Tuesday 29 December 2015

Off To School We Go

Off for a trip around Nepal
Marty’s first great ambition in life was to go to nursery. The moment he achieved that goal his next great ambition was to go to school.

Through sheer hard work and determination he achieved the age of four and graduated from nursery in a solemn ceremony that involved a gown and a mortar board. I kid you not.

We then had a bit of a fracas to get him into the village school but that was all sorted and so, one bright sunny morning, the great day arrived and we set off on the walk to school.

I must admit that the first day wasn’t what I was expecting. Not that I had any real expectations but even if I had I doubt that they would have been met. It was just odd really. Firstly, there was the fact that your child was going to school. How did that happen? Where did the time go? 

The second was this huge amorphous mass of people milling around outside the school gate. It was far larger than I’d expected and far less organised and light hearted. Yes, there where small pockets of camaraderie but there was also this definite air of tension and anxiety. It had the feel of a political demonstration where you are filled with the joy of knowing that right is on your side but that righteousness is tempered by the knowledge that a bus load of riot cops are likely to turn up at any minute. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if someone had suddenly started shouting out “What do we want? SCHOOL! When do we want it? NOW!”

I'd been told by all that the first walk to school would end in tears, or at the very least, sniffles. Not a bit of it! Marty was far too excited to be anything other than all smiles and this infected us to such an extent that we just stood there with inane grins on our faces as he wandered off down the path to the school yard, chatting to anyone who looked like they might listen, his enormous back pack making him look very tiny.

I say an enormous backpack but compared to the older children Marty just looked like he was off to school for a week or two. The older kids looked like they were heading off on a six-month trek around the High Andes. Did we all set off to school lugging the kind of loads a Sherpa would think twice about or is this a new thing?

Anyway, after the excitement of the very first day we settled down to the school routine, which has been surprisingly pleasant.

This has been helped enormously by the fact that Marty is at an age where you can get him to do virtually anything by just turning it into a race. 8am and he’s still not dressed? Just challenge him to see who can get dressed first. Dawdling on the walk to school? Race him to the next lamppost. Doesn’t want to go to bed? Who can be first up the stairs! Who can eat their greens first, who can read a book first, who can put their socks on first. There is nothing that a four year old and a desperate parent cannot turn into a competitive sport; The World Tooth Brushing Championships, The International Pull-Up-A-Sock Day, All-Star Hand Washing.

The only downside of this is that it can be a bit knackering. We either walk to school at a snail’s pace or end up legging it down the street racing from lamppost to lamppost and tree to tree.

Fortunately, there is a time between races, a time when I get to gaze into the world of the four year old as Marty wanders off into a stream of consciousness that is a joy to behold.

“Daddy, what’s the fastest fish in the world?”

“I think it’s the Sail Fish or maybe the Blue Marlin.”


“It isn’t?”

“No.” Marty stops walking to enable a bigger think.” It’s the… the… Handlebar fish!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, the Handlebar fish has a wheel on its tail and a ball on its end and it can whoosh fire to catch crabs. Do you know what else is eats?”

“Not a clue!”

“It eats squid and Octopus.”

“How does it catch them?”

“The Handlebar fish is…it’s…… The Handlebar fish is the sneakiest fish in the world. It sneaks up on Octopus and blasts fire at them out of its mouth when they’re not looking! It’s reeeeally sneaky!”

He can keep this up for ages! Yesterday, he regaled us with the life and times of the “Fire-Missile-Orangutan”, which is apparently the fastest animal in the world, faster than the cheetah on account of the cheetah only having 4 legs, whilst the Fire-Missile-Orangutan has ten legs….and wings! Seriously, it’s like listening to David Attenborough on Acid.

There is another feature of the four year old that makes me glad that we waited for Google and Smart Phones to arrive before we had kids:

“Daddy, what does an Ostrich eat?”

“Give me a minute…Here we go; roots, leaves and seeds, with the occasional insect, lizard, snake or rodent if they’re feeling a bit peckish!”

“Daddy how big is a Blue Whale?”

“Hang on, we haven’t got 4G here….”

“Is it bigger than our car?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s bigger than our car but if you can wait until we get to the top of that hill I’ll tell you exactly how much bigger.”

How on earth did people manage before the arrival of smart phones? Apparently parents used to dread these incessant, off-the-wall questions. These days? Why is the sky blue? How loud is an elephant? What does a Unicorn eat? Bring it on!

Of course there are some conversations that are so surreal that the best of technology is stumped. On about his 3rd day at school he came out with this:

“Daddy, Look!” He points to a larger boy walking ahead of us, “He’s my best friend at school!”
“Oh, right. What’s his name?”
“I Don’t know.”

Another thing that technology can’t change is the fact that Boys will be boys. Yes, with his first term just coming to an end Marty’s collection of “Bump Notes” has reached Volume 7. In my day we used to just count the bruises but these days everyone gets a note and Marty’s notes strongly suggest that he is incapable of walking from one end of a classroom to the other without bouncing off something and that when he does someone is there to record it.

Judging by the notes themselves he tends to lead with his head. I’m thinking about colouring them in and decorating his room with them as a memento.

“Dad, why do I have an IQ of 85?”
“Well son, if you care to look at your bedroom wall you will see that you bumped your IQ down into double digits before you were 7.”

Of course the walk to school is not all roses. Marty is not always laughter and sunlight and the weather is sometimes bloody awful, but the biggest problem with the morning walk to school is that it all takes place in the morning.

As anyone who knows me will confirm, I am not at my best in the morning. It’s not that I wake up in a bad mood, it’s just that my temper tends to be on a hair trigger until about 10am and I struggle to say anything meaningful to anyone until I’ve had at least 3 cups of coffee.

Alas, we live in a country where everything starts at about 9am. You have to get your children to school for about 8:45am and you then have to get yourself to work for 9am. Who ever thought this was a good idea needs a long lie down and a rethink, but there you have it.

The result of this is that I find myself surrounded by people in a hurry and people in a hurry can behave abominably, or at least that’s how they can appear to me when it’s not even 9 o’clock and I am almost completely devoid of caffeine.

One of my biggest bug bears is the anti-social moron in our village who lets his/her dog crap where it likes and feels that picking it up and disposing of it is somehow beneath him/her. I hate this at the best of times but when it occurs on the main footpath into the school I quietly seethe and if it was past 10am and they had a coffee shop on the corner of the path I'd probably rant.

The odds of a hundred odd children managing to walk down said footpath without treading in said dog dirt is not worth calculating and it doesn’t matter if you did calculate it because kids will still tread in it just to show your maths up. Every morning, hundreds of people inconvenienced because of one self-centred twat! It really does my head in!

My other bug bear are the parents who seem to think that parking rules don’t apply to them if they’re in a hurry. There are zig-zag lines all around the school to stop people parking their cars in areas liable to create a danger to the children trying to get into school. It’s quite a simple concept, you park somewhere else, you diminish the danger to others, everyone lives, everyone’s happy.

Virtually everyday someone parks on these lines, their desperation to get 3ft closer to the school gate far greater than the needs or lives of anyone else. Of course this isn’t how they look at it. They are trapped in this 15-minute window; the kids need to get to school, but they need to be in work. It is a truly ludicrous situation.

My wife has actually talked to some of the offenders and they always have a terrific excuse for why they need to park where they know they shouldn’t. Sadly, I’m pretty sure that every year a coroner somewhere in the country declares a child’s death as ‘Caused by a bloody good excuse’.

One of the things I can’t understand is why we don’t have drive-through schools in the UK. The demand is obviously there. I suspect a school could have an OFSTED rating of “Bloody Appalling” and still be packed to the rafters if parents were allowed to drive straight through the school gates and have their children sucked out of the car and automatically fired into their classrooms without them even needing to slow down.

Anyway, car and dog owners aside, the school run is still fun and Marty is very much enjoying school.

To start off with it was quite difficult to get any information out of him.

“How was school today?”

“I don’t know. Give me a clue!”

These days he seems more forthcoming, mainly, I suspect, because he enjoys it so much. And boy are they learning a lot! At four he’s already learning to read and what’s more he actually seems to be getting the hang of it, although it’s not always perfect:

“Daddy, I can spell cat!”

“Go on then.”

“C… A…T,” At this point he waves his hands in front of him a la magician fashion as he ‘blends’ the sounds, “Cat!”

“Well done. Now what can you do?”

“C…R…A…P…" A wave of his hand, "Crab!”

“Er, maybe you shouldn’t go for that one just yet.”

Alas, he’s quite consistent with this spelling of crab but often, especially when he’s starting to get tired, he just decides beforehand what he wants the letters to spell,

“D…O…G” All stops for the magical wave of his hand which indicates the blending of all the individual sounds…”Ambulance?”

I’m fairly sure I was only just getting the hang of painting when I was four, so I’m impressed with his progress on the reading front. That said, it’s still his conversation that most impresses. It’s not that he pronounces everything right, he doesn’t, but he’s not at all shy about trying, in fact he seems to struggle with the very notion of ‘Shy’.

We were reading a book together a few weeks ago where the main character wouldn’t talk because he was shy.

“Why’s that boy not talking?”

“Because he’s shy.”

“What’s shy?”

“When you’re too scared to talk to people.”

“Why wouldn’t you talk to people?”

“Because you’re a little scared.”

“Why would you be a little scared of people?”

“Because you don’t know them.”

“Why would you be scared of people you don’t know?”

“Hang on, we might have 4G here….”

As it was Google didn’t have much to say on the subject but I think it’s safe to say that Marty is not at all shy. I don’t know if it’s just a natural trait or if it’s got something to do with growing up in a village surrounded by family. Whatever it is Marty expects everyone to be fascinated by what he has to say. We went 10-pin bowling yesterday and Marty decided to introduce himself to the youth behind the till.

“Excuse me!”
No answer from the youth.
“Excuse me!!”
Still no answer as youth attempts to look fascinated by his till.
“Excuse me!!!”
The youth finally realises that this little voice is not going to go away any time soon, “Hi?”

Pause for effect.

“I’m four!”

Satisfied that he’s imparted the great news Marty walks away leaving a bemused youth wondering quite what that was all about.

Despite rarely closing his mouth he still mispronounces words all the time. He still says “Flying” instead of “Trying” and he still omits the beginning of an awful lot of words, which it has to be said is lovely and cute. His school class is a mix of reception and year one’s and the distinction is very important to all concerned. Just to ensure we’re all aware of the differences Marty insists on clarifying certain points:

“Daddy. I’m in ception.” I nod in a sage like fashion at his momentous news and let him get on with it, “Ception are mucher, mucher gooder than year ones. And...and ception are mucher skilled than year ones.”

“Are they?”

“Yes, but year ones are better fighters!”

On the bright side, whilst it can occasionally cause confusion, omitting the beginning of words has created far more believable super heroes; in our house the bright green hero is actually known as the Credible Hulk.

In truth the only real language problem we have is the one that seems to effect all four year olds; their love of all things scatological! Poo and wee, in all their myriad forms, seem absolutely fascinating to younger kids. I assume it’s the risqué aspects of it; balancing on the edge of being rude but without any monumental consequences. Apparently I have to ignore it and, once he realises that it doesn’t get any effect, he’ll stop going on about it. Until that day we just have to tolerate phrases like “You’re a pooey bottom”.

I keep telling him that it just makes him sound like a politician at PMQ's but he's not having it.

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