Thursday, 31 December 2009

New year's resolutons

Well the date was begging for it wasn't it...

1) I will stop nicking.
2) I will start to accept my pyramania is an illness.
3) I will never, ever push anyone over again.
4) I will stop counting chocolate orange as one of my five a day.
5) I will leave irreverence to others - especially at funerals.
6) Only one joy ride per month and I will return the car afterwards.
7) I will understand that the C word is not appropriate in every situation - not even for overdue library books.
8) I will offer my bogeys to others before eating them.
9) I will stop justifying trashy TV and suduko by saying they are meditative.
10) I will no longer get annoyed and squirm inside when people use the term, 'let's not go there' because there are a few worse sins in the world, like murder.

Oh what a better person I would become.

No that was just me being silly.

I have never made a new year's resolution. If a change of habit is needed I like to think I could master it any time of year. However, truth is consistency is not overly my thing and there are probably several things I could do with 'adjusting.' Hey ho.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Another funny story

This is from my collection of funny stories that I encounter because of my job. It made me smile!

A Year 3 pupil (aged 7) asked her teacher,
"how do you spell 'f*ck'?" The teacher was obviously taken aback, coughed and replied,
"What is it exactly you are trying to write?" To which the girl replied,
"I've got the 'Nor', I just need the 'fuck'!"
'Norfolk' for those of you that might not have got there. A county that's beauty is found in its skies.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A pub brawl

A pub Brawl
from Jung – A very short introduction by Anthony Stevens
I could have written my own version of this but have chosen to use this fine illustation out of 1) laziness and 2) having no need to reinvent this fine wheel. Please note the views in the recounts are not shared exactly by all thinkers/feelers/intuitives/sensors of course, they are just illustrative!!!!

We all have either,

• Sensation
• Thinking
• Feeling or
• Intuition

as our dominant function.

Imagine one of each type witnessed the following scene:

Two men came staggering out of a bar. They are shouting and swearing at one another. There is a struggle. One of them falls to the ground and bangs his head on the pavement.

Each witness will respond to what is before them in a manner typical of his/her type:

The sensation type will give the clearest account of what happened. S/he will have noted the height, build and general appearance of the two men: one was overweight, middle-aged and bald and had a scar over his left eye; the other younger, fair-haired, more athletic and had a moustache. Both were dressed casually in T-shorts, jeans and trainers. It was the overweight one who fell and it was his right temple that struck the kerb. There was a crack on impact etc

The thinking type interprets the events as they happen, working out what it all means. The two men came staggering out of the bar so evidently they had been drinking. They are shouting and swearing at one another, so they are having a disagreement. A struggle ensues so they must feel strongly enough to become physically violent about it. One falls to the ground, so he must be the weaker (or drunker) of the two. The latter cracks his head so he may be concussed and in need of medical attention etc.

The feeling type responds to each event in the scene with value-judgements: ‘what a sordid episode!’ ‘What thoroughly objectionable people.’ ‘that is clearly a bar frequented by louts and not a place to go to if one wants a quiet chat with a friend.’ ‘The one on the ground may have hurt himself and as a responsible citizen it would fell wrong if I didn’t ring for an ambulance.’

The intuitive type ‘sees’ the whole story: they are football hooligans who support opposing teams. Disgusted by their aggression, the landlord told them to clear off and this inflamed them to violence. the man who cracked his head is accident prone and this is just another incident in a lifetime of misfortune. He has fractured his skull and a clot will form on his brain requiring surgery. He will be off work for weeks and his long-suffering wife will once again have to struggle to make ends meet. This is what happens to people from a disadvantaged background who have nothing else to live for but football and drink. Things like this will go on happening and get much worse because we do nothing to change society or improve the educational system.

1st being your dominant function......

Myers Briggs type 1st 2nd 3rd 4th

Myers briggs and communication.....

One of the best applications of Myers Briggs is understanding the communication difficulties that arise as a result of different 'preferences' communicating. As I wrote in my last post, if people have strong preferences, they are more likely to have 'blind spots' and it is these that can cause difficulties in communication.

I will take each spectrum one at a time and talk in terms of the difficulties that sometimes arise when an extreme version of one end of the spectrum converses with the opposite extremity.


The greatest difficulties in communication can arise in this spectrum. Extraverts can annoy everyone, even other extraverts because everything is just pumped out with no filtering process - from brain to mouth in 0.000003 seconds! Extraverts speak expressively (they often make gestures and wave their arms around a lot) and are prone to repeating themselves (usually to really emphasise a point) much to the irritation of the introvert that is sitting there thinking, 'you've said that already'. Extraverts will talk over each other - really needing to put their idea in the pot - however formed or unformed it is. Introverts are not without their own difficulties though. An extreme introvert will need to reflect upon an idea for a while before sharing it - which is beyond an extravert's comprehension. Introverts tend to pause before they speak (I call it the 'introvert pause'), seem slow to develop ideas and are therefore often underestimated. Extreme introverts can believe they have shared something when they have not, as the centre of their world is internal and they cannot remember what they have actually 'delivered' into the external world. An extreme introvert that I know will take another person's idea into his internal world, reflect on it for some time and then share it externally as if it was his own idea - because the external source the idea originally came from did not really register.

Another difficulty that can arise is due to introverts assuming extraverts have processed what they say as much as they do (before delivering into the external world). Because an extravert thinks aloud - as their ideas are forming - they tend to share the whole process of mulling something over. Introverts can therefore sometimes take these 'on the way to the conclusion' vocalisations as the final decision. So you can often hear an introvert say, but you said...' and the extravert will reply, 'oh yes, but that wasn't my final decision'.

If introverts and extraverts are separated to discuss and list something, for example 'list what is needed for a quality meeting.' you can readily witness the differences. The extraverts will actually move more while they discuss, they will talk more, talk over each other and their list will be a long, eclectic and diverse mix of not overly considered criteria. The introverts on the other hand will talk one at a time, listen intently and the list they produce will be a shorter but well considered one.


Sensors like communication to be literal, sequential, practical and not abstract. Intuitives are very happy with the opposite. An extreme intuitive will seem 'away with the fairies' to the extreme sensor. The sensors keep things 'real' but the intuitives can make huge connective abstract leaps that leave the sensors behind. An extreme sensor will also embellish descriptions with too much detail for the extreme intuitive. Intuitives want the concept, the general gist and not the all the details that the sensors enjoy. Intuitives start with the concept and then can fill in the details they see as necessary, sensors build up the details into the concept (and can therefore sometimes not arrive at the right place - not the place the intuitives 'saw' at the beginning).

In any task, both sensors and intuitives play an important role and can complement each other. The intuitives strengths are mapping out the aim, the 'point' of anything and any other big picture considerations (the 'why?'). The sensor's strengths lie in sorting the details (the 'what', 'when' and 'how'). However, if people are unaware of the individual's strengths in a group, everyone tackles a projects from a different starting point. An example of this was when I was planning a training day. I HAD to start with, 'what are we trying to achieve?' and 'what messages do we need people to receive?' whereas my sensing colleague asked, 'what time will tea and coffee start being served?'

I once read that the saying, those that can, do and those that can't teach - was a sensor's snipe at an intuitive. That sounds about right! Pure academia favours intuitives.


These two can sometimes have a terrible time with each other! Feelers are tuned into the emotional undertones of any situation, whereas a thinker's first port of call is the logic in any situation. So to a feeler, a thinker can seem brutal. An extreme thinker can speak his or her mind as what they say just makes sense and has no awareness that what they are saying might upset someone. Feelers, by comparison can be so tuned into the 'people' element of a situation that they avoid making decisions through trying to accommodate everyone and can come across as wishy-washy.

A very 'thinkery' headteacher once gave me an illustration of thinkers and feelers struggling to understand each other. He said, 'I had a shortage of staff so I asked a person who used to work in my school if they could return to work. I knew this decision wasn't popular with the rest of the staff as they told me.' Apparently this person had caused some problems among the staff but she was a good teacher, she lived locally and she was available. The decision simply made sense to this headteacher. He was very surprised at how much distress this re-appointment caused.

Another way of thinking about the differences between thinkers and feelers is that feelers are more likely to make decisions made on a 'gut reaction'. They make an evaluative judgement e.g. I prefer that to this. Whereas thinkers are more likely to work out the logical pros and cons of any decision. Also, feelers tend to be fully and emotionally involved in any decision whereas thinkers are better portrayed as impartial onlookers throwing points into the decision arena.

I will describe a disastrous thinker/feeler interaction I have witnessed more than once....

The thinker states something that makes logical sense to him/her. However, what the thinker states has overlooked the impact their suggestion might have on the feeler. The feeler is 'wounded' and takes offence and makes this offence known. The thinker cannot see the logic in what the feeler said and does not take their offence seriously because it's not logical. The feeler gets upset by the thinker's response and starts to speak even more emotively (and perhaps irrationally) and the thinker starts to think less of the feeler because they are making even less sense. Both end up upset (more likely to be the feeler) or angry (more likely to be the thinker) by the others' inability to see their point of view which makes absolute sense to the person that owns it.

In other words feelers are more likely to take things personally and once they are on the defensive because of upset, they are likely to make less and less sense to a thinker!


Judgers like closure, like things sorted, planned and done and dusted. Perceivers try to keep things open ended and avoid closure. So a judger can seem pushy to a perceiver and a perceiver can seem vague and erratic to a judger. A strong judger will also be decisive in their opinions and seem forceful to the perceiver who will be thinking, 'how can you be so certain?' To a question, a judger will tend to give a definite answer but a perceiver will tend to answer with another question - wanting to take in more data before they commit to a final judgement.

For example, 'did you like that film?'
Judger: Yes
Perceiver: I don't know, what did you think of it?

In meetings judgers and perceivers are obvious - not least by the way their bits of paper are sitting in front of them! The judgers have their possessions neatly placed but the perceiver's stuff is usually scattered randomly all over the place. Also, the judger is the one making decisions about how work needs to be taken forward but the perceiver still wants to explore further possibilites before they decide upon future action. Judgers will pin things down to time scales, perceivers can leave a meeting having failed to even consider such things. Extreme perceivers are always poised for that extra bit of information that could arrive at any moment and make the whole scenario need a re-think! Extreme judgers, however, gun for the clarity of closure and once the decision is made, do not want to visit it again - even if they learn something new about the situation.

Again these two types can complement each other. Perceivers are flexible and happy to explore all possibilities so they are good for the start of exploring a development but once everything has been considered, the judger is better at pinning it all down. Also, coping with a 'spanner in the works' is the domain of the perceiver. A strong judger will be unsettled if something does not go to plan, the perceiver is usually happy with the distraction!

I realise I could write so much more about this! Hopefully that is a tasty snippet.

Congratulations ..............

I can't resist congratulating my big sister for winning a travel writing competition in the Observer:
Sadly my link thing never seems to work so it's a cut and paste job for anyone that's interested.

Her writing appears to be taking off (a few articles here and there, and little snippets in the Guardian) and I hope it grows and grows, blossoms and reaches far out.

Monday, 28 December 2009

I must stop Myers Brigging people....

After a night out in the pub a while ago I received this e mail in my in-box:



Don't know if you remember our conversation about Myers-Briggs in the pub last friday, but it's definitely intruiging. I think, from googling, that you are right that I am defintely more of an INFP than an INTP. It's really quite surprising how well it seems to fit. Who knew that you could learn so much from just a few questions? The things that can be learnt from such a small insight into the human psyche really are quite fascinating.

Anyway, was lovely to meet you, do hope all is well.

All the best,

I did remember but I am starting to realise that I might be over-doing the Myers Briggs stuff a bit! I do a quick Myers Brigg typing of pretty much every teacher or head-teacher I have a one to one with, I've done it to people on trains, all my colleagues, some of my colleagues relatives, many friends and pretty much anyone who will receive!

I think sometimes my enthusiasm is a little over-bearing and it tends to polarise people. I either make a very warm connection with someone or alienate them completely. Then again I am quite happy not to be everyone's 'cup of tea'! Nobody could possibly be to everyone's liking. Love me, love my Myers Briggs I say!

However, having acknowledged that it's time to calm down on the MB front and as this blog feels very much like an effective outlet to me, I am wondering if I put some Myers Briggs stuff here (more than my brief post early November), I might once and for all get it out of my system!

So here goes.......
Myers Briggs personality typing is based on four spectrums. Everyone sits by preference somewhere along each spectra. The preference part is important. We can all move up and down each of the spectra (and our jobs, for example might require us to work outside our preferences) but we all have a natural point of preference. Carl Jung said we tend to live the first part of our lives thrashing our raw preferences but in the latter half start to explore the other ends of each spectra. We don't actually ever change our basic type, we just develop a greater 'roundness' with our type as the starting point.

People can be middling on a particular spectrum (but they will always have a slight preference) and this will mean they have few blind spots. With strong preferences comes strengths but also blind spots. Surprise surprise I don't have a lot of middling going on. (= Freak!)

Consider where you might sit by preference on each of the spectra. Collect your four letters e.g. ENFP. Google them and you will be surprised at how much insightful material comes back at you. I will blog tomorrow about the impact on type and communication/relationships! See I really cannot help myself. Clearly the Myers Briggs exorcism has a little further to go before completion.
So here are the four spectra explained:

FIRST SPECTRUM: Extravert (E) or Introvert (I)
'Radar in or radar out people'
(note: these words have been adopted into the English language from Carl Jung's work and their meaning altered slightly in everyday use. Extravert does not mean loud and introvert does not mean shy)

Extraverts often:
• Have high energy
• Talk more than listen
• Think out loud
• Act, then think
• Like to be around people a lot
• Prefer a public role
• Can sometimes be easily distracted
• Prefer to do lots of things at once
• Are outgoing & enthusiastic
• Are attuned to external environment
• Have broad interests
• Prefer communicating by talking
• Are sociable and expressive
• Work out ideas by talking them through
• Learn best by doing or discussion
• Readily take initiative in work and relationships

Introverts often:
• Have quiet energy
• Listen more than talk
• Think quietly inside their head
• Think, then act
• Feel comfortable being alone
• Prefer to work "behind-the-scenes"
• Have good powers of concentration
• Prefer to focus on one thing at a time
• Are self-contained and reserved
• Are drawn to their inner world
• Focus in depth on their interests
• Prefer communicating by writing
• Are private and contained
• Work out ideas by reflecting on them
• Learn best by reflection, mental ‘practice’
• Take initiative when the situation or issue is very important to them

SECOND SPECTRUM: Sensor (S) or iNtuitive (N)
'buck stops with what you see and hear in front of you, or people that receive information and extrapolate in their heads'

Sensors often:

• Focus on details & specifics
• Admire practical solutions
• Factual and concrete
• Notice details & remember facts
• Are pragmatic - see what is
• Live in the here-and-now
• Trust actual experience
• Like to use established skills
• Like step-by-step instructions
• Work at a steady pace
• Build carefully and thoroughly towards conclusions
• Understand ideas and theories through practical applications

iNtuitives often:
• Focus on the big picture & possibilities
• Admire creative ideas
• Imaginative and verbally creative
• Notice anything new or different
• Are inventive - see what could be
• Think about future implications
• Trust their gut instincts
• Prefer to learn new skills
• Like to figure things out for themselves
• Work in bursts of energy
• Move quickly towards conclusions, follow hunches
• Want to clarify ideas and theories before putting them into practice

THIRD SPECTRUM: Thinker (T) or Feeler (F)
'head' people and 'heart' people
(note: thinker does not mean intellectual and feeler does not mean emotional)

Thinkers often:
• Make decisions objectively
• Appear cool and reserved
• Are most convinced by rational arguments
• Are honest and direct
• Value honesty and fairness
• Take few things personally
• Tend to see flaws
• Are motivated by achievement
• Argue or debate issues for fun
• Analyse things
• Use cause-and-effect reasoning
• Can appear ‘tough-minded’
• Solve problems with logic
• Strive for an objective fairness

Feelers often:
• Decide based on their values & feelings
• Appear warm and friendly
• Are most convinced by how they feel
• Are diplomatic and tactful
• Value harmony and compassion
• Take many things personally
• Are quick to compliment others
• Are motivated by appreciation
• Avoid arguments and conflicts
• Empathise readily
• Are guided by personal values
• May appear ‘tender-hearted’
• Assess the impact of decisions on people
• Strive for harmony and positive interactions

FOURTH SPECTRUM: Judger (J) or Perceiver (P)
'people that like closure or those that like to keep things open ended'
(note: judger does not mean judgemental and perceiver does not mean perceptive)

Judgers often:
• Make most decisions pretty easily
• Are serious & conventional
• Pay attention to time & are prompt
• Prefer to finish projects
• Work first, play later
• Want things decided
• See the need for most rules
• Like to make & stick with plans
• Find comfort in schedules
• Are systematic
• Make short and long term plans
• Try to avoid last minute stresses
• Work steadily and consistently

Perceivers often:
• May have difficulty making decisions
• Are playful & unconventional
• Are less aware of time & run late
• Prefer to start projects
• Play first, work later
• Want to keep their options open
• Question the need for many rules
• Like to keep plans flexible
• Want the freedom to be spontaneous
• Are casual
• Adapt and change course
• Feel energised by last-minute pressures
• Work in fits and starts

Sunday, 27 December 2009


I once met a man called Chris at a hippie camp (Dance Camp East). (This photo shows him after I had 'done' his hair ready for the ball.) You certainly meet a selection of colourful, thought-provoking people at hippie camps. He told me that at the age of 23 that he decided that a LOT of the world's serious difficulties were and would be caused by over-consumption. He decided (at that young age) that he would reduce his own level of consumption by limiting his income and vowed to himself to only ever earn enough to ensure just his basic needs were met.

He also told me that he never saw life in terms of acquisition of material goods, but acquisition of skills. He said that every time he saw an opportunity to learn a skill, he would jump at it. He clearly had a wide array of skills (could fix, make or build almost anything) and people definitely showed admiration for his abilities. Perhaps the acquisition of skills really has waned in our society such that those with a healthy dollop of them them stand out. Or perhaps we just have more depth of skill rather than breadth. We can certainly get by with less physical and dexterous skills than our ancestors would have needed. But one thing is certain - skills are a positive thing!

(BTW This man is currently very involved in sustainable living projects - writing books etc - and says that even though he suspects humankind is almost definitely heading for disaster, this does not stop him doing his bit to attempt to prevent it!)

Having just experienced the madness that is Christmas: the ultimate in over-consumption and having watched my children go from a state of extreme over-excitement through anticipation to eventually being a little bored with each toy they acquired - always sets me off thinking about acquisition of 'things' and how we keep failing to learn that it really is not the secret to inner contentment (if indeed that is what people have realised they might be looking for?!?!) There is also some strange need for some to acquire 'bigger and better' to have an obvious indication of wealth and a display of 'superiority' over others. This can only be an insecurity - yes?

Acquiring skills is deeply satisfying and great for self esteem and undoubtedly provides a more sustainable satisfaction than acquiring a new gadget/toy/thing. What's more in carrying out something in a skilled way we can often experience what is called 'flow' - a meditative type state of absorption in what we are doing. So as we are building up to the time of fresh starts and future visions, I am going to ponder what skills I might like to acquire or develop further in 2010 and leave the purchasing of a red Porsche to someone else.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Breaking the blog spell...

My beautifully captivating and mesmerising big sister cast a spell on me. It was a spell that would make me sit in up in the clouds and write a blog every single day...mostly for her benefit - as she dutifully and kindly read and commented on each one. Being easily coaxed into most things and liking the idea of a blog meant this spell was fine...for a while.

Then.....I was sitting minding my own business (I look quite funny when I do that - most people do) when a huge green common-sense elf wearing red hotpants came and waved his wand at me declaring,

"Writing a blog every day when you work full time, have two youngish children and a million projects on the go at any one time, is a little silly. You can waffle on and on about just about anything and do have about forty draft blogs saved ready to run, but it's probably best you aim more for quality than quantity and only write about slightly more fully formed ideas! After all, less IS more."

I was released -although I fear that breaking the spell might cause the big sister to think up another spell...

I also want to cast the spell back on the big sister....

Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Have peaked and want to return to the build up...but that's how it goes every surely everything is just as it's meant to be.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

When my professionalism was called into question....

You know how stories from your past disappear and then come back to you again, well this was one such story I re-told recently for the first time in a long while....

I was a teacher of a Year 6 class in a very tough school. It was tough because of the children's behaviour, the lack of support for staff and the general 'divide and rule' tactics of the leadership i.e. very little team playing! That sets the scene a bit.

On this particular day, the kids had all come back to class after lunchtime especially full of 'issues' - more so than normal. So and so had done this and that to so and so etc, etc. They were in a terrible state and I knew that the planned history lesson was unlikely to be less than a good ten minutes away - due to the necessity of significant calming down. So I changed tack and decided we would go back outside and let off steam in an organised physical activity way.

My class loved hockey. Despite each pupil having such a potentially dangerous tool to hand, hockey lessons always went surprisingly well. So I sent a handful of kids to the equipment cupboard to grab six hockey sticks each and bring them to the edge of the playing field (right next to the mobile I was in). No sooner had the hockey sticks arrived, a boy from another class came over to say,
"Mrs Paley says it's her allocated afternoon for games and that you must put the hockey sticks back into the cupboard." To which I rationally replied,

"Games does not start for another hour and a quarter. Can you tell Mrs Paley that the sticks will be returned to the cupboard well before then." and off he trotted. He returned a minute later with,

"Mrs Paley insists you return the hockey sticks now because we have games this afternoon." I replied with restraint,

"Can you please assure Mrs Paley that as soon as we see anyone from your class getting ready for games, the sticks will be returned to the cupboard instantly."

The time he took to deliver his messages was time enough for my momentarily unsupervised class to start seeing the weapon potential in the sticks they were holding and I had to set some quick warm up tasks before things got out of hand.
The boy returned just as a child in my class was about to attack another.

"Mrs Paley says the sticks must be returned to the cupboard now."
I snapped, "Tell Mrs Paley that she's a stupid old bag." No sooner had the words left my mouth, I knew I had messed up a tad. The boy (who apparently was a 'bit of a character') took pleasure in returning to the class and stating in front of it, "Miss Potter says you're a stupid old woman.' (He toned me down a bit!)

In this school you could send a message to the office to say there was a child across the field throwing bricks onto the cycle path and that you were teaching and not free to leave the class and receive a return message saying, 'deal with it yourself.' So I was surprised at the swiftness by which the deputy headteacher was sent to relieve me to get me into the headteacher's office. I am not sure what happened to the hockey sticks at this point!

I went straight to 'sirs' office to find the messenger boy, Mrs Paley and the headteacher sitting looking very glum. The head says,
"Tell Miss Potter what you said she said," he barked at the boy for it was apparent they believed he must have made the whole thing up as a teacher would surely never say such a thing!
"She told me to tell Mrs Paley that she was a stupid old woman." They were still looking at him, clearly very angry by his abhorrent rudeness.

"Well Miss Potter," says the head, still not looking at me, "did you say that?" Time stopped for a while while in my head I went something like...

...can't blame the boy...a tiny bit tempting though...but I couldn't lie....poor kid's done nothing wrong....but what about how unreasonable she was about the hockey sticks...that hasn't been mentioned...don't think I can bring it up as mitigating circumstances...shame....gonna have to come clean...'


The boy was hurriedly removed from the office and I was given a lecture about never having to have called my professionalism into question before and the course of action to take would need to be considered.

Thankfully, nothing was made official and I was given an 'informal' warning. Imagine having 'called a colleague a stupid old bag' written on your records...I'd never have worked again.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A blog request..

I've had a request (I take requests) for a blog from my blog's greatest follower: my sister. Hello Claire you big loveliness. Her request was:
Can you write a list of things you say at least once a day every day i.e. phrases and expressions you say a lot.

Now being me, I have to bend the rules a tad because I am a bit of a catchphrase person and have periods of time when I say the same thing a lot ...but not necessarily every day ....and then move on to new catchphrases. So I am going to categorise my list:

Things I do probably say every day
*Could you flick my computer on please? (as my husband goes to get his underpants!)
*I love you
*You're great
*Alright darlin'? (I probably say that 20 times a day)
* Mc - I turn many things into a rhyming Mc for example Chilly McFilly or Scrummy McWummy (my daughter is very irritated by this so I am trying to phase it out)
*Where are my shoes/keys/etc?...something is nearly always playing up and hiding from me
*I'm just going to juice (beetroot and carrot juice every morning)
*Let's go snuggle up
*I'm having difficulties
*You're bonkers
*Anyone got anything to report - said round the dinner table every night as we share our day's stories
*Time for a huggle/give us a kiss (I'm overbearingly demonstrative)
*I love my family!!!! (declared loudly - usually after someone has done or said something funny)

Current catchphrases
Some of these have been around a while now.........
*You know me - vague in a specific way (which actually means I know clearly what I don't want but not what I do want)
*Everyone has great bits and crap bits
*Have you grown? I say this to everyone who is taller than me - which is most people.
*I'm with you (said to reassure my husband when I am in the passenger seat that I am navigating and have not started daydreaming)
*You could have married a nice girl
*quite frankly - a great phrase to punctuate something that needs really expressing
*Do I look like I can go into the real world (to prompt my husband checking me over before I go to work)
*It's not me - it's the way my brain is wired
*I'm a little over-stimulated
*It keeps us off the streets which is good because I for one would be out mugging (said at work regularly)
*I'm peaking/I think I peaked too soon

Old catchphrases that I can remember
*Roger -there was about a year when I called EVERYONE I knew Roger or Rodge- my kids, my husband, my boss, my colleagues. I have grown out of it now. People are probably pleased.
*My life is an interactive Mike Leigh Film - originally started by my brother-in-law
*That's a pile of poo (adjective - something I don't like)
*What is the point of you again?
*It's probably a pilot scheme - just been reminded of that - used to describe anything slightly out of the ordinary in Norfolk as rumour has it Norwich is the centre of the pilot scheme universe
*That's hard work food (nuts, tangerines, boney fish etc)
*Are you gonna pull through? - asked when someone - usually my husband - looks a little under par!
*I love you one - to which my chap responded - I love you too.

I might have to add to this over time because this is all I remember now but I know there are more. Just call me Brucie.xx

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


A few months ago I watched an extremely right wing politician on Question Time (I don’t want to write his name because a friend of mine posted a pro-diversity song onto Youtube and got abusive comments from followers of this man – but I am sure you can guess who I mean). I sat in my living room and just felt my blood boil. This articulate, intelligent but twisted man clearly saw some human beings as having fewer rights (and should be given fewer opportunities) than others based on their place of birth (and colour of skin – but he side stepped saying that directly). I am not going to launch into pro-diversity or political prose myself as that was not the learning I got from watching this man.

I was actually surprised at how much deep-felt anger and hatred I felt towards this man. And then it occurred to me that this was all part of the problem ……....polarisation! Extreme views can create extreme responses. If I was in the same room as him, I might have hit him (perhaps metaphorically). This would have angered him and he might have hit me back. My ‘side’ would back me and his ‘side’ would back him and we’d have a full blown battle. Each side would be completely convinced that their view was the right one. The more polarised we became the more anger and hatred would be created, this anger would fuel greater determination to hold onto each polarised view and the less chance we would have of ever truly ‘receiving’ communication from each other.

So is that conflict in a nutshell? If so, it goes nowhere and achieves nothing but anger, hatred and sometimes violence and war. Oh yes, I see, despite the obviousness of what I have written, as a species we have not worked out yet how to prevent this universally.

Now I know racism (or culturalism or whatever this politician might call his particular ism to pretend it was something it wasn’t) is completely out of order (against the law in fact) and should be an anachronism by now. But he clearly doesn’t. What should I do? Should I get angry and shout at him or should I feel sorry for him? The latter might be better as that could create less anger. Could he be educated to understand the impact on real people of his extreme views – possibly more likely if I am not shouting at him! I have to communicate in a way that could be received if I am to have any impact.

What about conflict that does not have a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ as spelt out by the law - for example different religious views? Or what if the conflict is about one nation bullying another but the bullying nation believing their bullying is warranted? The same hatred fuelled polarisation happens and the solution must be the same: communication to create empathy, understanding and tolerance. I'm in cloud cuckoo land again.

I included an activity on conflict in one of my books: PSHE for 9-11 year olds. I wrote it some time ago, but I realise it basically prompts discussion that illustrates the same as I have just written: Here it is:
On the island of Jallee and there are two types of people – those that believe the sky is more important than the sea (the Jyes) and those that believe the sea is more important than the sky (the Jees).

Every time the Jyes and the Jees get together, they argue about the sea and the sky and they have done this for many years. Because of this conflict, all the Jees now live at one end of the island and the Jyes live at the other. The adult Jyes and Jees spend no time with each other because they are fed up with arguing. The only time when any Jyes and Jees get to together is when the children go to the one school on the island.

The Jyes and the Jees hate what has happened and would love someone to come and sort it all out.

Which of the following do you think might have some chance of sorting out the problem on the island of Jallee?

 Build a wall between the two sides of the island, build two schools and keep the Jyes and the Jees completely separate.
 Get everyone from the island together and discuss the sky and the sea and see if it can be decided for once and for all whether the sky or the sea is best.
 Get the Jyes and the Jees together and discuss all their similarities. Talk about what both the Jyes and the Jees would actually want the island to be like.
 Encourage the Jyes and the Jees to argue more to try and get them to be so fed up with arguing that they stop.
 Make a law and punish the Jyes if they say the sky is better than the sea.
 Make a law and punish the Jees if they say the sea is better than the sky.
 Encourage the Jyes and the Jees to respect the fact that not everyone believes the same thing. The Jyes and the Jees can start learning this at school.
 Try to find out who started the argument and punish that person.


And even better. A friend of mine (Mike Fleetham) retold a Native American story that is such a powerful metaphor for illustrating the pointlessness of conflict.
He said I could use this story however I chose but please be aware it is from Surprising Stories to Stimulate Creativity by Mike Fleetham....

A tail of War
A young boy from the Iroquois tribe was walking in the forest. He had no-where to go and nothing to do so he simply took his time enjoying the beauty of nature: the smell of pine trees; the fresh clean air; the music of birds and the soft pad-pad-pad of his moccasins on the rich earth.

All was right with the world; everything balanced; he was at peace. So, naturally, when he came to a low grassy hill in a sunlit clearing he lay down to take a nap. He fell into a deep and dream-free sleep.

All of a sudden he woke up. A sinister grey cloud had heaved itself in front of the sun. The day turned dark and chilly and the boy began to feel uneasy. His serenity had disappeared. He stood up and set out quickly in the direction of his village, but as he reached the top of the hill a terrible sight met his eyes: down there on the other side was the longest, shiniest, thickest, blackest snake that he had ever seen. But worse than the sight of it was what the snake was doing; it had a huge bull frog in its mouth and was busy swallowing it. That was disgusting.

The snake had unhinged its jaws to create room for the frog to be pulled inside but the frog was not making an easy meal. Its back legs had disappeared but its body was being sucked only a little at a time. The frog was putting up a worthy fight and as the boy watched it struggle he saw it eyeing the snake’s tail which was flicking from side to side not a bow’s length away. With a desperate lunge, the frog grabbed the snake’s tail in its mouth and there and then began to swallow the snake.

The frog went a little further into the snake, but at the same time the snake was being swallowed by the frog. Inch by inch each pulled the other into its own throat. Eventually all that was left for the boy to see was the frog’s mouth full of snake and the snake’s which was full of frog. And then, with a last frantic gulp from each animal, along with a pop and a squelch, they both disappeared.

The boy stood there shocked by what he had seen. After a while the sun came out from behind that heavy grey cloud and the air turned warm again. He set off back to his village, deep in thought and aware that he had been given a very important message about life in the world of adults.
© Mike Fleetham 2009

Fantastic stuff. So let's all just try and get on yes? Bloody hippy!

Monday, 21 December 2009


A few years ago I was persuaded to go to a reunion at my university (UEA). It was for alumni that had started their undergrad degree in the 80s. I remember wondering at the time if a reunion was one of those things that sounded pleasant enough in theory but in reality would be awful. I was convinced attendance would be fun by posse of Norwich residing UEA graduates that I already knew, so in spite of my reservations I figured it would be just like a night out with friends - if nothing else. How wrong I was. I think the whole thing disturbed me considerably!

When I arrived it was apparent that if anyone I knew from my university days was there - I certainly wasn't recognising them. Some people had come for the whole weekend and a very well-planned agenda took them to old haunts and let them re-enjoy the delights of Norwich. I (and my friends) had just dipped into a meal in the campus canteen(!) and an 80s disco on the Saturday evening.

The meal was pleasant enough (mostly an opportunity to reminisce about institutionalised food) and I totally forgot that I was part of a reunion but the disco afterwards was when the serious unsettling occurred. Sitting in what had been a bar we had spent our early adulthood buying cheap beers and being rowdy in, we found ourselves strangely surrounded by middle-aged people. It was a scary and stark reminder that time certainly did not stand still and worse, all that youthful rebellion, all those dreams and ambitions and that forceful passion had sold out to everything you could never have persuaded our youthful selves we would ever be part of. We were middle class, we were name dropping and we were by comparison, considerably staid.

I think the most disturbing vision I had all night was of a woman in her late forties, with long grey hair dancing to 'The Clash' in a floral skirt. That just was not right and it's incongruence was an undeniable display that represented what had happened to us all. I know getting older and developing slightly more conservative outlooks was inevitable but we were in the actual place where we once truly believed it would never be inevitable! It was like a big, 'I told you so.'

Of course we also spent time reminiscing. We all had stories about the place that united us all in the first place - when we were YOUNG - but sharing the stories in established adulthood, I felt like we were in danger of damaging the memories of those magical days from the past. I wanted to leave those memories untampered - actually undertaken by people in their late teens and early twenties, not recounted by people in their forties with a distinct tone of disbelief!

So actually with the wisdom that I developed from this experience, I don't think a reunion sounds good even in theory.

However, a little alcohol and 'connection' with some music from the 80s, meant I arrived on the front cover of the next alumni Magazine: Ziggurat. Clearly I'm good at overcoming challenging and disconcerting circumstances - as there's little evidence of the trauma I had been experiencing here!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Obsessed with an ancestor!

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine offered to investigate and map out my family tree for me. I jumped at her offer - not sure what pleasure exactly I would receive from her doing so, but thought it would be interesting in the least. I had not realised how I would actually become a little obsessed by one member of my family tree: my mother's father's father's mother or one of my great, great grandmothers: Maria Ward.

The first general point of interest for me was that although I had been brought up near Gatwick and had knowledge of most of my family coming from south and east London, I did not realise there was a substantial sprinkling of Norfolk - found in three independent branches of my tree. I came to Norfolk to go to university and stayed, totally unaware of any local family history. When your ancestry is a few miles down the road, it's far easier to investigate, explore and get a bit excited about. It turned out Maria Ward lived about fifteen miles from Norwich and with my friend's help, I have pieced together some key clues to the life she led - which was no bed of roses!

Maria was born in 1851 to Sarah and Samuel Ward in the village of Halvergate, Norfolk. The males in her family were all agricultural laborers (or fishermen), so it was not a wealthy family. The 1861 census lists Maria (aged 10) as a scholar at the Hall school (now a Victorian looking building about 200 metres from the edge of Halvergate that is used like a village hall). I have imagined her skipping down the hill, past the church on the right to school. Other details I have of her childhood include:
*her older brother Christopher left the household to marry Caroline,
* and two of her younger sisters (Sarah and Leah) died while young
When Maria was 13 her mother died and two years later her father also. This left just Thomas, her older brother by two years in her household (in terms of adult males capable of sustaining the family). Sadly he died in 1871 of tuberculosis. His death certificate shows Maria's mark (a cross) and cites that she was present at his death. This would have left a household of Maria (aged 19), John (aged 10), Ester (aged 11) and Sarah (aged 3 - but she also died in 1871). Now comes a degree of mystery between the census of 1871 and 1881. The next census shows Maria working as a housekeeper for a widower (James High) in Reedham (a few miles from Halvergate) with a three year old daughter called Sarah. I searched out the birth certificate for Sarah and found she had been born in Lingwood Workhouse on 20th August 1877. This daughter died shortly after the 1881 census (aged 4) of scarlet fever. Had she died any earlier, I would not have been able to put the workhouse detail into Maria's life. Lingwood Workhouse no longer exists but I have seen it marked on an old map and I will eventually go to Norwich Records Office to search for more detail. Sarah, therefore ended up pregnant and unmarried a few years after her brother's death - whether that was in Halvergate, the workhouse or even in Reedham I am unlikely to discover.

On the 1881 census it states that Maria and James lived in 'Railway Cottages, Low common'. These houses are still there, right next to a level crossing and as James was a railway platelayer, this makes sense.

Maria went on to have several children (some of whom died) while she was housekeeper to James High who was 27 years her senior. One of these children was my great grandfather: Charles Christopher Ward born in 1888 and he has no father's name on his birth certificate. I can only assume James was the father as on 24th December 1890, James and Maria pretended to live in Row 40 (you had to prove you were living in the parish of a church if you were to marry in it back then) so they could marry in St Nicholas' Church in Great Yarmouth. Actually living in Row 40 were a fellow railway platelayer and his wife (Phillip and Harriet Clyne)who were also witnesses to the marriage. Something, probably scandelous, had stopped them getting married in Reedham Church (like having several children out of wedlock?). Their marriage certificate states they have no children.

After this marriage, James and Maria moved to '23 Drury Lane, Reedham - a street that no longer officially exists and I would have to trespass to see the house. They then went on to have one more child legitimately: Leah High. My mother has cine footage of myself aged 4, feeding the ducks from Reedham key next to my grandad (Charles Christopher's son) and 'Aunty Leah'. At the time I was told she wasn't a 'real' aunt. Was being the legitimate and illegitimate children of the same parents enough to prevent you from being really related? Aunty Leah married a 'Snelling' and her grave and that of her son (Sidney) are in the graveyard. She died in 1977.

I recently added more detail to the tree because Reedham Church has made some burial records available. James High died in 1911 (aged about 86) and Maria died at the age of 82 in 1933.

Having this amount of detail is in some ways satisfying but in others just leads on to more questions. I want to know:
*what she was like,
*what happened to her after her brother died,
*who originally got her pregnant,
*whether it was her pregnancy that took her to the workhouse (probably),
*what happened to her younger brother and sister after Thomas' death,
*what her and James' marriage was like (was he kind to her?),
*how much she suffered for having illegitimate children,
*Whether James really was the father to all of Maria's children or not,
*why her and James eventually went on to marry (perhaps his children from his previous marriage prevented it for some time).

So now I am working on a time travel machine.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

It's what the term love-hate was made for!

This Christmas thing is undoubtedly madness. I think it's definitely a case of 'just because everyone else is doing something, doesn't make it right.' Look at how we are behaving.

1) We're out in the snow, ice, bitter cold and exceptionally jammed up shopping centres in full force frantically hunting with Dunkirk spirit through shops for objects that match up to our idea of what someone else might deem desirable. (We all have more than enough clutter in our homes - most of which we have managed to shower on ourselves without anyone else helping and if we have kids, more than enough future plastic landfill).

2) We're in food shops buying immoral amounts of rich food that should make us feel ashamed in the light of people starving in the world. (Chances are we won't get through it all).

3) We're ordering a bird that just doesn't come in small family sizes - which we will cook and eat until we are sick of it. (Quite different from household management the rest of the year).

4) We've cut down trees so they can be tastefully (or in our case, gaudily) decorated with trinkets that we accumulate more of over time. (I hear some people have a different colour scheme/theme each year).

5) We're using paper for cards and wrapping that appears to mean Christmas has an exemption clause on anything moving in a 'green' direction.

6) We're lying to our kids about a man that knows whether they have been good or naughty and quite laboriously constructing stories that are needed to make his existence and remarkable job plausible. (Yet we also want our kids to question and have a good grasp of how the world works!)

7) And most of us have long since forgotten the underlying initiation of all this business - to the point of it being 'an irrelevant but sweet little undertone'.

8) And even more crazily, we're pinning an awful lot on making just one, little day exceptionally special - even though we know it's always a bit of a lazy anti-climax!

Yeah, but do you know what? I love it! Winter would be terrible without it - those pagans knew what they were doing!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Persuasion -I am good at it, but........

I have undoubtedly become a bit bored with part of my job: sex education and persuading people it is a positive thing. I can still pull out a convincing and persuasive passion, but I do feel a little exhausted sometimes trying to buck a huge cultural trend. My little victories of persuasion feel like I am making the odd fish turn and swim upriver and while they might swim with strength at first after my push, many often weaken and just eventually go back with the flow.

Teaching the factual element of sex education is not rocket science. Helping people to 1) realise it is a good thing, and 2) feel comfortable enough to deliver it is a little more tricky. I wrote this leaflet for work to help cover part 1. I wrote it after a particularly frustrating conversation with an anti-sex education person!

Sex – we need to start talking about it!
The idea of children and young people learning about sex and relationships appears to cause a lot of anxiety in this country. The UK has a culture where talking about sex is stigmatised and causes shame and embarrassment. Many of our children and young people pick up a very strong message early in life that you just do not talk about sex or certain body parts – and definitely not with adults. This is because most adults won’t talk to them about sex (or even body parts) and become extremely and obviously uncomfortable if the topic is brought up. This inability to communicate about sex stays with our children as they grow up.

When it comes to sex, there are a lot of potential hazards teenagers can encounter. For example:
• Being pressurised into having sex
• Sexually transmitted infections
• Unplanned pregnancy
• Having sex they regret
• Having sex too early

To avoid any of these hazards, a young person would need to be able to talk about sex (for example: be able to suggest a condom). To be responsible about sex, a person needs to be able to talk about it. In countries like the Netherlands where people do talk openly, supportively and respectfully about sex, young people are far less likely to encounter these hazards.

Without trusted adults that are prepared to give them accurate information and help them develop positive and realistic expectations about sex, our young people are floundering around with absolutely no understanding of what sex should or should not be about.

We need to be realistic and understand that the vast majority of young people will have sex at some point. We therefore need to help our children and young people to start feeling more comfortable talking about sex if they are to go on and have positive experiences. This starts with us being brave and being prepared to start conversations

Common anxieties.......

“Won’t talking about it encourage my child to experiment with sex?”Research shows this is certainly not the case. Children and young people who have never learnt about sex are more likely to ‘fall prey’ to negative sexual experiences.

“Won’t this taint my child’s innocence?”Parents/carers that have told their children how babies are made at a very young age would argue their children are no less innocent for having this information. This information is not harmful. Talking openly about sex early in a child’s life teaches them that adults are prepared to talk about it and that there are people they can turn to for help and support should they need it.

“Won’t this information worry my child?”Not if it is taught sensitively with lots of opportunities to ask questions. The way most people were taught in the past did sometimes leave them worried and confused!

“I don’t know what to say”There are lots of well-written books and leaflets that cover the topics of sex and the changes of puberty. These will help.

“I just get too embarrassed.”Start conversations while doing something else (e.g. washing up) so you can avoid eye contact. Once underway, you should find the conversation gets easier.

“It just feels wrong talking to kids about sex.”Nearly everyone has a strong reaction to talking about sex with children and young people. It’s cultural. The UK is not a nation that is generally comfortable talking about sex in an open and sensitive way. However this attitude is unhelpful as it has left our young people clueless about what a positive sexual experience would be and therefore vulnerable to negative experiences.

What our children are learning anyway (often with adults not knowing)......
Children and young people are bombarded with information from a variety of sources (for example: TV adverts, graffiti, shop displays/posters, the internet, computer games, pop video images, TV programmes, their school friends, older brothers and sisters etc) about sex, relationships and gender.

Some of the messages children receive from these sources are not accurate or realistic and in the absence of adults to help them process this information, they are often left confused or with ‘unhealthy’ ideas. The media, for example, can lead children to believe:

 Everyone is having sex all the time.
 Sex is only ever exciting, fun, easy and uncomplicated.
 You do not need to be responsible about sex.
 Sex is something that is everywhere, but you do not talk about it openly or sensitively.
 What you look like is the most important thing about you and there are very narrow ideas about what is considered attractive.
 To be a successful man, you have to have sex with lots of women.
 To be a successful woman, you must look sexy.
 Sex is something we cannot be serious about.

In the absence of adults prepared to talk about sex with children and young people, these messages become their SRE. One of the jobs of Sex and Relationships Education is to challenge these messages and give children and young people accurate and realistic information.

Have I persuaded you?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

My daughter is great at making posters

I had a bit of an accident yesterday. Several glasses of white wine fell into my mouth. It was remarkable. I was sitting, all civilised, eating lovely food in a fine restaurant with work colleagues, celebrating the birth of little baby Jesus, when I had the accident. It rendered me unable to speak or even walk properly. Funny thing is, I would recommend it, as I had fantastic fun - but not too often.

So even though a hangover is somewhat like an old friend, it's not conducive to bountiful blogging. So my offering today is a poster my daughter made when we were decorating. Poor - I know - but I am still re-hydrating, rubbing bruises and moving in slow motion.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


I am lightening up today with some silliness!! Please join in.....!
I was once told that thinking up uses for a brick was a way to test people's creativity. So I went home and I had one or two ideas....
• prop up a table that had one leg partially removed by a hamster with a chainsaw strapped on its back
• an imaginary friend for those wishing for an entry in the best of British eccentrics
• the start of a long story about Jack the builder for visual learners
•a chest rest to help you read a hardback book
• to provide a bit of momentum to shove a stiff tap
• a foot pumice
• something that made you feel like you had done a headstand without actually turning yourself upside down
• a pushchair brake
• powdered into a rouge
• a blindfold for a cheat that you didn’t like very much
• a counter for a 'stand in' during a game of twister
• a marker for a blind person to help them find their front door
• a booster for a sandcastle for the kid who got to the beach and had no tools
• a slug killer
• a strike for a match if you need to look cool
• a wall
• a tool to make you appreciate your partner I his/her absence by forcing yourself to share a bed with it
• a potato masher
• a template for another brick
• a theatre prop that was pretending to be an early mobile phone
• an ashtray
• a wrapped-up-as-a-trick expensive present – cos they’re heavy
• a step up to the toilet for a person who is just that little too short like me
• a seat in a place you were forced to camp and you happened to be a pixie
• a Brazil nutcracker
• a book end
• a muscle toner for people who lift things to get muscles
• a weapon to kill people
• a conversation piece for your dining table
• a marble container
• a ‘squash bread up’ so it returns to looking like dough, tool
• a slug home
• the centre piece for a lesson on cuboids
• a weight to make and empty designer bag look like it’s doing something other than just being designer
• a lawn flattener
• a back scratcher
• something that you put in the way of someone carrying 7 cups of tea to make them look a little clumsy
• a balance for a person who has one leg 10 cm longer than the other
• for use in the toss the brick contest in the village fete
• a book mark for people with no subtlety
• a rounders post
• to represent a whole shopping complex on monopoly
• to keep a cinema seat down when you go to the toilet
• to momentarily make kids grateful for the 21st century by using it as an example of all there was to play with back in the good old days
• an artificial limb for anyone who’s been petrified
• a door stopper
• a tin opener for those not fussy about eating off the floor
• a washing – up sponge mangle
• a dual action windscreen de-icer/spare key
• a confident swimmer’s throw and retrieve tool
• a chock
• a small doll’s house roof mould
• for making the sound effect of a brick hitting the ground in a play about two families that lob bricks at each other
• a gimmick for an anger management course – get people to shout at it until they feel foolish and then laugh
• to demonstrate teamwork; one brick can’t do anything – many can make a house
• an ugly paper weight
• for quick popping of bubble wrap
• a hat for an attention seeker
• a question in a volume calculation lesson

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

My father's death

Death is one of our culture's taboos so I hope this blog does not offend. We're not very good at death - you'd think there would be a useful protocols by now - we've been at it for thousands of years! Because death's not really spoken about nobody appears to know what might help in such testing times - certainly not if my closest experience with it is anything to go by......

My dad was an unusual character - extremely unorthodox and very angry. We never got to the bottom of whatever made him like he was because the tiniest hint of digging below the surface always provoked an angry outburst. He could go from nought to full rage in less than a second and my siblings and I got very good at treading on eggshells as children. He was incredibly academically clever and capable: good at constructing things (made me a beautiful wooden magic roundabout), a practical scientist - could build radios and all sorts of gadgets, creative - pretty good at painting, a linguist (spoke Spanish, translated French documents for air traffic controllers, and learnt Korean in his later years) and could apply himself to just about any problem solving. He also did 'fun' in a great 'outside the box' way and I certainly connected with him through a form of silliness I have only ever really found within my family. Unfortunately however, probably typically for his generation, he was emotionally illiterate.

Sadly, after a very close relationship with him in early adulthood, after my sister and I had kids, somehow the relationship deteriorated and my siblings (including my younger brother) and I rarely saw him or had much contact with him after about the year 2000. It just went wrong and I think my dad's sensitivity could no longer cope with the raucous, fun loving, irreverent kids he had brought up! I saw him very occasionally and spoke with him on the phone but it just wasn't the same. I felt sad about this, but it was also, if I am honest, much easier not to have the anger threat in my life.

It was March 2008 when my mum phoned to say she had seen my dad (they had divorced in 1987 and never spoke) sitting on a chair in the lobby of a local supermarket. He did not usually go to that supermarket - being a bit out of his way, so he might have been waiting for her for all we know. She said, 'he looked close to death.' She was clearly genuinely shocked by his appearance.

I had last spoken to my dad a few months previously and he had congratulated me for suggesting that his stomach pains might be a gluten intolerance - for having cut out all wheat, he did feel better. He was quite upbeat at that point and I felt a little reassured. Prior to that he got instantly angry at any suggestion of going to the doctor. I phoned his doctor to inform them that he almost definitely needed medical attention but that he was refusing it. Could they cautiously, 'within their parameters of confidentiality' do anything? No apparently not.

I worried for all of April. He got angry if I rang and responded in a very measured way to e mails - but not all of them. I went to visit my mum and arranged to meet him but he ducked out last minute stating he would not answer the door. My mother eventually visited him and said to me,
'leave him alone, he knows what he is doing. He wants to let this illness run its course and he's scared of being put into a care home or hospital of some kind.' It was at this point that I re-remembered that you could not always apply 'normal' reasoning to my father's behaviour.

May 4th, my mum rang to say he could not bear the pain any longer and had asked her to phone an ambulance. I felt relieved. The idea of him at home, trying to die alone was gut wrenching. He had said we could come and visit him, now he was in hospital. I went first thing the next day.

I drove like a maniac (my dad - the most cautious man in the world would not have approved) to arrive in time for Bournemouth Hospital visiting hours. My mother prepared me to be shocked by his appearance. I walked in to see a skeletal man with yellow skin, too frail to speak properly and a face so skinny it was almost unrecognisable but I smiled through my reaction and tried to give him a kiss. He brushed me away, saying 'too much.' I was glad my mum was there because my dad was speaking to her as if they were still together (a kind of jarring banter!!!). My mum flapped and fussed about a missing bag she had lent him to bring his stuff into hospital and nothing much happened or was said. He did smile a few times and made some jokes, but he was hard to understand because his voice was so weak. I just stared at him when he wasn't looking - in disbelief. How could he have let himself get this way? He did seem comfortable however, as they had given him morphine for his extreme pain. He gave me a list of things he wanted brought from home - which now gives me a poignant painful pang, as the next day I brought him his Spanish magazines, brought him a toothbrush and paste, a notebook, some clean pyjamas, some mouthwash and gave him £10 to buy a newspaper etc - for all it was worth. He never used any of them.

I could describe all the details of the days that followed and they would make very sad and sometimes horrific reading. Instead I will just say that he soon became completely deluded through the morphine (and the active dying process?), fell out of bed because he thought the snoring man opposite was a tiger, ceased to make any sense, kept pulling out the cannula that was keeping him hydrated and showed signs of extreme distress and paranoia. I am guessing an angry lifetime plus morphine does not make for a calm death.

The last night I visited (7th), he was throwing anything that could be thrown, spitting brown blood everywhere and trying to clamber out of bed. As I left, I said, 'I love you dad.' To which he responded, 'Love? love? fuck off,' and then continued to rant incoherently. They were sedating him - again and again. He took ages to respond apparently.

The next morning, we were called to the hospital early because my sister and I had finally got an appointment to speak to the consultant (the organ grinder - as the monkeys hadn't so far been very helpful). As we walked into the hospital, the fire alarm was sounding. Remembering my father's state when I had seen him the night before, I suspected the alarm would be causing him considerable distress. We were told to wait but I felt the need to go and be with him. My sister stayed where she was but I walked into the ward to find my dad - heavily sedated to the point of complete stillness - staring towards the sound of the alarm. I sat next to him and said,
'Ah dad you look so much more peaceful. The fire alarm is somewhat piercing -it's a false alarm. I hope you are as peaceful inside as you look on the outside.' He then gurgled up a lot of brown blood without moving. I left to get a nurse and returned to see them turn my father on his side. I was asked to leave.

My sister and I sat in the relatives' room not sure what to do with ourselves. We had witnessed our father in a terrible state over the last few days and we definitely wanted his suffering to end. I remember Claire (my sister) saying,
'I'm not religious but I am going to pray that he dies.' to which I added, 'I am not religious but I am going to ask the cosmic nun that I have been told is looking after me, to let him die.' We did laugh. I find humour usually provides the catharsis needed in such situations but it didn't quite cut it this time.

The consultant soon came and let us know that he had 'passed away.' I remember the euphemism annoying me and I said, 'do you mean he's dead?'

Our unorthodox prayers had been answered. And we both obviously felt a huge sense of release.

At the time, my usual reasoning was pretty non-existent and I was very much living in the present moment feeling a lot of distress. My dad's death was awful - in a nutshell. There was certainly nothing dignified about it. I now look back and realise that hospitals are just not in the business of 'dying'. They receive people to nurse them back to health - or at least that is always the understandable aim - and they seem to exist in denial of the possibility of death. Unless a person has cancer, the palliative care for dying seems unconsidered.

I appreciate my father had come to them after an absence of any medical attention, but our clear statement that he had come to hospital to die pain free - not be nursed back to health (which - as the consultant said - he was most definitely beyond) went unheard. The day before he died, they were still talking about investigative procedures and were holding off the attentive palliative care that we were pushing for - because they had to until they knew the underlying cause of his condition. The nursing he was receiving was not great either - he was understandably seen as a nuisance - because of his constant shouting out and difficult behaviour - rather than a man in the last days of his life.

In the end he probably actually died of de-hydration but the autopsy told us he had biliary peritonitis - something that more than likely could have been cured, had he sought medical attention when he first felt ill. So really he died of emotional illiteracy - inability to manage fear in particular.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A story from my past - are you sitting comfortably?

In the year above me at school, when I was about nine, there was a boy that had a skin condition that to this day I still have no idea what it possibly could have been. I remember my mum explaining it to me as his pores not working properly. My mum's explanations always came with a 'that's gonna have to do you' air about them. Anyway, the result was a very red, sore looking skin. As it went in those days, such an abnormality warranted some name calling (oh how better we understand emotional health and well being now!). It was somewhat unimaginative, but he became known as Tomato Head to everyone in the school.

So one playtime, I am there clowning around as usual when Tomato Head passes close-by. This prompts a discussion amongst my friends about who was going to dare call him by his nasty nick-name. I saw that as 'barely-a-dare' so volunteered confidently and delivered instantly. The response was not as I had anticipated. Tomato Head looked directly at me, with understandable anger and stated, 'My parents were up at school yesterday talking to Mr Chouler and he said, if ANYONE called me that name again, I was to go to him straight away and tell him,' which he duly did. How could I have known I was to be the straw breaking the camel's back?

I wasn't a stranger to Mr Chouler the headmaster (being a tad on the naughty side) and TH's response did cause me considerable concern and I did not relish the prospect of another telling off (or possible caning) garnished with a comparison with my wonderful big sister laden with sorry disappointment in me. My response, which seemed perfectly logical at the age of nine - was to disguise myself. My friends were keen to help out (they were strictly speaking accomplices in my crime) and I swapped shoes with one person, a skirt with another, I took off my pink national health specs, I changed my hair from bunchies to a ponytail, swapped cardigans with another and felt safe a secure in the fact that I was unrecognisable. Only, of course I wasn't (in the 'oh so real' adult world) and Mr Chouler marched out onto the playground and shouted,
'Molly Potter (not my name at the time..but that's another story) come to my office now.'

I did and what a sorry sight I must have been for being the smallest in the class by a long way, I stood in front of Mr Chouler with shoes that kept slipping off (entering and leaving was a struggle), a skirt that kept slipping down (I remember having to keep holding and pulling it up), the sleeves of the cardigan I was wearing went well beyond my hands, my hair would have been a mess and on top of all that, I couldn't see.

Mr. Chouler omitted the usual lecture. I think he must have been distracted by something. For all he said, with a smirk on his face, was,
'Don't do it again.'

Sunday, 13 December 2009

I decorate my street for Christmas

For a few years now, I have crept out after dark on Christmas Eve to decorate my street's sixty or so small front gardens. I know it probably gives me more pleasure than anyone as I love the slight mischievousness of it all (trespassing and not getting caught) and find pleasure in waking up on Christmas morning and looking at my 'impact' in full light. It makes Christmas Eve feel pretty Christmassy -especially after a couple of sherries!!! I also love watching people wander down the street on Christmas day, pointing and smiling - usually with some degree of apparent disbelief!

Last year, everybody got a 'Merry Christmas wish tied up in their front garden. This year, I am going for even more impact and have several colourful decorations, glittery Christmas wishes and baubles. I will try and get a photo that does it justice on Christmas morning!

I have received a smattering of feedback - all positive. The best response was received via my husband. He was accosted on the school run by a woman shouting, 'Oi are you responsible for the little signs?' He genuinely believed he was about to get told off but she went on to say, 'they are wonderful and they make me feel great to be living in such a happy street.'

Well, having upped the stakes this year - here's hoping I don't get arrested for littering or sectioned.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


I have been a tad poorly with a snotty little virus in the last couple of days which made me think, 'can I write a blog about being ill?' This lead on to the question, 'could I write a blog about just about anything?' The answer? Probably because there's not much I can't waffle on speculatively about (not necessarily knowledgeably!). It's not a boast. It's a realisation that I probably need to reflect more and pump out less!!

However I do have an observation about people and illness - see I can't help myself. I think that people's different (and they are diverse) responses to being ill is very much linked to their parents'/carers' reaction to illness. Whether a person duplicates their parents' approach or has reacted against it, it's a raw display of their unconscious in action (as after all, we are potentially ill from babyhood - so we are talking about very deep-rooted wiring). I know this is obvious, but I have never heard anyone reflect upon it.

Some people seem to:
martyr on - noisily - making many utterances about their symptoms but carrying on through the illness. Do they perceive they are not allowed to recoup for illness should not prevent anything...stiff upper lip and all that? Or do they need to be rescued?
don't think people believe they are ill - and have to spell out the symptoms in detail
over indulge their illnesses - take to their bed instantly without any thought - even for a little sniffle
ignore their illness - refuse to address it or acknowledge it exists (a bit like martyrdom but much, much more quiet)
have a healthy relationship with being ill - just take time to recoup , get better and move on.

I am sure there are other responses.

I fall into the 'nobody will believe me.' I was once sent to school with a temperature of 104 degrees. The school nurse's validation was what it took for me to be allowed to eventually crawl into bed!

And you?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Christmas card construction

I tend not to buy Christmas cards. I make them. But not every year. So some years people don't get a Christmas card from me but it doesn't appear to damage them beyond repair. In fact, I suspect they don't even notice. This card exchanging is pleasant enough but slightly potty behaviour in my book (especially with people you see every week). It's sort of, here have this bit of card with your name and my name on it and some sort of minimal season's wishes that are so much the more validated for being on a piece of card in an envelope, with a pretty picture. Trees lose their life for that.

However, having said all that, I am not adverse to potty behaviour so this year IS a card making one. Yipee I hear everyone cry!

I'm not overly systematic in my approach to anything, so making things rarely follows a linear staged production procedure. It nearly did this year though.

Stage 1. Cut some cards out and pile them up messily. Sooooo the boring bit.

Stage 2 Cut a potato into the shape of son's favourite creature: a penguin and print a few trial runs.

Stage 3 Seek approval from the family to see if the design suits everyone.

Stage 4 Start mass printing. This comes a close second in the boringness list after the card cutting.

Stage 5 Be unable to resist trying out a few designs - so start playing around before the mass potato printing is complete.

Stage 6 Aim to finish everything. Get a bit bored, wander off. Wander back a few days later. Eventually be happy with the end result and the fact mass production is over!

Stage 7 Send them out randomly to some people but forget a few people because you are somewhat scatty and have lost interest a bit.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

I only gone and gotten tagged innit

What an honour: Grumpy Old Ken
tagged me and as far as I have worked out, it means I list eight facts about myself that blog readers are unlikely to know (not try to virtually tag him back and run away) and then I list seven more people to tag....I suspect we will use up the blogging population pretty quickly.

So here goes, eight of my finest insignificant facts.............

1) I got sent to the headteacher of Meath Green Middle School, Surrey (as it was then) in about 1979 for using a violin as a cricket bat.

2) I used to work in the Adam and Eve (the oldest pub in Norwich) when I was a student and once stuck my finger up a customer’s nose because he was being so nasty and demanding that I serve him even though I had called 'time'. He lifted himself off my finger and went to tell his mates what had happened (in a somewhat frenzied manner) while pointing at me but his friends did not believe him. When I told the landlord, Colin, (I felt the need to come clean) he said, "I trust you Mols to do whatever you see fit to do your job properly."

3) When I was about six, I locked a boy called Stacey in our garden shed for hours with a bowl of water and a bit of bread because he was my prisoner and then forgot about him. My sister found him when she went to get her bike for Brownies.

4) I am responsible for the death of three hamsters – one I accidentally squeezed to death, one was dropped in my brother’s nappy bleach and one I squashed behind a drawer.

5) I decorated a church hall for my sister’s wedding with tie dye sheets and papier mache. She liked it. I think.

6) I have given three wedding speeches – one where I truly accidentally said the bride had elephantitus.

7) My sister, brother, brother-in-law and I spent an evening at the Cambridge Folk Festival pretending to be Russian so convincingly (our fake Russian was good and my brother-in-law played a Serbo-Croat tune on his accordion and we all knew the chorus enough to sing along) the people we encountered were saying things like, ‘bring back the cold war!’ and thought we could not understand.

8) I went to visit a friend called 'Ratters' in Poitiers without knowing her address. I drove there with a friend (called 'Ugly') and we just found her walking along the road!

9) When I went interailing, I met three lads in Lucerne, Switzerland, the same three lads again in Pisa (we were only there an hour) two weeks later and again in Nice a week later. One of the lads came into the Adam and Eve three years after that (said he was in Norwich for an hour - picking up his girlfriend) and said, 'this is a funny question, but have you ever been interailing....'

10) I was a raindrop in a school Christmas play - best role I ever had.

11) I have been to a hairdressers only five times in my life. It kinda shows.

12) I always get carried away with enthusiasm....and bash the rules.

The seven people I choose to tag are (and feel free to ignore your tag -I won't be offended):

Eastern Stray Notes

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Protect or equip?

I was once asked by a feature writer from the local press to comment on a concept she had recently heard about: 'helicopter parents': parents that hover in their children's lives well into their twenties - making all their decisions for them. She also told me that this had become relatively common (thus the arrival of the term) such that universities were no longer pitching to young people, but targeting their parents to boost their admissions!

This concept linked nicely to an activity I was using with parents/carers at the time.

Firstly, for the purposes of the activity, I defined
'PROTECT' as keeping any real or perceived danger away from your child and
'EQUIP' as helping your child to learn to protect themselves from real dangers.

I then gave parents/carers a selection of cards with a variety of actions a parent might take with their child. For example:
* teaching your five year old child to cross the road safely,
* never letting your twelve year old out on their own,
* putting your two year old in a play-pen while you answer the phone,
* not letting your ten year old use the Internet etc.

I would then ask parents to sort the actions into 'protect' or 'equip', using my definitions. As the activity was underway, people would always debate whether the actions on the card seemed appropriate or not.

What usually became apparent through the discussions was that very young children do need protecting because they cannot yet learn to protect themselves. However, as children grow up and become young people, as we cannot follow them around every day and forever, equipping them to look after themselves becomes more appropriate. Some parents find this hard and continue protecting when equipping might be more appropriate. It's a transformation in parenting approach that needs to happen as children grow up.

I would then talk about sex and relationships education and how many parents often perceive that information about sex or body parts is something children need to be protected from, when in actual fact considering most young people are likely to have sex at some point, it's better to equip them with information that will keep them safe (at least) or better still clarify what a positive and negative sexual encounter might be and why.....but that's another discussion.

And as my quote that appeared in the local press said, 'It is natural for our children to draw away from us during adolescence - they have outgrown us to some extent - and while we can be supportive, they want to start listening to other people at this point in their lives. That's why we should trust that we have laid 'sound' foundations in childhood and then 'release' them knowing that we have done our best and that it's time to trust them!