‘Nother day, ‘nother dollar…

Thank god they put up this sign; Cornmarket used to be crawling with people walking five or more dogs.

So, I’m now doing an official 9 to 5. Well, an 8.30 to 4.30, but that’s less catchy. I’ve told you about the 6 till 8.30 and 4.30 till 6 part, but what about the big long gap in the middle? What do you do, anonymous blogger? Make the tea? Do the photocopying? Sit at a desk idly making mobius strips out of bits of printer paper for seven hours?

In a way, sometimes, I wish. I thought that was what I had to look forward to; graduate entry-level jobs have a reputation for being a selection of the most menial, pointless tasks assembled into a day’s work which is then labelled a ‘scheme’ or ‘development programme’ or such like to make the poor graduate feel like they’re ‘making it in the real world’. I’ve done jobs like this before. I once worked briefly in an HR office where the real employees had so little to do that they were reluctant to give me anything for fear of fatal boredom, and where the most frequent task (which, give it its due, involved teamwork and problem solving) was to play Jenga with everyone else.

The first day started exactly as you might expect. I was ushered into an HR office where I was shown a number of videos promoting the company and featuring lots of floating graphics and words like ‘synergy’ and ‘innovation’ and ‘globalisatular feedback targeting’. Around me sat a bunch of glazed-eyed graduate interns who had already been there a week and seemed slightly peeved at having to be inducted a week after they had actually started. We then had the health-and-safety chat from a man who was identical to the man you imagine in your head when I say ‘health and safety man’, right down to the moustache. There was a shorter version of the planned tour because a great deal of the premises was being immersed in a deluge of rain, and then I was shown my desk and given my plan for the week. Then my boss and I found out that my email hadn’t been set up yet and neither had my company network ID and as such I was essentially useless for the rest of the day. And much of the week, as it was to turn out – apparently to make an employee log-in you literally have to grow a tree from seed, cut it down, and slice off a nice chunky log to make it out of.


The second day I was inducted into the project I would be working on. I am working on a computerised German learning system for kids at secondary school, a project which was done about two-thirds of the way before being abruptly abandoned for a French textbook (sssssssss….). Well, in actual fact, when I say I’m ‘working on it’, I gradually came to understand that I am in fact the only one working on it and am therefore sort of a bit in charge of the whole thing, as I like to tell myself. It is a vast sprawling LAGOON of a project, involving hundreds of tiny manuscripts which need multiple edits, many freelancers each of whom is only available in brief snippets of time, programming which is picky like a four-year-old girl and hundreds of floating loose ends still left untied since it was put on hiatus. Without a log-in or email access, I couldn’t do nice things like set up my profile and so I simply dove straight into editing the mini-uscripts on my second day and by the third day I was basically a full-blown and inducted editor; I even knew where to make tea.

Since then, The Project (as it shall from now on be called in the interests of anonymity and pathos) has grown and grown in volume like bread dough in the airing cupboard. Simple formatting issues demand that I check through all of the mini-uscripts I have just checked through all over again; freelancers have buggered off on holiday for what seems like an unreasonable amount of time; the second recruit who was going to come and share this project with me is now not coming any more, doubling my workload and meaning that when things go wrong there is nowhere to hide – they will hunt me down and they will make me pay. 

The complexity of a digital publication is so vast and swirling it is, like the universe, impossible to visualise or comprehend. Microscopic issues can cause such enormous trouble that typos have become a sweet little joke, an endearing smear of chocolate that you wipe off your child’s face while ignoring the fox excrement they have collected all over their clothes and hair. I spend my days debating pixels, ultra-laser-precise filenaming and something troubling called ‘metadata’. This is not publishing as we know it, this is something from space which has come down to teach your kids Deutsch. It’s almost a joy to see the moments where the traditional German teaching format I know and love so well has persisted: it is European law, apparently, that every language course for secondary school has topics on drugs (‘hey kids, don’t do drugs – Xavier says it’s bad for your health (vrai ou faux?)’), the environment (‘I never used to recycle, but then I read something in Encore Tricolore which blew my mind’) and healthy eating (tackling the obesity crisis with fill-in-the-blank passages).

But despite this verbose rant, I love having My Project. Despite its foibles, it is going to be a terrific tool – an incredible, co-operative, reflexive way for kids to learn a new language and for teachers to help them do their homework in a way that is as non-boring as possible. The Project kicks those crackly and broken cassette tapes out of the language lab and sets fire to crumpled bits of lined paper with vocab listed on them. Kids do need to be using computers to learn as they are going to be glued to them for the rest of their lives, and teachers need to help them do more of that, and they need help to make that happen without constantly asking the students to create more and more agonisingly garish powerpoint presentations about Hamburg or the U-Bahn.

And as The Project, it’s a hell of a thing to be doing as a fresh and squidgy graduate. This company trusts me to be clever and reliable, organised and efficient, multi-taskerrific and responsible like a veteran babysitter. I attend meetings and liaise things not like a trainee but like a real and valued worker who they believe can do a proper job of things. There is a lot to do, but there’s nothing more appetising than a loaded dinner plate, and it’s my job to get my teeth in. Let’s hope I can stomach it all the way to pudding.


Chapter 4: The Dark Ages

Thank you The Guardian, for once again representing students in a fair and accepting light.

Apologies for the brief hiatus, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for your patience. Where have I been, you may well ask. But the question that might be more pertinent is: where have I not been? The answer: university.

It’s over, people. I am no longer a student. The discounts stop here, no more trips to the library or arbitrary essays or poncy formal dinners from now on. From now on, we are adults, now doomed with nothing to looked forward to but the ever increasing woes of taxes, ageing and petrol prices. Unless of course you have chosen to do a masters or postgraduate course of some sort, in which case go back to bed and sleep peacefully knowing how lucky you are that you are still on board the student gravy train.

Or so everyone will tell you. Graduating is a horrifying, morbid prospect nowadays. Whereas once you might peacefully lope back home, spend a few months squelching about the house wondering what you were going to do to earn your bread and placidly absorbing the light naggings of your parents, these days the new graduate is immediately plunged into the black abyss of abject terror that is Being A Graduate. The breath-taking fear that you will never find a job wraps itself around your neck like a boa constrictor as you read article after article lamenting that 90% of graduates never find a job, or end up working at Asda for the rest of their lives, or are simply laughed out of every job interview they ever have simply for having been stupid enough to think a university degree might get them as far as some schmoe with plenty of experience who’s been working since he was 16. The gentle nagging of parents has been replaced with franting bleating, urging you to start applying for things immediately and take any work experience you can get, whether paid, unpaid, menial or requiring huge chunks of the day shovelling excrement out of a middle eastern dungeon. Newspapers fling up their hands in desperation at the state of our Young Adults, who have been mollycoddled by ‘soft’ degrees and student loans and are now not fit for a job in the real world. 


Graduates themselves absorb all this with passive, worried cooperation, simply because we have nothing else to go on other than what we are being told by these factions. We frenziedly apply to graduate schemes, most of which promise a pittance of a salary for you to end up in some job called Accounts System Human Resources Coordination Overseas Consultant (i.e. professional email forwarder). Companies offering these schemes, aware that these jobs appear like glistening gold nuggets held in their pudgy fists, demand that graduates complete a four-step application process including two online questionnaires and aptitude tests, a 2000-word essay on your suitability for the role, an interview held in either London, Glasgow or Helsinki (applicants will be informed of the interview location two days before interview) and finally a submission of a felt effigy of the Hindu god you feel best evokes your positive qualities. We freak out and worry that our CVs are poor, and do anything to accumulate experience. We start blogs under the delusion that they will be a worthwhile arrow in our quiver (cough cough). Ever day spent at home simply enjoying yourself or remembering that you actually quite like your parents and/or your cats is tinged with the guilt that you are not at that moment on a train to The City to be interviewed for something. Even living at home for longer than the couple of weeks it takes to sort out a placement is seen as somehow pathetic – as if your graduating changes your living at home from being the standard state for young unmarried people into the type of ‘living with your parents’ which becomes the immediate No factor on dating websites for the over 40s. Any recent graduate who reads this article will find themselves whooping with joy that at least one public voice has recognised this and is happy to affirm how preposterous it all is.

Graduating isn’t a sudden plunge into adulthood. It isn’t the end of hope, dreams and fun. To begin with, we should take time at home or abroad to think things through, partly because we ought to have a chance to relish a few weeks without any deadlines or tutorials whatsoever, and partly because these are life decisions that shouldn’t be made in panicked haste. We should recognise that it is a prudent and normal decision to live at home for as long as necessary because rents in the UK are organ-thievingly high and there isn’t the lovely flat-share culture you find in places like Germany. And if we want a job, we should be allowed to feel confident about the fact that for the time being, any job is good enough, whether it’s a low-level lackey job or a part-time thing on a shop floor. Earn money, gain experience, meet new colleagues, great. Just don’t do it out of the fear and illusion that it’s the only chance you have from now until your final breath to break into the industry of your dreams – the course of life is endlessly and astonishingly forgiving, flexible, and it goes without saying that there are no absolute final chances.

And cheer up, noble graduates! There may be some who are doing masters because they want to stay in the student lifestyle, but the adult lifestyle is so much better and so much richer! Yes, you have to pay taxes, but you are still left over with a bit of income which is all yours, and the satisfaction of that is thrilling in itself. Yes, you have more responsibilities, but there is a total pleasure in finally being in charge of your own things and having to clean your own loo and find your own dentist because you are now mature and tough enough to be trusted with such things. Life is better because it is less easy: people are not parcelled out in societies and corridors but rather you have to find your own people whose company you can tolerate, and for that you develop a smaller but much more pleasurable group of friends; you don’t have essays and worksheets to fiddle with so you have to find new and more interesting hobbies to fill up any formless stretches of time you might have; even losing the student discount is nice, in a way, because it means you are now finally recognised as a real and respected member of society rather than a poor yet gullible well of profit who needs the incentive of a saved pound fifty to be goaded to spent nine pounds anyway.

Because in the end, and this may sound sad, all I can think of is the things that I won’t miss about being a student. I won’t miss never being taken seriously, and the assumptions that if it’s 2pm you’ve probably only just woken up from your drunken stupor. I won’t miss relatives assuming that I’m waking up in strange beds and subsisting entirely on Pot Noodle. I won’t miss nebulous work that expands or contracts to fill whatever time you might have to do it in and nonetheless is expected to be of the same exemplary quality every single time. Look at the photo at the top of this post again. The way that the ‘student voice’ is evoked by a photo of three drunk idiots dressed as zombies. That is why graduation is wonderful: university is one big coming-of-age ceremony, the western version of having to spend a day hunting in the rainforest having taken a poisonous drug extracted from vine toads, and only after you come out of it do people finally treat you like a man. We hope. 

Conclusive proof that children love unpaid manual labour

The beautiful spiral herb mound

I have finally mustered the energy to write today’s post after spending most of the day thus far convalescing in bed, tentatively sipping Ribena in a smog of profound self-pity. How did I end up in this pathetic state? Well, it all began many years (hours) ago…

There is a community gardening project called OxGrow down Abingdon Road in Oxford. It is a plot which used to be a bunch of sports grounds and tennis courts for one of the snootiest colleges here, but they have kindly donated it the grounds to the local community to be gradually cultivated and tended until Hogacre Common becomes a lush and teeming eco-paradise. I have been going on Sundays since the start of term and it only took me three minutes among the gorgeous and heaving veg beds to fall in love, and since then they’ve erected a ‘bee platform’ (believe it or not, bees prefer to live on a platform. It makes them feel above the common bees) and expanded the vegetable garden to an incredible degree. We’re growing dozens of exciting varieties of heirloom potatoes and garlic, the onions at the moment look like gleaming juicy gemstones laying on the compost and the strawberry plants are so aggressively lush that the green berries underneath the leaves are nothing but an endless taunt withholding what they are going to become. The work parties are every Sunday whether or not it is glorious sunny weather or the ground is smothered beneath a thick fleece of snow. There is always tea, there is often rain and there is always, without fail, plenty of digging. I love it. Digging is man’s most soothing and wholesome pastime; it makes you feel like a hearty medieval peasant and has the cathartic effect of letting you take out all your anger and stress in every enormous kick you give that big soil-clad spade. At the end of the day, everyone is free to take whatever produce is ready to be picked and you’re usually so cream-crackered the next bit is almost as good as the work party itself: resting back at home with an enormous cup of hot tea and gently hardening mud on your knees.

This Sunday, to celebrate their own volunteering achievements, a student/pupil tutoring scheme called Jacari brought a bunch of their enthusiastic members and tutees to the garden; nothing says ‘celebrate’ like being made to dig clods of soil when you’re 12…Everything was so calm and tranquil for the first hour or so, while we did various odd-jobs around the beds, until suddenly an army of children swarmed in and started gettin’ all up in our pitchforks.

Honestly, it was the most terrific fun. Since my ‘job’ (read: toil) in Berlin I have missed mucking about with kids something awful and unfettered access to spades and worms had put them into an excellent mood. Give kids complete free reign in the outdoors with gardening tools and they become the kind of brilliant beasts you always hope your kids will turn out to be; they squeal with breathless astonishment every single time they find anything vaguely insect-y, ask endless questions and do hilarious things like ‘accidentally’ shovelling soil into the back of your jeans as you’re crouching in the neighbouring bed thinning crops…yes…

The best thing of all, though, was when I was allowed to take my own group of kids off for an explore around the grounds. It was then that I, for the first time, realised how cool and exciting my mum was when I was growing up. She used to take us through the woods for hours, and being the head of a family of nerds she initiated us into the world of insects, birds and fungus (the latter of which my grandmother also tried to do but almost got herself banned from ever seeing us again after she almost managed to persuade us to eat the mushrooms we had found on our ramble). My dad, a vet, helped by bringing home little pots of mealworms or crickets for us to poke at, or even brought the occasional grass-snake or even kestrel that was currently being given medical care. We grew up surrounded by wildlife. And it seems it all stuck, for I found myself teaching these children thousands of little facts and neat things about nature that I had just assumed all kids innately know as part of being twelve years old, but the kids – and quite a lot of the adults – were soaking it all up in shiny-eyed fascination. It was incredible. Several of them had never encountered the buttercup test. One of the student volunteers asked the kids if they knew what a ‘hog’ (as in Hogacre) was. They chanted ‘noooo’. The volunteer hesitated and then muttered that she didn’t actually know either. (I delicately let them know it was another word for a Big Fat Pig.) This is not the kind of thing kids need – they want thousands of small and useless and amazing facts and they want them ALL THE TIME. To be the provider of said facts is simply endless fun.

 These kids didn’t know what stickyweed was, which in my view is a tragedy and a kind of infant poverty, so I diligently explained why it was called stickyweed, how it came to be so sticky and then explained to them the rules of that honoured game where you have to try and stick as much of the stuff on your brother’s back as you can without him noticing. We were lucky enough to find some froghoppers so I could explain how they make their little frothy dens out of their own ‘spit’. We talked about what compost was, how you can tell a dead nettle from a real nettle, and oooooohed at a skeletal leaf that had been completely ravished by the satisfied snail resting on its tip. It’s times like this that I wonder at all the families you see in supermarkets, telling their kids to ‘I don’t know just shut up Damian’ when they keep incessantly asking questions. Having the privilege and the trust to answer a child’s questions is one of the most fun and exhilarating feelings and even if you don’t know the answer you are at least in the position to make that connection with the child: you can tell them an interesting story of what the answer might be (“Oooh, maybe bananas are bent so monkeys can use them as boomerangs, what do you think?”) or at least encourage them for having had the gumption to ask in the first place (“Do you know, I have no idea! It’s cool that you noticed…!”) Suffice it to say, if I have kids – and it’s a big if, since I have looked into the heart of darkness on that score – I will ensure that they know all about inkcaps and puffballs and stickyweed as soon as they can stand. 


After being gone from the garden for a length of time close to ‘abduction’ on a legal scale, I had to bring the kids back and they all marched off to their treasure hunts and gnashed on crisps. And they went home, hopefully to a future filled with afternoons spent covering their peers in adhesive strings of flora and getting shouted at for being a mess. We all got to take a fresh new onion home, alongside a glorious array of broccoli, asparagus, leeks, chard, and all kinds of delicious just harvested produce.


It all came home with me and went into a delicious vegetable ginger-honey-miso stirfry with a huge field mushroom that had come from the market a while before. It was delicious. And then, hours later, for some reason I can’t quite fathom, it kept me awake all night and made me more violently ill than I have ever been in my memorable past. But it was worth it. Pass the ribena.

Congratulations! Your life now no longer has meaning!

Hey dude, sup. Just chilling. Word.

So, I did it. I sat a full degree’s worth of final exams and they are now completely behind me, never again to be touched until the examiners get their mitts on them. I revised for about 11 weeks, got through three books of lined paper, developed a variety of stress-related illnesses and wrote a blog entry about cheese graters. It was like wading through a swimming pool of congealing cold porridge, desperately trying to reach the sympathetic-looking lifeguard beckoning from the other side of the pool; and when you finally do get to him, you realise it was just a high-visibility vest propped up on a broom. The problem is that Oxford was always perfect for me in one way, in that I have to be busy and partially under stress at all times in order for me to really do or be anything worthwhile, and four years of marching about producing essays and library-hopping and running societies was the ideal habitat for a busy-body like this. Revision and exams was just a slight elevation of this, really. Then there is a sudden and almost surprising spurt of exhausting activity which really does feel like a spontaneous purgation of built-up mental fluid, and then all of a sudden, you’re on your own. You can relax!!


Except: what does that mean? For a start, it means gazing watery-eyed around my room regarding the sheer casualty of living that developed while I was glaring at irregular verbs. There are sacks of laundry, dirty and clean, everywhere; piles of mugs in every corner; incongruous things in all kinds of incongruous places (hiking boots in the recycling bin, mp3 player in a slipper, gloves in my bed); folders and notebooks smeared all over the floor and desk like the residue of autumn leaves that cover the street. My supplies-cupboard (which I like to call ‘the pantry’) used to contain most of my food and ‘supplies’ but now has been reduced to some Ryvitas, half a jar of pickles and thousands of dark chocolate Tunnocks teacakes which my mother brings me every time she comes to visit once a fortnight. My right eye is a large throbbing growth which arrived the day before my last exam and apparently is going to hang around for a few more days to soak up the atmosphere before it leaves me alone and returns me back to looking like a real human being and not half of Admiral Ackbar. Needless to say, some things need sorting out here before we can properly move on.


Then I suppose I’ll just be doing everything I’ve wanted to do for the past two months and haven’t been able to. I’m going to go to the garden and dig some things, go to the shops and buy more than just milk, maybe even find the time to treat myself to a trip to the doctors to deflate my eye. Go punting and visit the botanical gardens. Make some jewellery and paint my toenails. Collect some stories for you lot.

And beyond that, what? Are we adults now? Was that the poison-arrow-frog initiation test? You’d think it was from the way you emerge from the final one: blinking in the sunlight and hand still aching, you find a thronging crowd outside the exam building held back by riot gates, poised with tubes and bags of silly string and confetti and gooey things and powdery things and stainy things all waiting for their own one friend to come out so they can smother them with the stinking, crusty coating of ‘trashing’ ingredients that is their own way of saying ‘We love and admire you for your bravery’. The medics finished with me and of course got the royal treatment, which I can only imagine was the precursor to sheer apocalyptic hedonism because we all know what medics are like. I got flower garlands and one made of lined paper because I’m a classy gal and because we were once sent a very threatening email from our college warning us not to use food products for trashing because it’s offensive to homeless people who might look on in jealous peckishness (“I’d give anything for a raw egg mixed with cocoa powder right now…rich bastards…”). The weather is blistering, the day is young and there’s still one more box on the exam schedule that needs crossing out with a big red pen. I’ll catch you all later, bunnies.

When I was learning German at your age we didn’t get stamps, we got a slap on the wrist and a week’s homework. Now sing the bus song, for the love of Pete.

Vorsicht: Kuh.

I’m not a religious person; I don’t believe in God, or heaven. But I do believe in hell. I have been there. In my Monday morning Kindergarten, to be precise.

The Monday Morning Kindergarten is the worst place in the entire world. Every time I go there I wish with every step towards the door that it will be unexpectedly locked like the time the kids came down with swine flu, but then the noise of shrill screams first touches my ears like the very very tip of a razor blade and I know with a sinking heart that the regularly scheduled lesson is unfortunately about to take place. Entering the building, the entirety of which is about the size of a dentist’s waiting room, there is always a scene of chaos and riot to greet me. No matter what the children are doing that morning it is sure to be messy, loud, and involve most of them sitting on the floor howling and covered in snot. This morning I arrived to find every child in possession of a huge ice-cream cone, each topped with a huge Kugel of chocolate (which we all know is the most smeary and sticky flavour). At ten in the morning. These childminders clearly knew that English was coming soon and clearly love to mess with me; they also always tuck my shoes in the cranny behind the door when it’s left open on hot days and wedge it in position with an unmovable brick-thing so that they are impossible to reach, despite moving all the other pairs of shoes by the door to a practical and accessible nearby mat. This morning my English children were still halfway through their mountain of ice cream and were completely covered in it, while the walls, floor and toys in the room had also been smeared with a thick gluey slick of sweetly reeking brown. They came gloopily into the English room and spent the following hour whining and hitting each other or being stepped on by the baby. When I finally came out of the lesson the rest of the children had been cleaned up and were all crying hopelessly while the Erzieherinnen played them a loud song about trains on the stereo and sang along flatly with blank eyes.

There was, however, in the middle of all this throat-closingly horrific kidtastrophe of a morning one single moment of joy, and that came when the kids were singing “The Wheels on the Bus”. They momentarily broke out of their despair when I came to the verse where the people in the bus go ‘bumpety bump’. Apparently ‘bumpety bump’ is the most wonderful phrase in the English language, and having heard it the children joyfully bounced around the room repeating it over and over again as if they liked the taste of simply saying it. This is a magic phrase for every group I teach; no matter how terribly the lesson is going, the ‘bumpety bump’ verse can restore the moment to a state of giddy glee quicker than lemonade and pokemon cards. I like this. Learning a language really is fun sometimes simply because the things you learn sound so great that it’s a treat to say them. 


And this is one huge reason why I am so sad to be moving out of Berlin in a month’s time. When you live in a new country, you don’t just inhabit the place, you’re also living in the language. As I’ve got to know German from the inside, a chance I never had before, I have found so many lovely chunks of it which I enjoy every time I use them and which I will miss so much when I go back to my standard English dialogues.

– I will miss all the words which tell you what they mean in how they are put together. “Wasserhahn” means “tap” because an old-fashioned tap looks a bit like a rooster (a Hahn) with a beak and a comb. “Maultaschen” are ravioli but means ‘bags for your gob’ (Maul is a coarse/animalistic way to say mouth). Stew is “Eintopf” because you make it in one pot. “Verrückt” means crazy because you have been shoved or pushed (rücken, i.e. to move something hefty like furniture) out of place (ver is a prefix describing something being ruined or made wrong/negative). Isn’t that great?

– I’ll miss how many sweet little standard phrases are necessary to social interaction. You have to say “Guten Appetit” before you all start eating, you always give your friends dearly meant greetings – “Liebe Grüβe” – even in texts, and there’s more friendliness and politeness involved in giving and receiving than in even the English language. You ask for something with a ‘bitte’, it is given to you with a “bitte schön”, you thank them kindly with a ‘danke schön’ and in return you get yet another “bitte schön” or even “gern gescheh’n”.

– I will miss the brilliant way that you can tell someone you “wish them a good evening” or “wish them a lovely holiday” without sounding greetings-card corny or derisively ironic. Wünschen is simply a more accepted word in German; people wish things for each other all day and in bakeries and shops people ask you “noch ein Wünsch?” rather than the boring “anything else?” as if you were a old duke rather than a boring customer. It always sounds sweet and kind to my hardened ears.

Umlauts. Umlauts are such a beautiful noise and it makes one happy just to say them. They sound like a vowel said with a smile. Add an umlaut and –chen to any word to make it small and adorable: “Mäxchen”; “Häuschen”; “Gummibärchen”; “Urlaübchen” (well ok, that last one I recently made up to describe my minibreak to the Ostsee but anything goes in German, the LEGO of languages).

–  I will miss all the things that I have here rather than being them. In German I can have hunger, thirst, right and wrong, and best of all I can have or not have Lust and Bock. I suppose you might translate these words as ‘desire’ or possibly just ‘a hankering’ and “Lust haben” or “Bock haben” simply means to want to do something, but the fact that one word comes from the idea of proper yearning lust and the other from a trestle and a type of goat is just plain great.


– I think I will miss “gern” most of all. It works like “happily” or “gladly” in a sentence to express preference, but in German it does so much more. You use it to show someone how much you like their company – “Ich hab dich gern” – or doing something for them – “das habe ich gerne getan”. It pops up when people do each other favours or do things with each other or offer things beyond the traditional call of friendship-duty, and generally is just a bit of a cuddly word. 


Finally, we must give a brief mention to the German sounds that I won’t be making anymore. “BOAAAAHHHH” is a wonderful grunting hooting word which is like saying “woaaaaahhhhh” but sounds even heftier and heavy-metally. “Juhuuuu!” is an even cuter version of “woohoo!”. “Hè?” is a fun way to say “what the heck?” with just one syllable to perfectly accompany a single raised eyebrow. “Nööö!” is like no or nein but oddly sassy and melodious. And, of course, there is the excellent word “krass”, which in fact means nothing but is just an expression of anything being extremely…something. “I just kicked a baby penguin.” “Krass.” “I just travelled ten thousand years back in time.” “Krass.” “I just had a biscuit.” “Krass.”


Oh, and the best word of all? Schweinerei.

 

Lovable rascals

This is Berlin, I promise. Don’t look up too long or you’ll step in something…

Allow me to paint you a picture with words and sounds. You are asleep in bed at 6am on a Sunday morning. You are comfortable, warm and happily drooling onto the pillow. You have not slept well during the night but now you are nestling blissful in the cocoon of slumber, the mellow breeze of the morning gently toying with the hairs on your forehead. Suddenly and without warning this song explodes through your window and into your subconscious at tremendous volume.

You leap up and close the window but it’s coming from the flat next door so it simply barges through the wall instead – and you are then forced to spend the next two hours that should have been sleep-filled instead wondering why the neighbours are:
a) listening to this song on repeat for two hours
b) listening to a synth xylophone cover of the song rather than the original if they like it so much
c) doing so at 6am in their kitchen.
These are the same neighbours who regularly have colossal and loud raves in their flat every Wednesday and Thursday night, and who last night seemed to be watching just the car chase parts of all of Hawaii 5-0 with the television pressed up against the wall. There are so many people around who are simply bad and naughty; people who don’t give a single microscopic hoot and know they’re being antisocial, tossing Snickers wrappers on the ground and letting their dog chew your iPod headphones with no other feeling than a mild sense of triumph. Oooh, I’d like to smack them until they weep. Funnily, though, I don’t think any of my favourite kids that I teach will ever grow up to become these people, and my favourite kids aren’t goody-goodies or sweet little girls or cherry-cheeked cherubs. No. They are the really, fantastically, bloody naughty-as-sin kids.


The naughty children I teach are so much more deserving of the huge quantities of energy and attention I am forced to give them. Sure, the good children have earned good treatment and are often brilliant kids, and it is important to make them feel that they are getting recognition for being obedient or well-behaved or clever. It is also crucial for the group as a unit to show nothing but approval for the ‘good example’ kids and nothing but dismay about the ‘juvenile detention’ kids. Little Leonie is a smarmy, competitive and boastful shrew but she gets lots of stamps and high-fives because she is at least trying to exemplify what the kids think the teacher wants as good behaviour. 

It’s an impossible juggling act because this must be carefully balanced with the praise the other good kids get, the praise the kids who are just casually drifting along with the crowd get, and the praise the bad kids get when they do something remarkable like sit down. The good kids know they are good and often become distraught if they feel that they missed out on earning a brownie point; I have one pupil who collapses into a gooey crying heap the minute he is not instantly high-fived and given a standing ovation for saying a word. My superiors advise me to make these good children into examples by praising them as a form of telling off the others, as in, “Now look how well Marc is sitting, isn’t that fantastic! We should all be sitting just like him. Super!” This is unbearable enough but there is a very good reason to avoid this entirely, and as someone who used to be the unbearable swot in the class, I should know. The problem is that in holding up the good kids as examples to follow, they become incredibly easy to hate. You can see the other kids narrowing their eyes and puckering their mouths if these teachers’ pets ever get this treatment, and I just can’t do it to them; I have to protect my own kin. The fact of the matter is, when a kid is good they are praised, and when not then not. 

But no-one can understand how heartbreaking it is to always have to yell at the kids you love. And god help me, I love the naughties. They are hilarious – Julius has a rock-star mane of long hair and roars like an asthmatic lion when he gets excited or angry, which is all the time. Alexander is the only kid I’ve known to actively refuse to represent male characters in games in favour of female characters (“Ich will ‘sister’ sein!!”) and Leo is so, so, so desperately rude and naughty but his debonair eloquence at the age of three is so disarming I sometimes want to embrace him for the startlingly offensive things he says. Naughty children are exciting and rebellious and never boring; you can tell that the reason they are bad is that they are in fact geniuses who already know too much about the world. Julius had a horrendous fistfight with his two mates in class this morning and after I had succeeded in calming them all down, he smoothed down his hair with dignity, turned to the other two and said, “Now look. After all that, I want to know – and let’s agree on this – are both of you still my friends?” His equally naughty friend Michel replied, “Well, all I know is that I am my own friend and my name is Julius.” These kids are four years old and it was such an arresting moment of sincerity I wanted to buy them all presents for being awesome. These bad kids won’t grow up to be bad adults; these are the children who will become in charge of important firms or making new inventions because they have energy, wit and brain.

I love it when the kids secretly cover my attendance list with stamps when I’m not looking or when they ruin the entire game or story because they have realised that ‘boots’ sounds like ‘poops’. It shows such imagination and reluctance to be normal and boring and average, and for that reason every time I shout at them I am secretly wishing that if I ever reproduce my own child will be just like them.  

Who says young people have short attention spa – ooh, a bird!!

Any good insect-themed bowl requires time, concentration and commitment.

There is a general assumption these days that ‘the youth’ have lost their ability to concentrate on any one thing for more than fifteen seconds thanks to the scourge of the Internet and television and the general overwhelming bombardment of stimuli with which our premature consciousnesses are forced to deal with on a daily basis. This is a rather insulting theory and goes alongside the ‘exams are getting easier’ and ‘children are getting oversexualised’ arguments which help to perpetuate a grumbling bitterness towards the Yoof of Today which we all thoroughly resent, thank you very much. But more than being insulting, this is a destructive theory as it has led to a very uncomfortable new set of theories and reasoning applying to teaching and communicating with younger generations. It is assumed that since our attention spans are so fleeting and our demand for stimulus so ravenous, we need interactivity, movement and fast-pacing when it comes to our learning and our entertainment. We are forced to endure lessons where resentful teachers make us play terrible ‘educational’ computer games where you walk through a human gut or conduct your own poorly-animated archaeological dig, we must write our homeworks in the form of kitsch Powerpoint presentations which somehow count as more stimulating than any other thing in the world because they are capable of making a bullet point zing across the screen with a noise like an old-fashioned camera taking a photograph in an empty tin can underwater. Because it involves movement and colours and sound effects suddenly a boring subject is supposed to be transformed into a whirlwind of intellectual intrigue, a source of knowledge so absorbing you lap it up like a greedy, greedy kitten.


Of course, interactivity in learning is very important; you will learn far more in doing something yourself than when you simply have someone read it to you in a drab monotone. Chemistry is a subject only made bearable by the fact that you work through the theories involved by doing your own experiments and making your own conclusions which can then be applied to the abstract content. However, this works well as an idea because there is a clear purpose to experimenting and it has a sense of being real-world valuable as opposed to some gimmick. And let us not fully dismiss gimmicks in themselves when they have valuable mnemonic use; a bunch of bored sixth-formers are much more likely to remember the theory of electron shells when they are made to whirl around the room (hopefully screaming ‘wheeeeee’), no matter how simultaneously humiliating they may find it.


But there is also a lot to be said for young people’s capacity simply to be interested. Give us a dry subject and of course it will take goons dressed up as the Vikings dancing around a psychedelic cartoon oyster to make us pay attention. Find me any middle-aged person who doesn’t react exactly the same way. But give us a reason to be interested and we will engage ourselves, or at least try; it is hard to deny that we all remember and learnt best from the teachers who found their own subjects interesting and vital and did little more than inject their own enthusiasm and interest into their teaching to make it work. When our wonderful German teacher taught us about the Wall, she told us about her own experiences and gave us an idea of the collective German feeling at the time and without having to do anything more than tell us the story of what happened we were hanging on her every word.


Still, it is not the ‘youth’ that really concern me when it comes to this question. The people that are really at risk from the ridiculousness of these assumptions are the really little ones, the ones that are still coming to terms with the complexities of putting on trousers. Every time you make an assumption about a certain group, you risk perpetuating that assumption or even causing it to become true in the first place. Yes, little kids have short attention spans, but children have always had short attention spans to a certain extent, even back in the days when people like to believe they sat for hours at a grassy riverbank fishing with a length of their mother’s sewing cotton. No, kids have always been stimulus-hungry piranhas, devouring one activity for a couple of minutes before swarming over to another or simply staring with a menacing underbite out of the empty preyless waters. Give them something that they can truly be interested or engaged in, however, and it is a doddle keeping their attention; there have been times when I have managed to avert complete meltdown with kids of friends or family simply by teaching them how to make origami water balloons and letting them quietly be fascinated for a good half hour. 


We are making a huge mistake by pandering to this imaginary child who only likes things that are multicoloured, flashing and change subject and backing music every minute. We are setting them up to expect that kind of interaction with the world and not giving them a chance to ever be fascinated in the first place, never silently offering them the question: ‘would you like to know more?’ For example: recently I watched two whole episodes of Blue Peter to give me some material to write about for a BBC application. Blue Peter, for those of you who don’t know, is a TV show for kids presented by a trio of grinning Bright Young Things who take the viewer through a series of different items to do with everything and anything that is interesting or relevant. In the past, in any given show, you might have seen a really good report on how buildings are demolished, an item on show dogs and a performance of what they can do, a musical number, a feature where one of the presenters briefly joins the U.S. Marines and a ‘Make’ where they construct a fashionable London bistro for your Barbie out of a cardboard box and PVA glue. It is a marvellous idea because it fits exactly that young mindset where you are constantly full of a million questions about everything and you haven’t yet decided quite what you don’t want to know yet. But – good grief. Ten years ago a report on demolishing buildings would have been four or five minutes long and contained lots of good explosion videos, an explanation of how they stop the buildings falling on other buildings, an interview with a demolisher and a final climax where the presenter gets to blow something up himself. Now, the item would have been a minute long, and would have run thusly:

(videos of explosions set to a well-known Muse track)

Presenter: Woah! When a building gets in the way, you’ve got to get rid of it somehow!! How exactly?!
Builder: Well, we use dynamite to – 
Presenter: AWESOME! (presses plunger and explodes building in the background)
Presenter: Amazing! This has been really ground-breaking!! Back to you in the studio Mindy! (cut back to frantic-looking blonde in technicolour set)


It was atrocious. Each of the items was so short and superficial that there was barely any time to even understand what the topic was. The Blue Peter make, which used to be so complex and beautiful, was this time simply a hideous ‘rabbit’ made by stretching two elastic bands around a flannel. Of course children are going to have fragmented concentration if that is what they are being fed! Give them a mediocre thirty-second-long video of a pen factory and they’ll be interested for 30 seconds; give them a great two-minute long item about pen factories and they won’t complain at all either.

This is what grieves me about my work. I spend forty-five minutes with children pelting various activities at them as if they were dogs being encouraged to chase different coloured balls across the room. That isn’t even far from the kind of activity we have to do with them. We have to make everything a short game and get the kids leaping and running and sitting down and standing up and singing and repeating…and yes, often they beg for the time when a particular game will come to an end but that is less to do with their own lack of attention than the fact that the game is simply poor. They love stories. They love games where they can draw things or games that have more than one rule. They love learning the body parts by playing doctor for a good five minutes rather than frenziedly poking each other’s shoulders and noses for one. If you keep giving them new topics and seguing between them with transitions as subtle as getting them all to hop on one leg they will simply have a wild and fragmented experience and a fragmented knowledge of the language they are supposed to be learning to boot. 

Ultimately I fear the root of my resentment is the fact that I am not allowed to sit down with my kids for a good hour and do cutting and sticking with them. But I am worried that if we don’t ever raise the standards of our teaching to hold their attentions, they will begin to lower their capacities to be interested to meet our offerings, and that would be a colossal shame. Kids are curious about everything, why would we want to render them all a bunch of yappy-dogs, just barking at things that wiggle and squeak?

Should you be learning English if you haven’t yet learnt to use a fork?

Yes! It’s a real Trabi! (Plus owner who was not happy about me taking this picture.)

Now I’m not prone to exaggeration (cue raucous peals of laughter from live audience) but Monday morning’s lesson has got to be one of the worst any of us babysitter teachers have to deal with. It is a group of four children: a baby of one-and-a-half years, who can barely speak at all and has a tenuous grip on reality as it is; a two year old Turkish boy who is stocky and strong like a baby buffalo and doesn’t really know any English, German or Turkish but does know how to say “Onur MAAAAAAD!” in German just like the Incredible Hulk; a three-year-old girl who is rather bright and willing to join in if it weren’t for…; the other three-year-old, the adorable blonde who made his fame on this blog months earlier as that cherub who takes his family jewels out of his tights and kneads them like a stressball. It is one of the most impossible groups of pupils to teach, not in the least because none of them have even the faintest glimmer of interest in learning English; the other ‘zone- in this kindergarten is a bomb-site of broken and scattered toy bits and crayons and sweeties which no child would under any circumstances want to leave behind in order to play farm animal memory game with a weary and shoeless ‘teacher’ (something about having to remove my shoes makes me feel like I have lost any authority I could have had before the kids even enter the room).




This class is a shining example of how quickly kids develop when they are so very young; the four of them together, if they ever stand in a line,  resemble the evolution diagram  because each of them occupies such a different plane of early development. The baby is so small that she can barely stand, and spent today’s lesson lying completely motionless on the floor in a manner so lifeless that I had to stop a couple of times and watch her until I was sure she was breathing. She was, and for some reason was also grinning all over her sticky face as if enjoying some kind of treat. Onur, the two-year-old, is just beginning to get a hold on the logic of real life, which is why it’s possible to see him over the lessons getting more and more aware of the ract that language has a communicative role; this unfortunately manifested itself in him working out what ‘Nein’ means and roaring it at me every time I ask him to do anything, from sitting down to being an Easter bunny. Fascinatingly this is coinciding with his developing understanding of games and the point thereof, as a few months ago he used to be a silent force of destruction slowly trudging around the room oblivious of the fact that we were playing things around him, whereas in the last couple of weeks he has been able to point at a card in the memory game and even realise which card is the right card to be pointing at. 


Out of the two three-year-olds, the youngest (the male) is determinedly resistant to everything and is firmly in the stage of still being fascinated by his own and other people’s bodies, meaning that when he isn’t also saying ‘nein’ or massaging his tender parts he is begging the other one to touch her belly to his or is pressing his face against her bum. The girl, the oldest, generously allows this behaviour but is herself now far too mature for this and absolutely loves the games; unfortunate, then, that none of them are possible when the other three participants are rolling on the floor, tearing the room apart or inspecting their perineum. I allow her to play ‘Doktorarzt’ every lesson as it is her favourite game and allows me to subversively sneak in some body-part learning, but she is currently in that point of childhood where you are fascinated by the idea of having babies and so it doesn’t particularly move her that my head or nose or fingers require an injection but I do now have an impressive clutch of invisible babies to tend to.


Yet as they age by mere months each of these kids is changing so rapidly I can hardly believe it. The baby began as little more than a drooling flesh-bag, whereas now she is picking up English words and knows when they correspond to certain pictures and when I am asking her to repeat them back to me. Onur never used to understand that words meant things so it used to be a case of me shouting single words at him and him shouting them back at me in a kind of detached way as he was busy throwing things and pressing his face into the wall at the time; now he is grasping their relation to the world he lives in and occasionally will deign to sit down for a full two minutes or so. And the two older ones have learnt new and creative ways to misbehave, such as stealing and hiding my mp3 player headphones somewhere in the toy crate. 


It is one of my most chaotic and least productive classes but it is quite intriguing to watch these little beasts become more and more complex as they age. Like kittens you don’t notice them looking any different from day to day but you do remember the day they stopped puking on that sofa cushion, and I suppose they even look different too. It must be strange to be a Kindergarten minder and watch thousands of toddlers enter your doors too tiny to eat by themselves and leave big enough to tell you they think what they’re eating is yucky. For someone who only spends three quarters of an hour per week with them it’s a little like watching every third episode of a TV series. Still, sometimes you are lucky and catch a really good episode; last week was my favourite so far, when the girl was being a little demon and then accidentally kicked the bottom of a vast clothes rack propped up against the wall. It fell directly upon her with a colossal WHAM. She was flattened to such a degree that you couldn’t even see her under the enormous thing, and when I lifted it up, trying to surpress all my fear and amusement, she was spread out like a photocopy of herself. It took her about four seconds to recover.

Please mentally read the following text in the voice of the pubescent boy character in The Simpsons

Butternut squash-chili-ginger soup. You need this soup in your life.

It has been a quiet week on this blog, and for that I apologise. The reason for this is that the flecks of baby-spittle which landed on my tongue at the beginning of last week heralded the beginning of the end for my physical well-being. It began with a cold, which rapidly deteriorated into a godawful sniff-fest forcing me to fill my entire bedroom with used tissues, and then after the weekend deepened in complexity and heft rather like a fine whisky; all of a sudden I was unable to talk in any voice other than a faint quacking noise resembling the voice of that broken squeaky penguin in Toy Story 2. Feeling left out and bored, the rest of my body decided to get in on the action and my big toe began to creak like old wood and explode with acid pain every time I did something crazy like walk or go up or down stairs. “Why didn’t you guys tell us you were having a party??” demanded my teeth, and proceeded to become hypersensitive to anything that is any temperature or flavour outside of completely neutral.  Unable to speak, walk, eat, drink, sing or dance around properly my daily doings are currently somewhat laboured.

But I so seldom take sick days, and at school used to covet my hundred-percent attendance rate as if it were a Victoria Cross medal.I have my gleaming 100% fixed in my mind and will not let it go for anything less than amputation. I once attended an audition during the throes of Swine Flu and passed off my almost-not-there voice by choosing to play a weeping old lady for my improvisation. No pathetic germ or measly inflamed tendon will stop me from marching Thatcher-style through life, and thus with gritted teeth and a pronounced limp I have been teaching my lessons, turning to the dreamy wonderfulness of this spicy, nutty soup with a crusty hunk of walnut ciabatta to serve as my medicine.

Teaching when you are feeling like death warmed up is a guaranteed disaster. The only classroom situation that suits such a state would be if all of the children had been mesmerised into sedentary contemplation moments before one enters the room. Unfortunately I don’t have any Dido that I can pipe into the classrooms before my arrival so this is never the case. It is fascinating to see how children react to a teacher when we reveal that we are not inhuman machines designed solely to ponce about in front of them; they appear completely aghast that the Teacher should Not Be Untouchable like the guys on TV who are exactly the same every week. It does strange things to their moods and ultimately causes any authority you had to disperse like smoke in a draughty concert hall. Here, for example, is a breakdown of the week’s worst lessons:
Monday
The class with the baby. Sadly the baby is ill, as is one other child who the Erzieherinnen (looker-afterers) tell me (with worryingly dismissive apathy) is actually in hospital. Thus in a class of just two children the youngest spent the entire class sort of sloddling (a cross between slithering and waddling) around the room doing destructive things while the other entered the room, sat quietly in the corner and wept with heart-breaking misery. She wouldn’t do anything I asked or had planned to do so in the end we sat quietly for the lesson and pretended to cook things for an imaginary family of farm animals who were very picky about the colours of their breakfasts.  
Tuesday
One child gets so furious after I ask him not to play catch by grabbing multiple children by the shoulders and dragging them behind him like sacks that he leaves and goes back downstairs; the other children sense that I am physically weak and demand that they should not be made to do anything except hide and seek all lesson. In the afternoon the children are so indifferent to their croaking teacher that they all somehow get hold of huge wads of bubble gum and chew it open-mouthed pointedly in my direction.
Wednesday
Oh sweet Moses. An Open Lesson of French-Revolution proportions. The boys realise that I cannot shout at them and run around windmilling their arms, refusing to sing the songs in favour of going ‘WAA-WAA-WAA’ in time with the syllables of the lyrics. The boy whose mother is present suddenly becomes irate for no reason and spends half an hour sobbing in wet, outraged yelps.The girls are concerned and unsettled. In the afternoon the few children who are not absent reply to my every request with a variation of ‘no’.
Thursday
I sit the children down at the beginning of the lesson and explain in my whisper that because I cannot talk loudly they must be ganz lieb and promise me that they will be good this lesson. They all adorably nod with earnest respect and promise in unison. Never before have so many children injured so many other children in a mere forty-five minutes; near the end I manage to make a loud quack to get their attention, and surrounded by sobbing toddlers I tell them off for being bad even though they promised to be good. They all club together and explain that they all forgot that they promised. In the afternoon the children are late, rude and violent, and one boy who didn’t want to do English bare-faced lied that his mother had forbidden him from doing English. For five minutes, I believed him.

Anyway, as I say, such a week necessitates recovery time and soup. The soup was finally achieved tonight and if I get a few requests I might post the recipe, as it was honestly ladle-lickingly delicious. Recovery time comes in the form of streaming episodes of quality comedy, and so, without further ado, allow me to make some recommendations that you may or may not have yet tried, so that you too will have something to slump in front of when in the throes of illness.
-30 Rock. Starting with this because it is the most embarrassingly mainstream. I was strongly against this show for a long time because I saw it as such a disappointment; a much-lauded example of a successful female comedian in the spotlight which in fact seemed to suffer from Ugly Betty syndrome, that self-massaging worthiness of having a character criticised for being ugly, fat and disgusting when they are in fact highly attractive and desirable. However, it takes a few episodes to realise that the other characters only see Liz Lemon as these things because they are so completely absorbed in themselves and their own perceived awesomeness; once you have made that realisation the show becomes a delight to watch, a parade of self-obsessed twerps who are so oblivious that they are impossible not to be fascinated by. Also, Alec Baldwin is a titan.
-3rd Rock from the Sun. Yeah it sounds almost exactly the same. But this one is about aliens pretending to be humans so they can conduct research on Earth, and it is deliciously over-the-top and wildly silly. It has the fat bloke from Jurassic Park as an obese policeman who thinks he is a sculpture of Sex Itself, and it has a hint of Back to the Future pantomime about it which you don’t find in modern series.
-Absolutely. This is the weirdest show you might ever watch.

Scottish people doing inexplicably bizarre sketches with wild accents and appallingly grimy sets? Yes please, very yes. 
– The Kenny Everett Video Show. This was the daddy of things like The Fast Show and is excellently funny. As a bonus it features completely unnecessary and unexplained dance segments by an erotic and very 80’s dance troupe, Hot Gossip. The sketches are stupid and wild (there is a regular character called Brother Lee-Love who is a Harlem-style preacher with one or sometimes two enormous plastic hands) and a lot of the humour comes purely from Everett’s clear love of the kind of tragic special effects that at the time were the most cutting-edge thing on the market. 

– Finally, The Goodies. This is ideal watch-while-you’re-ill telly. It was Bill Oddie’s big break and unbelievably popular for a time. The theme tune is goofily catchy and while the episode plot set-ups may make you raise your eyebrows so high they’ll get caught in your stylish mohair hat, the slapstick segments are so cleverly filmed and beautifully timed that I sincerely hope you find yourself doing that kind of suffocation laughter that I fall into every time.

So there you go. Now get some soup and you’ll be fine.

The Kindergarten method of contraception

My maternal instinct has always leant towards a more stereotypically manly side of the spectrum; I love children, get on with them tremendously and find them often adorable but when confronting the question of having my own in any other real-life context than ‘some day maybe’ my maternal instinct coughs a lot, changes the subject and then turns on the TV. It is a huge decision and I am not going to cement my intentions on something so significant so early in my life, particularly while I am still such an indecisive person that I can spend a good half-hour in the supermarket trying to choose between regular oranges and blood oranges. However, like many of my colleagues, here our job comes to the rescue in allowing us daily access to a wide and exciting variety of small children ready to pound any inclination to become a parent down into the dust. It is astonishing how many of us in my company admit that their attitudes to kids and parenthood have changed (not necessarily permanently, but we shall see) since starting to work with them. Before I began working with infants, I had no idea, for example, quite how disgusting they can get. I am currently ill once again since on Monday a child literally and suddenly coughed directly into my open mouth; said infant was positively dripping with opaque green mucous and by the end of the lesson her entire face had a nauseating glistening sheen, completely coated with the various unhealthy fluids she was leaking. Today a child I do not even teach was so overcome with affection for me that he simply had to embrace me, which was unfortunate considering that he was so covered in food and snot that it looked like he had been sneezed on by a feasting dinosaur. He was unnervingly damp, too, and as with all the kids like this (and there are many) they always seem to want to hug you exclusively with their mouth and hands .

This line of work has also awakened me to the rather sad thought that while children are precious and the time during which they are little and wild and creative is short, a lot of what they do and produce during this time is sadly unremarkable. All of the ‘gifts’ I am given are so rubbish and apathetically produced that I can’t bring myself to stick them on the fridge: I have received, in the past, a blank sheet of paper with one edge coloured sky blue, a scribbled maelstrom which had then been folded and glued sixty times until it was no more than a rock-hard clump of frantically coloured Pritt-Stick, and my personal favourite came yesterday when I was given as a ‘present’ a hinged paper model of the human jaw that they had clearly had to make in science class. Presumably when one is a parent one sees golden potential in everything your child does, but how much of this flotsam can you save before you have to make the heart-breaking first ever decision to throw one of these bits and pieces in the bin? 


One thing that has not changed about my attitude to children, of all ages, is their immense capacity to be hilarious and ingenious completely out of the blue. All it takes is the right word, the right tone, the right idea, and within seconds you have their gleaming smiles and wide eyes fixed solely upon you and within milliseconds they will be having their own mind-blowing ideas to suggest to you. I have had to promise one class that they will all be getting hand-made (‘gebastelt’) tiger masks as a surprise present for Easter because they honestly looked so hopeful and joyful when asking for this present that refusing would have been cruel. Don’t ask me where they got the idea from in the first place but they have mentioned it every minute of every class every week since. I also particularly like that children are unashamed to be completely in love with something they do – this seems to cause a kind of insane tunnel-vision where nothing else seems important or fun, to the point where one of my pupils actually chose not to go on a school trip to the natural history museum because she didn’t want to miss out on the ‘points’ that I give the kids who arrive to their lesson on time.


But I’m not about to pretend that this post is in any way going to be a balanced argument or have an open conclusion. As it is, I feel like most of my colleagues; working all day with little children is making me want to fling my uterus into the nearest ditch. When you have your own, you can love them and care for them and have them as a little project. When you teach other people’s, all you see day after day is a parade of bored, crying, gooey, whiney, eye-infectiony faces and you don’t get to do the best things, like reading the bedtime story or giving the christmas presents or helping them learn to swim. And I’m a cynic, so I am going to assume that those things are all overrated anyway.