Sunday, 20 December 2015

Roy Wood isn't just for Christmas - he's a musical genius for all seasons

I wish it could be Christmas every day. Roy Wood is pretty ubiquitous at this time of the year, every year. He's still active as a musician, and appeared on the 2014 Christmas Celebrity "Pointless", closing the show with a great live rendition of his 1973 festive classic. I was thrilled last Christmas when he even "liked" one of my tweets: I'm enough of a starry-eyed big kid to still get excited if a celebrity interacts with me on Twitter.

But in fact, I didn't need reminding of Roy Wood. I have admired him as a musical genius since 1968 when I discovered his band The Move. Sometimes an established band comes up with a song that moves them to another level, and for me the Move's 1969 Number One, Blackberry Way, written by Roy Wood, was one such song. Often said to be inspired by the Beatles' brilliant Penny Lane, both songs have wonderful observational lyrics allied to unusual key changes within an original and unpredictable melody. Yet they are strikingly different songs: Penny Lane's upbeat major key changes evoke sunny skies and the optimism of suburbia in the swinging 60's, whereas Blackberry Way's bleak minor key changes evoke a dull winter day in a chilly park hit by spending cuts. Never was a January Number One so well-timed. If it doesn't sound daft, Blackberry Way is the most upliftingly depressing song ever written.

But look at the Move's back catalogue and it's full of pop genius. Flowers in the Rain was famously the first song played on Radio One in 1967, a dose of Flower Power at the end of the Summer of Love; Fire Brigade was lyrically innovative and brilliantly produced; Curly gave a foretaste of Wood's use of unusual instrumentation with its use of the recorder; and California Man is as good a piece of Rock and Roll as anything from the 50's.

Roy Wood's influence grew as the Move evolved and others left, but it was only when he left to form Wizzard and to produce solo work that his full genius as a composer, lyricist, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist was fully revealed. In late 1972, Ball Park Incident displayed for the first time Wood's love of a "big" sound created by multiple instrumentation with a prominent use of brass, especially saxophones, and his distinctively syncopated turn of melodic phrase. 1973 was Wizzard's annus mirabilis, and their early summer Number One See my Baby Jive feels as fresh today as it did when that unmistakable opening drum burst first hit the airwaves. They repeated the trick with the often forgotten Angel Fingers, then ended the year with the Christmas song which has given him immortality in the English-speaking world

It's easy to forget how blessed we were with proper Christmas hits back in the 70's and 80's. Wizzard had to fight it out with Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody for the Christmas No 1 in 1973,  the year of the 3 day week, 10:30 TV shutdown and football without floodlights. And in the charts that same month were Elton John's Step into Christmas, Steeleye Span's Gaudete (one of only two UK chart hits in Latin) and the Beach Boys' re-released Little Saint Nick, all now staple ingredients of every Now That's What I call Christmas compilation. Slade's song is often regarded - rightly - as the best expression of the tipsy frivolity that is our modern secular Christmas, but Wizzard's song is in many ways the perfect expression of a child's take on Christmas, yet written and performed by a slightly scary-looking man with a multicoloured beard wearing tartan trousers. A kind of hippy-trippy Santa if you like. Musically, it's a pastiche of that year's two other Number One hits he had written and performed, but why not? That Spectoresque  saxophone-driven wall of sound, anarchic-sounding yet carefully crafted, provided the perfect antidote to a gloomy year in the outside world, as Ted Heath's ailing Tory government grappled with enemies without - OPEC, and within - the NUM.

Roy Wood was a very busy man in 1973. As well as Wizzard, he had just left the newly formed ELO, leaving it in the capable hands of fellow Brummie Jeff Lynne, and was also writing and performing as a solo artist. His album Boulders, also released in 1973, but recorded four years earlier, is about as solo as a solo album gets: he wrote the songs, played all the instruments and even drew the artwork for the cover. There was only one minor hit single, Dear Elaine, but that alone sums up all that is clever and original about the album in particular and Wood's work in general. It's one of the saddest lost-love songs I know, as his plaintive vocal pleads for forgiveness backed by mandolin and French horn, both played by him of course. Contrast that with When Gran'ma plays the Banjo, a frivolous hillbilly singalong song, and you realise what a gloriously schizophrenic album it is.

He carried on in the same vein in the following years with more solo work: Forever sounds like something from the early 60's by someone like  Neil Sedaka, whilst minor hits like Going Down the Road and Oh What a Shame were also musically and lyrically original tributes to other styles. Early in 1975, Wizzard had one last chart hurrah with Are You Ready to Rock which reminds us once again that he can write and perform pure rock and roll as well as any of the greats.

I hope that readers of this post who only knew "that" Christmas song will agree that Roy Wood has given us far, far more than just one song. On Twitter, he is known as Dr Roy Wood, thanks to his honorary degree from the University of Derby, an entirely fitting honour. He deserves to be better known for the full scope of his work, as well as his most successful song.

Note: all bits of text in colour are links to relevant You Tube or Wikipedia pages.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

We all stand together

This is my post for World Diabetes Day, and in keeping with my silly habit of using song titles for post titles, I have chosen a title from what many consider to be one of Paul McCartney's most forgettable ditties, We All Stand Together 

For what it's worth, I actually rather like this much-maligned song, and always did. And the cartoon is wonderful. Was it really 31 years ago? Yep, it was the autumn of 1984. Where did those years go?

Well, 31 years ago I was still 13 years from being diagnosed with diabetes. You never know what life has in store for you....

I told my diagnosis story in a previous post, so for this one I wanted to reflect a little on how things have changed in the almost 18 years that I have lived with the condition. 18 years is a long time: some of my friends from the online diabetes community, the GBDOC, were babes in arms when I fell victim to diabetes, a fact which also raises the  "you never know what's in store" thought.

I recently came across a book I bought at the time of diagnosis, gathering dust on a shelf by my bed, totally superseded by the wealth of information that's a click away on the internet. The book, entitled Diabetes, The Complete Guide and "recommended by the British Diabetic Association" was just about all I had other than information and leaflets from the hospital, and armed with it I set about rebuilding my life with my new friend and companion D. Looking at it now, it somehow seems older than it is.

Whilst I was never one to bury my head in the sand and refuse to discuss my condition, for most of the subsequent years, I lived pretty much alone with diabetes. Of course my immediate family had to get used to it and learn all about it (at the time of diagnosis, my children were 12, 10 and 7), and as a teacher I always made a point of talking to my pupils about it, but beyond that I didn't really want to talk about diabetes. My hospital clinic visits suggested that my fellow sufferers were  mainly elderly, large and suffering from varying degrees of infirmity. I used to sit at clinic in my work suit, shirt and tie surrounded by people whom I knew to have diabetes, but with whom I appeared to have little in common. Sorry, I've got to say it - I assume that they were mainly Type 2, and as a Type 1, I felt very different, and when I saw the consultant, he seemed to relish the fact that I seemed healthy and well. We would  chat about my work, football, life, the universe and everything...then at the end of the appointment, he would congratulate me on my good control, and off I'd go.

I joined what was then called the British Diabetic Association, which was shortly to be re-branded Diabetes UK, and their regional group pestered me for a bit with invitations to "support groups" in my area, but I was already busy enough at work without yet more evening meetings, and I didn't fancy spending even more time with the sort of people with whom I had to share a hospital waiting room. So as regards diabetes, I just kept myself to myself, most of the time, thankfully, with no major problems.

In the year of my diagnosis, computers in general and the internet in particular were still largely the province of nerds. I think that we acquired our first internet-connected family computer in early 1998, and we were fairly ahead of the game. We watched enthralled as that weird dial-up noise heralded the gradual appearance of.....a web page. Wow! We were thrilled to send, and even receive, these cool things called emails, some of them even with pictures attached.

But the internet was still really just a giant encyclopaedia,  and certainly not a means of communication. It's easy to forget how unconnected we all were just 18 years ago. I had got my first mobile phone in early 1997, and was regarded by friends as rather extravagant for having what was seen as a toy for businessmen. Texting was still unheard of.

But as we all now know, we were on the verge of unprecedented access to digital media, meaning that in little more than a decade, we all acquired not just the one family desktop PC, but very soon reached the stage where most families had use of several internet-connected devices, which were quickly to become our constant companions. That, surely, is the biggest and most significant change in how we live our lives from my lifetime, and it has all happened in the past 18 years or so. We are now all connected, via our phones, tablets and whatever else comes along, not just to the world, but most significantly, to each other. How did we ever manage before we could text our loved ones after even the simplest of journeys to say we've arrived safely? How did we arrange to meet up with our friends? What did we do when travelling by bus or train, when waiting at a bus stop or in any sort of queue? I recently had a conversation with an elderly lady who was next to me in a queue for diabetic eye screening. She had watched me for a bit as I scrolled through my Twitter feed and posted some sort of trivial observation and then, without a shred of disapproval or jealousy, said how she would love to have a clever phone like that and do what I was doing. I immediately stopped looking at my phone and had a nice chat with her, in which I tried to reassure her that there was nothing difficult about using a computer or a "clever" phone, and that there were courses to help people like her get onto the internet and learn to use a Smartphone. This conversation made me think, though, how lucky we are to be so connected, and what a boon this may be to my generation as we grow old. Surely, the care homes of the not-too-distant future will be full of old people sitting around in armchairs scrolling through social media and perhaps, as a result, feeling less isolated?

Because that, for me, is what social media has done for my relationship with diabetes. It has ended my sense of isolation. I honestly can't remember how and when I first saw something about diabetes on Twitter. I know I joined in June 2011 because my profile says so, but it wasn't until sometime later that I must have, somehow, stumbled across the GBDOC. I suspect I just typed the word "diabetes" as a search term.

What I know is that, thanks to Twitter and the GBDOC, I suddenly "met" lots of other people with diabetes, and lo and behold, they were just a random cross-section of society: young and not-so-young (not so many old, I have to say), male and female, every profession, every nationality even, all with one thing in common: an annoying and ever-present medical condition. The community has grown and prospered because it works not just for its main and stated purpose - to share information, ideas and experiences of living with diabetes - but also just as a group of friends. 

As I have observed elsewhere, the GBDOC is wonderfully and completely blind to status, age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality and anything else that potentially divides us. The most active members not only help and support each other with their diabetes, but also share much about all aspects of their lives. Pets seem to be a particular obsession, but there is always much more besides. In a recent Friday evening chat with some GBDOC twitter friends we likened it to a virtual pub, as we each sat at home with a well-deserved after-work glass of wine. What a lovely idea for the 21st century - a virtual pub where you chat to your friends from the comfort of your own armchair without worrying about what you look like, the noise from the jukebox or who is going to drive home! (yes, I know we shouldn't take that concept too far, or we'd never go out anywhere!)

More seriously, it is through the GBDOC that I have genuinely learned more about diabetes than I ever learned from healthcare professionals. I discovered the life-changing FreestyleLibre through the GBDOC, and as I am lucky enough to afford it, I have been able to monitor much better than ever before my blood glucose levels, leading to a sharp fall of my HBa1C at my last review.

I took great delight in telling my doctor about the Libre, which he had never heard of! So there you have it - the GBDOC knows more than a diabetes specialist GP! I have subsequently been the subject of a filmed advert for the FreeStyleLibre after the makers had seen me tweeting about it. Click on the link below to watch it:-

But what really makes the GBDOC community work is the fact that collectively, there is a clear intuitive understanding that there is so much more to our lives than diabetes. I met GBDOC friends in real life at the conference they organised in March 2015, and will do so again next year and it was great to discover that they were all remarkably like what their Twitter persona portrayed - friendly, open and supportive people. It was a memorable day.

However, we don't just spend time feeling sorry for ourselves about diabetes; we have become a community of friends. For example I met up with a fellow diabetic who follows a rival football team, Derby County, when they came to play my team, Bolton Wanderers.

We posted a lovely picture of ourselves, dressed in rival replica shirts but united by a medical condition.

I have also given professional advice in my area of expertise (university entrance) to GBDOC friends; and I lose count of the number of times I have seen or posted stories and pictures about pets belonging to me and my fellow diabetics. 

So as we mark World Diabetes Day, I want to say thank you to one or two people: the most obvious one is to the man whose birthday is now World Diabetes Day, Sir Frederick Banting, whose development of insulin therapy means that we are all alive and well. But secondly, to Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, whose invention of the world wide web, which he gifted to mankind rather than trying to make money from it, means that I can give, receive and enjoy the help, support and friendship of the GBDOC. 

Of course, we must also thank Paul Buchanan, founder of the GBDOC, for his initiative and ingenuity.

But above all, my thanks and love go out to all those friends on the GBDOC for their support and friendship. We do indeed All Stand Together.

Monday, 26 October 2015

"Far Far Away"

Continuing my quest to give every post a song title, I am using as the title for this post a line from an often overlooked song by 70's glam rock band Slade. 1973 was their annus mirabilis, the year of that incomparable rabble-rousing anthem Come on feel the Noize and of course their ubiquitous hardy annual Merry Christmas, Everybody, but in the following year, the song-writing partnership of Noddy Holder and Jim Lea came up with more thoughtful, if slightly less successful, material such as Everyday and Far Far Away, which contains these lines:-

"And I'm far, far away with my head up in the clouds
And I'm far, far away with my feet down in the crowds
Lettin' loose around the world 
But the call of home is loud, still as loud"

It's a song in which a thoughtful Noddy Holder reflects on the influence of travel. They say travel broadens the mind, and I have always been an enthusiastic traveller, and a supporter of the European ideal, for all its imperfections. I am a confirmed francophile, as befits the descendant of a Huguenot silk weaver immigrant, and I like to think that my exposure to the life and culture of our nearest neighbour, France, has been a significant influence on my adult personality and outlook.

I was reminded of the unlikely spark that lit my Europhilia when I visited Naples last week, evoking the line "I remember the back streets of Naples, two children begging in rags" from Peter Sarstedt's 1969 chart-topper "Where do you go to my Lovely?" It's a bit of a "Marmite song", loathed or derided by some, but loved by others, including me. For me as an impressionable 11 year-old, this song was a magical doorway to a world I hadn't seen, but to which I was intuitively attracted: that lilting accordion introduction and coda, those strings in the last chorus, the references to iconic people and places in Europe, and the enigmatic identity of the song's "my lovely" intrigued the boy from Bolton who had never been out of the UK and had just started learning French at school. Looking back, this song set me on the road to subject choices at school, a university degree and a career in language teaching. I wanted to know more about this cool-sounding place called Europe, and I have been lucky enough over the years since to travel there many times.

Yet I always return from Europe with mixed feelings, impressed by what our neighbours excel at yet proud of what we do better. Over many years of visiting France, particularly my spiritual homes in Paris, Alsace-Lorraine and Loire Atlantique, I have become familiar with all that I love about France and the French as well as what annoys me about them. I also know Germany quite well, not least through my involvement in my town's twinning arrangement with Bad Brückenau.

But last week, I was in less familiar territory: Italy, a country which I had previously visited only on a day drive from Austria during my first-ever holiday abroad with my family back in 1972. Staying in the Austrian Tyrol, my father took us for an outing over the nearby border into Italy, and in those days that meant an extra stamp on your passport, which seemed unbelievably exciting.

So last Monday, by flying to Rome, I was for the first time visiting properly a country whose sights, culture and cuisine are so familiar that I almost felt I was going somewhere that I already knew. We are so used to Italian restaurants that we feel as if we often visit the country. The sights of Rome are so iconic that when you see them you almost feel as if you've been there before. I enjoy trying to get into the routines of life in other countries, trying but failing to blend in to the ways of the locals and enjoying a taste of a different way of life. 

There are some things that the Italians do really well: coffee; hell-driving; ice cream; flourishing small shops; effortlessly stylish dressing by both genders; lively conversations; TV weather forecasts presented by uniformed Air Force officers! (I kid you not)

And their high-speed trains, which feel like the love-child of a VT Pendelino and a French TGV, are awesome. Rome to Naples in 70 minutes in a comfortable business class leather seat on a Frecciarossa, at a fraction of the cost of an equivalent UK train journey, was enough to make me wonder if maybe HS2 is a good idea after all.

But there are plenty of things that the Italians could learn from us. Is it really that difficult to provide and maintain decent public toilets? Isn't it rather bad planning to close for repairs two of Rome's most iconic tourist sites  - the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps - at the same time, and for months on end? Could I perhaps be allowed to walk towards the Vatican and St Peter's without being accosted multiple times - in English - by people offering to help me to "skip the line"? And surely they could make a far better job of looking after visitors to A-List attractions like the Colosseum, the Forum, Pompeii and Herculaneum with some clear signposting, a decent visitor centre and staff who seem interested in their job.

But that's all a bit churlish. To visit the sights of Ancient Rome and the Bay of Naples is to enjoy a privileged look at a past civilisation whose influence on how we live two thousand years later is profound and undeniable. Moreover, what is more striking is not how old and different it seems but rather how remarkably little has changed over those centuries.

For example, to experience the Colosseum, so obviously in every respect the template for the design of modern sports stadia, is a reminder of how remarkably advanced the Romans were in architecture, engineering, aesthetics and crowd management. Little has changed in 2000 years.

At Pompeii and Herculaneum, where an ordinary day in the life of a busy and functioning community was so tragically interrupted by a force of nature, we see time and again clear signs of a way of life which is more striking for its similarity to modern life than its difference.

To walk the streets of those towns, buried for so long under volcanic ash and therefore frozen in time, is to walk streets which seem somehow familiar, with their dwellings of differing status, their shops, workshops, their places of entertainment, works of art, even their fast-food outlets.

But one thing struck me more than all else on this trip: in some ways, we are incredibly different from our European neighbours: trying to blend in on the Circumvesuviana Railway from Naples to Pompeii is a hopeless aspiration, with the passengers on this rickety, graffiti-covered railway system being a bizarre mix of we earnest middle-class tourists from all over the world and poverty-stricken Neapolitans. Yet look beneath the superficial differences (for example, the incredible difference in the average height of men in Naples and that of men from the more prosperous North of Europe), and you see human beings with the same, anxieties, hopes, joys, fears, stresses and strains of our own lives. You see busy people hurrying to and from work whilst updating their status on Facebook, or texting friends, family and colleagues; you see the innocent laughter and play of children; you see the awkward mixture of bravado and insecurity in teenagers; and you see the bewilderment of old people trying to keep up with a fast-changing world. In other words, you see people being people.

Then at Pompeii and Herculaneum, you see people being people 2000 years ago, most poignantly of all in boathouse cellars of Herculaneum, where the skeletons of those who fled the volcano’s eruption at the very last minute and were caught on the beach by the flow of volcanic material are there, huddled together and cowering in the face of their impending doom:

A striking reminder that, for all our differences, we are all in the end just frail human beings, sometimes at the mercy of forces beyond our control.

My trip to a part of Europe new to me reminded me how much one can learn from even the most well-trodden tourist trail. Travel may or may not broaden the mind, but it certainly makes one think, and realise that a world shrunken in space and time by air travel and archaeology gives us the chance fully to understand our common humanity.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Kirkham and its twin towns

Kirkham is sometimes thought of as a bit of a backwater, an insular place where people know little and care even less for the world beyond this part of rural Lancashire. Not fair, not true.

Kirkham is the oldest town on the Fylde, long pre-dating Lytham, Blackpool, Poulton, Cleveleys and Fleetwood, and was most certainly a key place of strategic importance in Roman times. The Roman fort on Carr Hill, the highest point on the low-lying Fylde, to the East of the town centre, was an important staging post on a spur of road, a Roman M55 if you like, leading from Ribchester to a port somewhere around Stalmine.

In more recent history, Kirkham was the de facto capital of the area, with its huge Parish covering much of what we now call the Fylde, and the enduring presence of a preeminent Parish church and an ancient grammar school stand as evidence of the town's historic importance. The flax mills gave the town a period of relative prosperity, and agriculture has always flourished thanks to the mild, relatively sunny climate and fertile soils. However, social and economic change has left Kirkham as a more humble and anonymous town, yet one which has strong appeal as a small community within easy reach of centres of employment in Lancashire and beyond.

Kirkham, along with its neighbour Wesham, has much to be proud of: the aforementioned Parish Church and Grammar School; five vibrant primary schools each of distinct character; a much-loved and successful special school; a large, genuinely comprehensive school which serves young people from a wide catchment area; a prison whose inmates do good works in and for the community; a resilient high street with a number of small independent businesses well used by locals; manufacturing industry providing jobs in food, pharmaceuticals and light engineering; a football team rapidly ascending the leagues as it prepares to move to a state-of-the-art stadium; a holiday park attracting visitors from far and wide; a small railway station from which you can catch a direct train to London; a motorway near enough to be convenient but far enough to be hidden; and a variety of residential areas, reflecting a community which is diverse but well-integrated.

And then there's our twin towns. For a community which is reputed to be insular (I once overheard a conversation about a couple from Kirkham who had "moved away" but then came back because they couldn't settle…...the move was to Wesham!), Kirkham boasts a flourishing friendship with two towns in the most beautiful parts of France (Ancenis) and Germany (Bad Brückenau). This three-way reciprocal twinning arrangement is not unique, but certainly unusual, and has given the people of three small towns the opportunity to get to know each other, sharing what unites them and enjoying what makes them different.

Kirkham first twinned with Ancenis back in 1973, thanks to a Lancashire businessman, Gordon Himsworth, who had met and married a young woman from Ancenis when she was studying in Manchester. They still live in Ancenis. Twinning was fashionable in those early days of the European Community, and Ancenis and Kirkham were a good match: similar sized market towns in rural areas, with an economy dependent on agriculture and mixed light industry. The initial twinning was of Rotary Clubs, but that limited relationship led to a full and formal agreement between the two towns, backed by the civic authorities of both towns.

Ancenis subsequently twinned with Bad Brückenau, and in 1995 Kirkham formally twinned with Bad Brückenau, completing a triangular relationship between three towns of similar size and approximately equal geographical separation.

Ancenis is an attractive town on the River Loire, with an iconic bridge which forms a crossing point between the historic provinces of Brittany and Anjou. Ancenis is in Brittany, although does not have the distinctive celtic atmosphere of the ports on the Breton peninsula. 

Ancenis  - the famous bridge
In many ways, it feels like an archetypal French town, and as such it is a perfect place to absorb the culture, gastronomy and way of life which makes our nearest neighbours such an enviable place to visit or live. It is a fast and easy half-day’s drive from the Channel ports of St Malo or Caen.

Bad Brückenau is also a very attractive town, set in gently forested hills of North Bavaria, in the province of Franken, with an economy based on its fame as a spa town, to which Germans have traditionally flocked to take the waters. 

Bad Bruckenau - the main street
It is a neat, clean and well-ordered place, with the influence of Bavarian culture very apparent in, for example, the willingness of even younger people to dress in national costume as a sort of "Sunday best". Like Ancenis, it seems somehow archetypal of its country, meaning that people from Kirkham visiting either town have a real insight into the lives of our European friends.

Both towns have a wonderful musical tradition, with thriving bands of amateur musicians who provide spontaneous and enjoyable musical accompaniment at our get-togethers, which are always convivial and involve much good food and drink.
A typical twinning meal - this one was in France, but the people are from all three towns

Perhaps the best thing about Kirkham's twinning is that on all three sides, it is used by ordinary townsfolk, who in the main have no linguistic expertise, but who just enjoy meeting others in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. We meet every year in one of the towns, on a three-year cycle.

Our recent meet-ups have been as vibrant and successful as ever, most recently when 85 visitors, a coachload from each of the two towns visited Kirkham in August 2017.

You will see more information and photos on our website at and we are also on Twitter as @Kirkancenau.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

"Living by Numbers" - my Diabetes Story

It's not been a good week to be diabetic. We woke up on Monday morning to news headlines revealing a 60% surge in diagnosis of diabetes over the past 10 years. The mid-market tabloids featured front pages screaming about the "epidemic" which would "bankrupt the NHS", quoting our poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and bulging waistlines as the cause of this menace. 

Daily Express, Monday 17th August 2015
You had to look very hard to find any reference to the two types of diabetes. TV and radio did rather better, making clear from the outset that this story was largely about Type Two, but even so there was a sense that diabetes was being demonised.

Small wonder then that people with diabetes were soon up in arms on social media. In particular, the familiar call to re-name Type One was getting another airing, and many Type Ones took to social media to post pictures illustrating how active and healthy they are using the hashtag #RealLifeDiabetes, as well as reminding others how hard it is to live with this complex condition. It really is very frustrating when you have Type One, a condition which strikes randomly and has no connection with the victim's previous diet and lifestyle, to feel tarred with the brush of Type Two, which is always portrayed as a disease of a greedy and over-indulgent modern society.

I am not inclined to get too involved in the Type One/Type Two debate: it is not fair to accuse anyone of causing their own illness. If we set off down that route, we might as well start "blaming" people for having cancer, given known links between at least some cancers and diet and lifestyle. Nobody gets ill on purpose. I would prefer the two conditions to have different names, but it isn't going to happen.

However, perhaps this is a good moment to share my diabetes story on my blog , just as a reminder that  - like all other Type One diabetics - I am the victim of the fickle finger of fate, and not the author of my own misfortune and a drain on the NHS.

I was diagnosed at the end 1997, at the age of precisely 40. Until then, I had lived a life with minimal contact with the health service. I had a couple of standard childhood illnesses, leading to a couple of spells off school before the age of 10; I then managed an entire secondary school career without a single day's absence. I fell off my bike at the age of 13 and suffered a straightforward arm fracture, which mended in the standard six-week time frame. And that was about it. Prior to my diagnosis with diabetes in 1997, I had worked for 17 years as a teacher with a total of about four days off sick (two lots of two).

Moreover, I was a slim, healthy and active person: as a child I cycled to school, played football as a recreation and spent holidays fell-walking with my family. As an adult I cycled to work, tended an extensive garden and walked from my home to the local shops rather than driving. And I still do.

Then, at the age of 40, I had a very bad case of 'flu in the week running up to the the Christmas break at school - a week's absence for the first time ever. No real cause for alarm: there was a big epidemic and a number of colleagues were off at the same time. Then, on the day after I had started to feel better again, my condition took a nosedive, and I went to my GP, alarmed at this apparent recurrence of an illness from which I had just recovered. I felt tired, thirsty and run-down, but just thought it was a hangover from my first real illness in years. A routine urine test revealed very high blood sugar, and an alarmed GP (parent of three children whom I taught) informed me that she was pretty sure that it was diabetes, referring me to her colleague at the practice who was the specialist in diabetes. He told me to "cut out all sugary foods" and see if the sugar level fell. This puzzled me somewhat, as I have always had a famously "unsweet tooth"- there was little or nothing to cut down on. However, I agreed to do so, and came back a few days later to discover that my sugar level was higher than ever. "OK, said the doctor, we'll put you on medication" He was assuming, from my age, that I was Type Two. Looking back, I have to say this was a questionable diagnosis in the face of all evidence - I was slim, ate healthily and exercised plenty - but again, I went along with it and took the pills for a few days (including Christmas Day). 

It was only when I reported back with an even higher blood sugar level and no sign of feeling better that he finally wondered if it might be late-onset Type One. Off to hospital I went (only as an out-patient), where a consultant agreed it certainly must be Type One, and referred me to the clinic to learn the noble arts of injection and blood testing. I did all this without missing any days off work, despite feeling very tired. My school were very good to me, and as I live near to the school, I was able to come home for a rest at lunchtime and leave early when not teaching.

Two different insulins, two pens 
- my permanent companions.
Once the insulin started to have an effect (and that effect comes on almost instantly, as anyone with Type One will tell you), I was soon back to normal. By the Easter four months after diagnosis, I led my annual residential school trip to France with about forty pupils and five colleagues. I continued to do this every year whilst it remained part of my role at the school. By the June six months after diagnosis I was planning, setting up, organising and running the end-of-exams Ball for 200 Sixth Formers, a demanding job I undertake every year. In day-to-day terms over the 17 years since, I have continued to take on all that life and work throw at me, all with an unblemished attendance record in a very stressful job. I am certainly not a burden to anyone, and other than the cost of my insulin and test strips, the annual flu jab and my annual clinic review, I don't bother the NHS at all.

But let's not pretend it's easy Living by Numbers (to quote my chosen title). Living with Type One diabetes is a 24/7 challenge that we face on top of all as that we do in life, whatever that may be. You can never forget or overlook it for more than a few minutes. Every action, every piece of food or drink, every event needs to be thought through. Any departure from routine is potentially risky. Most infuriatingly, insulin - the treatment that you self administer every day in order to preserve your life - is precisely what threatens to bring you down in day-to-day terms. I think is fair to say we have a love-hate relationship with it!

My Diabetes drawer - all the stuff we need to keep going
An yet it could be worse. Let us not forget that. It was a lot worse until the discovery of insulin therapy by Canadian Frederick Banting in 1922, when Type One was in effect a death sentence. It is a whole lot worse in many less fortunate countries  where access to insulin is still limited or non-existent. The 400 000 of us who live with the condition in the UK have good cause to be grateful to our doctors, nurses, designers and makers of insulin delivery methods and blood testing kits who enable us to live normal, active lives. 

People with diabetes are also remarkably supportive to each other: in one of the best illustrations there is of the good side of social media, thousands of diabetic people of all ages, both genders and all backgrounds regularly support, help and encourage each other online in a spirit of togetherness and cheerful acceptance of a condition which can at times make its victims feel frustrated and lonely. It's no fun having Type One, although it is fun being part of a worldwide community of people who are very good at making the best of a cruel stroke of luck.  Ironically, I think that Type Ones are so good at looking after and understanding our bodies that we actually end up being disproportionately healthy in old age. So please, don't accuse us of being responsible for this illness, or of "bankrupting the NHS".

Sunday, 12 July 2015

"I love you just the way you are"

This is getting to be a silly habit, but I'm going to stick to it for now - using song titles for my blog posts.

"I love you just the way you are" -  a Billy Joel love-song, but I refer here not to a person, but to Wimbledon, which reaches its 2015 climax this weekend. 

It's been another great tournament (is it ever not?) and mouth-watering finals still await us as I write. The top players have entertained us richly, the sun has shone, the venue has looked picture-perfect and players have, in the main "met with triumph and disaster and treated those two impostors just the same", as Kipling's poem reminds them to do in the Centre Court locker room.  The BBC's coverage has been comprehensive and authoritative, once they realised that viewers don't want the third-rate zoo-format of "Wimbledon 2day" that looked as if it had been devised by Siobhan Sharpe's fictional Perfect Curve. The Royal Box has featured a succession of celebrities behaving with impeccable discretion. It's so refreshing to see celebrities conforming to dress and behaviour codes rather than feeling the need to show off: David Beckham's look of gracious embarrassment when he so coolly caught that stray ball was a perfect example.

But then there was Australian Nick Krygios, this year's pantomime villain, who decided not only to revive the outdated tradition of bad behaviour on court, but also saw fit to question Wimbledon's "all white" dress code. Similarly, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard appeared to have a black bra strap (Quelle horreur!) on show during her first-round defeat against China's Ying-Ying Duan. There has also been controversy this year about players' use of prominent headphones, presumably with appropriate payment from the manufacturer, when walking onto court.

So is Wimbledon too stuffy? Current Wimbledon rules even state that any medical supports or equipment also have to be completely white unless it is absolutely unavoidable, and that no trimming on white shirts, shorts or tracksuits can be wider than one centimetre. Even Roger Federer, in many ways the epitome of the good grace and impeccable manners which are so cherished at the All-England Club, has suggested that the all-white rule has become even stricter during his time on the circuit, evoking images of Borg, McEnroe and Edberg with prominent trim in other colours to support his case.

Perhaps he has a point, but I cannot help but think that Wimbledon's enduring appeal to tennis players and fans, as well as to the many who pay no attention to sport of any kind for the other 50 weeks of the year is due in no small part to its insistence on apparently trivial matters of dress and protocol. In so doing, Wimbledon has remained immune to all but the most subtle of changes in appearance over a period in which all other major sports have become unrecognisable compared to  a few decades ago, largely because of the influence of advertising and sponsorship.

Look at this picture of Wimbledon winner Arthur Ashe from 1975:

and this of Roger Federer from 2015:

It looks as if Federer has a point about the use of colour trim having diminished, but most striking is how the scene has barely changed. No sponsors logos, no courtside advertising, then or now. Still the same Wimbledon green, same grass court, even the spectators look similar (OK, the scoreboard has changed)

Now let's try a similar comparison involving some other sports: 

Football 1970 - plain, baggy long-sleeved shirts, plain black boots, plain white ball, no pitchside advertising, muddy, sandy pitch (and that's Wembley!) The referee looks like a public schoolmaster.

Football 2015 - tight short-sleeved shirts with sponsor logo, electronic pitchside advertising, yellow patterned ball, coloured boots, snooker-table green pitch.

Rugby Union 1970's - baggy shirts (now only worn as part of a Fran Cotton leisurewear collection!), old-school button-up rugby shorts, rolled down socks, brown ball, long grass.

Rugby Union 2015 - tight shirts with sponsor logo , leg strapping, protective headgear, snooker-table green grass.

Cricket 1970's - whites, caps - that's about it! The village green and the test arenas were no different..

Cricket 2015 - is this actually the same game?

Athletics 1976 - These women (800m Final at Montreal) look like the mums' race at a school sports day!

Athletics 2012 - unrecognisable as the same sport - several tenths of a second gained no doubt due to lost wind resistance!

Rugby League 1970's - you can almost hear Eddie Wareing saying "up and under"

Rugby League 2015 - Eddie is probably spinning in his grave!

OK, so I have chosen carefully to make my point, especially with the cricket ones, but I think these images show how the look, and therefore more importantly the "feel", of these sports has changed beyond recognition in around 40 years.

So what about tennis? Hasn't that changed too? Of course it has - like all big-time spectator sports, it has suffered, but also hugely benefited from commercial influence and the demands of TV companies. Wimbledon itself is a dream ticket for corporate hospitality, and if you look carefully, the players are in their own way walking advertising boards, albeit within the strict guidelines of the All-England Club. Look at Federer himself in his own brand of RF kit for very real, if subtle proof!

However, Wimbledon alone seems to have succeeded in not selling its soul to the corporate dollar. Only the most subtle of advertising is visible, making all the other grand slam tournaments look trashy. IBM, Rolex, Robinson's and Slazenger are all there, but only in their logical places associated with what they do. No Mercedes badges on the nets here!

But then there's the "all white" dress code. Does it matter? Yes, I think it does. It provides that air of timeless class that is so much a part of the global appeal of Wimbledon. Let it slip, and much else would be lost. For proof, look no further than the French Open. Here is a picture of Bjorn Borg playing winning there in the 1970's:

Basically, the same all-white kit that he wore at Wimbledon in those days. (and by the way, the courtside advertising was already dominant and intrusive!)

And now here's the 2015 French Open winner Stan Wawrinka, looking like a middle-aged holidaymaker just back from the beach for a quick game of tennis at the hotel:

I rest my case. Heaven forbid that Wimbledon ever lets him, or anyone else, dress like that. "Don't go changing...we love you just the way you are"

Friday, 3 July 2015

"My future in the system was talked about and planned" - musings on university open days

I enjoy finding suitable titles for my blog posts from song lyrics. This one comes from a 1973 song "Free Electric Band" by Albert Hammond, an under-rated English singer-songwriter best known as the writer of "When I need you", a UK No1 for Leo Sayer in 1977, and "The Air that I breathe", a UK No2 for The Hollies in 1974.
Albert Hammond, although English, moved to America, and some of his songs reflect that. "Free Electric Band" is a (rather late) manifesto of hippy-trippy dropout values in conflict with what used to be called "the system". It describes the writer's rebellious rejection of his parents' American middle-class values, and of their plans for a prosperous, conventional future.
This song came into my head yesterday when I spent a day in Oxford, as I always do at this time of the year, with  a small group of Sixth Form students from my school. At a university Open Day, especially at places like Oxford, young peoples' "future in the system" is indeed being "talked about and planned" Sometimes, I suspect, without their full cooperation.

I am very proud of the fact that, as a Higher Education Advisor, I have always made a point of taking a group of high-achieving students to the Open Day at my former university. I enjoy taking them to see my own college, showing them where I was lucky enough to live and study for three years, and hopefully inspiring and encouraging them to try applying if they are good enough.
When I first started doing this, over twenty years ago, Open Days were very different. On the way down to Oxford, one would see many school minibuses on the motorway, each carrying a dozen or so Sixth Formers, driven by relaxed-looking teachers enjoying a day away from the classroom at the end of term. Once in Oxford, groups were shepherded around by those teachers in much the way that I still do. They took their groups to a college Open Day, left them to meet tutors and current undergraduates, and went off to wander round Oxford for a couple of hours in the sunshine. That is precisely what I did yesterday, and do every year.
Sadly, the nature of the Open Day, and of those who attend it, has changed out of all recognition in recent years. Instead of groups of Sixth Formers enjoying the chance to chat informally with a teacher as they walk amidst the dreaming spires, the city is now crammed with embarrassed and mildly resentful-looking teenagers each with one, and often two, over-bearing parents looking for all the world like those who accompany their primary aged children to the now ubiquitous school open days. 
It's like what you see at any touristy cultural hotspot in summer: middle-class parents attempting to interest a slightly bored teenager in a cathedral/museum/stately home/visitor centre, with the said teenager actually wishing that s/he was lying on a beach listening to music on their headphones whilst catching up with Facebook, or riding a roller coaster at a theme park.
But at a university open day, it's worse than that. The childrens' future in the system is indeed being talked about and planned, and I have a terrible feeling that in many cases, the parents' desire to secure Oxbridge entry for their child is rather stronger than the child's desire to be there. I feel so sorry for the university tutors who are desperate to engage with these undoubtedly fine and capable young people and encourage them to ask the questions that they want to ask. Instead, they find themselves having to fend off questions from over-enthusiastic, vicarious parents. Fortunately, colleges and Departments have the sense to exclude parents from the subject sessions with tutors, and in some cases they put on a separate talk for parents.
Of course it's not quite as bad as I am painting it. It is perfectly reasonable for parents to take a teenager to an Open Day, and see for themselves what university life and work is all about, especially when there is a £30000 - £50000 price tag attached. However, I really do mourn the decline  of the school-led visit. Back in the 1970's, I applied to Oxford for a lot of reasons, but strongest among them was that I had a really good and inspirational French teacher at my (free, state) grammar school who was an Oxford graduate. He was clearly very clever, but also very funny, and he used to regale us with stories of his university days. I wanted to be like him, and was lucky enough to be able to fulfil that ambition. I know several of my friends from those days who applied to university for the same sort of reason.
Sadly, Oxbridge graduates don't seem to go into teaching as much as they used to. Small wonder, when they can command massive salaries in the world of business or commerce. With fewer Oxbridge educated teachers to inspire them, it is increasingly left to parents to push bright teenagers towards the glittering prize of a place at the top universities. Add to that the fact that school trips are now so hard to organise in terms of bureaucracy (did I remember to do a risk assessment before taking four seventeen year olds out on a punt yesterday?) that teachers understandably pass the task of open day visits over to only-too-keen parents. But what happened to the idea of sending a seventeen-year old off on the train, alone or with some friends, to a university visit. Surely that small step towards independence is a good thing?
I know, we can't rewind the clock. Times have changed. Universities, even Oxford, have to sell themselves, and that includes to anxious parents. They do a damn good job too - the Oxford Open Day is a masterpiece of logistical organisation and teamwork across a very devolved institution. But maybe, just maybe, parents should learn to take a step back. Take your kids to the Open Day by all means, but why not drive your son/daughter and a couple of mates, drop them off somewhere, go and do a bit of shopping, sightseeing or chilling, and arrange to meet up with the kids a few hours later for a good meal and a de-brief. That's exactly what I did yesterday, but as a teacher.

I bet, indeed I know, that university tutors would prefer it that way too.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Club Day: what on earth is that?

Twenty nine years ago, on June 12th 1986, I moved to my present home, on the edge of the small market town of Kirkham, in the Fylde District of Lancashire. I had been working at the town's historic grammar school for five years, so I knew a bit about the town but only as a workplace and the end of a long daily commute from Southport.

Having decided I liked the school and secured a promotion to Head of Department, we had decided that it was a good moment to move closer to my work, with my wife having chosen to be a full-time mother to our one-year old daughter and new additions to the family planned.

We moved in on a scorching summer Thursday (the day after Gary Lineker's life-changing hat-trick in England's 3-0 win over Poland in the Mexico World Cup), and I had to return to work the next day, leaving my poor wife to start sorting out the chaos of our possessions dumped in a new house. 

Mid morning, she went to the shops to get a few essentials, accompanied by her Aunt, who had driven over from her home near Wigan to see our new house and lend a hand with settling in. With baby Felicity in her buggy, it was a chance for a bit of fresh air and a change of scenery.

On the short walk into town, they met an old gentleman in a flat cap leaning on his garden gate. "Ready for tomorrow are thee?", he enquired of the harassed young mother, curious Aunt and fretful child. My wife politely smiled and said yes, she was indeed ready for tomorrow, wondering why a complete stranger wanted to know of her readiness for the morrow. Was he mistaking her for someone else? Was he a fundamentalist zealot believing the next day, June 14th 1986 to be the dreadful day of judgement? She smiled politely, confirmed that she was indeed ready, and went on her way, wondering what manner of salutation this could have been.

The next day was Saturday, and we had arranged to return to our old house in Southport to pick up some plants in pots from the garden and to collect our cats, Buster and Bandit, from the boarding kennels where they had stayed during the move. So with baby Felicity dressed, ready and strapped into the child seat, we set off to Southport, but were startled to find our route blocked by an officious-looking policeman, who informed us that the road would be closed until midday at least - "for th'parade". The parade? What parade? We turned tail and went to Southport by another route.

That evening, on our return, we were again held up by the police while a parade went past, this time with a now tired and screaming baby and two howling cats who had pooed in their basket. We waited for almost an hour, and cursed this wretched thing called "Club Day", for it was indeed Kirkham Club Day which had caused all these mysterious and inconvenient goings-on. We were far from impressed, to say the least.

So why is it that, 29 years later, I think that Club Day is one of the best things about Kirkham? Well, I suppose it's because after 29 years (or actually after only a couple of years), I have realised that this quaint and apparently anachronistic event is in fact a unique and precious feature of this unpretentious little town. 

The year after we moved in, friends who had lived in the town for many years invited us to watch the morning "Procession of Witness" from outside their home which lies on the route of the procession. We were by then members of the congregation of St Michael's Parish Church, but we had been wary of invitations to join the procession, fearing that it was perhaps some sort of evangelistic attempt to draw more people into the church. But we watched, intrigued, as a huge and impressive parade of people of all ages and classes, some dressed in their finery, others not, took over an hour to walk past, accompanied by several marching brass bands, with splendid banners held aloft by burly men, the strings held by girls and women in matching dress. It was the scene so lovingly described in Blue Mink's 1971 hit Bannerman, and it reminded me of similar events that I had experienced as a child in Bolton, but which had long since died out.

What we did not yet fully understand was that the Club Day Procession of Witness  is in fact nothing more than a chance for the men, women and children of the five Christian Churches of the towns of Kirkham and Wesham to dress up and walk round the town, led by their clergy, watched by literally thousands of others who line the streets in warm-hearted support. The rest of the day is spent eating, drinking and being merry in the invariably fine June sunshine, with the town's park hosting a traditional travelling funfair, the pubs doing a roaring trade and the suburbs pervaded by the aroma of barbecues as families and friends come together in a manner repeated only at Christmas.

As our children grew, they were involved in the Procession in a variety of roles and guises: as brownies, guides, beaver scouts, cubs, flower-girls, Rose Queen attendants, Rose Queens and choristers. For my part, I have carried banners, supervised children, marshalled the route and now act as marshal for the St Michael's Church part of the procession, responsible for ensuring that everyone finds their right place in the order, that nobody gets hurt or left behind, and that we take our allotted place in the overall order amongst the other churches.

Walking the 3 mile route is a truly uplifting and life-affirming experience. Just consider this: over in Northern Ireland, now thankfully largely free of the sectarian violence which scarred that community, it is still the case that when different denominations of the Christian Church parade, they must do so out of sight of others and with due sensitivity to the religious affiliation of the neighbourhood, for fear of sparking violence. Here in Kirkham, as the Anglicans pass the Catholics, we greet each other with friendly banter about dresses, sore feet, and secret stashes of alcohol (the Catholics allegedly secrete suitable liquid refreshment amidst the flowers at the feet of their portable statue of the blessed virgin Mary), whilst the rival bands attempt to out-blast each other as the sound of hymn tunes echos off the walls of the Lancashire terraced houses that line the streets. To watch this procession is truly to see the church as a unifying force for good in a diverse and friendly community, many of whom are proud working-class folk whose families have lived in the town for generations.

 "Club Day" has a long and interesting history, unique to the Fylde district of Lancashire. It is rooted in the 18th century "friendly societies", or "clubs", which were set up to support the needy in these poor communities in the days before the state could do so. Once a year, the societies would parade through the towns in celebration of their existence and work, and the day evolved into a community carnival, with the churches becoming involved, it is believed, to moderate a tendency towards excessive drinking. In 2011, my son Nick made a film documentary about Club Day which tells a little more about the history and traditions. Do click the You Tube link below if you want to learn more:

The friendly societies have long gone, but far from dwindling or even dying out, as religious processions such as the Whit Walks in other Northern towns have done, Kirkham's Club Day has prospered and if anything grown in size and scope over recent years. The day used to feature a secular evening Carnival procession (the one which held us up on our return home that evening in 1986), but this died out some years ago through lack of support for the groups who organised it. Meanwhile, the religious "Procession of Witness" continues to attract hundreds to walk the streets in unashamed support for their churches, and thousands more to stand, watch and support their friends and neighbours. It is Christian witness worn easily, unselfconsciously and joyfully in a manner that reminds the towns that the church is still a strong cohesive presence in the busy life of the communities it serves. More importantly, it reminds those who walk under the banners of different shades of the Christian faith that what unites them is far more important than the minor differences of emphasis which divide them.

Long may it continue!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

"Die heilige Cäcilie oder die Gewalt der Musik"

What's this about? What's with the German title?
Well, these words have been in my mind over another wonderfully successful meet-up of the three  twin towns, Kirkham, Ancenis and Bad Brückenau over last weekend, May 15th - 17th. "Die heilige Cäcilie oder die Gewalt der Musik" is the title of a short story by the  18th/19th century German writer Heinrich von Kleist. I studied his work as part of my degree at university many years ago. It's a weird and disturbing tale: I can't remember much detail, but the title refers to St Cecilia, traditionally the patron saint of music and "the power of music", and it's that idea that is my blog post theme.
It's not a remotely original idea, but music is a truly powerful thing. This has been vibrantly apparent over this past weekend in Ancenis, as I have had the pleasure of  being present at the meet-up between the bands of our French and German twin towns. Each of these towns, small provincial communities of around 8000 inhabitants like Kirkham, has a municipal band consisting of ordinary people, who share a love of making music. The two bands are both what we would call "concert bands" - brass, woodwind, and percussion  - and crucially, their members are a mix of genders, ages and social classes. Both bands are directed by young men, and both sets of players give every indication that they simply love making music. When these two bands come together (and like their towns, they are  formally "twinned"), it illustrates very powerfully that music is a common language with the power to transcend boundaries of language and culture. Their repertoire is in both cases mixed, but very much drawn from international common culture, notably from popular classics and anglo-american light music. The two bands clearly enjoy and appreciate each others' work, and frequently play joint concerts, led by one or other conductor, and to witness their work at such times is truly life-enhancing. The common language of music means that they have so much more in common than what divides them.
There is, however, a sad side to this: the lack of an English equivalent. Kirkham has no town band and is frankly unlikely to have one in the foreseeable future. Why is it that a country with our love of music, our artistic talent and creativity, does not foster a culture of music-making in our communities? I don't know the answer, but I have to wonder whether it is a consequence of our education system, which does so much to encourage and value the arts and other extracurricular activities as a big part of how we educate our children. Every British school, primary or secondary, state or private, prides itself on the breadth and quality of what it offers its pupils - look at the website of any school and you will see as much about sport, music and drama as you will about the academic curriculum and exam results. French and German schools pay lip service to the arts and sport, but do not boast anything like the provision that even a poorly resourced school in the UK can demonstrate, and this means, I suspect, that it is outside of school that young people in those countries pursue such activities. Difficult to say which way is better, but I would point out that a crucial disadvantage of the UK model is that it limits severely what people can do after leaving school, and just perhaps fosters an attitude that music, drama and sport is something that kids do at school, watched and admired by their parents, but then "outgrow" as they move on to do more adult things.
I feel really bad saying that, because I work in school which has a wonderful tradition of  sporting, dramatic and musical excellence, and I cannot imagine my school without these excellent activities, but I do wonder whether we in Britain are too dependent on our schools to foster artistic and sporting talent. Like so much else in life, I guess there must be a happy medium, because everything I see and hear about schools in France and Germany makes me value and cherish the "educating the whole person" culture which is so central to the British system. I remember a French national whose son was at my school praising the "polyvalent" nature of the English system which had given his son the chance to sing a Haydn mass, play rugby and act Shakespeare all in one year at the age of 12. Perhaps we in the UK should look at how we encourage  our young people to move on from what they do at school. And especially in music, maybe we should encourage parents and other adults to play with and alongside their children, rather than just standing and watching.

Patience.....or patients?

It's an old joke, based like many on the rich supply of homophones in the English language: “You need patience to be a doctor” 😂😂...