Archive for the ‘ schools ’ Category

“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…”

My son, this morning, on his bike.

According to most recent figures, more than 20 children are killed every year in England & Wales while out cycling. While this represents untold tragedy and heartache for every family, this statistic has bizarrely cheered me up a bit. I reckon it means the chances of my little man joining them is pretty remote, right? Right?

This week my elder son, aged 10, has started cycling to school. We only live just over half a mile from school, so up to now we have made the journey on foot.

But since Monday my son and his classmates have been undergoing cycle proficiency training each morning; this clearly can’t be done without the aid of a bike, so it makes sense for him to cycle.

The first morning I made him wheel his bike the first 200 yards to the main road, where I tentatively saw him across to the central reservation and then on to the other side, before watching in horror as he wobbled on his way, pedalling furiously to get up some speed. High sided lorries whizzed by just feet away, making his wobble all the more pronounced.

He’s actually quite a competent cyclist. We regularly head off for family bike rides along the canal or along cycle trails, and he likes riding round and round the garden, leaving a muddy trail in  his wake.

But he rarely rides on the roads, so is somewhat lacking in street skills and seems blissfully unaware of possible hazards.

It’s hardly his fault.

When we were kids we would tear around the neighbourhood on our bikes in packs of up to 20, whizzing on and off pavements, riding no-handed or doing wheelies to our hearts’ content. Footwear of choice was trainers (winter) or flipflops (summer). Helmets were unheard of. Lights and reflectors were for show, not for safety.

No such fun for my son and his mates.

I’m really trying to give him more freedom; I truly believe that it’s only possible for anyone to know how to deal with risk and life’s ups and downs by experiencing them and learning how to negotiate them.

But it’s hard, isn’t it? I do understand why my fellow parents are so reluctant. Everywhere you look there are warnings, dire ones at that, about the risks facing kids today. It’s enough to make you want to wrap them up in cotton wool and never let them out of your sight.

Anyway, I’m braving it. I know he’s going to grow up sometime – I guess learning how to negotiate a quarter mile of A-road on two wheels is just going to be the start of his journey to manhood.

The picture above was taken on the field next to his school, as he messed around with his friends before the bell went this morning. I caught up with him after walking the same route with my younger son. It was a lovely frosty morning and it was good to see him having fun. But mostly it was good to know he’d made it in one piece. I could breath again. At least, until tomorrow…


Little box of memories, part 1

I keep everything my kids do. Every painting, every school book, ever sketch, every word they write.

It’s all stored neatly in labelled boxes in the attic, by name and age. Not for long though.

I realised the other day that they are only part way through their childhoods and already the attic is full. I’m going to have to pare things down.

My mum and dad kept an eclectic selection of bits and pieces from my childhood. I’ve got my first infant school books, some drawings, some schoolwork, certificates and medals from various sports and arts festivals and all my school reports.

I love the insight they bring into a life I can only just remember; the way the smallest thing can trigger an avalanche of memories.

The other day mum turned up with a small bag of stuff she had discovered during a recent clear out. It was a snapshot of my life, circa 1981, when I was about 12.

There were seven things in the bag.

Each of them says something special about that time in my life.

I guess you’d like to know more…if so, tune in tomorrow when I will reveal all.

Sorry, I know that’s a copout but I really am done in. Same time, same bat channel…

Football crazy, football mad

When I was a kid I daydreamed about turning out at Wembley in a cup final for my beloved Shrewsbury Town FC. In my dream I was the star player, a terrier-like midfield maestro in the mould of Steve Gerrard and, with the inevitability of daydreams, I would score a hat-trick, the last goal coming in the dying minutes.

I had it all worked out. I would make it into the team by being so incredibly good that the fact I was female would be overlooked, rule books would be torn up, and I’d be an icon for women players all over the world.

I was only nine at the time, so of course anything and everything was possible. After all, I was a regular in my school football team and was as good as any of the boys – so why not?

We didn’t have girls’ teams back then, when tackling from behind, elbows in the ribs, players turning up sozzled for a big match, and proper punch ups on and off the pitch were de rigeur. You either mixed in with the boys, or packed it in.

My fledgling career reached its zenith in the 1977/8 season, when my school team reached the final of the Shropshire schools cup. This was a BIG DEAL. We had a special assembly at school, a pep talk from the head, and a special pre-match meal. This had never happened before, so come the day we were all hyped and nearly sick with anticipation.

Best of all we were going to be watched by none other than Graham Turner. Graham Turner! Yes, I know, hardly a household name now, or indeed then. Before you bother to google his name,  he was Shrewsbury Town’s player manager during the greatest period of the club’s history, when we reached the giddy heights of Division 2 (when that meant second best division) and went toe-to-toe with high flying Ipswich Town and Manchester City in the FA Cup.

Anyway, us kids were convinced Turner would take one look at us and sign us up on the spot. Me and my best mate Tina Birch, the only other girl in our team, had no reason to think that couldn’t include us.

I was gutted when I was told I wasn’t in the starting 11. Truly gutted. It was probably my first real disappointment in life. I was going to be the sub though – in those days teams had one, not six. To my barely disguised delight, one of my teammates twisted his ankle in the first few minutes, so I got my chance.

I’d love to now regale you with my man-of-the-match performance, but strangely, the match itself is a blank. I have no memory of it at all. I do remember, though, that we lost. I vaguely recall trooping up to get my loser medal off Turner, and shaking his hand. He didn’t ask me along for training. Pah. His loss.

This was our team picture that year, taken by the local paper the Shrewsbury Chronicle in the school hall. That’s me, arms folded, middle row, second right, looking very much like the boy I longed to be.

The following term we moved house 12 miles away, but I continued to go to the same school, mainly because I had so many friends and loved all the sport I was playing, and had a kindly teacher living nearby who gave me a lift every morning.

That first week back, my football dreams came crashing down. I remember trooping off the school field after a lunchtime 50 v 50 kickabout, when I was called over by the sports teacher. He told me I wasn’t allowed to play for the football team any more and would have to try out for the netball team instead, ok? And then turned and walked off.

I was distraught, convinced it was because I was just not good enough. This point was reinforced when I told my friends I was out of the team, and one horrid kid (Colin Day, wherever you are, I remember it still) said I was indeed rubbish, and a stupid girl to boot, and the team would have won the cup if I hadn’t been in the team and ruined everything.

It was a couple of years before I learned the truth, when I reminded my mum of my distress at the time. She laughed and told me it had nothing to do with ability – my demotion was just because I was “developing”. Apparently it was becoming obvious that I was a girl not a boy, a fact of life that caused the school quite a bit of discomfort. In those non-PC times, they did the only thing they could think of – and booted me off the team.

A lot has changed since then, both in the way girls and women are encouraged to play football, and the way the game is played, watched and run.

Back in the 1970s football was a truly working class activity, and going to the game was part of the Saturday ritual for most men and their kids. There was hardly any football on the telly, so if you wanted to see players in action you had to go. There were downsides of course – the racist chants, hooliganism, heavy pre-match drinking and smashed up windows around the grounds were a horrid part of the game.

But everything seemed so much simpler. Managers and players were loyal to one club. Agents were hardly heard of. If you wanted to watch a match, you queued up for a ticket. The FA Cup was THE match of the season, when everyone (even my mum) would tune in from 9am to join in all the pre-match banter. We’d go shopping specially the day before to pick our match snacks and drinks.

My footballing idols were Liverpool players – Keegan & Dalglish. The club were champions of everything, except for when they got the occasional jolt from those upstarts at Nottingham Forest. My dad had a perm, telling his hairdresser Vic Breeze to make it “just like Kevin Keegan’s”. He gave Vic one hell of a row when he ended up looking more like Shirley Temple.

Dad and me would go to the Gay Meadow to see Shrewsbury Town most Saturdays – we even joined the away supporters’ club for a year and I used to sometimes be the only girl on a coachload of male, drink-fuelled supporters. They all looked after me, and would constantly tell each other off with drunken shushing if the swearing or talk about girls went over the top in my hearing.

I recall those childhood days with absolute joy. There’s nothing like being part of something, is there? I was part of a gang, the blue and yellow barmy army, the Gay Meadow Men (ahem). The terrace chant I remember most fondly was the “11 men went to mow, went to mow a meadow…” and shouting out “Spot!” at the right time. Sounds daft and stupid now, but being a kid, without inhibition, was just great.

Hard to imagine now, but in those days Shrewsbury Town were in the same division as the likes of Chelsea, Newcastle United and Sunderland, so we got to visit some real footballing meccas.

A few years ago, I made a brief attempt to relive those heady football-loving and playing days of my youth. I joined up with a local women’s team to get fit, played twice and then managed to tear the ligaments in my ankle during a training session. Too little, too late.

I still follow football, but it has long lost its capacity to make or break my day or weekend. I keep a watchful eye on the fortunes of Liverpool, and occasionally make it back to Shrewsbury to watch the Town in their fancy new Prostar stadium. But I’m not part of the gang any more – I’ve not earned that right.

So, talk about things coming full circle. Graham Turner is now back at the helm at Shrewsbury Town, after being summoned last season to halt a scary tumble towards the non-league. Town are now riding high in Division Two again, only this time it’s what I still know as Division 4.

And in a few hours time my old hero Kenny Dalglish will lead Liverpool out to play Manchester United in the FA Cup. It’s the first game for months that I am looking forward to watching from start to finish (mainly because it’s on terrestrial tv so I can actually see it). I’m even off to Sainsbury’s in a minute to get the snacks and pop in for the kids, just like in the old days. I’m no longer football-crazy, football-mad, but there are still moments in sport that I want to feel part of the gang again.

Hold The Front Page…

My kids have done me proud, just as I expected.

I’m not talking about my own flesh and blood here, but a group of budding writers that I’ve been working with at a local primary school.

Thanks mostly to their own desire and skill, albeit with a little helping hand from yours truly, this handful of 9- and 10-year olds have written, designed and created their own school newspaper.

This is not just any old school newspaper either. It’s an all-singing, full colour, glossy job, complete with headlines, cutouts, hampers and panels, photos and even an exclusive celebrity interview. They refused to do anything by halves, despite having just seven weeks to do it.

We only met once a week, for less than an hour a time, so it was all a bit more frenetic than I’d planned for, but their energy levels barely dipped. Every week they would turn up, at the end of a full school day, bursting to tell me who they had interviewed, what new ideas they had got, and desperate to show me their notebooks full of scribbled notes. It gave me a real buzz and reminded me how exciting the job of a news reporter can be.

To their delight, I made them each a reporter’s ID badge on a lanyard, and a named notebook and pencil, and persuaded the school to let them use a digital camera. It all added to their impression of themselves as “proper” reporters, and they behaved accordingly. One of them even suggested doing a “young love” expose. I managed to talk him out of it, but only on the promise he could do a pre-Valentine’s Day special about romance among primary kids. I await the finished article with bated breath and a terrible sense of dread.

The kids decided on their own news list, wrote to or approached their interviewees, wrote out their own questions, arranged photocalls and did all the writing themselves. They did most of the layouts, and generally wowed me with their IT skills and creative abilities.

It was an amazing experience and reminded me, not for the first time, how much I sometimes forget just what kids are capable of and how deeply they think.

As this was a bit of an experiment for all involved, I had volunteered to mentor the kids for free, and only charged a nominal rate for extra time I spent on it. I’d got no idea how the kids would respond to me or how much time it would take, and the school had no idea whether their instincts about me would prove correct.

I’m pretty confident we all came out of it well. I got the chance to trial a few ideas – some worked, some didn’t. I learned, for example, that letting kids loose on design will result in the introduction of LOTS of colours, many of which will clash horribly.

I also learned that all the “fun” of a “fun end of term quiz” is lost if you let the kids mark their own answers at the end; no matter how good they are, at least one of them will  not be able to resist cheating if chocolate is at stake.

I found out a lot about how to get the most out of different personalities; when to cajole and when to stay quiet. The kids told me they really enjoyed it, and have shown it by signing up to produce the next edition. The head was pleased with the finished product, and I got some lovely compliments from teachers, governors and parents.

It could also turn out to be very worthwhile in the long run. I’ve already been approached by two schools wanting my help to do something similar for them. As someone who thrives on confidence (if I was a footballer I’d be more erratic Emile Heskey than cocky Ashley Cole) this means an awful lot to me. I just hope I don’t let the kids down.

By the way, if you want to read the first edition of The Franche Flyer, you can see it here:

Enjoy reading!