Thursday, 3 September 2015

Uniform rules?

Have you sent your little ones off to school this morning in their shiny new school uniforms? I have. Well, in the case of the two little ones, that is. The big one doesn't require much by way of a send off these days...

But I digress. I was asked what I thought about school uniform the other day (ff. 20mins in if you want a listen). And my answer was surprisingly hard to clarify. I'm a fan, I suppose, up to a point. But while I think the elaborate fetishes some schools go for (there's one round here that makes boys wear bow tie... with grey blazers trimmed with red piping!) and I think the money-grabbing schemes that make you buy from the school or from their 'chosen supplier' (at a premium!) ought to be challenged under monopolies legislation, on the whole and within reason, school uniform is a good thing.

It's a good thing from a teacher's point of view as its a great leveller. You notice (or should) what you need to notice - ability, aptitude, attitude, personality - with everything else reduced to the level of background noise. I imagine a similar thing happens at a nudist colony. Actually, perhaps not.

For parents, it's pretty vital. After a summer holiday of choosing your own outfit or else wearing the same one until it walks into the washing machine of its own accord I'm looking forward to the ease of having the uniform ready and waiting each morning. Getting the kids to school on time can be difficult enough without the extra hassle of adding choice to the mix. And a four year old whose choice would undoubtedly include fairy wings and a tiara might not be awfully practical or, indeed, conducive to learning.

So, where do you stand on the great school uniform debate? Are you for it or against it? Should school be a sartorial free-for-all or is it better to have one look for all?

I'm still little unsure, to be honest. I'm just delighted they don't make state primary pupils wear a cap any longer. But they did. Look -


Here's what all the best-dressed boys at Appleton Road Primary were wearing... a long, long time ago! 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Jeremy's jumpers

I see he's done it again. Or rather, I don't - I've heard about it on the news and probably won't bother buying the newspaper this morning having done so.

Who? Blair, that's who. And what? Intervened again - for the third time - in the Labour leadership election, warning of much wailing and gnashing of teeth should Jeremy Corbyn win. That's what.

Now, I'm not a party member nor even an affiliate. I haven't a say in who they elect as leader. But I have something else to say. And it's this. As a floating voter, I'd vote for Corbyn as Prime Minister.

Why? Because he doesn't look or speak like a silicon politician, that's why. He's a human being. He's honest: he won't tell us what we want to hear, nor wriggle and squirm like a worm when asked an awkward question - he'll say what he thinks. How refreshing!

Let me also make clear I don't agree with everything he thinks. My personal jury is still out on anti-austerity policies (unlike a growing body of economists including a former Bank of England advisor). But I'm all for renationalising the railways (having enjoyed the nationalised service that was East Coast before the government gave it to Richard Branson), I admire his women's manifesto and support his environmental pledges.

But if you want to know the real clincher, here it is. He wears jumpers knitted by his mother...


Now tell me you're not going to vote for him!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Mirror, mirror

A lot has been written and much said lately about UK children being among the unhappiest in the world.

All the usual suspects have been lined up for interrogation: exams, schools, bullying, body image. Smartphones too, are apparently part of the problem - owning one can increase the risk of suffering depression. And although such things are obviously only first-world problems (along with 'feeling left out' and 'low self-confidence') they are all real enough and however small they might seem compared to the problems that children (happier children) have in Eritrea or Ethiopia they are - to paraphrase Philip Larkin - happening to us.

As a parent of what I define as three reasonably happy children I confess I'm more than a little puzzled. Although I'm convinced that the pressure schools (and - be honest - many parents) put on children is intolerable it's nothing compared the educational expectations in a place like Japan. Ok, body image and diet is an issue, sure enough, but not having enough food or the right food ranks a little higher. And social media? Isn't the misery caused by social media a bit like complaining about what you're watching on the telly?

But I digress. As ever, the problem seems to be less about what we've got and more about what we think we should have. Everyone is always (or seems to be) happier than us. They've got the looks, more money, nicer hair, a car. It's not the stuff we've got (or not got) that makes us miserable as much as what we're told we want; it's not who we are but those with whom we're forced to compare ourselves.

Forgive the quantum leap, but there's a connection here between kids feeling miserable and things like the Ashley Madison ('life is short, have an affair') site. Not being a member (honest, guv) I can't say I know that much about it but from what I've read, the site exists to persuade people to cheat on their spouse/wife/partner merely for the sake of trying something (or someone) else for size.

There are, of course, people who have affairs (of all kinds) and there probably alway will. And at least in some instances it involves a personal connection, friendship, bond, relationship, with another human being you'd quite like to get to know (carnally). But hooking up with someone 'for the sake of' seems to be the ultimate in the desperate desire for more and different that we're all - as part of the consumerist con - brainwashed into believing will make us happy.

Here's my advice (for what it's worth). Enjoy what you've got. Instead of joining Ashley Maddison (or something similar) enjoy the time you spend with your own partner. Instead of wondering which child has better grades than yours, celebrate their achievements. Oh, and don't buy them the 'next big thing' in toys or take them to that mega-expensive theme park, either. Give 'em a cardboard box or take them to the park instead. Not only is it cheaper, but they'll have a lot more fun. And learn to use their own imagination, too.

And with a bit of imagination...


Sunday, 16 August 2015

A Trip to Waddesdon Manor

As days out go, it was a good one. For a start, the sun shone. It didn't rain. Nobody was sick. We went round a stately home and didn't break anything.

And Waddesdon Manor is some stately home! Built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 to house his art collection (as you do) it's a cross between a Disney-castle and a French chateau. It's more impressive (imho) from the outside. And the grounds are fabulous. 

But the interior is just about the most outrageously vulgar display of opulence I've ever seen. It's built of bling - big bling, too - it's so bad it's actually good. It's as if Baron Ferdinand and his family set out to be as obviously ostentatious as they could be. And then - and here's the really crafty bit - they got the National Trust to pay for the upkeep of it. 

I'd rather been under the impression that the Trust took on the crumbling ancestral piles of those poverty-stricken scions of the upper classes who for one reason or another found themselves well, on their uppers. That's hardly the case with the Rothschild's, however. Chateau Lafite is certainly doing well enough for them and the National Trust appears to be acting as wine merchant at Waddesdon. 

Well, I may have got it wrong. Perhaps the dear old Rothschild's really aren't rolling in it. But they certainly were, judging by this stately pile of theirs. They even have their own - not the National Trust's, note - monogram on the seats of the shuttle buses that take you from the car park up the drive and to the house itself. Which is, however, well worth a visit. 335,000 visitors a year (it's one of the Trust's most-visited properties) can't be wrong, can they?


Waddesdon Manor is open every day except Monday and Tuesday. A family ticket costs £45 for the whole site or &20 (gardens only).

Monday, 10 August 2015

Happy Birthday BBC Proms - 120 today!

That wonderful British musical institution, the Proms, is well under way again at the Albert Hall.

Have you been to one yet? We usually make the pilgrimage to London at least once each season. Here's how close I managed to park last year:


Impressive, huh? Mind you, that wasn't as close as the first time I ever went to a Promenade Concert. That was way back in 1990 and I was dropped at the stage door - as a performer. Ok, I was but one member of a rather large choir but it was a terrific thrill - one I had the good fortune to repeat several times during my stint with the RLPC (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir).


Today - this very day - is the 120th anniversary of the first-ever promenade concert. Back then they were known as the 'Robert Newman Proms' which subsequently became the Henry Wood Proms and then the BBC Henry Wood Proms and now seem to have become known simply as the BBC Proms.

Well, they do pay for it. And sustain it with their many orchestras and choirs (some of whom we Liverpool singers shared a platform with, not always successfully... but that's another story).

I get a little irritated at our constant need to refer to great British occasions as the best in the world. You know, the way we always ask foreign players if they agree with the unspoken assumption that Wimbledon is 'special' and refer to Lord's as the home of cricket (I think Hambledon has an earlier claim to that title) and so on.

But if you'll forgive the trumpet-blowing for a moment, the Proms really is the best music festival on the planet. You can still get in (to 'promenade') for just a fiver.

Although the programme'll cost you a little more than the 80p I parted with way back in September 1990.
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