Thursday, 17 April 2014

Happy Birthday Nick Hornby

Is your partner male? Does your partner read? Because a recent survey has suggested that if your answer to those questions is a 'yes' and then another 'yes' then your partner is also likely to say  'no' if you offer them a book. Not just a specific book. Any book. In other words, a lot of men don't read books, at all, ever.

As a man who not only reads the things but also writes them (do feel free to browse the Amazon side bar a little lower down this page, on the right, no - down a little further: there!) I'm saddened at the news, and not just because of the loss of potential customers. 

Anyway, today happens to be the birthday of a man, a writer (and, no doubt, a reader) but a 'bloke' too, drinking, footie-watching, band-listening, bird-watching (!) chap whose work might just get your own man (if you have one, and should you want to get him) reading. 

Yes, happy birthday Nick Hornby. I don't know how old he is but I do know - having read almost all his books - that both the style and subject matter of his work will appeal to the typical male. Not that I am. 

But I think he might be. And if your's is, why not get him reading? A book is so much more than lots of words on loads of pages, after all. It's worth the effort. 

As the birthday boy himself says,

The more you read about the value of literacy, the more you understand it’s everything, really. All statistics show the more kids read, the more likely they are to have successful lives.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Bring back the dog licence

Is it time to ban dogs?

Think about it. Regular deaths and serious injuries inflicted by an otherwise innocent family pet; a hundredweight of dog dirt which - at best - leaves a retch-inducing smell on the carpet and at worst can lead to toxoplasmosis and consequent blindness. And perhaps most worrying of all, the enormous environmental impact of these meat-eating, massively-farting hounds of hell. Did you know, for instance, that the carbon footprint (or should that be, paw print) of man's so-called best friend is double that of a SUV?

Look, I'm no dog-hater. No, really! But then I don't hate private jets (or their owners) either (although I wouldn't want them flown from every street corner). I don't hate cats (with only a slightly smaller carbon paw print) or goldfish. But I don't want them running riot (euphemism) over the grass where my children play. Still less do I want them jumping up at said children (oh, he's only being friendly!) on the way to school. 

Both my youngest children are terrified of dogs and I can hardly blame them. After having huge unleashed hounds (ok, one was a Westie but to a two-year-old that's pretty frightening) bound up to them as they go about their business kicking a ball or riding a scooter (it's alright, the owners always say; he doesn't bite) is hardly likely to endear them to the smelly, slobbering, woofing neo-wolves.

To be serious for a moment, many (perhaps most) dog-owners are responsible, law-abiding people. I even occasionally see them picking up their pet's deposits and then putting the bagged contents in the bins provided (rather than, say, hanging them from the nearest lamppost or stuffing them in a hedge). Yes!

So I'm sure they'll be only too willing to contribute financially to help offset the environmental damage caused by their canine indulgences. After all, we tax carbon emissions; we pay a green levy on our heating bills; we make polluters pay towards the cost of clearing their pollution.

A new dog licence might also ensure that only those with a responsible attitude will consider owning such a pet. Maybe 'trophy' dogs and those unfeasibly large animals that could easily accommodate a saddle will become less popular if taxed according to their size or appetite (or 'emissions').

I concede that, in a nation of (so-called) dog lovers such a policy is unlikely to be a vote winner. But then, since when has politics been a popularity contest? (Actually, scrub that last sentence. Politics these days is one big popularity contest and nothing gets included in a party's manifesto that hasn't first been before a focus-group and tested out for votability).

But I digress. Dogs are lovely, waggy woofy things but they also make a terrible (and harmful) mess and can be the cause of serious injury and even death. Substitute the word 'dog' for another 'd' word in that sentence and there's no way we'd not be having a serious discussion about introducing some kind of protective legislation.

I don't want dog muck on my shoes, I don't want my children knocked down by other people's 'playful' pets and I don't want to run the risk of any child or adult being harmed by what is, in effect, another person's hobby.

No-one else seems bothered. I'm in a minority (probably) of one.

But this is only the beginning.

Who will join me?

Come on everyone. Let's do the dog...


Monday, 7 April 2014

Weirdy beardy

I've had a beard for so long now that they've suddenly become fashionable again. Admittedly, the ones now sported by today's young bucks are rather fuller than my own, which is no more really than a chin of designer stubble. It's the last remaining vestige of the beard I first grew aged eighteen and it's probably going to last until I'm eighty given that my wife not only approves but thinks my face looks odd without it. It may even look odd with it. Who am I to tell?

There's a lot of nonsense written about beards and facial hair in general and discriminating against the facially hirsute might just be the last vestige of irrational (and legal) prejudice. Suspicious? Something to hide? Chinless wonders? Certain large employers have been known to insist that everyone on the payroll (men and women) be clean shaven. It is even said Mrs Thatcher excluded any beard wearer from her cabinet.

Although I suspect that such overt discrimination is a thing of the past (not least, on religious grounds - Sikh males are obliged not to sport a full beard and I doubt very much whether refusing to employ a member of the Khalsa on such a pretext would be a wise move) the old attitudes live on in muttered oaths and unspoken maxims.  

So I, for one, am delighted to see so many men out there with beards. And I hope you are too. So...


Seems I'm late to the party again. An item on BBC Radio Four's Today programme this morning claims that while beards have been fashionable, that trend has now peaked and we've reached a state of something called 'post beard' (that's what the man said).

Do I reach for my razor?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Life as a stay-at-home dad - again!

It's not often I hear the top-of-the-programme running order for the BBC Radio Four Today programme and leap out of bed with excitement. Ok, that didn't quite happen this morning either. But I admit I was a tad curious when they trailed an item billed as 'what life is really like for stay-at-home dads'.

I should've contained myself. For a start, they didn't speak to any (stay-at-home dads, that is). Instead  Zoe Williams (who qualified in neither category last time I was looking) spoke of childcare being boring and a chap called Billy McGranaghan from a charity supporting single dads said they have it tough because mums at the school gates are suspicious of them (a lot of them think dads are wishy-washy) and the dads don't have a network of support like the mums do. He then went on to describe the network of support for dads that his organisation - Dad's House - runs. Sounds laudable. And also contradictory.

Of the thousands of stay-at-home dads out there (the programme claimed numbers have doubled in the last twenty years and now stand at almost 300,000) I was amazed and rather disappointed that they couldn't be bothered to phone one of us up. There's a lot to be said and speaking to a dad - a stay-at-home-dad - perhaps in preference to a London (female) columnist and member of the capital's chatterati might have been a little more relevant. It might even have been enlightening.

I was really keen to hear the item, wondering who they'd asked to contribute, whether it was somebody I knew and what they might have to say. I even set Piezo to record the piece off-air.

I shan't be keeping it. If you'd like a listen, click on the Today programme website. It'll be available for the next seven days... after which it will self-destruct.

Which is probably for the best.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

It might be good, but can you measure it?

Structured learning, targets, overt teaching, more inspections. Is it another attempt to bring our GCSE results up to the standard of the Chinese? 

(Incidentally, I have the perfect solution to that problem should anyone wish to try it out. And it costs nothing! It is this: teach our children Chinese-style, complete with Chinese discipline. Seriously, no wonder they're so good at maths...) 

But no. This isn't anything to do with exams and international league tables (yet). It's a new idea for the under fives.
Before I go any further I have to admit that I'm not a great believer in the mantra that a problem of whatever nature - social, economic, educational - is best fixed by throwing more and more official, government-funded stuff at it. 

So the idea that if - and it is a big 'if' - the nation's five-year-olds aren't being adequately prepared for school we should throw Ofsted at the problem, test it and set targets for it is not one I find convincing. After all, look at what that's done for GCSE results (see above)!

But there's something even bigger at stake this time - childhood. Yes, childhood. My youngest can count, she recognises words and letters and at age three is as ready as she needs to be for the reception year at school. 

She goes to a lovely, gently stimulating nursery and at home she plays. Yes, plays. I make sure what she plays can also help her learn a little some times but I also like to see her play for it's own sake, play for the fun of it, play for play's sake. 

And the benefits - over and above the obvious pleasure - are impossible to measure: how can you quantify happiness? How can you set a target for a child's imagination?

I find today's talk of the inadequacy of our under-fives depressing. And I tell you what - I bet if you look hard enough you'll find a few inadequacies in those Chinese classrooms too.

Only, we can't see them. Because no-one's measuring. 

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