I love Disney as much as the next person. In fact, it verges on obsession. I’ve collected the animated films. I’ve read Walt Disney’s biography. I’ve dragged my cousin through the Disney Family Museum. I noticed Jenny’s bear in The Rescuers has a striking resemblance to Winnie the Pooh and that the tea set in Tarzan looks like the same one from Beauty and the Beast before the teapot was anthropomorphised into Mrs Potts. I’ve been to two of the Disney theme parks (granted a proper obsessive would have been to all of them – I’ve not been to the parks in Florida).
However, The Florida Project was an eye-opening, juxtaposing jolt of the disparity between the rich and poor surrounding the consumerist culture lying in the wake of the Disney parks and, for that matter, the entire company. The desperation and depravation of the young protagonists was enough to put you off your discontinued Kellogg’s Buzz Blasts cereal. The discount outlet selling knockoff Disney merchandise across from the dilapidated motel where Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) live, may well motivate you to run your plush Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear through the garden shredder.
Moonee is barely school-age and is running around the motel like an anti-Disney Mowgli. Instead of being raised by wolves, she’s being raised by the fringe dwellers of the Disney World who are foul-mouths, prostitutes, drug takers, drug dealers, petty criminals and drop-kicks. It’s truly the seedy underbelly of the Disney experience and a sad reality of how far things are from the EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) concept, which Walt dreamed up for the purpose of avoiding the usual pollution and dangers of an urban city. The land allocated for EPCOT inevitably became the hedonistic sanctuary of multiple Disney theme parks and resorts.
The Florida Project is highlighting this. But it’s equally a cry for help and portrait of strong humans fighting against the adversity that is struck down upon them. Moonee’s mother is a child herself. The desperation from these characters is too real. It reflects too many children inhabiting our cities and schools. These sorts of pressures should not be put upon them. Their childhoods are being stolen. They are being judged by adults (like when other parents in the precinct refuse to let their children associate with Moonee). Where is their adult compassion? There are adults who appear to actually hate kids (proper hate – unlike the author of this ironically titled blog). The sole adult who shows protectiveness and care is the manager (Willem Dafoe) of The Magic Castle Motel. Even he reaches breaking point when he discovers Halley servicing clients in her room and nicking their park passes to hawk off in carparks. He digs deep to find empathy. They are kids after all. They should not be cast out to survive alone. We must nurture and keep them. This film should remind us, not shock us. The inevitable end potentially reminds us of the escapist value of a world such as Disney’s. It is only that the real and the fantasy worlds should not be so far apart.
Friday saw children across the world walking out of schools to spend the day protesting their governments’ approaches to dealing with Climate Change and the impending doom awaiting us as the ice caps melt. Climate Change is real, but eyebrows have been raised over the effectiveness and appropriateness of children sacrificing a day of their education to hold a protest.
Is it their democratic right? Is it truancy? Is it making a stand? Are they puppets for their left-wing parents’ views? Should non-voters be involved in the policy making process? Are protests an effective way to affect change?
Many questions were raised. Few were answered. Let’s see what happened.
Greta Thunberg – The brains behind Climate Strike
The media have traced the climate strike back to Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg. She originally sat outside the Swedish parliament in the lead up to their parliamentary elections in October 2018, skipping school in favour of protesting against the Swedish government not reducing its carbon emissions. She wasn’t a complete nobody. Her mother is Melana Ernman is a famous Swedish opera singer and her father Svante Thunberg appeared in an episode of Skärgårdsdoktorn (Sweden’s answer to Doc Martin or perhaps Seachange). A cynical person would say nepotism and connections go a long way in helping raise somebody’s profile.
She’s been widely credited with planting the seed of an idea for the world-wide youth Climate Strike movement, which has seen a series of protests culminate in Friday’s global protest. In her TED talk she speaks directly about the notion we know what solutions are and that governments are not enacting them.
The response from leaders has been telling and obvious. By all accounts the truth of Climate Change, built on science and facts, is being largely ignored by the right. Meanwhile the left put their support behind the protests and calls for reform.
It’s certainly concerning that an issue that surely transcends politics has become more concerning for one side of the fence, and not the other.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, had the terrorist attack to deal with on Friday, but met students and said earlier in the week, “Don’t underestimate the power of your voice. I think too often we make this assessment that in order to have an impact you have to be of voting age. That is just not the case.”
French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the UN Environmental Assembly this week: “The damage that we will have to account for is immense. Immense. And now our youth wants us to hurry up. They’re saying that we’re not going fast enough. They are protesting, and rightly so. We need the anger of our young people, because it’s what’s pushing us to act faster and more forcefully.”
Donald Trump was presumably preoccupied by the Mueller report. But I think we can second-guess his opinion.
The UK Prime Minister Theresa May gave comment in February via her official spokesperson saying, “Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.” – Well, don’t get me started here. If she wants to win brownie points with the education system, she’ll need to meet some union demands before saccharine remarks about “carefully prepared” lessons sways opinion.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said, “I fully understand the concerns people feel. But we must also make it an opportunity. It can’t just be a fear.”
Obviously, an event like this raises the questions about how the young protestors will get to the event. Whether they will be able to make their own way there or if they will be safe when they get there, are all concerns for parents. Wisely some parents accompanied their children to the event. Even more wisely, they took public transport, so you can’t say they are burning unnecessary fossil fuels.
Comedian and actor Kerry Godliman took her daughter:
‘So today we walk out of school, we quit our college lessons, and we take to the streets to say enough is enough. Some adults say we shouldn’t be walking out of classes – that we should be “getting an education”. We think organising against an existential threat – and figuring out how to make our voices heard – is teaching us some important lessons.’
Sure, a lot can be learnt from protesting. But do it in your own time. Some people have argued the government won’t be sitting on weekends. So, do it on the school holidays. The attack on education is unfair for several reasons. Foremost that education must be seen to be delivered without bias. If teachers began espousing strong views in either direction on any number of issues, there would be outcry. Additionally, there are plenty of causes that warrant the attention of the youth and probably need protests held for their causes also. But if we allow one, we could be starting a nasty precedent for many more. I can think of at least 365 things to protest about, and that’s more than there are days in the school year.
Further there has been the accusation of lack of Climate Change content in the school curriculums. Again, there is only room for so many issues at a time, and Climate Change gets its fair share of curriculum space. It has not been ignored.
I remember school in the 1990s where we were educated widely about the ever-growing hole in the ozone layer, caused by the unnecessary use of aerosol cans. We were taught not to throw our plastic into the ocean, when Mr Burns stitches together thousands of plastic six-pack-rings to catch some sea life. We’ve known since Blinky Bill, Ferngully and The Lorax that chopping down trees is bad. We’ve had a climate change message for years. I find it unfair to put the burden of this lack of action upon schools.
Educators have worked further in integrating the awareness of Climate Change into curriculums with discussions around sustainable fashion, ethical food sources and entire parts of Geography curriculums dedicated to Climate Change.
To put things into practical terms, I’ve worked at a school where they banned children from bringing in any packed lunches with clingfilm wrapped sandwiches, foil wrapped food or disposable drink containers. How many work places have done the same?
I hope the protestors took their packed lunches in reusable shopping bags. Just saying.
We will wake up tomorrow morning and the planet will still be careering towards inevitable annihilation. The governments will still pontificate and tweak policies to delay any action. Greta and her global warriors will continue shouting to be heard. Schools will celebrate Climate Change week in October. Everyone will turn their lights off for one hour at the end of this month for Earth Hour.
People will continue to make token gestures, protest governments and offset our carbon emissions. But all these things will be in vain, if we don’t REDUCE our emissions in the first place.
Maybe our biggest problem is we’re dealing with Climate Change in the same way we deal with our individual impending dooms. We have that extra chocolate bar even though it will give us diabetes, drink that extra beer that’s damaging our liver, smoke the cigarette that shortens the lifespan of our lungs or chow down that fried breakfast despite the bacon fat lining the insides of our arteries. For Climate Change we use a plastic bag just that once, we drink coffee from a non-recyclable cup or we burn through a tank of petrol to go on a joy ride, thinking all the while it’s just one little piece of damage.
We can’t bury our head in the sand. We must take effective action. Painting some slogans on recycled cardboard won’t save the penguins from heat stroke. I wonder how many of those protestors on Friday simply jumped on the bandwagon. How many of them are well informed? Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything is a good starting point to understand the shades of grey in this issue. There are economic forces dictating the decisions made by big companies and governments. It is not as simplistic (despite being idealistic) to reduce all emissions to zero. The flow on to our own standards of living would be affected, as we’ve become dependent on the consumerism of the capitalist society.
I hope the students who took the day off school have learnt enough to make some daily choices. Here’s five starting points:
Always use reusable shopping bags (if you forget one, only purchase what you can carry in your arms).
Only purchase loose fruit and vegetable to avoid surplus packaging.
Only travel by foot, bicycle and public transport (no matter how average your local public transportation is – if you can’t get somewhere, maybe you don’t need to go in the first place).
Cook in non-stick dishes and dishes with covers to avoid ever using foil, baking paper or cling film.
The thirty-third kid I hated was a pathological liar and the thirty-fourth kid I hated was also a pathological liar.
The thirty-third child had perfected his pathological lying by being sociopathic. He once so emphatically denied having stolen another student’s Lego bricks, despite me having seem him steal them, that I chastised the other student until she cried, to see if he’d be overcome by guilt. He stood there watching the whole thing. No guilt. Just good ole’ fashioned sociopathy. No empathy in the eyes. Just empty behind the eyes. (NB – I explained to the girl later the psychological mind games I’d attempted, and she seemed ok with everything.)
The thirty-fourth child left his finger prints everywhere. Yet, he would still gormlessly claim innocence. He literally left his finger prints everywhere, on one occasion placing his finger-paint smothered hands on all variety of surfaces. One of those surfaces was his face. He had the body of a nine-year-old and the mind of a three-year-old (I can’t back this up medically. I just based it on observations). I stared at him as he stood there covered head-to-toe in paint. I was in such disbelief I sent him holus-bolus to the ‘inclusion’ room (a room ironically for students excluded from normal class). He was their problem now.
Both students were in the same class, and while the infantile artist continued acting like a baby, the sociopath evolved more and more into a bully. Almost without fail, when I would return to the playground at the end of breaktimes and lunchtimes to collect the class, I would be set upon by both children claiming that the other had started a fight with them. If I was lucky, they would be mid-slap, mid-punch or mid-kick – it was easier to identify the perpetrator that way. Then it was a case of indignant high-moral ground from the former or grumbly baby-sulks from the latter. Either way, both would deny culpability, despite how the cookie had crumbled on that occasion. Sometimes it would defy logic and science, like the time the bully-one wrote the phrase “I am dumb” in the baby-one’s journal and claimed the baby-one had written it themselves. Now even if you were in the presence of the dumbest dummy out of the dum-dums, you’d be hard pressed to find a dumb-brain dumb enough to acknowledge their dumbness. The situation didn’t make sense.
What did make sense, was both were classic cases of the apple not falling far from the decaying apple tree.
The parents of the sociopathic bully had a chip on their collective shoulder. They blew their money on Masaratis, designer children’s clothes from Harrods and Waitrose sandwiches. Unsurprisingly, they had run short on money to provide their children with a quality education and had defaulted to sending them to an undersubscribed central London government primary school. It is my opinion that schools in central London which are undersubscribed, are bad schools. There are many schools busting at the seems and over-subscribed, there is little other reason for being ten or more children short per class than the fact a school is a little bit rubbish.
My favourite line from these over-cashed under-sensed parents came from the father who once said, “I run a business with more than thirty people, so I know what it would be like to run a classroom”. Sure, I thought. Let’s just do swapsies for a day and see what happens then. If I run your business into the ground, you can stop telling me how to do my job.
The parent of the baby-child was his mother. Much of the dialogue I had was with uncles and a grandmother, as the mother spoke little English and appeared to be off with the fairies. By all accounts, the rest of the extended family were quite switched on. Many of the cousins attended the school and were lovely children who were reasonably intelligent. Something was a bit awry here. It was a sad case I’m sure. The child was being failed and allowed to maintain this persona of ‘baby’ of the family, and seemingly ‘baby’ of the school. The uncles would insist the older cousins were helping with the child’s homework, but nothing was sticking, bar a few tame expletives (e.g. ‘poobum’).
On and on the bickering, lies and fighting went between these two buffoons. The parents of the sociopath would continually make complaints and maintain their son’s innocence in every matter. The Golden Child Syndrome they were suffering from brought them much stress, misconstruing every word that was said by adult and child alike to their son. The mother appeared to genuinely believe he could do no wrong. The father would intimidate staff and children by standing over them – probably where his young ‘prodigy’ learnt his bully tactics from.
The situation became untenable when the parents began asking for spoilt-britches to be moved into the safety of the other class. In a classic case of complying by path-of-least-resistance, the management allowed the child to be moved away from baby-face. The parents had one with the sociopath of their loins being taught the valuable lesson to “run away and hide from your problems as a means of dealing with them”.
And that was that. I didn’t see him again. If I were to see him, I doubt I’d ask which designer his latest jacket was from. Nor would I ask the other child, whether his finger-painting techniques had made him a world-renowned modern artist. They’d probably just lie about it anyway.
I didn’t read many Dick Bruna books as a child, but I have vivid memories of the theme tune from the television series based on his books:
Here comes my Dick Bruna Book,
sit with me and have a look
pages full of 123
and all of it especially
made for me…
MADE FOR ME!
The simplicity of the chant was as simple as the drawings in the books. Though, I was to find out the pictures were in fact collages not drawings, when I visited the Centraal Museum in Utrecht to track down the studio where Bruna had created his work, most significantly the humble rabbit Miffy.
Miffy (or Nijntje as she is called by the Dutch) and her menagerie of friends are heavily influenced by the De Stijl movement, which was on display in numerous corners of the Centraal Museum. Ironically one of the most famous artists of the movement, Piet Mondrian – you know him from that blocky art piece with the primary colours – would have been unsatisfied by all the rounded lines for he threw his toys out the pram when the De Stijl artists moved into architecture and diagonal lines. The rounded lines of Dick Bruna’s creatures would have blown his right-angled mind.
But it was the very shapes of Bruna’s images that skyrocketed Miffy to fame and fortune in her home of the Netherlands, Japan, and across the world. She predates Sanrio’s Hello Kitty and arguably heavily influenced the style of those characters.
I have been enamoured by the characters of Sanrio and various other chubby little characters of Japan, since I once visited Tokyo and found myself impulse purchasing a vast array of plush toys including Doraemon (a robotic cat), Anpanman (a bread-faced superhero), Totoro (a giant dust bunny) and additionally a daily dosage of doughnuts from Mr Donut, due only to the fact they were using Rilakkuma (a brown bear) in the marketing. Whatever subliminal message the big-brand giants were sending me, it was working.
My own fascination of the ‘kawaii’ (cute) characters of Japan drew me, like an anime-eyed moth to a flame, to the very top floor of Utrecht’s flagship museum to enter the studio of Bruna. The studio had been meticulously dismantled from its original home and reconstructed in the attic of the museum. The collection of little mostly-orange-spined books strikingly filled shelf upon shelf with every edition of Bruna’s books included in every language. Wide drawers in the artist’s studio are filled with offcuts from the red, blue, yellow, green and brown paper he used. There are posters of the book covers he illustrated for his father’s publishing company. But it is the rabbit that I am here to see. It is the rabbit I want answers from.
How does something as simple as this little white bunny capture the world’s imagination?
Perhaps, it’s in the eyes.
All the characters, created by Bruna, maintain eye-contact at all times. They stare from the pages of their books, permanently engaging with the reader. This is often done at the cost of practicality with characters riding bicycles, pushing wheelbarrows and cooking food without looking at where they are going or at what they are doing. But we suspend our disbelief in the safe knowledge that Miffy and her friends are very cute to look at – albeit they have no nose and their mouths are merely crosses.
I was reminded from this visit, how successful simple things can be. A global phenomenon was born from a white rabbit living in a world of primary colours, virtually torn from the De Stijl rectangles in those most famous paintings. I was reminded of the simple power of eye contact. I was reminded of the simple stories and lessons that could be learnt from characters who cooperate. I was reminded how simple the tools to success may be. Bruna did not have all the new-fangled gadgets we throw at children. He was armed with some tracing paper, black paint on a brush, a pair of scissors and a selection of about five colours.
People argue the teacher is having to adapt and become counsellor, surrogate parent, nutritionist, advisor, baby-sitter and so forth. Now add to the mix security officer – or at least that’s the way Ohio county sheriff (and loyal Trump supporter) Richard K Jones would have it in Channel 4’s documentary Teachers Training To Kill.
In the wake of a shooting in one of the local schools, Sheriff Jones decides it would be best to provide gun training for teachers and arm a number of staff members in each of the schools. Thankfully, by the end of the documentary there is only one school which takes up the scheme of arming teaching staff with guns. Regrettably, that’s one school too many.
In the process many schools run training sessions for their staff at local shooting ranges and simulate school shootings to prepare teachers.
For the majority of the profession, teachers have sat through dull training sessions at work finding out about the latest curriculum developments. Team building sessions have perhaps been spent doing trust exercises or coming up with school values made from acronym-ising the school name. But running a shooting session at the gun club seems an extreme step for jazzing up a professional development session. Surely, they could have just got a glitter cannon for the guest speaker or put the budget towards a few extra curried-egg sandwiches.
There are many concerning aspects to this situation and gun use in general. I will just touch upon one aspect in this very complex issue.
I want to focus on the thought process of staff who agree to carrying guns around the school. I find it hard enough to swallow being given an extra yard duty shift, let alone if I were asked to start wearing a gun under my jacket.
Has the brainwashing of the state become so strong that people wouldn’t even question the conflicting ethics of protecting children, by carrying a gun to massacre other children?
The staff who were filmed taking part in the staff training days, appeared to be treating the whole thing with the same light-heartedness most of us take to a work social at the bowls club.
They were being trained to be killers and seemed ok with that. How does one go from being an idealist who wants to teach youngsters Pythagoras’ theorem to a vigilante who is prepared to shoot down the very same students?
It’s just not in the job description. I would have become a security guard, armed soldier or police officer if I thought I wanted a career that may require me to shoot someone dead. I just don’t have it in me. I get squeamish doing rat dissections.
It’s rare that I find myself floored by someone’s logic. Usually I can do the old, “Well, I suppose if I was in their situation, I’d maybe do (insert x, y and z)”.
But to think that I might spend my working day photocopying, sharpening pencils and marking books, yet every once in a while, I may need to shoot down a child point blank, I would not be able to do that. I don’t know who these people are who think that they can. And I doubt that they will be able to.
The main thing I took away, from watching this documentary, was that I am thankful I do not work in a part of the world where this happens.
The thirty-second kid I hated thought he could play the guitar.
Thought he was a real-life juvenile Jimi Hendrix, a snotty-nosed Slava Grigoryan, a tiny Tommy Emmanuel.
‘Thought’ was the operative word. ‘Play’ was a lofty dream of what he wanted to do with the guitar. ‘Owned’ was a more apt description of his relationship with the guitar.
The thirty-third kid owned a guitar.
He owned it in the sense that a person experiencing a midlife crisis owns a guitar, because they listened to too many Santana songs so thought they’d give it a good old-fashioned go themselves. They watch a few YouTube videos, pay half their live-savings towards private lessons and, when they get to the advanced stages of Deep Purple’s insidious Smoke on theWater guitar riff (the Chopsticks of the guitar), give up to instead frame the instrument for hanging in the pool room, while pursuing a macramé course.
The difficulty with this child was the YouTube videos he had watched were of Piano Cat, he had only paid £2 to be taught in a group of twenty children and, most problematically, he hadn’t given up. He just kept coming back. Every time we had guitar club, there he would be flapping his sticky flapjack-crumb-covered fingers on the fret board, massacring the chords to Michael Row the Boat Ashore.
Now, to put the ‘guitar club’ into perspective, the British education system has in the past many years hatched a half-cocked hairbrained scheme to have extra-curricular clubs outside of school hours. Clubs are usually hosted by staff working overtime, who are being compensated with time in lieu, a fistful of coins or a pat on the back. Meanwhile, the school can smugly show off to parents, top up the petty cash tin and earn a little tick in a box from the inspectors.
The reality for parents is their child will be baby sat for a cheaper rate than the normal after-school childcare services or the cost of a nanny.
In the case of this child, it was probably just to keep him out of the house for an extra hour. He was extremely hyperactive and the additional time away from home was most likely sweet relief for his folks. His parents were always very adamant that he held a deep passion for guitar, but then he also attended Lego club, cooking club, football club and origami club. Maybe he was an all-rounder.
“He just loves guitar club,” his mother would gush.
“He waits all week for guitar club.”
“He’s always practising at home.”
“He wants to be able to play like his uncle.”
Not to cast aspersions, but the way this student treated his guitar left one to think his uncle was some type of Antonia Banderas character toting a guitar-case loaded with weaponry. The child was prone to tantrums and aggressions. In contrast to my own upbringing where I was told to wash my hands before handling musical instruments, this child would have used the six-stringed song-maker as a dinner plate, given the opportunity.
We’d barely get through the first chord of Twinkle Twinkle and he’d be setting upon one of the children a few years younger. One lesson, we barely got to the end of the SpongeBob SquarePants Theme song, because of the disruption he caused. He’d be giving funny looks to the kids, speaking over the top of others and running in and out of the room. He was a complete nuisance and when you’ve got a room full of novice guitarists under the age of ten, the last thing you need is any distraction. Then when he’d finally settle, we’d still be waylaid by a plectrum falling into another child’s guitar or a string falling out of tune on the bright pink guitar one girl had purchased from Poundland – this is what she claimed, despite my scepticism that you’d even manufacture one tuning peg for less than five pounds. A group setting was not the place for guitar lessons, and it was not the place for this menace.
The school itself was not doing itself any favours. The headteacher at the time appeared confused as to the concept of reward and consequence. On one occasion after throwing a temper tantrum in class, we wandered past the headteacher’s office to see this belligerent pest eating ice-cream. On another occasion, after throwing a shoe at a student, we walked past to find said child being asked his opinion on the proposed plans for a proposed new half-million-dollar playground. It was at that point I figured we could forgo the weekly £2 club fee by getting rid of him altogether – the school was clearly saving money on consultancy fees so wouldn’t miss a couple of pounds.
I politely suggested to the mother that guitar wasn’t for this child. She seemed surprised. She mentioned something about how he was practicing a lot with uncle. I wondered quietly to myself whether she’d confused the guitar with the guns, because they both started with the letter ‘G’. Either way it seemed he was going nowhere. So instead he remained. My sanity did not. Neither did several of the other children who became fed up and left.
It seemed a case of ‘he who plays discordantly the loudest shall be heard’. And upon reflection, the purpose of much rock ‘n’ roll music is to manically release stress by banging membranophones, shouting into a microphone and slapping your hand across some nylon strings. It was probably good relief for this child to have an outlet.
I found my relief on the bus home listening to James Taylor.
The thirty-first child I hated, regurgitated a half-eaten biscuit into the hand of a London mayor.
Before you scour the dark web for articles about Sadiq or Boris receiving a handful of chewed cookie crumbs, it wasn’t the mayor of London. It was just a mayor of a borough in London. A borough that won’t be specified for fear of drawing too much attention to this post.
When we first received our invitation to afternoon tea, I was not even aware of the delinquent child who was to create this storm in…well…a tea cup. He was from the other Year 6 class and although we would have a number of showdowns later that year when he was placed in my Maths class, it was this late luncheon that would be the first and lasting impression of this baked goods guzzler.
We arrived promptly at the council chambers building, with our sixty students in toe. The initial ominous sign that this afternoon tea wouldn’t end well was the elevator which would fit no more than ten children at a time.
After several trips up and down to the umpteenth floor of the building, we were then ushered down a long corridor by a man who appeared to act like the mayor’s butler. However, he was probably just an overpaid civil servant employed to serve ratepayer-funded juice and nibbles to overfed pre-teens.
Unfortunately for the butler, he had a more theatrical manner than our eleven-year old students could handle. They mistook his enthusiasm as a signal to have a free-for-all. So when he pushed the two doors to the dining room open in the fashion Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast presented dinner to Belle, the children stampeded him as they clambered over each other attempting to sit by their best mate.
Underwhelmingly there were no dancing candelabras, spinning plates or champagne towers. In fact, there weren’t even any teapots, which was probably best as these juveniles needed no caffeine. There were however some large platters of digestives, cheese biscuits and apple segments. Also, each child had been presented with a polystyrene cup filled with orange juice. A handful of children struggled with the concept of waiting for the mayor’s arrival and began knocking back their beverage.
Finally, the mayor arrived. She was a kindly old lady, who probably was hoping the students to have stepped off a steam train in a lovely Edwardian children’s novel. Nay, she was soon to realise they were more reminiscent of something scraped off the floor out the back of a Victorian slum.
In an unsuspecting dodder, she asked her butler to take half the children to the artefact room. I accompanied this group. It was here the students were able to be unappreciative of a variety of items with historical significance. Least of all, the butler allowed each of them to hold a sword. He later complained to the mayor about the children’s behaviour with the sword – a complaint, which I felt was somewhat ironic considering he’d witnessed them struggling with disposable drinkware, let alone a large carving implement.
Upon our return to the dining room, the students were re-seated and commenced their afternoon tea, while her worship the mayor pottered around forcing small talk upon illiterate mutes entrusted to our care.
It was at this moment that I witnessed the child who is the ire of this blog entry.
There sat Fatty-boombalatty stuffing his face at the end of the round table in the far corner (I’m aware that ‘end of the round table’ is a contradiction in terms, but so is a fatty-boombalatty stuffing their face). Immersed in his own solo biscuit version of ‘fluffy bunnies’, he managed to negotiate a fourth digestive into the undigested contents of his face hole. Possibly from three parts horror, five parts embarrassment and two parts fear of recreating Mr Creosote’s ‘it’s only wafer thin’ moment, I bellowed across the room for this miscreant to “Stop!”.
Unfortunately, the child took this in its most literal sense and stopped at the point where his masticating bottom jaw was at a sixty-degree angle to the top of his mouth and the half-eaten biscuits proceeded to tumble out in a mushy sludge onto the well-intentioned yet mistakenly-chosen white table cloth.
As is the case when shocking displays of poor manners are witnessed by a large group of people, a momentary gasp of silence descended upon the room.
Snapping out of her dodder, the mayor said to the boy, “here give me that”. If she thought he was going to use a napkin to collect up the chewed remnants of afternoon tea, she clearly hadn’t been paying attention to the preceding defiance of basic table etiquette. The boy collected up the brown sludge and placed it directly in the mayor’s un-gloved hand.
“Get out now,” I yelled. “Go clean your hands and apologise!” (at the child, not the mayor).
I pointed to where I thought the bathroom was. The boy sheepishly slunk across the room. It turned out I’d directed him into the kitchen, where the McVities in question had been prepared. The council ‘chef’ ushered him back out.
“I’ll take him,” sighed the mayor, presumably assuming this fell under her duty as host (her butler was engaged showing the other group the sword). She passed the reconstituted biscuit sludge towards me. I quickly scrambled about and collected it in a serviette, not falling for the trap she’d fallen into.
Slumping into a nearby chair, I pondered whether any of this could have been dealt with better. Biting into a stale cracker I decided Wallace was wrong when he once said, “No crackers, Gromit. We’ve forgotten the crackers”. Wallace should have left the crackers in the pantry, as should have I.
It’s striking how Mary Poppins exists solely for the purpose of child-minding yet has no children of her own. In fact I find an immense pathos in her character. It was there in the first film and it is present in Mary Poppins Returns. There is a longing for more in her eyes.
Where school teachers, babysitters, au pairs and nanny’s metaphorically swoop in to educate and care for children, Mary Poppins does it literally, first with an umbrella and then more recently off the back of a kite. Then as quickly as she arrives, she disappears again. She only appears in sequences where she is dispensing advice, medicinal spoons of sugar or reprimands. She doesn’t appear to eat, consuming little more than the odd cup of tea. She doesn’t appear to leisurely read any books. She may not even sleep, as she’s too busy singing everyone else to sleep and we never see her retiring to her own bedroom. She plays directly into the preconception many children have of their daytime educators and carers that they live either in the broom cupboard or simply materialise at the times they are needed. A student of mine was once dumbfounded to have bumped into me at the local cinema, then asked why I wasn’t at school.
This is where I find the pathos. She seems to live solely for the children. She doesn’t appear to have her own family. She is the sad epitome of the teacher who is so invested in their students that it has been at the cost of all other facets of their life. Even when the opportunity of finding a companion presents in chimney sweep Bert, she is too preoccupied by her duty to be “practically perfect in every way”. By the time she flies in on the kite in Mary Poppins Returns Bert has presumably put down his brush and been hauled up in a depression-era nursing home. Mary, on the other hand, hasn’t aged a day. Any attempt by her to befriend Bert would be weird, though equally it would seem inappropriate for her to begin flirting with young lamp lighter Jack.
No. It seems Mary is destined to be an old maid. Far from being the banner waving champion of the suffragette movement as Mrs Banks was or the flyer distributing voice of the labour party as Jane Banks is, Mary Poppins is so preoccupied with perfection it verges on being a diagnosable case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is so flustered by things being out of place that it’s hard to imagine she’d cope with the imperfection of most human relationships.
So, I find myself wondering how much I am like her. I found myself in a great moment of empathy near the films end when she is handed a balloon by Angela Lansbury and declares “it’s time” then floats away. I know that feeling too well from leaving classes of children behind me. She knows her job is done but still appears saddened to return the children to their circumstances for better or worse. Those children are not hers. She has invested in them as though they were her own, but they are not hers. And where Mary Poppins gets to return to her lonely single bed apartment in the sky, many teachers and nannies probably return to their single bed apartment on the wrong side of town too exhausted from picking up the pieces of other people’s messes to tidy up their own mess. When Mary pauses a short moment before re-ascending, I couldn’t help but think this was a gut-wrenching moment for her. I couldn’t help but think the Banks’ life was a life she wished she had.
Is she forever destined to pick up the pieces of people’s own mismanaged attempts at child rearing? Will she be perpetually running her gloved finger along the infinitely dusty mantel of childhood emotional neglect? Shall she be shackled eternally to her talking parrot umbrella as sole confident and companion?
For all the singing and dancing, Mary Poppins epitomises the lonely path professional child minders must often tread, with one foot in the adult world and one in childhood. As Emily Blunt sings, we are perhaps left looking for ‘The Place Where the Lost Things Go’ in a vain attempt to recapture our own childhood while forgetting to live our adult life.
The thirtieth kid I hated probably had undiagnosed ADHD.
After all, she was a girl and we’re continually being told now that lots of girls are on the autistic spectrum or have ADHD, they are just better at hiding their symptoms. Or perhaps, in this case, not so good at hiding symptoms.
She was the sort of child where all the children would sit neatly in their places on the carpet. All of them would sit in straight rows. All of them would have their legs crossed and arms placed safely in front of them.
This child would also sit still, at least until the teacher had glanced down at their watch only to look back up, just in time to see her squirming around on the carpet like she was trying to remove a tarantula from her hair.
Further, through some sort of warp in the time continuum she would seem to have appeared on the complete other side of the carpet space. It was very hard to explain – using physics – how she had managed to transport herself a good three metres past at least twenty other children, in the half-second it had taken for the watch-glancing to occur.
We tried a number of approaches: The usual specialty sitting cushions that have built-in barbs to hold the student in place, calming music to distract the student from using the muscles in their limbs, custom-made jackets where the sleeves fold around the back to join together with a buckle, and also a good old-fashioned set of safety reins. Basically, all the usual ethically-approved torture devices.
None of these seemed to achieve anything, so in lieu of a good spanking, we resorted to putting up with it.
Now the benefit of putting up with bad behaviour is that you don’t have to do anything and the child appears happier.
The downside of putting up with bad behaviour is everything else.
The behaviour becomes accepted as bad behaviour. In reality, it is probably some form of attention-seeking, due to another deficit in the child’s life. In this child’s case it was the lack of boundaries at home that was causing her to act out. Or rather the lack of love and boundaries.
When she was picked up from school, her father would be walking out of the gate before she had even caught up to him. No hugs and kisses. No “How was your day?”. At the end of the day she would simply point out her father to me. I would wave to him. He would wave back. Then as she walked over to him, he’d turn his back and start walking out the schoolyard. It was as though he was running an errand – and not an errand he seemed particularly bothered about.
The inverse would occur in the mornings when she would burst into the classroom, often knocking over a chair or tripping on a table leg, full of hyperactivity asking if there was any jobs to be done and how things were. It was guaranteed she would be one of the first students of the day to arrive. Clearly the parents were making the most of their access to free-government-funded babysitting. Or maybe they were just punctual people.
I almost found her early-morning enthusiasm endearing.
But as the terms spun on, my patience waned. Yes, she was given opportunity to express her personality freely. However, it becomes very draining giving so much emotional attention to the needs of an (undiagnosed) ADHD person. If it wasn’t providing her new strategies to conflict-resolve with her friends and enemies, the time would be spent concocting a long list of pretend jobs to keep her occupied.
Perhaps the long trail of chaos she left in her wake was nothing to be concerned about. Perhaps it was my own anal-retentiveness that found it difficult to allow her abrupt nature. Everything must be in its place including the little human beings I educate.
I’ve slowly become more patient at letting children express themselves through incessant babbling and constant movement around the classroom – at least for thirty seconds per day.
But if I ever met this kid again, I doubt I’d have self-restraint enough to avoid finding a more conclusive purpose for the spikey therapy cushion.
It was a very long grudge and gives proof to the adage that children have elephants’ memory – or so say I. Well, at the least, they remember when they’ve been wronged, despite an inability to remember more academic tasks like how to spell; or how to add numbers.
The grudge this child held was due to the fact I’d confiscated her cherry coloured (and presumably flavoured) lip gloss. The girl wasn’t one of my student’s. I merely caught her smearing the stuff across her face as I descended the stairs to perform my weekly yard duty. I’d normally turn a blind eye to neutral lip gloss, as the crisp dry winters of England usually crack as many lips as a clumsy kitchenhand cracks saucers. But this ten-year-old trickster had no use for cherry colour or cherry flavour, unless of course she was about to seduce one of her peers or had low blood sugar, respectively – albeit in the case of low blood sugar it wouldn’t be medically recommended to eat a tub of emollients.
So it was, that I confiscated the afore mentioned cherry lip gloss and told her she could pick it up in the afternoon.
I had every intention of returning it. The problem was two weeks passed before the girl finally came to claim her lip gloss. As I opened the drawer, I had put it in two weeks before, I found nothing more than the usual collection of half chewed pens and confiscated gum. No lip gloss. It had been taken by an equally troublesome child; another mystery for another day.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I said, “but your lip gloss is no longer here.”
“Where have you put it?” she demanded.
“I put it in this drawer.”
“Well you owe me a new one,” she said.
She stormed off.
I felt a little bad that the lip gloss had been stolen, although I was hardly to know there was a high theft rate of beauty products from the stationary drawer. Probably some pre-teen, with a penchant for broken pencils, pilfered the possessions of the drawer and thought they had hit the jackpot.
Thinking nothing more of it I continued my day-to-day duties as an educator of young minds until one day our paths crossed again in the playground.
“That’s him,” exclaimed the girl to her friends. “he’s the one who stole my lip gloss”.
‘Stole?’ I thought to myself. We’re my lips particularly red and shiny? Did I look that well-presented, that I could have stolen her infantile lip enhancer? Had I been spotted picking cherries too frequently from the schoolyard cherry tree?
Presumably it was the latter. Either way this was to become an ongoing pattern.
On an intermittent basis the student would spot me in the playground and the same accusations would surface.
Months later, I was considering relenting to the harassment by replacing the lip gloss. Instead, another teacher friend had fortuitously made lip gloss with her Year 11 students at another school, during a chemistry lesson. She had some spare containers of lip gloss remaining from the lesson, so I happily took one and placed it in my top coat pocket to give to the belligerent child when our next encounter took place.
Of course, all things being even, when the girl next spotted me in the playground she had finally forgotten about the lip gloss; as did I until I next took my coat to the drycleaner and realised the entire contents of the container had melted into the fabric of my coat pocket.
So although the whole saga was probably of bigger concern to myself than to the student, if we met again in a school stairwell, I doubt I’d offer any of my own cherry flavoured lipsmacker.