Baby sitters and small boys and hospitals and David Bowie


As an adult one of the things I found hard about leaving the children with sitters was the fact that the sitters did not know what the normal boundaries, expectations and limits for acceptable behaviour are in our house. What we are allowed to watch on the TV, when we go to bed, how many snacks we can eat , how long we should brush our teeth – all became negotiable once we were out of the house.

Luckily, I am such an ineffectual parent that most of those things are negotiable the rest of the time too so no harm done. I always thought David Bowie was being a cool dad when he wrote in Kooks;

And if you ever have to go to school

Remember how they messed up this old fool

Don’t pick fights with the bullies or the cads

‘Cause I’m not much cop at punching other people’s Dads

And if the homework brings you down

Then we’ll throw it on the fire

And take the car downtown

I now realise that he was as inept as in the parenting department as I have been. It usually needs someone sensible to sort things out, like my wife.

When we were small me and my older brother were once left with a sitter who was wonderfully amenable to whatever it was we said we were allowed to do.

A happy afternoon of trashing the house ensued, sugar sandwiches, mud fights in the garden, ransacking cupboards that were usually off-limits. We had fun.

Things reached a wonderful zenith when we found an empty cardboard box to play with. Well, I say empty, it was after we had emptied it. Everyone knows what fun you can have with an empty box right?

Taking advantage of the fact that the normal rules didn’t seem to apply we decided to hold our very own sledging competition. This is very simple, you sit in the box at the top of the stairs and gently rock yourself forward until you tip over the edge and slide down the stairs at great speed and spill out at the bottom, shrieking with laughter and running back up for the next go.

Naturally our attention spans wouldn’t allow for just keeping it at this. We decided what we wanted was more speed. The obvious way to achieve this was with a gentle push over the top step. Or a not gentle one if you wanted to see what would happen if a lot of extra speed was applied to the launch.

I should explain that the house we lived in at the time was one of those 60’s built ones with stairs leading straight down to the front door, the front door made of two glass panels in a wooden frame.

I am assuming that anybody who has ever seen a YouTube video or watched You’ve Been Framed will know where this story ends. If you didn’t guess; it ended with the first occasion of me putting my big brother in hospital, and ME in trouble for breaking the window. (I still don’t know why it was me, technically he was the one who broke it). So that is why I have found it hard to leave the children with sitters.


Creepy looking penguins and chocolate

It was the last day of term this week, and all the 8 year olds I have been attempting to teach have been flagging. They have wilted in the hot weather, become fractious once again and needed some gentle coaxing into this last, final stretch.

On the last day many of them turned up with cards and gifts as is traditional/mandatory in schools in the UK. The cards contained many heartfelt and heartwarming messages from children and parents who have enjoyed the term and wished to express their appreciation. Very flattering, I approve most heartily of anything that makes me feel good about myself.

I also received a number of gifts;

  • a bottle of wine – nice
  • some beers – very nice
  • skittles – brilliant
  • a mug that says ‘worlds greatest teacher’ – only right and proper
  • a key ring that agreed
  • a bookmark – useful
  • a penguin made from loom bands – not instantly recognisable and a bit creepy looking, but clearly the result of a great deal of time and effort from someone who wanted to make me something very special indeed


and many, many, many boxes of chocolates.

As I opened the sixth box, carefully removing the wrapping paper, acting surprised and declaring a cheery “goodness gracious, MORE chocolates, I am going to have a great summer!” I looked down. One of my students was sitting directly in front of me, he always does, because sometimes he needs to be there, just because – you know.

As I glanced down he slowly shook his head and said in a loud clear voice he had never used in class before; “type one diabetes, sir” and then, with a final sad glance went back to trying to steal the hat of the boy on the next table to him.

Bully boy



I am not proud of this. I am in fact ashamed of what I am about to recount. I am not writing it to try and get some kind of absolution or forgiveness, no excuses, I made my own choices and I will not try to make light of my actions.


I was a bully at school. This was not a full-time occupation, mostly I got along with people I liked, ignored those that I didn’t and was too busy to care less about whether or not other people liked me. I was not a model student; homework was often neglected, I was caned on more than one occasion, I skipped school occasionally and once told a member of staff I was a twin (it was a big school, she believed me and often used to comment on how she never saw me and my brother together) There was plenty of fun to be had and I enjoyed my time.


But in the sixth form a new boy joined. To add some background, he was the son of my English teacher, who I had had more than a couple of run-ins with, he had transferred from a school that did not take post 16 students and settled in quickly making friends and enjoying school. I took an almost instant dislike to him, no reason – I just didn’t like him much, I reserve the right.


It started with small things, withering looks, snide comments, never missing an opportunity to say something unpleasant. I am, by nature, quite cowardly so there where never any physical confrontations – just making the most of chances to ridicule him.


Then came the election. I don’t even remember what the election was for, some student voice/council type thing. My nemesis stood for election, obviously too big an opportunity for me to miss, I stood against him and ran a counter campaign. Posters, badges, leaflets – all slightly ridiculous, a bit unpleasant and quite unnecessary; but I did it anyway, and in an aggressive manner that I enjoyed rather too much.


This was the beginning of the end, after that my short attention span lost interest (girls, beer and work avoidance taking up a large part of my small brain.) The remainder of the time at school turned into passing scowls and mostly mutual contempt.


Fast forward 30+ years……


There is a fabulous independent picture house near where I live. The manager organises regular screenings for disabled children, it is a model of what an independent cinema should be showing a great range of films and being accessible, well maintained and well run. Guess who the manager is. In a spell of remorse for my reprehensible and egregious behaviour I thought I would attempt some restorative steps.


When I checked on Facebook I found his profile, he is enjoying life as a writer, cinema manager, dad and musician. I didn’t know if this blast from the past would add anything to the quality of his life, or just rake up a bunch of stuff he has moved on from. It felt arrogant and conceited to intrude on his life in this way so I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.


It was at this point of finding out what he was doing that I found that one of the books he has written is about his time at school. It is a fact-based work of fiction, though some names stayed the same. My best friend Claire appears as the love interest, and the main protagonist in the bullying stakes has the same name as me, he is portrayed as a real lowlife, cowardly, duplicitous and full of himself.


This is not how I would choose to be immortalised, but I guess I earned it. I have included, in the spirit of fairness, the link to his book. If you want to know what I was like as a foolish young man (not my own rose-tinted opinion).

Where was that on the risk assessment?



On a school trip to The Commonwealth Institute one of my pupils, the delightful Portia, told me she felt unwell. She was only 5 and this was the furthest from her home and family she had ever been; so I picked her up and gave her a hug to make her feel better.

She was sick all down my back, inside the neck of my shirt and dripping all the way down into the waistband of my trousers. Despite having packed a multitude of items to counter every possibility (except this one) I realised that my only options were;

  1. Walk around covered in sick for the rest of the day.
  2. Walk around bare-chested with my class
  3. Wear my neatly folded pacamac all zipped up and partially see through instead of a shirt.

Option one was not something that I felt comfortable with, option two wasn’t really a serious contender – I am sure it would have ended with me being arrested. So, train spotter’s anorak it was. How I wished that we had arranged a visit to a major attraction that was self-important enough to sell tee-shirts of itself in the gift shop.

All things considered the trip was a success, Portia got better and everything came out in the wash so to speak.

This disastrous trip still seems tame when compared with the trip to Epping Forest. On the return journey I was shepherding children onto the crowded train when the doors closed – with me still on the wrong side. My entire class was whisked away from in front of my unbelieving newly qualified eyes. I had to wait for the next train and then walk back into school to the cheers and shouts of all the children who had, of course, made it safely back and entertained themselves while they waited for me.

None of this is as exciting as the trip a couple of years ago when one of my students decided to run away. It was on Dartmoor, nearly dusk and he had a history of running far and fast. The 12 police cars, mountain rescue team, police helicopter, tracker dogs and staff from the residential centre worked hard to find him and keep him safe. But you know a trip was not what you planned when it makes the local news.