God Bless The TA!

When your day has been total Hell,

And you don’t know where to turn.

There is someone who knows you so well,

And ensures you don’t overburn.

 

When you’re running head over ass,

And your lesson is in the air.

Someone knows your class,

Your TA, always there!

 

Those times when it’s all complete shit!

Organising a seating plan!

Your TA knows where they should sit,

Your TA, your right hand man!

 

Those times when you just can’t take,

The pressure it becomes too much.

Your TA gives you a break,

Your TA, the lifesaving touch!

 

Those times when you want to cry,

And you can’t explain how you feel.

Your TA knows bloody why,

And your TA pulls you to heel.

 

The TA is the jewel in the crown,

Of every school in the land.

The TA should never be put down,

Your TA, your righthand man!

Oh How The Menstrual Cycle Has Changed!

When I started menstruating at the tender age of ten I was quite bemused by it. My sister who is almost four years older started at around the same time. I don’t think she has ever forgiven me for that! Let’s face it one can’t be a big sister if ones little sister isn’t impressed with your sanitary products! The sanitary products that I now find quite hilarious. My mother guided me and showed me how to use those god awful towels with the ridiculous belt thing. Fortunately I discovered ‘normal’ sanitary towels and then of course the ones with wings! Wow, by the age of eleven I thought I was a woman who knew it all. An expert on menstruation. Period!

But it did happen on one menstrual day that I glanced in the bathroom cupboard which was tantalisingly ajar and I saw them! What a temptation. Should I or shouldn’t I? I had found the Holy Grail, discovered Arthur’s sword. Ooh, now there’s a seedy and perverted euphemism! All I had to do was to pull it out of the stone and I would be Queen! I tentatively took one out of the box and held it like an archeologist holding the heart of Christ himself. I so wanted it! I had to do it. So I carefully unwrapped it! The tampon!

Next on my mission was to work out how to use it. From the Tampax box of my mothers I found the instructions. Oh my God! What? Really? Did I really have to stand in such a position? Did I really have to touch my labia? Nooooo! But then on second thoughts this had to a better option than walking around feeling as if I’d shit myself and that I had an Exocet missile sticking out from behind me. So I did it. Okay so it took some practise and about a dozen tampons later I had it perfected. Gosh I really was a woman who could take on the world now! Sod those wings, they’re for losers!

As I grew older the choices for women increased. More and more sanitary products were available. I often got stuck for choice. But the good old tampon always won hands down. When my own daughter started her periods we had slim tampons and silky tampons and singing and bloody dancing tampons to choose from. She didn’t to have suffer the indignity of belts and Exocet missiles in her pants. It was tampons all round in pretty little boxes.

But I have noticed it’s not just the products that have changed. The whole concept of the menstrual cycle has changed too. Until having a hysterectomy when I was 30 years old I endured my horrendous periods like a proper little soldier. Even when I ceased to have a normal cycle and instead began the random haemorrhage thing that is often a precursor to cervical cancer; waking up in the morning wondering who had murdered me. I took it like a woman! The griping period pains; I curled up on the sofa and dealt with it.

For my own daughter things have changed. Her periods aren’t too pleasant. But really the menstrual cycle in general isn’t a joy to behold. But the differences between myself and my daughter are that when she has a period she needs new shoes, a new dress, new makeup. It is essential when she conveniently visits me from university either around my payday or during her period that I take her out to dinner. It is vital that I understand the hormonal changes and that having her belongings scattered all over my tiny little cottage is all part of the hormonal porridge. It is my divine purpose in life to buy her moisturiser, new underwear and admire the chocolate wrappers all over the sofa due to chocolate being the super cure for her period pains!

In schools I have had girls come up to me and announce that they have to go to the toilet because they are ‘on’. Sometimes it’s been quite aggressively which is unnecessary because more often than not I do allow girls to go. As a teacher you get to know whether they are being genuine and whether they are sneaking off for a cigarette. But again the difference is notable. I have been subjected to responses such as; “I couldn’t do my homework cos I’m on my period”; “I’m not being rude Miss, I’ve just come on”. If only I could tell them that nothing makes you more hormonal and is more inconvenient than waking up in hospital to a surgically induced menopause! You have ovaries and a womb love, deal with it and thank God because running out of HRT and having hot flushes makes me a little irritable. It is however much less expensive! Oh how the menstrual cycle has changed and God above help us all when these younger generations start their menopause!

Equal To A Child?

This question had never crossed my mind until being recently told that in my workplace we are all equal to the children. I was, to say the least, somewhat dumbfounded by this. I believe the concept of equality can be a very grey area. Also, the context in which I’m supposed to accept this equality is in my mind rather complex and hypocritical.

As a parent, rightly or wrongly, I have never considered my daughter and myself to be equal. I was the adult, she was a child. I set the standards and expectations and basically insisted she did as she was told. I have not been a dictatorial parent but I’ve simply expected my child to behave and follow instructions. As she grew older there were times when a modicum of negotiation was appropriate. I am sure I’m not the only parent on the planet who insists their child does as they ask?

The general consensus amongst medical and psychological research appears to be that brain development in humans continues into the early twenties. We should therefore make a clear distinction between children’s rights and this idea of equality. As a parent, as a teacher and as a decent human being I am absolutely in support of children’s rights. I have great respect for children and young people.

However, whereas fundamental rights need to be adhered to, I struggle to accept that I am equal to a child. As a parent my role is to love, protect and guide my child. My ‘child’ is now an adult but I don’t consider that to be any reason to relinquish my duties. As a teacher my role is primarily to educate and facilitate learning. My role is also to ensure the safety and welfare of my students whilst in my care.

If teachers and parents are to ‘care’ for children, can this possibly be carried out when we are ‘equal’? In my opinion this would contradict the role and duty of an adult. In all animal kingdoms there is a natural hierarchy and I worry that as a society we are in the process of making a rod for our own backs. We have yet to see the consequences of bringing up a generation of children who are told that they are equal to all and subsequently, treated accordingly. Until of course, they leave education!

We have yet to see these ‘equals’ go to work and act like equals to their superiors! Are we really preparing these children for adulthood? Is a corporal in the army equal to a major? Is a shop assistant equal to the store manager? Is a classroom teacher equal to the headteacher? In these contexts the answer is categorically no! Therefore, I am not equal to a child.

Having trawled through the many definitions of equality, a general meaning seems to be; ‘the state of being equal, in status, rights, and opportunities’. I can not argue against this. Nevertheless, I do not think it is totally appropriate in all circumstances and contexts. I certainly do not feel it is appropriate in the classroom. On the contrary it undermines our roles as responsible adults teaching and modelling sociable behaviours and actions which incidentally don’t magically appear in children simply because they’ve been given ‘equality’. There is a learning and developmenal process. How do they learn from us if they are already equal to us?

Am I equal to a child? No I’m not! We all develop from babies onwards and experience various rites of passage into adulthood. We should be treating children as children! They are not ‘little adults’! I fear that too many responsibilities placed upon them; being considered equal to an adult being one of them, is potentially detrimental to their natural development. They are children. They need to be loved, cherished, played with, educated and although it may be rather a contentious subject for some, they need to be disciplined. I don’t mean beaten with a stick, but boundaries made clear and firm but fair sanctions. These are the actions conducive to bringing up well balanced and respectful adults.

When I Died.

When I died I heard my daughter Isabelle who was then aged 16 Years not crying. I heard my Schnauzers Hector and Heidi barking. They were yards away. But I was dying. I knew I was dying because the blood pouring from my head would surely not allow anyone to live. How can such profuse blood loss allow survival? That river of blood was visible days after I died!

When I was dying it was horrible. I knew I was dying and all I could think about was how my daughter and husband would have to tell my mum and dad how I died. Beaten up in a street on Friday evening. How degrading. No heroic death for me. I survived cancer; failed at dying of that despite cervical, tumour in the womb and dodgy stuff on the ovaries! Total hysterectomy aged 30! Piece of piss!

Dying on that street was worse than chemo! Dying on that street was degrading, humiliating. I wanted to hold my daughter, but I was dying and she was running home for an ambulance even though they threatened to kill her if she did. She did it though!

So I continued to die, slowly and painfully and then my hand could no longer hold my head that split open. The blood gushed and I knew no-one survives this much loss. The fading, the barking, the sadness, the unconscious! That’s when I died.

Then all of a sudden, flashing lights, sirens, I was in an ambulance with a policeman and paramedics. I lost it again. Woke up once more and was in hospital.

When they told me they couldn’t stitch my head up I kept thinking, ‘I died’. The paramedics and police told my daughter I died. Isabelle told them on the phone I had died! I was killed! Murdered! I died!

They glued my head! They put me back together! But the mental scars were yet to rear their ugly head.

I had dared to walk down the road one evening with my then 16-year-old daughter. We were attacked. I still look back and wonder why! It was one of those attacks one reads about and gets a little suspicious and thinks, ‘there must be something more to this one’. But there wasnt! A random bunch of bastard chavs beat the holy crap out of us for no reason other than that they could and this happens daily! People just like me die and for no reason other than people can kill.

I was released from hospital the next day with a battered body and smashed up face that they assured me was actually me! So then the police part began. Cheshire Constabulary were most kind and considerate and the police officers were fantastic and visited me daily.

Stupidly I returned to work after a week despite advice not to. I didn’t cope. I so hate and regret that morning I woke early and instead of going to work I packed a bag and my Mandolin and just walked to Crewe railway station. I saw a train to Birmingham, got on it! I landed at Birmingham, had a cigarette and a coffee and looked at the departure boards for the next train. Aberystwyth! Checked into a B&B and went to sleep! I awoke a few hours later to a barrage of calls mainly from the police officer, my family and some work colleagues. I didn’t care a bugger! In my mind I was dead.

I couldn’t live with the fact these bastards who beat us up took away from me my ability as a mother and protector, to protect my girl. I had tried to fight them off her. They started at her first when we walked down that god forsaken street. I tried to pull them off her and I told her to run. She wouldn’t leave me and we both got a hammering!

I sat in a cute little old pub in Wales. I read my text messages with tears streaming down my face but still I’d gone too far. I couldn’t reply, I couldn’t go home. I’d been stripped down to nothing; I was a crap mother, a useless human, so degraded there was no point in me!

I had enough drinks to make it bearable and hopefully forgettable. It was a beautiful stormy night and the waves were crashing and thundering. I walked out and looked into the sea and the swirling ocean and begged it could take me and as I walked I was reminded of my fight or flight responses! I am a strong swimmer with lifesaving awards, a porridge of West Wales gusts wouldn’t do this job! I lit a cigarette to ponder this and all of a sudden a huge wave enveloped me and soaked my fag. Under normal circumstances I’d have been well pissed off! This made me laugh and I realised God doesn’t want this! I hadn’t actually laughed for a long time and it was strange hearing myself laugh and that induced even more hilarity!

I returned to my room and played my Mandolin and I have little recollection of what happened next. I was on the phone to my Police lady the next day and she’d arranged to pick me up in Shrewsbury. I got to Crewe though alone and she met me later.

Weeks went by and that fantastic copper got the bastards and we had the joy of Crown Court! Isabelle and I were taken around Chester Crown Courts to familiarise ourselves.Chester Crown Courts are proper Rumpole of The Bailey stuff! It was so comforting (not) to be told these are the court rooms where Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were! Cheers for that!

The gang was found guilty and sentenced in Liverpool and my family and I went to see and hear that! End of!

So when I died, I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t function and my doctor prescribed me nutty pills; Citalapram. They really did my head in and I let myself and my girl down more than ever.

This was five years ago now, but I will never forget when I died. I will never and can not forgive them for what I felt. Hearing my daughters 999 call telling them her mum was dead was haunting. Feeling that blood pour out of my head, I died, but I now know I was simply losing consciousness.

The most heartbreaking of all was walking into my mum and dad’s house the day after the attack , battered etc, and seeing their faces. No one brings anyone up in this world to be battered and abused.

I don’t do Christian forgiveness. Sorry if I offend, but to all who condone reckless random violence, I hope you rot in eternal torment! I died and a 16-year-old girl saw her mother die. How do we as a society get over that one?!

Why ‘Poppy Day’ is important!

When I was a little girl I was fed on a rich diet of literature. A healthy amalgam of fact and fiction. My home was filled with bookcases overflowing with all the classics but also my fathers collections of military history books. I read them all and soaked in millions of words as only a child can. Somewhere and somehow, along the journey through to adulthood some of us lose the capacity to continue to engage in the imaginative and magical realms that writers invite us into.

Sadly, for many years I declined such invitations. I saturated myself in history, Celtic history and religious history, but in some ways still desperately trying to clutch onto the unpredictable journeys that a novel takes us on. When I went to college and then university to study Psychology I was almost totally lost. No more adventure in The Mabinogion, no more longing and heartache with Tess of The D’ubervilles, no more praying to God a ship finds Robinson Crusoe soon!

No, my newly found fascination was with Piaget, the great Schism, the development of children’s fine motor skills, the Reformation and so forth. Until my mother encouraged me to take a step back into the world of fiction via Jean Auel. That did it. I was reawakened.

My strange and almost obsessive attitude to reading factual literature was I think partly because of my job. As a teacher I believe learning should be a continual process. Education opens all doors and all that stuff! But I realised when teaching English for a while in Hertfordshire that being lost in a novel is also most conducive to the learning process.

Strangely too, as a folk musician I do love stories. Indeed what are folk songs? They are stories. I never felt at folk festivals that I should sing the complete works of Carl Jung. I have never felt the urge to play Sigmund Freud on my mandolin even if I knew the notes; although if he were alive I’m sure he’d have a cranky theory about that one!

But it was last year with the publication of the novel ‘Poppy Day’ by Amanda Prowse that I was fully awakened to the importance and necessity of the ‘story’ and of storytellers. A story by an Army wife about an Army wife. A love story. An epitome of faith and courage. This book absolutely gripped me. As soon as you read the first few lines you are launched into another world. But this world isn’t the fairy world of the Mabinogion or the Middle Earth of Tolkien’s fantasy. This world, in some ways disturbingly so, is our world! The world we all live in!

Poppy Day lives in our world and we in hers. The difference being, Poppy Day knows our world but we are oblivious to hers. Unless of course you are a military wife, spouse or parent. (Or indeed a cousin. I recall weeks of hell during the two tours of duty one of my cousins served in Northern Ireland). One of those folk that may be just down the road from you but you don’t know what she suffers. I would implore you read Poppy Day and get a glimpse of this world.

Amanda Prowse lifts up the floodgates and beckons us all into the reality of love. The reality of courage and a woman’s determination. This is not a far-fetched story. But somehow it maintains the magical qualities of the classics of old.

Why is it an important story? One obvious reason is that all the proceeds to this book go to The Royal British Legion. But also imagine, imagine reading a Dickens or a Bronte or a Defoe hot off the press! Classics, history in the making. Poppy Day is all of those and much more. Poppy Day is living history. A contemporary love story in a 21st century setting but with an ageless sentiment. Indeed Poppy Day could be a folk song and one that would be sung in many fields in many futures!

Just another story? I don’t think so! Poppy Day will be read in a hundred years time and remain just as pertinent as it is today as will all of Amanda Prowse’s novels. Aside from her excellent storytelling skill, Mrs Prowse is a bloody lovely person too!

(Further information about Amanda Prowse,Poppy Day and other forthcoming novels can be found on these websites: http://www.poppyday.co.uk/ http://www.amandaprowse.co.uk/ )

‘Miss, my Dad want’s to shag you’.

“Miss, my dad wants to shaaag you”. This was the delightful response during’ Literacy Hour’ when I’d asked a pupil in my Year 6 class what a noun was! Incidentally this was during my PGCE training in Somerset. I lived in Bath at the time and I remember the area, the people and the children with so much fondness. I was on a long-term placement in a delightful school in deepest Somerset.

For a moment I struggled to respond to this lovely child. He was from a travelling family, very bright, fantastic sense of humour and was an incredibly beautifully looking child. The dilemma I faced inside was, his father, was, to put it bluntly, bloody fit! I was younger then and not bad-looking myself and admittedly quite flattered. It was tempting for a nano second to say, “Here’s my number love, pass it on to your dad”. But nooooo, professionalism prevails! Teachers don’t date, teachers don’t have a life and we certainly don’t have sex! Perish the thought!

My main distraction though was a crop circle that had ‘appeared overnight’. I so wanted my class to understand nouns and adjectives. I wouldn’t have minded a ‘shaaag’ (I so love their accents) either to be honest, but most of all, sad as it may seem, I was fascinated by the crop circle! I wanted most of all to see it and so did the children. It was in the field near the school. How on earth could I get crop circles into my lesson plans?

Well, after some thinking, about five minutes, I had concocted a plan. I was after all training to be a music teacher. That was my specialist subject! Music! Somerset! Vaughan Williams! Folk Music! Fairies! Crop Circles! Sorted! Innit!

Teachers always have lessons up their sleeves! We just do! We are expert ‘ad-libbers’. It’s part and parcel of the job and it’s a skill that’s immediately acquired whilst training. Survival of the fittest etc. I’d planned music for the afternoon and it just needed some quick adjustments (totally scrapping). I’d often played music to the children whilst they were completing tasks so I played them Vaughan Williams, Folk Songs From Somerset. “That’s right posh music Miss” was the initial reaction, until I reached for my guitar and sung, ‘Blow Away The Morning Dew’ to them. They were interested then. With further discussion and explanation about the oral tradition and folk roots etc. these children realised that they have a heritage to be proud of and a composer also thought that!

Somehow for some reason it was justified to walk those children out to see the crop circle. They told me how it had been created. “Maartians do ’em Miss”. “Faarmers make ’em they do so people come their farm”. “Oi think the fairies did them Miss”. Oh there were so many explanations. I personally have no problems believing them all.

I don’t care a bugger how they were made, they are magical. What was more magical was hearing little Somerset children in the playground for weeks later singing quietly;

‘And sing blow away the morning dew,

The dew and the dew,

Blow away the morning dew,

How sweet the winds do blow’

I never got the amorous attention from that father but I saw my first crop circle and witnessed a group of children open mindedly accept their heritage. OFSTED would no doubt have slated that lesson. There were no objectives other than be, feel, sing, accept and wonder! I am still contacted by students, young adults, parents, and they tell me how they sing a certain folk song to their own little children! That is surely an education?

Is Borstal The Answer?

I often joke, but with pride, state, that I was born in a ‘Workhouse’. The Barony Hospital in Nantwich used to be the ‘Workhouse’. Ha bloody ha! It’s not really funny is it? But quite ironic that in April 1967 I left the workhouse with my mother to begin my life with her and my father, brother and sister at the borstal. Officially known as an ‘Approved School’. It was a borstal basically. A youth prison! My parents were ‘House Parents’. It was run by Roman Catholic brothers. Oh yes here we go……. I am fully aware of the horror stories of abuse in such establishments, but it doesn’t apply to them all.

I am proudly a practising Catholic from what in my openly biased view, a fantastic Roman Catholic family. My formative years obviously were painted and not tainted by Catholicism. I lived in a Catholic borstal so was surrounded by brothers, monks, priests, whatever you want to call them.

Sadly I have few memories of those early years. But happily my clever little brain and it’s wonderful little cognitive processes have gifted me with some very precious recollections.

Borstal! Really, seriously naughty boys were allowed to play with me. I remember these boys holding my hand as I wobbled a bit on the lawns. These were naughty boys. Did I see that? No! I saw kind lads who had been taught by my mother, and trusted by her to take me for a little walk. I remember faces stooping down to me asking if I was alright. I recall the smiles, the laughs, the kindness, the gentleness. I was far too young to know what these boys had done to disgrace society to the extent they had to be sent away to borstals around the country.

I have since talked to my parents about these experiences. My mother tells me how they coochied-coohed me at breakfast time when I was in my high chair. She tells me how these naughty boys asked constantly who and when they could take little Rhiannon out to play. It’s an absolute credit to my parents that they allowed this trust to these boys. It’s a credit to these boys too!

The majority of these boys had committed some nasty crimes. But tragically being sent to this particular borstal was a blessing, in more ways than one, for them. In those days, the late sixties, early seventies, life was different. Smacking children was ok, a clip round the ear ‘ole did no harm. I wonder if it did? You know what, every person I speak to in my own generation tells me they had ‘A clout’ at some point and they further recall; “It never did me no harm”.

My father had to deal with some big and very rough lads. If they got out of hand he dealt with them. Yet they all respected him. They told him their problems. He listened and he guided them. They loved him. How do I know that? Well I know from living in a borstal that children thrive on discipline. I know that children thrive on consistency. I know that children thrive on clear boundaries. I know that children thrive on play, real play, in the woods, imagining kind of play, not computer games to shut us up and keep us quiet. I know that even the most naughtiest of children thrive on trust! How do I know that? I played with them! I did these things; with naughty boys. With young criminals!

My mother spent hours washing those boys hair and she single handedly cleared that borstal of head lice! When those boys returned from their weekends at home, they rushed to her to have a hair wash. They loved her, she fed them, she taught them how to lay tables, how to eat properly, how to feed me! She taught them to read and write. She taught them ‘sums’. She was a mother to them all.

I loved my formative years in the borstal. So much so that I was actually ill when my father got another job and we had to move away. I didn’t want to move. I was poorly for some time.

The media publicise so many horror stories about those years and particularly the Catholic Church. It’s not fair because there have been grown men who have thanked my parents for that life they had. Grateful for the family they were part of. I too am grateful to my parents. What guts did it take to bring up three children in a borstal? What courage to expose us to that at such a young age? What love to expose those ‘naughty’ boys to us. What faith to allow those naughty boys to take a four-year old out to play?

It could be argued my memories are tainted, not only by age but by what I’ve been ‘filled in’ by my parents. But I would fiercely dispute that. I know what I saw. I know what I felt. It is because of this background that I feel discipline, yes discipline along with love and guidance is the way forward for our youth today.

Let’s not send them all off to a borstal, but let’s look at all the possibilities for our troubled young folk. Lets look at not condemning them or their families but perhaps giving all concerned a break to show other ways. America have a tradition of Summer Camp. Could we pluck up the courage to install something similar to not only give troubled families, indeed all families, a break and collectively show our children other pathways? Would this be considered a ‘Nanny State’? We all rely on the state one way or another, so why not utilise the state?

In my experience and from my youthful observations, some aspects of the borstal, the borstal in its finest form, have something still to offer. Not as a punishment, but as an enlightenment.