HOW NORMAL AM I?

Well that’s very difficult for me to say, I don’t stand out in a crowd, in fact in a crowd you probably wouldn’t see me at all.  My four foot eleven and a half inches seems in some instances to make me invisible.  Does that make me odd, strange or queer?  I couldn’t possibly answer that, I may in fact be all of those things but to me I’m normal.

The desire to fit in to a social group, a family, a school and a work place seems to be hard wired into our brains.  It is true that being isolated entirely alone is very damaging for most human beings.  In fact society uses it as a very severe punishment, a prisoner in jail can be isolated as a further punishment knowing that most of us find it deeply distressing.  Yet at the same time we form small groups and decide that some will not be able to join our group. On the national scale the markers used can be ; religion, nationality, language, colour of skin or dress.  The place where this in and out group structure begins is primary school, in my own experience teachers can be just as involved as children in the same class

It was discovered in the early years at primary school that my son was very bright, he was tested by a psychologist.  Why this was necessary was never explained.  He had problems in writing and in relating to other children.  In my school days I was a very quiet child, I simply thought he was taking after me.  I was never told what difference the IQ test made to their teaching methods.  Much later I learnt that one of the senior teachers had given him a nick-name, Professor Branestorm.  This I found really shocking, tantamount to the teacher telling the class, this boy is strange, its alright to make fun of him.  It may seem odd but I think the only reason I can find for this behaviour is jealousy, the woman in question had a son of her own.  Jealousy is a much neglected motivator in causing certain types of behaviour.

This desire to bond together is usually closely allied to its opposite, to exclude.  In other words whose in with us and who is most definitely not.  This very quickly develops into bullying.  Don’t talk to him; he’s useless at games, his hair is too long/short, his clothes are strange, the words he uses are not the words we use.  Sadly I’m not talking hypothetically  here my eldest son was bullied at primary and secondary school, he was a gentle soul, maybe that’s why.  The people I hold most responsible are the teachers, their views ranged from; no, there’s nothing going on to its just normal they’ll grow out of it.  Their  attitudes started with, I can’t see a problem to actual complicity with the bullies, taking their side.  Not every member of staff was involved.  It was never regarded as a problem of behaviour which could be dealt with.  Due to his complete social exclusion my son had a breakdown when he was seventeen.  Fearing for his safety I insisted that he leave the school,  (his sixth-form teacher couldn’t see a problem).

At the present time I think many schools recognise that bullying is a serious problem and have a programme to deal with it.  I can only compare society’s attitude to pre-school children when frustrated or disappointed very young children sometimes resort to kicking, biting, screaming and spitting.  Most parents quite actively discourage this behaviour, making clear that it is unacceptable.  On the other hand verbal or physical bullying by children in their early teens or indeed fully grown adults is regarded as a normal part of growing up, it will pass.  The damage to the person on the receiving end of this cruel and selfish behaviour is swept out of sight as if of no account.  Our education system as a whole does nothing to encourage ideas of cooperation, the idea of helping each other.  The whole emphasis is on competition, of one boy or girl against everyone else, the law of the jungle.  Competition is seen as the foundation of the ‘free market’, this is a simplistic view as different groups of people combine together to protect their interests as a group, for example we have the National Farmers Union, the   National Union of Teachers and groups of Corporate Executives bonding together to protect their interests.  Maybe the desire of the government to turn all schools into Academy Schools is part of their desire  to minimise local autonomy  and to abolish the groups representing teachers and parent governors in order that privatised schools answer to no-one in their running of the school.

If we look close by we see a state school system which actually works very well, Finland has few natural resources but it has built up a state system which works for every child.  Children do not begin their formal education until the age of seven, an informal nursery system operates from the age of four to seven.  The emphasis is on play and just as importantly cooperating through play.  There are no tests and no grading  no-one is top and more importantly no-one is at the bottom.  At the age of seven British children are a little ahead of their Finnish counter-parts in reading, writing and number, this lead is very quickly surpassed.  All Finnish children leave school able to read, write and count.  Tragically nearly a third of British children leave school with an inadequate level of literacy and numeracy.  I don’t think that more and more testing in Academy schools is going to do anything to improve this shameful situation. 

OLD AGE ???

This is a question I take a slight personal interest in, at what age is an individual really old?  Of course there is the legal age, for a woman that age was 60 years, for a man it was 65 years.  That in itself is peculiar, every-one knows that men age quicker than women, that’s just a plain fact.  The government in an extremely rare move towards fairness is gradually extending the age at which a woman can claim her Old Age Pension to equal the age at which men can do the same.  Then the  age is to be extended further in the hope that more people will die before they ever touch their pension.  The ideology of the ruling elite is that far too many people (ordinary working people) are living far too long on the taxes paid by the very, very rich.  Of course as we all know  the 1% don’t pay their taxes, by devious means accountants pass the money around until it simply disappears, to be retrieved at a later time.  I’ve meandered away from my main point, like a well brought up woman I rarely talk about money.

   Woke up this morning feeling great, caught a glimpse in the mirror, astonished to see an old woman looking back at me.  A wrinkled face, a shrunken body, can this really be me?  I feel like one of Dr. Who’s young assistants who one day stepped into the Tardis and time travelled in a flash forward seventy years.  I stepped out and suddenly this is what I see.  It all happened so quickly; one moment I was a young woman wondering what my life would be and then like a bird flying through a hall, all I can see is a great emptiness.  Did it really all happen?

The word pensioner has in some circles fallen into disrepute; a person living off the hard work of some-one who hates the job they’re doing, taking up space in a house with a spare bedroom, using a free bus pass, collecting help with the gas bill from the government  and religiously voting for the wrong Party.  I have a very different view, the pension I get every month I paid into by way of National Insurance during my years of employment, ( I do know that the actual money is contributed by today’s working men and women).  My free ride into town takes me to the shops where I buy food, then to a cafe where I have lunch, so I’m playing my part in providing employment for the younger generation.

These days I spend a lot of time on petitions, not drafting them, no reading and signing them.  The issue which means the most to me is the position of women, it seems almost incredible to me that in so many countries of the world, and even more shockingly in this country too young girls are treated with barbarous cruelty.  The UK is by no means immune from seeing girls as objects; for example the recent case in Rochdale where many girls were trafficked for sex.  In addition in some communities  young girls are mutilated to take away any pleasure in sex and threaten their lives when they give birth to a child.  The parents are often culpable and they are not punished .  The crime is Female Genital Mutilation and it happens in the UK.

 I have been very fortunate to live in a time when women can be; doctors, lawyers, lecturers, teachers and wives and mothers.  It surprised me to learn that over half of the young people training to be doctors are women.  I’m very lucky to have lived a long time and recently I’ve been given a very special gift, I have a piece of metal inside my body to replace my hip which simply crumbled away.  So I am now a bionic woman and my superior strength will one day be revealed, at present I’m happy to walk.  There are days when I feel thirty again, oh alright thirty-five. 

THOUGHTS ON SCHOOLS.

You and I we know something about schools, let me make it clear I mean state schools.  If you went to a fee-paying school you should probably stop reading here.  I went to a state primary school which as it happened was just across the road, I could  see it from my window.  In the second week I had my fifth birthday, I have only happy memories.  I learnt to read, write and count, how these things happened I really don’t remember.  Reform was afoot as I made my way through primary school, the Butler Education Act was passed in 1944, I think it did not come into operation until 1948.  The Act stated that free secondary education would be available to all children up to the age of 15.  The premise on which the Act was based was that there were three types of children, the academic, the technical and those suited to a more general education.  At the age of 11 these particular abilities could be discovered by means of a test, afterwards called the 11+.  Grammar schools which had previously been fee-paying would now be free to those boys and girls who passed the 11+.  Technical schools would prosper to prepare engineers, draughtsmen and those skilled in domestic science, general education was those going into factories and labouring jobs.  Sadly technical schools did not prosper, they either became grammar schools or lost their previous motivation and became secondary moderns.

     All these schools were supported by tax-payers money and all were controlled by their local educational authority and supported in various ways when specialist help was needed.  The elected representatives were accountable to their voters and the parents of the children in their care.  Now all this is to be swept aside, schools and their grounds and all their equipment are to be not sold but freely handed over to Corporate  Academies who will be responsible to no-one for their financial management ; the headmaster or headmistress will be totally in charge of the hiring and firing of teachers and with freedom to fix the level of salaries.  There will be no more teaching unions.  Now we are getting to the nub of the matter.  The head will be extremely well paid but no member of staff will have security of employment or salary.  Now that really is stripping away workers’ rights and making teachers part of the precariat.  Tests will reign supreme inspire of the fact that most adults know there are many questions in life which do not have a tick box answer.

 

 

MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW.

Yes, George Osborne it’s you.  The Budget, full of mistakes and crazy decisions is now in the public domain.  Can we guess who the winners and losers will be, lets take the winners first.  Friends in high places, many of whom put large sums of money into the election of this particular government, will of course be winners.  They will be smiling all the way to their secret bank accounts and probably sending George a crate of their vintage wine.  Now lets turn from that  happy prospect to the losers, the disabled, the long term sick and the mentally ill.  They are wasting money on keeping their homes warm, paying for the care they need and trying to keep their families fed and clothed.  How extravagant!

HURRAY, SOMEONE’S HAD SECOND THOUGHTS.

TELEVISION!

In some circles watching television is regarded as utterly trivial and a complete waste of time.  It is true there are endless repeats and countless channels running ceaselessly twenty-four hours a day.  I can remember when there were just two channels but actually I wouldn’t want to go back to those days.  Now although the Open University is no longer broadcast, I can briefly tune in to the most amazing broadcasts from the most skilled university professors using a dazzling array of film and experiments.

    The most exciting series I have been watching is ‘ The Brain ‘ by Professor David Eagleman made by PBS with the help of the BBC.  My education in science stopped many decades ago but my interest in human beings and the world we all live in still continues.  The Professor it has to be said is a brilliant teacher.  He made me think I understood the information about neurones and synaptic connections.

https://youtu.be/8Hb7w6-jcTU

Television brings the best of culture into my home.

 

WORDS IN THE AIR.

Breakfast time this morning, the house is warm, take the milk out of the fridge, pull the curtains back.  The day has already started, time to switch on the radio.  A church service is still in progress, a reminder of the hymns I once used to sing and a blessing I feel very much in need of.  As I grow old the bones stiffen, the muscles grow slack and life narrows down.  One pleasure which I still enjoy the sound of the human voice, especially when that voice belongs to an extremely witty speaker with a dry humorous tone.  A Point of View, the speaker this morning Adam Gopnik speaking from the other side of the Atlantic, in his warm mellifluous voice he is speaking just to me.  The talk is about prizes, how they are awarded and the desire we all have for praise and to be recognised as someone special (me).  There was an undercurrent of satire, in his self deprecating way Gopnik mentioned a prize he was awarded by the French government, ( I forget the official title).

    Myself I have not won any prizes, ( I still have hopes)  if you exclude my handsome husband and a happy marriage that has lasted 49 years and seven months.  Gopnik’s talk made me smile and start the day with a happy feeling, my award I think!

ARMCHAIR TRAVELLING.

On these cold grey nights of winter, my husband and I go armchair travelling, we switch on the television and see in sparkling clarity and vivid colour the most amazing parts of planet earth, some far away on the other side of the world like China and some only an hours ride from home in the foothills of the Pennines in Teasdale.  But in both cases life very different to the urban life which we have lived all our seven decades.   Technology in all its mysterious magnificence makes it possible, light weight cameras and recording equipment, teams of people who research obvious and obscure facts, living people who can explain these facts in a personal way.  And undoubtedly  hundreds of people in the Far East who spend their working lives putting together the television set which brings it all into our living room.

GENERATION  GAP.

I think you know the one I mean.  I have an adult son who has lived away from home for ten or more years.  He now lives close by, independently (apart from some financial help).  Conversation has become a business fraught with difficulties.  So many subjects are off limits; future plans, the availability or not of jobs, hints that we may need help.  I was forty-two when I gave birth to this , my second son.  So as you can imagine the generation gap is large.  Yesterday on a brief visit, he said something which astonished me.

     I mentioned a television programme I had particularly enjoyed on the BBC, Michael Portillo’s Railway journeys in the USA.  The vision of the incredible  Niagara Falls.  The stupendous sweep of the amazing geographical formation on  the border between Canada and USA,in addition we heard the tremendous sound of the torrent of water.  My son tells me for the first time he has seen the Falls with his own eyes.  I’m astonished that he has never previously mentioned this fact.  Of course I know he has been to the USA on two occasions doing research.  His father and I stumped up the money to make these trips possible.  He has said almost nothing about what he saw, experienced and felt.  His father and I have never been and probably the only way we will see it is in travel programmes like Michael Portillo’s programme on railway journeys.  In ten years he has never once mentioned he saw Niagara Falls, I am astounded.

I feel if it had been me, I would have rushed home, with loads of photographs and insisted on telling everyone about my amazing experience.  For a number of reasons I won’t bore you with his father and I are not widely travelled people and are unlikely to see this natural wonder with our own eyes.  Not a word, not one measly postcard.