Friday, 31 October 2014

Reluctant Songbirds of Rugby

I must be honest and say I am known to go on a bit about this subject.  It really irks me!   Whenever I catch sight of it, usually out of the corner of my eye as I hasten past the TV set, I want to punch the screen.   My reaction is not rational, I realise that.  But then, I'm most definitely NOT a sports fan so I could avoid seeing it altogether by staying as far away from the small screen as possible when I know it might take place. But somehow I don't do that. If I had my way I'd sack the main miscreants from the national team, whether they were outstanding players or not.
Why oh WHY can't New Zealand rugby players sing their own national anthem?   With only a couple of exceptions they stand in an embarrassed-to-be-caught-semi-singing pose, hardly opening their mouths and shuffling their feet awkwardly.  They look so foolish.  And lately we've been exposed only to a back view of them during the anthem singing spot - almost as if the camera man himself is trying to save the viewers from the humiliating spectacle of the rugby greats who will not sing.  
Compare them with the Welsh for instance, who stand tall and proud and all belong to local valley choirs - or the French - or even the Italians on a good day.
I find it difficult to accept the fact that they cannot learn the words, don't remember the tune.  They all seem to find it quite easy to learn to do quite complex Haka routines after all.

Samuel Pepys Blog

I believe that Samuel Pepys would have been a most enthusiastic blogger, if the appropriate technology had been available at the time.  Just imagine him, Smartphone camera at the ready as he raced down Pudding Lane to view the progress of the Great Fire.   Later his fingers would fly over the keys of his laptop as he briskly updated his Daily Blog.    It has to be said that he was undoubtedly the most interesting diary writer of the past four hundred years or so - far more readable than his contemporary, the rather dry John Evelyn.  I generally keep a volume of the Diary by my bedside to dip in and out of in the middle of the night when the talkback radio is winding down to conversations regarding swimming pool fences or teaching Maori in schools.   Sam never lets me down and is always good for a gossip.   Give him a try if you don't believe me.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


I wouldn't say I was an expert at ordering goods on line.  I've never ordered clothes that way although I'm more than tempted by Marks & Spencers.   Mostly I order books and occasionally DVDs.  
The husband, flicking from channel to channel, commented that he could find nothing to watch on television.    Thank heaven for that, I thought to myself because he usually manages to find at least a replay of a rugby game from somewhere in Bulgaria.
I decided to give the attractive flyer recently uplifted from the mail box, greater attention.   After a Google search which assured me that those responsible for the flyer had a `proper' office adddress with telephone and fax numbers, I did not give in to the urge to also search them out via the Companies Office.   No, instead, I made a decision to order a BBC police drama series tantalizingly entitled `Shetland'.    What could be better to watch on a stormy Auckland evening in what passes as Springtime than the solving of crime on the Shetland Islands?    Congratulating myself on my decisiveness I sent my order complete with payment flying off into On Line Orderland and informed the husband that in a very short space of time he would have something decent to watch.
`Uh?' he grunted.  He had found cricket being played somewhere in Africa.
I looked forward to receiving the goods from Orderland with mounting anticipation.  After all, once a very long time ago I had actually visited Shetland with a man I was in love with.   In fact we had flown his Mini across from somewhere near John O Groats because the beloved was fearful there would be no public transport and anyway he didn't like buses.   I couldn't remember very much about the trip except that it was cold and windy and there appeared to be no buses and very few places where you could buy petrol.
I was very upset indeed a few hours later when a teaser-trailer after News At Six informed me that a new police drama was soon to come to lucky New Zealanders, on Monday next in fact.   Yes, you've guessed - Shetland!   Oh Bugger!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Another early morning call from a distressed parent had me thinking about education again.  Thankfully my own children are now most definitely adults and education problems have been long abandoned to the past - although replaced by other problems and difficulties that seem impossible to surmount.    It has to be admitted that one of the most worrying aspects of parenting concerns the child said to have significant intellectual potential who stubbornly refuses to achieve at any level.  Other, supposedly less able children win the maths prize, head the class in spelling and get stars on their progress charts whilst the chart of the child in question does not even get a smiley stamp for effort!     And this failure in life may start very early.   If you happen to be the parent you struggle endlessly to cope with failure.  Not for you the baby who walks at ten months and speaks in sentences at one year, who sings in tune at the age of two, demands to be taught to read at three, and plays simple melodies on violin or piano at four.   You become adjusted to the fact that your daughter’s abilities seem to be dismal and she is never going to cause awe and envy in the community.  This was the problem discussed with today's caller.  Never lose hope, however because she (and you - and I) are in very good company.       
Edouard Manet was totally inattentive, showing no interest in anything that went on around him as a child, including art. Leonardo da Vinci seemed to be totally disinterested in what went on at his local school and therefore did badly.   Sir Joshua Reynolds was thought to have no aptitude for art whatsoever, neither did he excel in any other area.  Gauguin did not paint or draw at all as a child and was a very bad scholar.  Picasso’s family were particularly worried about his failure at school and Van Gogh displayed no evidence of artistic ability.
Rossini was described as lazy, Beethoven’s composition tutor thought him hopeless and Verdi was rejected by the Conservatoire at Milan when he applied for entry.  Sibelius was inattentive, Delius was lazy and disruptive and Sir Edward Elgar showed minimal promise.
So we dispensed briskly with art and music.    
Her son was interested in science, she told me.  A number of prominent scientists fared no better.    Charles Darwin writes that he was considered by both school and family as a little below average in every area.   Sir Isaac Newton was in the bottom form at the local grammar school for a number of years though he improved over time.   James Watt was considered intellectually dull and as for Edison, he was always bottom of his class and described by one teacher as having an `addled brain’ – whereupon his furious mother removed him from school and taught him herself.    Einstein as we all know was regarded as anything but bright and caused his father great distress with his poor school reports.   Louis Pasteur was hard working but learned very slowly. Carl Jung’s teachers thought him idle and a trouble maker.
Writers and poets fare no better.   Jonathan Swift did very badly at Trinity College, Dublin, failing most examinations.  Oliver Goldsmith was described by school staff as `stupid’.  Wordsworth made very slow academic progress and Sheridan was described by his parents as `an impenetrable dunce’.  Thomas Chatterton was felt to be a dullard and better placed in a special school, Jean de la Fontaine was thought to have a nice nature but to be almost ineducable.  At Harrow, Lord Byron only interested himself in sporting activities and Honore de Balzac was described as being `in an intellectual coma’.  Thomas Carlyle failed to get his degree and Charles Thackeray was thought to be only mediocre.   Dante Gabriel Rossetti is said to have been a bored and fearful schoolboy and Anthony Trollope said that the only satisfying thing that happened during his schooldays was getting into a fight with an older boy and beating him.   Emile Zola was a very poor student, scoring zero for literature in one exam and Yeats was thought to be mentally subnormal because he found learning to read almost beyond him.  Leo Tolstoy had numerous problems, his teacher saying of the three Tolstoy boys, `Sergei is willing and able, Dimitri is willing but unable – and Leo is both unwilling and unable!’ 
And what of statesmen, soldiers,  politicians and religious leaders?
Napoleon achieved nothing whatsoever at school and Wellington made only moderate progress being placed fifty fourth out of eighty students in his final assessment.   Joseph Chamberlain worked diligently but was thought to be only average and Cortez who later conquered Mexico was so difficult he was regularly threatened with expulsion.   At Eton Gladstone showed no promise whatsoever. Winston Churchill was generally considered to be stupid, always being at the bottom of the lowest form at Harrow.   Franklin Roosevelt was generally liked by his teachers but they did not feel he showed any great promise.  Aneurin Bevan was kept back a year when he was nine years old and at his local Sunday school was thought to be such a trouble maker that one teacher said she would resign if she had to teach him.   Thomas Cranmer was placed thirty fifth out of forty two in the Cambridge B.A. exam.   Warburton was thought to be dull in the extreme and capable of little academic progress.    Karl Marx was an average but certainly not brilliant student.   Baden-Powell did not stand out in any way, hovering near the bottom of the class always though his conduct was considered to be satisfactory.
Lord Beaverbrook’s parents were told that he would never make a success of life because he had no ability to concentrate.
A surprising number of those who were to achieve greatness were expelled from schools and universities, among them were Hernando Cortez, William Penn, Shelley, Samuel Johnson, Edgar Allen Poe, James Whistler, Charles Makepeace Thackeray, William Rontgen, and Guy de Maupassant.
Parents of the to-be-great expressed considerable disappointment in their offspring.    Wellington was thought by his mother to be a moron, Darwin’s father was bitterly disillusioned at his son’s lack of academic lustre.   Louis Pasteur’s father miserably proclaimed that the boy would never make anything of his life.  Mrs Shaw held low expectations for the future of George Bernard as she thought him incapable.   Anxiety as to the future of their children was also voiced by the parents of Churchill, Yeats, Wordsworth, Richard Wagner, Schubert, Flaubert, Samuel Butler, Toulouse-Lautrec and Eleanor Roosevelt. 
The woman on the end of the line listened to all this with considerable attention and asked at last whether I thought things were going to improve over time for her boy.
`It's absolutely possible,' I assured her and hoped I was right.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Newly Weds

`We decided to take the plunge,' said the new bridegroom in a serious voice as he regarded his bride with true devotion, `We felt the time was right for us to do so.'
He was right to sound serious because such matters are of necessity momentous for a man such as himself, about to marry in the ninety third year of life.  The bride battled with the bottle of champagne we had brought with us before abandoning the task to an adjacent eighty one year old.
`I hate the wedding photos,' she hissed in my ear, `All I can see are the wrinkles - why don't men get wrinkles?'
`Well I can't see them,' I lied.
`Yes you can,' she corrected me sharply and slopped my glass to the brim, `Now drink up!'
I drank up.
`At least,' she murmered ten minutes later, having done a circle of the room and ensured that all present had been offered smoked salmon blinis, `I have always been much younger than my husbands.'
We both contemplated the sixty eight year old in the corner, currently threatening to permanently ensnare her fifty six year old toy-boy.
`Me too,`  I agreed.
As new guests trickled into the celebration the new bride pointed out the charming ex priest, now a marriage celebrant who had performed the ceremony the previous day.
`Why did he leave the Church?'  I ventured to enquire.
`He lost faith,' she confided. `And he wanted to get married but he was very anxious to marry an ex nun so it took a while for him to find one.'
`Why an ex nun?'  I asked.
She lowered her voice, `Well he was getting on a bit and he wanted to marry a virgin.  Quite honestly he felt it was the best way to find a sixty year old virgin.'
`How long had she been out?'  I had lowered my own voice to the extent where others were beginning to listen in with interest.
`Only a few weeks,'  whispered the bride.   We nodded at each other like conspirators.  

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Browsing Among The Books

Book shops were until comparatively recently the last bastions of afternoons of unhurried pleasure and tranquility as far as browsing was concerned.    Years ago before the birth of bargain book basements,  you could certainly prowl the aisles of Borders, Dymocks or Whitcouls for an hour or more attracting no undue attention.
Alas, in the intervening years much has changed.  Borders has gone and is unlikely to return and Dymocks is now hard to find although I'm told the branch in Newmarket is still going strong.  Quite the most alarming change is that browsing has become far less acceptable in the stores that still exist although of course there are notable exceptions to this (Unity Books in High Street for example).
Bright young people in smart uniforms and wide smiles briskly walk the aisles with `Can I help you?' tripping from their tongues.   And should you not meet their eyes and simply shuffle sideways as you mumble `No thanks' they will follow up their original question by asking what plans you have for the rest of your day or even query what you might do at the weekend.
Now my response to either of those questions is generally to advise them to mind their own business which I must admit causes offense and, should he be with me, embarrasses the husband enormously.
`Why do you have to be so rude?'  He demands to know.
And sometimes I ask myself that question.   However, I have now hit upon a less rude response though it still does not please him.   Picking up a book with a blue cover and shoving it under the nose of the stalking shop assistant I say, `I'd like this one but would you see if you have it in red.'
To my astonishment they rarely hesitate to scurry away to do just that.

Friday, 24 October 2014

By The Pricking Of My Thumbs....

Once a month we three meet like the witches in Macbeth, though not sisters weird or otherwise and certainly not on some `blasted heath'.  No, our usual meeting place is Mink in Parnell Road where invariably we are the last to leave, not noticing that the music has long been turned off, the lights dimmed, tables wiped,  and all the other patrons left the premises forty minutes before. 
I have known Sheila and Anne for thirty eight years and recently I realised with a shock that they are among my oldest friends.   And probably that's part of the problem because although we meet regularly there is so much to talk about that time literally flies along together with the copious amounts of red and white wine.
At the conclusion of each meeting after the apologies to the long suffering Mink staff have been gracefully accepted, someone always says, `next month I'm only going to have one glass of wine...'
- and then it's hugs all round before we rev up our broomsticks!

Marco & Polo

On Friday we spent a very pleasant late morning/early afternoon in deepest Devonport admiring Marco and Polo who are the most delightful and lucky kittens.  Lucky because they are being fostered by Jennifer and have not only a charming old house to explore, but a garden with tall grass and Hollyhocks, Daisies and an emerging Banana Tree -  in fact all that any duo of kittens could possibly wish for.    After a satisfying brunch at Five Loaves in Church Street Jennifer instructed Hank on how to kitten-sit whilst we worked our way through the registering of  tax details process on Amazon KDP.  It had threatened to be terrifying but for some reason was quite simple because of a recent change in something called FATCA regulations (don't ask me what that means).   We remain suspicious and think perhaps the said changes are a cruel hoax - will definitely report back if that is so.
In the interim it became clear that Hank was definitely not the best kitten-sitter in the world and we would have done better to put him safely in a locked room and let the kittens run loose.  

Totally Technically Incompetent!

I fear I continue to be technically incompetent or at best a very, very slow learner indeed.  I have only just found messages sent to me months ago via this blog.  Apologies to all concerned and I will try very hard to do better in future. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Getting to grips with Amazon publishing

The greater part of yesterday afternoon and indeed well into the night, was spent attempting to understand tax matters pertaining to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing!  Well, need I say more.  Maybe this post should end right here.
But no, let us be grown up about this and proceed further because although I am as previously explained, a mathematical incompetent, I sneakingly believe that I am possessed of average intelligence or something close to it.  After all, not all of us can be good at maths - or knitting - or cooking - or even parenting.   And believing that to be an absolute truth I spoke sternly to myself, made some strong coffee, and sat in a quiet place with a newly printed hard copy of the requirements in front of me.   It could not be too difficult!
Two hours later I sent a calmly composed email to Jennifer who had faced the very same battle a couple of years ago, was good at logical explanations and had a number of highly regarded university degrees to boot.   Not to worry because Jennifer would be able to explain it all.   I abandoned the coffee, poured a small gin and tried to concentrate on Judge Judy - another woman of formidable intellect who would have no problems with the terminology.
Jennifer's reply was horrifyingly disheartening.   It was a nightmare, she said.  In the end she had given up and opted for what appeared to be something akin to signing over her husband, house and all its contents to the IRS.   She fervently wished me luck.
I contemplated the TV screen in moderate despair and had a rethink about the abilities of Judge Judy.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Square Roots At The Garden Centre

We usually go to Kings Plant Barn when we want to add glamour, colour and culinary aids to our miniscule courtyard.   I like Kings.  They have well mannered staff who appear helpful without being too invasive.  They have a pleasant cafe where a hard working Turkish team prepare nourishing snacks and dispense flat whites and long blacks along with generous glasses of wine of all possible varieties.   They also have all the plant species you can possibly imagine, most of which I fail to recognise.
The thing I do not like about Kings, however, is the fact that within minutes of  happy browsing I am catapulted back to my fourth form mathematics class and begin to experience the same feeling of helplessness at the total mystery of what surrounds me and the inevitability of never understanding it.   All other mid morning browsers seem to be doing so with focus - because they know precisely what they are doing.   Just as my classmates of long ago eyed the long division examples and enthusiastically worked on their answers,  ladies in their late eighties, in tweed skirts and twin sets examine the various pots of glorious colour with both precision and purpose before making well informed choices - exactly as most of the fourth form attacked simple calculus.   Meanwhile I flounder between the rows of herbs lined up like soldiers and reassure myself that even I can recognise Parsley and even Rosemary these days (but Basil not totally reliably and Coriander only by its pungent aroma).    But then again even I knew my Times Tables.
Meanwhile the husband, now impatiently glancing at his watch murmers, `If you want time to have a coffee before we go you're going to have to make up your mind.....'
`You choose,'  I suggest, adding in a half  hearted attempt to sound like someone who knows what they are doing, `How about Basil?'
He reminds me we already have plenty of Basil at home and I make a note to examine it more closely when we get back.  Surely I can learn to recognise something as simple as Basil?
`You're not even trying girl,'  I hear the long deceased Miss Hart boom from the front of the classroom, `Surely you can recognise a simple square root!'
Ten minutes later safely inside the coffee shop with the finally chosen plants cosily sitting in the boot of the car I make an attempt to explain.
`This place reminds me of my old maths class,'   I say, furiously stirring the flat white, `I could never get the hang of things like square roots.'
He gives me a very strange look and glances again at his watch.   He tells me he hopes it doesn't rain today because he really would like to get in a game of golf.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Leisurely Lunch at Harbourside

Philippa and I kindly decided that we would take the men in our lives with us next time we lunched.
`And we'll take them to Harbourside,' I heard myself say, `For a treat - poor loves.'
So that was decided upon.
But first of all Philippa had to finish some work and so was pounding the typewriter (well, not actually but it has a more dramatic ring than `keyboard') until 2pm so we decided to meet at 3!    And Harbourside, believe it or not, serves lunch until 5 so it was indeed a most fortunate choice.
We sat outside on the first floor terrace which is now totally protected from the elements so that not even a stray gust from the water below penetrated, and were able to watch the ferries arrive and depart.    As our chaps are both deaf, we asked for the music to be turned down and it was done so immediately.   Pity we couldn't also turn down the raucus bursts of merriment from an adjacent table but even they calmed down once they got their oysters.
The fish was excellent and the lunch options very well priced which is more than I can truthfully say for the desserts which were overpriced considering their miniscule size;  nevertheless they were clever and not offensive, even tasty.    Our wait-person was a charming young German student who had been working there for merely a week and was struggling with the wine orders.   But she was very pleasant even if she did talk rather too much.    Unfortunately the coffee seemed to be served luke warm and mine was spilled into the saucer but they were good at reheating, etc. so one shouldn't complain too much.
Overall the afternoon was a great success and the men were able to converse, despite their deafness, particularly once the table of oyster eaters left.   We certainly enjoyed ourselves - we didn't leave until 5.45!
`If we get our skates on we'll be home just in time to watch News At Six,'  announced one of the chaps, hurrying in the direction of the bus stop.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A New Low For Employers!

The story that emerged during overnight radio talk-back....(and believe me, if you suffer even a little insomnia you can listen quite attentively in the small hours)....seems to be a new low for employers.   Forty thousand dollars compensation for termination of employment due to a renewed commitment of a certain Employee to the Seventh Day Adventist Church.   This meant that said Employee could not work on Saturdays.   Well fair enough but why didn't he walk away from the job that required him to work on Saturdays and look for a Monday to Friday alternative???
The story takes me back ten years to when I was running an After Hours & Emergency Medical Centre in Auckland where Sunday was a very busy day.  Oh yes, we needed all the help we could garner on Sundays.   And oh how vividly I recall a tall, suntanned and relatively newly employed nurse; for one thing she was in fact extremely good at her job.   However she and I seemed to get off on the wrong foot as far as employee relations were concerned which I put down to the fact that a couple of months into the job she told me she would not be able to work on Sundays in future as she was a Roman Catholic.
`But why?'  I ventured to enquire faintly, `Did you take a job at a clinic that describes itself as an After Hours & Emergency facility?   We are open for business on Sundays - from eight am until midnight.'
I cannot now remember what her reply was but after some consultation with the Nurses Union she did in fact continue to work her Sunday shifts.    I imagine that had the conversation between us occurred in 2014 rather than 2004, she would have consulted with a Human Rights Representative instead.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


I used to be a bit of a home schooling missionary.
`You may be considering home education for your child – either to keep up with his growing intellectual needs that are not being met by his school, or to keep him at the educational level considered normal for his age if he is lagging behind,'  I ventured on a regular basis to the unwary who rang with simple enquiries.  
I usually added honestly, `You may be fearful that if you do so, your child will suffer both socially and educationally.  Take heart from stories of the home schoolers of the past.'  
And I then launched into a veritable diatribe which must have bored them into the ground if they had simply rung to find the contact person for the nearest chess club. 
Blaise Pascal was educated by his father, who gave up his government position in order to devote himself to this task. In hindsight he was a bit like me at my worst.  He particularly wanted Blaise to learn because of an innate curiosity rather than be taught by rote.   Subjects like Geography and History were taught via discussion at meal times rather than in any formal manner.   He also believed classics to be more important than mathematics - (and even now I couldn't agree with him more.)   Later when young Blaise stumbled upon mathematics he demanded to know why he had not been taught this exciting subject.  He was promised maths lessons once he had mastered Latin and Greek.
Karl Witte’s father documented the home education of his son in great detail. (Well I didn't go quite that far myself but I did once write a book about it.)  Herr Witte had unusually strong views about how it should take place and therefore it began at birth.  He felt that such a regime would produce genius no matter what the child’s potential.     He was a village parson and in order to take on this momentous task he resigned from his parish (another real enthusiast you see.)    Baby talk was avoided and Karl was encouraged to speak early, and properly.    The Wittes decided that they must never speak harshly to each other in Karl’s presence and that they should always behave in a manner that they hoped he might emulate.   All disputes and discussions about unpleasant subjects were avoided.   Karl’s diet was closely monitored to ensure that he ate only those foods that were good for him and avoided foods with too much salt, sugar or spices.    He was taken to concerts and operas whilst very young as well as local markets and village fairs.  (And I can empathize with that!)   He had very few toys, being encouraged to look around him for playthings.   His parents did not like him playing with other children for fear he would learn bad habits and only capitulated under pressure from friends and family.     However, Karl quickly did learn bad language and began to tell lies so the friendships were quashed, his father stating that he believed the idea that children needed others of similar age in order to grow up normally was absolute nonsense.  (How often have I heard that from dedicated home schoolers?)  The Witte system seemed to work.  At nine Karl was sent to Leipzig University after being given a special dispensation.  He got a PhD at the age of thirteen.   At sixteen he was made a Doctor of Laws and appointed to the teaching staff as a professor in Berlin. (There you go!)
John Stuart Mill had an almost identical home education although the Mills believed in motivating their son with little rewards which would have horrified the Wittes.    James Mill believed that there was little in the idea of genetic inheritance with regard to intelligence and that given an intensive regime of education, a genius would emerge.    Therefore John was taught Greek when he was three and once he had mastered it, mathematics in the form of simple arithmetic was added to his timetable.   He was not fond of arithmetic but nevertheless was able to teach his younger sister this subject by the time he was eight.   At the same time he was now learning Latin, Algebra and Geometry.  At ten he began Astronomy and Physics and at twelve Philosophy and Logic.    He was largely protected from the company of other boys until the age of thirteen when he was sent to France to stay with friends and to be introduced to Swimming and Fencing. He found this social  experience quite shocking apparently.    However, he was able to recover and went on to use his quite remarkable education to fight for social issues such as equality of opportunity, free education for all and women’s rights. This may or may not have been what his doting parents had envisaged.
John Wesley was mostly home schooled by his mother who got up before five am each morning in order to do the job properly and continue to run her household efficiently.   Hers was a large family and the older children had to help teach the younger ones. (She clearly had the right idea.)
Jeremy Bentham was taught by his father until he was ten years old.   It was an intensive routine and there was little time to mix with other children, and when he did so the other children were made to feel like idiots compared with Jeremy, with many jokes and rude remarks made about their academic abilities.  Well that wouldn't have helped him make friends would it?
Goethe was also home schooled and private tutors were employed to teach him various subjects.  Later he said that he greatly missed the company of other children.
Lord Tennyson was educated at home for a number of years, though sent to school at the age of eleven and so was Anthony Trollope.    Until he went to Harrow at fifteen or sixteen, Nehru received all his education at home, mostly from private tutors.
And in 2014 in New Zealand hundreds and hundreds of parents now home educate their children - and very possibly most of them are as enthusiastic as I was myself.   

Friday, 17 October 2014

A Trip To The City

The husband looked impatient and complained bitterly that he thought we were going out so I reluctantly tore myself away from the delightful and very newly acquired skill of dragging photos from here to there on the computer screen.   Some of them refused to do anything other than remain upside down so they were best abandoned I thought.
We went to the library and filled with enthusiasm I came away with a `Totally Easy-Peasy Guide For Real Dummies on Windows 8' for me and a similar title for him on the Samsung Tablet he has now had for over a year and still cannot send or receive emails with.   To be fair he can and does read The Guardian  and avidly follows BBC News.
We then went to Mezze our favourite cafe for what he called `a snack'.    He polished off a dish of lamb tagine and two glasses of wine followed by almost half of my meatballs so I told him it was his dinner and not to expect more than a toasted sandwich later on.   In any case I was keen to use, yet again,  the sandwich press I bought last week and have become quite addicted to.
`This is nice,'  I said and he agreed.
Then the peace and equilibrium of Mezze mid afternoon on a Saturday was shattered by the entrance of new patrons - a grandmother and her adored three year old grand daughter who was terribly happy playing with her new plastic recorder.
`She'll stop as soon as she gets something to eat,'   I said hopefully.   But of course she didn't and played on, blissfully unaware of the hostile glances of others.   Grandmother did not notice the sudden air of cold disapproval because she was gazing at the little musical prodigy with love and devotion.
`Shall I ask politely if Grandmother would mind taking that bloody toy away from her?'  I suggested. The husband looked up with the air of one replete with good food and said no because it was time to go home.    So we did. 


Yesterday's early morning caller had certainly sounded anxious and we all know that excessive anxiety in parents can cause all kinds of problems that can never be eradicated from a vulnerable child’s experience.
`You might blame yourself for being somewhat over anxious about him,’ I said,  `Particularly as he’s a first child,’ – it turned out he was an only child which was even worse and meant that an over dose of anxiety went with the job description.  `Take heart - you may not be quite as neurotic as you imagine,’  I heard myself say kindly.
Feodor Dostoevsky, I told her, was never allowed out of the house by himself or allowed to associate with anyone outside his immediate family.  H.G.Wells was told he must not play with local children because they were rough, vulgar and common.  William Pitt was allowed to go to University but his mother insisted that he be accompanied by a nurse in case he should become unwell.    Alfred Nobel was another son desperately loved by his mother who shared his bedroom for years in case he should want something during the night (maybe not quite as odd as it sounds considering the day and age...)  Marcel Proust was a clingy child whose parents doted on him.  Until he was a teenager his mother stayed in his room each night until he went to sleep so that he would feel secure - which in itself makes Mrs. Nobel look a tinsy bit more normal.  Marcel in fact begged his mother not to leave his side even for an hour or two and cried bitterly if she did so.
`They sound a lot worse than me,’  said my telephone communicant and sounded a little more hopeful.
I idly wondered if she was also a `Pushy Parent’.  Had she ever been described as somewhat pushy by her son’s class teacher, or even by a member of her extended family?  Did she sometimes ask him to play a Chopin waltz for visitors to show off his talent?   Did she once send his poems to a publisher on his behalf?    She admitted to these misdemeanours and shamefacedly joined the ranks of the over ambitious.
Not to worry though. Mozart’s father, I told her comfortingly, was the archetypal pushy parent, treating him like a performing bear and dragging him across Europe to show him off.
Carl Weber’s father was convinced that Carl was another Mozart, putting him through an intensive musical training and showing him off to all and sundry. Beethoven’s father felt much the same about little Ludwig and forced him to practise for hours on end on both violin and piano, even hauling him out of bed late at night to do so.
Samuel Johnson claimed in adult life that his parents exhibited him like circus animal and were perpetually relating tales of his brilliance to the neighbours.  He particularly accused his father and felt that the man had been too old when he was born and that consequently he treated him more like an exotic pet than a child.
`How old was he?’  she asked and I had to admit that I had been quite unable to find out. 
We talked about Early Development.  Her son had been one of those infants who meet their milestones early, who crawl around at six months, having already developed several teeth.    They often demand proper food at one year,  ask for French lessons at three, and violin lessons at four.  Initially they are a joy to their parents as they regale all who will listen with a list of their ever increasing abilities.   They are fondly convinced that their child is well on the way to becoming a Rhodes Scholar.
Well, why not?  Parenting the gifted was not destined to be doom and gloom all of the time.
Jeremy Bentham was only twelve years old when he went to Oxford, getting his B.A. at fifteen and his M.A. at eighteen.   Picasso could draw long before he could speak.   Handel was well known for his musical abilities at the age of six and by eleven was a competent composer.   Haydn also developed early and composed a Mass at thirteen.  Mozart’s precocity is legend. Beethoven  first played in public at eight, Rossini was thirteen and Schubert was fourteen. Mendelssohn began to compose and play in public at nine, writing works for both violin and piano.  When he was fifteen he wrote his first opera.   It is said that when Chopin was a pre-schooler he would weep with emotion when he heard music, and he learned to play the piano long before he learned to read and write.   His first compositions were written at the age of six.    Brahms was also very precocious and while still a child he became a bar room pianist.
The anxious mother on the other end of the line began to sound a little more hopeful and even told me, quite decisively, she did not want her son playing in bars at any stage and she was almost tempted to put a halt to the music lessons for a year or two.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


Ideally, all able children should be capable of reaching their potential, whatever that might be and in whatever direction the pursuit of that achievement takes them and this should be particularly so for the highly intelligent.  School should work for them all and an ideal school situation should provide them with all the academic stimulation necessary to point them on their way to career success.  A perfect, model home environment should offer them all they need to ensure emotional and intellectual health for the rest of their lives.   It does not always work that way of course I told the worried parent with whom I had an elongated early morning conversation.
When reading of the upbringing and childhood experiences of many of those who grew up to be outstanding men and women an extraordinary and fascinating body of information can be uncovered.   If only the Edisons and Tolstoys were still here to regale us with the problems they encountered and give us the benefit of their experience.
For many a long year we have been told that everything of consequence begins in the home and the way you shape your child’s life will ultimately define what kind of adult he or she becomes. If your child doesn’t shape up then you know that somewhere along the line you went wrong.     But it isn’t always quite that easy as we are all aware.  Parenting, by its very nature, demands an impossible amount of time and tolerance and often the outcome is not quite as rewarding as one might have hoped. You produce a fearful, insecure son with all the resulting raft of behaviour problems and from all you are told, believe all too easily that his insecurity stems from deprivation – you did not distribute enough of your love, you were not always kind, you were quick to criticise, were sarcastic occasionally and in any case you’ve always preferred his well behaved sister! You can’t win.
We worry about whether the home we are providing is a happy enough one.  Is our child being held back by a gloomy atmosphere when she comes home from school?
Well…..possibly, but on the other hand the brutality and lack of care documented below would suggest that despite all this, most able children can still rise to dizzy heights of prominence and celebrity.  So possibly my telephone enquirer should try not to worry quite so much.  She hadn't heard of John Ruskin but then to be perfectly frank I hadn't heard of him myself until I began to delve into the childhoods of the later-to-be-illustrious.
John Ruskin’s mother, I told her,  was a strict evangelical puritan and did not allow little John many toys and even refused to let him play with a puppet theatre a kind aunt bought for him. No books except the Bible were allowed on Sundays. His mother was overprotective and when he went to Oxford she went with him, taking rooms nearby. Now you could say she was just a concerned, loving parent, but according to her son she was the trigger for all that later went wrong in his life.
General Gordon (she did know of him) claimed in adult life that he could never get over the fact that as a child he was urged to believe that every word of the Bible was literally true and for that reason he totally rejected all forms of faith. He was clearly a very tough critic. Even worse was the plight of poet Edmund Gosse who came from an Exclusive Brethren family and never ate a meal away from home or received visitors.  His parents liked to discuss Theology after tea and did not allow Edmund story books – even fairy tales were denied him.  He, too, did not forgive them easily although as a clearly able boy he could have learned much from all those after tea discussions.
You might imagine that completely chaotic homes would be somewhat happier. Not so!  Sir Patrick Hastings` father was frequently on the verge of bankruptcy, drunk most of the time, and regularly disappeared  for months at a time leaving his family without any means of support. His  mother was an artist, totally absorbed in her work and a hopeless parent although she seemed to have an abiding love for her children.   Young Patrick felt he had a miserable childhood.   The home of George Bernard Shaw was similar and he claimed that most of the time his parents abandoned their children to care for themselves under the occasional supervision of the servants. He felt that he would have had a better deal had the family been too poor to afford servants and later described his childhood as `eccentric to the point of anarchy’. He strongly believed that his mother in particular should have taken greater care of his diet for example, rather than leaving him to eat and drink whatever he pleased.   There are children out there in today’s world who would envy him!
Lord Clive, later of India, also suffered from lack of guidelines. As a toddler he was sent to relatives in Manchester to be out of the way of his arthritic father who was prone to violent rages. The couple who became his caregivers loved him dearly and could deny him nothing. Young Clive became rude, arrogant, impetuous and dominating. He was expelled from one school after another as posses of parents descended upon Headmaster’s offices to demand his removal within a very short space of time after each enrollment. He apparently led bands of young hooligans through the environs of greater Manchester, breaking into toy shops, stealing from market stalls, and generally terrorising the locals. As an adult he blamed this delinquency on his family. 
Dramatist and writer Anton Chekhov, was a victim of a despotic parent.  His father was badly educated and irrational;  he is said to have  had a woeful ignorance of how to bring up his children and was brutal in the extreme. The adult Chekhov frequently referred to his father as a  vicious despot who beat him regularly for minor misdemeanours  such as not attending properly in church, playing instead of doing his lessons, and taking too long to carry out errands. In later life he claimed that this early lack of love made it impossible for him to love others. He would have enjoyed being kind to others, he maintained, but found it impossible to do so.
Frederick Delius was one of twelve children.  He was another deeply unhappy boy whose parents were tyrannical. When Frederick achieved fame they showed little or no interest and never went to a single one of his performances.  
Rudyard Kipling never got over his parents taking him to England from India when he was five or six and leaving him there without any warning. His guardians were not ideal and he got frequent beatings. They took away his books when they found he was reading for pleasure and made him learn long passages of the Bible by heart.  As a result of this his eyesight deteriorated and he began to do badly at school.  So badly in fact that he systematically destroyed  his school reports instead of handing them over.  His mother returned to rescue him some years later but he was never able to come to terms with the unhappiness of those years or forgive her for them.  Though to be fair, in spite of his bad eyesight didn’t he do well? 
Some who were later to achieve greatness grew up with a different kind of insecurity and deprivation. Leonardo da Vinci was illegitimate, taken from his mother and raised by a foster mother. He was not treated badly but he felt that his whole development was damaged by this separation from his birth mother.  Lawrence of Arabia was also illegitimate  His father was a baronet married to an unpleasant woman known as the Vinegar Queen with whom he had five daughters.   He had a long affair with his children’s nurse and eloped with her. The outcome of the union was five sons, one of whom, Lawrence, was severely emotionally affected by the family situation. Jonathan Swift’s father died shortly before his birth and his distraught young mother handed him over to foster care when he was a few days old.  He did not see her again for three or four years. He always felt that his life had been `poisoned from the start’ and he never emotionally recovered. Samuel Johnson grew up in a home where conflict was ever present between his parents which caused him great distress. Froebel’s mother died when he was a few months old and he was left largely in the care of neglectful servants. He never came to terms with the fact that his father remarried a few years later and apart from teaching him to read, took little interest in him. Rousseau was also a motherless infant.  When his mother died after his birth, his father immediately left for several years and went to Constantinople. His older brother, a boy of twelve or thirteen, disappeared at about the same time and Jean was handed into the care of an aunt and uncle who were dutiful but failed to love him as he felt he deserved. Toulouse Lautrec grew up in a house that resounded with hatred.  His parents held no love or regard for each other at all and tried to exist as strangers. Nevertheless Toulouse was spoiled by his mother who lavished all her attention on him..........all very fascinating, and more later!