Thursday, 31 January 2013

Au Naturel

Yesterday, our three year-old grand-daughter, Immy, handed over her latest masterpiece. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to compare and contrast with the work of a lesser known artist.

David di Michelangelo, Firenze
David di Michelangelo, Firenze (Photo credit: Vince Garcia)
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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Another Level

When we were new parents, finding a nursery place wasn’t a consideration, although no doubt places were available to those that needed them, at a cost. But it was a very different world 34 years ago.

Dropping your child off en route to work has become an accepted part of the modern daily routine, and few would argue against long-term security for the family, the right to a career and personal development, a healthy joint income and all that it promises for your children.

Of course, nursery care isn’t all things to all parents, and there are some parents who struggle with guilt and disappointment, a nagging sense of failure, the fear of coming up short. Perhaps they’ve missed baby's first word or first steps, and had to settle for delight by proxy, as the nursery worker hands over the news along with the child at the end of a long day. For these parents, any misgivings about leaving their offspring in another person’s care, might at least be compensated by the reassurance of an adequate child to carer ratio. While mum and dad are doing their bit in the workplace, they can be satisfied that the little ones are receiving all the attention they deserve.

So when it was announced that the ratio will be raised, my heart sank a little. The government says that better qualified carers will make this shift possible and bring UK standards into line with those of France and Denmark, raising the likelihood that one carer may soon have responsibility for six 2 year-olds rather than four. Apparently, “…it is no longer acceptable that childcare professionals are not required to have a GCSE grade C or above in English and maths.”

Forgive me but haven’t we been down this route before, in other areas of care? The benefits of graduate nurses at government insistence, have yet to be proven. Obviously we want a high standard of nursery provision, but is it really desirable to professionalise it? How many candidates with excellent caring qualities will be overlooked because they don't tick the required academic boxes? 

Just as worrying for those parents who are now wringing their hands over the proposed changes to child carer ratios, is the confidence-shaking prospect that levels of competency within the current system are somehow below par.  

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Friday, 25 January 2013

Blue Lights, Rainbows, and Fighting Words

If it’s Thursday evening, it must be Rainbows and, as our daughter and son-in-law don’t get home from work until around six, transporting SW two miles to the village hall for her weekly meeting, falls to me. It’s always entertaining being in the car with SW. Even a short journey can turn up some magic moments. During the recent freeze we stopped along the lane to wonder at a section of hedge that was loaded with icicles. As we reluctantly pulled away, SW’s imagination went into overdrive. We were still competing for the most fantastic explanation of how a hedge can support so many icicles, long after I turned the engine off.

SW’s latest thing is running through the levers, switches, and dashboard lights.

SW: “You see that little blue light?”

Me: “Oh yes.”

SW: “Well, that tells you that your lights are on full-beam.”

Me: “That’s right.”

SW: "But it looks like a blue jellyfish swimming sideways."

You see? I told you about the magic moments.

If you’re intrigued by stories written by kids, you could do much worse than visit Fighting Words, a creative writing project set up by Roddy Doyle and Sean Love. It’s one of my favourite places on the internet. I mean, who could resist a story that features a farmer called Bob with only one eye and three legs, and Bob’s best friend Anto, the purple suit-wearing cow?
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Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Truth and Nothing Like the truth

I was interested to hear that a recent study of families in the US and China, suggests that the majority of parents use lying to their children as a tool to reinforce desirable behaviour. I’m not convinced that we needed a study to tell us that. A good many parents will have used the Santa tactic – he won’t visit if you’re naughty – or worse.

Of course, I’ve broken a few hastily made promises along the way, and I suppose that counts as a sort of lie. But generally it’s been the honest path for me. We may not hear what we’d like to hear, but at least it’s the truth. I’m just not a deceitful person, but those little white lies punctuate the relationships many of us have with our children. Invariably told in order to protect, these fibs raise an important question. Who is the real benefactor? Is it the adult, struggling to get out of a awkward spot without squashing those socially acceptable traits that have been so carefully encouraged? Or is it the child, who in all innocence, takes the word of an adult as ‘gospel’ and adjusts course accordingly?

Something to bear in mind about lies, big and small, they have habit of building one on the other with the very real prospect of blossoming into full blown resentment when the child reaches adulthood.
PHILIP LARKIN (Photo credit: summonedbyfells)

Although Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘This Be the Verse’, very likely has its roots in his own familial dysfunction – father with Nazi leanings and a highly strung mother – there are certain truths, albeit unpalatable truths, that may resonate with many of us.
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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Sleep, perchance to scream

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Tempting though it is, to upload an audio file of me singing this, the whole point of a lullaby is to send a little person off into a peaceful slumber, not bring on nightmares. Well, at least that's what I thought, until I read otherwise. Apparently one of the earliest lullabies on record - some 4000 years old - actually warns the baby against crying and disturbing the house god. Basically, baby needs to stop making a noise or risk being eaten by demons. It gets worse. A lullaby sung by the Luo people of Kenya warns that a crying baby may get eaten by hyenas!

Of course, there are psychological, cultural, and - wait for it - archaeomusicological explanations as to why some lullabies have a dark side. You can read more, here.

Me? I'll settle for Natalie Merchant singing me off into the Land of Nod, thank you.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Big Impression

If you’re going to have a superhero in your life, it can prove to be really handy if you're both on the same wavelength. But I’m not talking about the muscle-bound alter egos of Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne. I’m making reference to those senior family members who buck the trend and narrow the distance between the generations...yes, extraordinary Grandparents!

To me, my maternal Grandparents were extraordinary, without wearing their underpants over their tights, at least not intentionally. My Grandfather was an uncomplicated man who made a big impression on me. Once, at a country show, he made a particularly big impression by hammering home a six inch nail with three blows. His reward, a prize of sixpence. Imagine the little me, walking about with my chest puffed, wearing an expression that read, ‘that's my Grandad, that is’.

My Grandmother wouldn't be outdone. She not only possessed the capacity to confound and alarm, she could also make her mark with insatiable curiosity and unbending determination. Although coming to IT extremely late in life, she got 'stuck in' with great enthusiasm, demonstrating a quick grasp of mouse and keyboard. She continued to surprise us all until her eyesight failed at around the age of 90. But she had enjoyed a lifetime of producing horticultural wonders, with the aid of her green fingers, and was also a published author of many articles on life in the countryside.

Recently, in the news, my attention was drawn to two more senior family members, neither one connected to me in any way, but they’ll be someone’s superheroes, no doubt. The first, 62 year-old Paul Marshallsea, who wrestled with a 6ft shark as it headed for children playing at the edge of the sea. And secondly, Hilda Knott, a gamer of these past forty years, still rising to the challenge of solving puzzles, having adventures and polishing off the baddies, as she approaches her 85th birthday.

Which of your senior family members made a big impression on you?
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Monday, 21 January 2013

Kidb and Standardisation

Calling all teachers, parents and grandparents!
Do spare a few minutes to watch
this short video, I'd love hear your opinions.

Kidb from darren bartholomew on Vimeo.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Too Loud, Man!..too loud

I've watched a lot of children's TV in recent years and, obviously, I've grown fonder of some programmes than others. Grandpa in my Pocket, Charlie and Lola, Louie, Pingu, Tinga Tinga Tales, and Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto! rate highly on my list.

But, kid's TV, like kid's toys, can all too often be a garish, migraine-inducing experience. Evidently, programme makers have decided that fast paced, trippy colour sequences communicated to an ear-splitting soundtrack, is the way to go. I suspect they wouldn't feel out of place in the section responsible for adding E-numbers in food production.

For me personally, the signs weren't looking good. Maybe I was developing GGS (Grumpy Grandad Syndrome). Soon there would be cries of, "Oh it wasn't like this in my day," and "You children don't know what you're missing." Actually, I'm not sure how SW and the twins would respond to Champion the Wonder Horse. There have been mutterings that black & white films are boring. Something which I partially remedied by encouraging them to watch Laughing Gravy on YouTube. Oh, how we chuckled. Well, I did.

Now Bernard Cribbins, a veteran of children's TV is also raising his concerns, and he puts the case for a more pure, simple and gentle approach far better than I can.

I'm not suggesting we pull the plug on loud and colourful, far from it. But it would be good to see broadcasters not being quite so easily drawn to the lights, bells and whistles when scheduling for our youngsters.

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Thursday, 17 January 2013

Where Do Stickmen Come From?

Since our daughter has changed her job the school pick-up falls to me on three days of the week. I wondered if it would feel at all odd, finding myself standing in a playground, waiting for a six year-old to appear at the thin end of her learning day. But, not a bit of it. In fact it feels just right.

The few minutes of waiting are filled with the usual people-watching, nods of recognition and, most welcome of all, occasional small-talk with some of the Mums of SW's friends. Yesterday, during one of these little chats, I noticed that a young lad called Freddie was carrying an enormous stick. Actually, he's no stranger to sticks. A week or so ago, he was wielding a fine specimen, weighty enough for the hands of Little John, let alone Little Freddie.
Seeing him etching lines and squiggles in the dirt, leaning on it as though it was a crutch, and hoisting it high, sometimes alarmingly and always erratically, reminded me of how important sticks are to young boys. At least, that's how it used to be. But then, when I was little more than Freddie's age, I had my own penknife. Horror of horrors, I used it to sharpen sticks, remove bark, and to whittle away to my heart's content. Suddenly, I'm thinking how much things have changed. In my day, almost every boy carried a penknife. How else would he cut the piece of string that invariably resided in the depths of the opposite trouser pocket?

Penknife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My thoughts were interrupted as SW emerged from her classroom. All smiles and oblivious to the role of sticks and knives in the far-off days of Ga (that's me) she unloaded her bags to me and we headed for home. Out the corner of my eye I could just make out Freddie's older brother examining the stick, wearing a familiar expression of approval.         
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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Educate the Heart

Here's a short video clip that got an airing on my Facebook page this morning. Nothing very new, but worth two minutes of your time anyway.
Dalai Lama Centre // Educate the Heart from Giant Ant on Vimeo.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Ps, Qs, Don'ts and Dos

People of my generation probably have vague memories of ancient relatives who clung to the fast-disappearing tail of the expression, “children should be seen and not heard.” I remember being well instructed in dos and don’ts before visiting one of my great-grandmothers. The subsequent trip to sunny Bournemouth dulled somewhat by a cloud of apprehension that had been carefully placed over my head to avert parental embarrassment.

And on top of remembering the dos and don’ts and minding the Ps and Qs, there was the issue of table manners. We were coached obsessively, in basic etiquette. No elbows on the table, don’t speak when your eating, keep still in your chair, no laughing, no reaching across the person next to you, etc, etc. Oh yes, there was also the crime of leaving crossed cutlery on your empty plate. Something I received a clipped ear for at the wedding reception of a great aunt.

Not to be messed with, when armed with a penne blowpipe.

As our daughter was growing up, we held a much more relaxed view, on the understanding that good manners and common courtesies were observed when eating out. Actually, mealtimes are often rated as ‘quality’ family occasions. They can be informative – what have you been up to today? – and instructive in social interaction. Of course mealtimes can be entertaining too.

Last evening, we were minding the grandchildren at teatime. I found myself engaged in an improvised commentary  - funny voices included – as SW struggled to finish the contents of her plate. But she ended up, a keen participant, as hapless pieces of pasta got chewed and swallowed before falling to their fate. The twins looked on, having daubed their faces with sauce to the point where they appeared to be morphing into children of a long lost Amazonian tribe. There was a tap on my arm, and the image was complete as Imogen stared up at me, a penne blowpipe held menacing at her lips.   

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Pyrotechnics and Postmodernism

Last evening I was tucked up and fast asleep whilst the corks flew and fireworks lit the sky. But SW was on hand (her first New Year celebration, aged 6) to record the event, as seen on TV.

For my part, I marked the start of 2013 by signing up for a 14 week course - The Modern and the Postmodern. Actually I've signed up for three courses, which will keep my grey matter sizzling right through until July. All this, and a promise to myself that I'll get started on 'the book'...yeah, right!