Every Child has the Right to Scrape a Knee

Erin treeThey are all gathered around the tyre swing, a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds, baring their knees and tucking elbows under chins to find the scars. I feel sad for the ones that have no scars. They have no stories of heroism or stupidity, and ‘safe’ kids are not the popular ones in a playground.

As a society, we are surrounded by people intent on keeping our children intact. Schools, councils, nurseries and manufacturers all seem very keen to provide ‘safe play’ for our kids and it’s easy to get drawn into thinking that is the best way to be. Remind yourself that, no matter how they spin it to you, their intention is not to protect our children from harm, it’s only protect themselves from a law suit.

I’m thinking that we shouldn’t be bamboozled into believing that we are doing the best for our kids if we only ever let them play on the designated rubber mat, where nothing bounces or spins because any type of movement can cause injury. I’m thinking that alongside “Every child should be allowed to grow up free from abuse and molestation..” The Children’s Charter should read:
“Every child has the right to scrape a knee while climbing, to bump elbows falling in roller skates and to prick a finger playing Sleeping Beauty.”

Every child needs to know the fear of swinging themselves too high and be allowed to make their own decision about wanting to do it again, or not. They need to understand that they can be injured and get better again. They need to fall off the lower branches so that they are better climbers by the time they reach the high ones. As parents we need to let them. A guardian’s job is not to prevent every bump, scrape and cut. It is to be there to pick them up afterwards, to tell them they are brave as they as they suffer the dreaded… antiseptic! And to show them how to unwrap a sticking plaster. These are life-skills.

I’m wondering if we should abandon schools and council playgrounds in favour of a tyre tied to a tree. Here, at this party for 7/8 year olds, there is a marquee full of activities, a bouncy castle and a little log house with a tiny slide attached. Yet here they all are at the tyre swing, learning Newton’s third law of motion at the same time as how to share. They are Galileo Galilei experiencing the thrill of discovery… and how to fall off.


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tucking in the vinesSadness is a selfish mistress and sometimes, to get out of my own head and do something for someone else, can helpful. What a perfect time to do some hard graft at the Rothley Vineyard.

You labour for hours, grappling with unruly vines and sadistic insects. You battle the ferocious heat under hats and long sleeves, to protect from sun, gloves to protect from secateurs.  You sip warm water to save from dehydration and then pour some over yourself in the hope that a wayward breeze might cool your skin.

Eventually, you get the satisfaction of standing back and looking at the order you have created out of chaos, the wild tendrils you have tamed, the elements you have subdued and the hardships you have risen out of.  “Right that’s one row done, only another 44 to go!”

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The weight of a glove

1940s gloves“There are no little events with the heart, it magnifies everything. It places in the same scales, the fall of an empire of fourteen years and the dropping of a woman’s glove, and almost always, the glove weighs more than the empire.” Honore deBalzac.

Writers and authors have never underestimated the significance of gloves. Shakespeare’s “O were I a glove upon that hand…” is the essence of secret longing. (It is interesting to remember that William Shakespeare’s father was a glove-maker.)

In Little Women; Meg discovers one of her gloves is missing and is very distressed about it because she is due to go out. The glove cannot be found but eventually she is able to leave the house by borrowing her mother’s!  So strict was the social convention. This storyline peaks with the discovery that the glove has been stolen by an admirer. He keeps it next to his heart until he has the courage, or the means, to ask for her hand in marriage. Is it significant that we ask for a person’s hand in marriage, rather than any other part of their body?

In the 18th Century it was still the flaunting of a glove that would call out a man to duel. This dates back to the much older tradition of ‘throwing down gauntlets’ as a challenge between knights.

In the 16th and 17th centuries so much etiquette developed around men’s gloves in particular, that they grew wider and more decorative until they were often carried rather than worn: A gentleman would never offer his hand in a handshake while still wearing gloves. It was taboo to accept a gift in a glove, or to remove gloves with the teeth. When approaching an altar in Church, men had to remove their gloves, and the right glove had to be removed when coming into the presence of a social superior as a mark of respect.The keeping on of your gloves indicated that you retained power by declining physical contact, whereas the removal meant you deferred to a higher position. All of this communication of social posturing, is based in the premise that gloves are primarily for protection and therefore, the removal of them is a sign of trust. For the same reason, gloves were also to be put off when playing cards and while eating. 

Traditionally, judges used to wear gloves in order to detach themselves from the job of condemning criminals. The idea being that they can be surrounded by terrible corruption and still remain unsullied. As a result however, elaborate gloves were often given to judges as bribes.


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Writer + Speaker = Author

Unseemly Science coverI’m not known for my understanding of mathematical equations but this is hardly Fermat’s theorem: It’s just that the days of sitting in a garret producing your opus, to be passed on to those who will tout it about and make your name for you, are now firmly over. I think a writer will always write, we can’t help it, but in order to make it a profession, and earn the name ‘author’, I think it’s essential to be a good speaker too.

Rod Duncan leads a double life. To members of Leicester Writers’ Club he is a quiet, shy writer who will happily ask for help when he gets into trouble with timing, direction and the best way to fasten a corset. To his students he is a leader, a teacher and an awesome example of what they will become. Last night Rod launched his second book in the phenomenal series, The Fall of The Gas Lit Empire, and performed to both sets, as well as family, friends and curious strangers. It seems he WOWed the pants off everyone equally, as he commanded a large (very hot) lecture theatre and entertained everyone so much that we all refused to leave our seats. Even seeking  the cool of the corridor was not enticement enough, the questions just kept coming. I think what kept us in our seats was Rod’s openness and honesty in his answers… oh and the great comic timing.
See Rod Duncan: Author.


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Nottingham Does it Right.

nottingham fountain1

The square was abuzz on Saturday: Goths hanging out by the left lion, trendy folk in Ray Bans lounging on the steps that double as seating, lovers sharing a sandwich, kids running in and out of the water and squealing at the plumes. It’s such a perfect use of the space. Its beautiful, its fun, its unselfish, its so Nottingham. If Leicester had planned these fountains, they would leak all over the roads, the pipes would have burst in the first frost and the whole square would have to been rebuilt three times in ten years before they gave up and decided to tar-mac over the whole lot.




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Riding Oliver Cromwell

train - steam platformIt sounds like a tawdry novel, perhaps a collaboration between  E.L.James and Phillippa Gregory;
but it was actually a wonderful New Years Day, that we spent riding up and down the line on Steam Trains.

train - first class


train - station

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Je Suis Charlie

Swiss Army pencilI showcase a piece of artwork each week in the school newsletter. The week of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, I abandoned the piece I had already arranged to feature and begged for a cartoon so we could add one more silent voice to the millions showing support. Thank you Dominic Berry for coming up with this wonderful tribute.

There have been worse terrorist atrocities I know, but the ‘Je suis Charlie’ responses across the world are what has been inspirational. Its the ‘I’m Spartacus’ moment that you never thought to see in real life, the students all standing on their chairs for Mr Keating in The Dead Poets Society and all the villagers of Mousehole setting lights in their windows to guide Old Tom Bowcock  in from the sea.


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It’s Beginning to Feel a lot Like…

Poinsettias have appeared on all the windowsills around the quad, I turn a corner to be met with white-gowned cherubs in tinsel halos and  the corridors are filled with blue uniform crowds that spontaneously break into three part harmonies of God rest ye Merry Gentleman. I think it must be Christmas.

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Nostalgia Rocks

stallHad my first craft stall in twenty years, part of a Christmas fair at Wymondham Windmill. I did a few of these events in the 1980s so this was a nostalgic moment in many ways. I am criticised for ‘living too much in the past’. I figure if I can make money doing just that, then I’ve earned the right to say ‘up yours!’ Nostalgia is big business, but in business it goes by the names Vintage, Victoriana, Antique, and Steam Punk.

Nostalgia is the romanticising of history. Not all of history, we cherry-pick the aspects of it that we find most appealing. We daydream about Dickens’ era, ice-skating on the Thames before sitting in front of a roaring fire, with a chenille cloth and two porcelain dogs on the mantel. We conveniently forget about cholera and the infant mortality rate.

I’d like to know why nostalgia is currently so fashionable. Is there such a huge dissatisfaction with modernity, that more and more ordinary people are feeling the need to romanticise history. I specify ordinary people over and above those die-hards, like me, who only ever felt at home in a Laura Ashley shop? The answer to this might lie in the question: Is nostalgia a modern affliction or did Victorians sit around their fireplaces wistfully wishing they’d lived at the time of the renaissance? Did they hanker after a simpler age. before the unnaturalness of street lighting, and the steam trains that made their lives gather speed at such an alarming rate?

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Not Bad for Sileby

October ponies

Mention Sileby in a conversation and you won’t inspire thoughts of great beauty. Sileby is known, these days, for its swamps and for its council tip. Well we lost the tip to Mountsorrel, but between our house and the river is a swamp that has become a well respected nature reserve. Cossington Meadows is home to these Exmoor ponies, as well as to barn owls, egrets, lapwings and enough geese and swans to make quite a theatre at dusk.

This photo of Cossington Meadows was taken by Roger Bradshaw.

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