University of Beestonia

Augar-ing down into the world of Higher Education

On my return from a University of Beestonia sabbatical I find HE in the national headlines, in May sandwiched somewhere between Farage and Trump (don’t dwell on that imagery too much) Dr Auger and his colleagues presented their Review of Post-18 Education and Funding (from the literal rather than creative school of titling I
guess…).

The headline grabbing recommendation (out of all 53 of them) was that to reduce the University Tuition Fee from its current level at £9,250, to £7,500 per year for undergraduate students. Less widely reported, but fairly critical for the Universities was the following recommendation that Government should replace in full the lost fee income by
increasing the teaching grant, leaving the average unit of funding unchanged at sector level in cash terms.

This seems fairly critical, as otherwise most Universities will see substantial reductions in income, given the high percentage of that income that comes from tuition fees.

However, word on the lanes and boulevards is that the next government is likely to embrace the former recommendation and quietly ignore the latter. After all, saving folk money is a good thing, whereas taking it away from something else or increasing taxes generally doesn’t go down so well.

Some point out though that government also want a high quality higher education sector in the UK – it has its uses after all, not least the 1.2 % of GDP in contributes (figures from the Auger review).

So how does one go about balancing that alongside the other things Universities have to do, like undertake research? It is the question that Universities and those that work within them have been batting with for some time. How do you balance the books and maintain or improve quality? How do you measure quality and ensure it? Themes such as this have drifted through this particular column before.

And whilst we juggle with the balancing, there are still huge uncertainties about just what will happen to the review in the hands of a new PM, a new government and in an uncertain Brexit landscape. It’s difficult to plan for, and so institutions have to look to the worst case. A cut in fee will likely have to be compensated for by an increase
in student numbers or cut in provision somewhere. Neither are ideal in terms of providing a leading higher educational experience to our future students. 20 go to 10.

There’s a challenge to doing more with less, to more by fewer. And it’s a shame because we have great students who deserve and should demand a good University education, and we want to be able to provide that. I don’t think the Auger review wanted anything less than that either, I just hope whoever implements the review allows it to happen.

It’s good to be back…

Prof. J

The Yorkshireman Speaks #12

This month the Yorkshireman looks at how children are an inspiration

Pablo Picasso famously said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

We recently went on a family holiday and I’m using the term “holiday” loosely. There is no such thing as a holiday when you have a young family, it’s essentially just stress on tour. You go from your house, where you all have your own space and comfort and go and live together all in one room, for two weeks, like the Bucket Family in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. That isn’t a relaxing break, that’s like you’ve been temporarily rehoused after a flood. They shouldn’t give you duvets, just foil blankets, you don’t need room service you need the red cross!

You don’t realise how noisy your kids are until you all have to sleep in one room. How can a two-year-old snore? They are T-Total, have hairless nostrils, yet mine sounded like Gollum with a head cold!

Your bedtime is their bedtime too, that’s so weird. My wife and I were laid next to each other in the dark, all wired and awake, “I can’t sleep” she said, “neither can I it’s ten to seven, the One Show hasn’t even started yet!” People said to us, try keeping the kids up. No, we’ve tried that they go feral, they start fighting and crying, screaming at each other across the hotel lobby whilst people are trying to check in, it’s like a hen night without the gin.

“They are like dictators in Peppa Pig pyjamas.”

As parents most of your holiday is spent huddled in the bathroom, that’s like your own little apartment. It’s ten o’clock at night and you find yourself sitting there on the toilet, just drinking a box of wine, eating a buffet off the side of the bath. Rockstars chop out lines of cocaine in a hotel bathroom, I’m cutting carrot into sticks.

You get jealous of the childless couple in the room next door, “they’re loud aren’t they? I wonder what they are doing?”

“Each other probably, like we used too, remember that?” you both stare wistfully into the distance, imagining what that would be like, then one of you breaks the silence, “fancy another game of travel Scrabble?” “yeah, whose legs are we balancing the board on?”

We came back shattered too, because the youngest always came and slept in bed with us. She’d always say, “Daddy I’m scared, I’ve had a nightmare” I felt like saying, “So, have I mate, what’s yours about? mine started in 2016, looks exactly like you and it doesn’t end even when I’m awake. But why don’t you pop in here with us and for the next eight hours, just use my back as a treadmill. I love the way you position yourself just at the perfect height to kick me repeatably in the kidneys until the sun rises.

She’s doing so many miles on my back at one point I swear my wife started sponsoring her. I always know when the holiday is coming to an end because it’s the same day, I start to see blood in my urine, that first wee of the morning was like Darth Vader’s light sabre!

The kids just gradually take over the bed, it’s like sleeping with a military occupation. They are like dictators in Peppa Pig pyjamas. I spent the whole night clinging on to the edge of the bed. The only thing that kept me there was the suction from my own clenched arse cheeks.

It was on this holiday however, that I noticed this zest for life that the children have and it made me re-evaluate my attitude to things.

We had a key card for our hotel room door and this blew the kids minds. A simple plastic card, a door handle and a little green light, that was like Disneyland to them. Every day they had to take it in turns, one of them would take the card, we’d all have to leave the room. They then would approach the door, put the card in, we’d marvel at the little light, they would open the door, we’d all walk into the room, one child one give the card to the other one, we’d then back out of the room again and repeat the process again….six times a day. We spent more time in that corridor than we did in the room!

If you did this as an adult people would tell you to grow up!

I feel that they do need to reign in this excitement. Life is going to be such a disappointment. If they carry on like this, the first time they do drugs their heads will fall off and no doubt a plastic card will be involved there too.

I have realised the best way I can be a role model to my kids is to approach life with positivity and joy, what other choice do we have? As adults we need to be more like the kids with the key card, reconnecting with those experiences in life that make us happy. So, I’m making changes, tomorrow morning I’ll be up at eight, singing and whistling and marvelling at the majesty of that bin lorry from my window.

@scottbcomedyuk | scottbennettcomedy.co.uk

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Motherhood: Spring

‘Spring is sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is’.

My Dad used to recite that line to me when I was a child, and if I replace ‘birdies’ with ‘pinot grigio’ you have exactly my sentiments about the approaching warmer weather. I’m a big fan of a pub garden, of early evenings sat outside while the children play in the paddling pool and run through the wheat fields before leading the country into the abyss. Wait, that’s just Teresa May, my bad.

I adore the good weather, I’ve lived and worked in central Europe and being outdoors suits me entirely. My issue with the approaching summer is that my kid is an only child, which means that I am her playmate, which means no wine, no sitting down, and absolutely no relaxing thank you very much. Despite a social life which would make the Kardashians recoil in exhaustion, my kid wants to play with ME. Which is great, because she still thinks I’m cool enough to play with (time is ticking on that front) but it flies in the face of wine-drenched relaxation in the garden. The first green shoots of Spring signal the end of my peaceful hibernations indoors, and the start of my Olympic training regime in such sports as Kick the Ball Loudly into Next Door’s Fence, Help Me Up on to this Swing, and Mum Can I Have an Ice-Lolly. I need to get fit, quick, these are blood sports and I’ve neglected my training.

Having an only child is an absolutely magical thing. They (maybe a tad patronisingly) allow you to become an honorary child again while they set the rules and run you ragged. I adore it. We can’t have any more kiddos, so this girl will be forever thrust into other people’s gardens, picking up neighbourhood waifs and strays to play with while we are out and about. I don’t think this is a negative thing, and I’m grateful that I’m active enough to keep up with her while she shouts rules at me and berates my obvious athletic inadequacies in public. From what I hear from people with more than one kid it seems to be more of a lion-taming situation anyway, more Chris Pratt with the raptors in Jurassic World and less The Waltons. I’ll never know, but sometimes I feel a pang of gratitude in Autumn when the nights draw in and we can legitimately stick a DVD on under a blanket and ignore the outside world completely. Summer is great, but dear sweet baby Jesus I’m shattered already.

DL

Daisy Leverington

Motherhood #10: Technology

A local radio station ran a piece recently on whether not children spend too much time looking at screens and not enough time playing outside, getting ruddy-cheeked and grass-stained.

Their experts (a grandma from Sandiacre and a bloke called Tony who doesn’t have kids) were in fiery agreement, that kids these days are indeed a lazy bunch of lounge-lizards, content only when 15 million megapixels are shining directly into their retinas, content never to leave their child-caves lest they catch a lethal dose of vitamin D waddling to the car for the school run. They are an obese, entitled generation of layabouts who were given phones at birth and wouldn’t hesitate to outbid your Nan on eBay.

WELL. I had some THOUGHTS. Yes, Tony, my daughter can code an entire computer game from scratch and edit homemade animation which she casts to our xBox from my laptop. She can also do her times tables, knows the rules of chess and can bake cupcakes without a recipe. She does indeed play Minecraft after school, but she spends all summer camping around the UK while her dad and I perform at dozens of festivals. She is far better at learning about new technology than I am, and I’m writing this on Microsoft Word 93 so suck it Tony. You too, Sullen from Sandiacre.

My daughter is the generation you sighed about, and you compared her life to your own wistful childhoods full of good old rickets and rationing. Mind you, after Brexit we might have a small glimpse into those halcyon days when antibiotics are being sold for £100 a pop behind the bins at Tesco, so chin up.  She’s also the generation which will be left to sort out the mistakes of mine and yours, and she’ll be using a computer to do it.

How about we all open our minds a little and look at what these fantastic advances mean to our children instead of attributing lazy stereotypes to a group of people you simply don’t know. You have no clue how clever our kids are, what a huge (and daunting, I’m not daft) place the internet is, and what brilliant things are out there to help kids learn and understand. Chill out Tony, the kids are alright.

DL

The Yorkshireman Speaks: British Booze Culture

Congratulations, some of you reading this have almost made it to the end of “Dry January.”

A whole month without booze, there’ll certainly be a celebration when it’s over. Not just for you, but for the rest of your family too. They’ve had to endure a month of your miserable face sulking round the house, looking at all that left-over festive booze and moaning about not being able to touch it.

I think the British have a real issue with alcohol. As a comedian I often have to walk through city centres late at night and it’s like Dawn of The Dead. There are couples screaming at each other, men trying to pick up their mates in an impromptu show of strength, people rocking back and forth in the kebab shop hypnotised by a spinning slab of meat. Then there’s little old me, sober as Mother Teresa, trying to make it back to my car with my flask and tuna sandwiches.

Us Brits can turn any event into an excuse for booze. Wedding? Have a drink. Funeral? Have a drink. Finished the decorating? Have a drink. I was in an airport recently. Now that’s where we really go for it. It’s like everyone is on some sort of perpetual stag weekend.

You never hear this conversation anywhere but in an airport:

“What time is it?”
“Ten to four in the morning”
“Fancy a pint?”
“Why not? We are on holiday!”

No, you’re not mate. You’ve gone nowhere. You’re still in the East Midlands. What are you doing?

Surely the last place you want to be hammered is at 36,000 feet in a glorified tin can. What if you are the passenger who has to lead everyone off the plane? You’ve been drinking since 4am, it took you an hour to open that packet of crisps, how are you going to cope with an emergency exit and an inflatable slide?

We don’t do this with other forms of transport. You don’t see anyone drinking cans of Kestral at 6am before getting on the 38 bus to Long Eaton? Well you do actually. Sorry that’s a bad example, but to be fair if I had to drive that bus route too, I’d have a drink.

I do most of my drinking under the radar. I don’t mean laid on the runway. I mean when I’m cooking. Specifically Sunday lunch. I love cooking and drinking. It’s amazing. It’s like normal boozing but instead of a hangover you’re left with a slow cooked lamb shoulder and seasonal vegetables. Occasionally you have to chase the last few drinks with a shot of Gaviscon, but that’s as bad as it gets. To the outside world you’re a diligent parent providing a meal for your family, however in reality you’re smashing your way through that drinks cabinet like a teenager whose parents have left them home alone.

My night out starts at 10am Sunday morning. As soon as Andrew Marr says goodbye, I pour a sneaky glass of wine and tell everyone to get out the kitchen; I need space to create. It’s just me, Amazon Alexa and Delia Smith.

By half twelve I’m naked from the waist up, body shiny with meat grease, dancing around on the lino floor like Mr Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, ripping chunks of off the roast with my bare hands. At this point my wife always comes in. “I thought you were cooking?” I shout back at her, “I am, I’m doing a red wine reduction, I started with a full bottle and now it’s nearly gone.”

I start to get overconfident, experimenting with flavours. “You know what this mash potato is lacking? Vanilla extract!” I’m pioneering flavour combinations even Heston Blumenthal would describe as “a bit much.”

My portion control is all over the place too. “How old is she? 3? I reckon she’d eat a kilo of mash.” The alcohol makes you fearless, you start taking things out of the oven with no gloves. I once ended up with the Tefal logo burnt into my palm like Joe Pesci in Home Alone.

By two, I’m in the euphoric stages of the cooking binge. Most of the week’s shop has gone, I’ve got some Brillo pads browning under the grill and I’ve fried off my rubber gloves in garlic. I’ve used every single pan too, so I’m now having to boil the sprouts in a wok.

I rarely remember the meal itself, but I always think it went well. I’m often laid on the sofa, nodding in and out of consciousness. Behind me I can just make out the sound of smoke alarms and pans being scraped into the bin. “At least he tries to cook,” says my wife to the starving children, dialling the number for Domino’s, “and I reckon he’s onto something with that vanilla mash.”

Scott Bennett

Daisy Leverington

Motherhood #9: ‘Tis the season

It’s getting close, I can smell it. The faint scent of pleading in the air. The most delicate whiff of peer pressure and hope. The bold claims among school friends about which presents have been requested and which ones they will oh-so-definitely be receiving. It’s Christmas and there’s absolutely no escape.

Every Christmas in our house is a day of firsts and lasts. It’s always bitter-sweet and there is no greater measurement of the passing of too-short childhood years to make me wonder if this year was a few months shorter than usual. We only have one child, so each year we edge closer to losing her belief in Santa, the mystery grows smaller and wonder shrinks like a vacuum-packed tool set. She’s still little enough to believe, but big enough that next year she might not. Each present from Santa is precious and for a second she is tiny again, mystified by the enormity of his night time adventures. The next second she is opening a card with £10 sellotaped inside and a tiny piece of the spell falls away.

Christmas with a child has been the lovliest experience. It was a stressful time growing up with divorced parents and time-share days and two dinners, always two dinners. Now we have our own family and although we still need to try to find balance between 4 different sets of grandparents, we manage and it’s peaceful and we fall asleep after dinner just like our parents did. The hardest part of the day is trying to soak it all up, to take in her face when she opens an unexpected gift or watches her dad try on his inevitable novelty hat. To take photos but not too many, to capture the best moments but also not to miss them trying to switch the camera on.

Firsts and lasts happen simultaneously with an only child and Christmas is such a huge barometer of how little time we actually have that I can’t help but feel a little sad. I’m very lucky, I know. I know that my tiny family is here and safe and loved, and I know that other’s aren’t. So, every year I will love and give and play and argue because there aren’t any promises that we have more to come. I will get annoyed at advertising and buy it anyway, I’ll buy glittery make up for my 7 year old if that make her happy, because one day she will wants £30 lipsticks and I’ll spend the day weeping into my bank statement. It’s the little things, the little lasts. They are my real present.

DL

Read previous Motherhood’ columns

Robin Hood and The Old Peoples Home For Four Year Olds

There was time when I was known as ‘Nottingham’s official Robin Hood’ (a truly wonderful job I still do, rumours of my retirement being substantially in error) but these days I’m much more likely to be known as ‘Scarlett’s Dad from that Channel 4 documentary series’ – and actually that’s quite fun.

‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’ is a documentary series that was filmed in Nottingham (at the Lark Hill Retirement Village in Clifton) and featured ten residents from there aged between 86 and 102 and aimed to see if introducing them to a group of ten children aged 3-4 over a protracted period would have any effect on their mental and physical well-being.

I first found out about the project (or ‘experiment’ as the producers preferred to call it) when the wonderful Roopam Carroll from the excellent Beeston Nursery (which Scarlett was attending at the time) contacted me to ask if I might be interested in her taking part, as the producers were approaching several local nurseries looking for potential participants.

As you may know I lost my beloved wife Sally to breast cancer last year and I was (and still am) a bit of a mess because of it – suddenly becoming a 54-year old widower with a 4-year old after months of caring for Sal at home left me dazed, confused and directionless, so it seemed like a fine idea to suggest Scarlett might take part as it would provide her with a new adventure, new friends and a unique experience I certainly couldn’t give her myself.

Apparently a couple of thousand children applied (well, their parents did) and there was a long process of careful selection and diligence on behalf of the producers – who I can’t praise enough for their compassion, caring and consideration for all the children – and eventually two were chosen from Beeston, Scarlett and Phoenix (who if you’ve seen the documentary were both featured very heavily in the first episode).

We had film crews visit us at home to film background interviews and a child psychologist come to discuss what the ‘experiment’ might entail and whether Scarlett and I were genuinely happy to be involved and if it was right for us. Of course one of the questions involved how it would be if one of the older participants passed away during the course of the show (an unlikely but potential happening) and how that might affect Scarlett having lost her Mum so recently. Obviously I hoped it wouldn’t (and thankfully didn’t) happen – but if it did I thought it was more likely to ‘normalise’ Scarlett’s experience than anything else.

And then we got to meet the older residents, and they were an utter delight! They were (and are), as with the children, a very diverse group, some with health issues, some very shy, some full of laughter – but all curious, excited and not quite knowing what to expect.

102-year old Sylvia, who turned out to be a real star onscreen, was a joy – when I met her she told me how she enjoys visiting Lark Hill’s bar in the evening and always walks her much younger friend home to make sure she gets home safely! I asked her why she enjoyed the bar so much and she told me there were lots of widowers she could get a kiss from… and when I mentioned I was a widower she coyly pulled her long skirt up to show me a bit of ankle and winked at me!

When the children met the residents too as part of the filming it was just as wonderful, Scarlett made a bee-line to 86-year old Beryl who she instantly became inseparable from – and even though filming has now finished we still see regularly both at Lark Hill (when all the parents, children and residents have a lunch and catch up together) and on our own with Sal’s Mum Joy for Sunday lunches. It’s like having a new family for us all, and is just joyous.

There’s a moment in episode one where the children are asked to write party invitations for their mummies and daddies and Scarlett turns around and says, very matter of factly, that ‘my Mummy has died so I’ll make it for Daddy and Gran-Gran’. It’s shocking in its simplicity and openness and (as of writing) that clip, put online by Channel 4, has had nearly six million views. But for me, it’s the heart of why I wanted Scarlett to participate in the programme – because she’s been through such a lot but can still speak of losing Sal whilst at the same time knowing how much Sal loved her – and would be so proud of her.

I’ve never really been a fan of ‘reality’ TV but this show helped everyone involved and judging from the press and media attention it gained and the comments both online and personally I’ve see too has helped and affected a lot of other people too, both in starting a discussion about how we shouldn’t segregate the old and the young because they both benefit hugely from such interaction, but also how we talk about the loss of a parent to children.

This will be the second Christmas we’ve had without Sal now and whilst I’m still hugely bereft and lonely I’m deeply glad we’ll be surrounded by family and friends – but also a new extended family too, the promise of those bonds continuing for many years to come and lessons Scarlett and the rest of the children can carry with them for the rest of their lives. I’m certain #SalWouldApprove.

Oh – and I’m not supposed to say anything – but watch out for the Christmas special, we finished filming it last week! J

Happy Christmas!

The Yorkshireman Speaks: Approaching forty…

Flirting with forty

Next year I am 40. I can’t quite believe it. I remember my mum and dad being this age, I didn’t think it would happen to me. I hoped I would be like a Yorkshire Benjamin button, a pound shop Peter Pan, but here I am, clinging onto the remnants of my thirties like a terrified toddler clutching their mothers’ hand on that first day at playgroup.

Forty is a strange age, it changes how you feel about certain things.

I used to go to festivals, days spent in muddy fields with nothing but a can of Strongbow and a wet wipe between three of us. Festivals at forty are different, it’s hard to be “down with the kids” when you have brought your own kids. The youth arrive on the Megabus, you’ve come in a people carrier with a roof box. You make your way through the field, holding a cool box in one hand and some fold up picnic chairs in the other. You’ve got one kid on your shoulders, another is following behind you in badly fitted wellingtons and a cagoule, any cool factor you may have managed to muster up is instantly destroyed when your wife, who is weighed down with an M and S picnic, shouts, “keep walking love, it’s way too loud here” it’s as if she is saying, “I want to find a lovely spot, well away from any kind of atmosphere.”

So, you sit there with your other forty-year-old friends, huddled around the picnic blanket, holding a cucumber and dip, talking about school catchment areas whilst a band from the 90’s who weren’t successful enough to retire, massacre songs you never liked the first time around. There is a moment of excitement when one of the group brings out a hip flask, what could it be? Vodka, Whiskey, Jager? Nope….Gaviscon. “Scott I’ve got some acid” “really?!” “Yeah, reflux, that red pepper humous is really repeating on me!”

It’s really odd, I’ve found myself enjoying a garden centre now, we go most Sundays, it’s just an excuse to go out. We go to the café for a brew and scone then just come home, we don’t even buy anything, no other shop offers that facility, you don’t go to B and Q for a roast dinner?

I used to get frustrated watching my dad play Super Mario, he’d just be wandering around aimlessly, bumping into stuff and dying, that’s me now!

I have started walking differently too. Young people stride purposefully, hands by the side, or holding a phone, frenetic, on the move, propelled by hope and ambition. I’ve noticed I’ve started ambling, with my hands behind my back, like a pensioner on a bus trip looking in the window of an antiques shop. I’m like a geriatric Liam Gallagher, I’m literally saying my future, is behind me.

Subconsciously I’m already old, I always have been. Look at the car I drive, it’s the most popular model with pensioners. I bought it because it had seven years warranty, although don’t ask me what happened after that, because no-one has ever made it. Seriously, I reckon they have to finish the paperwork via Ouija word. I asked to have it modified, pimped up. They brought it back in a cardigan, with some Werther’s originals in the ashtray.

I used to love playing video games, that’s all changed. Not only do I not have time to do it, I’m useless too, it’s as if my reflexes and cognitive skills have gone, I get nauseous walking around Ikea, so after playing a first-person role-playing game, I’d have to lie down for a week. I used to get frustrated watching my dad play Super Mario, he’d just be wandering around aimlessly, bumping into stuff and dying, that’s me now! All this online gaming is beyond me too, I live in a house with three women, my self-esteem is already rock bottom without having my arse handed to me by an eleven-year-old French kid whom I’ve never met.

The games are so vast, some take weeks to complete, if you’ve got kids, you haven’t got time to play them.

A friend of mine he is married but he doesn’t care, he sits up all night drinking cans of Monster and playing games with his VR headset on. He told me he was playing this game the other week and it was so realistic that at one point a woman came into the room behind him, opened the curtains, told him to “Grow up” and left with his kids.

Physiologically your body starts to change, have you ever tried going on the swings at the park as an adult? Three swings and you are ready to vomit in a bin.

They should make some games that are more appropriate for people in their forties. Maybe things like “Ikea dash”, the idea is to get to the café before the meatballs run out and the argument bar is always on red, you might have infinite lives but every single one of them feels exactly the same. There could be a game where you have to punch other people’s kids in a soft play centre, bonus points if the parents don’t catch you. Finally, a strategy game where the main character eats a bit late and then has to ransack a medicine cabinet looking for an emergency Rennie.

Your tastes in the opposite sex change when you get older too. There is nothing more attractive to me now than a woman who can handle a double buggy, intercept a runny nose and crack open a fruit shoot with her teeth all at the same time. She’s got one arm that’s more muscular than the rest, where she’s been carrying around a toddler for miles at a time. You don’t have to waste your time with your pointless sweet talk too, she’s got bums to wipe. Get to the point and make it quick.

Physiologically your body starts to change, have you ever tried going on the swings at the park as an adult? Three swings and you are ready to vomit in a bin. It’s to do with the change in your centre of gravity, which is probably fortunate, otherwise we’d never want go to work. Offices would be empty and playgrounds would be full. You’d see them full of account managers in shirts and ties, lying on roundabouts and trying to skype a meeting with head office from the top of the snake slide.

When Douglas Barder, the successful WWII fighter pilot lost both his legs it actually enhanced his combat abilities as he could resist larger G-forces. That’s clearly the answer, if you want to enjoy the swings as an adult all you have to do is chop off both your legs, but then you’d not be able to go on the climbing frame, so it’s swings and roundabouts. Or in this case, just swings, with another adult pushing you.

@scottbcomedyuk
scottbennettcomedy.co.uk
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Bow Selector: Vigilante Robin Hood?

As I type, slightly over deadline and basking in one of the hottest summers in a great many years things are changing in the world of Robin Hood.

Yesterday and over last weekend I had the fun of welcoming around 9000 people from Nottinghamshire and all over the world to Nottingham Castle before it finally closed its doors for at least two years for much needed repairs and renovations intended to turn it into the world-class tourist attraction, museum and art gallery that we deserve.

But that means I’ll be needed there a lot less whilst the work is ongoing, so what to do? Luckily I’ll still be Robin Hood-ing all over the place – civic events, beer festivals, parades and for whoever else books me – but a few people have jokingly suggested I use my spare time (as if I actually have any, looking after my four-year old daughter, Scarlett) protecting Beeston from the scourge of petty crime that’s becoming a depressingly regular topic on Facebook (and other social media) groups like ‘Beeston Updated’.

“I’m not sure vigilantism is the way ahead…”

I say ‘petty crime’, but if some scrote nicks your beloved bike from the tram stop, from your own garden or outside Tesco, your shed is broken into or you have your purse snatched on the High Road it’s anything but petty and almost impossible not to take personally. All the arguments are well rehearsed online – take care, increase police funding, buy better bike locks (etc.) but there’s certainly a perception, albeit generally expressed in very vague terms that ‘something needs to be done’ – hence some people suggesting (although obviously jokingly) that Robin Hood starts to protect Beeston.

Now I know a few years ago Wollaton Hall was used as Bruce Wayne’s ‘Wayne Manor’ in the film ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and that Batman and Robin are good friends (c’mon, Batman and Robin. Oh, suit yourselves…) but I’m not sure vigilantism is the way ahead – it turns out that even if I caught someone pilfering my bike (not that I have one) I’m not actually allowed to wave a sword at them, much less shoot an arrow in their direction.

And of course that’s right, proper and sensible (not the least because my real life archery skills are nowhere near as good as our legendary hero) and I’ve spent about twenty-five years convincing the local police, CPO’s etc. that I’m actually, all appearances to the contrary, a sensible law-abiding chap and not a weapon-wielding maniac.

Remember the appalling riots in Nottingham a few years ago? The day after I had a gig at the Council House and found myself walking across the Old Market Square, armed to the teeth under the full glare of literally van loads of police from Yorkshire who’d been bussed into stop any further violence. Luckily it turns out waving, smiling and being friendly leads to a lot less confrontation – and I know Sal and I were positively vetted to meet the Queen, Will and Kate on their 2012 visit so I’m not sure a career change to Beeston’s Dark Knight would be that sensible as I’m pretty sure they know who I am. Well, that and I’m quite lazy, obviously.

So what do we do in Beeston? Do we just resign ourselves to lost bikes, damaged sheds an a perception of increasing fear of lawlessness? I hope not. I hope we can all pull together as a community and keep an eye out for each other and our property. Be aware. Help those who need it because (and I say this with a massive amount of irony) we can’t let the outlaws get away with it.

Tim Pollard
Nottingham’s Official Robin Hood

Motherhood #7: SATS…

We’ve reached a small and enormous milestone here at HQ.

The girl child is on the cusp of leaving Infants school and moving up to Junior school. Admittedly, the new place is 20 feet away from the old one and under the same roof, but it’s still a big move for a 6 year old. Change is not her speciality. We recently swapped shampoo and good grief, they really shouldn’t call it No More Tears.

This year has been a tough one for her, and us. She went through her (frankly ridiculous) government-approved SATS. Her school were ace and took the burden of stress away from the kids but the intense workload exhausted her for weeks. I could write about quite how much I object to SATS for 6 year olds, but it’s the same ground and objections which have been banded around for years, except that having lived through it we can speak from experience and not from conjecture. Our little girl is academically bright and very aware of her place in her class, but the competitive nature of the tests made her question her own successes. Her confidence was really shaken and it was hard to see her getting tired and cranky and tearful. Still, I’m sure the government know what’s best for them, and definitely doesn’t profit from the whole enterprise right? Guys??

I really do understand that testing is part of academia and how, done correctly, kids gain a new set of skills by consolidating what they’ve learned so far. But oh my goodness, 6 year olds? Our little one still sucks her thumb in her sleep and curls up on my lap for a cuddle. She cries when I tell her off and farts for fun. (These aren’t linked, I always applaud a good fart.) Her favourite subject is kittens and she can talk about how to do the splits for a good hour if you’re interested. It’s fine if you’re not, I’m not either.

Next year is going to be a super-fun-no-testing-lots-of-trips kinda year, and we’re planning to celebrate all the successes that aren’t measured in class. Kid learns a new move in gymnastics, we’re going out for tea. She stops ‘flossing’ for more than 30 seconds, it’s a trip to Build-a-Bear. She nails the jump off the swing, we’re inviting the Queen round to demonstrate. If well-being and happiness were on the score cards, she is going to ace it.

DL

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