Entries in children (16)


GBA Interview

Surreally enough, today I bring you audio. Embarrassed as I am to share the sound of my own voice, it seems to make sense. After all, why agree to a radio interview if you’re not going to share it? Below, you’ll find me interviewed for the very brilliant podcast, Getting Better Acquainted, hosted by my partner Dave Pickering (@goosefat101, if you’d like to follow him on Twitter). I talk about writing, my own brand of atheism, and my feelings about (not) having children. I also drink several glasses of wine, which accounts for the way the conversation meanders a little! So, without further ado, here is my episode of Getting Better Acquainted.


NB Dave has just been nominated for a Radio Production Award, in the category of ‘Best Online  Creator’. Follow Getting Better Acquainted on Twitter (@GBApodcast) for updates.


I Blame the Armbands

On a Thursday afternoon I have the dubious pleasure of sitting on the edge of a swimming pool shouting encouraging comments at ten year olds as they learn how to swim.

Their swimming teacher is very good, and every time I watch them, I think how much difference your swimming teacher can make to your relationship with water and swimming.

I’m a fairly poor swimmer. I can do a nervous breaststroke that involves keeping my head out of the water (much like a paddling dog) and wincing anytime someone splashes me, but that’s about my limit. And I’m terrified of jumping in.

I love the concept of swimming; I love how freeing it looks to be able to swim well. In fact, dreaming of it is one of my preferred ways to relax at bedtime. In reality though, I’m very nervous of large expanses of water and my swimming skills leave a lot to be desired.

I was taught to swim with armbands by a lady who walked along the edge of the pool with a long metal rod and occasionally shouted at me about how I needed to kick more. I loathed swimming lessons. The pool was sunk in the middle of a concrete building lined with changing cubicles and there was always a faint smell of urine. We were supposed to change much quicker than I was capable of and the teacher would get cross if we took too long to blow up our armbands. I can still remember the sound the reverse alarm on the school minibus made: the sound that filled me with dread every time I had to go swimming.

The children I take to the pool on a Thursday are taught to get their heads wet and jump in before they even start learning to swim. And there isn’t an armband in sight. Floats, yes. Armbands – those bright, uncomfortable inflatables that make it impossible for you to keep your head under even if you want to – no. They’re taught variety: front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, picking things up from beneath the water... Actually, I think that happened when I was taught too, but you only got to do most of it once you’d mastered breaststroke... which I didn’t.

Every time I watch the children’s lessons, I think about how much I would like to be able to swim properly. It looks relaxing, freeing – comfortable even – to be able to do it confidently.

So I’ve been thinking I might to try to get myself some adult swimming lessons one of these days... though preferably not at the local pool, where I’m bound to run into lots of children I know, all of whom are vastly superior swimmers to me.

Photo by Chip Smith


The Three Bears

When we were little, my Grandma made us the three bears. They were made out of coarse orange fabric and they had black noses and eyes. They all wore homemade outfits which were changed once or twice over the course of their lives and they sat on a special settee made for them out of card and brown fabric.

They lived in the spare bedroom with two bigger bears that Grandma didn’t make. The smaller of the two was orange with a white muzzle. We called her Grandma Ted. The other was bigger still, pale brown with dark brown patches and a yellow ribbon round his neck: Granddad Ted.

I was thinking about how age equates to size for children when I remembered this memory. For young children, the equation is simple: the taller you are, the older you must be… and generally that means you must be important. Somehow, for small children, age and height make up authority.

Grandma was always quite a small woman. But she was the second biggest bear.

Image from Project Gutenberg


Band Wagon

‘Shag bands’ have been popping up in the news here and there recently. They’re those narrow plastic bracelets you see kids wearing a lot, the ones that come in neon colours and look a bit like jelly shoes. I heard a report on the radio today about the outrage they’re creating in parents, and I was just about ready to be outraged myself.

Theoretically, all the colours have a different sexual meaning. As the report I heard told it, if someone snaps your bracelet, they’re obliged to provide you with whatever sexual act your bracelet represents. The way it was spun indicated that this is happening in secondary schools all over the country. And parents of younger children are complaining because they’ve been inadvertently buying them to fill party bags without realising what they mean.

When I heard this report, I was totally behind all those outraged parents. Good lord, sexually explicit jewellery being sold to children? How is that even allowed? So I jumped online to do a little research, all fired up to write a ‘can you believe this?’ post. And then I found out that actually, they’re just plastic bracelets.

They don’t come in packets that tell you what the colours mean. They don’t come with a little booklet telling you how you’re supposed to use them. They’re not even (at least, as far as I can tell) officially called ‘shag bands’. *

A little more research tells me that not everyone even agrees on the sexual meanings behind the colours. One website lists pink as meaning ‘love bite’, another as ‘flash’, for example. And apparently there’s school-to-school variation in what wearing a shag band represents. In one place, you might be supposed to pay for a breakage with the appropriate sexual act, but in another, wearing a particular colour band represents your level of sexual experience. Somewhere else, your band might indicate how far you’d be willing to go in a potential encounter, while in another school, wearing two intertwined bands means that if someone snaps them apart, you’re supposed to sleep with them.

But in the majority of primary school playgrounds, they’re just brightly coloured bracelets that you can collect and swap with your mates. I bet most kids don’t even call them ‘shag bands’. True, their teenage brothers and sisters might be using them as a secret sexual code in their schools, but that kind of thing has been going on ever since there were teenagers. The amount of kids that actually act on the code is most likely minimal.

And guess what else? These things have been around since the eighties. In fact, perhaps I even had some when I was a kid - certainly I had no shortage of plastic jewellery. As far as I can tell, they’ve only developed this ‘shag band’ title recently. Teenagers will do that to a thing. In my school, there was a short time when you couldn’t say you were happy without eliciting a tirade of homophobic jeers. And did anyone ban the word or cover the ears of small children? No. Because that would be insane.

If you’ve got a young child who comes home with a bendy plastic bracelet, chances are they’re not calling it a shag band. But if they are, surely all it takes is a quick renaming and you’re done. It’s all this hysteria that’s dangerous, not a collection of multicoloured bangles.

*There are claims scattered about the internet, that all this sexual association is actually in the marketing, but I haven't seen any evidence for this myself. Do correct me if I'm wrong. If they really are being sold like that, then I'm right behind the protesting parents. Sexual obligation is a bad thing however old you are and certainly shouldn't be sold to children.

Image borrowed from Kaboodle.


NaBloSoFroDraWe 2009

In the spirit of National Blog Something From Draft Week 2009, the creation of Bone from If You Read Only One Blog This Year, I’m posting a little something I wrote almost two years ago, and abandoned before I ever got round to finishing because I decided it was too sentimental. Of course, I'm also making it 'International Blog Something From Draft Week' because I'm not posting in the USA, but there we go.

The only background information you need is that I am categorically not a baby person.

Watching my friends with their new baby, I’m almost swayed. It’s not that I see anything appealing in actually having a baby, but when they hold him, they go to a different place. She looks so incredibly happy, so in love; he looks so awestruck, so excited. The curtains draw for a moment on the world and they are locked in this time with him, feeling things a childless person can never understand, looking so much happier than anyone normally looks without drugs. They can watch him indefinitely and I can watch them indefinitely, watching.