Saturday, March 31, 2007

Three and a half hours to go till...

Denanana, Denanana, Denanana,

Oeeoooo... oooo,

Dadada, dada, daddaaaaa......

Well you get the gist. John Barrowmore did it much better on Celebrity Weakest Link last night.


Huzzah, my hero is back tonight fighting aliens...

And isn't he gorgeous???

Hopefully his return will help no 3 get over her distress at Rose leaving.

I'm off to prepare for my dinner party so I have time to watch instead of cook...

But I might just have to stare at lovely David Tennant for a bit longer....

PS h&b have you any idea what I'm talking about? Do you get Dr Who in Oz?

Post Dr Who and Dinner Party Script....

And he was lovely. And didn't disappoint. Neither did Martha. No 3 spent the whole thing on my lap with a cushion over her head, but hey, that's what Dr Who's all about. As Madame Pompadour put it you don't get the doctor without the monsters... Spouse thought rhino aliens as police were a bit naff, but I with all due respect as a scientist, he is not very hot on the suspension of disbelief stuff that we English grads take for granted, so it didn't bother me none. A triumphant return I'd say...

Oh and the dinner went well too...

Mushrooms and stilton wrapped in pancietta (yes, it was stolen from the Sainsbury's ad, via some writing friends... my version was a bit burn, but what the hell)

chicken and herb parcels (thank you lovely butcher who sold them to me yesterday at great, but worth it, expense), with lemon/garlic/rosemary spuds a le Hugh Fearningly Whittingswotsit, mashed sweet potatoe and swede, roast parsnips and carrots.

Cheesecake (Hugh FW again) and Chocolate mousse courtesy of the child genius Sam Stern. In my excitement about David Tennant, I did cock it up as I chucked the whites of the eggs in first,THEN read, mix in yolks first, whip whites into peaks and fold them in. I did a bit of frantic whipping of whites and chocolate, but I don't think it was enough. It tasted ok, but it was chocolate runny mousse.

Well you can't win them all.

And I'd take David Tennant any day...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Being enigmatic...

... Is NOT what I do best.

But Nic, the deadline is now one day and counting...

Can YOU really not guess what it is?

Perhaps you should ask your pupils...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Word on NHS Dentists....

As no doubt you all know, getting an NHS dentist is as easy as pulling hen's teeth, or whatever the expression is.

Apart from, if like me, you are married to one of the rarest of breeds.

I am not going to talk about this issue at length, because Spouse doesn't like me too, but I will just say this to Rosie Winterton who I heard pontificating ad nauseam yesterday on the Jeremy Vine show...

MOST NHS dentists don't choose to become private (if anything the bureacracy and form filling is even more scary when you don't have the NHS behind you) but have been forced into it by successive government policies. And Tony Blair's promise of NHS dentistry for all is sounding increasingly hollow. But hey, what does he care? He's out of here, soon and I doubt Gordy cares too much about NHS dentistry...

Many years ago under the Tories, NHS dentists were set targets to improve patient care. If you bring x number of patients in they were told you will get y amount of money. Being a hardworking and dutiful bunch, they did as they were told, only for the government to turn round and say, Oh shit, we didn't expect you to actually achieve that target, what we really meant is for you to bring in z number of patients. That was in 1991, and as a result of this constant shifting of goal posts loads of NHS dentists decamped and went private.

Scroll forward to now and we are just about to celebrate the anniversary of the new contract between dentists and the NHS, imposed on them from above, it is a contract that the majority of dentists didn't want. In theory the contract is supposed to take them off the treadmill of the NHS. Now instead of being paid per item of treatment, they get paid depending on how many units of dental activity they have achieved. No problem, you might say until you realise that we are not measuring like with like here.

For example, this time last year if you came in with a bog standard filling, you would have paid, say fifteen pounds, half of which went to the dentist, the other half of which went to cover the running costs of the practice. If you came in needing two bog standard fillings, plus several big fillings in your back teeth, you would have paid individually for each of them, paying more for the more difficult ones.

Not anymore you don't. The powers that be decree that if you come in in need of fillings, how ever many you need, that counts as one unit of dental activity. So now if you come in with a bog standard filling it costs more for you, and you lose out, but if you come in needing loads of fillings, you pay less, but the dentist loses out because he does all that work but gets paid the same as if he had done one filling.

I should also add here, that this is not about dentists feeling badly treated in terms of their pay (though without a doubt they are going to see it reduced over the next few years), but about them feeling they cannot provide the sort of service they want to under the new system. Most of the dentists I know (Spouse included) are highly professional, ethical and have a strong sense of wanting to do the very best for their patients. A system which allows benign neglect (as a patient you now only have to see a dentist once a year), and doesn't pay enough for dentists to spend the necessary time/use the best quality materials is always going to be one that lets the patients down. And that is where we're at, folks.

And far from being taken off the treadmill, the sense of being a rat in a run has increased a hundredfold, as twinkling away in the corner of the computer screen are numbers assessing how close to your target no of UDAs you are. At the beginning of this year Spouse was 13% behind -with the threat that if he didn't make it up, he would have not got paid for March.

They really now how to motivate people in Rosie Winterton's department...

Luckily, he has done it, but it has been a hell of a stressful ride.

Is it any wonder NHS dentists are deserting the sinking ship in droves? Or that the ones we have are mainly Polish?

Next week Spouse gets set a new target, and the whole rigmarole will start again.

I can't wait for this time next year...

PS Two days to go and counting...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ambitions for six and ten year olds.

Fortunately they don't appear to have ambitions...

PS Three days to go...

And counting...

An ambition for an eight year old

When I'm seventy five said no 2 to us recently, I shall miss you.

Oh that's nice, I said. You do realise we will be dead by then.

Of course, you'll be dead. No 2 looked at me witheringly, which is why I am going to dig you and Daddy up and have your bodies stuffed.

Oh. I said. That's not quite so nice...

Well, she said. I wouldn't have anyone to hug. So when I'm feeling lonely I'll sit on your lap and cuddle you.

Hmm, I might be a bit boney, but I suppose it's a nice thought.

And, I'll hook up a special device that I can sit on Daddy's shoulders and he can give me carries.

Right, I said. What happens if we're cremated?

Oh, in that case, said no 2, when I feel lonely I shall go and sit on your grave and do handstands on Daddy's.

So there you have it.

One transexual.

One necrophiliac.

Oh dear...

An ambition for a five year old

I want to be a boy, announced no 4 to us recently.

Oh, I said, and how will you go about doing that? I asked, slightly bemused.

Well. she said. I'll hang around with boys, and I'll get their voice and they'll get mine. Then Daddy will cut my hair and buy me boys toys and I'll give my girls toys to no 3.

So there you have it.

How to be a transexual according to a five year old...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

And Another Thing

Blasted across our local paper tonight is the happy news that our local hospital (where all four of the children were born) is likely to be closed down. Our local MP, Chris Grayling (and to be fair ALL the local politicians have done their bit whatever their party) has fought an heroic campaign to keep it open.

To cut a long story short at some point who knows when, the power that be decided to yoke our local hospital, Epsom, which supports not just the town, but outlying towns as far away as Cobham together with St Helier, five miles away. St Helier serves the communities of Sutton, Merton and beyond up to St George's in Tooting. I don't recall any public consultation about this, but one day, suddenly we were part of Epsom and St Helier Trust.

Some time back Epsom and St HelierTrust decided they were going to build a Super Hospital in Sutton, and downgrade both St Helier and Epsom. This wasn't a plan favoured by either community- although the distance between them may seem slight, in heavy traffic it can take forty minutes or more to get from one to the other. (Transport to and from St Helier is particularly bad - we've had personal experience of getting there every day for three months when fil was ill). Besides, both communities deserve and need their hospitals.

But the PCT decided that we all needed a brand new shiny hospital in Sutton at god knows what cost. Unsurprisingly, this decison was not met with favour from either community, and quite rightly, there were protests from both sides. Then Patricia Hewitt had her ear bent by the MP in Merton (funnily enough a Labour MP, Chris Grayling is a Tory) and lo and behold when the decision was taken as to where to build the Super Hospital (Chris Grayling had come up with a plan to upgrade Epsom at far less expense), overnight the decision was made to resite it in St Helier. I can't remember her exact words, but they were along the lines that the posh people in Surrey could afford to do without a hospital because presumably we all have private health care (let me let you into a secret Patricia, no we, don't. Just as most of us can't afford private education either).

It then turned out that St Helier wasn't a suitable site to build a Super Hospital on. The shameful bunch who were running the PCT and mooted the Super Hospital in the first place have all lost their jobs (and HOW much money have they spent I wonder?), and now the company bought into bail everyone out of the mess has dumped the idea of a Super Hospital and instead St Helier and Epsom are both being downgraded.

There is a tiny glimmer of hope in that the High Sheriff of Surrey, a philanthropic sounding chap has come up with a proposal for buying Epsom hospital and running it as a hospital which provides a mix of NHS, private and charity funded healthcare, and next week Chris Grayling and Mole Valley's MP, Paul Beresford are off to meet Patricia Hewitt to discuss the scheme. But I doubt from past form she will bite.

So it looks like we will no longer have a maternity unit (at a time when building in the town is at an all time high - erm scuse me for stating the obvious, but if you build lots of new homes, you might just end up with lots more families), no acute care, very little provision for the elderly (and a growing elderly population), and should my children break their arms and require operations (as happened to no 2), or have an asthma attack and have to stay in hospital for several days (as happened to no 2 and no4) we will probably end up at St George's nearly ten miles away.

I know of at least two children who suffer from diabetes, whose parents rely heavily on the diabetes clinic attached to the hospital.

Many of the mums in the school playground work there as nurses, midwives and physios.

Morale at the hospital is at an all time low. And from what I gather from friends up and down the country, Epsom isn't an isolated case.

Gordon and Tony, where has all the money gone? It certainly hasn't come this way....

There is a petition to sign on the no 10 website (I have a feeling that very soon one of my few pleasures in life is going to be wasting the time of people at no 1o!), which you can access on:

and a wonderful retired paramedic by the name of Ken Callanan has collected 76 000 signatures for the Surrey petition to save Surrey hospital services. He's aiming for 100 000 and is planning to hand it in to Downing Street at the end of April. If you want to help him, and live/or work in Surrey he can be emailed at:

And on a personal note, can I just say thanks to all the staff at Epsom and St Helier hospitals for the care they have given me and my family over the years.

So the role call of thanks goes to:

The amazingly kind nurse who looked after me years ago when Spouse unexpectedly had to to have an operation.

All the staff who helped me when I had to have a minor op.

The wonderful Dr Jay who delivered no 1 and all the wonderful midwives who looked after us.

The equally wonderful Shirley Tong who delivered nos 2 &3, who saved my sanity, particularly with no 3.

Miss Ellis who listened to my concerns about having no 4 and ensured with the help of some amazing midwives (whose names unfortunately I forget) that I had a brilliant experience for my last labour.

All the doctors and nurses in Casey Ward who over the years have:

dealt with no 2's trips to hospital with asthma

no 2's broken arm. Particualrly the lovely consultant who was so kind when I got ever so slightly stressed by the thought of her needing an operation

dealt with no 3's three trips to hospital with asthma.

And particular thanks go to lovely Dr Wadey who kept an eye on no 4 for two years after her admissions and also took my concerns about no 3 seriously.

They are heroes everyone and deserve to keep their jobs and go on doing the vital work they do in keeping my community going.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It makes my blood boil

I give you due warning. This is going to be a very bad tempered post.

I am in fact furious.

The reason?

The news I read over the weekend that in a spectacular piece of social engineering, universities are going to be required to ask applicants if their parents are graduates, in order, apparently, to redress the balance that means poorer children don't get to university.

Don't get me wrong. I am all in favour of poorer families getting to university. I am in favour of people with disadvantaged backgrounds having help to improve their circumstances. But I don't think this is the way to do it.

Surely, the most obvious way of improving our social mix at university is to improve our basic schooling. For far too many children in this country their only options of being educated are at best mediocre and at worst appalling. For a bright child born into a family whose only choice of school is the local sink, their opportunities to escape are limited. Unless they have very determined and pushy parents (which the chances are they won't), they will spend the fourteen years they are at school learning very little and come away with no more chance of getting to university then flying to the moon.

From that point of view, I can see the seductiveness of opening up unversity places by weighting the odds in their favour when they come to apply. But apart from the very obvious fact that their complete lack of education so far will mean they are unable to cope when they get there, two wrongs don't make a right. Favouring the people who have come from poorer backgrounds means those with the advantages of two parents who have been to university, will lose out, which is equally unfair. Added to which surely we want our unversities full of the best and brightest students, irrespective of background. Suppose a really clever kid who has the misfortune to have parents who are graduates gets rejected and a poorer kid gets the place, who isn't all that bright. Is that right? What is wrong with people gaining places on merit? Or saying that some people are cleverer then others? It's a fact of life. They are. And giving disadvantaged children a leg up in this way won't change that.

And this is why I am so angry.

If this goes ahead, in seven years time no 1 may not win a place at university, though she is likely to be fully qualified to do so, because Spouse and I have scuppered her chances by going to university ourselves.

What makes me mad as hell about this, is that though we both come from middle class families (as I have mentioned before I am sick to death for being beaten over the head for being middle class. Without the bleedin' middle classes much of this country would fall apart), we are also first generation graduates. Fil was keen to be a vet, but the war came along and he ended up being an insurance clerk. He and mil made huge financial sacrifices so that their sons could have a decent education and get to university.

My father wanted to go into law, but ended up a teacher. He did eventually take a degree, part time, as a father of six, while working full time. He was hardly privileged. Born in Liverpool to a pair of teachers, his early life was very difficult as my grandfather died when he was five and my grandmother couldn't get work. They only escaped by coming down south, but his young life was very tough.

My mother also lost her father young, and her older sisters and brother had to put any thoughts of higher education out of their minds as they needed to support the family. My mother was lucky enough to pursue her dream of nursing, but she would never have been able to go to university.

Watching the sacrifices my parents made to allow me to go to university has always made me hugely sensible to the privilege of going there. In another time I wouldn't have had that chance. And in fact, my grandmother (whose name I blog under) was offered a place at Liverpool University to read English, but wasn't allowed to go because her father didn't believe women should be educated. I was unaware of this when I blithely packed my bags and headed up north to Liverpool in 1984, but once I found out, I was aware more then ever of how lucky I am.

And now because I had the good fortune to have parents who appreciated the importance of education, and who made great sacrifices so that I and the rest of my siblings could have an advantage they never had, my children are going to suffer.

It is criminal. It is unfair. And it is plain wrong.

And I doubt very very much if it will help the people it is intended to. Because all that will happen is that the middle classes will get even better at fiddling the system then they always do, (It gives me such joy to think that the only way my children are likely to get on in life is to become a bunch of skiving, cheating bastards) the kids from the disadvantaged backgrounds may well get to university and drop out unable to cope (because you can bet your bottom dollar no one is actually going to give them the tools they need to survive), thereby ending up with a huge sense of failure, and if there any middle class kids out there who do have principles, they certainly won't be making the grade.

I think I'll enroll my lot as plumbers right now.

At least they'll be rich....

PS. As I am so cross about this, I decided I may as well try and do something about it. So I have just put in an epetition on the subject to no 10. (There is something spectacularly nice about being able to do this. Even if it comes to nothing, I have just I hope wasted someone's time enough for them to get cross too...) It takes five days to get a yay or nay, so if they let me do it, I shall post details here, and anyone as cross as me, go tell everyone you know to see how many signatures we can get...

For Mothers Everywhere...

As you may have noticed, if you a) have a mother or b) are one, yesterday was Mother's Day.

Now while I am firmly of the camp that MD is a trick foisted on us by the card/flower industries to make us spend vast sums of money we don't have on treating our mums (my mother holds this view too, but I feel sure if I DIDN'T send her flowers I'd know all about it), on the other hand, now that the kids are getting bigger, I do quite like the idea that they might start pampering me...

The pampering didn't get off to the best starts as a) no 1 had lost the card she'd made me at guide camp b) No 2 had lost the card Spouse had bought for me (she blamed no 1), c)no3 had made a card but as she wasn't at school on Friday she couldn't give it to me d) no 4 had made a card and given me a buzy lizzie on Friday, but we both forgot about it, so the card stayed in her book bag till I found it this morning.

No 2 had managed to make me a card at Brownies, and Spouse had bought me a fantastic book called Mother Tells You, which is from the Girl magazine dating from the fifties/sixties. It is full of advice such as how to clean a lace collar (something Every Girl clearly needs to know) and unintentionally hilarious.

On the positive side, we have now moved to the dizzy heights of breakfast in bed and cups of tea on state occasions. So yesterday it was my turn to get given breakfast, though we were both given a cup of tea.

Tea production in our house hasn't yet moved beyond faintly grey and lukewarm, but it's a start. The porridge I was provided with was rather lumpy. But at least they tried. Spouse ate the bread as I felt distinctly unhungry after the porridge had formed rock like in my stomach. I was also a tad hungover, as we had been out to the pub the night before. I had made the mistake of not eating as we had been rushing around all day, and then spent the afternoon in the garden (my recreation of choice above all others), I'd leapt in the bath afterwards and food sort of got sidelined. This coupled with my decision to drink rather more red wine then was good for me, resulted in a) loss of all functioning ability and b) inability to move in the morning.

On Sundays Spouse normally heads off to the gym with bil and sil, and I usually get to look after the children (funny that), but as mil had been babysitting, I had decided the previous day that I would go to. That was before, I had a hangover...

I managed to do twenty minutes on the running machine without throwing up (which was an achievement I feel) , and scared myself silly with the readings I was getting from my swanky new sports watch complete with heart monitor. My heart rate was either at 170+, or right down to 41. So either I'm really ill or I was conned...

Gym over we got back home and the two big ones declared their intention to cook lunch. Great, I said, and oversaw their efforts to make pizza. At the same time I decided to initiate them into the art of cooking a Sunday roast, which we were having later. Their first lesson was to peel potatoes. How come, said no 1 after ten minutes frantic scraping, you've peeled five potatoes and I haven't peeled one? She then abandoned the project to answer an urgent phone call from a school friend (she is getting to the stage that she is probably on the phone more then we are, and she's just discovered MSN. Oh dear, oh dear...) No 2 took up the mantle and managed to scrape one carrot and her finger in the time it took me to do the rest. They then both decided the garden was much more interesting, so although the spirit was willing, the flesh wasn't very...

After lunch, which no one helped me clear away, Spouse and I got down the important business of crop planting. I absolutely love this time of year, with the its promise of new beginnings. The daffs are now in full bloom in the garden, and I spent last week filling my pots with pansies and primroses. Thanks to the drought last year I haven't had anything in for nearly a year now and it brightens my heart to see some colour on the patio once more.

Two hours of scrabbling in the mud led to two rows of peas, three of carrots and one each of parsnips. We currently have lettuce, tomatoes, leeks, courgettes and brocoli growing in our conservatory, and though we ran out of time this weekend, I don't think we're too late to get our spuds in.

To counterbalance the threat of drought (we nearly divorced last year with the stress of keeping everything going once the hosepipe ban was in force), Spouse has turned two old water tanks that came from his mum's flat into extra water butts. So no we have six of the things. Which we can only hope will be enough....

It wasn't exactly a lazy way of spending Mother's Day, but I do find pottering in the garden immensely therapeutic, and get such a buzz from growing things from seed.

No 1 had shown enough interest in the cooking to come and help make the Yorkshires (thanks to the wonderful Sam Stern she did them all herself), but really my Mother's Day Dinner was down to me.

As was the clearing up.

Still, I did get to watch Mansfield Park.

And at bedtime no 1 came downstairs, saying...

Look what I just found.

It was the card they'd written that morning.

They've all signed it. Nos 1&2 gave me loads of hearts, and nos 3 &4 lots of kisses.

That's all I need really...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories for Comic Relief

Well the amazing Mike at has done it and produced a book in a week. Which believe me takes some doing. So hats off to him. Sadly I'm not in it, but lots of people I know are.
So well done to all of them, and well done to Mike for doing such a brilliant thing for Comic Relief. I promised I'd publicise it for him, so here's the press release from his website, so go tell all your friends and get a copy right now!

Bloggers publish book for Comic Relief.100 bloggers have published a book to raise funds of the BBC's Comic Relief appeal on Friday 16th March.'Shaggy Blog Stories' features hilarious contributions from Richard Herring of 'Fist of Fun' fame, BBC 6Music presenter Andrew Collins, comedian Emma Kennedy, and James Henry, scriptwriter from Channel Four's 'The Green Wing'.Authors Abby Lee, David Belbin, Catherine Sanderson and The Guardian's Anna Pickard have also contributed pieces to the book.The vast majority of contributions, however, are the work of many of the lesser known and unfamiliar heroes of British blogging; going under pen names such as Diamond Geezer, Scaryduck, Pandemian and Unreliable Witness.Also contributing to 'Shaggy Blog Stories', and hoping to raise funds for the Comic Relief Appeal is local writer INSERT YOUR NAME, LOCALITY AND BLOG DETAILS HERE.The book is the idea of blogger Mike Atkinson who writes the 'Troubled Diva' weblog. 'Shaggy Blog Stories' features comic writing from not only the cream of British blogging, but also the best up-and-coming and undiscovered writers publishing their work on their own websites.Giving himself a "ridiculously short" seven days from idea to finished product, Atkinson admitted that he was overwhelmed with the response, which gleaned over 300 submissions for publication.With a pool of talented writers, and the latest publishing-on-demand technology, Shaggy Blog Stories bypasses the usual snail-paced publishing industry, and offers a mail order service to customers who will receive their finished copy within days of placing their order, and only a couple of weeks after the original idea."Blogging creates complex, worldwide networks of friendship and contacts on the internet", says journalist Alistair Coleman, one of Shaggy Blog Stories' contributors. "By creating a buzz about this book, we can reach out to hundreds, thousands of readers who'd be willing to part with a few quid for this very good cause. Mike's got some excellent writers on board here whose work deserves a wider audience. Everybody wins."For details of how to order the book, visit the background story on the creation of Shaggy Blog Stories, take a look at

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Slipping through my fingers...

Can I go to the park before my tennis lesson today? No 1 greeted me with this request as soon as I came downstairs yesterday.

Normally she comes to tennis straight from cross country, but wasn't on yesterday, the sun has shone all week long, I took them to the park after school the other day, so I've put the idea in her head.

I said no of course, because I didn't want her hanging about on her own, besides her time keeping is lousy, so she'd never make it back to tennis on time.

This didn't go down at all well, as you can imagine, because No 1 is ten going on eighteen, and keen to assert her independence. She is soooo desperate to wash her hands of her embarrassing parents, that when we're out now she tends to walk twenty paces ahead like a muslim husband. It's a wonder she doesn't have me in a burkha...

I am not totally anti the idea of her being more independent, in fact I'm pleased that I'm not going to have to shove her out of the nest when the time comes for her to spread her wings (the rate she's going, she'll have flown off long before I'm ready - mind you will I ever be ready?), but...

She's only ten, and already it feels like I'm losing her.

As I've mentioned before ad nauseam, I often use music to inspire emotion in my writing, and one of the songs for the current wip is Slipping Through My Fingers by Abba. I chose it for my hero's daughter, but oh, how it speaks to me about my own.

In another seven years, no 1 will be thinking about uni (that is if she's still allowed to go, considering her parents have been, we've probably skewed her chances), and leaving me for good. In another nine, it will be no 2's turn...

Shit. I've got to go through this process four times.

Watching them grow.

Then watching them go...

I know I moan alot about the insanity of my life, but as Nic wisely pointed out on my post about the show, when I DON'T have mad weekends to keep me going I shall probably miss them like crazy.

And every time I hear that Abba song it makes me cry.

Better try to remember that next time I'm shouting in the morning...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Comic Relief

For any bloggers who haven't picked up on this, Mike at is putting a shaggy blog stories book together for Comic Relief and is on the lookout for witticisms from the blogsophere. To find out more click the following link. The deadline is tomorrow at 6pm, because mad fool that he is, he wants to get a book out by Friday!

If he doesn't take my submission I will of course cry myself to sleep. But failing that I will do the honourable thing and promote the book here.

Go on. Have a go, you know it makes sense...

The Show Must Go On...

The trouble with having four children is that just as you are concentrating on one of them (viz no 1 has taken up rather a lot of my time in the last week for obvious reasons), another one pops up demanding attention. So it was that, last week no 4 had a major asthma attack just when I'd taken my eye off the ball, and no 3 has been wailing piteously about the show she was going to be in this weekend. For once, no 2, my drama queen, had nothing to make a fuss about, so she was the only one not competing for my time.

I may have mentioned how much I loathe and detest the Fame School before, but never more so when they're putting on their blasted show. It is all they think about. What care do they have for people like me with more then one child, and a whole lot of other life to live that doesn't funnily enough, revolve around the Fame School?

We have spent weeks rehearsing for this wretched show, and no 3's contribution was probably less then two minutes, but it still required her being at rehearsals for several hours on Saturday afternoons, and for a final dress rehearsal on Friday evening.

Life never running smoothly, this also coincided with no 1 having a weekend away with the guides. I had briefly looked at the directions and seen the dreaded words A3 and Guildford, and concluded that I had a long drive ahead of me on Friday night, at rush hour. I had to get no 3 to her rehearsal for 4.30, no 1 to the camp by 5.30 and be back to pick no3 up by 6.30. Somehow I didn't think I was going to make it.

Rather inconveniently, because they have so many kids to get into the show and they put on six performances which is rather a lot for the younger ones, the children are divided into two groups, and all my mates who might be available for lift sharing were in the other group. Spouse had muttered something about being around to pick her up, but I couldn't really rely on it.

So it was with great relief that I read the instructions properly on my way out to pick the kids up and realised, that in fact the guide camp was just off the A3 near Cobham, not too far away at all.

I dispatched no 3 at her rehearsal, complete with books and food supplies as most of her time was likely to be spent sitting around doing nothing. Over the previous few weeks she had been getting increasingly nervous and we had had tears at several points along the way, but as luck would have it the excitement of being in a proper theatre was enough to overcome her fears.

Then it was off to Cobham, with instructions that seemed rather unclear. Someway after the junction, I was apparently to see a sign with the name of the camp on it. If I missed it, I had to go on to the M25 roundabout go back and try again. I felt sure I had got something wrong, but the instructions proved correct. I had to practically do an emergency stop to get into the turning, but we found it with no great problem. (Getting out again straight onto the A3 wasn't a lot of fun though).

No 1 was determined to get shot of me as soon as she could, so I headed back with the other two to have Mcdonalds while we waited for no 3 to finish.

On Saturday she had two performances, so I took her straight to the theatre after no 1's ballet lesson, again leaving her with plenty of supplies. It was a lovely day and we should have gone in the garden, but instead watched Lara Croft, much to no 2's delight as it fulfils all her girl power fantasies (and mine, it has to be said). No 2 then chose this moment to have her turn at a wobbly as she has been invited to take part in a gym competition, which unfortunately clashed with a family day out I've arranged to see Mary Poppins. After calming her down and frantically trying to work out if I could swap the tickets (it was hard enough to get them in the first place) I looked at the dates again and realised I had made a mistake. We're seeing MP on the Saturday and her gymshow is on the Sunday. It does clash with a triathlon I had wanted to take part in, but hey... so long as she's happy...

We set off at 3.15 to the theatre, as we were taking mil with us and needed to find a disabled parking space. This we managed to do, but having never taken her to our local theatre before, I hadn't thought to specify seats with disabled access, and it transpired we were upstairs. Never mind, I said, we'll take the lift. Er. Wrong... there is no lift.

I managed to beg a couple of tickets downstairs off the duty manager, phew, and left Spouse and mil together, while nos 2 &4 came upstairs with me.

The show itself was very slick and well presented, as befits a dance school that sends most of its alumni onto the West End, but I have to fess up here and say its not my cup of tea.

No 3's bit was part of a Beatrix Potter routine, so we went through rabbits, squirrels, mice etc, before getting to No 3's two minutes of being a fish with Jeremy Fisher. I have to say it was two minutes to which she gave her all, but jeez, the tedium of having to sit through the rest of it. For some reason they had a loose theme of dances in time, so we started off with some jazzy numbers and moved on through to the fifties and rock n roll, the sixties and the Beatles etc. In the main it was quite fluffy and light, but clearly someone at the FS is dying to say something more serious, as there was a wierd darkly gothic interlude, which presumably was about the second world war. It was quite an arresting piece, but seemed rather out of keeping with the rest of it.

No 3 came and joined us after the interval, by which time No 4 was getting terminally bored (and can't say I blame her either) and kept asking in a loud voice if was going to be over soon. It did eventually end, but not soon, and then we were able to escape, safe in the knowledge that no 3 only had one more show to do. Phew...

Sunday dawned bright and fair, so Spouse spent most of the morning mending the shed roof, as you do, I spent it cooking, no 2 joined Spouse on the shed roof (and miraculously didn't fall of it) no 3 pottered in the garden and no 4 moaned that no one was playing with her. They were all by now very keen to see their big sister, though she didn't reciprocate this emotion when I went to fetch her. I don't want to go home to see my little sisters she moaned. What about me and dad? I asked. I suppose I don't mind seeing you, was the grudging reply. It's sooo nice to be missed...

As it happens, after a flurry of insults they did all settle down quite happily again, though sadly I couldn't, as I had to dash out with no 3 at 6pm for her final performance. I picked her up again at 7.30pm and sent them all packing to bed.

The show's over, real life continues. Thank god for that...

Real life being what it is, the repercussions of our busy weekend were self evident this morning. No one wanted to get up much (me included). I couldn't find any uniform, and no 1 was still eating breakfast at 8.20am.

Still, the show must go on....

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Life is a Rollercoaster, You Just Gotta Ride it...

Well. We've had a weekend and a half and no mistake.

On Friday afternoon I'd offered to pick up no 1's best friend from school and take them to dance class together, and then I had a sudden thought that maybe she would want to have some quiet time with her mum to discuss her result. I rang my friend up to discover to my huge surprise her daughter hadn't got in. This was a big shock as she is a bright button and we all thought it a dead cert. I commiserated with my friend and then spent the rest of the afternoon on tenterhooks until school pick up time to find out our results. My original plan had been to let no 1 open the letter at home, but when it came to it, I couldn't stand the tension, so I took it to school with me.

In the morning I had seen two friends who I knew had heard online and they had kept their heads down and said nothing. I had assumed from that it was bad news. I was therefore delighted to find out when I got to the infants, that their news was positive. In fact all three of my school run chums who I started out with six years ago have got their kids in. Phew. I didn't have to commiserate any longer.

No 1 was ages coming out of school. She normally dawdles, but you'd have thought on that day she might have spared a thought for her poor stressed mother and got out a bit quicker.

Eventually she arrived, grabbed the envelope from me, ripped it open and screamed so loudly they could have probably heard it in the next town, I got into..... The Other School, not the one we were after. She went off shrieking and hollering as by now she realised her bf was also going there.

I stood in a state of complete and utter shock. Anyone who'd heard her would have assumed she'd passed the test, but hey, at least one of us was pleased.

It was at that moment I realised that I had been pretty much assuming she would get in. Which probably makes me arrogant mum extraordinaire, but it was what everyone in the playground appears to have thought too. I don't think I have ever been so dumbfounded in my life. Or quite so disappointed. For her. For the effort she's put in. For us, for having failed her in some way. Until then I also hadn't realised how much I had wanted her to get in. I had genuinely thought I wasn't bothered, but I clearly cared more then I did. (Cue anxious mummy moment am I an overpushy, over expectant parent? Until now I hadn't thought so, but jeez, this sort of thing takes the wind out of your sails).

Never mind, everyone kept saying, I'm sure she'll be borderline, she'll probably get in via the waiting list.

No 1 meanwhile seemed ecstatically happy, so I ordered Dominos pizza for tea and let her ring up all her friends. I have to say, given that she is quite a reserved child, her behaviour was way outside normal range. Spouse gloomily remarked, in the spirit of Robert de Niro in Meet the Fokkers, It's as though she's celebrating failure. I wasn't convinced by this, as I thought her reaction ever so ever so, slightly OTT. We spent a gloomy evening in front of the tv, and retired to bed fretting about the letter that was coming from the school to tell us what her mark was.

At this point I was entirely convinced that she would be easily able to go on the waiting list, but nonetheless I was wide awake at 6am, and couldn't get back to sleep.

No 1 was off on a day out with the guides, and I was on normal ballet run duties, so it wasn't till lunchtime till we found out the result.

The cut off point for going on the waiting list was 326 (in the mock test she sat she'd got 344).

This time round she got 282.

Which is probably worse then if we hadn't bothered with tutoring.

What the hell had gone wrong????

I was really glad she was out of the house so we could react away without her. Our big worry was that she'd done this deliberately. She had said at one point that that is what she was going to do, and I had had stern words about always doing your best. The trouble is I know she is both bright enough, and subversive enough to do it. How do I know this? Because she's very like me , in that regard, and I did the same thing in a Music exam once. I hated music and I deliberately wrote the wrong answers down. I got 25% and a D on my report.

Is that what no 1 had done? I wouldn't put it past her.

Except, I had my moment of rebellion when I was a bit older then her, and I think she's still at the stage when she wouldn't dare, but you never ever know...

Spouse had a heart to heart with her on the way home, trying to feel whether or not she had been mucking about. And then we told her the result. And immediately it was clear that she was shocked to the core and she couldn't possibly have thrown it.

My eldest is a stoical little soul so to begin with she didn't break down, and I thought maybe she wasn't that upset. But ten minutes later I went into the lounge to find her sobbing her heart out.

Ever since she was born and she held out her finger and wrapped it round mine, she has wrapped my heart right around hers. How could I have doubted her? And how I wish she didn't have to go through this.

After many tears on hers (and a few on mine - Why are you crying Mummy, you didn't fail an exam? - no, but I feel worse then if if had been me), it transpires that she was far far more tense and worried about the whole thing then I had realised. She covers up her feelings so well, I thought she was coping. It also turns out that she panicked on the day and didn't finish one of the papers, explaining her lousy mark. In other words, she had an off day. It happens to the best of us... As I told her at great length, naming every single occasion that either I, or her father have fluffed up an exam.

I've gone through a maelstrom of emotions since. Was I wrong to sit her for a grammar school? On paper she should have walked it, but was it right to pressurise her so much? (I had tried very very hard not to) Should I have done more (I don't know if I could, she was so resistant to any kind of comment from me)? Somehow I feel I have failed her as a mother, and my confidence in my ability to make decisions for my children has been hugely dented. It seemed like the right thing to do, but maybe I should have picked up the warning signs earlier...

....And maybe not. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and had I known all of this I would probably have still sat her for the test and tried to do things differently, but she still might not have got in.

As parents we are on steep learning curves, particularly with our eldest - they are as my fil always used to say, the trailblazers - we can only do the best we can at each stage in their lives.

On the upside, she is going to school with her mates (as she always wanted to), she can walk there easily, and she will shine in the top groups. Maybe, given her nervous disposition she wouldn't have thrived in a grammar school situation anyway. And I have certainly learnt valuable lessons in how to deal with her worries.

So... tomorrow's a new day.

Whatever doesn't hurt you makes you stronger.

We didn't make the stars, but we didn't hit a tree either.

And we've only got to go through this.... ooh, three more times...

Not to mention, GSCEs, A levels, university....

Friday, March 02, 2007

Today's the day...

... When we find out what secondary school no 1 is going to go to.

Of course, if you have been paying attention to the news this week (which quite frankly must be dull as ditchwater for the majority of the population who don't have children changing schools), you would have thought we would have known yesterday.


As I suspected all along the magic date of 1 March was the day the letters got sent out.

Had I been brave enough to apply online (I wasn't - the stress of filling in a paper application nearly killed me, and had I cocked it up in anyway I decided that it wasn't worth risking a divorce over, so I played safe), I would of course know the answer by now.

Although the onliners didn't have it all their own way - by the end of school yesterday none of them had heard either.

Ironically, my best school run friend and I both had letters to say that our respective no 3s had got into the junior school. To our eternal shame, so preoccupied were we with the fate of our eldest offspring, we er, had both forgotten that their little sisters were changing school...

So anyway, here I am, and the LETTER has finally arrived, but I can't open it because I promised no 1 I wouldn't, so now it is sitting on the hall table burning a hole in it. Honestly. The tension of not knowing is worse then waiting for a positive response from an editor!

We are extremely fortunate, that in our case we have the choice (I use the word advisedly, as in alot of areas in our lives, New Labour had employed doublespeak to make us think we are making choices when in fact we are merely stating preferences. It is up the the powers that be to make the choice on our behalf) a good girl's school in the town we live in and an excellent grammar three miles away. I am assuming that we haven't got our third choice which ain't so great, as that will skew the game plan somewhat!

I don't want to get into a debate about the merits of selective schooling here, apart from to say if we all had a proper choice of good schools then the selective ones wouldn't need to exist.

I do, however, think that it is the right of every parent, be they rich, poor, middle class, working class, black, white, or little green aliens from Mars, to try to get their child into the school they think will benefit them most.

I am very fortunate to have bright children who study hard, and I wouldn't want any of them going into an environment where they were distracted by kids who come from families where those things don't matter as much.

In our town we have four secondary schools. One of each sex, and two mixed schools. There are no selective schools at all in Surrey. In fact, from what I can gather about Surrey's education policy the emphasis is so much on equality for all they seem to have forgotten that a) while we all want equality some kids are er actually brighter then others/sportier then others/more arty then others and b) there is nothing wrong with striving to be the best at what you do.

When I was at school we used to have a saying: Aim for the stars and you might hit a tree. Aim for a tree and you'll hit the ground.

Too often these days it seems to me, we all accept - or are told to accept - that aiming high is seen as A Bad Thing - particularly if you happen to be that pernicious thing, middle class. (And Oh, I am soooo sick of being made to feel guilty that I am middle class. It isn't my fault, honest, guv!)

Now I'm not saying that it is right for the middle classes to buy houses next to good schools and drive out the poorer families, because I don't think it is, but neither is it right that people should be made to feel bad if they want the best for their children.

Of the schools in our town, I would happily send the girls to the local girls's school (the head teacher endeared herself to me at the open day by saying at WHATEVER level children came into the school, the aim was to get each one to achieve her potential - quite right too), and one of the comprehensives. The boy's school is a mixed bag. I do know people who are happy with it. They have a good record on special needs, and I know one mum who is very anxious because she feels they will cope best with her son who has behavioural problems. But there are also dreadful stories about bullying, and while there is a fast track system for the brighter students, there's also a lot of stigma attached to that, so if you have a bright sensitive academic boy as several of my friends do, you really wouldn't want them going there. The other comprehensive is a sink school quite frankly, and no one should have to send their kids there at all.

The comprehensive school I would have considered (I would have had to put them down as first choice) is bang smack in the middle of a council estate. It has state of the art facilities, and could easily have become a very expensive failure. But by dint of choosing a proportion of children from each ward in the borough (surely the fairest way to ensure a mixed social group?), there is a good mix of different children and backgrounds. Of course we don't have the social problems of the inner cities here, but it's not all sweetness and light either. And the result of this particular school's policy has been to raise its standards and its profile, so now it is a much sought after school. But there's no point moving house to get your child in, as that won't help you in this instance.

I suppose whatever system is employed there will always be cries of Not Fair! Personally, I am alarmed at the idea that the situation in Brighton where a lottery has taken place (and from all accounts one that doesn't help the poorer families it was intended to), should be repeated elsewhere in the country (I do after all have to go through this process three more times), as it smacks of a particularly insidious type of social engineering. And all I can see it doing is making good schools worse and poor schools fail even more. Oooh, great, let's really dumb things down some more...

The problem at the heart of education in this country does seem to be that the idea of striving to better oneself has become a dirty concept. As if by wanting the best for your children you are some kind of heartless moneyed beast with no social conscience. And yet, the test my daughter sat was full of children from Asian families - they have no such moral qualms. And why should they? They want the best for their children too. And talking to a friend recently (who has four children by two different partners, lives in rented accommodation and grew up in a council house) about what she wanted for her kids, she wants the best for them too. She pushes them hard to try and achieve their best at whatever they set out to do. As any decent parent should.

It should be what everyone wants. But the sad fact is there are parents out there who don't give a flying f*** about their childrens' future, and failing schools are full of kids who don't give a stuff for authority (I'm not necessarily blaming them, they learn that behaviour somewhere), or about working hard to get on in life. No one would or should want to put their kids into an enviroment like that. So we have the catch twenty two of the failing schools being abandoned by the parents who do care (if they can afford to move away), or if they can't being stuck with their children getting a lousy education (there is one infamous school around here that is so poorly staffed the kids are only taught four days a week, which is scandalous), and the good schools being hugely oversubscribed. In that situation someone is always going to be disappointed. Our children only have one shot at an education, is it any wonder that the more unscrupulous of the middle classes bend the rules to get the best for their kids?

The scandal is that in a country like ours, in the 21st century, after ten years of a Labour government, we have any failing schools at all.

We should all have a proper choice about our children's education.

And that choice should be that every child in the country has the option of going to a good school and having a decent stab at getting an education, irrespective of class, colour, creed or finances.

But sadly, I think we're a long way from achieving it.