Mother

Bag Gypsofilia Seeds, Gypsophila, BagIt was Mothers’ Day here yesterday.  I say ‘here’ meaning the UK, because I know other countries celebrate it at other times.  Our Mothers’ Day changes each year – something to do with Easter wobbling about, which is something to do with the moon, I think.  Never really figured out what or why because it never really interested me that much.  All I know is that it often more-or-less coincides with my birthday, which means my offspring tend to send me some sort of greeting on one or the other, but rarely both.

This year the two dates were separated by a few weeks.  All three remembered the birthday.  For Mothers’ Day I received a text message and two phone calls, plus a DVD which arrived a week ago, it’s computer generated Amazon gift message proclaiming it to be an extra birthday/Mother’s Day gift.

I just didn’t rear the kind of kids who splash out on expensive mail order bouquets, trawl through Etsy for the perfect personalised gift and quirky card or spatter Facebook with multi-coloured ‘best mum ever’ photo collages covered in hearts and anaemic-looking teddy bears.  For that I’ll be eternally grateful.

No longer having a mother in the physical realm, I spent my Mothers’ Day communing with Mother Nature in my garden.  It was a glorious spring day and I was blissfully happy, up to my elbows in deep, dark loam, planting out a new herb bed, enjoying the nodding daffodils and clearing the grass from the ever-expanding clumps of primroses and cowslips that beam up from every cranny and corner.  My garden had a gift for me, too – a beautiful little tumbled crystal, just lying on the earth’s surface and waiting for me to find it.

In the evening, I sat down to watch the gift DVD – a sci-fi film called Arrival.  My youngest had selected it for me because he knew I would love it – intelligent, very cleverly constructed, with some fascinating takes on how language, communication and – most important of all – time itself works.  One line shone out and left me buzzing by the end.  It was something like: Imagine writing a sentence, using both hands, and starting from both ends at once.  You’d need to know everything that the sentence was going to contain in advance and you’d need to know exactly how much space to leave so that it met up perfectly.  You’d need to know the future.

Yes, my kids don’t shower me with trinkets on Mothers’ Day, but they know me very well.  I’m one lucky mother.

Democracy, wossat then?

I’ve been working with a 12-year-old student – we’ll call her Sian – on philosophy.  We’d been following a storyline for several weeks.  Her job was to consider the issues thrown up by the situations in the story and look at possible solutions from different perspectives.

Legoland, Building Blocks, Legos, LegoHere’s the story so far:  She had woken one morning as the only inhabitant of a remote desert island, with a crown, a pen and a blank scroll headed Rules of The Island.  She had no recollection of how she got there but discovered ample food supplies, fresh water and materials to make a shelter.

Over the weeks, Sian had worked diligently to compose her set of rules to live by, to decide that – in the absence of all others – she was sovereign of all she surveyed and to develop a style of living which would ensure her own survival but protect the species and ecosystem of the island.

A couple of weeks ago, so the story continued, a group of migrants arrived on the island and asked to stay.  Sian considered all the implications of this and agreed to accept them.  She showed the new arrivals where to find food and water and suggested where they could construct shelters.

On June 23rd (Referendum Day in the UK, and yes, I did plan it that way!) she had a new philosophical dilemma to face.  Now that she was no longer alone on the island, how were decisions to be made?  Would she keep her crown and insist the newcomers obeyed her rules or should there be an alternative form of government?  What were the options?

I presented her with a whistle-stop tour of all forms of leadership from dictatorship and monarchy, through various forms of oligarchy to democracy, carefully avoiding passing on any bias of my own.  We also took a passing look at anarchy.

Lego, Head, Brick, People, Figure, FaceSian sifted through the options with commendable thoroughness.
“Don’t want that one – it’s like Hitler!”
“No, you’ve got to have some rules or it would be horrible.”
“I like democracy best.  That’s what we’ll have!”

“OK,” I said.  “There are two forms of democracy.  There’s representative democracy, where people vote for individuals to represent their interests and make decisions on their behalf, like we do at general elections, or there’s direct democracy where every single person has a vote on each decision, like in today’s referendum.  Which do you prefer?”

Sian thought again.  She considered politicians and what she’d heard about them – how they looked after themselves first and broke promises.
“I think direct democracy is the fairest,” she finally decided.
“Fine,” I said.  “So each person on the island has an equal vote in all matters.  You’re happy that would work?”
“Yes,” she said firmly. “Wait – NO!  What if there was one of them who had really bad ideas?”
“Well, they’d only have one vote,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but they might be – you know – good at persuading other people to do what they wanted.  It might be someone who said everyone had to prove themselves by swimming with the sharks or something.  That would be an awful idea.  It would be really dangerous.  And some people would just go along with what they said.”
Lego, Head, Face, Activity, Block, Brick“Ah,” I smiled.  (I so love lessons like this, and the way – left with time to consider – children will think things through.) “So what would you do if that happened?”
“Kill him,” she returned, calmly.
“Would that be democratic?” I wondered.
“Oh no, it wouldn’t, would it?  So no, I wouldn’t kill him, but… Oh it’s difficult!”

Yes, Sian.  It is.

Lego, Head, People, Figure, Face, ScaredThe following morning I, and just about everyone else in Britain, was reeling from the shock of the vote to leave Europe.  We knew it would be close, but we didn’t expect the Brexit lot to win.  Not even they expected it.

At 8am, as I walked into the main station of a nearby city, a TV camera and microphone were thrust into my face.  What did I think about the result?

I was taken off-guard.  I had many thoughts, but all I could manage to splutter was, “Horrifying – just horrifying.  But it was a democratic vote, so I suppose we’ll just have to deal with what happens now.”

Like my young student, I’d felt the full force of democracy’s dark side.  People are easy to manipulate.  Let them believe they’ll be better off and have more opportunities and they’ll vote to swim with the sharks every time.

A week in politics is a long time, though.  The politicians are so busy stabbing each other in the back that it’s hard to imagine who will be left to lead.  A House of Cards scenario playing out, complete with a Francis Urquhart character?  You might very well think that.  I couldn’t possibly comment.

I decided to put my fears and fury aside and to meditate.

Toys, Blocks, Brick, Plastic, LegoI was shown – so clearly I could call it a vision – a huge pile of Lego bricks on the ground.  They were in a dark place, jumbled and chaotic.  As I watched, three narrow beams of light shone down on them, illuminating parts of the pile.  I realised I was being shown the purpose of Lego.  It’s for building.  The more complete the destruction, the greater the opportunity to build something new – something better.  Our British nations have been controlled by fear and blame for so long.  Our political system stood on these twin pillars.  Perhaps they needed to fall.  Perhaps the ugly underbelly of xenophobia and self-interest needed to be revealed so that it could finally be dealt with.  I choose to believe that something finer will, eventually, emerge.  That’s where I’ll put my energy.

 

 

Didn’t know I had a petard, and here I am hoist with it

Grenade, Bomb, War, Weapon, DangerI had to look petard up: a small bomb apparently.  As for being hoist on/by/with it, we have Shakespeare to thank for that one.  All I knew was that it meant, roughly, to fall into one’s own trap, and that I’ve certainly done this week.

Embarrassed, but trying hard to be authentic, so…

Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago I was asked to take on a pair of new students – young brothers who shared a genetic condition with their mother.  “Multi-systemic” I was told, so the effects of this syndrome involve skin, joints, brain and just about any part of the body you can think of.  The words ‘complex learning difficulties’ were also mentioned.

To be honest, I was almost at full stretch before these lads appeared on the scene.  Planning two lots of lessons in maths and English tailored to their particular mix of strengths (very high intelligence) and challenges, as well as homework each week would, I knew, take at least an entire day.  Then there was the teaching itself, which I could only just slot in amongst my other young pupils.  Everything logical in my mind was screaming, “No, don’t do it!  What about that work/life balance you wanted?  You are past retirement age, you know.  And this lady wants you to work on right through the summer holidays.  When will you get to see the family?”

But the kids were lovely.  Finding ways of working around their difficulties would be fascinating – previously uncharted territory, the type of challenge I thrive on.  They weren’t fitting into schools.  Their constant pain and exhaustion, as a result of the syndrome, was too much for them when combined with a normal school day.  The mother, though, was being threatened by the authorities for not providing sufficient education.

I said, ‘Yes’.

Of course I did.

Writing, Boy, Child, Student, KidFor a couple of weeks it went fine.  Yes, I did end up doing lesson prep all through the weekends but they seemed to be progressing well and I was enjoying working with them.  Then this week they appeared full of smiles but without homework.  A casual ‘lost it somewhere in my room’ from one and ‘I didn’t realise you wanted me to do that’ from the other.

Inwardly I was irritated.  The homework sheets had taken me ages to prepare.  The work I’d planned for this week followed on from what they were meant to have done.  Their mother had particularly requested homework.  It was meant to protect her from being taken to court… and blah, blah, blah.

Outwardly, I smiled, suggested mildly that maybe they could try to get it done for the following week and carried on.  The lessons went fine and I went to bed that night feeling very happy.

Oh I know at least one of my readers knows exactly what’s coming!

I woke up the next morning to a text from the children’s mother.  Both of them had told her I was ‘grumpy’ during their lessons.  She wondered what was wrong.

I was mortified.  The lessons had (I thought) been lovely – lots of laughter and progress.  Was I just a delusional old bat?  Had I ended up like those elderly lady teachers I remembered from my own school days – miserable and past it?  Was it time to stop and give up – to sit in a rocking chair knitting all day?

I flashed a quick message back, saying I had been disappointed that they’d not bothered with the homework, but wasn’t aware of being grumpy about it; that I’d tried hard to keep the work lively and enjoyable and so forth.

Then I sat and thought.

Why was I choosing to be so upset by this?  Why had this incident shown up in my life?  What did it have to teach me?

The reply came almost at once, in a further message from the children’s mum.  She hadn’t wanted to upset me.  She just felt she had to be authentic and tell me their reaction.  It wasn’t my words or actions they had reacted to, it was my feelings.  They were, she added, extremely sensitive and picked up on the energy people projected.

Heart, Love, Idea, Light BulbAh.

Got it.

That heart-based telepathy thing.

So I thanked her – and the universe – for providing me with that reminder.  I told her about my last blog post, on exactly this subject, and promised to attempt to be more open and authentic in future.

See what I mean about being hoist with my own petard?  This communicating-from-the-heart business is not easy.  I’m glad to have these two young teachers.  Like all good teachers, they’ve appeared just as the student is ready 🙂

 

Communication – another way?

Face, Soul, Head, Smoke, Light, SadI’m aware that I’ve gained a few new followers recently – thank you so much and welcome to my ramblings and wonderings – so I thought it might be a good time to briefly explain the William connection before launching into another post about him and autistic spectrum perception.

William is a young man in his mid twenties, whom I met almost 20 years ago.  He began as a pupil in a class I was teaching – a class for kids with speech and language difficulties.  A set of circumstances which might be considered very strange, if you didn’t believe in pre-planned soul contracts, caused our paths to cross and re-cross in many ways, so that even now we are the best of friends.  Despite the fact that he is only able to communicate with me through text and email at present, I still have longer and deeper communications with him than with anyone else I know.

School, Teacher, The PupilSo yes, to begin with I believed my role was to teach William to communicate.  He had oral dyspraxia, which meant he had a very limited range of speech sounds.  Additionally he was on the autistic spectrum, which meant that social communication – reading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice etc. was challenging for him.  He made excellent progress, no denying that.  However at the same time, he and a couple of his classmates began teaching me other ways of communicating – ways I’d never dreamed of.

Alan could ‘beam’ states of mind into my head.  I didn’t have to be facing him, or even thinking about him, to find that I was aware that he was feeling angry, frustrated, impatient or in need of help.  Martin’s speciality was sending words to me.  I could ‘hear’ what he was saying, although no words had been spoken aloud, sometimes from across the building.  Once I spotted him and made eye contact, he’d give the briefest of nods, meaning, “Good, you got it.”

William was on another level entirely.  “I think,” he told me, rather deferentially, one morning when he was about eight, “I should tell you that I’m telepathic.”
He waited, a slight smile playing around his lips, for the full impact to sink in.
“You mean you can read my mind?” I asked, suddenly feeling horribly exposed.
He nodded, allowing the smile to break loose.

Of course the children used this form of communication amongst themselves all the time.  I’d often wondered how a bunch of kids with only the most rudimentary verbal language abilities were able to engage in imaginative games, with each of them understanding their role perfectly.  Once William twigged that I was sometimes able to pick up snippets of their telepathic communication, he took it upon himself to tutor me in these skills, although never overtly.

It’s subtle, this hidden communication – infinitely so.  By comparison, spoken language is crass and imperfect.  Our labels and descriptions, no matter how extensive our vocabulary, are often open to misinterpretation or simply inadequate to convey our true intent.

Having spent a lifetime closely observing children of all ages, and in particular watching my own three and my two grandchildren develop language, I firmly believe that all humans begin life with the subtle, non-verbal language.
“Oh, she understands so much of what we say,” parents will tell you as they cradle an infant in their arms.
Maybe. I suspect the tiny person is understanding far more of what the parent thinks. I also believe she is using this telepathic (for want of a better word) skill to communicate her needs to the mother. Most would not put this at more than a ‘close bond’ between mother and child.  What, though, if it’s something far greater?

Learning, Telephone, To Call, AlarmOnce they had learned to speak clearly and to follow the conventions of conversation, my little students more-or-less ceased using their telepathy.  Our society places great value on effective spoken and written language.  The children – Will included – worked diligently to improve these.  I was busily congratulating myself on our success and only dimly aware of what we had lost in the process.

As I’ve said, though, this was a soul contract, and although the children  went their different ways and I moved back into mainstream teaching, William and I still had far more to teach one another.

We stayed in touch.  Sometimes we’d have long, rambling, fascinating conversations that would last for hours, and I’d be amazed at how brilliantly he’d picked up the ability to speak.  At other times, though, he’d withdraw for days, weeks or even months at a time.  Conventional language caused too much stress and the best I could hope for was a single word text to let me know he was still alive or a ‘beamed’ impression of his state of mind.  Not great, usually.

Now it’s come full circle.  Yesterday, William sent me a draft article for inclusion in his second book.  It’s a stunner.

He begins by explaining how it is for people on the autistic spectrum to attempt to learn social communication.  Ruefully, he says:

Having to learn such skills is generally very difficult and time consuming. An analogy may be learning a second language which for the vast majority, autistic or not, is again very difficult and time consuming. And even then, few who learn a second language can match the fluency and competency of a native speaker whose language skills developed naturally as part of growing up.

He bemoans the fact that, despite this, the non-autistic population expect perfection from those challenged in this way.

Later, he begins to consider the reason computer-based language is easier for ASP people to manage:

Man, Notebook, Continents, Binary, CodeMany autistic people demonstrate a good level of competency with computers – likely to be linked to their operation depending on clearly defined protocols and mathematics, things which are very different to how social communication and interaction works.  Most communication between people which occurs via computers is in a written format, offering a greater similarity with the clearly defined operating protocols of a computer, since written communication often takes a more formal and literal interpretation of language than face to face communication.  This also removes the need to attempt to understand body language and tone of voice – things often problematic for those with autism.

Only in the final paragraph does he allow his thoughts to wander into that other type of communication – the early ‘telepathy’ and our more recent forays into ‘remote viewing’.  William isn’t certain that either of these terms fully encompass or describe what is actually taking place.

[ASP people] have a naturally different method of accomplishing [communication].  What exactly that method is I don’t believe is fully understood at present by either autistics or non-autistics.  I don’t believe the correct words have been attributed to autistic matters to describe or explain it properly.  I suspect at some point this will be achieved and hopefully will allow for autism to be harnessed to it’s full potential and remedy the blindness of so many.

I hope so, William.

 

We are still compiling The Words of William Volume Two.  Volume One is available via Amazon as a paperback in the UK, Europe and North America and as a Kindle edition worldwide.

 

 

Positive steps

darkmarked: ”Down with this sort of thing!” ”Careful now!” Father Ted This feels much better!

I’ve been moaning on about the state of things in education for weeks now and doing my own Father Ted-type protest.  (You’d have to have seen the sitcom to know what I’m talking about, but some will know and love it as I do…)

That kind of negativity didn’t sit well with me, though.  It got even worse when the TES published a short article I’d written some weeks ago and still more people started wringing their hands and demanding to know what could be done to stem the flow of cramming-junk-education-into-small-kids-for-political-purposes.  That, of course, is the important question.

So now I’ve stopped protesting and done something positive instead.

Taking my WordPressing skills to their limits, I’ve create a new blog to provide free – and freeing – resources to stressed teachers, disillusioned and worried parents and, of course, home educators.

I only started it last night and already have my first follower!

If you’re interested in ‘this sort of thing’, do head over and take a look.  It’s very small and modest so far, but I’m hoping to grow something lovely, as well as keeping the metafizzing going over on this site, of course!

Here’s the link.

 

 

Down with Education: Bring Back Educetion

No, it isn’t a typo.  There’s a subtle but world-changing difference, you see, in the vowel.

Education comes from the Latin educare – to bring up or train.

Educetion (which I’ve just invented, of course) is derived from the Latin educere – to lead out, to draw from.

See the difference?  In the first, we have malleable individuals who can be trained in whatever way those in authority prefer.  In the second we have innately wise people who, with a sufficiently nurturing environment, can develop and hone their own skills, perhaps in entirely new ways.

Let me give an example of educetion from my own childhood.

Long, long ago, I sat in in a grammar school classroom ready for the first art class of the year with Mr Sutcliffe.  Our group was studying art as a ‘relaxation subject’, timetabled in as a break from the many hours working towards academic A-levels.

Bob Dylan, Musician, Joan Baez, Singer, 1960S, ComposerMy classmates and I had, for the past couple of months, been vicariously enjoying the Summer of Love, via our transistor radios and magazines.  The times, as Dylan had foretold a few years before, were a-changin’.  We were sixth formers now.  We felt ourselves to be groovy and trendy and hip – yet Mr Sutcliffe was about to do something so shocking, so daring, so different, that we would walk out of that room as changed people.

No paints.  No pencils or pastels even.  Just Mr S at the front of the class, holding up a magazine advert for washing powder.

“Persil Washes Whiter!” he boomed.
We stared in confused silence.
“Than WHAT?” he demanded.
He seemed to require a response. We glanced at one another.
“Than – other brands, sir?” one boy suggested, nervously.
“Does it say that?” Sutcliffe snapped back. “Is there proof?”
“No,” we mumbled.
“No,” he agreed, his voice returning to its usual friendly, comfortable tone.
“No.” He sighed sadly. “And yet – just because of things like THIS,” (shaking the magazine page accusingly) “millions of people spend their money on this product rather than another.”

We sat, mesmerised, while Mr Sutcliffe went on to demonstrate, clearly and convincingly, how we – the unsuspecting public – were constantly duped by advertisers, politicians, the media and anyone else with a vested interest in manipulating our minds.  He showed us how colour, design and typefaces created a desired attitude.  He showed us how empty words and clever phrases would place ideas in our minds.  He entreated us to stop and think and avoid being led blindly into behaving as They wanted us to.

“You are wise, intelligent young people,” he said, his voice almost cracking with emotion.  “You have the wit and the ability to make your own choices, to decide whether or not you believe what you are being told.  Be critical.  Be wary.  Be sceptical.  No one has the right – or the ability – to tell YOU what to think!”

Mr Sutcliffe had put his job on the line – even back in those liberal, relatively unmonitored times.  He had not given us an art lesson.  He’d given us educetion.  He’d shown us that we were not empty vessels to be filled with facts and instructions, but autonomous people with the ability to make our own choices.  Such behaviour was unheard of in those days.  We were being trained to be obedient little consumers; that was how capitalism worked.  We were being trained to believe those in authority; that was how politics worked.

Today, of course, things are very different.  Advertising is (somewhat) regulated.  Conspiracy theories and debunking explode from the internet in every direction.  Students in schools are taught critical thinking skills and encouraged to form their own opinions… aren’t they?

Call me sceptical and cynical and so forth if you like, but I was taught by Mr Sutcliffe.  I’ve learned to smell a rat.

Exam, College Students, Library, ReadingThe tide is turning.  Times are a-changin’ again.  Our leaders – fearful that their authority, and even their purpose, are being eroded – are fighting back.  They are being very clever about it, too.

The British education system is being overwhelmed by Junk Learning.  It is imposed by the government.  It isn’t in the National Curriculum – that would be too obvious.  It’s in the tests they are imposing on our children.  If schools want to survive, they need good test scores.  To get good test scores, the teachers must teach what will be tested.  It’s no accident that there has been a sudden leap in the amount of difficult, obscure and downright pointless material primary school children – as young as six – are required to learn and regurgitate on cue.

A recent study found – unsurprisingly – that a group of university academics, even when they were allowed to confer, were unable to complete the tests being given to 10 and 11-year-olds this year.  Needless to say, the stress caused to teachers, parents and children is utterly unacceptable.  Thousands of English parents are planning to ‘strike’ and keep their 6 and 7-year-olds out of school next Tuesday to show their displeasure at the test system.

Man, Suit, Leave, Marker, Text, FontSo why is it there?  Well, I venture to suggest, there are a finite number of hours in the school day.  The more of those hours that are devoted to the rote learning of pointless grammar and complex arithmetic, the less are available for educetion.  Children who are not given the chance to develop their innate talents and creativity, not encouraged to consider alternative viewpoints, not allowed to have any choice in what they study or how they study it will grow up believing themselves to be successes or failures, based on their ability (at the age of eleven) to identify a prepositional phrase or a modal verb or to multiply a fraction by another fraction.

How much easier will it be to manipulate such citizens, broken by a harsh, unreasonable and destructive system, than those who have been empowered to think and reason for themselves?

A Fairytale Finale

English: Ballet shool Deutsch: Tanzklasse

A true story, this – and if not stranger than fiction, it at least has more or less all the features of a fairytale.

Those of you with long memories, who have been following my blog for quite a while, may remember the Tale of Tuesday.  Tuesday (her real name, for once, as I’m sure someday she’ll be famous) was a young girl I taught here in Somerset until a year or so back.  My job was to teach her maths and English.  It wasn’t always easy, as sitting at a table writing was the hardest thing in the world for her.
“I need to MOVE!” she’d say, so there would be several breaks in a lesson when she was allowed to waft around the study, arms and feet stretching and waving wildly, before settling for a bit more learning.

All she wanted to do – and I truly mean ALL – was to dance.

Her ballet teacher told her parents  how talented she was.  She advised them to try for a place at a ballet school.  So it was that, in the spring of last year, Tuesday was accepted at one of London’s most prestigious (and expensive) ballet schools.  Now she was not from some wealthy, upper-middle class family.  The cost of moving to London, paying rent there and covering her fees would have been prohibitive at the best of times but this, it turned out, was the worst of times.

No sooner had Tuesday got her place, than her father was diagnosed with cancer.  He is one of the most focused people I’ve ever met, and thinks the world of his daughter.  He’d been quite prepared to work all hours to fund her place, but his health deteriorated very fast and things became incredibly difficult.

So do you believe in magic?  Friends rallied round, a crowd-funding appeal was set up and somehow – none of us are quite sure how it happened – the rent, the fees and the cost of all the extras a young dancer needs were paid month by month.  I know that some of my blog followers were kind enough to contribute to her fund, so heartfelt thanks to them.

Those were hard and difficult days.  Her mother was worried sick each day.  Her dad was battling his illness and still trying to work when he could.  Tuesday struggled to fit in with a class of children from very different backgrounds to herself.  When I met up with them in London last Christmas things looked bleak.  None of us knew what would happen.

Bridge, Wood, Forest, Woods, Tree, TreesTime for a sprinkling of fairy dust now, though.

The ballet school discovered the desperate situation the family were in.  They also discovered that Tuesday was an outstanding dancer – one they wanted to hold on to.  They offered her a bursary, so that she could keep attending for free.  Her dad was moved to one of London’s best hospitals specialising in cancer, so that he had access to pioneering treatment and expert care.  He’s still with us.  Tuesday began to earn the respect of her classmates and to fit in far better.  By the summer, things were looking up.

Every Christmas, the school puts on a performance of The Nutcracker at a small London theatre.  When I discovered that Tuesday had been chosen to dance Clara – the leading role, I knew I had to go and watch.

As in all fairy tales, though, there are twists and turns in the plot right up to the end.  The theatre was closed at very short notice and it seemed the show would have to be cancelled.  I did tell you it was a prestigious school, didn’t I?  There were friends in high places and somehow or other they were given the run of one of the most famous theatres in London’s West End for a day.

Statue of Anna Pavlova on the dome of the Vict...

Thus it was that I found myself sitting in the royal circle, watching the most magical production, while the little girl who had twirled and glided around my study just a year or so before was giving an immaculate performance and capturing the hearts of everyone in the audience.

The ballet school had thoughtfully sent a car to pick her father up, so that he would be able to watch.  During the interval Darcey Bussell – one of the UK’s most celebrated ballerinas – introduced herself to him and told him how brilliant Tuesday’s performance was.

I just could not have been happier and prouder as I watched Tuesday take her curtain call and accept a bouquet of flowers with poise and grace that belied her tender age.

On the tube going home, I overheard a couple discussing the show.
“That little girl who danced the lead,” said the man, “What a future she has ahead of her!”
“She was splendid,” agreed his partner.

She was.

 

 

 

 

Walking with hope

I was so moved by this little boy’s kindness, courage, optimism and general awesomeness.

Joel’s a 9 year old who has been watching the news and seeing little kids his age and younger walking many miles to find safety.

He’s decided he wants to walk from his home to London (115 miles) to raise money for the refugee children.  He and his dad are going to do the walk in the next school holiday – late October.  They are taking clothes and a tent, but no food, water or money, because Joel wants to find out how kind strangers can be to those who have nothing.

He’s decided to give his much-loved Lego characters and Hot Wheels cars away as perks to people who contribute to his fundraising.

What an adventure he’s embarking on – one he will never forget.

The full details of his story, and ways to contribute using cards or PayPal can be found at the link below.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/walking-from-my-home-to-london-for-other-children/x/12208181#/story

Will a hat make a difference?

I think I first heard the story of the boy and the starfish from Wayne Dyer.  He, of course, has been in my thoughts a great deal this week, as he gracefully withdrew his consciousness from that earthly body and moved on to other great adventures.

Dr Dyer made a difference, a huge one, while he was here.

Then there are the rest of us.  This week our lives have been touched by the sight, not of starfish, but of small children washed up on the beach.  We, too, feel the futility of any gesture amidst the mass of suffering as countless displaced people – mums, dads, sons and daughters – make desperate bids to find refuge and rebuild their lives somewhere safe.

What an opportunity it gives us – the chance to decide how we want to react; what we want to do.  If we can step back for a moment from the wringing of hands and the economic and cultural challenges, each of us has the chance to make a difference, even in the smallest way, and that is a great gift.

Please don’t think I lack empathy with the refugees by saying that.  Certainly I believe that every single person on the planet chose, as some level, the life they’re currently living, so that they could play this massively complex and often agonising game called Life and experience all it can throw at them.  We can’t come close to imagining how painful that is for some.  We can decide, though, how we will respond.

So I decided I wanted to make a difference and the idea that came into my head was – bizarrely enough – ‘make hats for the children’.

Hats?

Well, autumn is coming on, and many of the families are moving into colder places.  Hats are great for keeping the body temperature up.  I have an ancient and basic but functional knitting machine and shelves of yarn in all colours of the rainbow…

How was I to get these hats to the children?  That was the next challenge.  No sooner had the thought entered my head than I received two emails, detailing local drop-off points for supplies which would be taken to the refugee camp in Calais.  Once synchronicity starts to kick in like that, I stop asking questions and get going.

IMG_20150906_091802Here are the first two.  Each took about an hour to make.  The little crocheted starfish take another 20 minutes.  It struck me that I could make more hats if I left the decoration off, but intention is everything.  As I create my rather lumpy little starfish (I’m not great at crochet) I’m pouring into them all the love and hope I can for the child who will wear that hat, and the starfish is a powerful symbol for me of how, even in this absurdly small way, each of us can make a difference.

The Pillow Monster

IMG_20150802_150019This morning I wasn’t woken by the Pillow Monster.

It’s the first time in over a week that little footsteps and the gentlest of touches on my head didn’t pull me back from dreams.  Once I’d stirred, the gentle three-year-old would transform into his alter-ego and clamber boisterously into the bed, giggling, attacking me with pillows or force-feeding me ‘pie’ or ‘cake’ made of plastic toys.

There are worse ways to awake.  This morning’s was easier, but felt a little lonely.

My grandson and his family were here for nine days.  Sleep was hard to come by; a hungry, teething 6 month old saw to that.  My cottage, which feels spacious and airy to me when I’m alone was transformed into a tiny, cramped place by the mountains of paraphernalia required by a young baby and toddler.

A traditional Punch and Judy booth.

We made bugs from egg boxes, watched dragonflies in the garden, did pirate treasure hunts for ‘golda balloons’ (yes, it took me quite a while to work that one out!) and made a fire engine from a huge packing box.  We yelled anxiously to Mr Punch when the crocodile tried to steal his sausages and sang whispered lullabies to little sister when she couldn’t sleep.

To my grandson, everyone is a friend.  Having just had his face painted as Spiderman, he shouted a cheery greeting to a pair of lads we passed drinking and smoking outside a pub.
“He waved to us!” one remarked.
“Look out, Spidy’s about,” laughed his friend.
“D’ya think I look cool?” the little one asked, tugging on my hand to go and chat with his new friends.
“Very cool,” they grinned, “Yeah.”

As I marched him on towards the playground he continued waving and shouting fond farewells.

Of course he’s been warned about strangers, but he stares reproachfully at us when such things are spoken.  For him there are loving adults surrounding him and the world is a place he trusts and enjoys, filled with excitement and fun.  His heart is so open it almost hurts to watch him sometimes.

As we sat in a cafe, he looked around the table, telling each of us in turn that he loved us.
“Hah!” winked the old man at the next table, knowingly. “What’s he after then?  There’s always a catch when they say that.”

I thought about that man’s experience of the world and my grandson’s.

So different.

There was no catch.  He loves unconditionally.  Certainly he can throw a mega-tantrum because he wanted his drink in the blue cup and it’s been poured into the red one, but he makes few enough demands.

“The thing what would make me really happy,” he told my daughter on his journey home yesterday, “is if I could sit on the sofa, watch a DVD and eat toast.”

When that very modest request was granted, he phoned me to tell me how good it had been and how happy he now was.

I feel so privileged that this lovely small person has arrived in my life and poured so much love into it.