Showing posts with label School. Show all posts
Showing posts with label School. Show all posts

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Yvette Cooper, family life and dressing up for school

There’s a great interview in this week’s Grazia with Yvette Cooper, who as well as being the shadow home secretary is married to shadow chancellor Ed Balls and has three children between the ages of eight and thirteen.

The best thing of all about the piece (written by Gaby Hinsliff) is that it gives a vivid glimpse of life in a hectic household, where two high-flying politicians are juggling about a million things at once. On the morning of the interview the roof was leaking, a builder had arrived to fix it, they were busy getting the children off to school and Cooper was trying to agree a quote about the police reforms.

And, I must say I couldn’t quite get my head round this bit, in the midst of the chaos Balls was trying to do his piano practice. Piano Practice? At eight-thirty in the morning?

Cooper admits that domestic life “may be a bit of a muddle” sometimes but they muddle through it together. She says that while Balls does “more tidying up and cleaning than I do” she tends to panic about things like “how come they need a Spanish costume for school tomorrow?”

Now that, I reckon that will strike a chord with parents everywhere. I’m a mega-admirer of teachers but the one thing I couldn’t cope with when my children were at primary school was the vogue for themed days. Over the years my two had to dress up as Victorian children, characters from their favourite books, characters from Roald Dahl stories, French children, animals, birds - you name it.

Quite apart from the fact that I’m the worst seamstress going, my son usually only mentioned it the night before. So I'd stay up till midnight  trying to cobble together an owl costume out of an old blanket.

And worst of all, schools assume that children love dressing up. Well, my son HATED it. On World Book Day the only outfit he deigned to wear was an aviator’s boiler suit and goggles. In the end we had to pretend that Biggles was his favourite book and he went as a pilot. Even though he’d never read any of the Biggles stories – and still hasn't.

And the following year he refused point-blank to dress up at all.  

Saturday, 3 November 2012

School reunions - heaven or hell?

“You must be mad,” said my husband when I told him I was going to a reunion at my old school. “I can’t think of anything worse.”

He had a point, of course. The idea of meeting up with pals from your youth more than a quarter of a century later is weird - but curiosity got the better of me. That, and a flurry of emails from friends saying they’d go if I did. One put it in a nutshell. "It's so not my sort of thing and I keep looking in the mirror and wondering if I can have some Botox or liposuction or just a designer brown paper bag to wear," she said. "But if I don't go to this one I probably never will, so it's now or never - and at least I don't need to bring a Zimmer frame yet."

My sentiments exactly, so I summoned up the courage and agreed to go. My husband refused point-blank to come with me. “I hated school so why on earth should I want to go to your school reunion?” he said crushingly.

As I trundled up the tree-lined drive in the rain I felt like a nervous 16-year-old arriving at the place for the first time.

I was worried I wouldn’t recognise anyone but actually, apart from a few grey hairs and the odd bald patch (only the men!), no one had changed much. It was a bit disconcerting to find that the new school head looked younger than the rest of us put together, and that loads of the tough-guy rugby players we all worshipped had turned into besotted dads, with toddlers trailing round their ankles. But apart from that, and despite my husband’s doubts, I’m glad I went.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

School Ties - a new novella set in a school

Downthorpe Hall is a posh boarding school in the wilds of the Oxfordshire countryside.

Fresh from working in an inner-city comprehensive, Will Hughes has just been appointed as the new head. He knows there will be a host of challenges ahead. Tricky parents, rebellious teenagers and teachers who will fight his attempts to reform the school.

He doesn't expect a battle for his heart.

But when he meets two women - the fiercely ambitious deputy head and a brilliantly smart science teacher - Will realises that the ties at Downthorpe are not just the kind you wear around your neck.

What follows is a tangle of competing ambitions and desires that leave Will bemused - and could force him to choose between the job he has always wanted and the woman of his dreams.

That’s the blurb for my new novella School Ties, a romantic e-book set in a school.

From Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers to Jilly Cooper’s Wicked!, I’ve always thought boarding schools provide brilliant settings for novels. So when Endeavour Press asked me to write one, I jumped at the chance. It’s out this month and I’d love to know what you think…

School Ties by Emma Lee-Potter (Endeavour Press, £1.99)

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Dressing up to the nines for the school run

My school run days are long gone.

But even though I’m nostalgic about those mornings when my daughter and I walked hand in hand to her North Yorkshire primary school I’m relieved about one thing. There was absolutely no pressure whatsoever to look chic at the school gate. We Iived in a windswept farming village, so the most common look for mums was mud-spattered wellies, coats and scarves. None of us turned up in Made in Heaven jeans, Joseph jackets or Kurt Geiger shoes. And rather than carrying Mulberry bags, we clutched book bags, show and tell treasures and lunch boxes.

Now the trend to dress up to the nines on the school run is gathering pace. Yummy mummy superstars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle Macpherson get praised to the skies for their school gate style and loads of bloggers proudly post daily pictures of the outfits they’ve worn for that morning’s drop off.

The August issue of Easy Living magazine features a piece showcasing seven mums on “the school runway” in Newcastle upon Tyne.

They all have glowing skin, immaculate hair and full make-up. One wears a Missoni dress, Prada sunglasses and Nine West wedges, while another is in a Hugo Boss suit and Gucci sandals.

It’s galling to admit this, but they’ve clearly put more effort into their school gate outfits than I do for a posh wedding…

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The first and last time I cut someone's hair

Caitlin Moran is the most talented columnist of her generation – and the funniest too. When I heard her interview Ab Fab creator Jennifer Saunders recently, she was just as funny in real life as she is on the page.

She’s won just about every journalistic prize going and now it looks as though she’s moving into a different stratosphere. The Guardian reported this weekend that she’s written the pilot for a Channel 4 sitcom about an overweight 16 year old looking for a boyfriend. If it’s successful, it could be followed by a six-part series.

As usual, Moran has chosen a subject that every woman, whether they’re 16 or 60, can identify with. There’s no doubt about it, 16 is a tricky age for girls. They’re not children any more, but they’re not really adults either.

When I was 16 I left my ultra-strict girls’ school to go to a boys’ school that had just started taking girls. Tucked away in the wilds of Dorset, there were 30 girls and 450 boys. The girls were considered such an exotic species that 450 pairs of eyes followed us wherever we went, clocking what we were wearing, who our friends were and which boys we liked. It’s hard to believe now but some boys were so insensitive that they’d even comment on who’d put on weight and who’d lost it. One day I was about to take a bite out of a doughnut when a boy of about 14 whizzed past and plucked it from my plate. “You won’t want that,” he said. “It’ll make you fat…”

Actually, without meaning to, I got my revenge a few months later. I’m the most cack-handed person on the planet and for some reason the same boy asked me to cut his hair. I tried my best, I really did, but the result was a complete disaster – wonky fringe, too short one side and too long the other. He never asked me again…

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Just William - and how to succeed

School heads are a redoubtable breed. I’ve met loads in my time and most of them have bowled me over with their enthusiasm, clear-sighted focus and commitment to education.

On one occasion I interviewed the super-inspiring head of a girls’ school. She wore leopard-print stilettos, knew every girl in the school by name and when she spotted a pupil using her mobile phone during school hours (strictly forbidden) showed her supreme displeasure by raising an eyebrow just ever so slightly. She was one of the most impressive people I’d met in a long time.

But quite apart from the shoes and the raised eyebrows, the thing that’s stuck in my mind ever since is the advice she gave to her pupils.

“If you want to do something then set your mind to it and make it happen,” she told them. “Think ‘I can and I will succeed.’”

The idea sounded like Just William’s arch enemy Violet Elizabeth Bott (“I’ll thcream and thcream ‘till I’m thick”) stamping her foot to get her own way but I reckon there’s something in it. So here are  my aims and objectives for the day. I’m going to write two articles, finish my new e-book, research a press release and book my car in for a service.

Will the plan work? Hmmm, I’m not so sure…

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Pyjamas - what not to wear at the school gate

Mornings have never been my strong point. In the days when I took my daughter to the bus stop soon after 7am I used to rush out looking like I’d been pulled through a hedge backwards, without a scrap of make-up and my hair unbrushed. I’d then dash into Sainsbury’s to buy the papers and hope I didn’t scare the cheery man on the till or, horror of horrors, bump into someone I knew.

My lackadaisical approach wouldn’t go down well in London's Notting Hill, where yummy mummies like Elle Macpherson and Claudia Schiffer swear by glossy hair, immaculate make-up and high heels at the school gate. If you don’t wear the right outfit, some mums have warned, your children might not get invited round to play by their friends.

My teenagers are fiercely independent now but even when they were younger they were appalled if I ever tried to escort them into the classroom.

But at least I didn’t have to worry what I looked like. I cheered up no end when I realised I was a lot more appropriately dressed than parents doing the school run in some parts of the country. Why? Because at least I was dressed. A couple of years back the head of one UK primary school was so appalled at the number of parents arriving in their nightwear to drop off their children that he appealed to them to show a little more respect. Known as the “pyjama mamas,” some were turning up in baggy pyjamas and slippers while others sported dressing gowns and curlers.

As the head wearily told his local paper: “People don’t go to see a solicitor, bank manager or doctor wearing pyjamas so why do they think it’s OK to drop their children off at school dressed like that?”

PS: On the subject of night gear, a report in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph said millions of us stay in our pyjamas till midday on Saturdays. And shock horror, four out of ten sometimes go the whole day without getting dressed. I’m guilty of the first (not the second), but I’ve got one question. Does the Telegraph know that pyjamas are all the rage as daywear these days? Fashion designer Stella McCartney included a rather fetching paisley pair in her spring/summer 2012 collection while the likes of Celine and Louis Vuitton have featured them on the catwalk too. So don’t assume that the woman wearing pyjamas in the supermarket has just stumbled out of bed. She could be the most fashionable person in town.

PPS: I couldn't resist these gorgeous tartan reindeer (above) I spotted at Bicester Village. They're the best Christmas decorations I've seen by far this year.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Is four too young to start school?

September is the month of new school uniform, sharpened pencils, and melancholy that the long summer holidays are over for another year. With my son starting year 13 tomorrow, his last year of school, I’m feeling extra nostalgic. It seems no time at all since his very first day, when he was a small boy with white-blond hair, a uniform that was far too big for him and a wide grin.

Actually, looking back, I’m sure he started school far too young. His birthday is in August and he was exactly four years and three weeks old when he pitched up in the reception class of a primary school in North Yorkshire, where we lived at the time.

He was utterly bewildered to be plunged into the classroom when all he wanted to do was play outside. At play school in the village hall he’d resolutely refuse to sit still and write or draw, always rushing to ride around on toy cars or play in the sandpit. It would have suited him much better if we'd lived somehwre like Sweden, Denmark or Finland (a superstar performer when it comes to education), where formal school is delayed till the age of seven. Up until then, young children focus on “play-based” learning and spend as much time as possible outdoors.

A primary school teacher friend of mine has been telling me for years that children start school too young here. She reckons school is especially difficult for boys between the ages of four and six. They hate sitting still for long stretches, loathe colouring in endless worksheets (girls love it!) and would far rather be charging around the playground. She always makes sure her lot get plenty of time outside. Even on rainy days she sticks on her coat at the small primary where she teaches and everyone goes outside for 20 minutes to run off steam.

At 17, my son’s had more than enough time to get used to the notion of school – but as a boy who prefers action, he’s still not ultra-keen. Even now he’d rather be whizzing down hills on his bike than sitting in a classroom learning about protons and neutrons and memorising French verbs.

PS: The picture above shows him with his big sister at the age of seven, on a hearty Lake District climb.

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