Monday, 25 April 2011


You know, I sometimes have a little laugh about socialisation.

I mean I'm probably the most unsocial person I know.

I don't like parties. Can't hear what people are saying. Don't drink. And, if I like the people, I've probably told them all the news and heard all theirs before the party gets going.

I can take or leave people. Some people. Some people can take or leave me. I have high standards for friendship and most folks - I'm afraid - don't qualify.

I like my own company. Or the company of a good book. Or the radio. Or the t.v. Or my dog who is a good friend.

And my family, but not all the time. And it wouldn't be good for them if I were hanging around their necks all the time either.

I can be sociable sometimes, if I want. I can laugh and dance and sing and make merry and tell stories that people giggle at or marvel at or whatever.

But, deep down, I'm happy being on my own. I don't need a lot of social stuff to keep me topped up with sunshine.

The LAs wouldn't like me if I were in their schools. They'd think I was odd, weird, a bit off, er, unsocial. But my view is that this is me. Take me or leave me. It's up to you if you wish to be my friend. If you don't, well, I possibly won't miss you.

There are people I miss. People I have cherished that I haven't seen for many years. Some of them I'm back in touch with and, hopefully, we'll bridge the years and be friends again.

Or not.

Either way, I am what I am.


You have to let me be the way I am. I cannot bend myself or break faith with my personality. You can't turn me into a character from Friends because I'm not that kind of social animal.

I'm just unsocial I guess.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Thoughts on a good education

The Labour government DCSF used to say: "All children and young people are entitled to a good education. This doesn't necessarily mean children have to go to school: many parents choose to educate their child at home'.

I have to take issue with the first part of this. According to Protocol 1 Article 2 of the ECHR 'No person shall be denied an education'. OK, a person should not be denied an education and nothing is mentioned about a good education. The state provides an education but scarcely anyone agrees what a good education is and many voices will howl me down when I say the state provides a good education, including my own. How do we actually know what a good education is? Other than some helpful judges with an almost impossible task, no one can define what a good education actually consists of. If I were like my father, I would say everyone should have an education in the classics and in Maths, and maybe have a run around a football field once a week for a bit of a diversion. If I were a P.E. teacher I would probably say that English is a natural thing for English people, and we should be doing more push-ups, football, rounders, cricket, cross country running, ski=ing...

I would hate both definitions of a good education because I am not good at Mathematics - oh, I can get along and I can excel myself if pushed, but I'm not a cleaving-to-numbers-natural mathematician. As to P.E., I was one of those children who dreaded the lesson, unless it involved dancing, and hated the idea of being at the mercy of several bullies who knew how to take advantage of the opportunities advanced by the myriad wonders of Physical Education, indoors or out.

So, for me, unless you're a budding Steve Cram or you loaf about doing Calculus in your fun time, don't ask me to vote for at least two members of the National Curriculum.

The convent school I attended had Sewing classes (don't laugh, it did). Oh, the humiliation. The pricked fingers. The continuing and absolute hatred I had for my kit, my uselessness and the horror of having to 'make a dress' for the 'fashion parade' at the end of term. It was a term already contaminated by the terror induced by the prospect of having to emigrate to unknown Canada at the end of it. I laboured: I did labour on that darned dress. I learned to detest the material I'd bought - the cheery bright yellow mocked me, the patterned yellow leaves and flowers irritated me. I heaved at the thought of more endless, boring tacking. In the final countdown, my dear aunt who was a dab hand with a needle took pity on me and finished the garment. I wore it on the catwalk. Everyone was underwhelmed. I was embarrassed. I was sick at heart, but relieved to get the ordeal over and relieved that I wouldn't be 'tested' on something so foreign to my nature again.

So what makes a good education? I think it comes from inside yourself. I think it's your motivation. I think it is what interests you, and what interested me was reading, reading, reading, other people, history, French, reading and writing, more reading and, gradually, even more writing. In my adult life, people now pay me for my writing. Putting pen or word processor to work was an 'out of school' habit. I didn't write at school. I did the minimum amount of writing I could do at school because my writing, my real writing (my love) was private. It did not belong to the school, it belonged to me. I didn't want my adoration of the written word to die prematurely because I was forced to write.

So it was a secret. All those years ago it wasn't ready to flower and grow and be stomped upon by the foot of criticism it would probably have received in school. You get very little encouragement in school, I found. It was all 'Well, you should have/could have done it this way...'

Or even, once, after one of my short stories was marked, I was asked, "Did you copy? Is this your own work?"

Mrs. English Teacher, no, as I told you at the time I didn't copy. I read everything like a pig enjoys truffles and I got good because I did what I enjoyed doing and enjoyed getting good at, and your severe, distrustful look and your swingeing insult could have blighted the little plant behind the bushel but, thank the universe, it didn't.

It was mine and you didn't put your big feet all over it while it was growing - my talent was buried under a bushel until it was ripe and until I felt confident enough to let it try itself in the full glare of light.

Then it flourished. As all true real passions have the ability to flourish when they aren't trampled all over by strangers with gigantic damaging assessing criticising plates of meat.

I gave myself the best education I could give myself. I gave me the education I would've wished the schools I attended had given. I did what I was good at and I wasn't put off what I loved until what I loved became what I was good at.

Unfortunately, most of what school gave me was heartache. Years of time wasting. Hours of droning boredom.

My life gave me my education. How do you deliver an education? You are fooling yourself. You cannot deliver an education. You can help someone through their thoughts and emotions and finding out information, but never ever stomp on their little talents.

Those little talents might, one day, save the world.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Good, good, good, good quotations

'We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.'

Winston Churchill.

I was pottering around looking at information about the Women's Land Army in World War I and II (for an article I'm writing), and I found the above quotation from Winston Churchill. I know that Mr. Churchill is reviled in some quarters but I've always had a sneaking admiration for him. He failed miserably at school; his father didn't know what to do with him, in fact. I think that often happens with incipient genius.

Those superbly-charged brains sometimes do not fit in.

"Young Winston attended Harrow School, on the outskirts of London, where he was schooled in the classics. He hated most of his school time at Harrow and had little interest in learning Latin, Greek or mathematics. But he did love poetry, history and writing English essays."

"Winston was short in stature and very headstrong and stubborn. During his early school years, Churchill didn't get along well with other students. He recalled how he had to hide behind a tree when some other boys threw cricket balls at him."

Yet he learned English. Kept in a class for three times as long as anyone else, Churchill parsed sentences and stared at the blackboard for many hours. He owed a debt to Mr. Somervell who was charged with teaching the least likely boys the English language. The ones who were deemed stupid stayed with Mr. Somervell, and the others who were bright went on to tackle Latin and Greek.

"President John F. Kennedy summarized Winston S. Churchill's rhetorical grandeur with the statement that "In the dark days and darker nights when England stood alone--and most men save Englishmen despaired of England's life--he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

Well done Mr. Somervell. Your work will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The enlightened principle

"Not even the apparently enlightened principle of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ can excuse indifference to individual suffering. There is no test for progress other than its impact on the individual. " Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear (William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1952), p. 167-8.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Gotta love it

Do you love the internet? I do. Isn't it - regardless of a bunch of rubbish on some websites - the most amazing educator? It's made my little life a lot easier. Where once I said "Well, we should go to the library and look that up." Now it's "Let's go on google (or one of the other search engines) to see what we can find." What an amazing force for good. I salute the internet. Thank you to all you lovely and varied people who contributed to its development. And here is the equally adorable Wiki entry all about it: The internet: you couldn't make it up really.