No Brainer

22 April, 2016

 

I sit bolt upright in bed at 2am.  My subconscious has processed what the Dr was saying, 5 hours ago in A&E.  Sami’s concussion from his bike accident is passing, he can leave in an hour or two, but there’s something else;

“The CT scan has shown cell growth in the left ventricle of his brain.” The Junior Dr. tells me earnestly.  Initially, I am relieved; I have been pushing my GP for over a year to get a neurological exam for Sami.  I recently got a referral appointment, but my GP has made it clear I don’t have enough evidence to get very far in the NHS.

“It’s great, we have something concrete to go on, physical evidence.” I reply

“Yes, yes, it’s definitely a good thing,” Dr. Young replies a bit too eagerly, a bit too reassuringly.

With hindsight, I realise we were having the classic it’s-nothing-to-worry-about conversation.  The slow moving cogs of my own brain have clicked through the night and finally worked it out for me, “cell growth in the left ventricle of the brain”, can also be called a brain tumour.  I had a bit of medical training, years ago and I remember random bits and pieces of it.  Cell growth can also be described in terms of degradation of DNA.  So, if you imagine a cell has a tiny spiral of DNA which is repeated in a continuous chain, billions of times.  Each time that cell reproduces (dies and replaces itself), it replicates the entire chain, except it loses one DNA spiral each time.  As the DNA chain shortens in length so we experience aging, our skin slackens, our bones dry out etc.    This is what aging actually is (and why skin creams called “Age Renewal” don’t work at all).  There are only two places you find perfectly replicating DNA chains in the body; the first is in the testes – because to produce a child, it has to be born with a perfectly long DNA chain, otherwise it would be born aged.  The second place is in cancer cells.  They perfectly replicate, they’re sometimes known as “eternal cells”, while all the so-called normal cells around them deteriorate.  They have other functions too, but this is how I understand “cell growth in the left ventricle”.  Cells are definitely not supposed to be spontaneously growing in there.  I sit up the rest of the night, classically terrorizing myself on google.  There is between 5%-15% survival rate at 5 years post treatment – a combination of surgery, chemo and radiation therapy (which leaves lasting detrimental effects on surrounding brain tissue).  Not good.  High fat, vegan diet (surely, a contradiction in terms?) has been shown to be helpful.  He is veggie, so I plan to move us into ultimate vegan health over the next few weeks.

I drive us 5 hours back home the next day, in pieces, hiding my bursts of grief from him behind my sunglasses.  He drivels on about the Tour-de-France for five hours, next to me, oblivious.  I email his teacher, she writes back “That’s not good, let me know if I can do anything to support you.”  I fall a 1000 feet through the floor reading her reply, couldn’t she have written, “We get his all the time at school, it’s perfectly normal in teenagers”.  I leave a message for our GP who’s not in the surgery for another 4 days.  She calls me within two hours and my heart drops another 1000 feet, she’s on it, chasing scans, being incredibly competent.  This is not routine.

I watch my son struggle with basic tasks like walking through doors and answering my questions.   I’d been so frustrated with him before, but now I see his neurological impairment, it explains a lot; his outbursts, his inability to be on time, to function at school or communicate.  When I drop him at school the next day, he says, “I hate being late for school”.  I stifle a laugh; he is late for school pretty much every day.  It’s the school’s and my biggest irritation with him, clearly, something is pressing on his brain, because this statement alone is utter madness.

By 9.30am, I am still in the car but I haven’t even finished school run.  I cancel my clients for the next two weeks and park at the side of road, in teary devastation.  There’s nothing else for it, I have to call Kiki.  I have tried not to call her, because over the years we have shared way more trauma than anyone should.  We are not friends who do coffee, or go shopping, or remember each other’s birthdays anymore.  We might send a text – which invariably sits without a reply. Or, “like” each other’s stuff on Facebook and keep up in vague way, meaning to see each other more than we ever manage.  But if one of us phones, like makes a proper old fashioned voice call, we know it’s serious and we pick up.  Two hours later she is sitting in my garden, fag in manicured fingers, tapping on her phone as I explain.

“So, what are you going to do?”  She asks, pressing “dial” on her phone, as I reply.

“Dunno.  Er, wait till Friday then call the GP back?” I say, making it up on the spot.

“Hi, Can I see a paediatric neurologist this week?” She asks whoever she’s talking to, “Ok, if you don‘t have one, where can I get one?”  She speaks to them as if she’s booking her Waitrose delivery slot.  Within fifteen minutes we have a next day appointment at The Portland Hospital.  I’d say we were booked into see a top Neurologist, but there was a bit of confusion with the phone signal and she accidently booked him in with an Urologist, first time round.  (The amount of laughter we got imagining a Doctor sticking his finger up Sami’s arse, looking for his brain, made it well worth the mistake though).  We agree to meet at the Co-op in Woodstock at 5pm.  She is taking over, she is scooping me up, driving to her boat in London, making appointments, buying food.  She is my knight in shining armour because she knows how to be good in crisis.  She’s had more than a few.

Sami disappears after school for an hour instead of coming home.  “Neurological impairment”, I think as I wait, unable to contact him.  When he finally appears, he explains he’s been at his weekly, Tuesday after-school club.  School call it “Detention”.   I understand better what’s going on with him, all this time he’s not being an annoying little git, he can’t help it, he has “Neurological Impairment”.

At 6.15pm I text Kiki to say we’re in the Co-op, he’s hungry.

“What just standing still, staring into space?”  She texts back immediately; neurological impairment is clearly on her mind too.

“No, not staring.  We’re in the Coop, he’s STARVING.” I reply, checking the autocorrect this time.  I look at the basket he’s been filling; four cheese sandwiches, a stuff crust pizza, a loaf of bread, a jar of Nutella, two bags of Wotsits & a Mars Milkshake, veganism will be more challenging than I thought.  I grab a bottle of red and a big bag of chocolate buttons, (I don’t feel like cooking) and jump in her massive BMW.

Kiki is a godsend.  Years ago we were a vacuous pair, who sat in bikinis by an expensive pool in Thailand, complaining about our fat (they were actually flat) stomachs, wishing our idiot boyfriends would marry us.  We imagined our futures with happy little children, who would do well in school and oh, drive us mad!  Our Bridget Jones years.  Then we grew up.  We lost the boyfriends, traumatically.  We survived emergency births, ectopic pregnancies, seizures, operations, traumatised toddlers and a few bouts of Post-Traumatic Stress each.  Incredibly, we’ve both ended up as single parents with three young children.  Mine, a grief inducing, mid-pregnancy divorce – well, that’s what we thought until her husband dropped dead during her third pregnancy.  Yes, she’s trumped me at every turn over the years.  I am in safe hands because she gets it, she knows exactly what I’m going through and what to do.

We sit in detached luxury, neither of us give a shit about our surroundings.  I have a bottle of red, she has a new packet of Marlborough Lights.  I feel helpless, like both my arms have been amputated.  Sami is behind us, headphones on, watching the Tour-de-France on the iPad.   I take a sleeping pill that someone left behind in my house, a long time ago;   I give her one too.  For the first time I sleep through the night.

I decide to wake her around 11.30am.  I notice my bag of chocolate buttons are lying open, next to her bed, thieving cow.  Sometime after, she stumbles upstairs to the living room, blonde hair looking like a straw mat, and joins Sami and me.  She is covered in brown stains, so I don’t say anything.

“Sleeping pills”, she says, casually lighting up.  “Effing strong aren’t they?  I woke up in the night with my hand stuck in a bag of melted chocolate buttons, but I couldn’t quite get up and wash.  Looks like I’ve shat myself in there and smeared it around the master bedroom.  I’d better text the cleaner and forewarn her, eh?”

“Yeah, better had.” we reply casually, as if this is an everyday problem.  Then she urges Sami to photograph it for Instagram.

Couple of hours later we arrive at Great Portland St and she dumps her beast of a car in a private car park, somone will park it for her.  At The Portland I offer my credit card to the receptionist and Kiki pushes my hand away, blinding the receptionist with the glint of her triple platinum Amex.

“Hey, you’d do it exactly the same for me,” she says.  This is not entirely true, I imagine what me doing it for her would look like.  They’d be a lot more buses & trains, and a Travelodge (in Hackney).  She’d probably have a panic attack discovering there were thousands of people travelling on the Underground, right under her Gucci pumps in Sloane Square.

We sit with the Consultant Neurologist and both stifle school-girl giggles when he says he wants to examine Sami. (At this point Kiki makes a swift exit under the pretext of Sami’s privacy, but I know she’s going for a fag and a Costa).   It’s ok, the physical is all above board, he is a Neurologist, not a Urologist – I checked his badge when we arrived.  Later, I send Sami out, so I can discuss the CT scan, without him knowing about the tumour.

“Have you seen the Radiologist’s report, on the CT scan?” Dr Neuro asks me.

“No, I haven’t been shown a thing.” I reply.

He turns the screen towards me; there is a message from the Radiologist, it lacks any tone of urgency.  It mentions a “density” in the left ventricle, it suggests it’s a shadow of the Medulla Cortex accidently picked up in the scan.  There is no mention of “cell growth” or “possible tumours”, only a recommendation, again without any urgency, that it’s checked with an MRI.

Between us, Dr Neuro and I deduce that Dr Junior, in A&E, saw the scan and interpreted it himself without reading the radiologist’s report.  I no longer feel my son is at risk of cancer, or is dying of a brain tumour.  I am angry at what this has cost us, not even financially, but in human emotion.  How I would have remained in that traumatised state for three, maybe four weeks, if I hadn’t gone privately.  But overall, I am entirely relieved Sami is ok.  The sun is shining, my son is not dying and my life is fine again.  The lift is full, so we watch fondly, as he almost falls down the stairs on our way out.   “Neurological impairment” is no longer an option.

His CT scan (above) clearly shows no internal cell growth.

Sami’s CT scan (above).  The Consultant Neurologist was able to confirm, there is absolutely no internal cell growth.

 

Hurley Comes Clean

6 February, 2014

Liz Hurley issued an unequivocal apology in a statement from her press office today.  It read:

“I want to apologise to Mrs Hilary Clinton and to the American people. The rumours circulating about myself and former President, Bill Clinton, are true.  He is one of the few men I have not slept with.  It was a reckless oversight on my part and one I regret deeply, now that I see how much publicity it would have generated for me.”

Miss Hurley later tweeted the names of other famous men she hadn’t slept with in a bid to prove unfounded the allegation that (former) President Clinton had been discriminated against.  She tweeted:

@mennotyetshagged; Fred Flintstone, President Clintstone. oh god I’m sure there are a few more, they’re just not in the papers enough for me to remember their names.  Oh, what about wasshisname, thingy, with the red shoes, er,  Ronald McDonald, that’s him!  Oh no, I did him, I forgot.  Sorreeeee.

There has been outrage across America.  Head Boy of the UK, Dave C., has held round-the-clock talks with the American Ambassador in London, in a desperate bid to repair the political damage this scandal has caused.  He was quoted as saying;

“We’re all shocked, especially those of us who know Liz.  I mean know her socially, only when our wives are in the same room and never leave us alone with her.  Ever.”

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Donald McDuck in his stockroom. “We shared so many happy meals together.” He says of Ms Hurley.
(Photo courtesy of Salmonella Awareness brochure).

The Doyenne of Divorce

6 February, 2014

Michelle Young, (let’s call her ‘Shelle) wasn’t expecting a divorce, nor was she expecting her husband to claim bankruptcy.  An unfortunate coincidence? That’s not how she saw it.  He ran, she chased, cleaver in hand.  And that’s basically how things progressed, as the Youngs battled in the British courts’ most expensive divorce case.  Seven years of wrangling, raising a legal bill in excess of £6.5m.  They settled (her unhappily) this week at £20m, + £5m in costs.

Both sides have made mistakes.  Mr Young did accidently, tell a few completely prefabricated lies to the Judge – and got caught.  (Oops).  He was given two custodial prison sentences for failing to comply with the Judge’s orders to fully disclose his finances (Oops), he served one and never fully disclosed his finances.  He “forgot” what happened in a few of those years (Oops).  He got mentally unwell and had to go to the Priory, at £10,000 a week.  (Ouch).    And, probably most regrettably of all, he gave an old computer to his daughters.  on which, his wife’s forensic experts found a deleted file where he listed his assets at a value of £319 million. (Oops).

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“Distraught & ashamed”, Scot Young is comforted by his friend. “I can’t eat, I just drink a few flutes of vintage champagne each day & force down a few mouthful of Beluga caviar. All I do is sit in my counting house, counting out my money.  My ex wife is like a blackbird, constantly trying to peck off my nose.”

Mrs Young made mistakes too.  The judge described her as verging on paranoid, making wildly unsupported accusations about loads of famous rich people. (Shame).  She was quoted slandering Simon Cowell saying;

 

“Always round my house for dinner he was, that Simon Cowell.  Y’know, he never brought nothing with him.  Phillip Green, what a gent.  He always brought me a vintage bottle of  Lambrusco and sometimes he’d even bring them Ferrero Rocher chocolates too.  That’s class, that is.  Stingy Simon, that’s what we called him, not even a bunch of daffs from the cemetery round the corner.”

At this point Cowell’s lawyers threatened her with legal action and she deleted her tweets.  (Shame).  She was given a paultry one million pounds support for the first year (Shame).  She sold some baubles worth £180,000 (Shame) and put £3m towards the court costs herself (Shame).  Then she moved into a slummy little house, only able to afford a £100,000 a year in rent, (Shame).  Given these dire circumstances, she was understandably unable to ring-fence any money to help her daughters complete their A-levels in their private schools (Shame).  Later, forced to move to even worse accommodation (Shame), she and her daughters ended up renting barely more than a stable with a manger, for £42,000 per annum. (Shame).  Then she claimed, wait-for-it, benefits (wtf? Shame).  She managed to scrounge back £1,300 a month in Housing Benefit (you are kidding me?  Shame).  The rest of the rent being paid for by an anonymous “friend”.

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Ms Young; “We can’t afford chairs anymore. Often I sit on the carpet and stare out the window at the neighbour’s chairs. They’re pretty and remind me of happier times. Yes, I do get white carpet fluff stuck on my noir Versace jeans, everything is so hard right now.”

So, who is that anonymous friend?  I hear you cry.  She knows a lot of important people in the public eye, and yes, my exhausted research has uncovered the three most likely candidates.  They are;

  1. Her butler, Paul “my rock” Burrell.
  2. The notorious gangster, Bugsy Malone.
  3. A grant from Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Calcutta.

Now ‘Shelle, I don’t know how bad things have been fighting your ex, but let me assure you, that that experience is going to feel like unwrapping presents on xmas morning if Housing Benefit find out about this.  Any single mum caught topping up her rent by £26,400 could spark off an investigation, anytime.  My advice is don’t publicise what you’re doing, keep it really quiet, cos ‘Shelle, you could get done.

Everytime I see another woman go through the same kind of thing it makes me think it’s worth it”

“Shelle Young, the Doyenne of Divorce

I question that ‘Shelle.  Some of us choose do it other ways, many of us have no choice.   Many of us go back to work, with the burden of children in tow and we build new careers, out of nothing.  You had funds behind you, you have contacts and connections, how many doors could have opened for you, if you’d told him to shove it and had the guts to go for it?  How much respect would you have garnered from us if you’d put your daughters education and esteem ahead of bickering over your bank accounts?  Oh Young Ones, in your myopic race to be the wealthiest one over the finishing line, you flung your daughters aside to jump for the maritial jugular.  Do you really think it’s worth it?

We, the rest of the world get similar treatment. We are their extras in life, the supporting cast to their leading roles.  In summarising the divorce proceedings, the Judge made the following comment.

“The court has to allot to each case an appropriate share of the court’s resources.  It is difficult to see how 65 preliminary hearings followed by a final hearing lasting 20 days, can possibly be a fair allocation of this court’s limited resources on one case.”

It’s the sort of narcarcissicm you see in teenagers and toddlers; when the believe that they are the only ones who really exist and behave accordingly.  The Youngs have been openly contemptuous of our judicial system, our laws and of our benefits system.  All just accessories to their latest single-minded want.

Young Ones, you have waged your war.  Was it worth it?  Are you happy now?

sad-queen

Stranger Danger

28 June, 2013

The kids got “Stranger Danger” education at school this week.  Making sure no one gets into a car with a stranger, or worse still, accepts any sweets.   We discuss this type of thing quite frequently at home.  This is in part, probably due to my job.  I encounter, on a far too frequent basis, the results of childhood sexual abuse.  And also the fact that they spend a lot of time away from me at weekends, often in situations which I’m not terribly happy about – at pubs and parties with people I don’t even know.

There are only estimates for the number of children sexually abused in the UK.  It’s largely unreported, in fact, I can’t even remember ever having a client who has reported it to any authorities – other than maybe telling a parent, who ignored them.   Estimates put the figure for girls at 1 in 4, and for boys 1 in 6.  Sad-to-say, but it sounds about right to me.  The incidence of abuse rise with added risks of alcohol, drugs and multiple partners.

I have a friend who worked with a group of pedophiles.  (I should probably point out she was a social worker).  They told her an  interesting thing.  That when they’re hanging-out around the schools, it’s not the kids they’re looking at.  They’re looking for the vulnerable parent who is going to give them access to a child.  Feel vulnerable?  To be honest I used to, especially as a single parent, but this made me feel a whole lot better about it.  Not being the vulnerable parent, with the vulnerable kids – yeah, that one I could manage.  So my children’s education began at a fairly early age.  We have frank discussions about all sorts of things.  We talk about situations, strangers, so-called “friends”; we discuss tactics and have a good laugh about it too.  But, I always teach them how to deal with each situation.  So they’ve been armed with responses, rather than trapped in the headlights of blind panic.

But, I also put perspective in there.  I don’t let them listen to the news, with it’s terrifying stories about children being abducted or killed.  I’ve always thought it’s scaremongering.  There were 72 child abductions by strangers, in the UK last year (er, that’s about 64 more than I thought, actually).  But, more frighteningly, there were 375 attempted abductions by strangers.  A lot more than I thought.     However, let’s compare this total number, 447, to the overall rate of abuse of our young people.  Let’s say, (purely) for numerical sake, abuse happens between the ages of 6 and 15.  That would be an estimated 750,000 girls and 500,000 boys being sexually abused right now, in the UK.  The  447 child abductions are clearly the extreme, visible end of the problem; but not the predominating perpetrators.

A client once said, “When are we going to face up to the fact that our children are at most risk from someone we know and trust, not strangers.”  Her words stayed with me, because she was right.  Collectively, we’re still in denial about who abuses our children.  And in that respect, we continue to fail them.  When are we going to really educate our children how to speak up if a grandfather, step dad or brother enter their room at night, when mum is asleep?  Are we going to teach them how to cope with threats of everyone knowing “the dirty things you’ve done”?  Will our children get an assembly on that?  There is very little on the internet when it comes to talking about family abuse, but massive resources to protect from them from strangers.  Are we teaching practical measures for children with this problem, other than, “tell someone”.   Surely,  we can find more ways to help rid these children of their nightmares?

Back to “Stranger Danger”;
Me:  “So what did they say?  Don’t take sweets from strangers?”
Sami: “Yeah.  Showed us a video.  But, of course we’d all take the sweets, we just wouldn’t get in the car.”
Amba: “Yeah, grab ’em and run, really fast.”
Me: “Er, I think when you put your arm out for the sweets, that’s when they grab you.”
Sami: “Really!  They didn’t tell us that.  Everyone in my class is gonna take the sweets.”
Amba; “Yep, my class too.”

 

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The elderly man in red was suspected of giving children expensive gifts  to gain access to their bedrooms.
(This blog does not support vigilantism)

Reputation…………

16 January, 2013

I’ve forgiven you, Mr Ex, for your abandonment.  It’s ok, you went and we are both happier that way.

I’ve forgiven you for not caring when I was pregnant with your third child.  Others were there with support and real love.

I’ve forgiven the time I asked you for £20 a week for food for me and the children,  you couldn’t afford it. Someone else stepped in and saved me from the abyss.

Ha, or that time when I was in labour and asked you to collect the kids.  Remember?  You said no, cos you were going out with your girlfriend that night.  It’s ok, I’m not holding on to that one, water under the bridge now.

It doesn’t matter to me that you left with thousands of pounds of debt, which I’ve managed to slowly clear over the years, even though you were working and I wasn’t.  It’s ok, life’s not about the money.

 
That you lied to the Child Support Agency and paid £7 a week for your three children. You spent more on coffee on your way to work.  But it’s ok, I really don’t care anymore.

 

That you’ve broken Sami’s heart so many hurtful times, I’ve picked up the tearful pieces and repaired his love for you.  He’s ok, a deeper, more thoughtful person for it.  I understand you’ll never know what you’ve done to him.

That you didn’t watch our 2 year old on the riverboat and took the kids to drug fueled parties.  It’s ok, guardian angels were on hand to tell me what was going on, I was lucky.  I accept that part of you that thinks that’s ok.

I accept that you side against the children with Mrs Ex., instead of protecting them from her bias opinions.  I forgive you, you have a relationship to manage, it’s ok.

But, Mr Ex, I had only the one thing left.  You’re tearing it to pieces, deliberately.  There’s nothing I can do to stop it.

Reputation; just another attachment – one I didn’t even realize I had.

I forgive you for bringing me back to the sad, angry place.

Only I can set myself free.

 

I live in a rural community, a small village with no street lights.  It’s surrounded by fields which are sowed and ploughed each year, by one of the three farmers who own all the land as far as the eye can see.  We watch the fields change throughout the seasons; the tractors ploughing, watching new plants appear in spring wondering what’s coming this year.  It changes see, each year the fields are a different colour, I think it’s called crop rotation (but stop me if I’m getting too technical, ok). Some years, we have masses of bright red poppies in golden corn fields, or vivid yellow oil seed rape, another year it’s green stuff that’s a magnet for swans.  Then in the late summer the combine harvesters drone all night, bringing in both the harvest and a bout angry monster nightmares for the children.

We go out and watch the combines sometimes, it’s a messy old business, but it’s efficient.  Not like the weeks of back breaking labour it must have taken in the good-ole-days.  This mechanisation has caused a redundancy amongst in the relationship between farmer and village.  We don’t help him with his harvest, he doesn’t sell produce locally, I barely know the three who farm around my village.  There is no Cider With Rosie round here.  Gone are the days of kids with (hopefully blunt) scythes, gathering the hay into bales, snogging under the horse-drawn cart.    And this naturally begs the question; if they’re not off school for the whole summer to bring in the harvest/snogging under the cart; then why exactly are they off school for so long?  The only reasons I can think of are;

  1. Keeping Thomas Cook in business with ridiculously inflated prices during the holidays.
  1. Stopping women getting decent paid jobs because no-one on a normal wage can afford 70 days of childcare a year.

School’s-out-for-summer once meant that work experience began and the children contributed to the economy.  Ok, I’m not really saying you should put your children to work in the fields, or up a chimney, (although if they really want to do it and they’re seem naturally good at it, who am I to tell you to hold them back in life?).

combine

Not all children are ready to drive combine harvesters.

The issue of trying to fit in work around school holidays is one that has failed to be addressed by any political party.  The women I’ve spoken to about this, (in my research to find a way to work more than my sporadic self-employment) all seem to rely on a bit of childcare and a lot of family support.  But, this is not an option for all of us.  I, like many, don’t have family to ask and although I can ask friends, there are only so many times you can expect someone to happily have your three children all day.  I’ve been self employed for about 4 years now and with the recession my work has reduced considerably.  With my youngest now in school (phew), I could get a part time job, except covering the school holidays.  Childcare is a problem, the problem being that the cheapest childcare starts at £3.50 per kid, per hour.  I’ve got three of them, so I’m looking at spending £10.50 an hour to go to work.  Ok, there are tax credit incentives to help with this, but many single parents really do find that the more hours they work, the worse off they are.

The big issue here is that as an economical entity, can Britain afford to support the massive amount of single parents on benefits?  It doesn’t make sense to structure our country’s economy around school holidays for the sake of, well what?  Teaching unions?  The UK currently has 2 million single parent families, really, shouldn’t we be trying to address their return to work in a more practical way?  We often hear talk about part time work for mothers, but the issue is not part time, many of us can manage that on a daily basis.  The issue is finding a job with 70 days holiday a year.

School holidays are determined by the Local Education Authority (LEA) for Community and Community Funded schools and set by the school governors for Aided and Foundation schools.  Schools are required to teach a minimum 190 days per year, offering 2 sessions a day.  There are guidelines on the number of hours of teaching per week (21 to 24) depending on the age of the children.  But, interestingly, there is no maximum number of days they are allowed to teach, this is determined by the contracts between the schools and teachers.  Overseen by the big daddy, teaching unions.

The new kid on the block of hope with all this is Free Schools.  These school are a government initiative to support the setting up of independently managed state schools  They are run by charitable organisations and do not have to follow the National Curriculem, there are currently 79 of them open in the UK.  Many are faith based schools, such as the Avanti (hindu) school in Harrow, the largest of the free schools in the UK.  Many of them are also under-subscribed.  Currently, all of the free schools operate conventional holiday term dates.  But do these schools spell out some hope for a re-organisation of holidays for the struggling millions of parents trying to make a living?  Will they be the forerunners in a re-organisation of school holidays that will enable many single parents to return to workable hours on even a part time basis?  Possibly, but there are other things the Free Schools bring to UK education.  One of the more worrying aspects is The Department of Education (DoE) allowing them to employ unqualified teachers without an open application procedure. Their website says:

 

“Free schools do not have to employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status (although certain specialist posts will still require QTS).  Instead, Free Schools have the freedom to appoint the people they believe are best equipped to deliver their unique educational vision, for example an experienced instructor or lecturer from a further education institution.  Ensuring the highest quality of teaching is paramount to the success of each school.”

Interesting, isn’t it?  Free Schools’ teachers operate on the self-belief of their capability in teaching, rather than specific qualifications.  I wonder if this system that will in time be a precedent to the other struggling government departments (other than MPs, where it already openly operates).  Will we have Free Hospitals, where people who believe  they can operate perform surgery on brain tumours?  Or, perhaps we’ll have self appointed Free RAF pilots who, having done karaoke to R. Kelly a few too many times, believe they can fly.  Sort of like an employment based X-factor, but without tedious auditions.

Another aspect of education they’re allowed to take less literally, is with staff contracts, again the D.o.E website explains:

“One of the additional freedoms enjoyed by Academies and Free Schools is the ability to set their own terms and conditions for staff. The Free School’s Academy Trust will be responsible for employer and employee pension contributions, and for administrative matters relating to pension provision for all staff employed by the Free School.”

If that isn’t a direct hit in the eye against Teaching Unions, then I don’t know what is.

Despite the many short comings of the Free School system, the fact remains that we have arranged our economy around un-workable term dates and this means we perpetuate the benefit-dependent, single parent population.  It’s not true that single parents don’t want to work; people who say this have probably never raised children alone – so they have no idea how appealing it sounds to spend all day with adults.  Probably, in the same way, staying home with children, sounds really homey and loving (instead of shouty and tantrumy).  Few people prefer to raise their children on the poverty line, when additional earned income might offer them so much more.

There are no immediate or easy solutions to this, but it’s interesting that those expensively equipped educational buildings, our state funded schools, sit idle and empty for 175 days per annum, almost half a year.  Surely, there must be something we can do with them?

Xmas: it’s a wrap

28 December, 2012

Earth Mother flew off to Bali this Xmas, so for the first time in years, I realised it was me cooking the big lunch.  I did a Sainsburys run on the 20th and bought the frozen veggie stuff I can’t get elsewhere.  Upon entering, I realised my error, the check-out queues were 3 miles long, so I grabbed the little bits I needed and promised myself I’d finish the rest in Tesco Express (which I did –  empty of people and full of food).  My hot tip for getting out of the supermarket quickly at Xmas is, simply drag your bulging trolley towards the 10 items or less queue and divide your load up into individual baskets on the conveyor belt.  There are no supermarket laws about how many baskets you can pay for in this line – so long as each one stays within the 10 item limit.  Simple.  (Expect to be attacked by the person queuing behind you when you get to the car park though).

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Some supermarkets provide covered parking, ideal for rainy winter days.

This year, Mr Ex and I worked it so that he had the kids from 10 till 2pm on Xmas day and I had them basically the rest of the holiday.  This meant that after they’d woken up, opened all their presents, gone mad on chocolate, they disappeared.  So, my friend Sri, my mum and I all went for a lie down, just in case we were doing-too-much.  Then I got up and started cooking without anyone hassling me about who’s had more chocolate off the tree, or whose go it was on the Scalectrix.  Yep, Mum and Sri played really nicely after a little nap.

So it turned out to be a good one.  The kids loved their presents.  Afforded with some clever charity shopping, a bit of ebay and a generous refund from Southern Electricity -who I’d overpaid by several hundred pounds. Ah, isn’t it funny how those “estimated” bills work out so well in their favour?  Sami got a sledge which he slept with (hey, he’s only ten).  Amba got a second hand ipod which cost £20 and she sang her heart out, like living a day in the X-factor auditions. Asha got micro-scalectrix, which they all loved.  They built an epic series of ramps by using the various remote controls, boxes and general stuff lying around the living room together.  UF and Kat, who’d blown in from New York, were taught a lesson in speed that they won’t forget in a hurry.

If we were a typical American TV family I would be expecting that either, Mr Ex and I would finally realise that we can’t live without each other and be reconciling.  Or, the kids would realise that their step mom had their best interests at heart all along and we’d all spend Xmas lovingly together.  Happily for me, neither of these scenarios came true, but I did have a little miracle of my own.  Mr Ex, bought me a present from the children this year.  Shocking but true; having ignored me for some time, bringing them home on days like my birthday and Mother’s Day without even a folder bit of paper with “Mummy” on it, I was certainly awe-struck to hear this generous news.  Wide-eyed, Amba confided that he’d spent “seven pounds” on me this year, so I’d better get him something amazing in return.  (She also mentioned that he had specified “no liquorice”, fussy eh?).  So our haul of riches for him began with a very expensive packet of Guiness crisps (£2.87), Sami chose these.  Amba got him a set of chutneys from Cargo (half price but I didn’t tell her, £3) and Asha chose him an ex-library book (20p) about South African freedom fighters which he’d really like (because he fantasises that he was one, even though he was posh white boy in a Surrey boarding school at the time).  I also suggested that the kids get their Stepmum and her kids presents; they mentioned this to Mr Ex, who told them I should buy them myself, so I did.

There were two reasons for this.  Firstly, because they go to her house every Friday, which I really do appreciate.  (It’s technically called “their” house, but we all know he only has lodger’s rights).  Secondly, she’s been, what I can only describe as,  a “fairytale stepmother” to them recently.  I thought I’d tackle the problem with a bit of lurve (for now anyway).  The kids discussed it and chose her some organic chocolates.  Nice.

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Initially, the kids loved visiting their stepmother’s house.

I received a box of fresh macaroons which had sat under the warm Xmas tree for a couple of days.  Amba recommended the sooner I ate them the better.   We had our annual traditions  such as showing up at the village carol service embarrassingly late on Xmas eve, and playing “losing-the-money-Sakti-has-sent-us” on Xmas day. This year, Sakti excelled herself, we didn’t located it until 27th, thus setting a new family record; a perfect end to an Olympian year.

The other great present was a “Now, That’s What I (don’t) Call Music” cd which Mr Ex bought the kids.  Unfortunately, by Boxing Day someone had removed the power cable from the cd player (and hidden it in the kitchen), so the kids spent a few days, sitting in my car playing it at top volume, sharing their festive joy with our retired neighbours.

After Xmas I asked them if Mrs Ex had liked their present.  Unbelievably, they shook their innocent little heads at me.

“No?”, I cried.

“No”, they replied, “She didn’t.”

I looked down at my three angels, so, so, brave – even when faced with so much rejection.

“Y’see, she hates chocolate and we didn’t want to get her anything she liked.  So it was perfect.” They eagerly explained.

Their little faces beamed up at me, bright with Xmas spirit.

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