Posts Tagged ‘school’

And the girl goes to boarding school…..

Friday, October 30th, 2015

So the eldest girl has gone to boarding school. This was decided about three minutes after she was conceived. Well, when I say ‘decided’, what I really mean is that her father decreed she would go.

He had been to boarding school!

He hated it for a year but it was the best thing for him!

Therefore, his child would board from 12!

Non-negotiable!

The poor thing didn’t stand a chance. Anyway, my point is that it wasn’t a surprise that she was going. I managed to reduce her sentence by leaving her at her Prep school until she was 13, but that was it, after that she was BOARDING. I didn’t realise until the summer term was coming to a close exactly how much I hated the idea. I had more cold feet about this educational decision than I did about my wedding. Which, in divorce-coloured hindsight, is ironic.

We prepared her for departure carefully. We kitted her out for the school; at an eye-watering expense. I won’t say how much exactly but there are small countries which have less debt than the sum we spent on clothing her for this educational institution. And because she was boarding, the lady who was sorting out her uniform in the shop kept gaily increasing the number of things she would need: “Oh, she’s boarding? Right, well, she’ll need three sets of games kit then….” And before we could murmur a protest, the pile in the basket would grow ever larger. And then more glorious news: “Things go missing at school. Everything and anything will go missing. You must make sure that there are name labels sewed onto absolutely every item of clothing. Even shoes.” Shoes?? If I didn’t already feel faint at the thought of sewing on what were probably about 40 labels, the idea of becoming adept at stitching leather in five days did it. This, I firmly believe, is what outsourcing is for. I can’t sew a stitch, but my friend’s mother, Granny Ann, is a wonderful Scottish woman who can sew beautifully. I think she should get a medal for services to clothes. So lovely Granny Ann sewed on all the labels for me to thwart the boarding school thieves (I’m not going to tell you who she really is because I want to make sure that she always has time for my labels).

The week before eldest child went I was having serious doubts. She wasn’t, but her old mother was desperately questioning whether this was the right decision. Thankfully, a calm friend whose son had gone to boarding school the year before settled me down before I whipped her out for home schooling. On the actual day of her departure, all parents were invited to a dinner at the school. Drinks and nibbles beforehand and then a sit down meal. Her father and I aren’t together (by mutual consent) but we make a good show of being co-parents. Especially in public.

So in we filed for the pre-dinner drinks and it was very impressive. Held in a large lecture theatre, there were long, table-clothed tables with platters of indian snacks, and black and white outfitted girls floating around with trays of champagne. I thought they were hired staff but it turned out to be just the sixth formers. We played the game of pretending we’d only eaten a few snacks and going back for more and by this point, I was confused. Was this dinner?? There was so much food and champagne it seemed unlikely that a lot more would be provided. A quick discussion with my not-partner revealed that there was indeed a separate dinner. What would it be like I wondered? If this was only the pre-dinner affair? I was going to find out soon enough.

We all filed through to where we were having dinner – which turned out to be the school dining room. With not a tablecloth in sight. Oh no, we were having the full pupil experience by queueing up to receive our food, which came from huge metal dishes and then collecting a soft drink from the machine before we set out to find a table. We were forbidden from sitting with our offspring so my not-partner and I settled for the table next to her. We were quickly joined by some Asian parents. Who were keen to talk. It turned out that they were from Malaysia. My not-partner had just married someone from Malaysia! Thrilled to have this in common, I delightedly repeated this, whereupon she looked at my not-partner, nodded sagely and said “Oh, so you have two wives.”

You could have cut the silence with a knife.

To his absolute credit my not-partner went slightly red but then confirmed the situation. Which is that he has only the one wife. Happily, the children were coming in by this point and our fellow guests cried out as their daughter came past, “That’s our granddaughter! See, there. The one with all the spots!” I physically jumped, aghast at their indiscretion. But the three of them seemed fine with this, nodding and smiling with each other. Granddaughter? I smiled feebly and finished my – food. I’m still not sure what it was.

The next thing after that was to say goodbye. So we escorted our daughter to her boarding house and left her joining in with an activity. We didn’t make a fuss, kissed her quickly, said “Goodbye darling, we love you, see you on Friday.” And left. As we walked back to the cars I suddenly realised that we hadn’t left her with any money.

“Oh God,” I said. “Do you think she’ll need money?” The activity for the following day was a trip to Winchester.

“I don’t know,” said not-partner. Just then, we happened to see the Headmistress of this vast, prestigious girls school walking towards us. “Excuse me,” I said, “will the girls need money tomorrow? For their trip to Winchester?” She looked taken aback.

“I wouldn’t have thought so,” she replied. “It’s a familiarisation trip. They won’t be going to Primark or anything.” Tinkly laugh. Phew! Crisis averted. We thanked her and went on our way.

When the child came home for the weekend, I learned two things. One, that the grandparents of the spotty girl who advocated having multiple wives are actually the King and Queen of Malaysia. And her uncle is the Prime Minister, which means I’ve ruined my chance of becoming a high flier in Malaysian politics (not that there was much danger of that before, if I’m honest).  And two, I asked what she’d done in Winchester.

“Oh,” she said happily. “We just went to Primark.”

And that, my friends, is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Welcome to the playground

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

An introduction to UBER-mothers: the frightening new addition to the playground circuit.

They’re like Pandora bracelets. We’ve all got one, we all recognise a genuine one and some are more ostentatious than others. UBER-mothers are a fierce new breed. Right at this very moment they are spilling into the Home Counties like spiders out of an egg sac. They come quietly from birthing their twins in central London with no pain relief in 26 minutes and they slide effortlessly into school life. One minute they don’t exist and then – boom! Before you can blink they’re striding around being an UBER-mum.

So what exactly is the problem? Principally, they make the rest of us feel a little bit too lazy (UBER-mum never sits down and normally sleeps standing up), a little bit too boring (uber-mum reads the Times, Telegraph and Guardian ‘just to get a little perspective’ before breakfast so she can furnish us all with her learned opinions about ISIS and Boris Johnson) and a little bit too decadent. Mention that you once had a glass of wine at lunchtime on your birthday and watch her face drain of colour.

Plus, we’ve been caught off guard. We don’t know how to deal with them yet. We’ve done the earth-mother thing, and UBER-mum is not following the script. She’s not consuming lentils by the metric tonne, making her own cheese or embracing Wicca beliefs. The thing is that these UBER-mothers look normal on the outside. All right, so they’re probably wearing Birkenstocks and a smock of some description, but that’s forgivable because it’s from White Stuff or Boden. It’s not hand-knitted as she delivered the placenta or tie-dyed by an old woman on a hill in Wales.

These UBER-mums are a little like Stepford wives. They will have come from a senior role in middle management in a City based financial company. And this, they know, enables them to make the best decisions in the whole school about absolutely anything. There will be nothing they cannot do. Which leaves us lesser-mothers feeling a bit bemused. But…but….we’ve been running the committee for years….? Ah yes, but wrongly, says UBER-mum with a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. It’s no good offering an opinion, or demonstrating your experience, because UBER-mum has a special voice that simply goes louder and louder.

And she will have a careful number of children. Not so many that people think she’s a careless, pain-addicted ninny with an aversion to contraception, but enough to give her an advantage over every single other mum. Twins? Boy AND a girl she says triumphantly. Older sibling? A boy, she says proudly, I just know he’ll look after them. No younger children then? Oh yes, a little girl. Newborns are passé, we’ve all argued the hell out of the right to breastfeed entirely naked in public and be mentioned in the Queen’s Honours list for it. So UBER-mum has thrown down her sicky muslin cloth and embraced her nursery-aged child. She’s only three, UBER-mum says fondly, so she’s still expressing herself through night-time wakings, but I don’t need sleep. I always get up at 4am so I can finish off the housework before the kiddiwinks get up. And because you are so frozen in horror at her use of the word ‘kiddiwinks’ you will forget to challenge the insanity of 4am cleaning.

Gradually this UBER-mum will infiltrate the school. She will be EVERYWHERE. Because she has a winning combination of children she will be found roaming free-range in the nursery, in the lower years AND the upper years. And that’s another thing. She will always be in the school, no matter what time of day. You won’t always know what she’s doing, but she’ll be there. And because of this she will swiftly become more familiar than anyone else has ever been, with the school. It won’t matter that your children are fifth generation pupils, UBER-mum has whizzed in and knows everyone and everything that can possibly be known. The playground has now replaced the boardroom and the staff room is her HR department.

And just when you think she’s reached a limit, you discover that she has gone one stage further. She has now befriended half the teaching staff. She’ll be on first name terms with most of them and sharing a giggle before assembly. So much so that she’s able to choose exactly who she wants in Peregrine’s class. Why did you choose that name? Oh I knew he was a Peregrine the moment I laid eyes on him. And we wanted to name him after a dear relative who died tragically in the sixth century.

If you’re not careful, UBER-mum will stalk around school being a curious combination of confident and passive-aggressive. But there is one disadvantage to being an UBER-mum – they operate alone. It makes logical sense in her head; no-one could be on a level with her. So what can you do? The very opposite of divide and conquer. Form a tight-knit, impenetrable group of mothers, each of whom has a skill that they possess Masters-level qualifications in, whether this is contract law or baking cake pops. Make sure you have representatives in all areas of the school at all times, ready to challenge. If you can harpoon an ex-headteacher or two to line the corridors akin to milk of magnesia, then do it. Do it, do it, do it.

Ultimately, UBER-mums won’t harm you. They’re just really, really, rage inducingly, annoying. So if you come into contact with one, try and channel your inner Witches defence, a la Roald Dahl. Keep your eyes down, don’t engage – and walk past hastily. UBER-mum may not harm you – but she can infect you. If you’re not careful, soon your entire wardrobe will contain nothing but polka-dotted items and flimsy, transparent scraps of Cath Kidston. You will be creating your own pasta before dawn and making it proudly clear to friends that your children are so competitive that even poo-ing is a spectator sport.

Beware the UBER-mother. You have been warned.

The luxury of choice.

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Peace! There is peace in my house! The girls have gone back to school! And I had a treat this morning because my husband did the school run so I didn’t have to get dressed. Hence I am sitting in front of my computer at 8:30am in my pyjamas. Fun and lazy though the holidays are, I do appreciate the time on my own when the girls are at school. It’s such a luxury to want/need to write and then be able to choose to do so with no interruptions. They have only been back three days and already I’ve managed to complete the prologue and first three chapters of my WIP (work in progress for the uninitiated) to my satisfaction and send them off to my agent for her opinion. This is absolutely a nerve-wracking thing to do; if she likes it then that means I have someone waiting to read the full manuscript when it’s completed and quite possibly handle it for me if she thinks the time and the market are right, but if she doesn’t then that means she will not show any interest in it ever again. Which rather leaves me in the position of writing it solely for myself or deciding to write something new. And this WIP is still such a fledgling manuscript, I’ve only written 15,797 words, it feels like a real baby of a work. The plans are there but little else, I have no chapter outlines or detailed notes yet so I feel very protective of it. I think if I had written more and had a better sense of confidence about it I’d be more relaxed and able to accept whatever judgement comes back to me. But it isn’t until around 25,000 words that I really feel like I’m properly holding the reins on the manuscript. Until that point I don’t know my characters as well as I might, all options are open for the plot and I just don’t feel in control or properly bedded in. Therefore, if she comes back to me with a negative opinion (which has happened in the past) I know I shall feel crushed and uninspired and struggle to gather the enthusiasm to write on regardless. Which is wrong because you shouldn’t write for a market, or for one person, but I respect her opinion so much and if she says it’s rubbish or not marketable then I shall believe her. However, with this particular manuscript  I love writing it so much and I’m so involved with the story already that I hope I would be able to overcome any negative feelings in a very few days. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long, she’s generally very good at getting back to me quickly. There will no softening of any blow however, if she doesn’t like it – she’ll say so!  I did ask about the fifth and final response we’re waiting for on Daisychain but apparently despite chasing nothing is forthcoming. Ah, well. It will come eventually.

I was very excited (and jealous) this week to read an interview with author Joanne Harris about her writing shed. See here: http://www.shedworking.co.uk/2011/02/exclusive-interview-with-shedworking.html?m=1 This is what I aspire to! This lovely, talented lady has been able to create her ideal space to write in, in her garden. This strikes me as the ultimate luxury. Most people write wherever (and whenever) they can. Furtively at work, on trains, in cafes, in bedrooms whilst small children are doing homework, etc., etc. I remember reading about Catherine Alliott who wrote her first novel under her desk at work – what dedication! Or boredom, perhaps. If you are a new and aspiring author it’s unlikely that you can cater to your every whim about where you’d like to be creative; I consider myself pretty lucky because I have a desk that is mine and mine alone and I can shut the door to keep my marauding husband and children out. The privacy is invaluable. But I did wonder where and how I would choose to write given the absolute choice. And I think I agree with Joanne Harris in that I would leave the house to work in some structure elsewhere, but alone and in total silence. I certainly couldn’t write in a library or anywhere. It would be a massive psychological step to get up and walk out of the door to start writing. As she points out, it can be very difficult as a writer to find that mental working space because whether in an office or at home you are continually surrounded by the accoutrements of normal, daily life and it can be hard to switch off. If the phone rings, you answer it. If someone comes to the door, you answer it. If you glance at the laundry basket and it’s full you’ll probably think – it’s time I did some washing. All of these things, and more, cut into the absolute focus it is possible to achieve elsewhere. I am very bad at abandoning my housework to sit down and write. If I do I find myself thinking about what awaits me afterwards and I get distracted. The only time that I can switch off properly to everything else around me is when I know that there is a reason for wanting to get something written. The prologue and first three chapters for assessment, for example. However if I had a writing shed I think I’d find it very easy to get up in the morning, make a cup of tea and head out there, regardless of the mess in my kitchen or whatever. My shed would have to be warm, there would be no radio, I would have a very comfortable, supportive chair, a large desk to write on because I tend to plan on random sheets of A4 paper and spread them about the place, it would be very well lit but no glaring overhead bulb, I’d have lamps dotted around and I probably wouldn’t take my mobile phone. Or if I did it would be silenced. And the word ‘shed’ immediately conjures up images of spiders and I definitely couldn’t have any of those so I’d also need a cleaner. Which is another luxury I don’t currently possess and would like to. Apparently writing leaves me plenty of time for cleaning……according to my husband. I also doubt that I would get dressed to write. I’ve been meaning to tweet about this for a while – what does everyone else write in? Clothing wise? Do people get up and get dressed as normal in jeans and jumper or whatever, or do they have special loungewear, or do they just stay in their pyjamas? I’d adore to know. I don’t get dressed especially to write but seeing as I have a school run to do six days a week, I’m normally dressed already. I do have to be comfortable when I’m writing though, I can’t be cold or have waistbands digging in or anything.

My training for the half-marathon is not going particularly well…..I’m managing to get to the gym most days but it’s usually just to play racket ball which I’ve discovered a love for, or to use the gym in general, not specifically for training. The problem I think is that the further I am able to run, the longer it takes – and the more bored I get. If I run 5.5-6 miles on the treadmill it will take me an hour – and that’s a long time to be in one place, running. Several people have suggested returning to road running as an alternative but I have problems with my knees and it would really hurt them, and also I like to know exactly how far I’ve run and at what speed and I also run on an incline. So my new plan is just to run a shorter distance, but faster, and then do some work on the cross-trainer afterwards. That’s what I did on Tuesday and I felt absolutely exhausted afterwards so hopefully that was some decent CV training.

Speaking of which, today is definitely a proper gym training day, and I have housework to do as well before meeting a friend at 2pm for coffee. And all of this before I can get any writing done :) If you don’t already follow me on twitter I’m @SoVerySarah and that’s where I post all news immediately so keep an eye on there to find what the verdict is on my new manuscript…..