Beating Writer’s Block – tips by Alan Dapre

Pesky apostrophes.
Writer’s block affects one person but we all know WB affects all writers at some point so maybe Writers’ block is more accurate.

So how to cope with it? Easy. Never pick up a pen again and become a hermit atop a wind turbine. Hmm, that might make you dizzy and fall off.

I have no block today just an inability to concentrate due to a wee two year old blocking her tin teapot with plastic George and Peppa Pig toys every two minutes.

So how do I overcome Writers’ Block? …

  • I open a drawer and pull out a random object and write about that in a style of my choosing. Breathless Mills & Boon prose about a stapler anyone?
  • I write a list of things I dislike about my main character – and that seems to always generate some positives and add balance.
  • I get away from my computer keyboard and use a pencil and some post-its – sticking ideas into a small notebook. You can always remove the rubbish ones the next day.
  • I sniff the way forward by imagining what the location of my story smells like. Throw in unusual scents to generate a sense of place.
  • I give characters and places a potted history – no more than a paragraph written on the fly. (Just hope that the fly doesn’t buzz off.)
  • I ask a question – ‘Why?’ and try to think of a situation that gives me an answer.
  • I write a verb and get the computer synonym maker to chuck new words out at me – a different or unfamiliar word may get the character talking or acting in a different style.
  • I turn on the TV and grab a headline (one that is positive) and think about my characters and how they would react to it.
  • I write a note for my character – the sort you’d find left on a fridge.
  • I revisit first lines from books in my house – and play with them. This is best done after a few pints.
  • I time myself and try to write 200 words in 10 minutes – anything. Best shred it after.
  • I think about what my character most needs at the moment. Then I try to get it down, jousting its needs with other key characters.
  • I flip the issue over if it’s a problem that’s stumping me. If a character is too dull I try to make them too interesting but going OTT.
  • I nick ideas from friends & family either by telling them I’m stuck, or by eavesdropping on their conversations. Amazing what you can pick up and play with – just don’t use real names when it comes to publication.
  • I use rhyme – forcing myself to think of simple rhythmic sentences and, often, a narrative will come. Whether it is any good is besides the point.

The idea here is to just get something down … to clear the blockage. If one thing doesn’t work, try another. And if that does not work then, er, do a blog …

Works for me!

**Updated 29th Dec 2013**

 

Merry Christmas. My kids picture ebook is free 19, 20, 21 Dec 2013

It’s the time of year for sharing – and I’d like to share Wiggle Jiggle Free. Eggy Leggy is on promotion too.

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ – my picture story ebook is FREE to download on Amazon on 19th, 20th, 21st December 2013. (Kindle Edition)

Click HERE to go to Amazon UK
Click HERE to go to Amazon US

‘Eggy Leggy’ – my picture story ebook is on promotion on Amazon at a discount from 19th to 25th December 2013 

Click HERE to go to Amazon UK
Click HERE to go to Amazon US

Wiggle Jiggle Author Alan Dapre
Wiggle Jiggle Book 2

Free Dec 19th 20th 21st, 2013

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre
Eggy Leggy – picture book by Alan Dapre

Discounted from 19th to 25th Dec, 2013

The third ebook in my Wee Panda Bear Series is called Cuddle Muddle. Offered at a good price too, to complete the trilogy.

Cuddle Muddle Alan Dapre
Picture ebook by Alan Dapre

£1.92 on the amazon.co.uk site

Happy reading 🙂

Merry Christmas. My picture ebook is FREE on 19-21 December 2013 – Wiggle Jiggle x

A wee Christmas gift for all you Kindle owners, or anyone with Kindle software on a Mac or PC. It’s the time of year for sharing – and I’d like to share Wiggle Jiggle Free. Eggy Leggy is on promotion too.

‘Wiggle Jiggle’ – my picture story ebook is FREE to download on Amazon on 19th, 20th, 21st December 2013. (Kindle Edition)

Click HERE to go to Amazon UK
Click HERE to go to Amazon US

‘Eggy Leggy’ – my picture story ebook is on promotion on Amazon at a discount from 19th to 25th December 2013 

Click HERE to go to Amazon UK
Click HERE to go to Amazon US

Wiggle Jiggle Author Alan Dapre

Wiggle Jiggle Book 2
Free Dec 19th 20th 21st, 2013

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre

Eggy Leggy – picture book by Alan Dapre
Discounted from 19th to 25th Dec, 2013

The third ebook in my Wee Panda Bear Series is called Cuddle Muddle. Offered at a good price too, to complete the trilogy.

Cuddle Muddle Alan Dapre

Picture ebook by Alan Dapre
£1.92 on the amazon.co.uk site

Happy reading 🙂

Lumos – raising money for institutionalised children this Christmas (2013)

Further to my blog about Lumos – the charity chaired by J.K. Rowling – I thought I’d share more about what it is trying to do.

‘Across the globe 8 million children are living in institutions that deny them individual love and care. More than 90% are not orphans. They are separated from their families because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority. As a result, many suffer lifelong physical and emotional harm.

Many children are institutionalised because local schools are not adapted to teach children with physical or learning disabilities and local health services cannot provide specialised care. Social services are insufficient to meet the needs of poor families or protect children from abuse.

Decision makers resist closing institutions because they cannot imagine a system of family based care and lack the resources to fund and manage the change. Personnel resist for fear of losing their jobs. Stigma attached to children in care makes communities reluctant to accept them.’

The above quotes are from the Lumos website –  wearelumos.org. The name Lumos comes from the spell in the Harry Potter books that causes light to beam from the spell-caster’s wand.

I assume that Lumos exists to shine a light on troubled children, showing the world they exist, and starting a process to free them from the all encompassing darkness.

No child should grow up never knowing what it is to be loved and hugged, nurtured and supported. When a child is born, its mother continues to offer warmth, nutrition and a comforting heartbeat, wrapping her child in love. Or so it should be. Sadly, too many children are rejected and find themselves institutionalised – thus losing the bond they crave.

J.K. Rowling is passionate about supporting such trapped children, wherever they are in the world. She has given the proceeds of her book ‘The Tales Of Beedle The Bard’ to Lumos – so the charity can keep on helping children.

Click here for a video where she talks about her book and the work of Lumos.

I love the fact the people at Lumos care so much for children they have never met. Maybe you can help too?

Lumos are inviting people to donate a small amount – ‘We urgently need funds this Christmas to continue our emergency intervention work with extremely vulnerable children and give them a chance to move out of an institution and into a caring family environment.’

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Loving and Giving…

If you wish to make a donation then click here to go to the Lumos website.

Lumos – a charity dedicated to getting children out of institutions :)

 

Lumos is about hope, fairness and giving children a chance in life. Click here to find out more.

What Lumos does.

J.K. Rowling is the founder and chair of Lumos – her Harry Potter stories gave children hope. That lost children can be found again.

I have an admission to make – back in 1997 I stopped reading the first edition of the first Harry Potter book when I got to the casual abuse Harry received from his foster family – the Dursleys. He reminded me of Mr L (name protected – but you know who you are!) a PE teacher I once had who grabbed me by the throat and lifted me off the shower room floor and slammed me against the tiles because I quietly refused to do PE. If Mr L had bothered to ask why he might have learned about the energy sapping name calling, the constant bullying from teenage so-called friends. I have dipped into the books since, and watched all the films. I love a happy ending!

I now live in Scotland, far away from where I grew up. It was not deliberate, and came about through my wife’s change of job. I spend my time writing and painting and being a dad. And I couldn’t be happier. As I say, I love a happy ending.

alan dapre view of arran oil painting

View Of Arran – Alan Dapré

There may be no life in Institutions but there is life after them…

Website of Alan Dapré

Sunset or sunrise? You decide…

 

So my daughter will have to work ’til she’s 77?

Thanks George Osborne. I don’t see myself as a particularly political animal. I tend to vote for policies not parties. I’m fairly liberal-minded – well, I was until Nick Clegg made it a dirty word. All parties have their (few) successes and their complete and utter ‘what were they thinking’ disasters. The Bedroom Tax is a disastrous idea, as was Gordon Brown flogging off the national silver (gold actually).

Two days ago, we had gout ridden Torys whooping and a hollering during the 2013 Autumn Statement – thrilled beyond belief that they have faced down Austerity and made the world a better place. Ignoring the fact that anyone born after 1990 will have to work ’til they drop. If you have a manual job then you had better hope your health lasts for sixty years. It’s okay for Politicians – they only have to stand a bit before getting into their 1st class train carriages or chauffeur driven limos.

 

Though the poor dears do have to cope with all the hassle of flipping their properties so they can then rent out at £10,000 a month. (Nice if you can get it, eh George?) Most of us don’t have whopping great Trust Funds (or houses registered abroad, mentioning no names – Maggie). So we have to grind our way through life building up assets.

Get a pension, I was told – it’ll come in handy when you retire early at 58. The reality is that I got a pension so someone could cream off excessive charges and eat away the dwindling pot. And politicians could keep changing the rules so I get less anyway.

To see George Osborne declaim that he has been right all along made me almost as red in the face as Ed Balls – who bears not a little responsibility for the mess we are in as he advocated easing bank regulation, paving the way for the financial crash.

My daughter is going to suffer because some ‘elected by default’, trust funded, Bullingdon Club joining, tax avoiding, over privileged politicians have deemed it appropriate action. Yes. £500 Billion will be saved by this action in the next 50 years, but we should have been tougher on the Bankers & their Bonuses culture. They are still raking it in while little kids starve. 170% rise in people using Food Banks in the past 12 months.

Yet still they fuel the house market – letting rich people buy big houses with help from the rest of us. Stoking up a market that helped cause the last crash.

All this closing of libraries, shutting of hospitals, privatising assets we already own, etc, is so we can reduce the deficit. We are not going to reduce the National Debt though which will apparently hit 1.5 trillion by 2019. That is reckoned to be a low estimate and some say the real figure is multi trillions when the UK’s indebtedness to credit cards is taken into account. The finance sector has trillions of debt too but seems able to create money from nothing, with help from the Bank Of England…bonkers.

Makes me rather angry that little kids suffer through ill thought out policies. My child will have to pick up the pieces from all this. And yours…

eBooks for sale by J R Hartley, I mean Alan Dapré

Do you remember that advert where an old man rings round bookshops until he smiles – puts on his hat – and nips out the door? He is looking for a book by J. R. Hartley and the twist is he is after his own book. 

jr hartley - yellow pages

Well, that wouldn’t happen these days – now that online booksellers are on the scene. He would just have to do a quick Google or Yahoo (is that now a noun too?) and his dusty old book would appear. Selling second-hand on the Used section of Amazon.

It wouldn’t be long before he could read his masterpiece at home, his heart richer and his wallet poorer by £0.01…

It is weird seeing my 63 books selling online. Many are still being sold by the original publishers but some are second/third/fourth-hand and making an income for online sellers. I wish there was a way that I could retain a 10% percentage of such sales but perhaps getting £0.001 is probably not worth it. Of course, some are advertised for ridiculous prices such as £27.79.

So it makes sense for me to try and compete and sell a few books online myself. That brings me to – Cuddle MuddleWiggle Jiggle & Eggy Leggy. Three books for preschoolers, each sporting a playful rhyme and funny narrative.

If you believe in supporting good writing and have a cute pre-schooler who needs a cute ebook then why not give my ebooks a try? I’ve made them dirt cheap – and it would be great to have them read & reviewed.

Click the links to see my colourful illustrations – oh, and a loveable Panda who just needs a Cuddle 😉

P0_Cover_Cuddle_Muddle_4608_3072_uncropped

Cuddle Muddle Wee Panda Bear tumbles out of bed and needs a Big Bear cuddle, but without her wee black glasses she gets in a cuddle muddle! First she hugs a hippo then cuddles a surprised croc! Until she gets a big Bear cuddle … cute sleepy wee bear just won’t stop!’

Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (UK link)
Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle  (US link)

SCT0_KF8_WJCover_EXT_600_863_126kb_72r_TITLE_MASTER_USED

Wiggle  Jiggle – It’s Wee Panda Bear’s Birthday and she has grown an inch in the night. She wiggles and jiggles but her black coat is too tight. When no friends come to play Wee Bear sets off to find them, but nobody is at home. She goes back to her room full of gloom … and gets a brilliant surprise.
‘Wiggle Jiggle’ –  available on kindle (UK link)
‘Wiggle Jiggle’ – available on kindle  (US link)

 

Eggy Leggy - picture book by Alan Dapre
Eggy Leggy – Wee Panda Bear finds a big egg that suddenly sprouts legs and runs off. It surprises Croc and sails over Snail, buzzes by Bee and bounces on Hippo. Soon Eggy Leggy is stuck in a tree so Wee Bear hatches a plan to set her free. And find out who is inside.

‘Eggy Leggy’ –  available on kindle (UK link)
‘Eggy Leggy’ – available on kindle  (US link)

Captcha? – Captcharrgghhhh!

It’s bad enough not remembering a password and having to drag it out of the back of my memory. Even worse when I can’t fathom if it needs a capital in there somewhere or a number, or both, or neither. Or…

It’s worse still when I riff on a certain word and have unlimited variants on a theme – Bond 007, 007Bond, 007boND, etc.

So it gets beyond frustrating when that irritating Captcha page pops up and I have to type in some unreadable scrawl … You know, the ones that look like this:

captcha

 

I appreciate this is all part of a website’s security, and possibly/maybe/perhaps is for my benefit so that my profile/page doesn’t get hacked by the NSA or FBI or B&Q.

But it is truly annoying. Usually the words I am meant to read and type in are written in pairs – one is readable and the other is from Mars or beyond – scrawled in some alien language with symbols my keyboard won’t recognise.

I then spend the next ten minutes clicking the Captcha reset button trying to come up with words that I can decipher and type in. Eventually the computer gets bored and tells me that I am not who I am and that I have to wait ten minutes/an hour/eternity to have another try. By then I am equally bored and have decided that updating WordPress or browsing Facebook is not a priority.

Sometimes I am desperate and resort to a list of passwords that I keep far away from my computer – somewhere mere mortals cannot access – like Waitrose. Sadly this list is on a crumpled piece of A4 covered with faded printed lettering and appalling handwriting.

Handwriting that is even worse than the scribble displayed by Captcha. I sit for hours trying to decipher my writing, unfathomably scrawled in pencil and now fading  out of existence. Why haven’t I allowed my iMac to remember my passwords? I mutter. Because I don’t trust computers, that’s why.

I am nearly half a century old and like paper too much – it feels far more permanent. I have had too many backup discs fail on me to allow electronic trickery to do my remembering for me.

So I am now saddled with incomprehensible scrawl on some creased A4 and equally bad scrawl on my computer screen. And still the Captcha thingy won’t relent. It mocks my very being, tugs at my patience and silently chastises me for being so forgetful.

Why can’t someone invent something better? A clear system with easily inputted security measures. I can’t wait for the day when all the computer has to do is scan my unique eyeballs/nostrils/buttocks to let me in.

No more will I rant at an inanimate screen or slam my mouse down so hard it squeaks. But that’s a dream not for today, but for…

tomo copy

School daze.

Two minutes into her first day at Big School and my daughter gets a big graze on her knee. Off we go to the medical room for some tender care from a helpful teaching assistant. Of course, only water is used to wash the grit out – it’s been a longstanding policy of schools not to use antiseptic creams. As a former Health and Safety Rep at school, I have never really understood why there’s such a broad brush approach. The usual reason is that some kids react badly to creams. My view is that if they help stop bugs getting into a wound then use them. I’d happily sign a form to that effect.

Many years ago, while still teaching, I was advised/ordered not to use Vaseline ON PAIN OF DEATH … and woe betide any teacher who slapped on a plaster.

Things must have changed a bit as Isla got a plaster – phew – which kept her new white socks clean… and she hobbled off to join her new class. Accidents will happen. And the plaster came off painlessly in the bath later that evening.

A few days later, she was back in the centre again after a passing boy decided to give her a push. She said she was just walking along in the playground when it happened out of the blue. Not sure why bigger kids want to target little ones – it seemed like a spur of the moment thing, not sustained bullying. That said, if a kid pushes lots of different children then there’s probably some issues – and need for tissues. At the end of school, Isla showed off a fresh plaster covering her new graze on a graze. Ouch.

Chatting to other parents, the consensus was that ‘these things happen.’ Children get pushed, mud gets thrown, etc. It is part of playground life and kids have to get used to it. I suppose whether this becomes an issue or not is down to how much time school staff have to be detectives.

I remember it sometimes took ages finding out who had done what during a break time, with valuable lesson time used up in the process. Based on my knowledge of the children I could generally get to the truth. It was then a matter of deciding if the situation was serious enough to tell the parents. Some were desperate to hear about every tiny incident, while other were extremely relaxed.

I suppose, as a Dad, I am somewhere in the middle. I don’t want to go up to the Office every time something happens, but I’d like to be informed about the big stuff. There is a system in place just for that. Texts are sent to parents when head injuries, fractures, etc occur. And stickers are sent home saying that a child has received medical aid that day. All very sensible.

Bad stuff happens in schools and outside of schools. It’s how we respond to it that matters.  That way bullies get dealt with effectively. A recent study suggested that bullies who get away with bullying grow up unaffected by their actions, while victim-turned-bullies have issues.

BBC Bullying Damages Adult Life
Warwick University – Bullying Studies

Obviously those bullied  have problems too, often with self-esteem and confidence which can lead to lack of job promotion and suchlike.

I’m writing this happy in the knowledge that my daughter is in good hands. She knows that the staff are there for her if she has a problem. I just have to pick up the phone. I shall try not to. The last thing my daughter needs is a Dad peering through the window and trying to solve all of life’s ups and downs for her. Far better for me to stand behind the white line and let her get on and deal with stuff her own way. I suppose all this is really about me letting go. Not easy after 4 and a half years.

Isn’t that what life, and school, is all about?

 

A brush with the past.

Yesterday, I accidentally head-butted a tree branch while laying down garden gravel. A few days ago, I burnt my arm on the metal edge of my hot waffle maker. A month back, I smashed a lump hammer into my left thumb knuckle, while last year I mashed my little toe against a rendered wall. All rather painful and rather par for the course.

I have Clumsy Adult Syndrome. I wheel about like Matt Smith in Dr Who and end up bashing into things. I once cleared a table of full beer glasses with my flailing arms while dancing in a nightclub. I remember slicing down into my middle finger with a Stanley knife  at least a centimetre. When I tried to play guitar a few weeks later my split fingernail caught in the strings and ripped off.

I suppose the most dangerous clumsy thing occurred when I jumped off the steps of a bus. I cracked my head on the door lintel and fell onto the pavement, minus glasses. They were under the far side of the bus by a rear wheel. I shouted to the driver to wait and ducked under the chassis. I retrieved the glasses and scrambled back, head inches from the nearside wheel. As I sat up, the bus pulled away and a passenger said. ‘He didn’t hear you mate.’ I was lucky – just a heartbeat away from being roadkill.

Was I always this clumsy? Well, yes.

I never made it into the school first team for Football. I was a defender, big and stocky. Often too late in my tackles though to be any good. As for Rugby, I could bring down an ox but I was rubbish at getting into the right positions. I liked Cricket and could whack the ball miles – the few times my bat actually connected with the ball. I never made it into the reserves. I consoled myself by doing track and field events in Athletics. Shot Putting was a good choice, though I once dropped it on my toe. Very painful, but not as painful as Pole Vaulting a height of seven foot and landing on the rim of the concrete sand pit instead of the crash mat.

My fine motor skills are excellent and I can create oil paintings and sketches with a good level of skill. My gross motor skills are useless.

As a kid I fell off my bike, out of trees, etc.   I didn’t feel all that clumsy, though people would remark on it occasionally. Cycling into the back of a Black Maria police van got quite a mention. As did accidentally pulling the handlebars off my bike while on a steep hill…I rolled backwards down the slope and ended in a wheel-spinning heap at the bottom.

In my pre-school years I lost all the nails on one foot by opening a door onto them then pushing it away. The sight of five throbbing squashy toes is one I remember to this day. Falling off the top of a bunk-bed is another memory. Actually I have quite a few memories of doing that.

So what can I put all this clumsiness down to? Did I have Dyspraxia? – Clumsy Child Syndrome. Part of the condition is that children might have trouble speaking and I didn’t talk until I was two. Or maybe it was due to the fact that I wasn’t getting proper physical stimulation as a baby and toddler, left to one side in a large Foster family. My social worker often found me dumped outside in a pram unsupervised, regardless of the weather.

I don’t want to make excuses. but I would like to make it through the day without breaking things.  My wife has lost nearly all her precious mementos of trips abroad. I once picked up a Kenyan figurine and accidentally dropped it, breaking its neck. I balanced the head back on the body and apologetically offered to glue it on – whereupon it fell off and shattered into smithereens. Now our souvenirs tend to be plastic fridge magnets that will hopefully last the test of time.

I have heard that clumsy children can be helpedby a process called ‘Brushing’. A friend tried it on his child with good results. I am not sure if any scientific studies have taken place so it is all a bit hearsay. Apparently, brushing limbs and fingers stimulates the nerve endings and gets a child aware of their body and its place in space.

A similar touching technique is used on animals to get them aware of their bodies too. Look up ‘Tellington Touch’ – it worked on our bonkers dog. You place the fingertips of one hand lightly on the fur and slowly make circles clockwise – going round ‘an hour and twenty minutes’ then you lift off and lightly repeat nearby. This calms the animal and, if done on limbs, gets them aware of their limbs. Skye loves it – and will immediately go catatonic – or should that be dogatonic?

I was determined that my wee girl wouldn’t end up as clumsy as her dad so she received regular baby massage until she became a wriggly toddler. These days my daughter is encouraged to play outdoors in adventure playgrounds…(we went to three different ones yesterday!) Plus she goes to Gymnastics and is learning to swim. Today we’ll be in the local pool and I’ll try not to fall in.

Er, but that’s another story for another day…

Cereal Mash-Ups – a tasty way to start the day

Youngsters today mash up their music, mixing two tracks to make a third.

Well, oldsters like me mash up their cereal. I have done since my student days when I discovered that Alpen tasted better mixed with sugar puffs. These days I push the boundaries and mix porridge oats, mini-shredded wheat and shreddies – shreddies as in extra-fresh out of the box rectangular pieces of malty goodness rather than extra-stale off the floor underpants.

Sometimes I break new territory and add AllBran to the cereal mix. Though I think things tend to go pear-shaped when five cereals are mixed together. Too much wheatiness in one bowl for my liking – a sure fire trigger for IBS – Irritable Bowl/Bowel Syndrome?

Sometimes I really do mash my cereals up (before adding milk) to recreate that bottom of the packet experience. There is nothing better than pouring on a crunchy wave of crushed Weetabix/Shredded Wheat/Bran flakes, etc., then flooding the bowl with milk. I never use skimmed milk – makes the whole thing too unappetising. I try to ensure that one of the cereals I’m using has a certain sweetness to enhance the other cereals. Though there are exceptions such as Rolled oats + Puffed Wheat + All Bran = slightly bitter, crunchy texture.

Other mighty mash ups include:

Rolled Oats, Bran Flakes, Cheerios (for extra sweetness)
Muesli, Cornflakes and Rice Crispies (for extra crunch)
Cheerios, Sugar Puffs and Frosted Flakes (for an extra trip to the dentist!)
Mini Shredded Wheat, Curiously Cinnamon, Rolled Oats (for extra spice)

Now my daughter has cottoned on to the benefits of creative cereal making. Each morning I put out five or so cereal packets and she selects her favourites du jour. This morning starred Rolled Oats, Shreddies and Cheerios. The Cheerios are actually Morrison’s own brand which lowered the goodness a little. Why are the supermarket own brand cereals always full of extra salt and sugar compared to the original brands?

I spend ages comparing the packets to see if an own brand is better. This is made harder when portions are deemed to be 30g or 45g. I have to browse the 100g column and compare from that.

As I said earlier, my preference is to have only one sweet cereal in the mix. I offer a word of warning. Never add a chocolate cereal to any others. The chocolate seeps into the milk and turns everything chocolately – not a nice chocolate taste but a sickly over sweet one – as if I’m licking a bar of cooking chocolate.

Today I noticed we had run out of Bran Flakes, the mini-shredded wheat had gone stale (thanks to our new £2 containers from ASDA that don’t shut properly) and the Honey Hoops are soft. It doesn’t bode well for tomorrow.

Scrambled egg on toast will be on tomorrow’s morning menu. With added beans and mushrooms. All mashed up. Mmmmm.

I wonder what the wee one will make of that?

 

 

 

Wimbledon’t. Things Dads Really Say To Daughters…

John Inverdale, BBC Sports commentator, put both feet in his mouth when he started to describe the looks of Marion Bartoli, 2013 Wimbledon Women’s Singles Winner.

He said – and I quote from The Guardian – “I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker… You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5 feet 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that… You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen.'”

Oops. Okay, maybe he was trying to say that winning Wimbledon requires effort not looks – and that today’s Media is obsessed with each player’s appearance. I’d expect a commentator to get his words right but live TV does strange things to people.

wimbledon

Marion Bartoli’s father leapt to her defence and stressed his daughter was beautiful and he had always had an unbelievable relationship with her. Well said, Dad.

I think my little girl is beautiful, in personality and looks. The positive, caring way she acts around others fills me with pride. Okay there may be the odd falling out with friends but that is part of growing up – and a small child has to learn by her mistakes. She did not ask to come into this world. It was a choice Kate and I made, wishing to be parents.

With no mother or father on the scene, I grew up looking longingly at my friends. They had Mums and Dad and loving homes to go to. Meanwhile, I had a children’s home that favoured beating children with wire brush handles or filling their mouths with bars of white soap.

It’s with that in mind that I strive to be a good Dad. I want to encourage my daughter to try new things, to express herself freely and to empathise with others. I really don’t care what job she does when she grows up, rather that she is happy doing it – whatever it is. I am keen to help prepare her for the Big Bad World after school – to give her experiences that build her confidence and communication skills. I want her to aim for the stars and not to worry if she only gets as far as the M8 outside Glasgow.

If my daughter does her best then that’s all I can ask. There is no point pushing a child or young adult in one direction as they’ll only go in the other, or end up feeling resentful. Obviously, Marion Bartoli was encouraged to try tennis. She excelled and is now at the pinnacle of her sport. She seems very happy with that – as does her father.

So John Inverdale really got it wrong when he imagined that a father would point out all his daughter’s faults as a way of offering encouragement and support. Any Dad stupid enough to criticise his daughter’s looks would only have to glance in the mirror to see where they came from.

When my daughter is in her teens I will dig up this blog post and invite her to read it. I want her to know that whatever the future holds I will be there. I will challenge her to try new things, to push herself and to see things from the point of view of other people.

Most of all I will say –

“Go For It. Whatever it is. Be the best you can be. Be yourself. Be happy. Know that we are behind you, ready to support you if you fall. Know you are loved.  That you are never alone. That Life is for Living.”

Then I will say Dad stuff like  – “Tidy Your Room Before Your Mother Sees It, Do You Really Need A Boyfriend/Car? Are You Actually Going Out In That?”

And she’ll just say. ‘Oh Daaaaad!’ and get on with her own thing.

Like she does now 🙂

 

Village Nursery Stories …

My daughter left the Village Nursery school today. Really left it. After a hectic morning of bouncing on an inflatable castle, eating party food and singing songs. (Yesterday she spent ages carefully covering her black plimsols with glitter to ensure they sparkled at the party.) Today she chose a pretty frock that matched her glasses.

Parents were welcomed in early and listened while the children riffed on a theme and sang an emotional song called, ‘We’re on this road’ – about them starting on a journey through Big School and beyond. First heard by me at the class graduation last Wednesday. By the last verse, teary-eyed Mums were quietly crying as granite faced Dads with quivering lips took a sudden interest in the rain-streaked view of the car park.

Isla began Nursery the week after her 2nd birthday. She was just a wee totie thing with a cheeky smile. The years flew by, punctuated with process reports, good natured banter with teachers and my growing appreciation of the dedication shown by all staff at the West Kilbride Village Nursery. As you may know, I’m a former Deputy Head and rather cynical about school and nursery reputations. For instance, I have been in beacon schools where fiery Head Teachers are easily put out when quizzed about actual attainment and pupil well-being. So I am not easily swayed by glossy school websites and thick folders full of a so-called Curriculum for Excellence. What matters is how the staff treat my child. How they interact and informally educate, gently building on her skills and interests.

West Kilbride Village Nursery certainly did that. My admiration for the teaching staff at the Village Nursery now runs deep, specifically Mrs England and Mrs Masson. Two outstanding professionals who deserve praise, and whopping great bonuses. Isla’s Folder of Attainment that she brought home last night was equally deep, crammed with photos and paintings, stories and, yes, interesting  statistics. She loved the topic about Vikings and enjoyed learning all about Pirates.

copyright West Kilbride Village Nursery

Pirate Ship at West Kilbride Village Nursery

What I like most about the folder’s content is that the teachers’ comments are considered, accurately reflect my child and show a real empathy. I can tell the staff have engaged well with my daughter, are interested in what makes her tick, and have really tried hard to motivate her in a range of subjects and situations. She has developed her understanding of things through active learning in partnership with the Village Nursery. I see no evidence of force feeding, rather a series of gentle nudges in various directions.

My wife and I didn’t want our child’s formal education starting early and sapping her natural creativity. We wanted her to really come into class each day buzzing with excitement. And she did. If ever there were issues they were sorted promptly.

Our daughter shed a few tears recently, being rather hesitant about going to Big School. After her latest visit there, to the local Primary school, it really did all seem BIG. Big classes, big rooms, big playgrounds, big everything.  But I got good vibes and reckon she is the type who will settle down – and, hey, be destined for big things.

The thing is, as long as she’s happy that’s what matters. I really believe that. As for my early years, I didn’t get heaps of parental support. Er, none in fact. It would have helped to have had two parents present. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out for me if I’d been in a traditional home instead of a foster home run by a woman who looked, and acted, like Mrs Twit. A mawkish bully with a cruel streak that ran through her like blood red letters through a stick of Margate rock.

I made a point of saying farewell to Angela Pisani, who runs the Village Nursery with care and dedication. She battles daily against loads of paperwork, funding issues and educational commitments, all the while raising the bar for kids’ learning. The Village Nursery has a mission to provide high quality child care in West Kilbride. In my opinion they do just that.The indoor classrooms are bright, busy and fun places to explore. The outdoor trips children go on are entertaining and well-matched to children’s needs. On Isla’s last visit to the Glen she swung on ropes, fished in the burn, made potions, played in hammocks and ate marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate digestives. Brilliant stuff.

Now how do I match that during the lo-o-ong Summer holiday? I wonder if the teachers’ want something to do on their time off?

***

A few hours after Isla left she spotted some of the staff in a nearby car park.
‘Look Daddy. There are my old teachers.’

Bring on the new.

 

 

Boys’ and Girls’ toys.The tyranny of Blue & Pink.

I’ve just come back from a local discount store, my arms full of gardening equipment and my head full of questions. While shopping, I overheard a woman speaking into her mobile phone – loud enough for the whole store to overhear.

‘Hmm, I’m still not sure what to get… What about an assault rifle?’
Long pause.
‘There’s one here.’
Pause.
‘No. It’s made of plastic. It doesn’t fire bullets…’
Pause.
‘…which I suppose is better.’

Yeah – that’s true. Funnily enough, I don’t really want the Toy aisles stocking working AK47s and belts of live bullets. Doesn’t seem right somehow. Maybe in the US, eh?

She’s in the Toy aisle of B&M. The boys’ toys aisle. The girls’ aisle is a row of eye-aching pinkness, stacked with cheap dolls and nail painting sets. The boys meanwhile have Dr Who, Ben 10 and bow & arrow sets.

A few days ago I was walking down one aisle with Isla who said, ‘I don’t want these toys. They’re boys’ toys.’
I explained that there was no such thing, despite us being faced with a long wall of blueness.
I don’t want a Dalek,’ says Isla.
But you’d like a skateboard,’ I say.
She nods.
‘So skateboards are for girls too.’
‘I think I would like a pink one. Look.’
She goes down a new aisle and points out a Hello Kitty Mini PINK skateboard.
‘That’s pink.’
‘Certainly is.’ I am pleasantly surprised to see it lurking amongst all the Polly Pockets and Disney Princesses dolls. ‘Sure you don’t want a blue one?’
‘No daddy. Pink is for girls.’
Argghhh.
My daughter’s actually said it. For the past 4 years I have been trying to be gender neutral. She has had Fireman Sam and Cinderella dressing up clothes. A Doctor’s medic set too. There’s a wooden train set, a dolls’ house, a Playmobil Pirate Ship ….

girl and pirate ship copyright alan dapre

Girls don’t always want pink. Photo copyright Alan Dapre

basically a real mix of toys. Yet Isla now equates pink with girls and blue with boys.

I blame the advertisers – the sort who have have girls lip-synching along whilst skipping about in Lelly Kelly shoes. The sort who show boys playing with transforming cars and girls playing with sparkly pink ponies.

I ask Isla what she thinks about toys for boys and girls.
‘Well, Daddy…a Ben 10 torch is for boys but I like torches and you have a torch so I can use that.’
‘Would a boy like one of your dolls?’
Isla giggles.
‘We could play swing ball. James likes swing ball and I like swing ball.’
‘There are no such things as just toys for girls or boys. You can play with what you like,’ I say, with poor grammar but good intentions.
Isla spies a pump action water gun. It is too much like an assault rifle for my liking.
‘That’s not a nice toy.’
‘But you said it’s for girls too.’
‘It’s for warm sunny days and we don’t get many in Scotland.’
Isla nods.
‘Now what shall we get your friends for their birthdays?’ I say, changing the subject.
‘Those.’
I shrug and take two Disney Princess money boxes to the tills. At least they are the Paint-Your-Own variety. The girls will love them.
Not sure I do.

***

Here’s an interesting study from 2005…

http://web.mit.edu/2.00b/www/documents/ToyGender.pdf