Month: September 2015 (page 2 of 2)

My ‘now’ feels huge to me. It is there during all my waking hours. It is the first thing I think about when I wake up. It is the last thing I remember as  I finally fall asleep. It is the cause of most of my worries and joys. The little conversations that go through my head as I’m lying in bed are from the ‘now’.

My Writers' and Artists' collection

My Writers’ and Artists’ collection

How often do I live in the past: my past in Stafford, Exeter, Japan, Oxford or Charlbury? And what about my future? How often do I live there? Where will I be a year from now, five years, ten years?

The three years I spent living in Exeter felt very significant at the time

The three years I spent living in Exeter felt very significant at the time

When I was in my past, for example, in Japan, life seemed huge. That ‘past’ was my ‘now’ and it was there all the time in my consciousness. My life in Japan was: teaching, shopping, cycling, trains, Tokyo, curry, The X Files, The Big 10 Video Store, heat, sweat, cold, blue skies, cherry blossoms, beer, yakitori, the Kinokunya bookshop, students, teachers and learning Japanese. I can  vaguely remember all of that being all of my waking existence. But now I think about it about once a month, maybe twice at the most. Why isn’t that past, which was so big at the time, more solid? All it is memories in my head and the heads of those I lived with, worked with, taught and befriended. It isn’t tangible. It only exists if I exist and they exist. That time isn’t now huge to the people who were large in my life then, it is as small to them as it is to me. They are all now in their own ‘nows’.

The Big 10 Video Store in Iwatsuki, Japan

The Big 10 Video Store in Iwatsuki, Japan

The same goes for my future. In ten years time I have no idea where I will be. My youngest will be fifteen. I will have long finished my art degree. Perhaps I’ll have continued and have further qualifications. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ll be a famous artist hobnobbing with Grayson Perry. Perhaps not. I might not even be here anymore (ie living with the worms). I can’t say. But my future occupies my consciousness maybe once a month, twice sometimes.

My future BFF?

My future BFF?

Isn’t that simply really weird? If the ‘now’ feels so huge at this very moment, why will it be so small in ten years from now? Life is like living on a crest of a wave, I’m repeating a weird thought from May 2014 (I’m nothing if not consistent in my weird thinking). The crest is now. The now is moving along and we stay on that crest. The crest feels huge. As the crest moves, the ‘now’ recedes and becomes the past. The future looks small ahead of us and the crest is hurtling towards it. I can’t control it.

The wave of life

The wave of life

Watch out the future, here I come. Time is just odd. My conclusion then is that it is best not to think too hard about time and just enjoy The West Wing, slope off to bed with a cup of herbal tea and a piece of chocolate orange.

Why didn’t the women of the 1970s wear bras?

This is the weird thought I am having at the moment (watching Annie Hall – that famous Woody Allen film). We’re about an hour into this film and I’ve noticed that, except perhaps when wearing lots of layers (where it is hard to tell), none of the women in this film are wearing a bra.

What no over the shoulder boulder holder?

What no over the shoulder boulder holder?

Then I remembered, nobody who appeared on TV or in films from that decade wore a bra either. It’s not just this film. It is a whole decade. Why not?

The Internet claims that it was both a fashion trend (for slim, flat-chested waify women in floaty gowns with long middle-parted hair) and a general response to the wave of feminist thought that came in that decade, or just before. Bras were a sign of male oppression of women and the sexualization of the human mammary glands by those same males. So off the bras came. But Then after a few years, it seems, women got fed up of dangling around in the fresh air and bras were put back on.

The bra-burning era

The bra-burning era

They even invented a ‘look no bra, bra’ in the 1970s.

I do wonder what those ladies with more ample bosom than the likes of me did in the 1970s. Perhaps they went for the ‘free spirit no-bra’ bra from Playtex. Did it come in a D-cup?

Did Dolly Parton dangle loose in the 1970s? I doubt it.

Did Dolly Parton dangle loose in the 1970s? I doubt it.

The question every parent asks every day: have I done The Right Thing?

I’m not sure that this constitutes a ‘weird thought’ for two reasons. Firstly, it isn’t particularly weird, and secondly, it’s not particularly unusual (weird implies unusual), as it is a thought that every parent has every day (and not just parents, pet owners too, in fact anyone who has a dependent of some sort).

The subject of this thought though has been going around my head for months now and I feel the need to write about it. This blog isn’t just a blog, it’s my not-so-secret diary. So I think I am allowed the odd ‘Dear Diary’ entry. This is one of them.

This thought is actually specifically about education. Have I done The Right Thing by encouraging my child to get into a grammar school?

A couple of years ago we decided to ask our oldest boy whether he would like to take the 11+ exam for the grammar school his cousin goes to. This grammar school is 19.2 miles away from our house (or so google tells me). He gave this some thought and after about half an hour, he decided that, yes, he’d like to give it a go. So to this end I arranged for him to see a tutor once a week to help him get up to speed and practice the sorts of questions he’d be expected to answer on the exam. He loved these sessions. We went to see the lovely Sarah every Friday after school. At the end of Year 5 of primary school, he took the exam. He passed. He didn’t just pass, he passed very well. I know this because in March this year he was offered a place at the school. He accepted it with much enthusiasm. We were all happy. He trotted off to school that day to show the letter of acceptance to his teacher, the head, his teaching assistants and anyone who might want to see it.

Who wouldn't go to a school that looks like this?

Who wouldn’t go to a school that looks like this?

When we first decided to put him forward for the 11+ I largely kept this decision to myself. If I am honest, I did this because I was scared of being judged negatively. I was worried that by aiming for a grammar school education for my son it would be seen as a rejection of the non-grammar alternative (it wasn’t, I don’t think). When I did tell people about it, I was very pleased that only one person reacted negatively (and I completely understood that person’s reaction – it was a very normal response). Everyone else was extremely positive and encouraging. My fears of judgement were not at all justified, for which I am still very grateful.

They place a lot of rugby there - not sure my son is too happy about that!

They place a lot of rugby there – not sure my son is too happy about that!

However, this doesn’t mean I haven’t had doubts about this decision and questioned and judged myself almost every day. I don’t think I was rejecting the local school (my son and I actually both loved it when we went to visit). I believe I’d have been very happy for him to go there. I myself went to a state school (the first three years were hard going but I cam away with a string of GCSEs and A Levels and ended up at a Russell Group university so it wasn’t all bad). Also, I’d describe myself as a bit of a wishy washy liberal who dips her toes in the labour camp. Surely a grammar school education is for the conservatives amongst us? This last issue does bother me quite a lot. However, the grammar school seemed to offer an opportunity for him that was too good to pass given that he was academically capable of getting in. If he is capable of getting in and willing to work to that end, who am I to stand in his way of trying? As a wishy washy liberal I believe in giving children a degree of freedom of decision. If he’d decided he didn’t want to go. The discussion would have ended.

Famous alumni - Radzi from Blue Peter

Famous alumni – Radzi from Blue Peter

I digress, for anyone not sure what the difference is between state, grammar and private, this explains:

State Schools

State schools are government-funded and any child between the ages of 11 and 16 can attend. Some state schools have a sixth form attached and therefore cater for children up to 18 years of age (my school had a sixth form). A top state school will be heavily over-subscribed and families have been known to move house or obtain a fake postcode to get their children a place. There are about 24,000 states schools in the UK.

Grammar Schools

Grammar schools are also government-funded but only children who pass the entrance exams are offered a place. There are 164 grammar schools in England. The exams for entrance tend to cover the following areas: verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English and maths. Grammar schools are selective and have a strong emphasis on academic achievement. The standards and expectations at grammar schools are high.

Private Schools

Private schools are not government-funded – although some private schools give bursaries and scholarships to a select number of students each year. Only 7% of the population attend private schools (interestingly, 57% of MPs are privately educated). There are 2,500 private (or independent) schools in the UK.

There is a lot of debate on whether a private education is better than a state education. Private schools attract the children of well-off, highly educated parents who will probably sporn high achievers (its in the genes and the environment – if you are surrounded by copies of The Times and books then you will read). So can the measure of private vs state be based on exam results? No, not at all. Private schools have more money and resources to provide for the willing to learn. State schools have to make do with what they get to try to provide for both the willing and unwilling to learn. Grammar Schools are something in the middle. They are state schools so they are without fees. They attract the children of poor high achievers. Although these parents need a at least some disposable income to pay for exam tuition – as I know! Perhaps this fact puts a grammar school education beyond the means of many families. If so, that’s a shame. My son’s school is actually trying to work to encourage a broader intake. If my son is a high achiever, I would be an idiot not to encourage him to the best of my ability  to get into a high-achieving school.

We are now at the point where is he about to start his new grammar school (and the place is fantastic – I am very envious). He is visibly very nervous about it. The majority of his friends from primary are going to the local state school. He is the only one from his primary going to the grammar school (it isn’t close to our home). He will have to catch a bus every day to get there. So to return to my not-so-weird thought: have we made a huge mistake? Today I dropped him off at his new school for a three-day rugby and language camp. He was incredibly nervous. As was I. He has been tearful for the last few days. I am now sat at home wondering what he is doing. Is he talking to anyone? Are they being kind to him? Is he happy? Is he sad? This morning he was subdued. Have I done the right thing? I ask again. Is this all too much for him? He’s not naturally sociable. He can be an easy target (as was I at school). He struggles with change. Would he have been better off going to the local school with his friends who he has been friends with for seven years? Who’s to say he wouldn’t have faced these issues at the local school?

I don’t know the answer and probably won’t for at least 12 months, but I think we (the collective we, including him) would have been fools not to try. I will be by his side every step of the way and I will wipe away any tears he sheds.

My doubts, though, also relate to his two younger brothers. What if they don’t get in (assuming they both want to go, they might not)? I’m not sure how they or I will deal with that. So far my middle son wants to sit the exam and he’s just started seeing the lovely Sarah once a week. Watch this space. Life is never easy.

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