Tag: Newport

My impressions of Newport, Shropshire

No hurry.
Endless pottering.
We potter around town.
Slow walkers in the middle of the pavement.
One particular old weathered man who sits on a wall, cap on head, watching, amused with eyes glinting as I whizz past him.
Waitrose shoppers everywhere.
Humus eaters.
Cherry tomato pickers.
Coffee drinkers.
Prosecco lovers.
Elderly couples with their bags for life.
Rural mothers with their bending over backwards toddlers in shopping trolleys.
Costa Coffee where you have to specify ‘I want it with skimmed milk please’.
Cyclists in red, black and white lycra.
Cyclists  filling out my favourite coffee shop smelling of ionised air and sweet sweat.
Cyclists like cats in a cat cafe, climbing over everything.
A man on a mobility scooter who nods his head at me as I overtake him on my non-mobility scooter.
Victorian facades.
Muscly naturally bronzed young men.
Slim sinewy young ladies with swishy hair and take-out coffees.
The pungent smell of chicken poo in the early evening.
Blazers at 4pm.
Blazers everywhere at 4pm.
Blazers filling up Greggs, Subway and Jaspers.
The bread of Jaspers, the best I’ve ever tasted.
The free coffee from Waitrose, too good to resist.
The Den, where I can sit and be pretentious with my book.
The gossip.
The town council.
The old lady coffee shops.
The boundary, which is Aldi.
The this is not Telford.
The air of intelligence and good schools.
The place of a good start to life and a good end to life.
How about the in between?
The edge of creativeness not quite getting it right, a bit too water coloury for my taste.
The cockerel at 4am.
The silence at all other times.
The ironic pull between comfort and constraint.
But most of all the coffee.
There is a lot of coffee in Newport.
The coffee.
That is Newport.
Quirky Newport.
Newport, Shropshire.
The Stars Hollow of England.
The town of three fishes.


Is sentimentality inevitable?

Just four months ago, I moved, with my little family, from Shrewsbury to the lesser known village of Muxton, near Telford. That move was a huge wrench for me. It was also a temporary move as the permanent move, to a house in Newport, wasn’t ready to happen. There are lots of reasons for this, which I won’t go into, mostly because I don’t pay attention to the reasons. But the reasons existed.

However, next week, the permanent move is finally going to happen. Next week, I will be moving from Muxton to Newport.

The temporary move was to a house which I fondly refer to as The Rented House. I have never loved The Rented House. In fact, I have always felt a strong dislike for The Rented House. I’d rather be out of The Rented House than in it. This dislike is manifested by the amount of time I’ve been spending in Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury since we moved. This dislike can be seen in the amount of money I currently spend on petrol and coffee.

This dislike is partly based on location (Telford – sorry Telford but compared to Shrewsbury you are a bit of an armpit), partly based on the style of house (1990s modern yet already falling to bits – honestly, this house is a right state) and partly based on what it represented – a move from a life I loved muchly.

My artistic interpretation of The Rented House

However, despite all of the above, over the last four months I have grown to love The Rented House in a bizarre love-hate unexpected way. I would even go as far as to say that I will miss it when the move to the permanent house finally happens.

The Rented Staircase

I feel as if I have gone through a lot while living for a short period in The Rented House. It has been a fun, fabulous, emotional, turbulent four months. I have dragged myself kicking and sometimes screaming towards a BA in Fine Art and I have laughed and cried my way to the end of May. It has been a time in my life I will never forget.

The messy Rented Kitchen

I feel a weird emotional attachment to The Rented House, the house that I hated on first sight. Why is that? Am I then just a naturally sentimental creature? Do I feel a inevitable attachments to ‘things’ whatever they may be, houses or otherwise? I think the answer is ‘yes’. I do find myself getting quite attached to things very easily. After all, try to take my cuddly poo off me and risk bodily injury. So, am I just going to be sentimental wherever I am, however happy or unhappy I am? I don’t leave any attachments to people in Muxton. Muxton isn’t Shrewsbury, not even close. Only one parent has spoken to me at the school gates since we moved here and that was just last week, I won’t miss Muxton. In fact, Muxton is confusing and weird to me. Yet, I feel oddly sad. The only thing I will miss is my Muxton lamppost.

The view out of the window

I know that I will shed a tear or two on Thursday. I didn’t think I would, but I will. I will leave a part of me in this funny old 1990s falling apart house fondly known to me and my boys as The Rented House. Bye bye number 33.

The messy Rented Sittingroom




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 and even used to solve a few possessive nouns sheets at home to make sure he was the best among his batch. 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.

More on things found in books

This week my eldest son found two objects of interest in a Star Wars book he had recently bought in a charity shop in Newport (Shropshire, not South Wales).

A shop that is no longer with us

A shop that is no longer with us

This first one interested me more than it interested him as it is a receipt from that much-loved shop that died a few years ago: Woolworths. A shop loved by a number of generations of children, one which I belonged to, and the most recent of which out of all my children only my eldest can have a claim to belong in, just.

Woolies: the place to spend your pocket money in

Woolies: the place to spend your pocket money in

What Woolworths in Newport became and is now

What Woolworths in Newport became and is now

I like the Christmas message along the bottom of the receipt. I wonder at what point in December this message was added to the receipts. The receipt is dated 23rd December 1997. I imagine that it belonged to a boy who was probably around the age of my eldest son now, ten years old. A boy who loved football (and Star Wars). Someone spending his weekly pocket money on football stickers, eager to get home to stick them in his book. He’d probably had to do some persuading to get his parents to take him to town two days before Christmas. That boy is in his late twenties now. The stickers are most likely long gone. The receipt isn’t.

My son also found a ticket for a football match. I’m sure this will have belonged to the same boy. I wonder why he kept these two things inside the book. What was it about the Woolworths receipt particularly that he felt the need to keep it?

A football match watched two years after the stickers were purchased

A football match watched two years after the stickers were purchased

This boy was two years older by the time he went to the football match so I’m guessing about twelve. I’m sure going to see this match was a huge deal for him. It was the day after New Year’s Day 1999. The ticket cost £7. According to the Internet that is the equivalent of £10.76 now (not a bad price for a FA Cup match I’m sure). The Internet is an amazing source of information. Apparently the final score was 3-0 to Aston Villa. I wonder if that boy remembers this match. Perhaps he went to a lot of football matches and this was just one of many. Maybe it was a special Christmas treat. Does he remember it now?

I also wonder how long the Star Wars book in which these items had been hidden had been languishing in a charity shop in Newport. Had the boy, now a man, or his mum, recently had a clear out? Or maybe the book had been there for a few years.

I’ll never find out.