Tuesday 21 July 2009

Getting the score (or why it pays to play sport at prep school)

There are many unwritten rules at school and not just for the children. I have just come back from the secretary’s office fuming at the injustice of it all. Thinking myself well organised and ahead of the game for once, I popped in to return the Holiday Sports Club form.

“I’m sorry your too late – there’s no more room.”

“What do you mean too late? The form said get your reply back by Monday -it’s Thursday afternoon and you only sent them out yesterday!”

I am given a pitying look and before I can say anything more in my defence she answers the telephone and I realise I am being summarily dismissed.

I flounce out of the office and although I would dearly love to slam the door I am prevented by the mechanism at the top - mentally I berate Health & Safety.

Normally I would not be worried by this setback. So what if my son can’t play cricket and football during the holidays but it matters - trust me

The car park at picking up time at the end of term had been alive with rumours about the latest 11-year old sporting prodigy at the school. He was spotted at a Cricket match by one of the leading private schools’ sports masters, who was acting as umpire, and there and then the boy was offered a bursary. As the child was already accepted at another school the father approached the aforesaid school to say sorry that the child would not be accepting the place as he had been offered a golden opportunity elsewhere. Short story long the school he was meant to go to offered the boy a Sports Scholarship on the spot without even seeing him play only for the other to offer a full Scholarship. It was, as they say, too good an offer to pass up – what a position to be in especially in the light of the Recession.

How I had laughed at the increasing number of mothers dolled to the nines who had come to watch their little darlings at After School Sports Club. I thought it was because everyone had heard that the new sports master Mr French was rather dishy and more excitingly, recently divorced. Now I realise that it was for far more sinister motives -to secure little Johnny a place on the Holiday Club list.

Those lucky enough to get into the Holiday Club will get the notice of Mr French, which will stand them in good stead for the rest of the year, and those with sporting prowess no doubt will be fast tracked. For sport at school is not just about keeping fit and working as a team it is about the kudos the top teams bring to the school and about the rewards that those individuals can earn – those unwritten rules of life.

The more I learn about the system the more I realise that it is a far cry from the civilised and polite environment I had always thought I was paying for. Getting ahead here is not about money, it’s about being cut throat, determined, even underhand. It was quite obvious that the word had got out and there had been a run on places even before the rest of us were officially told.

Luckily I have been given an even better tip off. I have found out that if I want my son to get the best sports teachers in the school he will have to secure a place in the Under Nines’ A or B teams by the time he’s eight otherwise he’ll be taught by the Gap year student and have even less of a chance to succeed.

So I have grabbed the yellow pages and frantically called up all the Cricket, Rugby and Football clubs in the area expecting them to laugh at my pretension but lo! they even have Under Six training sessions and my boy is signed up for the next three years. If you can’t join ‘em - beat ‘em…

Thursday 9 July 2009

The Last Great Show On Earth (or reasons why it is the last Royal Show ever)

Well in a few minutes I'll be on the road heading for the last Royal Show ever - bit of an historical moment I suppose, a bit sad. Maybe it's been on the cards for years. Farming is a sideline and no longer as important as it once was - but should we really have given up on the Royal? Should we really give up and give in at a time when our rural and urban societies are still so divided? Surely shows such as this are important to bring these two disparate tribes together. And where better than at The Royal, which brings together all the best from the whole country?
I don't know.
I haven't been to The Royal in 20 years - the last time I had just finished at Seale Hayne Agricultural College and got wildly drunk and landed up asking anyone who was anyone to: "Gi'e us a job".
I got taken on by Farming News but to this day believe it was really all down to the fact I was wearing a very tight white T-shirt and my more obvious attributes sealed the deal rather than my scholarly mien.
I wonder how it has changed....the Show, folks not my attributes: they remain the same (or at least that is what Dear Charlie says!)
Some time later - actually the next day...
I can understand why it's the last one. Not because it is not a great day out, it was and anyone who is within an hour or so do go because you will be so welcomed and it will be such fun.
I spoke to loads of people there from livestock folk, trade stands and retailers, from the guys picking up the litter to the punters walking around - there are lots of reasons why they think it's the last one but probably the most telling thing I saw was the Flower Tent.
Twenty years ago you had to pay extra to go in and when you did it was like walking into a sultry Eden, heavy with the perfume thousands of exotic blooms. At every turn there were simply stunning flower creations, sculptures and concoctions in every hue imaginable and plenty that defied description. I used to be so jealous of all that talent as however much I try I just cannot make flowers do anything but die in a vase.
Now when I walked in it felt half empty, lack lustre and the grass underfoot had not even been mown. It was full of weeds ready to trip you up. At one end there was a table where a florist was preparing to demonstrate the art of flower arranging to a few desultory show goers.
There were some lovely displays but no care had been taken in their placing, there was no drama, no anticipation and to be frank one felt that well - they had given up. Perhaps this really was Eden but after Eve had eaten of the apple.
Down the cattle lines and in among the pigs and sheep there was a much livelier atmosphere but also a kind of desperation; I felt that everyone was looking for that last rosette confirmation that they had been there, when something great had died.
Somewhere along the line something went badly wrong at The Royal Show for I can tell you other shows I attend are jumpin' The Royal Welsh, The Suffolk and The Great Yorkshire Show seem, at least to me the mere punter, to be packed out and thriving.
Yesterday I asked what had heralded The Royal's demise and these were tha answers I got:
Too much emphasis on the corporates
So busy chasing down sponsorship that the fundamentals were forgotten
Letting a management company in who alienated the smaller trade folk
Lack of care for the details
Cutting corners on hospitality
In essence failing to care for the members, their wants and needs and letting greed get in the way. But there again haven't we all been doing that?

PS. If you are still waiting for my report have a look at The Best of British Mummy Blogger Carnival over at http://britsinbosnia.blogspot.com/

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Are you a Saint Mummy? ( or Why I will never be canonised…)

“Are you a Saint Mummy?”
As much as I would have liked to say: Yes! I had to admit that no, I was not and probably never would be.
I always feel the discussions I have with The Boy on the school run must be a bit like travelling through Helmand Province; you have to tread warily as you are never quite sure where the next bombshell will land or indeed if you will get away with none going off at all. While that may keep you on your toes, it is quite exhausting and I will admit I am very relieved when I am back in the relative safety of camp and can escape the more generally lobbed questions round the dinner table leaving it to someone else to take the full brunt.
But it got me thinking. Are there any Saints who were also parents? I asked Google - No results found was the reply. Looking on it logically I shouldn’t have been surprised but I am not one to give up so easily. So I decided to check out if there was a Patron Saint for parents and lo and behold St Rita of Cascia came up in 0.43 seconds. But what I found rather disconcerting was that St Rita is better known as the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes.
With that happy though to sustain me I pottered downstairs to re-enter the fray that is my daily life. In the few minutes of my absence a situation had occurred between my offspring that required my immediate mediation.
Bog Boy, my youngest and most determined, had taken over the hammock under the tree and was not allowing his elder brother to join him. I was requested to reason with him. Bog Boy is just three. No one reasons with a three year old, especially one that has such a rigid view on the right and wrongs of fair play. He also knows that he has a strong hand to play being: A, the smallest, B - the youngest and C – the most blue eyed and blonde headed of my two children.
Assessing the situation as I clear the garden of Dog doings, I start off softly.
Me: Be kind boys, both of you can play in the Hammock
BB: No
Bog Boy responds without hesitation from the shroud he has made within the Hammock.
Me: Go on Bog Boy let your brother in
BB: No
Me: Let your brother in Bog Boy
BB: No
Me: Bog Boy share!
BB: No
OK a straightforward tack isn’t going to work and I see that Bog Boy is getting entrenched. Bribery!
Me: Do you want to have any treats Bog Boy?
BB: No
Well that was quicker than most days, usually we manage to have a discussion about what treats are on offer before he makes up his mind whether to give in or not. Today it is definitely a “Not” day. Revert to Plan A: straight forward ask.
Me: Bog Boy let you brother in the Hammock.
BB: No
Me: Let your brother in Bog Boy
Getting a tad more exasperated as I miss scoop a Doing and nearly tread in it.
BB: No
Me: I’m warning you …
Bog Boy raises his head from the depths of the Hammock and peers at me as if to say ‘And…’
He looks at what I am carrying and well a thought suddenly crosses my mind and it is far from saint like.
Me: Bog Boy if you do not share the hammock with your brother I am going to dump all these Doings on you.
I leave my children playing happily in the hammock under the tree together a picture of filial bliss.

Go on you know you want to...


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