to work even longer hours just to keep their salary the same in real terms.

Which begs the question is teaching a career or a vocation? Strike action, for me, should be a last resort. There is no doubt that the miners in the eighties, while led by the truly hideous Arthur Scargill, were facing not a pay cut but the devastation of the industry and their communities. I’m not suggesting that we will suddenly see mass school closures and long term graduate unemployment, but what if teaching becomes so unattractive that young people no longer want to become teachers? A shortage of newly qualified teachers, particularly in the many areas where there is already a shortage of school places would be disastrous.

Already the government have allowed Academies to employ unqualified teachers. My strong suspicion is that this is a way to save money and put bums on seats. If the teaching unions genuinely believe that the new conditions will stop teaching becoming a career choice then the strike becomes far more justified.

Is it a just strike? I can’t decide. But just in case, how about we just have a national “Michael Gove is an Imperious Cockwomble” day instead? That should be fairly memorable when it comes to the 2015 election.


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The Problem with Teaching Children about Africa

I want you to use your imagination and conjure up a picture in your mind for me.

By 2050 there may well be 9 billion people on the planet. The climate may well have warmed making crops harder to grow. And children will go hungry. Very hungry. The poorest of them first. I want you to imagine that poor, hungry child. But not because this is a rant about environmentalism or a counter rant denying global warming. I’m just interested in what you thought the child looked like. Where they were.

Was it “Africa”? Dark skinned, rural, tribal? A mud hut in the background?  It was for me the first time I read the nine billion people stat and yet nowhere did the article mention Africa. It was just the first thing I imagined.

Will global warming be kinder to poor children in India’s untouchable castes? The Phillipines typhoon belt? Central American former warzones? Rural Laos? I doubt it.

Yet the reason I even reconsidered the image in my head, thought about it more, made all twenty of you do a bit of imagining, was a question from the Boy.

“Why don’t they have any electricity in Africa?”

Luckily he asked my wife who started giving a simple answer in six year old terms about relative poverty and not having power stations. And probably some other stuff. By this point I’d tuned out and my brain was doing the sorts of somersaults that usually result in my having to leave somewhere hastily having completely insulted the wrong person. What I wanted to say was “of course they’ve got fucking electricity in Africa”. Only without the expletive.

I often think we identify with the victims of an atrocity if they are like us or close by geographically. That’s not to say we don’t empathise with other victims. Merely that if we can imagine what someone was doing at the time of a terrorist incident it becomes more real to us. The terrible events in Nairobi were shocking because people were randomly killed, men, women, children and foetuses. But as stories and pictures emerged they were not of a Nairobi many had considered. This was no crime and hunger ridden shanty town. Here were TV presenters and poets, people shopping for a special gift for a loved one. A children’s cooking event was going on. It seemed far closer to home as each report hit. The place must have had electricity.

The same goes for the hotel in Cape Town that Anni Dewani left on the fateful night of her death. Or the tourist information offices in Egypt that service the divers of Sharm-El-Sheikh and the pyramid junkies. Or the Souks in Morocco or the bank and IT offices in Namibia or my mum’s favourite restaurant in Senegal.

I’ve chosen these places because they are so different. Or at least I assume they are. I haven’t been. Friends and family have and I’ve read about them and seen documentaries and travel programmes but I’ve not been. Perhaps when it comes down to it they are all exactly the same but somehow I doubt it. Africa is a continent full of VERY DIFFERENT countries damn it. And yet, from the school room to the all night fundraiser we lump them all together as one entity. Poor Africa. No electricity you know.

Wikipedia says there are over 2100 languages in Africa or at least it does today. That’s the first result that comes back when you type in ‘how many languages are there’ in to Google. Google completes the search for you to ‘how many languages are there in Africa’? No one is that bothered about how many there are in Asia or Europe. Even in wanting to know about the diversity of a continent we are lumping it all together in one giant google.

Of course this is too complicated to explain to a six year old. But not even challenging the question? Isn’t that wrong? Where has he got this from? He didn’t ask IF they had electricity. He asked WHY the whole continent didn’t. He already “knows” they don’t. Who told him? One of his friends? The teacher? Is this why people home ed? Will my brain PLEASE stop doing somersaults?

In the end I managed to add to OHs explanations of relative poverty and power supplies by saying that not all Africans had no electricity and indeed that some Africans were actually quite well off while others lived in cities a bit like us and him. Yet there were certainly people there who were terribly poor. I’m not sure it helped.

On a macro level, surely understanding the world’s diversity and culture in full can only help prevent other atrocities and can only help deal with inevitable floods and famines in the best possible way for the specific people involved, rather than treating them as one giant, homogonous super country. On a micro level I have been wholly inadequate in explaining this to an impressionable six year old mind. Just admitting I tried seems arrogant.

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Things I learned on my recent holiday

1 – Gatwick Airport is a terrible first / last impression of England….

I normally change trains at Gatwick in the morning rush hour to get to work. I have always been staggered that there were no luggage trolleys provided on the station platform. Of course if you got your bags on a train you should be able to get them to check in without a trolley but this frequently involves angry looking parents dragging an angry looking child or two and a  couple of wheely suitcases in to the ankles of anyone who passes within a 5 yard radius of them. Trolleys on the platform would be easier I have often thought. Mostly as I have iced my ankles having used at least three varieties of anti-wheely swear words on twitter.

What I didn’t realise was that to get one anywhere – including arrivals – you have to deposit a pound coin in to a key release device. This you will get back only when you connect your trolley to another having taken your luggage off again. I have never seen this in any other airport in the world. Not Chennai where there are an army of free unofficial porters. Or in otherwise rapacious Hong Kong. Certainly not in Alicante where we landed. There we were waved through by passport control in a flash and there were an absolute stack of free to use trolleys.

So when you get your currency changed to go away(and do you these days or do you just use your cards) do you ask for 151 Euros for example? “We only do notes” the bank official will tell you. “That’s a shame” you reply. “I might need an odd Euro coin to operate some of the basic things one should expect in an arrivals hall”. Yet that is the reality in Gatwick. No correct UK coinage? No trolley for you Johnny Foreigner.

Add this to the train guards who feed upon any foreigner who can’t work the rail barriers and treat the airport as a sort of penalty fare open goal and the better but still, frankly, unacceptable security queues and Gatwick gives the first impression of the English as miserable, penny pinching rule enforcers.

2- A little language goes a long way………..

So we went to Spain. I speak O Level French, taxi / kitchen Mandarin Chinese and a few words of Italian and Japanese. The first due to school and the others to various work placements. I do not speak a single word of Spanish bar “Ola” and “Gracias”. I can’t even remember the basic stuff from Dora the Explorer because whenever Dora the Explorer comes on I am too busy pointing my fingers at the screen like a gun and screaming in my head “die horribly you whiny annoying uber positive arsehole”. It’s a good job my kids can’t hear my head. They love Dora.

So we go for tapas one day and I start ordering in English that has become pigeon from the English section of the menu. The waitress is perfectly nice but I’m sure in her head she’s thinking “here we go, another one straight off the plane that can’t speak a word. Whatever he orders I’m going to give him a well done burger and a fried egg.”

And then an old lady sits down on her own at the one table that was reserved. The owner comes out and makes a fuss of her and they start a conversation about what’s good today in French. My ears prick up. Owner disappears and she starts winking at Whirlwind who is in a cute – or at least less destructive – phase. “Etes vous Francais?” I enquire. She’s from Luxembourg but has an apartment in the town where we are staying. She is also a special customer of the restaurant. We have a conversation in basic French, quite possibly grammatically incorrect on my part. The owner and waitress have been watching and their demeanour changes. The food is delivered with a flourish and a ‘merci”. And then……………….

3 – The Boy can count to 8 in perfect Spanish…..

….Boy starts counting the dishes in Spanish. With an accent and everything. He can get to 8. I had no idea he could do this. Bloody Dora. By now we are a step away from special customers ourselves.

4 – Rich Eastern European Dads are a bit different………..

One afternoon I am playing a game with the kids in the pool. We have a li-lo. I am lifting them on to it and then tipping them off again. Each time this nearly gives me a hernia but I do it because they love it. It was Boy’s favourite thing about the holiday. Being tipped in to a cold pool from a pink li-lo. Nutter.

Suddenly a family arrive and start talking in Russian. The man is mid thirties and muscular in a Putin-ish kind of way. His wife is stick thin and bottle-blonde and his two daughters, who I would estimate at about 7 and 10 are stick thin and sun-blonde. They are watching us with suspicion. The older daughter goes and gets a rubber ring. Then she ties some string to it, long enough to pull it. By now my kids are tired and we get out and nod at the other family. When I dry them off I hear a shriek of excitement from one of the girls. Her father is in the pool lying in the rubber ring. She is pulling him round by walking round the outside of the pool and using the string. He must weigh at least 14 stone and it is 32 degrees in the shade.

5- The real colour of Spain is Orange

Eventually you will find that everything in Spain that isn’t an English caff or a pub called the Red Lion is coated in paprika or filled with paprika. Our meat is marinated in it. Our roast vegetables taste better with it. Our washing up water bubbles slowly turn orange in each wash. We have brought back several different types of paprika including ‘bitter sweet’ which I am going to have to guess will go in some sort of pasta and chicken dish. By the time we have got through the paprika I will be the colour of Katie Price and I might be able to get a job on TOWIE.

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My Parenting Prejudices 2. Food Spitting…..

Perhaps the weirdest weaning method I have ever come across is that used by American actor, vegan and (IMO) nut-job Alicia Silverstone. Admittedly being a nut-job seems to be a prerequisite for Hollywood actors who, if they’re not members of cults seem instead to be intent on frying their brains on alcohol and drugs or joining food groups like the raw food movement (no Woody Harrelson, just because you were in a couple of movies does not give you the right to instruct us all to forage for nuts and berries for the rest of our life).

In March 2012 Silverstone was reported to have posted a You Tube video and blog in which she is seen chewing her food and then spitting it in to the waiting mouth of her baby Bear Blu, a la mama bird. This I’m against, mainly because it sounds disgusting. Food spitting is a parenting prejudice I am happy to admit to.

But how did it come about? In fact she got the idea from her lesser known but just as rich and mad sister Mavis and her son Rodney Bear Blu though their video was never posted. Luckily I had an exclusive peek and have transcribed it for you below………..

Mavis Silverstone: Ok then Bear, er I mean Rodney, Mommy’s going to make you a yummy feast!

Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) You sure? That looks like you’re making more of that collards drizzled with flax oil.

Mavis Silverstone: YEAH BABY!! Here we are. Miso soup, collards and radish with flax oil and grated daikon

Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) Oh for fucks sake. No cheeseburger then.

Mavis Silverstone: Open wiiiide! *chews furiously* Here we go! *spits in to baby’s mouth*

Rodney Bear Blu: *gags* *pukes*

Mavis Silverstone: Oh my poor wickle baby!! Are you sick honey? You want me to chew you up more daikon? It’s very healing.

Rodney Bear Blu: No it isn’t! It’s fucking minging! You know the only thing worse than pre-chewed grated daikon? Fucking pre-sucked miso soup! You know that by the time it gets to me it just tastes of saliva right? YOUR saliva? You want that I should just cut out the middle man next time and just suck your tongue?

Mavis Silverstone: Oh…baby you can talk….and you sound a bit like a British football hooligan. How did that happen?

Rodney Bear Blu: Never mind that you sappy hippy bitch. Listen up. Stop with the pre-chewed food nonsense. I’m a baby human not a baby bird. Just get me some regular food, cut it up and give it to me on a plate so that I can tip it all over the floor like any normal baby. And also some meat would be nice. In fact anything that wasn’t drizzled in flax oil would be nice. But meat please, once a week. And since I know how much that daikon costs you, you can make it wagyu beef – cooked sous vide.

Mavis Silverstone: But honey, just like my better known sister I’m a vegan!

Rodney Bear Blu: Oh yeah! Of course you are. So you definitely wouldn’t want anyone going to the newspapers about your secret sausage collection would you.

Mavis Silverstone: Actually they’d probably be more interested in how you can talk like that at 10 months old but I take your point. Wagyu beef it is. Unchewed.

*stalks off to make herself some dandelion tea*

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Home Schooling – Guest Post by @eddsnotdead

Last year I started a writing project that has now totally changed direction. However, part of the original was the below. I had been musing on the difficulty of finding good, local school places and had wondered about alternatives. One of these was home schooling. I knew nothing about it other than I had some prejudices that I felt needed challenging. Luckily, one of my favourite tweeps, Edd from @eddsnotdead home schools and also writes intelligently and humanely. I sent him some questions, wanting my ignorance challenged and he certainly came through.

I thought the least I could do was reproduce it here which Edd was happy for me to do. My questions are in bold and his answers in regular font.

You can read more of Edd at


Why did you first decide to home school? Was it something you always intended on or did something happen to make your mind up?

It was a joint decision (as all our decisions are) but my wife was the driving force behind it. I had reservations as to how effective we could be at meeting the education level I felt the kids needed to be at and I voiced them. She showed me websites, gave me print outs and in time convinced me that it was an option. Once I considered it a possibility it came down to the question of should we?

Well, my wife is a smart lady, qualified to degree level in research and Library studies and has vocational teaching experience to back that up. I looked at that and I knew she could get the job done, but should we remove them from school and the ‘normal’ environment for one that’s certainly sitting in the ‘alternative’ section of society?

She had always wanted to have a go at teaching our own kids, wasn’t overly happy with the official provision being offered and didn’t like where some of the current teaching trends were heading. She wanted to make it work and so we agreed to review it in a year’s time and see what happened.

We’re still going five years later and though it’s not getting significantly easier it is something that is beneficial to our family and the development of our children.

Is there a typical day? Or is that the point?

There is a certain amount of work that needs to be done a day. Diaries, handwriting practice, mathematics, English, reading and work recognition. It depends on the child as to how much they have to do and at what level.

Once the small amount of basic ‘table time’ is completed we have a more fluid approach. Obviously we need to get out and about to the park or Library, sports clubs and various tutors we sometimes use for the older children but that’s all the standard stuff really. The exciting things we find ourselves doing like getting involved in filming projects, visiting places that are quite when everyone else is at school and following personal projects and interests make the day’s fun, unpredictable and exciting.

How are you monitored?

The local education authority has a representative that is sent out once a year to check on us and make sure we haven’t eaten any of the kids. I think it’s fair to say that some people are very wary of these visits and see them as an intrusion by the very authority they have escaped from; we see them as an ally.

A month before the visit we try to send the L.E.A a document that details everything that we’ve been up to, what the kids are reaching for, how they are developing and whether we have any concerns or questions. Each child has a dedicated section and our aspirations for the child and the coming year’s education is detailed there-in. The document is over sixty pages long normally and we try to make sure it gives a fair, honest and clear picture as to where we stand since last we saw the L.E.A and where we hope to be by the time the next visit is due.

The document helps to cut away any time the L.E.A representative would waste asking us about what we do so giving them more time to talk to the kids, the people they are really there to see! In the five years we have been going we’ve always gotten on with the rep, found them to be open and helpful and welcomed them in with open arms. We tell the kids they don’t have to show the person their work if they don’t want to but to be honest we find they do want to share and interact with the strange adult that we have sitting at the table.

I gather that some L.E.A representatives are not as open and as relaxed as the ones in our area and I have read some stories of nice people being made to feel like criminals for taking an extra interest in their kids by pushy, judgmental officials. In our corner of the country I have been struck by how genuine, open and supportive the reps have been.

Do you need any qualifications to home school?

Anyone can home-school if they want to. You don’t need to be a mad scientist or rich ex civil servant to do what we do; you just have to want and need to put the work in. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not fun and almost certainly there are days when it’s not rewarding, but hopefully those days are fewer than the fun ones.

If you have a thirst for knowledge, are enthusiastic about learning and are willing to read up on not just the subjects but on various techniques (both main stream and alternative) of teaching then I think you have a good chance of seeing results.

I’m guessing that with such a large family your children are not missing out on social interaction but would you recommend home schooling for parents with one or two children? How do you make sure they meet other kids?

This is one I hadn’t really anticipated at all; the question of ‘Socialisation’. How often in your life have you been in a work environment which is only populated by people your age? I’m betting it’s probably never. School is an odd place because even in just one class you have kids at very different stages of development because people develop psychologically at different times. Of course you have the common sorts of things like the chemical soups which are going to be roughly swimming around their systems at the same time but surely that is one of the reasons why some people find their time at school to be so negative? You’re all trapped in the same areas, have the same heightened chemical processes going on but varying abilities to control how those reactions affect your behaviour.

In the area we live in we have a large homeschooling community (is it because of the supportive L.E.A office in the area or the general affluence? I don’t know), clubs and support groups and a sports infer-structure that’s of the highest quality. Our kids have friends their own age or comparable ages to play and study with, several sporting groups that they are involved in, their old school mates and a large extended family.

All that is fantastic but it’s also the chances the kids have to connect with the local community that are so beneficial. The staff at the Library, shop workers, museum experts, work men going about their business, all of these people are there to see us and for the kids to interact with. We stop and watch them put the telephone wiring hubs back together in the streets, ask the guy checking the pipes in the hole what he’s doing, reserve books and get recommendations from the Library staff when its quiet, ask release dates for products we are looking forward to and generally encourage the kids to engage people in polite conversation with-in a controlled structure of rules (obviously we are still careful about strangers, talking to people on our own, going near cars, all the simple safety stuff).

This means the kids see the world a bit more, know people are working and get to interact with life perhaps slightly more than the school goers. Yes, they miss out on some large team games on a daily basis but due to our insistence that they all do at least one sport (normally two) they still get their team and individual interactions with their peers as well as other people.

What is the most positive thing about home schooling – the one thing that would sell it to parents?

It’s a lifestyle choice. You have to be totally committed to the idea and actuality of your goal or it’s not going to go well, that’s what I think.

We decided when we got married that we would try whenever possible to have one of us working and one of us at home for the children. I was a ‘house husband’ for five years and it was an amazing time that I wish I could repeat, but currently I work in construction. My wife stays home and educates the children and obviously there is a lot to do with our six excellent kids, so you have to be prepared to put in a shift at home as well as at work. The tidying, the cooking, the bath run, the cleaning and evening lessons all have to be pitched into. If I’m honest it is a very busy, tiring way to live, but it’s also great to know your kids are safe, well and flourishing in a loving, supportive atmosphere.

The days are not always wonderful and it’s not easy but the reward when you hear your child reading clearly and fluently, when they crack the maths problems that has been stumping them, when they make those big developmental jumps and you are there to share in their achievement, support them through the tough times and know that you did it together? Well that is one huge grin you find yourself wearing.

What’s your opinion of the school application and selection process?

I remember getting into the local Catholic school and it was for the most part lovely there. My wife was a practicing Catholic at that time but when she stepped away from the church we still sent the kids to the religious school.

I suppose it’s one of those things that people get very uptight about, getting into the ‘right’ school? Personally I think there are good and bad schools and good and bad ways to get into them. In the end if you are in a supportive atmosphere then you are much more likely to be happy and so do better at whatever it is that you decide to do.

Should people be moving to get into catchment areas or falsifying information to get there? No. Be honest. As it is the system has to process so many kids each year that it’s bound to have some frayed edges, dog-eared corners and exploitable loopholes, but I never had any problems with the system.

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Being Dad – Homer Simpson v Daddy Pig

I have often wondered since Boy was born if there is such a thing as a typical Dad.

I once wrote that I sometimes consider myself a cross between Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson. These two cartoon characters certainly depict fathers in early middle age but, of course rather differently. Daddy Pig is very laid back but, he should be, Peppa Pig land not being particularly stressful. Homer Simpson though would not be everyone’s first choice as a fatherly role model. On the face of it he drinks far too much beer and chokes his son regularly. He’s boorish and impulsive and has only a tenuous grip on how to hold down a job and parent. And yet he has done things for his children that demonstrate pure love, such as selling his ride on the Duff Blimp so that he could enter Lisa in to a beauty competition to feel better about herself or spearheading the effort to dig Bart out of a well. Sometimes, such as when he becomes a temporary truck driver, Bart joins him on his crazy, impulsive adventures and it has to be said they seem to have more fun than a conventional family ever could on these sorts of road trips. Sometimes just a look from one of his kids can have him debating with his own brain. He worked two jobs, all day and all night to get Lisa a pony.

And yet the mere sight of a donut or beer can divert him from tasks that are vital to the family’s survival. Having discovered that his lack of intelligence was down to a crayon lodged in his brain he gets it removed and instantly dislikes his new higher IQ, getting Moe to reinsert the crayon and bring his IQ back down to 55. And he once shot Marge with a poison dart.

I like Homer because I can relate to the bits of him that are devoted to his wife and children and yet, I realised that he has been characterised in such a way that he is just one step away from a moron. Still, even the moronic traits ring bells with me at times. If I was passing a bar full of my friends on the way home from work could I really resist popping in for a quick beer just because I had promised to be home in time to bath the kids? If I lived next to an annoying, self righteous and holier than thou neighbour how long would I pretend to like them for the sake of keeping up appearances? I know that burning your bridges when you leave a job is a stupid thing to do but which of us blokes haven’t wanted to tell an overbearing or useless boss where to stick it?

If I had my choice then pork chops for dinner every night would be just fine and a beer hat would make an excellent piece of apparel during a football match (so long as it was in private). I might know that ‘gym’ is not pronounced to rhyme with ‘dime’ but I’ve never lasted more than three months of any gym routine ever.

Obviously the child strangling and the forgetting you have a baby and the failure to relate to a clever middle child are not ideal. The first and second of these traits are ruthlessly exaggerated for comic effect but the last is truly tragic. Here I wonder how many men, having suppressed their intelligence for one reason or another, regret doing so instantly they have children.

Suppressed their intelligence? Yes, that’s what I said. Intelligence is not always manly. A stupid bloke can still be one of the lads. Boorish they may be but they will simply attract boorish friends. Think of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. There are odd jibes about him of course but the one thing he is not is ostracised. Instead people buy him drinks in the Nags Head and involve him in their plans. It may be a comedy plot device – much like Homer’s stupidity – but that doesn’t mean it’s not based on real life examples.

Intelligence at school is not celebrated among boys. If you were a clever boy at my school then you were a ‘Boff’ or a ‘swot’ or you were ‘gay’. I don’t know what perceived insults are used today but I bet the targets are the same. The boys that were admired were the ones who were good at football and fighting and smoking and going further with a girl than just a quick peck. Arrest, lung cancer and teenage pregnancy were not considered. It would be easy for a boy who wanted to fit in or even lead, never mind get laid, to suppress his intelligence, to not try, to eventually become thick because you no longer read or thought or challenged. And so, potentially bright boys are consigned to a life of scamming on estates.

We can even do it on a temporary basis. When I get a paper I will tend to get a broadsheet. The Guardian or, if I’m fed up with its political correctness for a bit The Times or The Independent. When I went away to football games we’d go on the train and I would get The Mirror because everyone got a tabloid and I didn’t want to get laughed at (but at the same time refused to buy The Sun). Sometimes it’s just easier with the crayon in.

But getting it re-inserted on a permanent basis when you have kids? Spending so long pretending to be thick that you actually become ignorant? What happens, then, when you get a child who is born with the natural intelligence that you eschewed (a bit like Lisa Simpson)? When they start to ask questions they expect you to be able to answer?

Don’t get me wrong, I am dreading either child doing A level physics because they will be officially cleverer than me if they do and I won’t be able to help them at all but I should be able to teach them to read, add up and tell the time. To explain why it is dark at night and cold in the winter. To answer why it is we land back on the ground when we jump. Later on to advise on creative writing or algebra or practice their French pronunciation. The second you ask Moe to permanently reinsert that crayon in to your brain is the second you let your children down. Homer Simpson can be a role model for basic love of family, (less for consumption of booze and fat and acting on impulsive whims) but it’s his relationship with Lisa that, for me, lets him down as a parent. He is, already, lost.

Daddy Pig’s relationship with his kids is not lost and he does not have a crayon in his brain. Daddy Pig’s boorish side comes out in his insistence that he is ‘a bit of an expert’ at things he is not (particularly map reading and French) – in other words he over estimates his cleverness – but he is often portrayed as intelligent in the series too (a job in architecture doing complicated sums is sometimes alluded to). He can explain how fog forms (though not find his way through it) and why it is about to snow or why you need to go to the opticians. SOMETIMES Daddy Pig will be portrayed lazily watching the TV and admiring his rather large belly but most times he is shown playing with his children, intelligently and collaboratively. Just when you think he’s over exaggerated a talent it turns out he really is Renaissance Pig as he plays the accordion or executes a perfect dive from the high board, or pulls off a ballet move or makes up a story on the spot.

He does, however, share some traits with Homer and it is here that I mean you only have to look at the media for a short while to get an impression of a typical blokey Dad. He shuns exercise (‘I’m naturally fit’) and calls the local fire station emergency number when he can’t find the tomato ketchup during a BBQ. One morning he sits in the garden with his paper under the false assumption that it’s a Saturday (it’s not, it’s Thursday). He sleeps in the car on a camping trip and falls asleep snoring a puppet show put on by the younger members of the family.

I shun exercise. My dad has been known to fall asleep after lunch. I have been known to take over the map reading and get us lost. When I say I see myself as a mixture of Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson I’m not kidding. Sometimes I play collaboratively with them and sometimes I teach them useful things. Sometimes, though, I sit in front of the TV drinking beer or do things completely on impulse.

Why is there a typical theme when Dads of a certain age are portrayed in the media? Because many men of my age share those characteristics. It is around the edges that we are different, that our ideas of what constitutes a good father differ. Where, however tempting it is, we must resist inserting the metaphorical crayon in to our brains.

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A Tribute to Guy Lewis

A week and a half ago we lost a family friend, suddenly and in very tragic circumstances. The story has now been in the local paper here

Suffice to say it is not an easy read but everything said about Guy in it is true.

Guy filled a room almost literally. His enormous muscles were matched by an enormous singing voice and the perfect story reading voice. He was dedicated to his business but also to every single child that passed through the doors of Brighton Gymboree and that is why I feel the need to leave a brief tribute to him here.

I have been writing about my children and parenting for a year now and although they are sometimes the subject of amusing anecdotes and gags, I hope you could tell how proud I was of them. A large part of their development was down to Guy, his best mate Bobby and their weekly classes and open gyms. It’s where Boy leaned to climb and Whirlwind learned to throw balls and both learned to sit still and listen to a story. Guy treated his little charges with love and respect and equality and never, ever lost a room.

Though the twins are younger than my eldest he became a role model and a parenting hero. Some of my games and reading voices are copied wholesale from Guy never mind how to maintain discipline using respect.

The house is full of reminders. Gymboree sponsored a couple of ventures my wife is involved in and we still have the toys that Boy and Whirlwind got from their Gymboree birthday parties.

I’m sorry this is not the usual opinionated sillyness. I realise it’s self indulgent. But there’s no point writing about my parenting and children without explaining that someone who was inspirationally involved in it has gone.

Our thoughts are with Hanna, Bobby and the children.

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