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Why I Wrote About Badgers in my Story

badger clan

Badgers seem to be one of the most misunderstood animals in the British countryside. Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hatred – I believe that’s where a lot of racism, sexism and disableism stems from. Badgers are secretive animals that mainly only come out at night and live below ground, therefore, very few humans have had the good fortune to see a real live badger with their own eyes. On top of this they have frighteningly sharp claws and powerful jaws making them sound like a terrifying Gruffalo rather than the peaceful pacifists they really are.

Like any wild animal, a threatened badger will fight for its life, or to protect its young – they’re just more capable than the average animal. Sadly, to blood thirsty individuals, this makes it an exciting rival for fighting dogs. Thus, the reputation of the badger as something wild, aggressive and dangerous has spread across Britain like a belligerent cancer. Without people being able to watch them regularly and see how they really behave, this rumour has continued unchecked.

When badgers were blamed by the government and some scientists for spreading TB among cattle this further fuelled the unfounded hatred of badgers. Farmers losing livestock were told that the badgers were to blame and a cull began. There were small pockets of resistance but with the badgers’ baseless reputation, the sympathy did not spread far. Of course, farmers need to protect their stock, but there are two big issues with the cull: 1) it has not been 100% proven that the TB is spread badger to cattle rather than cattle to badger 2) there are vaccinations available – why on earth kill when you can vaccinate? I refer you back to the aforementioned ignorance, fear and hatred.

Farmers are wonderful people. I grew up in the countryside and know many farmers. They are the custodians of the countryside. Without them, we would not have so many well-tended meadows, hedgerows and woodland, ergo we would not have such rich and varied flora and fauna. (Indeed, without them, we would not have food!) If farmers can be assured that the badgers will not harm the cattle, many would not support the cull. Unfortunately, the people at the top who decide whether to cull or vaccinate do not have the farmers’ or badgers’ best interests at heart.

I did a lot of research into badgers and discovered all sorts of fascinating facts – not least that they’re really loving and playful towards each other and make a variety of gentle noises as they groom each other or play. Also, that badgers are very clean and regularly air their bedding! Importantly, if a badger senses danger, it’s first instinct is to run away and hide – not an animal that is looking for a fight.

It struck me that there are a lot of similarities between the misunderstanding of a badger’s true nature and the misunderstanding of many young people, boys in particular, who are also assumed to be aggressive by nature and therefore feared and hated. I already had the idea of a story of one such unfortunate boy in my head and by including a badger clan, I hoped I could dispel both myths at once whilst also educating the readers about such boys and badgers.

Returning to my theory that ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hatred – I used to be scared of butterflies! Yes, I know it seems strange, but the fluttering unpredictable movements sent me into a blind panic leaping and yelping like a mad woman whenever one came close. As a childminder, I liked to do projects with the children during the summer holidays and one summer I decided to teach the children the rather interesting life cycle of a butterfly. We began with a trip to Butterfly World, where another childminder had to take my children round because I was too frightened to go in. To cut a long story short, we studied butterflies intensely, discovering different types of caterpillars, their movements, their plant preferences, the chrysalis and then all the most common varieties of butterfly in the UK. We made some up of our own, built them from playdoh and bread, decorated cakes like them, etcetera. By the end of the summer holidays we visited Butterfly World again and guess what … I managed to go in. I was still a bit jumpy, but what a massive improvement. I credit my progress solely on the education and familiarity: I was no longer scared, and I no longer hated butterflies.

I truly hope that readers of The Boy Who Couldn’t will learn to love badgers and want to protect them. Vaccination is such a kinder option than killing. If you would like to learn more about badgers, there are lots of fantastic websites: the best one to start with is https://www.badgertrust.org.uk/

(Illustration credit: Michael Douglas Carr)

The Holidays are Here! Don’t Panic!

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Many mums, dads, grandparents and carers who are lucky enough to be off work when their children are off school, love school holidays, but at the same time, they may be worried too. What will the weather be like? How can I think of something to entertain the kids every single day? How much is this going to drain my bank account?

Worry not. I have a plan. And the first part of the plan is to plan.

You need one large sheet of paper folded into four and then unfolded:

  • Label the top left “Free” and “Outside”
  • Label the top right “Free” and “Inside”
  • Label the bottom left “Costs” and “Outside”
  • Label the bottom right “Costs and “Inside”

Allow your children to help come up with lots of ideas to fill in each square. It’s an activity in itself and a great reminder of previous fun days and activities. Here are some of my ideas to help you.

FREE OUTSIDE:

Top left is the golden square. Free AND outside – perfect!

  • Play Park – no, not just your local park that they go to all the time. Why not hop on the bus and go to a different park? You could do a new one each time and let the children give them marks out of ten. Choose their favourite one to visit again at the end of the holidays. They could even write reviews. 😊
  • Country Park – great big spaces to kick a ball about, fly a kite and play games such as tag or hide n seek.
  • Forest – lots of forests have free events on such as bug catching. If there are no events on, you could do things like build dens from fallen wood (don’t break off living branches).
  • Litter-picking – you’d be amazed how much children love litter-picking. Make sure the children don’t touch litter with their hands though – litter pickers are the safest way and quite a skill to learn. If there are a few of you, you could ask the council if they’ll lend you litter-pickers and bags. Our council does 😊
  • Beach – it doesn’t have to be the one you usually visit, ask friends for recommendations. Remember to pack a picnic or it gets expensive and this is supposed to be one of your free days.
  • Geo-caching – you need to download the app then you hunt for hidden treasure anywhere in the world (but if you want it to be free, I’d stick to your local area!) The treasure is usually a sticker or an interesting pencil! When you find it, you note down your name and date you found it, take out the treasure and replace it with some treasure of your own that you brought with you, then hide it back in the exact place you found it for the next person to find.
  • Rock hunting – find the rock hunting Facebook page for your local area, usually the town name followed by “Rocks” so “Stockton Rocks” for example. You’re looking for interestingly painted rocks which can be hidden anywhere – next to pavements, in a crack in a wall, on a tree branch… When you find a rock, you take a picture of it, post it on the Rocks Facebook page and then either hide it back where you found it or in a new place, for someone else to find.
  • Hills/Moors (hiking) – There’s something very liberating about hill tops and moorland. There’s nothing else higher than you for miles around. Make sure you stick to well-marked footpaths so you don’t get lost and don’t disturb wildlife.
  • Footprint hunting – they can search for footprints in their own garden, parks, beaches, countryside, woodland and forests. If you place a tray of wet sand at the edge of your garden with some food in the middle over night, you might find some very interesting footprints the next day. I might just happen to know of some good books you can buy for very young children to identify the footprints of animals that may visit your garden! 🙂
  • Bike ride – if your children are very young you can put them in a bike seat or on a tag along. If they’re old enough take them to the local off-road tracks in the woods and in parks. Lots of canals have lovely bike rides along side them. It’s worth asking where the best routes are at your local bike shop.
  • Streams – paddling in a tiny river, feeding ducks, picnicking on the village green – a lovely taste of village life.
  • Paddling pool – in your own back garden! Throw in the bath toys and a couple of water guns and they’ll have endless fun. Show them how to paint the fence with water too – that’s a never ending creative task as the sun drys it and so they can do it over and over again.
  • Castle ruins – some are still free to explore. Great for firing up the children’s imagination and loads of space to run all off that energy.
  • Dog walking.
  • Park runs.

FREE INSIDE:

Top right is okay too. It’s still free, but inside if the weather isn’t great.

  • Decorating rocks for rock hunting. The paint needs to be weather proof. If your children are very young, use poster paint and then seal it with varnish. If your children are older they can use old bottles of nail varnish. (Top tip – if you paint the rocks white first, the image will show up better). It doesn’t matter how good or bad the images are – every rock hidden and found is exciting!
  • Friends’ and relatives’ houses – It’s great to take turns hosting with all the kids together – they can entertain each other.
  • Museums. You’ll be surprised how many are free. Train museums are especially popular with mine.
  • Art galleries – they often have art and craft activities for children in the holidays, either free or a nominal amount such as 50p.
  • Country Halls/Houses. Some are free or a nominal amount and again they often have activities on for children during holidays.
  • Library – obviously lots of great books to choose and read, but also they usually have some kind of summer reading challenge on where you can collect stickers and prizes.
  • Playdoh – you can make your own from flour, water, oil and food colouring.
  • Baking – if you choose to make bread you can play with it like playdoh, then bake it and eat it! No awful models left around to “admire”! Cake decorating is another favourite that lets the children be creative. We love to make our own pizzas. We cheat and use the bottom of a muffin for the base, but the children love smearing on the tomato puree, selecting from lots of toppings I’ve prepared, and then sprinkling (smothering) the pizza in grated cheese. Then I just put it under the grill and they’ve made their own lunch!

COSTS OUTSIDE:

  • Lots of sports clubs have reasonably priced holiday activity clubs such as football, tennis, cricket, etcetera.
  • Country shows – easily spend the whole day there looking at farm animals, farm machinery, arts and crafts tents, etcetera. Be careful because the big ones can be expensive to get in and food and drink can be expensive there too – take a picnic! If you plan far enough in advance your children could enter some of the craft competitions or enter your family dog into the fun dog competitions such as the dog with the waggiest tail.
  • Horse riding at your local stables.
  • Air trails – great way for the children to push themselves and they get a great feeling of satisfaction from what they’ve achieved. It’s a safe way of allowing “risk taking behaviour” which is a natural part of growing up.
  • Go-Karting – great adrenaline filled activity.
  • Car shows – vintage/custom/modified.
  • Petting farms.
  • Camping/caravanning. This could be free if you know a friendly landowner, but do not trespass. Organised camps are safer and better equipped.
  • Fruit picking – what better way to persuade children that fruit is great to eat, than tell them they’re to pick it but not eat it! We always have to pay the farmer a bit extra for their bulging bellies! They love making it into a pie later too and it all gets eaten up!

COSTS INSIDE:

  • There are lots of village halls that run cheap activities for children such as arts and crafts, table tennis, etcetera.
  • Soft play.
  • Swimming pools – check out the family fun times where they might have large floating objects and the wave machine switched on. Our local one even plays music and has a disco light!
  • Cinema – some cinemas have greatly reduced films on early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. They’re old films but great for very young children.
  • Theatre.
  • Science Centres.

 

Those are just some of my ideas. You know your children and your budget and your local area – feel free to add ideas in the comments.

Enjoy your holidays – your children aren’t children for long 😊 xx

CHILDREN ARE NOT BORN BAD!

sad boyWhen my son was eleven years old, he was attacked at the park. The boy was a couple of years older than him and much bigger than him. Thankfully my son was 1st dan black belt karate at the time and also had the most powerful punch in his class. The attacker was badly hurt and ran away crying.

When my son came home and told me what had happened, I was upset for him, outraged at the child and joyful at the outcome. I laughed at the thought of this “bully” running off crying.

A couple of weeks later I was told who the boy was and a very thought-provoking piece of information – the day he attacked my son was the same day his father had returned home from prison. I was horrified – what had happened in that boy’s home to make him attack a complete stranger? I was ashamed of my initial reaction; I’ve worked with children for many years and I know how much home life and outside influences can shape a child’s behaviour. If the incident had happened to another child, not my son, perhaps I would have been more aware, but my mother instincts clouded my understanding and I had immediately judged the boy.

Unfortunately, the incident put my son off visiting the park for a long time in case the boy returned with a gang. About six months later, when my son eventually returned to the park, the boy was there – he walked over and apologised for his previous behaviour! That is not the hallmark of a child who is rotten to the core.

It made me think of a friend I had back in the 80s. He was known in his town as tough and he was from a tough family. They were all fighters. All except him. His dad would often try to arrange street fights for him but he was frightened and he would try to make up excuses to avoid the heavy shaming that would weigh upon him if he didn’t fight – the family’s honour was at stake. He was known as one of the hardest kids on the block but he would sneak away to cry in private. Shame and rage constantly coursed through him and he often lost control.

Teachers are often the unwitting victims of pent up rage in children. Some children arrive at their school with unbearable worries and pressures caused by their family life. They are not settled and ready to learn – they’re wound up and ready to attack. When their teacher has been up late the night before marking and gone to so much trouble to make the best lesson they can, they don’t always see the trouble inside the child – just a child making trouble. If you’re in a school and you have a “trouble-maker”, ask the SENCO why the child is behaving like that – you’ll be surprised and devastated. Some of the backgrounds of these children are heart breaking.

Good parents love and nurture their children. I’m not saying they get it right all the time. I don’t get it right all the time – ask my children! But good parents don’t beat each other up in front of the children. Good parents don’t beat up their children. Good parents cuddle their children when they’re physically hurt or when they’re sad because they fell out with their friend. They teach them that it’s okay to feel sad but it’s not okay to hurt someone else because they’re sad. A long time ago I watched Sir Robert Winston explain how, every time we sooth an angry toddler, their frontal lobes in their brain develop and this is how they learn to control their behaviour. Adults with anger issues have under-developed frontal lobes.

I’ve experienced life for almost half a century and I still don’t get it right all of the time – how can we expect a child, who has only experienced a slither of life, to get it right? Especially if their upbringing has been traumatic – neglect, bullying, violent, loss, substance abuse, etcetera and the adults around them have never shown them compassion or how to deal with disappointment, fear or sorrow.

Do you remember in the 80s we were told bullies were cowards? “Coward” isn’t correct – “frightened” is more accurate – they are children and they are frightened. They need help and support.

I wrote The Boy Who Couldn’t to show young readers the frightened, vulnerable child behind the bully. I hope adults will also read it. After my son read the first draft he told me “It’s really made me think. Next time someone’s being horrible, I’m going to think about why they feel like that before I get angry at them.”

I also hope that anyone in a similar situation to the antagonist can learn that your life is your choice: you don’t have to be the person others expect you to be; you can choose to be who you want to be.

Inspiring Reading for Pleasure

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A child who consistently reads is a child who consistently learns. About anything, not just the school curriculum. In “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, you learn all about horses pulling carts and all the relevant technical terms – you don’t get that on the curriculum. In “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson, it’s amazing what you learn about mountain climbing – you don’t get that on the school curriculum. In “How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell, you learn all about dragons – you definitely don’t get that on the school curriculum!

The question is – how do you get your child to be interested in reading in the first place?

Well it starts in the womb. Really! Of course, Erin the Embryo cannot understand what you are reading, but she can hear the sound of your voice and the rhythm of your words. At the same time she is tuned in to your heart beat which is strong and slow when you are calm. You are teaching your unborn child to associate the sound of reading with pleasure.

Your child is already born? Don’t worry, you’re not too late.

I cannot express strongly enough how important bedtime stories are. Firstly, they are a lovely wind down to sleep time. Secondly, they are a beautiful bonding time and thirdly, your child will hear approximately 1,000,000 words in one year of bedtime stories! That’s right, I haven’t left my finger resting on the “0” key, it is actually one million words per year just from bedtime stories! Therefore, a child starting nursery is potentially 3,000,000 words ahead of a child who doesn’t have bedtime stories.

So, you read to your child in the womb and out of the womb. You read to them through the day and at bedtime, yet now they’re nine, they’re a reluctant reader? What went wrong?

Don’t worry, all is not lost. You see, there’s a big difference between not enjoying reading and not enjoying a story. Almost everyone enjoys a story, but there are many children who do not enjoy reading. The reason is that until they reach full fluency reading is hard work! They have to decode the words, remember to pause at the commas, and stop at the full stops. Then they have to make sense of a sentence that didn’t flow, because they stopped to decode a word. On top of all this they have to imagine the characters and scenes from the descriptions (by this age they’re lucky if there are any pictures in their book). What a chore! No wonder they don’t want to read!

The only way to get through this is with practice. So how can we persuade them to keep reading through the tough part without giving up? How can we make it a pleasure? Here are a few ideas for you to try:

  • An animal – non-judgemental, tactile, soft fur to stroke, adores the child reading to them regardless of fluency. The only time my son would ever read was when I draped our Labrador across him!
  • cuddly toy – ditto above but doesn’t need feeding.
  • Grandma – never underestimate the Grandma (or Granddad) effect. It’s a very real thing. You see grandparents dote on their grandchildren in a way that they never did their own children. They think every word that comes out of their mouth is perfect and coo over the most simple achievements. They spoil them rotten, and reading time is a good time to be spoilt rotten!
  • A hot chocolate, cookie, lolly – the way to my heart is straight through my stomach and I know I’m not alone!
  • Comfortable room, tidy, no clutter – when you’re doing something difficult, it is easy to get stressed, so the cleaner and tidier and cosier the surroundings the calmer the child.
  • Quiet, calm, no distractions – they’re working hard enough without having to block out the sound of Coronation Street in the background!
  • Everyone doing the same – reading time should be for the whole family. Children are far more willing to take part in a family event rather than everyone else doing something “fun” while they’re “stuck here reading”.
  • Model reading – see above.
  • Talking about what you’re reading. It’s so much more interesting for them when they can have a conversation with you and you can both discuss what you’re reading, compare stories and give each other recommendations.
  • Be interested in any reading they have done – see above.
  • Read the same books as your child – see above.
  • Ask them to predict what will happen – engaged readers are always thinking ahead to what might happen next. If they’re right, they’re pleased with themselves, if they’re wrong, they’re impressed with the author’s twist – it’s a win-win situation.
  • Keep reading to the children – please don’t stop reading to your child. Eighteen isn’t too old to be read to. In fact, at a recent Union conference a lady told me her now husband used to read to her when they were courting! All together now … ahh!
  • Expectations / routine – children thrive on routine, if they know when they’re going to be reading they can mentally prepare for it and it won’t be an unpleasant surprise.
  • Trips to the Library with plenty of books available – it’s a free resource and so much choice. “There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book” Frank Serafini.
  • If your child really enjoyed a story and wants to read the same one again, that’s okay too!

The point of all the above, is that reading is always associated with a positive experience until eventually, the reading is the positive experience.

We never grow out of enjoying stories, we just change which stories we prefer. Once your child has a life-long love of literacy, they have a free hobby for life. And you cash in on your effort years down the line, when they read to you in your nursing home!

Happy reading folks!

Fighting Fit For Fifty

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I’m on the cusp of fifty and I can’t wait!

I’m absolutely determined to only look at the positives and there are soooo many.

  • I actually made it this far! For some reason I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to live this long, and many people don’t make it this far, so to reach 50 is pretty fantastic in my opinion.
  • If I live as long as my Grandma W, I won’t even be half way through my life yet, and I feel like I’ve been around for ever – certainly all my life!
  • My children have grown up enough to look after themselves so I don’t need to organise babysitters – hubby and I can just go out on a whim – we can even stay overnight and it doesn’t matter! Social Services will not be called!
  • In fact, my children are so grown up that one is self-propelled and the other will be learning to drive this year, so I don’t even have to rush around taking them everywhere they need to go.
  • Grandchildren! Ah, one of the best reasons for reaching 50. So far I have three little cherubs and they’re fantastic. They pop round, cause absolute chaos for a few hours, give me my weekly fix of kisses and cuddles then they’re gone again. I have a quick tidy up and there’s nothing left to do. I don’t have to wake up in the night with them, change nappies, buy clothes that they constantly grow out of, clean up sick… Grandchildren are bliss without a downside!
  • Spare time! This is a massive change for me. I’ve always been busy rushing around working several jobs, running clubs, studying, volunteering in child related committees, taking my children hither and thither, washing countless clothes, cleaning up and tidying up after the two messiest children in England and now, I have spare time. Hence the writing hobby.
  • I have to admit, the day I turned 40, my body began to crumble a bit. Well forty years of moving joints is bound to take its toll. But, I have 7 months before I turn 50 and I reckon that’s a good target to get my fitness back. I’ve always enjoyed exercise, and now I have spare time so no excuses. I’m determined to be fighting fit for when I turn fifty. In fact, I might even take up Kick Boxing again.
  • Pension … it’s in touching distance. I’m sooo looking forward to retiring so I can spend more time with my grandchildren, writing, exercising, reading, and I’ll be able to have a dog again. Ooh and I fancy doing a house up à la Homes Under the Hammer style.
  • Confidence, ah the older I get, the more confident I become. In my 20s I worried far too much about what other people thought of me. Now – take me as you find me. If you don’t like me, that’s fine, we’re all different, I’ll just move along. What a release that day was when I stopped worrying.
  • What career is waiting for me in my 50s? In my teens I was a student, 20s I was a secretary, 30s I was a childminder, 40s I was an English teacher and a librarian, 50s … who knows? Full time author? I hope so!

So really, I’m not at all worried about reaching half a century. In fact, forget over the hill; I’m over the moon that I’ve made it this far, and I can’t wait to see what the next half a century has in store for me.

 

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