It’s a fair cop.

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When your nursery is near stables you can expect to be able to arrange occasional visits from friendly horses from time to time. The one we were near happened to be the Metropolitan Police stables, so the horses that came to visit were friendly – and very, very big indeed.

On one meet and greet I had a group gathered around oohing and aahing at the horses and shouting a range of questions to the policemen towering up high above them;

“What do you do when they poo?”

“Where do they sleep?”

“What are their names?”

“What things do they eat?”

“When do you get their milk?”

?

Pardon?

“When do you get their milk?”

“You don’t get milk from horses.”

“Yes you do!”

“No, I think you are thinking of cows. You get milk from cows, not horses.”

By now the conversation between a small boy and a big policeman was starting to get a little heated, I tried to calm things down by offering to go and get the Farm Animals book from the bookshelf. Small boy was having none of it;

“YOU ARE WRONG! MILK COMES FROM UNDER HORSES – I HAVE SEEN IT ON ROSIE AND JIM.”

And having won his argument convincingly, using empirical evidence, small boy turned and headed back to play on the bikes and trikes.

FYI – Rosie and Jim is/was a children’s TV show starring 2 rag doll puppets who travelled everywhere by barge.

Now I write this is sounds even more unlikely and surreal than I remember it.

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Deadmouse

Way back at the start I used to teach the daughter of a close colleague and good friend of mine. My friend had been helping me through those difficult days when you are busy trying to apply all of the information, theory and essay writing from college into something that you can use on ‘actual children’ – (like people, but smaller was always my favourite description.)

Anyway, we regularly met up for coffee and social engagements and I got to know them well in and out of school. It was my first education into how different children are when they are at home compared to when they are in the classroom.

She was a dear sweet little thing who couldn’t do enough to help, listened nicely, joined in enthusiastically at tidy up time – (I have previously explained that this is a euphemism used by teachers to describe the time when children are herded into one part of the room and trapped there with a book while staff frantically put everything away.) By contrast, at home, she was loud, messy and frequently didn’t do things she was asked! I loved her.

On one visit we were met by my friend at the door;

“This may not be the best time, her pet mouse died last night, and we only just found it.”

We were invited in anyway, to commiserate with a distraught and upset little girl who was sitting forlornly on her tiny chair drawing pictures of her recently deceased pet.

“Is there anything that would make you feel better?” her dad asked. “Anything at all? What could I get you that would help you feel less sad?”

She looked up at him, big eyes starting to brim with tears again, head tilted at exactly the right angle to make her look as miserable as possible;

“I don’t know, I am very sad.”

“Do you want another pet, a new mouse?”

A slight sobbing sound and more sad looks.

“Tell me what you think would make things okay.”

“Well, maybe if I had a Gameboy….”

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The mouths of babes.

Whilst writing my previous post I was reminded of another incident from the long ago time when inspectors were people you knew.

This time it was not my class, it was my wife’s class of 5 and 6 year olds who were being visited by our local Early Years inspector. These inspections were always kind of a big deal as the inspector was a nationally recognised authority on Early Years education and nobody wanted to meet her disapproval.

However, the visit went well, the children were engaged meaningfully, the session went smoothly and the staff all knew what they were supposed to be doing – so far so good. Then it was time for the chat with the teacher after the premises and people had been examined.

Had I mentioned that the inspector was quite a large lady? What we in Nursery circles call a Mrs Comfylap.

My wife asked one of the children if they could bring over a chair for the inspector to sit on please.

The child looked at the inspector, raised an eyebrow, looked back and announced in a loud clear voice;

“I think she’ll need two miss!”

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Help – they are all ganging up on me!

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Another nursery tale:

During the bedlam of ‘tidy up time’ – a vague description of the transition time when the adults start packing away all the good stuff and the kids follow behind unpacking it (or ,worse still, decide to entertain themselves) – anything can happen. And usually does.

On this day we were all especially frazzled. An inspector had been to visit, an olden days inspector who smiled and offered kindly advice and support, instead of demanding the paperwork and skulking off to tick some boxes, but still an inspector. At one point he had put down his folder to help a child with an activity. (That is how you can tell it was the olden days!) When he stood back up he found that my charming children had swiped every last one of his pens. Well, it was the East End and he had put them down – fair game.

It took us a while to track down enough to cheer him back up and then we were all behind with the things we had meant to get done. This is not unusual when you work with under 5’s, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating.

Eventually we got to tidy up time. I was busy trying to attach a six foot tall elephant to the cupboard doors, hoping the paint had dried enough not to just drip and drop directly down onto the floor and invoke the wrath of Pearl, my cleaner. A small hand tapped my back and a disembodied voice said;

“Teev, I found this.”

“Thank you” I replied and reaching round behind me I took the object and dropped it absently into my pocket.

Herding everybody towards the carpet for story time, the room now looking at least a bit respectable, I remembered the object and took it out of my pocket. “Funny” I thought, “Where would a big screw like that have come from?”

As I dropped it back into my pocket I looked across the carpet just in time to see the book shelves gracefully concertina down to the ground, surrounding the children in an avalanche of brightly coloured Elmer’s, Caterpillars and various other story books.

At least I knew where the mystery screw had come from.

Giving them the finger

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When I was a teenager the only way I could find of raising money to feed my vinyl addiction was to work. Not work like adults do though, teenagers have all the most special jobs reserved for them, the ones that pay less than the minimum wage and no self respecting adult wants to do. Even adults with no self respect don’t want to do a lot of those jobs to be honest.

At various times I have unloaded and loaded newspaper lorries at four in the morning, cleaned out ice cream machines, walked up and down sandy beaches selling ice cream and shown people to their seats in darkened cinemas. (The trick is to inadvertently turn the torch away just as people get to the step so you can watch them stumble in the dark – serve them right for not getting there in time!)

But far and away the best worst job was when me and my friend Steve got a job working in a restaurant. Between us we had to clear tables, load the dishwasher, wash pots, wipe surfaces, sweep up, eat ice cream sandwiches in the larder when it was quiet (mint choc chip!) and generally be at the beck and call of the idiot boss Terry whose parents had bought the business for him as a successful going concern – a situation he was desperately trying to reverse.

Amongst our many jobs was the task of helping the chef keep the salad bar fresh and well stocked while he got on with the cooking. Chopping tomatoes, boiling and shelling eggs, washing lettuce and slicing cucumber. At busy times this could be quite a task and speed was of the essence. Because of this, one night Terry told Steve (other Steve, not me) to hurry things up by using the big meat slicer to cut the cucumber instead of doing it by hand.

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I was over by the dishwasher, the first I realised what was happening was when Steve shouted out:

“F*cking b*llocks, I’ve just cut my f*cking fingers off” and started walking across the kitchen clutching a hand dripping with blood. Chef was quick thinking and grabbed a tea towel to wrap around it while he went to the office to call an ambulance, muttering in a way only chefs can about bloody kids messing about with his bloody meat slicer..

Terry chose this moment to come back into the kitchen. He quickly appraised the situation and after taking stock of what was happening coolly announced:

“I’ll do the f*cking cucumber myself then shall I?”

He then picked up the bowl of cucumber/fingers and took it out to the counter.

I retrieved the bowl, threw in a handful of ice and sent it off with Steve. As it turned out it was only (!?) the tips of two of his fingers and he lived to tell the tale. My time at the restaurant was quite short-lived after that, that’s another story. But I do miss the ice cream sandwiches.

Taking the p*ss

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When you are in London you are never more than 5 feet away from a rat – Or so it is said. Similarly, when you are in a nursery class you are never more than 5 minutes away from a puddle. Spillages around the water tray, spilt drinks, taps left running and the unfortunate (but inevitable) results of children deciding to share toilet cubicles. Then of course there is the plain old, straight forward ‘accident’ from children who are not yet quite sure when to go, how to go, where to go or sometimes, why they should even bother to go in any particular place.

A lot of time and effort goes into making sure the floor is kept dry and not permanently awash with various fluids. Also that parents are supported in helping their children develop the skills they need to function in society when they get older.

To non-initiates this either sounds:

ridiculously easy – ‘how hard can it be?’

or

hellishly hard – ‘seriously though, how do you do that?’

One of the little girls I taught was wetting herself daily, in spite of the fact that she was completely toilet trained at home, and had been for some time. We kept having to put her into our spare nursery underwear, the ones with ‘nursery’ written across them with indelible marker pen so we would get them back.

Eventually, after some detective work, she confessed that she was doing it deliberately – so she could wear the special ‘nursery pants’. If only all problems were so easily solved, we wrote ‘nursery’ on her pants with a felt tip pen and the problem stopped.

Then there was the boy who could not get a grip on things – literally. He just stood with his hands on his hips and let things take their course, spraying around like an unattended hose. We worked long and hard on resolving this, although I suspect that as he is now a fully grown adult male he probably still does it from time to time after the pub.

One morning he came over to me and proffered the front of his joggers, “feel that” he commanded.

Unthinkingly I took a hold as I asked “Why?”

“I’ve wet myself !” he said taking my now soggy hand and leading me towards the spare clothes cupboard.

Mind the step

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A long time ago, standing talking with a group of friends at the bottom of a flight of stairs, I witnessed what I still consider to be one of the coolest/funniest incidents I have ever seen. I can’t remember the discussion we were having at the time – probably small talk; I can’t even remember who I was talking with, but I clearly remember the following:

 

The conversation was suddenly interrupted by an enormous amount of banging, crashing clattering and all the other onomatopoeias you would associate with a young man falling down an entire set of stairs from top to bottom.

 

He landed in a crumpled heap at the feet of one of the young ladies I was talking with. We looked at him in stunned silence until she held her hand out to him to help him to his feet. As he unfolded himself and got slowly up she asked, in a concerned voice;

 

“Did you miss a step?”

 

“No” he replied, “I think I hit every f***ing one!”

 

And he strode off, his dignity emphatically reclaimed.