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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Take the long way home…

Last week I went to a party, there was a band and a bar and lots of music and I had a good time.

There were also a large number of familiar looking old men drinking beer. I stepped forward and stood there in line with my old school friends who have all suddenly reached the age of 50, which is odd as I remember us all as young things in our prime with everything still ahead of us – not just our stomachs. In fact, I still do think of myself as a young thing. If only there were no such thing as reflections (or photos) I could carry on happily deluding myself forever.

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It is hard to look at a row of respectable middle-aged men that you knew as a child and not remember what they used to be like:

Carl getting his ear pierced and his mum not noticing for several months as his hair was so long. (Now, no earring – or hair.)

Mike dressed in the sharpest threads, all straight lines and creases. (Now, mostly curves.)

Mark crashing his first motorbike, and then rebuilding it. (Actually still riding motorbikes – but not crashing as much!)

And Gary.

Gary and I were inseparable at school, always out together, doing things and having a good time. I have so many stories to tell about Gary that I was expressly forbidden from being his best man in case the speech went on too long or got out of hand.

But the story that always comes to mind when we meet up is this one;

We had been playing snooker. This was not an uncommon way for us spend time when we were in our teens the call of the snooker hall was ever present.  Clearly we struck a balance between this and school as we did not want to neglect our studies. So we were making our way back to take part in the part of the school day we felt we were most likely to be missed from, cues in hand, taking a short cut through the park.

In the distance we spied a group of younger students and their teacher on a field trip. It was still not too late to turn around and head back through the gates and around the long way without being seen: Which is exactly what I did.

But not Gary. He decided the best course of action would be to hide up a tree and wait for the group to pass, thus saving the extra time and distance involved in walking around the park.

Gary’s description of what happened went along these lines; “He (the teacher) got all the year 7’s stood around the tree and started to tell them what sort of tree it was and that sort of stuff.” Gary was not much of a botanist. “I still thought he hadn’t seen me, but then pointed up without even looking and told them that if they looked they would see Gary ****, and if they wanted to see me again they could come and look through the windows of the detention room. Bastard!”

Let’s pretend.

For a couple of weeks leading up to the Christmas break I found myself teaching mostly Nursery and Reception (the excitement of supply teaching is never quite knowing what the next phone call will bring – but more about that another time.) Anyway, I have fond memories of teaching this age group; it’s huge fun and never fails to offer its fair share of surprises and enjoyment.

It’s a bit hard sometimes, being a man in a job which is usually associated with women.  Some parents look wary at the sight of a strange man standing in their child’s Nursery greeting their children, others just look grateful that somebody is there and they can go off to wherever they need to go. The children on the other hand have no qualms about marching up to you and demanding to know who you are. What you are doing and why you are there. It is their Nursery/classroom after all; they have a right to know.

Things usually reach a status quo after a short while; they accept the change and start to let you join in with their little ‘Lord of the Flies’ type activities; re-enacting Frozen, taking toy animals to imaginary vets and reading upside down books, after all, they do  know who is in charge of the snacks. My only real gripe is that after a few days of floor level activities my knees were killing me.

On one particular day, to give my knees and back a break I braved the elements, opened the doors to the playground and offered some wintry outside play activities. Half an hour later, after doing up 27 zips and getting 54 thumbs into mittens we were out.

“Can we get out the building things?”

“Yes.”

“Can we get out the REALLY big building things?”

“Yes.”

“Can we build something REALLY big?”

“Yes.” (I am actually much more talkative than this in real life, but you can have too much detail!)

“Will you help us?”

“Of course I will, I thought you would never ask. What are we going to build and how can I help?”

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We ended up building a REALLY big box. Then we made a door to go on the front. Then we stood it up so it would be a REALLY big tower. Then we were going to knock it all down and build something else. Before we did I asked one of the children if they wanted to go inside. They did. I asked if they wanted to see what it was like if the door was closed, they were nervous – but did. Then another wanted a go. Then another.  Soon I had a queue of 27 children all rushing round to wait patiently for another go as soon as the door opened and they came out. It was fun.

Afterwards I drank tea and reflected on how many other jobs involved building brightly coloured plastic coffins that people spent whole afternoons waiting to try out. Probably not many, that’s what makes this job special.

(Photo is from the Little Tikes website who make the fabulous Waffle Blocks!)

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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Taking the p*ss too….

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This is a sequel to a previous post called ‘taking the p*ss’

As explained in that post we were regularly mopping out the nursery toilets due to the carelessness, inexperience and sheer  exuberance of the children we worked with. After the previous incident we were rightly suspicious of all the boys and tried to monitor their comings and goings to identify the mysterious floor wetter.

We had no luck for several weeks, in spite of our detailed surveillance operation, and were fed up with having to swab the decks at regular intervals. It gradually dawned on us that, unlikely as it may seem, it might be the girls!

A new observation regime was implemented that involved checking every child in and out of the loo (without impeding their dignity, self-respect or human rights obviously.)

The result, when it came was most unexpected. My nursery nurse tracked three girls, all bestest of best friends, into the toilet cubicles. Once in they all piled into the same cubicle and tried to use the same toilet simultaneously. The result was as wet and messy as you would expect.

Mystery solved, now we just had to figure out how to stop them doing it without upsetting the delicate balance of their friendship.

What did you and your best friend used to get up to – and is it repeatable?

Did I really do that?

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In my previous post I alluded to the fact that my own childhood may not have been as Health and Safety approved as the one that I would wish for my own children. In fact, it was downright dangerous, including such joys as playing on the railway track, climbing up stuff, jumping off stuff and setting things on fire to name but a few.

I am certain this was all completely standard fare for children growing up in the 60s and 70s, it was a time of reckless abandon and anything goes. If you know this to be wrong please don’t tell me as it would mean that my parents were trying to get rid of me, and I am way too delicate for that sort of revelation.

Anyway, it brought forth a wave of nostalgia for the long gone days of primary school. (Actually, they are not gone as I have spent all my working life in primary schools, but you get the idea.) The marbles, the Top Trump cards, Spangles, Hopscotch, fist fights and the handful of chews from the newsagents across the road. These are all standard school memories that most people reading this will be nodding at and mouthing silently to themselves as they read. (At least those in the UK, it never fails to surprise me how far the internet reaches. For those not from here, I hope it is a window into our lives and culture on this tiny island)

But some of the things I remember are not necessarily on everybody’s list of reminiscences. Some of them are so specific to my own childhood that I am not sure if I even imagined them. I am sharing them in this post in the hope that putting them in writing will turn them back into the real things they once were. So, in no particular order:

  1. Crawling under the office Portakabin for a dare.  Exactly what it sounds like, we would crawl into the filthy, dark gap under the office hut and see if we could get to the far side and wave to our friends through the mesh cover.
  2. Drinking fountain rainbows. If the teacher left the art materials unattended for more than 5 milliseconds the paint blocks would be pocketed. Bits of these could then be broken off and dropped into the top of the drinking fountain, producing coloured water for our delight and entertainment.
  3. Peeing up the wall. Lining up in the boys toilet and seeing who could urinate highest up the wall. The aspiration was to be able to pee right over the top and into the girls toilets, although nobody ever did. I was only ever average at this.
  4. Getting brand new rulers. This was in February 1971, it only really affected people who were in the UK when it went decimal. As children it was our only indication that anything had changed, well that and we all thought we were rich when we started to accumulate coins that we later realized no longer had any monetary value.
  5. Trying to use the footballs to break the light fitting in indoor PE. This is quite self-explanatory.

These are some of the things that made my childhood unique and special. I am sure there are other people who loved school as much as I did and have their own precious (?) memories. What are they? What did you do when you were young and foolish – and did you enjoy it?

Play safe – or not, as long as you have fun.

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One day last summer I went for a walk along the seafront in the town I grew up in. As we walked along I reminisced about the time I had spent there as a child and the things I had got up to;

I described, in detail, a game we played that involved jumping into the sea in a narrow channel where the tide rips through at great speed. We would see how far down the beach we got swooshed before we could get back out.

“Didn’t they have the red flags then Dad?”

“Er…yes, but we took no notice because it was such fun.”

I went on to describe how we would take a running jump from the sea wall onto the sand 15 feet below, seeing who could perform the most exciting aerial acrobatics before landing in a heap on the beach.

“Didn’t you used to get hurt though?”

“Er…only sometimes, and never too badly.”

We got to the cliffs at the end of the beach. We used to wait until the tide was high enough, climb up and leap off into the water in places free from rocks. I thought about telling the kids we didn’t used to cycle this far, but knowing that they can sense a lie I came clean.

“Wasn’t that dangerous?”

“Yes, and I expressly forbid you guys to do that or anything like it.”

I am, of course, a hypocrite.

It was not without a little pride, mixed with parental concern, when the first photos my son messaged us from university were of the injuries he got bombing his new local hills on his skateboard. Play safe – but do play.