Friday, 27 May 2016

Here's one way to stick two fingers up at SPaG

Let me begin by saying I love my local school, love the teachers and love the English language.

Let me continue by saying I am wholeheartedly hacked off with SPaG being used as a means to measure how our primary schools are performing.  One of the stand out things for me about the school my children attend is that they were taught 'free writing' to help them play with, explore and enjoy language.  I am not as well-informed, or articulate as Michael Rosen, so if you want to read the thoughts of someone who really knows what they're talking about, please read his blog.

Tools of the trade - yes I did take in a record player.
Anyway, I'm not going to rant because I've found a way to stick my fingers up at the pressure this then places on primary school children to know what a fronted adverbial is when they still have so many other fascinating, interesting, exciting things they could be doing with words: I ran a performance poetry workshop.

Here's what we did:

1. Discussed poetry as being like a song without words

2. Talked about how hip-hop artists play with words and combine movement and language

does anyone diss Tiny Tempah for the spelling of his name?  No.  Do people care about the role of each word when he states "I've got so many clothes I keep some at my Aunt's house?"  No.

3. I performed a poem I for the class:

Poetry as expression
Not a session
The only time I'm likely to be in the
same picture as Michael Rosen...
In spelling and grammar
Use your words like a hammer

Or a feather
Make them sweet
Bring them out
To a beat

Have fun
Bend the rules
Brain and mouth
Are your tools

Be still
Be physical
Savour words
Make them lyrical

Make it up
Or make it true
Is for you

4. Discussed whether animals feel self-conscious before they make a noise.  

Ever seen a dog think twice before barking because its friends might laugh?  Didn't think so.

5. Did a full 'pack howl' 

I watched The Jungle Book recently - it was always going to happen :)  Luckily it's also a great tool for breaking that whole 'self-conscious' thing that we have.  Sometimes you just need to be more 'wolf'.

6. Asked if anyone spoke any other languages:

The purpose of this was to examine how different languages have different rhythms - we heard Afrikaans, Chinese, Hindi, Italian and Polish.

7. Played the first couple of verses of 'Fight for Your Right (to Party)'

Licensed to Ill was the first album I bought with my own money.  That song blew my mind.  The children marvelled at seeing a record player then rocked out in their chairs.

8. Sent the children out to find baseball hats and sunglasses

Apparently mirrored shades are in.

9. Put the children in teams and gave them a copy of Spike Milligan's 'Ning Nang Nong'

They then had fifteen minutes to rehearse a version of the poem to perform in front of the rest of the class, with emphasis on feeling the words, using facial expressions, body language and any props they fancied - lots of baseball hats went on back to front at this point.

10. By way of repaying their performance, I told them how Jamie Oliver set my kitchen on fire

If you want to read the poem - it's here

What came out of it

By the end of the session, each child had stood up in front of the class and performed poetry.  Some children heard a new language for the first time, some children spoke in their mother tongue in front of their classmates for the first time, some children did something that they'd never tried before.

Not one child refused to take part and everyone received applause for their efforts.  We had possibly the best "Jibber Jabber Joo" that's ever been uttered.  And not once did we talk about the function of any of the words, or how they should be spelled, or which one ought to go where.  We just had fun for a full hour, hooting and shouting and enjoying what no-one can ever take away from us:  our ability to express love for our language and play with words.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Children's Parties - What I've Learnt So Far

Next week my daughter will be 10 and rather than writing something reflective on the joys of being her mother, I was struck by the thought that I've done ten years of children's parties and so thought I'd share my experiences so far.  If you've yet to have kids, let this be a rough guide to what to expect.  If you already have children - feel free to enlighten me on the parties I've missed out on!

The 1st Birthday Party

Don't kid yourself that this is for your baby.  This is an opportunity for you to acceptably drink alcohol in the middle of the day while you pat yourself on the back for 'making it through' the first year.  Your baby will not appreciate that he or she has 'guests' (ie. other babies, relatives and knackered mums that have squeezed themselves back into their skinny jeans in order to feel normal but are still wearing black tops because when other babies cry their breasts leak) and will definitely not appreciate the many (tasteful, preferably wooden) presents, preferring the paper instead.

The Soft Play Party

This takes place in a former factory that has boiler lagging and scramble nets attached to every available surface.  Where it normally costs you £5.00 to get in, you will instead spend £11 a head for the added extras of nuggets and chips on paper plates (and if you go to Eddie Catz you'll also get a plate of crudités thrown in that the children will ignore) plus a visit from a budget 'character' that will either scare the children or will be scared by the children as they try to wrench his tail off. 

There is nowhere for parents to properly relax so they will head off into town to do some shopping leaving you to spend most of the party worrying where the "little boy who has a tendency to start fights with other children" has got to.

The Professional Entertainer Party

Some of these guys cost £300 - THREE HUNDRED POUNDS!  Their waiting lists are months long and they have seen you bloody coming.  You are guaranteed a great set, children in tears because of a sinister puppet or because the entertainer has called them their pet name in front of all their school friends and angry parents as the entertainer starts singling them out for kicks - "look everyone, that daddy's got a baldy head!" and "that mummy's eaten all the biscuits!".  I've yet to meet anyone that's done this kind of party more than once.

The Do It Yourself Party

So you go to a Professional Entertainer Party and think "that's money for old rope - I could totally do that!  I'm going to hire the village hall, make all the sandwiches, decorations and party bags the night before and then we'll play party games just like when I was five and we all had a party in the front room."  This is a BAD MOVE although you won't realise that at first because it will start off being the best party in the world.  Then you'll lose your audience as the children realise that there's 30 of them and (at most) 5 grown ups (all the other parents have pissed off because there's no way they're spending three hours making small talk and besides, Next has a sale on).  The children will refuse to play Musical Statues because "that boy is always cheating", someone will have a nosebleed, and the "girl who only eats mini-sausages" will eat everybody's mini-sausages which causes a riot.  You will wish you'd paid £300.

The Whole Class Party

Do it once because, frankly, you have to.  Then never do it again.  It's like the 'Do It Yourself Party' but on speed.  It will take you a week to recover, and your child two days to open all the presents (I'm not a big fan of conspicuous consumption but I'd rather not hold a party than earnestly ask my friends to plant an acorn on my child's behalf instead of buying another necklace-making kit).

The Really Easy Party

This has just started to happen in my life and it is *bliss*.  By the time your children get to 10 they're (hopefully) free of tit for tat party invites and the whole 'Whole Class Party' thing has died a death.  Pick two to four friends, take them to the cinema, bite to eat afterwards and you are done!  Brilliant!  I shared this opinion with my daughter's friend's mum today and she conspiratorially whispered "I know, it's great - we do it too!".  Now this may sound a little smug on my behalf but I plan to enjoy every minute of this stage because I know what it is to be at an:

Out of Control Teenage Party

What to say here without incriminating anyone?  Let's just put it this way:
Uninvited guests
Furious parents
Clean up operation that included having to scrape vomit from the pocket of a pool table

So until I get payback for my own terrible teenage behaviour, here's to Really Easy Parties - long may they continue!

Monday, 2 May 2016

Match Report: London Irish vs Harlequins

Blue skies
Tricolour hats
Club ties
Pints of black stuff
Irish eyes
A beautiful game, but not quite the result we were after...

Piper, drummer
Battle cries
Game on
The crowd rise

Shields and sinews
Strapped-up thighs
Explosive power
Gasps, sighs

'Quins fan turns
says "No surprise"
Half time
Hot pies

Second half
Game ties!
Pushing forwards
Exiles vies

For home team glory
Last minute tries
The time's run out
There is no prize

(If you prefer your match reports a little more, well, sports-like, click here: