Charm School

sea ocean fish barracuda
Photo by Peter Simmons on


This September, I, along with my parental cohort had the delight of waving our offspring off to secondary school. Man of the House and I have received, as I am sure that you have, a lot of helpful hints and tips from school and other parents who have already been through this toe-curling experience, as to how to make it less excruciating for all concerned. I have now collected together this wisdom, reflected on it and put it to one side.  Here is my own helpful guide.
For Pupils

1.  Before you start at school you must ignore your parent(s) when they tell you that secondary school will be different to primary school. It was about a million years ago that they were at school – as if they have a clue what it’s like. Never forget that they are not young enough to know everything.
2.  Let them sort out all of the uniform etc. Show no interest whatsoever in what you are expected to attend school wearing, but simply expect it to magic itself all in the correct size, washed, ironed and labelled into your wardrobe and/or sports bag ready for you on your first day.
3.  Even though they have had to re-mortgage the house to purchase all of the new uniform a) grow out of it as quickly as possible and b) come home in the first week with exciting news of an expensive field trip.
4.  On your first day, and really for the first few weeks until you have got your parents into the new routine, you should ignore your alarm clock. Or don’t even bother to set it. Do not so much as flutter one eyelid until a parent enters your room with a cup of tea.
5.  Between the hours of 6am to 8am and 5pm to 8pm speak only in grunts. If anyone over the age of eighteen, except for a teacher, attempts to engage you in conversation, sigh exasperatedly and reach for your phone. If you do speak, remember to do so in the manner of a tweenage television presenter or DJ who are just so cool that they can barely be bothered to speak, and certainly not properly.
6.  It is anything but cool to use the word ‘cool.’
7.  Lose your pencil case/Biology book/school tie at the most inconvenient time possible, preferably just as you are about to leave the house in the morning. Be adamant and vocal about where you last saw it, claim that you have searched for it several times to no avail, and finally accuse someone else (preferably a sibling, if available) of moving it. Involve the entire family in the search, including the dog. Be incredibly ungrateful when someone else finds it exactly where you said it was not.
8.  Let your fingerprint loose on Parentpay. Everyone knows it’s not real money.
9.  After years of your parents trying to make sure you have a balanced diet, now is the time to get your own back. Have that daily Danish pastry or bacon sandwich at break, together with chips at lunch. Who wants to be as old as your parents anyway?  It’s a miracle they’ve lived this long.
10.  Everyone knows that homework is optional and should always be left until the last minute. It is also essential that you spend more time arguing with your parents about doing the homework than it actually takes to do it. Repeat daily for seven years.
11.  Swear as much as possible, even in front of younger children and especially when it is entirely unnecessary. But not in front of your teachers.
12.  Attitude. Get some. Get lots. But just for your parents. If you are chastised by your parent about your poor attitude you must go “oooooohhhh” as if to say “oh and now I’m really scared” to show how grown up you are.
13.  Should anyone related to you show you any sign of affection in front of anyone you know, die of embarrassment. If their hand so much as gets within ten centimetres of your person, flinch and look at them as if they had tried to beat you with a shitty stick.
14.  Similarly if they mention antiquated phrases like “first year” and “sixth form”. What the hell is sixth form?
15.  Fall asleep on the sofa in the evening or at the weekend. Your parents will forgive you anything, absolutely anything in the entire world, when they see you curled up and fast asleep.

For Parents

You know you thought that you would have more time on your hands, more money in your purse, more food in your fridge and you’d call a halt on mid-week drinking? Roasted.


Judge Me By My Size, Do You?



milky way galaxy during nighttime
Photo by Hristo Fidanov on

The best stories are always those where there is a battle between good and evil; the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, Frodo and Sauron, Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, those of you who love Marmite vs those of us who hate it…… You may recall that just over a year ago I wrote a blog about being involved with a potential building project of a new pre-school. I say potential because at the time of writing nothing was certain. For those who don’t recall it was a blog written about three days before we were scheduled to knock the old building down expressing my extreme anxiety as to the consequences, if, for want of a better phrase, we fucked it up. The two important points to bear in mind were: 1. We had to build it into the Summer holidays so we could open for the new term, and 2. We had one pot of money that had taken ten years to save, and that was it, down to the last penny.  And in that blog I said that I would let you know how our story came to an end; it was a titanic battle.

As many of you who volunteer or work for charities know, we needed cash. And lots of it. You’ll be relieved to hear that we weren’t three days away from the start date when I was writing and still wondering where we were going to find the money. However, I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to thank every single person who ever donated anything towards the project because without them we would never have got to it even being a possibility. Previous trustees had been scrimping and saving for almost ten years to try and gather a pot of money together to prepare for the day that the building came down, either because it was knocked down deliberately, or by a reasonably strong gust of wind.

As the gust of wind option became more likely the need for the cash became more pressing. Thankfully we had a committee member who had the perfect skill-set of knowing precisely how to wring money out of people combined with an ability to boss about those of us who didn’t. And to keep it up, consistently, for about four years. It is impossible to express to you just how hard it was to raise that money. And once raised, how incredibly careful we had to be to make sure that money was enough.

Whilst we were getting the money together, because we are not completely stupid (which may surprise most of you), it had also occurred to us that we needed the legal right to actually go ahead with the build. Apparently planning authorities and landowners get a bit sniffy if you just start building on their property.  This is where my complete and utter inability to organise a fundraiser did not matter (“Natalie you look as comfortable with that bunting as [three year old son] looks when I give him a pen”). However, my  skill to work my way through the varying departments at the local authority until I got to speak to the correct person to give us that permission did matter. I exchanged the contract, I believe, with around an hour to spare before an army of volunteers turned up to empty the building before it was to be knocked down and the site cleared the next day. Nothing like taking it to the wire.

The committee also had a number of very detailed conversations late into the night about the minutiae of the building. A long list of all of the things that would be necessary in order for it to function as a pre-school, together with the associated cost of those items and the difference between essential and desirable. My colleagues and I now know far more about toilets than frankly, we ever wanted.  Consequently we have also given more consideration and had more open conversation than we would have ever wished to regarding the dimensions of the human bottom.  Nevertheless, if you need a lavatorial expert, I know just the woman, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Taking the old building down and the new one going up was where committee member number four came in. We had employed a company to supply and construct the building but once it was plastered we were going to need some other people come in. Committee member number four knew (and presumably still does) an inordinate number of people with diggers and trailers, those big metal fences, drills, chain saws, and lots of other manly equipment and power tools. A selection of eager husbands, fathers and I think some people who just fancied joining in turned up the next day and took great delight in dismantling the old building and chucking it into skips. Committee member number four took five days annual leave to work on the project. And that excludes evenings and weekends.

This is not forgetting other committee members, and the Manager in particular, who were doing boring and unsexy but extremely necessary administrative stuff and things like sanding handrails for hours on end, digging holes and spending a thrilling evening on their hands and knees putting nails into the floor so the carpet could be laid.  All to ensure that we finished. On time. And on budget.  Ready for the new term.

Perhaps when you are surrounded by people who are all working towards the same goal, even if you differ at points as to how to get there, the thing that binds you together is that you all do want to get there.  Although there was a web of red tape involved which was exceedingly challenging to navigate, we didn’t feel that we were up against the wrong side.  It was realizing that some people are wandering through life with entirely and exclusively their own interests at heart that did.  One of our volunteers was working on the building one evening after being at work all day and looking forward to their dinner at eleven pm when their partner telephoned as they had come home to discover that they had been burgled. The plasterer walked off site the reasons for which we will never know and in doing so risked everything everyone had worked for, and five people’s jobs. Orcs? Death Eaters?  I think so. By contrast a local builder found us four plasterers who were in the building the next morning to try and catch up the time. A local farmer who grows and sells sunflowers for charity had heard about the project and gave us a donation.  Rebel Alliance?  Gryffindors?  Yup.

And us? The committee as was? What happened to us?  We are still around, but not putting our hands up for any charitable building projects any time soon.  Any number of people could have done what we did.  And we could not have done it without everyone who had gone before us, and everyone who stood with us at the time.  We just happened to be the people who were in the right place at the right time.  And we knew it.  Although some days it felt very much like the wrong place and the wrong time.  But it is my view that the anything worth having in life, something worth truly having, is something that you have to fight for – love, respect, friendship.  Do you remember that scene in Star Wars when Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the swamp using The Force? If you don’t (unconscionable but possible) look it up on YouTube.  Luke Skywalker stands amazed and can only just manage to say “I don’t believe it.”. Yoda turns to him and in his distinctive, ominous and slightly squeaky voice, utters the immortal words: “That. Is. Why. You Failed.” We were a group of people for whom failure was not an option. We knew that together we had the ability to pull it off.  But only together.  Which I think by my own assessment, makes us all Yoda. Yikes.


End of Sentence


I am one of those people who talk to the radio. Everyone sings along to the radio, but I listen to programmes and not only do I tut and huff and sigh, I also argue back. Last week I unleashed a tirade at the car radio when it reported to me that young girls and women in this country do not have access to adequate sanitary protection. It went on to tell me that girls were missing school each month because of this. The issue had come to light because a charity, Freedom4Girls, which provides sanitary protection for young women in Kenya was approached by a school in Leeds as they were concerned at the falling attendance of young women at school being due to them staying home because of their periods. That charity is now supplying sanitary protection in that area too. That’s Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.

I was fuming. The more I read about it, the worse it got. I had previously heard that food banks were appreciative of donations of sanitary products as they were needed, but I had no idea that it was this bad. Young women are choosing between whether to eat food or wear sanitary protection. One young woman said that she missed lunch sometimes (paid for by her EMA) to save some money for sanitary products. Another admitted to being given one sanitary towel a day by her mother. Another said that she didn’t like to ask her mother because she knew that they were expensive and that she couldn’t afford them. One young woman interviewed said that from the ages of eleven to fourteen she sellotaped tissues into her underwear, and sometimes just had to miss school.

It is bad enough that there are women in the world who live like this every month. It is not right in any way that women the world over are denied access to education. But I was horrified, truly and utterly appalled that young women in this country, in this country, are being denied access to both, effectively by virtue of their gender. Young women, our young women who look to all of us to support them and show them how to be grown women are missing food and school because they cannot access basic hygiene products; that is unacceptable in a first world country.

I saw that there is a crowdfunding page now set up so donations can be made towards a study. Go and do your study if you must. I am sure that it will be helpful to find areas of particular need. But I don’t want to talk about it any more. And in three years time I don’t want to read a report about it either. I don’t care what the reasons are. I don’t care if a young woman’s parents are crap, cash poor, or they want to find an excuse not to go to school. And I don’t care where in the country it is happening. It is happening and that’s enough for me. As I type, and as you read, young women, really young women who may not properly understand what is happening to their bodies, are rolling up socks to put in their underwear each month. And if they’re doing that this month, that probably means that next month that they will have no socks. I am so ashamed.

I cannot help but wonder if this state of being has been (unwittingly) arrived at by a historically patriachal and heterosexual society. Anyone can walk into any family planning centre in the country and get free condoms. You can go in, ask for them get a carrier bag full and have as much safe sex as you like, no questions asked. Marvellous. Good, public health issue assisted there. Women can also get other forms of contraception free on the NHS. Of course, men cannot because there is no such thing available to them. Yet. 2017 being sixty six years after the contraceptive pill was invented for women and fifty seven years behind it being freely available on the NHS. Nevertheless, even if you’re having unsafe sex, whilst you may be risking an STI, if the female partner is taking some form of contraception, you are most likely not risking a baby. Another public health issue assisted there. Great. Menstruation. Something that happens to pretty much every female of child-bearing age around the entire world every single month. Oh that. Well that’s just women’s stuff isn’t it? Best not to talk about it and let them get on with it quietly so we can pretend it’s not happening. And when it’s over we can get back to the sex without the risk of infections or babies.

Thank goodness that we are no longer living in a country where women quietly retire to the country for their confinement surrounded only by women, and then emerge three months later either carrying a child or not at all. In law, at least until 29 March 2019, women have equal rights to men. And that includes the right to an education and to live free from discrimination based on gender. We all know that in practice there is some catching up to do; sometimes obvious and sometimes less so. In this case, it has been revealed to us by day to day events borne out of mysogynistic attitudes that shaped the system and its output years ago; an attitude that thankfully is dying. As shocked as I am by this (as I think we all are given the reaction), I like to give us all the benefit of the doubt – we all made a mistake here and missed it. I want to apologise to all of those young women who have endured whilst we were not quite looking the other way, but not paying the attention that perhaps we should have been; we probably can’t make it right for you, but we will do our best to help change it now we know.


You may sign the petition for free sanitary products to be provided in schools by cutting and pasting the following link-


Original image John Anderson


Let It Go


At nine thirty on Monday morning, fifty four extremely excited nine, ten and eleven year olds boarded a coach. They barely acknowledged the group of parents waiting by the roadside to wave them off, chatting madly about what they were going to get up to, the games that they had brought for the journey, the sweets that they would be sharing, who would be sleeping where….Once on the coach we could see arms gesticulating and heads bobbing……

The fifty four children were off to North Wales for five days of outdoor adventure. This involves gorge scrambling, rock climbing, kayaking, bush craft, and as far as I can tell, cake testing.

The group of watching parents could be split broadly into two groups: those of whom had done this before, and those of whom had not. Those of us in the latter group were a little tearful and trying not very convincingly not to show it. We weren’t really talking to anyone else, and weren’t very interested in talking to anyone else. Arms were folded, heads and eyes were down, except to try and catch a glimpse of our child once seated. Those in the former group were talking animatedly with each other, thrilled at the prospect of five days without someone eating the entire contents of the fridge and already in eager anticipation of reaching the bottom of the washing basket. Arms were waving, heads were up, eyes bright.

The parents were passed and the children were followed only slightly less enthusiastically, by five teachers and a school governor. I say slightly less enthusiastically because last year I mentioned to the Head that she could perhaps find better ways of spending five days of her life than with fifty or so children not wanting to wash; she disagreed with me. And as she jigged up and down she confessed to “absolutely loving it.” When she bounced past me this year, it seemed that her enthusiasm was undiminished. One teacher practically skipped onto the coach at the prospect of being covered in mud for a week. Another, who is not given to public displays of emotion, looked the closest that I have ever seen to happy in the face of a holiday which may involve his safety rope being held by a child he made stay in from play. The governor has sacrificed five days of annual leave to go and spend it plastered to a rock face in the rain. This leaves me to wonder; what on earth is wrong with these people?

I have read two articles recently; one about the government needing more teachers and the other about Ofsted saying that people are leaving the profession in droves. It occurred to me, just on reading these two, short articles that perhaps it would be a good idea if the government and Ofsted talked to each other to see if they could work out what the problem is. Although they could find out what the problem is by asking any teacher, or the friend or relative of any teacher. I am both the friend and relative of several teachers, and as I have currently have the floor, I shall say what I think it is.

I believe that there are two problems with encouraging and keeping teachers in the profession; money and trust.  I have a friend who is in her first year of teaching and she is doing sixty hours a week at the moment. I have a relative who is in her twelfth year of teaching and she is doing sixty hours a week at the moment. There is a pattern here and it’s not related to their pay packets, which I shall come onto shortly. So there’s not enough money to pay them more? Not that I think they do it for the massively impressive pay check, but I have just one suggestion, and this is off the top of my head. My relative was observed teaching by her boss last week. Nothing wrong with that occasionally. There was a second observer in the room, to observe the observer. Let’s get rid of that observer. The one making sure that the person observing the observer is observing the observee correctly? That would be a start. Happy to help with looking to see where other savings could be made as well if that would be useful.

The second one is trust. The lack of trust for teachers makes my blood boil. There seems to be no other profession like it. People don’t query their dentist or their solicitor. Although I bet doctors get really annoyed with patients googling their symptoms.  With teachers it seems to be a free for all. It is born out the same cretinous mentality that thinks it is necessary to have an observer observing the observer. It is the idea that people teach because it’s an easy job and they get holidays ‘off’. What a load of crap. We’ve already established that the money’s rubbish.  People teach because they love it. And on days that they don’t love it because of all of the bullshit that they have to deal with, they still want to.

As I type, my son is probably dangling from a rope off the side of a cliff, a rope most likely held by one of his teachers. It will not surprise you to know that my son and his two sisters are the three most precious people in the world to me.* Yet I allowed my son to go.  I stood there, told him that I would be waiting for him on Friday and blew him a kiss as the coach left.  I did it because I am his mother and it is my job to raise him to be strong enough to leave me one day.  The only reason I could do it when he is so young is because all of the time that he is away I trust in my heart of hearts that his teachers will catch him if he falls.  Given that everything else that they have tried so far isn’t working, isn’t it time that the government did the same?

If you would like to raise your concerns for the cuts to school budgets in your area go to

*The reason that I can count beyond three is because I had a maths teacher who sat and told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t thick and I could do maths. And the only reason I am writing this now is because I had an English teacher who wrote in a report that my dedication to English never waivers – it hasn’t, it didn’t, and now I am old enough not to know that I can’t care what people think if I write.