On school uniforms.

You have conceived a great hatred for school uniform for four year olds.

Admittedly you started off by using the whole clothes issue as a whipping boy for all your anxiety about sending your little boy off to kiddie jail for the rest of his life.

This was easy.

It was easy because, when you dragged out the uniform details a full month before the Star was due in class, you discovered that the only information about it given was a link to a uniform website. The expectation being that you would be buying quite a lot of overpriced kit with the school’s name embroidered on it.

Except that the school was no longer using that particular company, and it had deleted all the school’s uniform requirements.

So you looked at the school website. Which hasn’t been updated for two years and has no information about the uniform, beyond a link to the defunct uniform company. It also has no pictures of children wearing school uniforms.

You phoned the school. Closed for the holidays.

Yes, you had visited the school on a number of occasions before. No you could not just cast about in your memory for colours. Unfortunately you have the worst visual memory on record. It’s a good thing you didn’t go with your instinct for maroon. That, you now realise, is what the pupils at the other local school wear.

So, rather mutinously, you left buying anything until you were finally able to get through to the school office, at which point Asda had largely sold out of what you needed.

So the Star started school with two thin jumpers from Sainsbury’s, the wrong kind of T-shirt and three pairs of trousers. This has grown to five pairs of trousers, five jumpers, including one of the extortionately expensive embroidered sweatshirts, six airtex tops, two pairs of shorts, some plimsoll, seven pairs of black socks and a school sponsored bookbag. The Star comes back covered in dirt every day. He’s four, they spend most of the day playing, not sitting quietly in a classroom and he eats his lunch without the aid of his Babushka tying a teatowl round his neck at the start of each meal. Dirt is inevitable. And since you refuse to be washing uniforms every day, which in any case would make the items fall apart and need replacing more quickly, so is the expansion of his wardrobe.

Which has cost a fortune. Or what for you is a fortune. Most of the Star’s clothes have hitherto been second-hand and cost pennies, if anything at all. It helps to live in middle class baby central, of course, but basically the Star has a lot of rather nice clothes you really do not care if he ruins. There are car boot sales every weekend.

It’s not that you don’t have the money. It just offends your sense of righteous economy to have to shell out for new clothes. Especially when the clothes in question are clothes you wouldn’t normally consider buying. Dull colours. Sweatshirts. Sweatshirts from Asda. AIRTEX TOPS? *shudder* FFS.

Well, I suppose you could have bought all the sweatshirts from the school sponsored website. But they are not noticeably more stylish, and they do cost ten pounds each. The logo being lovingly handstitched on by expert craftsmen no doubt. He has one, for high days and holidays. Except that, having sent him off in it today for the Harvest Festival it turns out the Reception class does not attend (that’s two tins of baked beans and a toothpaste tube you will never see again), he came back home without it. It got wet, apparently*. Sadly, it has just occurred to you that that may be the one item you have not got around to scrawling on with your now trusty laundry marker. Bugger.

Another thing that annoys you is the issue of practicality. For a four year old boy, is there really anything more durable than a good pair of jeans? Despite the fact that the jeans your son has had for the last four years have been worn by at least one little boy before yours, and washed repeatedly by his mother, only one pair has ever died on you to date. You are not convinced the same will be true of the school trousers, claims to be ‘teflon-coated’ notwithstanding. If just one pair does not last out the year, you will be most put out.

You will also be put out if the school starts in on environmental responsibility lessons any time soon. If you start getting grief from the Star about the need to recycle more, then frankly you will be unable to stop yourself getting out the green biro and writing a stiff note to the headteacher on the topic of hypocrisy, lip service and the inability to practice what you preach.

You wouldn’t mind so much if you could see a point to it. It’s not the cheap option, it’s not particularly practical so what is it? School cohesiveness? Facilitating bonding? Breaking down the barriers between the haves and have nots?

Bollocks. The Star has already noted that he and some of the other children do not have the same emblem embroidered on his jumpers and, god help us, airtex tops and fleeces as the rest of them. Frankly, far from fostering a sense of pride, this craze of personalised school uniforms just seems like the quickest way for the children to work out where they stand in the economic pecking order. Or possibly, to work out how mean their mothers are.

Anyway, you have rebelled. You have refused to buy your son regulation black shoes and sent him in his chavy flashing lights on the heels ones.

And you have also pushed the boat out and bought him the brightest coloured pair of trousers you could find for the rare occasions when he is not in class.

*The insanity of having water play facilities in the lightly supervised vicinity of only just not pre schoolers is another thing that makes you get a bit eyebrow raisy. At least they changed him this time. Mostly he just comes home decidedly damp around the edges. Which would be fine in summer, but right now it is a bit nippy for walking round wet.


On the next David Attenborough.

Currently, the Comet is using her left hand a lot in her efforts to feed herself. You are entertaining yourself by putting bits of potato in different places, or pointing the loaded teaspoon this way or that to see if she will still go the southpaw route (so far, mostly), but despite the fact that your Mum says that your Brother’s left-handedness was glaring from quite early on, you are not sure if it means anything. It’s very easy to look at a mild preference for … and declare that this clearly shows her future as a …. and at ten months you feel this is a little optimistic. Most likely she’s just gotten used to your right-handed habit of making a lunge for her mouth from her left, in the days when she was still letting you feed her.

The Star, on the other hand, is rising four and a child who most definitely knows his own mind. This is wearying when it leads to regular arguments about whether it is time to stop chasing the pigeons or (in his opinion) not. There are times when you would like to have one of those children who just capitulates to adult demands without demonstrating a fundamental contempt for the concept of the Mama is always right. On the upside, your debating skills are getting a really good workout.

Anyway, it occurred to you the other day that the Star has been fascinated with animals and related concepts for long enough now that it  is shaping up nicely to be a genuinely enduring obsession, rather than just a passing phase. I mean, sure, he went though cars and trains and, well, that was about it because then he got onto bugs and sharks and frankly he’s never looked back. It’s been the natural world from then on in, albeit a new subsection of it every few months. It’s hard to keep up, because he simply adds a new species to the pantheon rather than dropping previous enthusiasms completely, but you think birds are edging it from dinosaurs* these days.

You hadn’t realised how marked his preference was until you bought a set of picture encyclopaedias from a car boot sale on the grounds that while the Star enjoys a good story and another one and one more and oh go on Mama read me this too, he has also shown a certain appetite for factual books. When you got home, you upended them in the living room and the Star dived into them excitedly. Yet very soon it was very apparent that all encyclopaedias are not created equal. Because the Star divided the books into the ones about mammals, birds, insects, dinosaurs and sea life, which he wanted to read, and the ones about science, history, geography, farming and, shock horror, transport, which he didn’t, and though the books sit on a Star accessible shelf and the favoured ones are pulled down frequently, the others remained shunned to this day. You are still slightly surprised by how adamantly he sticks to his guns on this. Although he did let you buy a book on castles the other day and has pulled that out of the reading pile quite regularly since, so perhaps it is time to insist on looking through the one on agriculture or something again. Probably not though, as what he seemed most interested in wasn’t the knights but spotting all the dogs in the pictures.

Thing is, if this is the beginning of a truly lifelong passion, you are wondering if perhaps you should start pursuing it with him more.

Tricky. Animals have always left you a bit cold to be honest. But you feel the books are a good starting point. Also, thank goodness for libraries. You have learned more in the last year about the natural world than in your previous thirty *cough* summers due to the non-fiction section of the local children’s library, and you are pretty sure the Star has internalised more.**

You are also becoming accustomed to spending days out at animal-themed attractions. Parks will do, of course. What with the squirrels, the pigeons, the bees, wasps, butterflies, snails, worms, other assorted bugs and caterpillars, the pigeons, the dogs, the parrots, the starlings, the many varieties of ducks, the geese and the swans, the moorhens, the coots, the herons, the pigeons, the rats, the mice and the pigeons there is quite a lot of wildlife action going on. Still, this is London and there is also a profusion of zoos, safari parks, open farms, bird sanctuaries, aquariums and, if all else fails, the Natural History Museum within easy striking distance, so many places in fact, that if you visit one a month by the time you get back to the top of the list, that place will still be fresh and exciting. For both of you.

And then there is the issue of pets. After the Star renewed his quest to hug every mutt in London, following a brief hiatus when he realised that dogs have teeth, you have also been encouraging him to ask Granny and Grandad when they are going to get a dog. Rather them than you, is what you say. At least with children, you eventually get to stop picking up their poo.

You, however, are more inclined to think the Star might be getting some fish for his birthday.

As well as this. Mind you, you draw the line at having to sit though episodes of Countryfile.  But you might be persuaded to take the Star to the Imax at the Science Museum next time you and B get a yen to go to the cinema.

But the educator in you is vaguely worried that you should be doing something a bit more purposeful than just letting the Star’s whimsy stuff his brain full of whatever animal facts he comes across that happen to take his fancy (“Penguins have spiky tongues, Mama!”). In fact, the educator in you is having difficulty in restraining herself from drawing up some kind of biologically focused pre-schooler scheme of work. This month we will look at life-cycles!

Question is, would this kill his interest absolutely dead and if not, what should you be doing?

Answers on a postcard please.

*You are not at all sure that the Star grasps that dinosaurs do not, as such, exist in the modern world. You suspect he thinks they just live far far away. Under these circumstances, dinosaurs definitely count.

**Unless you are talking about evolution. You are still looking for a Star-freindly explanation. Anyone? Anyone at all?

On the Voyage of the Beagle.

B’s problem with dinosaurs is that at the moment every book he picks up when he wants to read to the Star contains pictures of snarling teeth devouring smaller, cuter animals and he is having difficulty finding euphemisms to explain it.

But the Star is completely animal, insect* and fish** mad and it is impossible to avoid the topic of what they, let alone dinosaurs, eat completely. You tend to wince and say  ‘I expect that rabbit is having a sleep’ when you get to that bit. It’s hard to look a three-year old in the face and say, yes, that owl is eating that mouse, look at that blood splatter, imagine the crunch of its delicate little bones as you peruse the encyclopaedia, when not five minutes before you were reading a story about a kind-hearted hamster in a tutu and his best friend the cat in a bowler hat. The kind-hearted talking hamster no less.

That said, it’s probably you and B who are the sensitive ones. It does not seem to bother the Star in the slightest. He cheerfully lists all the animals a lion might be expected to chomp on and many that are improbable, and his eyes light up when he finds a picture of a fox bearing down on an unsuspecting gaggle of chickens. One of his favourite things is to bounce up to the fish counter in the supermarket, point to the most fishy looking fish there and say ‘I eat fish!’ He is even sanguine about the possibility of personal danger. ‘That dinosaur eat me up?’ he asks with relish every time we come across a T-rex.

In fact, the only thing he seems a bit upset about is when it’s insects getting savaged.

The Star really really likes his bug-friends.*** He has a particular downer on spiders for this reason.

This is not B’s only objection to dinosaurs, however. He feels that the Star is putting a lot of effort into learning some really useless facts. He came to this conclusion after the Star had taken him through the latest library book and accurately named all the terrible lizards, and told him about how sauropods swallowed stones.****

You feel B has a point there. The Star would be much better off learning to recognise formula one cars.*****

But your main objection to the dinosaur phase is that it leads you to have to explain evolution over breakfast.

Well there was this timeline picture in the book, showing how we went from microbes to human beings, with a detour via the dinosaurs and you were unwise enough to read the text which went with it. 42 whys later and the Star was frankly disbelieving whilst you had given up. The Star has, after all, only just grasped the concept of the past, which he refers to as ‘last night’ regardless of when it actually happened. The concept of deep time is beyond him.You are almost certainly lucky that he doesn’t think the dinosaurs are, in fact, Transformers in disguise.

At which point you also realised that the problem with creationism is that it makes a far better picture book.

The devil has the best stories.

*Also, related organisms like spiders. Do not get pedantic.

**And crabs. Yes, you know they aren’t fish. Whatever.

***It’s really time to get him a dog, isn’t it?

****Because they didn’t have proper teeth so needed a bit of extra help to grind up the leaves they ate. See, you are learning something too.

*****This weekend, your MiL taught the Star to read ‘baba’ (or rather ‘баба’) and you taught the Star to pick out a Red Bull Formula One car from the others. So so proud.

On education, education, education and sacrifice.

Since the Star has now turned three, he is eligible for the 15 hours of nursery provision the UK provides, and you could be enjoying blissful toddler free afternoons.

You aren’t.

The Star did, in fact, get a place at the nursery of your choice. The one where they don’t just follow the children around and attempt to get the to count the fish as a nod towards numeracy teaching if he shows a fleeting interest in the aquarium, but actually collar a few kids at a time and spend a short time with a bit of structured learning each day.

You don’t have much time for ‘dogme’ in your profession, so you don’t see why you should support something similar when it comes to your children. ‘Dogme’ rose from Scott Thornbury’s attack on handout driven lessons. You think that a teacher who doesn’t know how to use resources properly is the last person to have the skills to go it alone. You don’t doubt that this kind of student led learning can be done, but only by the most skilled, and even then it is your professional opinion that making it up as you go along is not as successful as a teaching strategy as actually giving it some thought in advance. Although you are also undoubtedly against photocopying a badly designed worksheet as a substitute for actual preparation.

Not that you are opposed to a bit of impromptu teaching, of course.

So, you were satisfied with the school.

The problem was that even though you had booked the Star in for the afternoon session at the nursery and the Star’s Russian playgroup slash language lessons are in the morning, the fact that they are at the opposite ends of South London meant that the clashed horribly and on Tuesdays and Thursdays he wouldn’t make it to the school anything like on time. Plus, if you are honest, you didn’t really fancy plunging the Star into a monolingual English environment for the full five days a week.

You went down fighting. You spoke to his (bi-lingual in Portuguese and English) teacher. You officially requested that the Star be let off Tuesdays and Thursdays to further the bilingual and bi-cultural diversity of his individually tailored diffentationalised syllabus. The (bi-cultural but regretting not being bi-lingual in Norwegian and English) Headmaster himself phoned you up to chat about it.

Both were sympathetic.

But his absences would mess up the school’s official absence stats and that in turn would have an impact on their standings in the school league tables*, and so you had to choose.

Choose to send your child to the excellent local school you hope to get him into when the time comes for compulsory education and enjoy afternoons of sitting, feet up, in front of the TV watching property programmes** and feeding the Comet without the distraction of a toddler demanding attention to contend with. But tip the precarious balance you have gained between English and Russian firmly away from Russian.

Or continue to slog through London traffic for an hour twice a week and have to provide the Star with opportunities to get messy, explore the world and learn maths in the afternoons yourself. But manage to keep a reasonable amount of Russian input in your child’s life.

No contest really.

*You don’t blame the school, you blame The System.

** This is a joke. You don’t watch property programmes in the afternoon. No, in the afternoon it’s mostly antique shows.

On the silent period.

You have a bit of a love/ hate relationship with a man named Stephen Krashen.

Not that he knows you exist, mind. He’s a luminary in the field of research into language acquisition*, although his entire body of work seems to consist of him stating the bleeding obvious and then giving it a seriously researched kind of name, preferably accompanied by a nice, completely unprovable, formula and being hailed as a visionary**.

To be fair, when he started out he was battling against the prevailing language teaching method called audiolingualism. Based on behaviorism, it was a pedagogical style a bit like training a dog not to shit on the carpet. A student makes a mistake with cohesive devices, has his nose thoroughly rubbed in it, listens to a lot of Beethoven, and eventually becomes too traumatised ever to use ‘however’ to join two ideas in one sentence ever again.

Krashen’s big revelation was to point out that, as we learn much better if we are feeling happy, motivated, confident and anxiety-free, some aspects of this approach might not be terribly efficient.

Of course, Krashen also called it ‘the affective filter hypothesis’. Much to your irritation, it’s a phrase that seems to have made its way straight to the hindbrain of the EFL profession and stuck there.

But just because you have a proper cynical bristle at any claims that being pleasant, especially pleasantness given a special name, is the key to saving the planet, doesn’t necessarily make the claims wrong. The reason why he irritates you so much is that you agree with him about almost everything, you just don’t like having to use the phrase ‘comprehensible input’ before anyone else will agree about the importance of grading your language when talking to students of a second language.

That said, you’ve always been suspicious of his ideas about the ‘silent period’ (TM) in language acquisition***.

You once watched a very amusing video of him explaining this theory. The way he tells it, the entire idea came about as a result of him being unable to get his (Japanese?) neighbours’ kids to produce any words in English for months and months and months and months, despite being on the receiving end of his expertise as a non-teacher-of but thinker-in-depth-about language.

Yet finally they did speak! And it was as if a flood barrier had opened and lo, Stephen did behold that before we are ready to communicate we need to spend a certain amount of time listening to and understanding language first. He recommends that students are not pushed into using the target language in classrooms but that art should mirror real life and they should be allowed to acquire language naturally. Just like babies do in their first language.

Now normally you hesitate to use yourself as an example of how people learn languages because in fact you don’t. Learn languages that is. Or even acquire them. In fact, you especially don’t acquire them. You spent ten months listen to Russian the first time round and didn’t pick up a word. You sent seven more years there and still can’t hold your own in conversation. The times when your Russian made any ground was, in fact, the times when you were being forced to actually use the bloody language, which is why your domestic Russian is much better than anything else, including, occasionally, English, thanks to your non-English speaking MiL.

It’s also why children, any children, don’t learn to speak by watching TV. The input can be as comprehensible as you like, but there’s no interaction, no struggle for communication and ultimately, no acquisition. As the BabyEinsteiners found out to their cost. In your opinion, the reason why babies spend so long listening to the language before producing it has more to do with physical ability to produce, combined with a certain mental immaturity. Look at the success of baby signing, for example. Give him the tools to use language before his lips are able to co-ordinate with his tongue and he will take that opportunity. He’s not waiting around for any other reason.

Of course, this one of Krashen’s theories isn’t at all where your profession is now. Now you’re all about the task-based learning. Learning to communicate through having a go at it, being given feedback on a performance and then going again. Forcing the buggers to interact, in effect.

But you are up close and personal to a case of the silent period in action at the moment because the Star is being stubborn about producing his first word.

Or at least, a word that he uses more than once, in an appropriate context, without excessive prompting.

You aren’t too bothered. It’s clear he understands. He’ll point at things you ask him to. He’ll point at things Papa asks him to. He’ll bring you a book when you suggest it. He’ll even put them away when Babushka gives the command.

So you suspect he’s being excessively noncommittal because he is being brought up bilingually.

‘There’s a train!’ shouts Mummy, gleefully. ‘A train!’

‘Poezd,’ says Babushka, a few minutes later. ‘Smotri poezd!’

‘Duck!’ Mummy points out. ‘Ducky duck duck!’

‘Utka!’ Babushka exclaims. ‘Uty uty utka!’

‘Helicopter!’ yells Mummy, gesturing madly. ‘It’s a helicopter!’

‘Vertalot! challenges Babushka. ‘Eta vertalot!’

The Star therefore has wisely come to a compromise. He makes noises which both Mummy and Babushka agree on.

Anything on wheels is now greeted by ‘toot toot!’ Dogs are growled at, cows**** receive something approximating a moo, and he caws when he sees a crow. All things he has been taught, mainly by his Babushka, who is excellent at coming up with toddler friendly sounds.

Still, you will be relieved when you can get onto the next stage of his language development proper.

Teaching him the correct use of the word ‘however’. Naturally.

And now for something completely related:

Tom: The soup is cold, Mommy.
Mommy: Tom, you never spoke before!
Tom: The soup was never cold before.

*He’s also, you gather, a bit of an activist in the war zone of bilingual education.

**Of course, it’s easy to dis the inventor of sliced bread now.

***Sadly, ‘language acquisition’ is another phrase Krashen has patented.

****In pictures. This is central London.

On a Really Goode Job.

You are supposed to be job hunting at the moment but you are putting it off. Or rather Putting It Off, the capitals being entirely justified by the lengths to which you will go to avoid it.

This is partly because the wonderful world of state school teaching seems oddly uninterested in you. Surely they are not taking onto account such small matters as the fact that your degree was 15 years ago and you’ve been teaching the wrong subject ever since. So you have too much teaching and, worse, management experience for a newbie. And now you’ve also had a year off after completing your initial training.

Still, it’s a bit deflating.

But you could cope with the damage the ringing silence in the face of your application (sorry, ‘applications’)is doing to your ego, if it weren’t for the thrice dammed bleeping application forms.

Applying for state school teaching is, essentially, applying for the same job with the same employer. Over and over again.

Yet every single school has a different form.

You assume this is because they like to think that every school has slightly different needs and so requires slightly different information.

But they don’t. On the form, they ask for exactly the same information, albeit laid out in a slightly different way each time. Presumably to foil your attempts to cut and paste.

Admittedly this differs a bit from a standard CV in that they want full work histories (in reverse chronological order) for example. This is supposed to protect them from undesirable elements.

But the same effect, surely, could be gained by specifying what they want to see on a CV?

You do not consider the fact that some schools want the full addresses of the places you’ve worked and some don’t sufficient excuse for making you spend hours you don’t have wrestling with what are frequently very badly designed Word documents.

Particularly as they also want exceptionally long cover letters to accompany them, which is where the actual tailoring your presentation to the job part comes in.

Luckily, if you just ignore it for a few months more, the entire problem will become irrelevant as the new term will have started and that’s that career move up the swanny. Probably.

Anyway, you are feeling particularly impressed by Max of Celluloid Blonde, who has managed to find a job with a company called Murphy-Goode where the application process eschews pointless busywork in favour of making the candidates produce a video clip.

Which people then vote on. (That’s important).

Shockingly, this actually has some relevance to the position at hand.

Now there’s a company to work for. The fact it involves becoming intimately acquainted with a winery has nothing to do with it.

Anyway, since the company seems to have an original approach, it’s entirely appropriate that Max’s clip is the most original there. So watch the video, vote for it, and complete the email which makes the vote count. Do it soon, as they are about to cut the applicants down to the most popular 50.

And while there, admire the backing track, ‘cos it’s really cool.

On Baby Bliss.

The other particularly helpful baby book Best Friend gave you was supposed to be an antidote to Gina Ford’s regimentation being the key to happiness. Harvey “I’m a doctor donchaknow” Karp’s Baby Bliss.


Unlike Ms Ford’s stick to the schedule first and think later approach, Dr Karp has a Theory about the first three months of a baby’s life. And this Theory leads him to make certain recommendations about the Best Way to calm that crying newborn.

Now, you are generally suspicious of people with Theories. Especially Theories which lead to statements about the Best Way to do things. That sort of thinking has been behind claims that it is impossible to learn a foreign language unless one is simultaneously listening to a piece of music by Bach.* That one can only learn a foreign language if it is presented as a command, which one then follows.** That a teacher should rarely, if at all, speak, but instead should point to a large colourful chart representing different phonemes.***

Dr Karp’s Theory is that human babies are born three months too soon. Because their big brains need big heads but big heads wouldn’t make it through the pelvises of human mothers and so evolution has selected for, essentially, a species of preemies. For babies to be contented and comforted in those first three months then, they need to be made to feel as though they are still happily swimming about in the womb.

Apart from the truth universally, you gather, acknowledged that babies do suddenly switch on at around 12 weeks, he brings to the table the evidence of the helplessness that human babies display at birth compared to other animals.

You had to go away and have a cup of tea when you read that. Because otherwise you would have found yourself pointing out that even you, the 8 month pregnant ignoramus that you were, knew that babies rarely walked, or even flew, within minutes or even weeks of attaining their three month birthday. Hunting and killing are also, you rather assumed, a way off too.

The idea that recreating womblike conditions might help calm a newborn had a certain amount of common sense appeal, though.

And at three o’clock in the morning, when it is your third day at home and your husband is snoring away in the living room and the Star is fussing and fuming and refusing to go back to sleep, you will try anything, and that is when you turned to the practical help section of the book.

The Baby Bliss Method, then, consists of following the 5 Ss:

1. Swaddling, much to your six months pregnant surprise. “My MiL,” you said, gloomily “is probably going to insist on doing dreadful 19thCentury things to the baby. Like swaddling.” “Oh,” said Best Friend, “actually, swaddling is really in again now.”

And to be fair, MiL has been discovered to be a fount of extremely helpful and not at all archaic wisdom throughout the last 12 months. Or she has bitten her tongue right off while watching you manhandle the infant. Sometimes, probably, both. Which shows what you know.

Anyway, you swaddled the Star right up until he was six months in increasingly large cotton sheet type cloths. Theoretically, six months was a bit long, especially as he was well capable of unswaddling himself in the middle of the night at that point. Still, since when you tried not swaddling him, or swaddling him under the arms (which rather defeats the object of the exercise, you would have thought), he would wake up again half an hour later, you decided to go with the flow.

2. Side (or Stomach). Obviously putting babies to sleep in this position is a big no no, but carrying them around face down while trying to get them to stop grizzling is another matter.

3. Ssssshhhhhhh. The trick here is to be unafraid in public places of looking a bit of an idiot. Because in following this one you did find yourself sitting on the bus with your lips right against the Star’s ear hissing loudly and constantly at him until he stopped whimpering.

Worked like a dream every single time though.

You also had a radio detuned to produce white noise, which played, much to B’s dismay, through the night. Tailor made white noise machines do exist, apparently, as do CDs which produce vacuum cleaner sounds, whale music and back to the womb special effects. Still, you were happy with the radio, although the frequency you had it on did tend to occasionally pick up the transmissions made by the helicopter pilots to the helipad round the corner, which is an interesting way to be woken up at 6am.

Actually, you ran this one for about six months too. The thing is, while the Star no longer needed the reassurance, you do live in a big city and you rather suspected that the white noise drowned out the other noises of late night partying, ambulance sirens, fireworks, drunks stumbling home at 12pm, the downstairs neighbour and his hound of the Baskerville, fire engine sirens, the boys playing cricket in the street in the late afternoon and the others racing the mopeds later on, police sirens and the occasional scream as another teen got stabbed.

4. Swinging. Or jiggling. Why babies cannot be soothed from a comfortable sitting position has always been beyond you.

5. Sucking. Actually, you’d forgotten this one, because you never did like the idea of using a dummy. The Star was a very sucky little baby though. When he wasn’t spending hours and hours and hours nuzzling your breasts, he was making his own arrangements and actually giving himself bruises by latching on to his arms for comfort. Freaked the hell out of you when purple marks appeared until you caught him giving lovebites you your husband (the non milk filled parental unit).

Perhaps, with hindsight, a dummy would have been better.

To be fair, the Star was never a particularly difficult or colicky baby, and perhaps all of these little tricks were just the boost your confidence needed to feel in control, and everybody knows how well dumb animals respond to people who project an aura of authority.

But you don’t know where you’d have been without the book. You suspect it would have been a gibbering heap sucking its thumb in the corner.


* Suggestopedia. Bach, or at least some Bach, has the same rhythm as your heartbeat, you see.

** Total Physical Response. Which is OK for imperatives like ‘Stand up’ or ‘Sit down’ but does present some challenges, you’d imagine, when it is time to fool around with the third conditional.

*** The Silent Way. Of course, this was how you were introduced to cuisenaire rods. You adore cuisenaire rods.