Category Archives: Current Affairs

Received wisdom

You know that feeling when that person you most hoped would give you something really, really wonderful as a gift turns around and gives you…

…food from the tree in the middle of the garden,


…frankincense (duty-free),


…festive socks that play jingle bells?

And all you can do is be polite and just bite it, because you are either (a) happy not to question someone else’s mistake, or (b) under two years old, or (c) a dog?

So you take it and eat it. And everyone else tries to stop you and the whole thing gets a little messy, especially as It Wasn’t Really Meant For You In The First Place. We all know there are gifts you should not just take and eat. And there are others that are designed to make up for that. Take and Eat Jesus says at the last supper. Quite right. Take. Eat. Receive. Heal. Restore.

Which means that you can’t assume it is OK just to refuse gifts. Especially in the season of accepting God’s most precious gift to mankind. Refusing gifts is actually very rude. A relative once told us not to send presents to them at all, and I felt hurt that it was not an option. Gift-giving all around the world, is a sign of respect, honour and strengthening relationship. I imagine William, Kate and the baby will be inundated with gifts appropriate, inappropriate and almost certainly superfluous for the coming year or more and must weather it all with good grace and British cheer. And hopefully donate every excess item to baby clothing exchanges up and down the country (*ahem* Rainbow Toddlers *ahem*).

[I personally am hoping it is twins born at precisely the same moment by caesarian section, called William Alfred Leo Edward Spencer, Alfie for short and Diana Isabella Anne Naomi Alexandra, Bella for short.]


But I digress.

Gifts, and the unfortunate receiving and eating thereof. My husband and I have asked our immediate family to consider not buying the two of us physical presents which need to be found a home, used, eaten or carefully and quietly passed to a more appropriate recipient. We have more than we need and no desires for Things at this point in time. In fact, we are desperately trying to declutter and simplify the stuff that has accumulated in our lives. The children (5 and 2) only really warrant a tiny actual present, so that they have something to unwrap and to help them realise that Christmas is not about Bigger and Better and stuffstuffstuff. We value time together and happy memories, kind words, hugs and humour. Thoughtful gifts are always genuinely appreciated, but gifts for gifts’ sake are uncomfortable and unnecessary. Less is more when it comes to Christmas presents these days for us. Last year we tried not get each other a gift at all (I was in Canada: the only thing I opened there from home was a DVD from my husband that he thought I wanted…) Instead we decorated our bedroom from the January sales and it was a far better decision.

Gifts, and that awkward zero-sum moment. You don’t want others to think you have forgotten them or spent less on them than they did, or that they might feel bad for spending less than you did, or that the number of items was not equal across the family. Was it OK to settle for something that can only be classed as ‘gift’ when what might have been far more suited was a nice cuppa and a chat?

Gifts, and the other love languages, and knowing that to love everyone means to love in diverse ways, and sometimes that means receiving too. Or saying the words that need to be heard. Or giving a hug that is so, so needed. Or spending time washing up, together. Or just being, without complaining, and without thinking what you might otherwise have been doing.

Gifts, and the complications of thank you letters, at least in my own family. Because we all want to love in the way we feel the others ought to receive our love best.

Receiving is so, so hard.

I am not going to complain if you give me a gift.

I am not going to complain if you give me a gift I really didn’t want, couldn’t eat, couldn’t use or don’t fit.

I am even going to try very hard not to be bitter, flippant or confused should that happen.


A King is Born! And what do they give him?


Seriously, Frankincense?


Don’t give up now, Justin

You know that feeling when you take on a new job and you just hope that it starts as it means to go on and that you can get some great early results?

Ah. Smiled too soon.

It may be a tough road ahead, Justin, but I think we all knew that.

In the meantime, don’t fret about us women. We will go on running much of what happens in churches, supporting families and individuals, working out our own faith, crying on each others’ shoulders and finding reasons to look on the bright side. Even – dare I suggest – if we don’t belong to the C of E. Thankfully, God is not restricted to working through Anglican means, and the church in the UK is far larger than that. It is disappointing that tomorrow’s headlines will not do God any favours and may discourage people on the fringes of faith from taking him seriously, and that is my major concern with the outcome today.

But a cursory glance at history tells us that we often need to wait for gains and blessings, even when we feel they are justified immediately. How unfair that Abraham and Sarah should wait so many years for a child. How wrong that Joseph should be enslaved and imprisoned. How frustrating that a generation should die in the desert. How maddening that the promised Messiah should have taken so long to come. How painful that slavery should not have been abolished sooner. How humiliating that major denominations should disagree on what God wants women to do in serving him.

And how we think in such short timescales.

It doesn’t matter which voting system we have an issue with on a given day – presidents, police commissioners, politicians or peak-viewing performers – if we aren’t listening to God a democratic system is only that. Not theocratic, but flawed by human lust for glitz, immediacy, selfishness, narrow-mindedness and confusion. Why on earth are we trusting decisions to Other People?

The God I serve weeps at injustice. But he has also provided a means for the world to rise out from under the shackles of it, in the Church.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.         Micah 6:8

So, let’s walk humbly. Let’s get on our knees and put the voting system back where it belongs. Let’s listen to God’s voice.

And let’s be merciful, listening to one another and loving one another, even when we do not love each other’s actions.

And let’s live a life acting for justice for all, not confining it to naves and altars.



Oh Danny Boyle

Oh, Danny Boyle, you really had me giggling:

This heritage, this soot and astroturf,

One’s favourite stories, rave and Rowan wriggling,

You fire-starter, showman for this earth,

Five gold rings (gosh, those trampolines inspired me),

And O! and Oh! and Oh? and Double-0,

Sourced, passed, lit up as family #abidewithme

Oh Danny Boyle, Sir Danny Boyle we love you so.


Tabling the times

Lily and I have been working on numbers a lot recently. This is mostly down to running out of other things to do while she has chicken pox and both having a fascination with number patterns. She knows about even and odd numbers and is starting to get an idea for names of really large numbers and numbers that go up in threes. I asked her what was special about some wooden numbers of hers: 3, 6 and 9. She thought for a minute and suggested that they were the clock numbers. I love how children see connections. She also has a really bossy and incredibly naive streak. ‘Mummy, did you know an odd number and an odd number is an even number?’ She’s four and a half now. A quarter of the way to adulthood. Or, if you prefer, almost 65% of the way to 7.

‘Give me a child for seven years’ said Ignatius Loyola (allegedly, or perhaps another Jesuit, or perhaps someone else, and certainly not in English), ‘and I will show you the man’ (or woman, or perhaps young adult, and certainly not baby).

I always had a problem with the seven times table myself. This is why. I see numbers in colours like this:

although strictly the 0 on the 10 ought to be white, but that’s place holders for you. In my head it made perfect sense that the evens were fire colours and the odds were, well, the odd colours. I cannot undo that colour system. Everyone knows you don’t need help remembering the 1x table, and the 2x table was simple: the pattern was simply a units column using all the fire colours. 4, 6 and 8x tables also conveniently copied this pattern, in their own orders. 5x table was not difficult, and 9x could be worked out by the lovely patterns it makes in the totals of the digits. 3x table was simple enough to calculate quickly if you weren’t certain, but 7x table stumped me. Instead of yellow, red, darker yellow, orange and white, all the colours took turns having a go, and not in a convenient order. So I have a deep respect for the 7x table, as with everything I had to work hard on to learn.

The 7x table has been coming back into my life in recent weeks. I am now a parent helper at the school Lily will attend (St Lemon’s, for those who were interested). Instead of reading I help with maths, due to my training as a maths teacher. I am also fascinated at Lily’s fascination with all things numerical. I showed her a Johnny Ball book yesterday and she was stunned and excited by the pages and pages of patterns, facts and number games. I blame her dad for her mathematical ability personally, who could always see at least two obvious ways of solving A level maths questions I was supposed to be able to teach. I hope it will be a while before Lily learns the 7x table however, as I’d love to know how she goes about doing it, and want to know if she is as visual as I am on these things.

There is another reason for bringing up the 7x table, and that is the much-awaited 56 Up programmes, which began this Monday on ITV1. I love this kind of documentary, begun 49 years ago with 14 children deliberately chosen from a range of soci0-economic backgrounds. More about the story of the series here, including information on the international take-up of the idea. After a busy few days I got to watch Monday’s programme last night, which featured four very different people. One man, Neil, made a point that the series really doesn’t give people the evidence that they think they need to form an accurate picture about the participants. No one really knows how he feels or what he has gone through, though many have written to try and tell him that they can. And this is in part because although we see the long-view of these lives and recognise elements that have determined someone’s character or personality beautifully repeating through many years, we only ever see a tiny part of that person.

For example, if you were to take a person about whom we apparently know a lot (and we’ll call him Will) and chart what you would know about him at 7, 14, 21 and 28 you would have something like this:

At seven in 1989, Will attends a local pre-prep and enjoys the privileges of belonging to a wealthy and respected family. He and his younger brother live with their parents in the Kensington area of London, as well as regular staying with grandparents in other parts of the country and at times in their country home in Gloucestershire.






At fourteen in 1996, Will has been at Eton for one year and has demonstrated that he is left-handed and keen on sports. He is not the only boy in his school to have a private detective, but he is the only one to take tea with the Queen every Sunday at 4pm. Will has learnt that his parents can sometimes dominate, and has asked them to stay away from the Fourth of June Parents’ Day celebrations that the school holds. Instead, he is taking a nanny. His mother has invited Cindy Crawford to tea as Will has admitted having a crush on her. He is one of only a handful of 14 year olds to make the cover of People magazine. Will’s parents are currently divorcing.





By 2003, at 21, Will has had six years since the loss of his mother in a tragic road traffic accident, and is in his second year at the University of St Andrews in Scotland pursuing a degree in Geography. This marks a change of direction from other members of his family, who attended Cambridge (where applicable). He still enjoys sports and tries to keep a low profile by being known as Steve. He is apparently seeing a girl called Kate.



At 28, Will has recognised the need to marry as part of a long-standing family tradition, and has proposed to long-term partner Kate. He is also working full-time in Wales as a helicopter rescue pilot, having trained with the Army and RAF. He is keen on charitable work and is also saving up for quite a big wedding.




It certainly gives you a snapshot, and very interesting too. But it doesn’t tell you the half, and it would be easy to assume you knew a person from 7-yearly updates.

I also stayed awake late thinking what people would know of me if they had had recorded information from when I was 7, 14, 21, 28 and 35 (which is as far as I go at the moment). They would see the local village primary school and Billy Graham Mission England Crusade at Ipswich Town FC in 1984. They would see the local comprehensive and the spotty, academic misfit in 1991. They would see the student in 1998 who was enjoying Theology after some Engineering adventures, and the married lady in 2005 who had recently completed teacher training. They would see the mum of two in 2012. But I am so much more than that.

And that, too, is why the 7x table sometimes just really doesn’t do.

One generation shall praise Your works to another – Part II

So here is the second of the three-parter.

Yesterday I mentioned the first point in a sermon we heard on Sunday about what the next generation needs: Wisdom and Knowledge. As an educator I agree. Our children need to learn How to Live more than they need to learn How to Make a Living. Else what is to stop them rioting, joining gangs or believing all they have to achieve in life is a record deal?

Secondly then, we heard that the next generation needs to learn Character as a moral compass. Learning to do the right thing, especially in tough situations. The Telegraph today suggests that women have a better tuned moral compass than men, and that those in their early sixties are at the peak of their intellectual and moral powers. The old and wise officially have something to teach us. Didn’t we know that already?

Who were the wise people in your life?

I remember my grandad as an old and wise man. He wasn’t always old, but he happened to be by the time I met him. Life had taught him a lot and his character had been finely tuned. What passed down to me from him, primarily through my father, were values of hard work, faith, dry humour and attention to spelling. Even though I didn’t spend much time with him, I had huge respect for him. I am certain Grandad learnt his moral compass from growing up in the environment he did. He wrote many things down in his memoirs, and I am grateful today to be able to read his story. I personally think everyone should write memoirs. Not everyone is ready to learn others’ wisdom (or even life experiences) in the time frame they have to talk with them and there is so much good we can pass on to our families through our stories by recording it.

An important turning point in my Grandad’s life was when he became a Christian as a teenager, thanks to wisdom worked out by a young doctor, family and older lads around him who showed that the Christian life was not only normal but desirable. After this Grandad felt a lot of peace and the Bible began to make sense to him. He was attending a church called Latchett Hall, whose history one can see online now.

Grandad grew in character and learned maturity through responsibility. He fought in the war, married and had four sons, worked hard to support his family and tried live his faith by example. He was solid. He was someone I am proud of and proud to be associated with.

And now my brother, his grandson, is coming to the end of his time training in mission and is about to start employment at the same site, working with Youth For Christ in Epping Forest. One generation impacting on another. My brother coming back to the place Grandad grew in faith and invested in young people. Through much effort by others around him, primarily our parents and the youth leaders at the church we grew up in, much has been invested in my brother. He has grown in knowledge, wisdom and character. He has resisted, and would be the first to admit it, but he is solid too. I am proud of him and proud that he can re-invest in Epping Forest and in training up new generations there in the way they should go.

Leapy thoughts

It has occurred to me that today is the 60th day of the year so far. 60 days in already?

And for anybody celebrating their 60th year today, I congratulate you on your 15th birthday and wish you several happy returns. Rossini would have been 53 today according to Google. Or maybe 220. Time for something cultural to celebrate:

In any case, whatever else you have proposed for the day ahead, do have a wonderful St Oswald of Worcester’s day, and mind you don’t come to the same end he did (by washing the feet of the poor in Worcester on 29th February). His feast day is celebrated on 29th February in leap years. This has happened a remarkable 255 times since the fateful day in 992.

[editor’s note: my husband has pointed out that, owing to 1900, 1800 and 1700 not having leap years, 255 should be revised down to 252]

Threescore years on the throne

In honour of Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years as Queen today, I’m dedicating a whole link to the BBC story. (In part, as thanks for the extra 100,000 hits last week). Thank you BBC. Hope you get a few hits your way. Thank you too Mrs Windsor. I have been around for most of your reign by my calculations, and you seem to be doing a top job. Keep it up – we’re proud of you!

‘look, one can do an impression of oneself on a stamp’

Three and a half giraffes later

We are grateful for the massive interest in Lily’s Giraffe Bread letter as a result of the new viral impact this week and Sainsbury’s launch of Giraffe Bread earlier today.

We are not making personal profit from this story, but if it has touched you and you are considering buying some real Giraffe Bread (real Giraffes not included), please also consider making a small donation to the Disasters Emergency Committee, so that more children can eat. So many children, particularly in East Africa, are right now facing another day with no food. Let’s make this a real good news story. You could do it right now through Paypal and quote the DEC email address to donate:


Update 1st Feb I have discovered today that DEC’s East Africa Appeal has just closed, so you can no longer text the word DEC to 70000 to donate £5. But you can still donate towards their appeal for future emergencies, or you could give to the work in East Africa by donating to one of their member charities feeding people there right now, such as Tear Fund.

Thank  you for taking an interest, and thank you for making a difference.

Having a Giraffe

This has all got very silly. I still find it funny that people are forwarding and promoting this story in all kinds of ways. It divides people into several responses.

1) There is no way a child that age could do that.

2) How cute/sweet/adorable.

3) Chris King is a hero who should be knighted/promoted/extolled beyond even twitter and facebook. He seems a top bloke.

4) What a great PR strategy this appears to have been (we wish our company had thought of it).

5) What is a £?

6) How mean that Sainsbury’s should only send a £3 voucher.

7) How kind of Sainsbury’s to send a £3 voucher.

8) What is £3 in dollars/euros/baht?

9) What is Sainsbury’s?

10) Where can I get a Sainsbury’s? Next time I am in the United Kingdom I want to buy one.

11) What is tiger bread?

12) If there are no giraffes in it, we cannot call it giraffe bread, under EU trading directive.

The Huffington Post (UK) believe Sainsbury’s ought to rename it Giraffe Bread. My father believes they should sponsor a Giraffe in a wildlife sanctuary or zoo, preferably called Lily. Wikipedia briefly mentioned the story (under Tiger Bread), but the story apparently needs verifying. A number of other blogs around the world have written up the story now, mostly in the heart-warming category, but an Italian Magazine has capitalised on the marketing side too. The Sun now has a page on the internet also telling the story: Little Lily probes Sainsburys about tiger bread and I was obliged to spend 30p checking whether she was in print today (no, just online). Facebook has a page dedicated to hero-worshipping Chris King, gaining huge popularity today. From this I have learnt today that Chris, like Lily, is about to start nursery school, on placement as a trainee teacher. He will make a great teacher in my opinion if he is a natural at getting on to the children’s level. Perhaps the most bizarre twist is the analysis done by Laurence Borel which tries to trace how the story went viral.

My friend from university who originally posted the pictures to Twitter makes some insightful comments at the end of that analysis. Facebook couldn’t forward photos in quite the same way as Twitter back in June.

There is a serious side to all this humour too. We love our daughter and do not want to exploit her or cause her distress. She finds the story funny at the moment, but hasn’t got much time for it. Without protecting her, she could end up in a situation like this:

… which won’t be happening on my watch. £3 is quite enough really to make a whole lot of people smile.

When our son gets a little older though, perhaps he ought to send a letter to Ferrari…

How to make the point

My point is, I don’t get to strike on Wednesday. Would I? My union tells me I should. Mums don’t strike, do we? As a stay at home mum I am indirectly affected. The toddler group I run will be short of staff: volunteer parents with school-age children will not be coming. Maybe our numbers will be down though.

I am not in teaching at the moment, and my pension pot as it stands is pitiable. That said, I have a pension pot, which is more than many my age can say. I’ve been in a position to start one and am grateful for that.

I want to be responsible when it comes to retirement: thinking ahead about the kind of life it is reasonable to live when the career is no longer a sensible option. I am not alone in my profession as a teacher in wanting to be reasonable, reponsible and sensible. We know what it means to go the extra mile.

Well, apparently I will have to work until I am 67 and a fraction to get my full pension, which will pay less than it might have and will need more from each pay packet on the way there. These things may be fair. It may be reasonable that people pay more in and live on less. It may be fiscally appropriate for pensions to be worth less in the big picture. It may even be necessary for people who are unable to change careers in their sixties to continue to do the kind of work that saps fit and enthusiastic colleagues in their twenties, both physically and emotionally. But ministers telling professionals that they are not willing to review the TPS situation properly since Hutton shows a lack of understanding and caution and economic/mathematical sense. Let’s get to the bare bones of it.

The Department for Education emailed me. I doubt I was singled out, and imagine all teachers with an email address will have been included. Well, that’s all of us then, although how many will have had time to read the email is another story. Perhaps after organising the rest of autumn term, all the winter and Christmas events and collapsing in a flu-ridden heap for a week after the end of term some others may also notice it. For those who haven’t (yet) read the email, here are the things the DfE indicated we had asked to know.

What stays the same:

We get a pension.

We keep pension and lump sum already accrued as final salary scheme.

We may still retire between 55 and 75.

Those who are old enough will see no changes in any case (if they could have retired within 10 years).

What changes:

Final salary pension becomes career average pension.

Phased increase to Normal Pension Age in line with State Pension Age changes.

“A rebalancing of employee and employer contributions to provide a fairer distribution between members and other      taxpayers.”

Ok. (In fact, a lot of what was written is also available to read here. I guess they’re making their point by emailing. I wonder how they knew my email address? Perhaps through some quango that’s been disbanded… I do hope I’m not getting Cynical Teachers Disorder. I’ve not been in a staff room for years.)


For the first list – hoorah! And – I should blinking well hope so too. Now get on with your work and stop distracting people.

For the second list – humph! And – given that childhood is extending, people are living at home longer and having children later, perhaps we are all getting older more slowly. But my back is telling me otherwise and I can’t be the only one.

So what are our options?

A blogger with a fairly good understanding of it all has written here on why teachers should strike.

I have some other ideas, which will not indirectly cause long queues at Heathrow, risk the health of those whose operations need rescheduling, create delays in justice, cost the economy £ridiculousandfranklypulledoutoftheairbillions, cause those with decent pension options to smugly keep quiet and those with none to rave loudly. Bear with me. Striking is not a good match for the situation. Instead, consider:


Low level resistance. This works in classrooms to great effect all across the country. I suggest unions concerned simply refuse to mark or set homework. Or equivalent really rather silly extra part of the job that no one likes to question.


Get rid of year 9 and 10. This is one I have been mulling for a year or two. I honestly believe in more than 50% of cases it would produce the desired effect. So – children would continue to start school at an age when even Victorians didn’t send them up chimneys, they reach the age of 11 and go to high school where they stay for just 2 years. They then have 2 years in the Big Wide World learning about Real Life, minimum wage, experience and making tea before doing all their GCSEs in year 11 in one year. I bet the results would go up. And it would save a fortune in staffing, and therefore pensions.


Brain drain. All move to Scotland, where house prices and university fees are better. This may backfire if the government realises what we are doing. But we might get Alex Salmond on our side and who knows?


Free schools. Oh yes. Hit them where it hurts. All teachers leave their current jobs and set up free schools. And manage our own pensions. Hmm. Bit hit and miss, that one.


Teach a better way. Live it. Model it. Create it. Responsible children who can be responsible adults. Do we have any choice? In a few years they will all be paying to keep us going anyway.