Kids’ Clubs, HD Eyebrows, and The (fabulous) King’s Youth Theatre

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It’s always difficult as a parent to balance the social pursuits of your children. There are the questions over whether your child actually has a specific talent that can be channeled, or if they can be taught a skill that they may prove to have aptitude for.

Unless of course you’re the kind of parent who aspires more to the ‘child genius’ bent, as favoured by Channel 4, and Chess Club, Spelling Club, and Quadratic Equations for Fun are more your bag.

And that’s the thing isn’t it – it shouldn’t be ‘your’ bag, it should most definitely be your child’s. But often we feel pressure to push our kids towards a club or an activity before they’ve even mastered control of their own bladders.

We all want our children to be happy and to make friends, and have individuality, but sometimes extra-curricular kids’ activities have the effect of making them look like tiny beauty pageant contenders, all high heels and Croydon facelifts, with a touch of Towie.

My husband and I decided to wait and take a laidback approach to the apparent minefield of clubs. Our youngest is veering towards sport, and by the time that our eldest was nearly 7, she showed signs of needing to develop her confidence, and other clear indications of wanting to sing and flap her arms around a bit.

Given that there are no Sing and Flap Your Arm clubs, we went down the youth theatre route, and found the King’s Youth Theatre. This is run by the rather amazing Jo Bennington, and India has been a member since 2013. The KYT put on a show each year, ranging from Oliver, to Narnia, to The Wizard of Oz, and it has grown in numbers considerably since India first joined.

Last week, after months of rehearsals, it was finally show time, and we went with our family to watch the opening night. The kids in the KYT range from 7 – 17 years old, and there is some serious talent there, but thankfully no mini-divas or HD eyebrows treading the boards. Instead, there are just lots of lovely kids, having fun, and developing their talents under Jo, and her counterpart, Steve’s, direction.

The show was outstanding this year, and we were literally blown away by the sets, effects, and performances of the cast – especially Paige Brooker in the lead as Dorothy, who was simply stunning.

A huge well done to all involved, and roll on next year!

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 30th June 2015

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Parking in Portsmouth. Or, GET OUT OF THE WAY OF MY GARAGE, PLEASE!

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If you’re reading this and you live in Portsmouth then, chances are, parking is an issue for your family.

My husband and I are lucky enough to live in a property that has a garage, and we have recently purchased new garage doors, and paid for a white line that signifies to drivers that they should not park there. I can detail exactly how many hours I’ve worked to foot the bill, but it should be worth it.

However, even though parking is not hugely limited, people park outside of our garage all the time. Once, somebody parked there for an entire week, and if that is not a definition of ‘inconsiderate’, then I don’t know what is. Most of our neighbours with garages, or designated spaces, have the exact same problem. One poor woman, who lives at the back of our house, awoke last month to find some inconsiderate swine had parked across her driveway, visibly blocking her in. She couldn’t even leave to go to work, and presumably had to ring a taxi instead.

Don’t get me wrong, if it’s an emergency, or incredibly late at night and you’ll be back at the crack of dawn, then we’d be understanding, but otherwise, if you want a guaranteed parking space, then go buy or rent one. If people even had the courtesy to knock the door, explain that they needed to park there, and enquired as to whether or not they’d be inconveniencing us, then it wouldn’t seem so bad. If it was a young girl parking at 3am because she doesn’t want to walk home for miles, then again, we’d understand. But, from what I have ascertained over the years, it generally isn’t.

We leave polite notes if someone has really been taking the proverbial urine and has spent days parked in the space, and these are always respected and the car isn’t seen there again – but should we have to be writing notes explaining what the garage, the line, and the drop kerb indicate?

The problem is, that once you live in a property with a designated space, where someone has paid to have a kerb dropped, or a garage built, or a driveway constructed, then, in the back of your mind, it is there waiting for you. You know that when you return home with the food shop, or the babies in their carseats, or your elderly relatives who can’t walk very far, you’re going to be able to park. Or so you’d think.

And sometimes, people need that space for situations that never usually occur to the average parker. The night that my grandad passed away, for example, I returned home late. I was drained, heartbroken, and stunned, having spent several hours waiting for the emergency undertakers and the police to leave. But I had to park some distance away because, of course, the garage space was taken. I walked back through the dark, alone and crying. To be honest, I could have done with being able to pull up outside in order to stumble into my husband’s arms, as opposed to driving around finding a space, then wandering home in a state of dazed bereavement.

Last Saturday, after someone else had spent the previous 24 hours in our space, another driver parked in it, sitting with the engine running, talking on the phone. I approached and got so far as saying, “I’m ever so sorry to sound fussy … “, before they completed my sentence for me.

“Out the way of the garage, yeah,” they responded, and parked on the other side – which was empty of cars.

Had I been able to finish, I’d have explained that they didn’t need to move then, but that we are trying to deter people from parking there so that we can use it, especially as a friend is using one half for storage, and could they possibly refrain in future.

However, no sooner had Amelie and I retrieved her bike from the garage, than the driver shouted across the street to me.

“All that and you’re not even parking in it anyway?!”

The funny thing is, I can ring the parking wardens and they’ll come immediately and put a ticket on the cars that are left there, but I would hate to cause bad feeling. All I’m after, please, is a smidgen of courtesy.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 23rd June 2015

Pug Love

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Since writing my column about Ethel, our new canine addition, we have been stopped in the street on several occasions, and even in a café, because readers have recognized her. It has become clear that my husband and I are of no further use to humanity, other than as providers of sustenance and extortionately priced pet insurance for her.

Subsequently, the remainder of this column has been written by her. I give you, Ethel the Pug.

It’s a pug’s life. Today, the humans attempted once again to get to me wee and poo on a paper mat. The indignity of being forced to open one’s bowels in a place of the humans’ choosing – and upon something that looks like a gigantic incontinence pad – is beneath me. But not literally, because I refuse to get on it. Instead, I choose to eat the puppy pad, and poo on the Laura Ashley rug.

This week, I’ve been taken back to a place called the Vets. The Vets is a building where there are other humans – all of them sadists. Rumour has it that they are trained at Canine Concentration Camps before being let loose on the rest us, but not before they’ve been issued with an electric blue tabard to wear and a small glass stick to insert up your bottom.

The Vets think they are being clever by wielding treats in front of your face before jabbing needles in your neck, but I hold no truck with this, preferring instead to cry as loudly as possible in order to alert the innocents still sat in the waiting room.

I overheard one of my humans enquiring as to when she can now put me ‘on the pavements’, but this must be a mistake? It should be patently clear from the leagues of admirers that I attract on each sojourn that I should be carried in the manner to which I have become accustomed. I got my own back by chewing the hair of the soppy blonde one as soon as we left. She’s a pushover.

I have also visited the place where the blonde one works, and felt justified in my own sense of self-importance by being immediately swept into the arms of a human named Sandie, who bestowed me with compliments and whisked me off to meet Tara, Debbie, Glynis, Natalie and Alice – a multitude of fans, who I hope to grace again with my presence in the near future. Lucky souls!

First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 9th June 2015

Inset Day, Ofsted, Childcare, and Sheer Hard Work!

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My children, due to age, attend two different schools, an infant school and a junior school. The schools are next to one another but, alas, have not coordinated a single inset day this year.

Subsequently, because schools have five a year for teacher training (these days used to be a part of the summer holidays), I have had to find childcare – or, for the majority, take time off – for two entire working weeks.

As a teacher myself, it may surprise you to hear me say this, because of course I fully understand the importance of inset days. We all want teachers who have up-to-date training in crucial issues such as safeguarding, for example, and I take part in my fair share of insets, too. But to have to take a fortnight, unpaid, off of work, as opposed to the five days I’d need to take if my kids attended a primary school, is frustrating.

However, the benefits of it far outweigh the negatives. If teachers were not continually taking part in the variety of training offered at inset, as well as that offered at a multitude of evening meetings and training courses throughout the year, then our children’s education would be well behind the educational times. The inset days are tricky for all of us parents to coordinate, but they are also crucial to the quality of teaching provided.

Many of the schools in our local area work their socks off for our kids, and I am lucky enough to work with several of them as a part of my job.

One such school, Manor Infants in Buckland, has recently come out of Special Measures, due to the sheer hard work and determination of a dedicated staff and a dedicated community outside of the school.

Within eighteen months of the new head teacher joining, they have been able to celebrate gaining a ‘good’ grading from Ofsted in four out of five categories, which is testament to the great things that can happen when schools and parents recognise the mutual goal of doing the best for our children, and then striving to achieve it together.

Education is a continual cycle between home, society, and school – and if one of those elements falls down, then the others can collapse around it too.

All too often we develop an ‘us and them’ culture of thinking in life, and it can only ever be detrimental. Isn’t it about time we thought simply in terms of ‘us’?

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 2nd June 2015