Educating Millie

When I think back on my childhood, it went on for absolutely ages. At least, like, 30 years, and I was at school for what felt like half my life. At least, in my memory it seems that way.

When you’re a grown-up things move a lot faster, and barely six years after starting primary school Millie’s getting ready to move up to big school. Einstein’s theory of relativity says time goes more slowly the faster you’re moving. And since children move a lot faster than big clumsy adults time passes more slowly for them.

Or something.

schoolAnyway, Millie’s in her last year of primary school so we’re now attending open evenings at local schools to find the right one for her.

In my day we didn’t have a choice where to go: “You’re off to Hreod Parkway in September” I was told, and that was that. Everyone I knew was told the same thing: FYI, pack your things, you’ve done Haydon Wick, kthxbye!

Now, it’s much more complicated. We get to choose where Millie goes.

Personally, I’d rather not. I’d prefer every school was kept at a half-decent standard and Millie just went to the nearest one – less paperwork for everyone concerned, no splitting friends up, just one open evening to attend, job done. But that’s not how it’s done now.

Which is why last week we spent an evening at Blackfen School for Girls for one of their open days. We were shown round the school by two polite and helpful pupils, met the staff and headmaster, saw the facilities and asked questions such as, er, well, nothing, really – your first open evening is all a bit strange and we didn’t really know what to look for or ask about.

Blackfen, as you might have guessed is s single-sex school. Both the Lovely Melanie and I went to mixed-sex schools and are a bit suspicious of single-sex schools. Although Auntie Kristine, the Lovely Melanie’s sister, went to a single-sex school and, er, she seems fine.

Apparently. ;-)

Millie asked about the point of single-sex schools, which was a good question. All I could muster was something about girls in the olden days often not being educated at all, or taught skills like deportment and sewing, while the boys went to learn rugby and Latin.

Before visiting Blackfen Millie was also sceptical about going somewhere with no boys at all, but it has a reputation as a good school, so we thought it worth a look.

Once you get over the single-sex thing (and it was weird to hear the headmaster only refer to “your daughters” and “the girls”) we were quite impressed – as was Millie. Her only reservations were about the sheer size of the place, but as we explained, it’s not called “big school” for nothing; Blackfen isn’t even particularly big, they’re all that size!

There are still four more schools to see in the area: only four, as Millie decided she didn’t want to sit the 11-plus exam. The Lovely Melanie didn’t want to pressure her and the headmaster explained children should only sit the 11-plus if they’re definitely grammar school material. Millie’s got the reading and writing chops for it, no question, but would struggle with the maths.

I was all for entering her for the exam – hell, why not? – but the headmaster specifically warned parents against this, saying it would be a lot of stress for nothing since there are so very few grammar school places available in Bexley.

When Millie told us she wasn’t interested in taking the exam either, we decided not to. She can go to a regular school just like both her parents did. :-)

Solidarity with Refugees

Millie and I marched in solidarity with Syrian refugees on Saturday (Amber had a friend’s birthday party which, sadly, trumps political consciousness-raising).

wpid-20150912_135257.jpgHaving been disgusted by the government’s response to the refugees fleeing war in Syria I felt we couldn’t just ignore it. Sure, we’ve donated to the charities and signed the online petitions, but there’s nothing quite as empowering as joining tens of thousands of other people on the streets.

“What’s the point?” you may ask, “How is this helping the thousands of refugees?”

I tried to explain it to Millie: we’re showing sympathy, showing we care, that there are a LOT of us who want to help somehow, and that just because the British government are happy to let them drown and suffer doesn’t mean the British people are.

She seemed happy with that.

It was a long walk and a lot of waiting around for a ten-year-old, but Millie surprised me with her patience. Not a single complaint the whole time we were waiting or walking. I was very proud of her.

We arrived at Marble Arch at midday, when the march was supposed to start. Due to the large turnout we didn’t really get moving until about 1.30 – which gave us a chance to eat our packed lunches sat on Park Lane (“Why is there nothing but hotels and car shops here?” asked Millie).

There was a nice atmosphere on the march, probably helped by the announcement that morning of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership contest. A bit of chanting, some drumming, the occasional soundsystem – all the usuals; and a proper mix of people – young, old, middle-aged, families,  ravers, Socialist Workers, etc.

It reminded me a lot of the Stop The War March back in 2003, only a bit smaller – still large, but nowhere near a million.

We didn’t hang around at the end for the speeches. Millie was tired and my bad hip was aching, so we carried straight on to the station and went home.

I was so proud of Millie that I let her choose any sweets she wanted from the newsagent. She chose a big bag of Twirl pieces and gobbled them all up in ten minutes! (the girl’s got an appetite on her at the moment – there’s a growth spurt a-comin’, mark my words!)

And on the way home we drew some funny pictures of other using my phone (see below – Daddy Pig and Scots Millie).

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Growing up

Woke up as usual this morning, grabbed my phone and opened FacebookTwitter and Reddit for news. As usual.

Then I heard Millie downstairs, singing. It could’ve been any song, but there she was, singing away to herself.

So I put the phone down and listened to my daughter singing. And happy.

It reminded me of the scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey asks if his daughter his happy, and the wonderful expression on his face when he’s told she is.

I loved that scene even before I was a dad. I love it even more now.

But later, taking both girls to school, was tinged with melancholy after I realised they no longer need me to wait with them for the gates to open.

A teacher comes to unlock the gates to the infants playground when school starts at 8.45, but the juniors’ gate is open from 8.30 onwards. Millie has been a junior for a few years now, but I still waited with Amber – we’d have a little chat, a laugh and a hug while we stood there in the rain and sun, summer and winter.

Now, they both go straight in. I only need walk to the school gates, give them a kiss, tell them I love them and to have a nice day, and off they go.

They’re growing up, and as much as it’s great getting lie-ins again and the freedom of not needing to keep an eye on them all the time…there’s a pang of regret that I’m not the centre of their world any more.

Larks in the mud (mudlarks!)

OK, so poking about in the mud on the banks of the Thames might not be everyone’s idea of a grand day out but the Carter family had a fascinating time doing this on Saturday.

The small bit of “beach” in front of the Tower Of London belongs to the Queen – 364 days of the year you’re trespassing if you go down there. On just one day of the year, for a couple of hours at low tide, the Queen graciously grants her subjects permission to…well, to poke about in the mud as part of the Totally Thames festival.

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This stretch of beach is a goldmine for mudlarks however, being off-limits 364 days of the year. So we visited these rather-less-than-golden sands, along with a few hundred others, to see what we could find.

Mudlarking these days is better organised than it used to be: you get gloves, a quick health and safety lecture and the help of some friendly volunteer experts to explain the things you might find.

I did wonder what the girls would make of it, neither of them is particularly “girlie” but…poking about in the river mud – it’s not exactly a trip to Alton Towers, is it?

As it turned out we all had a fascinating time, scanning the hundred metres of beach looking for “treasure”.

Clay pipe bowls

The eagle-eyed Lovely Melanie was quick off the mark, spotting the first of many tiny clay pipes – tobacco pipes, that is. These turned out to be two-a-penny, but then she spotted a bowl almost immediately, which was lucky – it was almost an hour before I found another.

Her bowl (the smaller white one in the picture) is probably Stuart or Tudor, so 400-odd years old. Mine, the larger, darker one, is most likely Victorian, so “only” 150 years old at best.

Millie was excited to find lots of pottery fragments, some of which were probably hundreds of years old, and quite a few bones and teeth – animals bones and teeth, that is – all stained black from their time in the water.

I was initially excited to find the metal wheel from a block and tackle, as well as some very rusty nails. Unfortunately, these were completely undateable because of all the corrosion (the Thames, being a tidal river, is quite salty, so things in it rust fast).

We spent about an hour on the beach, and then another 20 minutes showing our finds to the experts and chatting with them. I was disappointed not to find just one coin or similar item, but it was – somewhat unexpectedly – really good fun, and educational, too!

The Totally Thames festival continues for the rest of the month, but this was your only chance to hit the Tower beach this year…

Three great snaps

I snapped not one, not two but three great pictures last Friday (my final day of solo parenting these school summer holidays – this week they’re away at Grandma and Granddad’s).

The first two come from the South Bank – our go-to destination for boredom-busting free entertainment in London.

#1 – the girls drinking some crisps (no, of course they’re not really drinking crisps – we put our slushies inside crisp packets to keep our hands from getting too cold!)


#2 – the clay models we made at the free clay-making session. Mine is in the middle. The girls’ ones look so amazing because they cheated and used moulds for their heads.


And #3 – a stunning rainbow spotted over Bexley when we got home.


A beautiful end to a lovely day out. :-)

Bank Holiday busy-ness

I don’t seem to have any pictures of the girls in all their wedding finery over the weekend, which is a shame because they looked terribly grown up.

Both resisted the temptation to go for pink or frilly outfits, opting instead for more mature black – Millie even chose a trouser suit!

The wedding was that of the Lovely Melanie’s old university friend Wendy, and her fiancé Chris – brother of the husband of another old university friend, Jill. The wedding was down in Surrey, and quite impossible to get to without a car (which we don’t have). And it was a bank holiday weekend, so hiring a car was looking horrifically expensive (because we’d have to hire the car on Saturday and couldn’t take it back until Tuesday).

Fortunately, I had recently joined easyCar Club, which is one of these new business models where you can hire out your car when you’re not using it. It’s cheaper and more convenient, but most importantly, we could return the car at any time.

So it was that Saturday morning we were in Eltham, looking for a nice lady called Frances and her Renault Clio.

To cut a long story short, we found the car and got to the wedding without any problems. The wedding was lovely, and Millie danced pretty much the whole night away – even telling her mother what most of the songs were!

We were up early again on Sunday to return the car – another surprisingly easy experience, thanks Frances and easyCar Club!

wpid-20150830_184045_1920x1080.jpg After a wee nap to recover from the previous evening’s dance marathon we headed for a barbecue in Brockley, home of my old friend Jimmy Mac. Millie had been looking forward to this all week having fallen in love with Jimmy’s two labradors the previous weekend in Broadstairs. Here she is with them on Sunday.

Look at that smile – that’s a happy Millie. :-)

wpid-20150830_182024_1920x1080.jpgAmber spent most of the afternoon jumping on a huge red beanbag, and both of them were commissioned to draw portraits of the other guests.

The Lovely Melanie eventually took them – and herself – home to bed, while I stayed behind and the party really got started, so Monday was a bit of a washout.

Will I never learn…? ;-)