My Daughter’s Trainers

   

With recent and not so recent terrorist attacks, the world doesn’t feel like such a safe place at the moment. Not that it’s ever been a bubble-wrapped world, but each week at present seems to bring an atrocity that no one could have expected. People out enjoying life, whether on a beach, at a concert, watching fireworks, in a shopping mall…doing normal stuff and then suddenly not. 

School’s out for summer and discussions of holidays and days out come with a side of caution. “But what if…?” enters conversations. “Aren’t you worried about…?” “But if we don’t go the terrorists win.”

(And I know that the threat to holidays and day trips is such a first-world issue, a tiny tip to the whole mess of a situation that affects millions in far more fundamental ways. I know and I feel ashamed of my petty concerns.)

Immigration issues and the possible expansion of the EU to include Turkey definitely influenced the Brexit decision. “But if Turkey join, we’ll essentially have a border with Syria.” Racism has been more blatant since the vote, racist attacks have increased. Red-top newspapers seem more than happy to tar all Muslims with the same brush. Watching ignorant reaction to the news is as depressing as watching the news itself.

I want to feel positive about our world. Most people are good. Most people want to live their best lives and can identify the difference between a militant extremist group and the 99.93% of the faith who equally want to live their best lives without harm.

But at the moment it’s hard. It’s hard with the abundance of images and comments.

And then yesterday I was washing Boo’s trainers. She was off on Brownie pack holiday and needed her trainers, but they were covered in cow poo.

Earlier in the week we’d taken part in our local Race For Life. Set on the Houghton Hall estate, the location was beautiful. It was also home to Brittish Longhorn cattle, sheep and deer. Even though the herds had been penned for the event, the ground was spattered with pats. In 26° heat, they were steaming! 

  
“This is vile,” I thought as I scrapped the dried poo from the treads of the soles. The white stained green and the hot water brought back the stench of the dung. But it also made clear my stance on ISIL.

The event had been great. 1500 girls and women ran, jogged and walked the 5k route to raise funds to save lives. We strode forth, our Pink Army, despite the heat, despite the pats, despite a desire to plant ourselves around the refreshments stall and do a sponsored ice-cream feast instead.

  
The whole field wasn’t bad, only small parts of it. We avoided areas that would have led to certain poo coverage. 

Nevertheless, there wasn’t a single one of us not effected by the poo in some way. Splashed calves, soiled shoes, a photo request that inadvertently led to the combination of a small child and a large pat!

It would have been more pleasant if the poo hadn’t been there. But it didn’t stop us from completing the route, it didn’t make us not want to do it all again next year. The beauty of the field far outweighed the mess and the smell of the pats. The sense of achievement and good achieved by our fund-raising made the world feel good. 

 Doing something felt better than not doing it. Staying at home would have kept Boo’s trainers box-fresh white, but we also wouldn’t have enjoyed ourselves as much as we did. 

Nobody knows when or where the next attack will be. Nobody knows who will be affected next. But we can’t shut ourselves away on the off chance that it will be us. Heed guidance, but do stuff. Keep seeing the world as an inherently good place. There may be cow pats out there, but they don’t define the field.

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A Goldfish Moment

It would appear I have the memory of a goldfish. And I therefore possibly shouldn’t schedule posts as I forget about them. 

Such was the case with my last post. I’ve finished it now (you can read it in full here) but thank you to those who were lovely enough to respond kindly to a semi-written piece anyway. If it wasn’t for you I’d have completely forgotten.

Sorry.

Shuffle ball-change, clap!

Tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change, tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, stamp!

Boo’s had her first tap exam last week. As a result we’d had weeks and weeks of incessant dance practice. In the living room, in the street, on the school run, whilst splashing in puddles. Flap, flap, jump! Tap, snap, stamp, clap!

  

It’s been lovely though to see her perseverance. But, this isn’t a cutesy post about the importance of commitment to her art, but rather a post for all the dance mums and dads who feel they should probably be committed due to the strains of dance devotion.

Fame costs…

  

And so does dance school! There’s an audible collective wince whenever kids come out of a lesson clutching a bit of paper: exam costs, extra classes, special uniform, specific shoes, ribbons, socks, CDs. And just as we think we’ve stopped haemorrhaging money out comes the brown envelopes containing next term’s bill. Ouch!

You chauffeur awaits…

By the end of term we’re all knackered. Weekly normal classes are fine, but when extra classes raises the bar to three days on the trot you end up sat deflated in an overly-small changing room resigned to your fate. 

So There Was a Purpose to Girl’s World

Dress rehearsal and we rocked up with Boo’s hair in a French plait. Everyone else had their daughters’ hair in French pigtails! 

“But I can’t do two!” I wailed (a little over-dramatically, but it had been a long week). 

  
I never had a Girl’s World as a child. I was deprived of hair-braiding technique. But the assumption is that along as being an obligation-free lifestyle, with an endless money tree at the end of our gardens, we’re also professional-level hairdressers. Ballet buns are one thing (you can always use the vacuum for pulled-back perfection of the ponytail) but French plaits are a class above.

From dress-rehearsal to exam day Boo was my living mannequin.

The day before, I nailed it! I’ve never been so relieved. So was Boo’s scalp!

  
Just Call Me Ginger!

Having a child perma-tapping around the house has the same effect on my mind as the average Disney song: it infuses my perception by stealth until I wake up at 3am with it going round in my head.

  
I danced as a child myself (and as an adult too – I’d probably still be doing it if I hadn’t had two teachers retire on me, even though I have the body shape and flexibility of Disney’s dancing hippos). I know my way around a shuffle ball-change. At first I pretend I’m helping Boo by prancing around the living room with her, trying to encourage the syncopated rhythms. My excuse for tapping the routines out when she’s not there? There isn’t one. But I’d nailed the Boogie Woogie.

I draw the line at actually digging my tap shoes out. There is at least that. #dignity

Everyone’s Scared of the Dancing Teacher

  

The kids brace themselves before the lesson. But so do the parents. Miss K is not a patch on Abbey Lee on the Pyramid of Sterness, but there’s a tension around exams and shows. She wants the kids to do well, but you don’t get the best out of them by being nice. The kids want to do well for Miss K, but also don’t want to be called out for messing up. As parents, we sit and hope we’re not called in at the end of the class. Mostly we are. The tears are not always the children’s.

Ta-Dah!

Exam day, the day is sunny but the faces are solemn. Boo is “nervo-cited”. 

  
As she and her friends go in, those of us waiting in the changing room try to spy through the keyhole, trying to work out whose taps are whose. It doesn’t help ease the nerves.

And then the door opens and three grinning faces burst through.

  
And suddenly all the expense, the hours, the insanity seem to be worth it. We’ve a long summer wait before we get the results, but Boo and her friends are already winners.

Well done, dance parents – we made it!

Now just to get that goddamn Boogie Woogie out of my head.

Tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change, tap, tap, tap, shuffle ball change, stamp!

The Great Cake Bake Race

Initially I thought my last post may have been a little mean about the school summer fête. It’s not easy being a teacher, especially when you’ve got a government selling off schools to academy trusts and no one wants to invest in anything that doesn’t make a fast, demonstrable profit. You’ve got to buy pencils somehow.

…But then the school sent another of their charming letters:

  
“Cheeky Sods,” I thought. It’s the last thing I want to do at the end of a working week. Plus the Why not donate any spare cupcakes… really annoyed me. Of course no one’s going to make ONE cupcake. (Or maybe some people do!)

I was very much determined that a) we wouldn’t be making any cupcakes and b) we would give the whole shebang a wide berth.

Boo had other ideas: 

“I’m going to make an Alice in Wonderland cupcake for the summer fête.”

Oh balls!

I pretty much buried the idea though and last night Eve had commandeered the kitchen to make a birthday cake for her new boyfriend. I was pretty sure I’d got away with it.

Again Boo had other ideas and cried when she came out of school. With the fête less than 2 hours away the time went like this:

  
3.15: Placate Boo’s tears with the promise to make some sodding cakes. Inwardly panic.

3.20: Get home, give Noodles a kiss and head to the kitchen. Do an audit of required ingredients. Breathe a sigh of relief that we only need to get decorations…although I make a note to clear out the cupboards when it turns out the cornflour expired in 2014!

  
3.25: Sketch a rough outline of a cake that might look like it fits Boo’s Alice in Wonderland brief. 

  
3.30: Head out the door and into town. Purchases includes ready-made buttercream icing. Wise move! Thank you, Betty Crocker.

4.00: Back home – £27.78 worse off! – oven on, time to destroy the kitchen. Thankfully a plain sponge isn’t too taxing and 12 buns are in the oven within 10 minutes!

4.10: Along with Boo, eat excessive amounts of cake batter that’s leftover. I suppose I could’ve made extra cakes, but that would’ve meant two batches and I definitely haven’t got time for that.

Feel a little sick.

4.15: Get a bit excited that I’ve bought a hypodermic needle to inject jam into the cakes. (Sad but true.)

4.20: Noodles comes into the kitchen looking for me. I duck behind the counter and pretend I’m not there.

4.25: There’s a little voice squeaking in the living room. Noodles wants a big hug and Curious George. He has to settle for a little squeeze and Curious George. Why does Netflix take so long to get started?!?!

4.30: The cakes are out; they haven’t burnt (much). I start wafting them like a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off.

  
4.35: The cakes aren’t cool, but I start injecting them with jam anyway. I have no idea how much jam I should be using or whether it’s even working. Oh well.

4.40: Noodles decides he wants Thomas the Tank Engine instead of Curious George. Netflix takes an age to decide that this is do-able.

4.45: The icing gets unceremoniously piped. Raspberry sprinkles cover a multitude of sins. (Raspberry sprinkles also cover the entire worktop.) I figure as only one is being judged only one needs the whole works. (I also figure I can clean up later.)

4.46: Noodles wants the same bit of Thomas repeated again and again. I let him watch twice then leg it back to the kitchen for more piping.

4.55: The plumpest-looking cake gets picked for competition entry and is topped with every decoration going. Queen of Hearts playing card: tick. ‘Eat me’ candles: tick. White rose half painted red: Tick. White rabbit telling us we’re late: I wouldn’t have been surprised!

  
“We’ll tell them you made it,” I advise Boo. She nods solemnly. 

5.01: The cakes are packed, shoes and coats are on and we’re out the door. I’ve no idea how our entry got on – within half an hour (aka another £20 spent and a bump to the head later) Noodles has had enough. I gleefully accept the job of taking him home. I don’t have to face more tears when the professional cake-baker – sorry, the professional cake-baker’s daughter – surely wins.

Still, I spot a kid struggling with one of our offerings as jam oozes down his arm. “How’s your cake?” I ask. “I made that!” He gives me a “20 out of 10.” And I’ve done my mum duty for today. (As far as Boo is concerned at least. Teflon Man has moaned that I didn’t get anything for us to eat tonight…talk about never being able to please all of the people!)

At least the little people are smiling tonight.

  

And I’m pretty sure it’s now wine o’clock!

***

An update: Our cupcake won!!!

Totally worth the effort now – Boo’s brought home enough sweets to ensure she’s on a sugar high throughout the summer holidays. 

I think that deserves another glass of wine!

Playground Extortion

    
GROUPCALL:

The school summer fete – our Grand Summer Fiesta – will be held on the last Friday of term. All proceeds to the staff end of term slush fund. 

GROUPCALL:

We will be running a sewing club for the more dexterously-capable children throughout the summer term. The club will run every other weekday when the children will make items to sell at our Grand Summer Fiesta. Please pay £2.00 per session for the cost of materials. (Just be appreciative of the extra hour you’ll get to yourself and the fact you’ll miss the school run traffic.) Participation is non-negotiable.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a NON-UNIFORM DAY on Friday. Please donate DRY/TINNED GOODS ONLY for prizes for the Grand Summer Fiesta

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you for the donations of DRY/TINNED GOODS for our Grand Summer Fiesta. We would like to remind parents that only NEWLY-PURCHASED goods will suffice. Goods returned from the Christmas Extravaganza are NOT acceptable, even if it saves us from having to stick on a new tombola ticket.

GROUPCALL:

Please check out our website. Parents will be able to see the great fun the SEWING GROUP children had when they received their training from real-life sweatshop workers from India. We value the importance in establishing multi-cultural links and promoting a strong work ethos within a capitalist system. All products will be available to buy at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a SPONSORED WALK next week. Please collect as many sponsors as possible so we can buy refreshments for the Grand Summer Fiesta. Further sponsor forms will be available from the school office. The child who collects the most sponsor money will win a FREE RAFFLE TICKET!!! We appreciate this will make the children highly competitive. Don’t let your kid be a loser!

GROUPCALL:

We are looking for parents to donate PRIZES for our RAFFLE at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Laptops/Plasma TVs/Cars all gratefully accepted.

GROUPCALL:

We would like to thank Matthew Lewis’s dad for donating three plasma TVs and an X-Box as prizes for the raffle at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding another NON UNIFORM DAY on Monday. Please donate SWEETS – but NO CHOCOLATE – to be used as prizes at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Due to the children being slower sewers than expected, SEWING CLUB will now be for 2 hours after school EVERY DAY and throughout lunchtimes.

GROUPCALL:

SPORTS DAY will be held this week. Remember, due to data protection issues, NO PHOTOGRAPHY/VIDEO RECORDING will be allowed at the event. However, we will take shoddy photos ourselves, which you will be able to purchase at an inflated price at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Please donate TOYS to be sold at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Box-fresh toys only please. Toys and games already played with will NOT be acceptable.

GROUPCALL:

We send our condolences to Matthew Lewis’s dad who will not be able to attend the Grand Summer Fiesta as he is being held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for burglary. We will be holding a collection at the Fiesta to raise funds for his solicitor.

GROUPCALL:

Please remember that LOST PROPERTY will be available to purchase back at cost price from the Grand Summer Fiesta next week.

GROUPCALL:

Don’t forget you can buy your Grand Summer Fiesta RAFFLE TICKETS in advance from the caretaker from his cabin. Just £5.00 per ticket! Top prize: a BMW that may or may not have been Matthew Lewis’s dad’s getaway car.

  
GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a further NON-UNIFORM DAY on Wednesday. This time please donate CHOCOLATE items for the Grand Summer Fiesta. (If we hide it well enough Mrs Evans shouldn’t be able to eat it ALL by the time of the fete.)

GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta is only days away! Please use this weekend to bake fresh CAKES for sale on the day. Copies of The Great British Bake-Off Cook Book are available for purchase through the school office should you be in need of inspiration. Just £25.00 per copy (RRP £19.99).

  
  
GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta will be held this afternoon. Admission: £1.00 per person (babies under 6 months are free…although pushchairs and prams will incur a £2.50 space-taking fee). 

Bring plenty of cash to buy back all items you’ve donated already at your own expense. Hot dogs and cheap wine will be available from the kitchen at prices comparable to a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

  
Don’t forget your RAFFLE TICKETS – just £10.00 per ticket! 

Deputy Head, Mr Morgan, will also be appearing as Psychic Sue and will be ready to predict your child’s SATs results. The more generous the payment, the better the results!

Once we hit our target we WILL allow the school violin club to STOP PLAYING!!!

We look forward to seeing you there.

GROUPCALL:

Due to bad weather the Grand Summer Fiesta has been CANCELLED. All goods will be divided amongst the staff and PTA. There will be collection tins stationed outside each classroom at home time for you to relieve yourselves of any cash. Alternatively, please visit our JUST GIVING page for donations by debit/credit card/bank transfer/PayPal.

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you to all parents who so generously donated to the school. Please visit our school Facebook page for pictures of our staff night out. A great time was had by all! Have a lovely summer holiday – don’t forget to take over your child’s summer project homework ready to show off when we start back in September! Also look out for announcements of our Christmas Extravaganza preparation when we will raising funds for Mr Cartwright’s new liver!

Match Ready

  
Participation in Wimbledon takes persistence, preparation and more than just a bit of luck. And not just for the players, or the groundspeople or ball boys/girls, but for the fans too. Without the support of nutritionists, masseurs and encouraging coaches I’ve struggled today after an exhilarating day watching the Centre Court action. It’s amazing how exhausting sitting on your bum for six hours can be. But what a day! We got to watch Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Andy Murray all smash their way to the quarter finals. It was a childhood ambition come true, a bucket list item well and truly ticked.  

But, as I’m neither mega-rich debenture-ticket holder nor British/Hollywood celebrity/minor royal worthy of a free hospitality pass, I had to go the route of normal proles and enter the ballot for a view shared with the pigeons in the roof. Here’s my guide to Wimbledon for other tennis-loving normal people:


1) Plan Early

Unless you want to queue (possibly overnight) in The Queue without the guarantee of scoring a ticket (surely the most British thing ever!)/you can’t afford a few thousand pounds to rent one of those debenture seats for the day, you’ll want to enter the ballot. For the price of a couple of stamps you get to wait anxiously from February to hear whether you’ve scored tickets. Nothing beats the sight of a Wimbledon offer landing on your doorstep!

2) Prepare for Ticket Envy

Last year I was amazed that I’d got tickets for Men’s Finals day…only they were tickets for Court 1. Still, Wimbledon is Wimbledon and I was buzzing. And then I called a friend. She’d been invited by another friend to the Men’s Semi-Finals on Centre Court. That took the wind out of my sails a bit.

This year I was luckier – Centre Court with three top-notch matches! When order of play was announced I was whooping round the house and spewing my excitement all over social media. On the shared cab ride from the tube though we shared with two women also with Centre Court seats…only theirs were just four rows from the front (ours were row Z – ie pigeon-stuck-in-the-roof height) and a woman with hospitality tickets. Grrrr.

As it happens, it doesn’t matter where you sit though. Even from the back you get a spectacular view. Well, unless you happen to sit behind a giant like I did! Luckily I’m ok at endurance neck-straining, so the view was fine.

  
And even if you haven’t got the big matches on the big days, make the most of whatever you have got. Play on the outside courts can throw up some early round surprises (who didn’t fall in love with Marcus Willis this year?). Make the most of the Hill if you can’t bear to miss a big match. The atmosphere is great.

  
3) Dress Appropriately

I don’t necessarily mean dress-code-ish (although it feels good to put on a nice dress). But dress for the conditions. This means keeping an avid eye on weather forecasts – last year’s week 1 was scorching; this year saw a rare middle Sunday due to a week of rain. Take layers. If you’re going to be utilising the Hill wear trousers – there’s no dignity to be had trying to convince officials you have both buttcheeks firmly on the grass when you’re also risking exposing your knickers to BBC Two viewers as their cameras pan the crowd.

If you’re going for practical over fancy-schmansy, let Kim Murray be your muse.

  
Regardless of your clothes, take what my friend and I refer to as a condom coat, ie a hideous plastic hoodie. Ours are our lucky talismans as they’re now on their second British Summer without being worn. Ok, Anna Wintour might scowl at you from the royal box, but if you’re exposed to the variable British weather it saves the hair should the cameras pick you out. (Although Sod’s law would be making it onto Wimbledon coverage during a rain break whilst wearing the sodding condom coat!!!)

Also, talking of variable weather, sunglasses are a MUST. Even if it’s overcast. Just because.

  
And shoes – unless you’re planning on spending the whole day at the bar (in which case, GET OUT AND STOP WASTING A TICKET!) ditch the heels. If you want to take it all in there’s a fair amount of walking involved, not to mention steps and the walk back to the tube. No one’s looking at your feet anyway.

4) Southfields is Closer Than Wimbledon

A tip for the Tube: Southfields station is a 15-minute walk from the grounds; Wimbledon is 20-minutes. When youre as excited as a newly homed puppy those 5 minutes mean a lot. When you’re amongst the throng and desperate to get home those 5 minutes mean even more!
Also, Gate 13 has a shorter queue than the main gates. There’s Pimms behind those gates – don’t wait unnecessarily!
5) Pack Supplies

  

Admittedly, carting a picnic across London isn’t the best fun ever. But neither is missing the on-court action because you’re queuing for pizza and strawberries. Plus, you have to do all those steps again. Instead, make yourself comfortable, settle in for the long haul and snack yourself silly. My M&S strawberries were every bit as delicious as the Wimbledon ones* and we got three times as many. My friend forked out £8.30 each for Pimms; I’d pre-packed two further pre-mixed cans at £2.00 each. And best of all (thanks to having a bladder of steel) I didn’t have to move for 6 hours of play!

  
(*You can get free strawberries if you bank with HSBC. They’ve given up the goodie bags, but free fruit and cream is not to be sniffed at.)

6) Be Friendly
Talk to people. Offer to take others’ photos. Last year an incredibly tall American asked us to get a picture of him in front of the strawberries concession. We got chatting. It turned out his son, Reilly Opelka, was playing in the Boys’ Finals. We cheered extra loudly for him as we watched from our Court 1 seats and having talked to his dad it made it all the more special. Reilly went on to win. We couldn’t have felt more proud of him.

7) Keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.

  

Players can pop up at any moment. Almost as soon as we arrived last year Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker strode out from the smaller courts into Centre Court. I wasn’t ready and only got a shoddy, unflattering pic of Becker. Focused for the match ahead you won’t get much attention from the big names…and they have an annoying habit of casually using entourage as human shields against getting a decent snap. 

Also, know whose who. Everyone wants a piece of the big players, but it’s scarily easy to walk past a Women’s Fourth Round competitor without a second glance. Maybe if we knew who they were they’d be more welcoming of the attention.

8) Be Early

  

Henman Hill/Murray Mount is a lot smaller than it looks on TV. Although initially it’ll look pretty empty with just a few early birds or picnickers, by the time of a big match it’ll be rammed. Officials won’t let you stay unless they’re convinced no part of your body is encroaching on the path. Standing, even at the back, is forbidden. So pitch up early to get enough space to ensure deep-vein thrombosis won’t be an issue of it goes to five sets!

9) Know What You’re Talking About

Nothing worse than sitting next to someone who literally has no clue how the scoring works or thinks that there’s no point in watching any of the women’s matches. Don’t be insulting: apply because you love tennis, not because you just want to go to Wimbledon. And then make the most of it.

  
After yesterday, I literally can’t wait for the ballot to open again for next year. I may not be lucky again, but at least I’ve been. But it’s worth the cost of a few stamps to try. 

I should also like to point out that all views expressed in this post are purely my own. The AELTC had no input into my views and I have received nothing from them for me telling my niche set of readers about my experiences. However, if they’d like my views on court-side seats next year, then I’d happily accept any offers.