Thursday, September 28, 2006

Timmy Willie

Imperatrix asked:

“City mouse or country mouse?”

For those unfamiliar with the wise words of Beatrix Potter, may I direct you here? We are a long standing Potter family, and even my seven year old boy still pulls out the odd book to read to himself.

Johnny TownMouse is the story of Timmy Willie, a content little country mouse who in a moment of greed gets caught in a vegetable hamper that’s taken into town to be dropped off at a house. Here he encounters Johnny TownMouse, and urban sophisticate and his coterie of friends. Though with a valiant attempt at politeness, he does not like his sojourn, and returns to his country abode on the next hamper. Sometimes later the circumstances in the town change, and Johnny visits his new found friend on a country holiday. Equally, he does not enjoy himself. The moral is to know yourself, are you a country mouse or a city mouse?

So, to the question, which am I? I’m tempted to say both, but that would be cheating. If forced I’d have to say I’m a country mouse. We live surrounded by farm land, and I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. I need complete quiet to sleep, and the looing of cows, the whooing of owls and the quiet murmur of the countryside don’t count to my ear. I need space too, and the thoughts of life without a garden aren’t worth thinking.

I love being able to pack the kids out of the door and being able to just ramble. It could be over to the stream to catch minnows, or up to a favourite climbing tree, or to just walk. I like the fact our eggs get delivered weekly by a friend, that the vegetables I don’t grow myself come from the farm shop of another friend, and that most of the meat we consume come from farms I know.

I love the fact my kids don’t have to suck brown muck into their lungs. That climbing a tree seems perfectly natural to them. That they know milk comes from cows, understand their meat originates from those cute little animals over there. They know the names and species of a wide variety of birds and wildlife, and can tell the difference between a rabbit, fox and badger burrow. They still love their game boys and the telly, but they get that wider influence of what the world is that will help keep them grounded.

Saying all that, I don’t think I could live much further out from London, or from the relatively sophisticated Surrey town’s we’re near. I love being able to steal the odd afternoon to head to London with LL to catch the latest art exhibition, or to be able to head out to a classy restaurant, or to watch an opera or a bit of theatre. Strolling down the Kings Road, or along the South Bank is a treat I wouldn’t do without. I need those things as much as I need the peace and tranquillity of country life.

So, yes I’m a country mouse, but unlike Timmie Willie, I’m perfectly content to spend time in town

Healthful IT

Potentilla asked:

“Is the NHS's National Project for IT - run by "Connecting for Health" - going to turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing in terms of investment for the country? Is it being run well or not?”

I don’t think it’s possible to live in the UK and not know of the grand Labour plan for a pan NHS IT system. If you’re curious to know more, or one of my foreign readers, this is the government website, and the horrifics of its navigation and design speak volumes about the project itself. A recent report can be found here, which gives a good indication of the current state of play. In essence, the idea is for a central repository of medical records, and then electronic means to book meetings or hospital appointments or even prescriptions.

Potentilla actually asked two questions. I deal with the first one first. Putting aside the delivery of the project itself, are the goals of value to UK society? I have a very stark view, and that is a firm no. Intellectually I can see the benefit of a GP having the ability to book follow up actions for a patient while meeting. There is also a clear reduction of risk for a patents full medical file to be available by appropriate medical professionals dealing with their health.

However, those benefits are gained at a massive intrusion into personal privacy. Despite the vaunted project claims of absolute security, and only “need know” access to files, in essence your medical details will be completely open. A security professional acquaintance of mine says the controls are laughable. Over lunch one day he showed me how even now hacks are circulating through the internet. Your full medical details have already, or are now in the process of being loaded. Every intimate detail will be available to, effectively, anyone.

I strongly feel that this loss of privacy far outweighs any benefit in booking ease or in reducing the risk of misdiagnosis due to lack of information. The first benefit could have been dealt with separately at far less cost, and institutional controls backed up by patient awareness was pretty effective in dealing with the second. That’s not to say it was perfect, but it was a working human system that did not show massive failure requiring it to be “fixed”.

My main complaint with this current government is its ideological need to “fix” society. The constitution has been meddled with, social programmes have been tried, modified, fixed and abandoned at huge cost and human sacrifice. This is just another example of a “good idea” gone madly wrong. I digress though.

On to the project. It has been, and remains, a farce. Mega projects are difficult at the best of times, and I’ve talked to many IT Professionals who’ve been involved in this one by one shape or another. The universal opinion is that there is gross mismanagement at the top of this project. Partially that is due to the shape of the project, you can find an interesting analysis of that here. There are over 20 contractors and subcontractors on the project, and despite an Audit Office report claiming procurement was exemplary, contracts where signed without clear deliverables and project plans, and there were no penalties for late or incorrect delivery.

Partially it was this mishmash of contractors. There are two prime contractors, a separate contractor with “programme control” and a host of subcontractors that have no direct contractual relationship with the government. Its hard to say where to start about how there appears to be no coordinating programme design, and no mechanism for cost or deliverable control other than slapped wrists and hand wringing.

Costs have overrun by an order of magnitude. There have been delays upon delays. My understanding from within the project, and from medical friends that the systems have massive errors still present, despite sections now being “live”. A relation who is a medical consultant, delights in tales of dealing with medical files that have been incorrectly assigned to the wrong name, of a booking system gone mad (she has reverted her department to paper), of frequent failures in being unable to update records. Her horror stories go on and on.

So, to summarise, it is a grand design that is based on a massive intrusion into personal rights and freedoms, and it is a grand project that has been mismanaged on an almost unimaginable scale. I can safely say I am strongly against it on all grounds…

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mordern Man

Greavsie asked

“What is a 'Modern Man' these days?”

To put the concept of a ‘modern man’ in context we have to discuss what was a ‘classic man’. The image in current society is that classically a man was the sole income winner while the woman stayed at home to raise the family. The problem with this ‘classic’ image is that it is entirely a Victorian, and more properly a post WWII invention.

If we look back into even the mid Victorian age, excepting the upper classes, both sexes worked. True, generally men performed different trades to women, but it was rare in the extreme that a woman would be solely supported by a man. Indeed for most of human history even children were put to work from an early age. Universal education and a care free childhood are another Victoriana invention.

Take for example a coal mining family from 100 years ago. The man would likely be down in the pit, but up until the turn of the century its entirely likely that his wife might be too. At a minimum she was probably working at the pit head sorting stone, or working as a seamstress, or washing cloths or … The children too would be working, the boys sorting stone, mucking out water, pushing coal carts or carrying their fathers find to the carts. In this instance both parents did what was necessary around the house and family.

In a farming family it would be the same. Both parents would be working the farm, taking time out to work the local estate, generally spending all the daylight hours at hard graft with little differentiation of work between them. The children too would be put to labour to ensure enough food was grown to feed themselves and sell the remainder on. Here again, both parents generally would share work around the home.

It wasn’t until the late hours of the industrial revolution that working patterns started to change. The first was the development of a broad based middle class. Income & ownership shifted radically downwards, and the middle classes sought to emulate the patterns of behaviour of the upper classes. It began to be feasible for a family to not only subsist, but prosper on one income. It became feasible for a woman to stay at home working solely on the house and family.

It was the wars that both reset this pattern, but also laid the stage for modern social developments. In particular WWII, with the sudden need for industry to continue with the men abroad that showed that women were fully capably of performing what had always been assumed to be “mens work”.

It was also the end of the war, and the return of the men in uniform to civilian life that cemented the image of the classic man. In a radical shift that was in many ways greater than the shift that put women into the factories, they on mass left the factories to make way for the returning men. This was society, in trying to find normality, en mass created a new society that had never existed before. Men worked, women tended family.

Though the pattern had been developing for a while, this divide between men at work and women at home became broad based across society. A generation developed which had mothers solely at home. This actually was moderately unnatural in human history. Yes, the care of the children had generally rested on women’s shoulders, but never so exclusively. Combined with work patterns that moved from being walking distance from the home to completely away from the home during the day, it set in the social mind a view that wasn’t real.

Then more developments, most notably the pill. Now, for the first time ever, women could experience sex with little to no risk of pregnancy. This, with a whole generation who had seen their mothers in pretty exclusively one role. Yet, their mothers could also tell them stories about being out working during the war. Society flipped.

Now we make it to our current ‘modern’ age. Traditional income patterns have returned, and though our society is prosperous, generally one income is not sufficient to raise a family. Women know also know that there are no real divides between the sexes in terms of capability to work.

However, in the social mind’s eye, a classic man was one who went out and earned the income, and didn’t have much to do with his family. The concept of the ‘modern man’ is born. One who works, yes, but also does housework, is emotionally connected, and jointly raises the children.

Thing is, this isn’t ‘modern’, this is what its always been prior to the industrial revolution and the massive society shifts that occurred. ‘Modern Man’ is just what men have always been. Someone who jointly works with a woman to raise a family. We just have to remember that this isn’t new, its very very old.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ch... ch... ch... changing

Geena asked:

“If you had to it all over again...your life, that is, would you change anything knowing what you know now? And why or why not?”

There is a simple answer to this, in that I would change nothing. I would not, could not imagine wishing away my children. They have a hold on me its hard to describe. They can make me angry, make me sigh with the constant reminders I have to make to get them to do things, make me shake my head with despair at what they try to do. Yet they can also make me laugh with sheer joy at the way they approach life, they can fill me with pride when they take on a new challenge, they can tug at my heart strings in the way no one else, not even LL, can.

To change one detail in my life would be to put at risk their being, and that I could not do. It would also change me, and I like me, so two sound reasons to not go back and change my life.

However, it’s a hypothetical question, so deserves a hypothetical answer. Lets say I could go back and re-live certain moments, try different paths and still manage to meet LL at the right time, in the right frame of mind and have my life settle down the way it did. Are there things I would do differently? Yes.

I’m reminded of a quote, Plato I think, though I could have that wrong. “Life is best understood backwards, but must be lived forwards”. I doubt there is a soul amongst mankind that does not have a single regret, a wish they had done something differently.

There is the obvious and it is perhaps a bit trite. I was a shy boy, painfully so with the opposite sex. At the time I thought I was a complete failure, and that’s true, just not the way I thought at the time. With the eyes and experience I have now there was a long string of girls who seemed to find me interesting. Some where even quite bold about their interest, I was just totally blind at the time. So there are certainly opportunities offered that I would take up given the chance again.

I think I would have changed the order of my life too. I rowed at university, did pretty well too. However, in some sense I started at the wrong time. I was still too novice to make the ’84 Olympics. When I graduated I had a choice, carry on and defer a career for a few years on a chance I might be good enough to make the team, or go into a certain career option. I was lucky enough to have a couple offers at the time. I chose the career, but I’ve always had a lingering regret that I should have taken the chance. It would have meant living as a pauper for a few years, working like a daemon, but then how many people can say they’ve competed at the Olympics?

But is there anything else? I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes on the train thinking, and you know what? There’s very little else I would change. There was a death in my past I’ll talk about at some point, but no amount of knowledge could change that though there are things prior I would change. There are arguments and spats with LL I would do differently if I could do them again, but then LL and I have a good relationship now, and that’s based on all our history, so in retrospect I probably wouldn’t change them. There are incidents in raising children when you know you should have behaved differently, responded differently, but if I changed those would my children be changed? They’re good kids, and what’s in them is in part how I behaved.

So, one trite answer, one serious answer, but in the end I like my life. Its not been easy, I’ve had my rocky periods, but its been a good life. I’ve experienced more than most, generally behaved with morals I am happy with, and its led to a family life I’m both content and happy with. I really wouldn’t change it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Questions questions

The boy is bored, so its question time. Any oddities in your mind you want researched (the question on cooch grass was enjoyable last time), intimate details of the boy's life you want revealed, anything at all really. Put your questions in the comment box and I'll start writing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Am ill today. Sore throat, my head and joints ache, generally speaking, I feel like shite. I have a funny relationship with illness, and not necessarily a “healthy” one. I’ve got a high tolerance for pain, so I just ignore it until it flattens me or I get better.

So I’m off to work, just like yesterday and the day before. Too much to do, and a day off could mean something slipping that shouldn’t. Thing is I do actually believe sickies are there for a reason, and actively encourage staff who feel ill to rest and recover.

Not for myself though, a day off would bore the pants off me and I’d be constantly thinking of work. Like I said, not a “healthy” relationship with illness

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Delayed delays

I know I have complained about the trains before, but when you already spend somewhere between 3 and 4 hours a day commuting to and from work, every minute is precious. This week has been a nightmare. From the non informative announcements on the platforms, and the less than helpful website I understand that “engineering works overran” last weekend in Portsmouth.

Now, seeing that these delays have probably stolen somewhere in the region of 4, maybe 5 hours of my time this week, making me late for meetings and even later getting back home, just a little information wouldn’t hurt. What engineering works overran, why is this causing delay, and who is going to loose their job over it?

A bland, “we are sorry for the delay this causes to your journey” just doesn’t cut it. Indeed that further boils my blood. If they can’t get the trains running on time, they could at least hand out free cups of tea. Perhaps a manager walking down the platform shaking hands and apologising profusely might be nice. At a minimum an announcement that actually gave out some information would help.

Yet none of that, just an “oh well, can’t be helped” attitude is enough to get me back in my car rather than doing the right thing and take the trains. If, between South West trains and Network Rail, the combined incompetence can’t keep the trains running on time, something needs to change. This morass of unaccountability, in which managers continue to get bonuses, and shareholders continue to get dividends just isn’t good enough. This is near as dammit a monopoly situation, and capitalism and monopolies just don’t work together.

Nationalise the lot I say, if for no other reason than firing the man who recorded the “we are sorry for the delay” message.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The worth of labour

“Now doesn’t it feel good to get a job like this finished, to see the results?”

Knowing what was good for me I nod my head tiredly and mumble some reassurances. The right answer is, of course, “No, not in the slightest.”

The job in question is the laying of regulation standard rubber matting under the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden. LL, blessed be her name, decided this summer that the dry weather had made the ground too hard, and that our poppets where at serious risk of injury.

Now, certainly it may be true that regulation torn up tyre rubber may be a better surface to land on that earth, but our soil was no worse this summer than in any other summer. The kids used it no more nor no less than any other summer. The soil in question, though of a hard sand variety, was covered in a nice thick layer of rye grass. This particular variety was a “sports grass” planted at some expense years before, and felt just lovely under the feet when let to grow a few inches, as we did under the climbing frame. Because we cut, but didn’t collect the mulch, it had a nice soft layer of old dead grass beneath it was well.

LL was not to be denied though, and I’m sure our insurance company would be pleased if it knew, that a potential health and safety risk had been neutered. The thing is this thought that the results of hard graft felt better than not having done the hard graft. Don’t get me wrong, I like the house in tidy order, and the garden to be a pleasure to be in. However, I’m quite happy to use the results of my other hard graft, which I generally do enjoy, to pay other people to do the hard graft to keep my house in order. That has the dual benefit of being economically advantageous to the country as a whole, and keeping me relaxed and sane.

There have been times in my life when I’ve enjoyed hard work. I have rather fond memories of taking a sledge hammer to the interior of a house being demolished by a friend. I’ve also been fairly sporty over the years. Even today, there are activities which work up a sweat that I greatly enjoy.

I just don’t like digging. Given the perfect weather yesterday I would have been immensely content to sit under the shade of the apple tree, with something tall and cool in my hand, and watched the kids play on their unrubberised climbing frame. Instead I worked like a demon digging and flattening and hauling barrow loads of soil and sand about.

Ah well, such is life. At least the kids like it. Princess spent the afternoon bouncing around on the first batch laid, saying “Look at me, I’m a frog.” Maybe it wasn’t all bad.

Friday, September 15, 2006


I’ve had a lot of people telling me lately that I’m overworked. It must be true, I’ve been told so. Yet, though I feel stretch, and am tired, I don’t feel overworked. It’s a strange thing stress, people feel it in such different ways. The things in my career that have made me feel stressed are seldom due to the amount of work.

I had a psychopath bully of a boss once. He was a consummate liar, and seemed to thrive on chaos and the humiliation of others. He claimed to be arristocracy. Had it on his passport, so an element of that must have been true. He insisted on the title being used on plane tickets and hotel reservations. We shared a PA (she had originally just worked for me before he became my boss), so I got told all the sordid stories. Sadly she’s been forced to leave the job, and is taking the company to a tribunal for harassment and sexual discrimination.

I still remember one particularly fine meeting, when in front of a room of people I worked with or worked for me he told me I was a “slut, and should stop bending over and whoring for those bastards in New York”. I had a second boss in NY, and had done some work he didn’t formally approve. Now that is stress, with a fine dose of humiliation.

Then there’s home stress. Like any couple there’s been misunderstandings and disputes. Those sorts of things can get me hugely wound up and stressed. I hate conflict, and it’s a sure thing to get my juices boiled. Thank heavens LL and I are in a good space at the moment. Love helps keep most other stress firmly put away.

But 12 hour days and a 100+ item to do list? That’s not stress, that’s just fun. Mind you, I’ve got to make sure the right things happen. It is relentless at the moment, but its just good solid hard work. My protestant soul revels in that.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


So, my nephew has been with us a week. I like him, a good kid, and reminds me of myself in so many ways. A part of me envies the freedom, vigorous health, and the open mind. Then he’ll ask a question that shows he has yet so much to learn, and I don’t mind my age so much any more. I like the accretions of knowledge and life I’ve accumulated. To go back to that age would be to loose them, and I wouldn’t relive this life any better.

The most amusing thing is his absolute paranoia about spending any money. Here he is, early 20’s, free of all constraints and near London and he’s only been up once. That was only because I was despairing and paid the train fare in for him! He had a great time, of course, wandered the city and saw things I’d forgotten.

But when I offered to do the same for him today he declined. “No, I’ll probably need a day to recover.” Doesn’t he realise that a day, free to do what you want, is such a precious thing it shouldn’t be squandered? What would I do to have a day free to just walk around London? Lord, doesn’t bear thinking about. I suppose having a day free to just lie around the house and do nothing has its attractions as well, but he can do that at home. He’s in London for Christ’s sake!

Still, a few more days and he’s off on his adventure of the rest of Europe. He has only the vaguest plans. There is an intention to do some grape picking to make some money. He has no idea how to get a job grape picking. At the moment he just intends to hit some youth hostels in grape picking areas, and assumes there will be queues of farmers looking for strapping young men to pick their grapes! There are vague intentions of meeting up with a friend who’s doing the same thing. Yet when I asked how they were going to meet up, he wasn’t entirely sure.

You can’t but admire that. Its behaviour that’s anathema in a man raising a family, but for a guy wandering Europe. He’ll have lots of adventures.

I doubt he’ll get a job picking grapes though…

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The things that annoy

So, before we went on holidays last month I had the tyres changed. Nothing remarkable in that, happens every couple of years when they get too worn. Its always felt a bit wasteful, but mine is the car that drives the family about. Safety is first and last, so changed they were.

Earlier in the week my car dutifully told me I had a tyre puncture. I’m not sure I like dutiful cars, its always telling me something about itself. A real moaner my car. Despite having a big chufty engine and being able to go from naught to ninety in minus 3 seconds, its always on about something. The brake fluid needs changing, or the washer reservoir is dry, or I haven’t properly closed a door. In my mind its got a weedy whiny voice.

A tyre puncture though, that’s something you have to take notice of. Thankfully a petrol station was nearby and I pulled in. The car is good at telling me something is wrong, just no detail, so I had to check all four tyres. Sure enough, one had low pressure, but certainly wasn’t flat. I filled it and carried on my merry way home.

Two days later the same thing, two days after that, the same. I was convinced the guys at the tyre shop had either done a bad installation, or it was a faulty tyre. Only a few weeks after it being a new tyre, couldn’t be anything else, could it?

I had taken yesterday off to use up some spare holiday days with the intention of catching up on all those things that build up in a busy life. You know, sorting the paper mountain, and fixing the light in the room that no one ever went into. That sort of thing. Except now I had to get a tyre fixed.

Silly me thought it would be a swift job. I called the shop up and to their credit they were good as gold. Agreed it could be something faulty and to come right in. I did, and five minutes after pulling in a very apologetic manager came and showed me the tyre. The damn thing had a brand spanking new shiny nail pushed straight through the rubber. Its one of this fancy tyres that can’t be patched, so it meant having to have it replaced. Replaced and only one month old. They didn’t have one in, so I had to waste the morning doing not very much as they fetched a replacement. One holiday day meant to catch up on things, completely blown.

Here’s the thing that’s been bothering me though. The nail was through a thick part of the tyre, not in a tread. It was shiny new, and I haven’t been near any building works lately. Physics are physics, I can’t for the life of me figure out the extreme odds of a nail being able to puncture straight up unless it was fixed to something, in which case it likely would have pulled back out again, or was deliberately put there.

Why in heavens name would somebody spike my tyre? Yes, it sits in the train station parking lot all day, but so do hundred of other cars. Its not a flash car, doesn’t stand out. I don’t believe I’ve got any enemies. I don’t believe I’ve even mildly annoyed anyone lately.

Life is strange somedays.

Monday, September 11, 2006


A rather nice weekend that. Sunday was glorious and we had a horde of family over. LL had an aunt pass away some years ago, and as she had no children herself she left everything to her nieces and nephews. As is the way with such things, it hasn't been an easy thing. The will was poorly drafted and hadn't been changed as the dears life changed in those last years.

This was not yet the final chapter, but all her jewelry (not particularly valuable, it was mostly sentimental stuff) had been left to split between the four nieces. Yesterday was the chance to get them together and split the booty. LL was wound up tighter than a very tight string. She and her sister have an uneasy relationship, and her father and uncle (the father of the two other nieces), barely are able to talk to one another. Oddly, his children don't talk to him either, there's a nasty divorce in the background.

However, the weather was perfect, and we laid on a big BBQ. I did up some fresh sour dough rolls, roast Mediterranean vegetables, cous cous, green salad, sirloin steaks marinated in white wine, sage and rosemary, and a half a side of wild salmon. Pud was a summer pudding and homemade raspberry ice cream. Good food always helps ease tensions.

Thankfully everyone arrived happy. The girls got on famously, and the takings were amicably split up, with everyone being overly polite. Lots of, "No, you take it, its your colour," and "Why not you, it would suit your daughter". We lads just sat on the terrace, drank lots of wine, and joked about how four women from this particular family should not be in the same room together as they could easily plot and succeed at taking over the world.

Even the kids were happy. Sometimes a group of cousins just fight, sometimes they just click and play. Thank heavens it was the latter. So, all in all, a nice old weekend.

Friday, September 08, 2006


I have had friends of the catholic persuasion tell me passionately that they hold the gold medal in guilt. That its built into the system, this having to go and apologise all the time for every little misdemeanour. I still contend that they have not a patch on us protestants.

I mean, they get to go to a priest, get a bit weepy as they confess, and a few hail mary’s and a bit of bead rubbing later and poof, its all forgiven. We don’t get that, our guilt has to stay with us until the end of time. No forgiveness hear, sure, we can have that private dialogue with god the catholic’s don’t have, but there’s no physical person in front of you saying “There there, its all right now”.

Take my recent confession of public schooling my children (and I appreciated all the comments). I know I’m doing the right thing by my kids. The system is skewed such that if you have, your human natures leads you to take. Yet that doesn’t stop the guilt. I was raised redder than red, it knaws at me to know by doing as I do I may not be harming other people, but I’m certainly not helping.

I’ve got guilt all around me. Doing the job I do I have made the decisions and done the deeds that have ended or altered the employment of a whole lot of people. I do what I do for a whole host of reasons that are valid in the context of our society, but its still harsh work.

There’s the women I’ve not treated as well as I should have, the rows with the wife, being hard on my kids, ignoring the beggar last night, dejected at the side of the road, the list goes on and on. It’s a whole lot of guilt.

But life goes on. I’m not a haunted personality, and you have to live the life you have. I am not a selfless saint, and though I try to do what’s right, sometimes I do things that are best for me and mine. You take the guilt, file it, and live on.

But I still think catholics have got it easy…

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


So, my eldest nephew has arrived to start his grand tour of Europe. My oldest sister is quite a bit older, plus we compounded things by her having children early and me having them late. Hence my nephew is 23. He’s just graduated from uni, and while he decides what’s next he’s taking a few months to wander.

Something I heartily approve of, and I paid for his airfair. Thing is, poor kid has barely a clue! He only booked his flight a couple weeks ago, and other than having built up some money from working over the summer, doesn’t really know what’s next.

I think that’s fantastic. That is such a great age, to be beholden to nothing really, with no plans and a pocket full of some (not a lot) of money. I don’t envy him, I’ve been there and it was part of the making of me. Yet I am so very happy for him.

I had to pick him up far too early from a red eye flight from Montreal. He’s a great kid and we chatted about this and that in his jet lagged induced haze. Plus he’s lucky enough to be bilingual, speaks both French and English fluently. My sister moved to Montreal and married a Québécois. He grew up speaking both languages. So I get to practice my horrible French on him.

Now he’ll stay with us a while, then… who knows. He thinks he might head to the South of France and pick grapes, but maybe not. I’ve mentioned a few things he could also do, and so he’s thinking.

Lucky, lucky guy.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Of Pirates and Prisoners

So, my horrible secret is out. I am stolidly middle class and send my kids to private school. I’ve been oddly reluctant to say it. Being middle class in Britain today is to be somewhat tainted, unclean. I also was brought up in a very red household. My father was a vicar, my mother an activist of many flavours. I grew up in a commune (I really did, but that’s a post for another day), and was nurtured on Christian Socialist values.

I feel odd about sending my kids to be educated privately. If my wife and I lived in Canada I would not consider other than sending them through the state system like I did. My wife too was educated in the state system, though both her parents are public school, oxbridgites.

Yet, I’m a parent, they are my children. The need to give them the best is an solid unbending rod within me. Its why we live in the country and I put up with a gruelling commute. I want my kids to have space, fresh air and fresh food. It means they don’t get me during the week, but they get me at the weekends.

We spent a lot of time looking at schools, and the contrast between the state system and the private one is stark. Our local state infant school is OK, but it had class sizes of 30. The Ofsted report, though mostly complimentary, did note that boys where educationally neglected. Local parents we talked to also complained about this. Worse, the next level up, plus the one beyond that had bad reputations. Poor behaviours, poor results, and the facilities we saw where dated and badly maintained.

Partially I think that is where we live. Surrey is filled with the best private schools in the country. Everyone with a scrap of money pulls their kids out of the state system, and that pulls out everything associated with that.

So, the conundrum, a prisoners dilemma really. Do I put my children through the state system, put my resources, skills and parental love behind their education and school? There would be some small benefit to others, but my children would be disadvantaged because none of my neighbours, my peers in income, do the same.

The prisoners dilemma is that if no one pulled their children out, if all those middle class values and parental devotion remained in the state system as if did in Canada where I grew up the system would flourish. The dilemma wouldn’t exist.

The problem is, the independent sector is really so good. My children are in class sizes of less than 15, there is a full time teacher and an assistant. They get specialist teachers in French, Art, Music and have a rigorous and totally fun physical education programme. The school has the best facilities money can buy. The kids are in a supportive, completely rounded environment, and all the other kids come from solid middle class back grounds, brought up with solid middle class values.

So I guiltily put my children through the best education money can buy. In so doing I disadvantage society as a whole. I wish it were otherwise, and sometimes wish the independent schools vanished overnight. Yet that won’t happen, and as I am lucky enough, and work hard enough to afford it, my children are in a private school.

Mea culpa.

Friday, September 01, 2006

School Uniforms

I’m a Canadian. When I grew up the school uniform was a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of running shoes. None of us looked alike, but we were essentially all wearing the same thing. Everyone went to the school was closest to them. It felt simple

Here in the UK, Lordy, education is a minefield. Since the kids were born my wife has had us investigating all the schools that are within commuting distance. What is the latest Ofsted report say (a government agency that audits and reports on school performance), what is the infrastructure like, who’s the head teacher, how long has he or she been there, what are the teaches like, the other parents, is it diverse enough or lily white. We’ve been to open days, met with head teachers, talked to current parents, talked to previous parents, talked to anyone with an opinion really.

The one thing we didn’t investigate? School uniforms.

Pirate Pete has got to an age where he has to change schools (he’s only seven, but on he moves). After huge deliberation and more than a little effort we got him into the school we thought was the best fit for him. Time will tell, but it is I think. I would have left him where he was, but all his mates had been pulled out by their parents and scattered across the county, so there was little reason to leave him. The new school will be good I think, but time will tell.

We thought all was fine until we received the regulation school uniform list. Now, I’m not actually against school uniforms. Particularly when kids become teens, it removes an element of competition, of peer pressure. When I grew up you could tell another students exact affiliation by the close they wore. That goes away with a uniform, so I think I approve.

But blimey! This list, it’s a page long. We’ve spent the last month, on and off, scouring for the exactly right football shoe, a rain jacket in the right shade of blue, gym shirts, football shirts, dress shirts, the list goes on and on in excruciating detail. I don’t know who compiled it, but I suspect severe fascist leanings. We now have two drawers dedicated to his various combinations of school cloths. All depending on what he’s doing when. Screw the cost, its going to be a logistical nightmare to figure out what he’s supposed to wear on which day.

This parenting lark is hard enough without this. Sigh…