Christmas Festivities, Long John Silver’s leg (the missing one) and Gove-bashing
Good news – Sophie’s back! First: New Year’s Greetings to all my loyal fans. Well what a start to the New Year it’s been: Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink as that poet said. Haven’t been able to contact you because we’ve been flooded out for the last few weeks – yes, that’s right, even in Tunbridge Wells.
‘I’m going to complain,’ said Mummy.
‘Who to?’ said Grandad. ‘Thames Conservancy? It won’t have any effect.’
Mummy smiled indulgently. ‘No – to the very top. The Queen.’
‘What? Little Betty Windsor? (Grandad always calls her that)
‘The very same,’ answered Mummy. ‘I know when she hears about the plight of the poor, deprived folk of Tunbridge Wells, a genuine plight – unlike those scroungers on Benefits Street – she’ll be moved by compassion to get something done about it.’
‘I mean, it’s not just the floods, last week that top dress designer shop was forced to close.’ She sighed. ‘I blame the scroungers, again,’ she said. ‘Enough money to fritter away on wide-screen TVs and take-away meals, too mean to support British entrepreneurial spirit and award winning designer dresses. Sooner save a few hundred pounds and go to Primark! And what do they replace Fiona’s Fashions with? Another Charity Shop.’
‘Stop’, said Grandad, rubbing his eyes and doing his mime of crying uncontrollably that he does regularly with little Sebastian. Mummy gave him a dark look. She’s never sure when Grandad is winding her up but I know: – it’s most of the time!
‘Oh come on, ‘ he said consolingly, ‘you’re still my favourite daughter.’ This winds her up even more: he has only two children – and the other one’s Uncle Simon.
Anyway there’s been little cheer in this house lately. I don’t know about you but my Christmas was pants. What with Grumpy Gramps banging on about kids being given far too many presents and the true meaning of Christmas being lost – at which point Mummy blew her top.
‘Oh, yes. We all know about what the true meaning of Christmas is for you. Lots of lovely food which I have to spend hours slaving over a hot oven to prepare. And it’s all washed down with booze leaving you in a more senseless state than you normally are.’ I thought Daddy might be moved to defend his father-in-law in the face of this withering attack but he was asleep.
Mummy was warming to her task. ‘It’s the same every year. You neither of you (here she glowered at Daddy – oblivious to her anger) lift a finger to help me in the kitchen. You chomp your way through an enormous lunch, settle down in front of the TV to poke fun at her Majesty who probably does more work in a week than both of you manage in a year, and then leave me a mountain of dirty plates for me to wash up. After that I have to endure fractious children (hey, hang on a moment, I thought. leave us out of it) and the noxious fumes of your combined farting, and belching, and burping. A nauseating blend of vile sounds and smells.’=
‘Why don’t you tell us what you really feel about Chistmas,’ said Grandad – hastily dodging the cushions and slippers aimed at his bald head.
This scene of domestic bliss (not) would have been bad enough but then there was the present-giving. More sensitive (adult?) readers will know that for children this is the true meaning of Christmas. Admittedly, Sophie and Sebastian didn’t come off too badly – more of that in a moment.
The grown-ups (that’s a laugh) didn’t seem to be ecstatic about their presents. Daddy gave Mummy 2 presents: one was a slow cooker. He joked about her being pretty slow in the kitchen generally so this would enable her to go the whole hog – though that might be better spit-roasted he added. Mummy clearly failed to appreciate either the present or the jokes.
The other present was a Dyson. Mummy told him where he could put the crevice tool attachment – a service she’d be very willing to perform for him. Oh dear, they’ll be tears before bedtime I thought.
Mummy gave Daddy a big box of chocolates and promptly eat them all.
I gave Sebastian a lovely Barbie doll. Sebastian gave me a bat and ball and a pair of boxing gloves. That’ll come in useful for punching your lights out I thought.
Mummy and Daddy gave Grandad M&S vouchers. He seemed chuffed to bits with those. He pleaded poverty for his presents to the family: ‘They’re largely things I made,’ he explained. Mummy got a vase he’d made at pottery class. Actually it wasn’t bad and I could tell Mummy was quite pleased with it. ‘It’s the thought that matters,’ she said – and I don’t think she was being sarcastic. He’d knitted Daddy a sweater with Santa and reindeer embroidered on it. It was several sizes too big for Daddy – perhaps Grandad’s pattern was for a bigger man, I thought. Again it was nicely made with good quality wool but I think Grandad enjoyed Daddy’s obvious embarrassment at having to wear it all over Christmas.
He gave me a decorated pin board on which I could put all my photos and, for Sebastian, a kind of board game which he said Sebastian and I could play together.
Grandad had already made it clear the only present he wanted from Seb and me was big cuddle and a kiss. Of course I was happy to oblige. In fact – like Seb – I’d already got him a jumbo box of Maltezers: he’s addicted to these but was rather conflicted by reports of sugar being ‘the No 1 Public Health Enemy as far a obesity and life-threatening diseases were concerned’. So he had to consume them secretly when he thought we weren’t watching.
Seb wasn’t at all happy about the kiss and cuddle. He’s going through that stage of being embarrassed about bodily contact so after kissing Grandad he ostentatiously wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Grandad told me my Uncle went through the same phase. Mummy giggled and I heard her whisper to Daddy: ‘We weren’t too worried about political correctness then and little bruvver used to say after kissing him, “Good night poofter”. He obviously thought that made it OK.’
Grandad’s been very absorbed in a book he’s reading and wants me to recommend it to the thousands of people who read this blog (and that includes Katie and the royal baby George – she has to read it to George, of course). Rather than me tell you about the book, How Did Long John Silver Lose his Leg? and Twenty-Six Other Mysteries of Children’s Literatureby Dennis Butts and Peter Hunt, I thought I’d hand over to Grandad. So here we go:
Thank you, Sophie. Well, one of the authors of this book is an old colleague of mine but I wouldn’t let friendship interfere with objectivity. It’s a rattling good read, and explores the mysteries thrown up by famous books older readers will remember with affection from their childhood. For example: how did Long John Silver lose his leg and acquire a parrot? And how Big was the Little House on the Prairie in the Laura Ingalls Wilder ‘Little House’ series? There are also chapters on whether Bobbie would have been able to stop the train in time in ‘The Railway Children’, and exactly how many adults were there in Winnie-the-Pooh?
The authors carry their learning lightly: in the chapter on Long John Silver, Dennis Butts speculates about the likelihood of Silver’s leg being amputated on board a ship (after a sea battle perhaps?). This leads on to fascinating – if gory – insights into the nature of surgical operations carried out on board a ship, sometimes in stormy conditions. Similarly, in Peter Hunt’s discussion of Bobbie’s flag-waving efforts to stop the train in the climax of ‘The Railway Children’, one is struck by his detailed knowledge of Great Western railway engines and the stopping distances of express trains weighing over 200 tons (could it really be less than 500 yards?) It raises suspicions he was once a youthful train-spotting nerd!
However, these essays escape all charges of nerd-ishness: the 26 short chapters of this book provide an entertaining, and quirky investigation of some of the enigmas posed by these perennial children’s favourites. Though it’s clearly targeting an audience of children’s literature teachers and students, the book willl also appeal to ordinary readers wanting to re-visit much-loved childhood books. And yes, it’ll allow them to revel in a bit of nostalgia.
Back to you, Sophie.
Thanks Grandad. I just dropped off for a while, but hopefully my ‘wrinkly’ readers stayed awake. How much commission are you on Gramps? [really, Sophie, that question is beneath contempt. I'm deeply offended]
Okay fans, now for a spot of Gove-bashing. Grandad’s made me realise the profound effect ‘The Poisoned Dwarf’ aka Michael Gove can have on my education – not just now but in the future.
Fortunately many of Mr Gove’s favourites (or ‘teacher’s pets’ as Gramps called them) are beginning to rebel against their evil master. A bit like those fallen angels rebelling against Satan, a voice in my ear suggests.
First: Ian Livingstone – who is ‘close’ to Michael Gove, and convinced him to redesign computer science lessons – attacked exams as ‘random memory’ tests:
‘People are forced to learn a multitude of facts, which are largely irrelevant, in order to pass these random memory tests which are basically a lottery – far more to do with league tables than learning,’ he said. ‘This was fine for the Victorian era but not now.’
Livingstone thinks if you don’t know something ‘you can always Google it’.
He believes primary schools are often better learning environments because they fit the way children “learn through play”. ‘When you get into secondary schools it all changes. You’re all required to sit still, work as individuals, no team work, no collaboration, no projects that can be assessed as a group – all doing the same thing. That’s out of touch with where kids are today.’
Grandad was jumping up and down when he read this, whooping ‘Three cheers for Dr Livingstone’.(Livingstone was recently awarded a CBE and wrote the very popular Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in the 80s, says Gramps)
Then the following week, another former ‘blue-eyed boy’ and Gove ‘big-hitter’, Sir Michael Wilshaw the Chief Inspector of Schools (!!!) was taking a swipe at his Master. He said education was being threatened by a ‘right-wing Blob’ (this sounds like one of those scary science-fiction films!) which wants ‘children to be lectured for six hours a day in serried ranks.’
‘Such rote learning is not enough to produce successful learners in the 21st century. ‘ Have Wilshaw and Livingstone been swapping notes in the exam room?
‘Kids in the Far East get good exam results but all the captains of industry come from the West’, he pointed out.
Kids don’t just need the skills and knowledge to pass exams, they need to be ‘given the opportunity to think for themselves, work in teams, and co-operate with others.’
Grandad and I looked at each other and came to the same conclusion: They’d been caught copying each other’s work in the exam! They were cheats!!
Then we did high fives, chanting: ‘We like cheats!’
Now if you’re thinking: Sophie is too wise and mature and knowledgeable even for a very precocious 5¾ years-old girl, I have to admit that Grandad does sometimes alert me to various items in the newspapers, and occasionally makes helpful suggestions about the wording of ideas. But basically, it’s all brilliant me. And he may be helpful on educational matters but he’s pants when it comes to the Royals!
For example, I think he envies the way Katie M. confides in me. Only the other day she texted me to say she was very worried about HM (the Queen). Poor Betty Windsor’s at her wit’s end trying to save money on her household bills. We’re all in this together, she told Katie, and it’s only right I make sacrifices too.
Apparently those mean MPs have told her she’s got to make cuts in her household allowance or ‘face an eviction order’. And nobody wants to see her thrown out of Buck House, do they?
But she broke down in tears when Katie visited her. ‘I’ve switched to shopping at Lidl, booked our next holiday at a Travel Lodge, and changed my energy provider,’ she wailed. ‘What more can I do?’
Ooh, bless. I’ll swear there was even a tear in Grandad’s eye when I told him.
Well, that’s all for now, folks! Tune in soon for my next blog.
PS From Daily Mail’s ‘Quotes of the Year':
‘Lager, Aga, Saga, Viagra, Gaga’ (Agony aunt Virginia Ironside describing the new 5 ages of man)