Category: Discussions


Saturday was an important day. My childhood best-friend got married. Not only was it lovely to see so many people beaming with happiness, but it provided a very rare opportunity for me to catch up with some of my old friends.

See, we used to be very close. We were there for each other through every barmy relationship and drama-filled argument during our teens and into our early twenties. But then something happened. Our hub, the heart of our friendship, the place we all met, was closed down and demolished. Since then, due to several unavoidable reasons, we don’t get to see each other much.

Anyway, we talked, we laughed, we danced, and I left feeling wholly satisfied with the reunion. My worry has always been that we would become ‘Online friends’. You know the kind. The kind who you never actually see because they are so conveniently available at the touch of a button. We kept in touch on Whatsapp and Facebook and Instagram, but the time between actually physically seeing each other became longer and longer. As I’ve said before, that is my biggest worry about social media. It is too convenient. More convenient than actually socialising. And it dawned on me that the reason I was so satisfied was because I was actually spending time with these people.

It’s not just friendships I worry about. I’m increasingly scared of the impact my phone is having on my life. It might sound dramatic but quite often I’m hit with this overwhelming feeling of not being in control because, either, my phone is a cacophony of notifications, or I’m checking it every two minutes wondering why I’m not getting any notifications. This was the reason I deactivated my Facebook account and now I worry that that wasn’t enough. I’m finding the urge to check my phone creeping up on me more and more. During a meditation in yoga today, I found myself wondering if I’d had any responses from the texts I’d sent prior to the session. Well….what was the point in meditating?

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of pluses to social media, but for this little guy it’s becoming a bit unbearable. It’s handy to keep in touch with people who live far away, but I think it’s detrimental to relationships with those who are close enough to visit. It can be beneficial in other ways. For example, through Instagram I was able to contact a yoga studio whilst staying in Cambridge last week and I was able to try to classes I’d never have tried at home. So I appreciate the opportunities it can promote. But on the flip side, I’m finding myself scrolling through pictures of various models and actors and yoga practitioners and doing something I am totally against doing – I’m comparing myself to them, and not coming out well on the other side.

I’ve also, on several occasions, found images relating to topics I’ve just been discussing with my friends popping up on my news feed. It could just be coincidence or a harmless bit of customisation but, to this paranoid person, it’s scary. A few weeks ago I was having nightmares about my teeth falling out (I know!) and low and behold, my Instagram feed was full of teeth. Freaky.

I remember feeling the same angst last year. So much so that I bought an alarm clock specifically so I could leave my phone in the living room overnight and not be tempted to look at it first or last thing. A small step, but an important one. It worked for some time but, without even noticing, the phone has crept back into the bedroom. In Matt Haig’s book, Notes on a Nervous Planet, he writes an interesting chapter on how our phones can rule us and have a negative impact on our mental health. What Haig says is highly relatable and my goal for the summer is to follow his advice and step away from the phone.

So, if I haven’t liked a tweet, answered a whatsapp message or double-tapped your Instagram post, please don’t be offended. I’m still here but I’m unplugging myself and holidaying in the real world. Hey, why not join me for a cup of tea instead?

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So, one thing that is guaranteed to send me into a hulk-like rampage is a bit of casual everyday sexism.  In either direction, I bloody hate it. Why do we put ourselves into little boxes of who is more capable of doing what based on what’s in our pants? Anyway, just for you lucky, lucky people,  I’ve built up a few little quotes that have made me wince recently, finishing with what we will call ‘the canal calamity’, which tipped me over the edge this week.

  1. ‘Oh, the men are going to sit in the living room’ – OK, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it bugs me. I’ve been at many parties (both family and friends) where, at some point during the evening, we’re expected to split off into our genders. Why? I don’t want to sit with the men! I want to talk to everyone! Is this a party or some sort of cult?
  2. ‘Is that a girl bracelet?’ – No. it’s just a bracelet. From Topman.
  3. ‘Boys, boys, boys’ – anonymous and lovely family member says with mock-disgust to tease my 3 year old male cousin. Yes, she’s joking and there’s certainly no malice, but it happens often and prompts him to retaliate with ‘girls, girls, girls’. I know they’re playing, but I think it sets up an unnecessary divide in his thinking.
  4. ‘Oh and for God’s sake don’t be one of these teachers who let’s boys dress up as girls’. Thanks for that advice, anonymous-family member number 2 but I think I’ll ignore that comment. I was talking about setting up a fancy dress area in my classroom with a variety of costumes for the children to try. I don’t know why a boy wearing a dress seems to be the stuff of nighmares for people of a certain generation, particularly as the person making the comment is never going to step foot in my classroom, so this was pretty enraging. No mention of girls dressing as boys either. I assume that’s allowed but boys lowering themselves into any shade of femininity is clearly too awful.
  5. ‘Girls books here, boys books there’ – Oh, this was a good one. Picture the scene. Summer School, 2016. I was helping out in a rural school, organising activities for a handful of children during the school holidays. Passing through the library one day I was bloody horrified to see someone had taken the trouble of organising ALL of the books into a *shudders* colour co-ordinated and clearly labelled girls and boys shelves. Absolutely hideous. Just let the children choose which books they want to read! Fostering a passion for reading is far more important than boxing them up and controlling what they read. Needless to say, I’ve not darkened their doorway again.
  6. ‘You’ll be alright, Sweetheart. You’ve got a man on board.’ – A bunch of us hired a canal boat for a pleasant trip through Llangollen and over the aqueduct. Captain S, experienced, award winning sailor was in charge of the whole business (as the rest of us were ensuring we drank all of the prosecco, in case the weight of the bottles caused the boat to sink.) At one point, I could hear Captain S having the whole driving process explained to her by a bloke who was walking along side the canal. When I popped my head above deck to see who this mansplainer was, he actually said the above line to Captain S. Little did he know that I didn’t have a clue how to drive the thing, and Captain S was a pro. Yes, I have a penis. Doesn’t mean I can drive a boat.
  7. ‘You’ve got a man with you!’ – To add insult to injury it happened again! We’d just travelled over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and we were mooring up to have some food. Two of my friends (female, for the sake of this story), were hammering in a peg and a ridiculous bloke with a stupid hat and a fag in his mouth sailed past and said ‘You’ve got a man there, ladies!’ in a way that suggested I should be the one using the hammer. I’d already had my go on the other peg! We’re all capable of using a sodding hammer. Look, we can all raise two fingers up to you too. Thankfully, my friends resisted the urge to launch the hammer at his ignorant face.

So that’s the latest rant from RebelliousG. One sure way to fire me up is to assume myself or my friends are incapable (or more capable) of doing something just because of our gender. So stop it.

Image result for the assassination of katie hopkinsThe provocative title alone suggests that this new musical aims to stoke discussion and reaction, and it offers up a plethora of issues for debate. Centred around the hypothetical murder of famous loud-mouth Katie Hopkins, Assassination boldly explores the nations’ reaction to the death of the divisive public figure. The sensational title itself is a reflection of the controversial columnist’s style. You would be forgiven for initially expecting this play to be an attack on Hopkins, with the storyline perhaps acting as a dark fantasy for those against her outlandish and often offensive views. However, this is not the case. This is a clever, well-thought-out production. Assassination is by no means a love-letter to Katie Hopkins, but it is also not afraid to defend her.

The play actually does not feature Katie Hopkins as a character, but uses her controversial persona to explore what she stands for. Essentially, Assassination is about free speech. Through a mash-up of vox pops, ‘live’ interviews, CCTV footage and voicemails (all performed by a highly skilled cast), we hear the stories of Kayleigh and Shayma. Young journalist Kayleigh is tasked with the tough job of composing a dossier of good deeds carried out by Hopkins, following her death.  Through her investigations she begins to see Hopkins as a strong, confident woman who had a firm grasp of her own views and wasn’t afraid to share them. Though Kayleigh makes it clear she doesn’t agree with some of the opinions Hopkins expressed, she begins a campaign to remember Hopkins for who she was and not what she said. Alongside this, we see the story of Shayma, a trainee Lawyer who is frustrated by the media coverage for Hopkins’ death, which completely overshadows a tragic chain of events that led to the death of 13 migrant workers on the same night. Both narratives weave seamlessly around each other and against a backdrop of venom from those who hated and supported Hopkins.

Assassination is a refreshing, original production. The set consists of two screens which present the live TV interviews, CCTV footage, transcripts of phonecalls and singing emojis. For a show with such a huge concept, the set and staging is all very minimal. With just these screens and a handful of props, the cast and crew manage to recreate the hi-tech world of the internet where the story can unfold.

The complex strands of the plot are pulled tightly together by an incredible cast. Each actor takes on multiple roles with ease and, amazingly, makes each one easily identifiable just through their performance. Amy Booth-Steele is instantly recognisable as Theresa May despite not looking anything like her or even mentioning her name. Kirby Hughes also deserves recognition for her excellent performance as she was a late addition to the cast, taking over part way through the run. Hughes’ performance was slick and finely tuned, the only the clue to her joining the cast during later stages being the insert in the programme. As a small ensemble, the cast worked perfectly together to bring this story to life. The natural delivery of the lines, with actors talking over each other and self-correcting, really stood out and provided some very genuine moments.

Despite the click-bait title, The Assassination of Katie Hopkins is not what it might seem. It is not just a retaliation by offended lefties. This is an intelligent discussion, an exploration of free speech that covers all bases. We experience the fallout of Hopkins’ death from the perspective of the perpetually furious, the seemingly mild-mannered but secretly-smug liberal, those who form an opinion just to plaster it across Twitter, and those too terrified to comprehend what Hopkins’ death means for them.

In world where hate can be spread at the touch of a button, this is a vibrant, modern production with an important message, that deserves a wider platform.

It’s Wales Comic Con season – one of my favourite times of year. Unusually for Wales, it’s a glorious day, which makes the always-cheery Comic Con atmosphere even more potent.

We’re lucky to have such a positive event in Wrexham, especially one that celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. For such a special occasion the organisers had pulled out all the stops to attract some huge names (Val Kilmer, Hayley Atwell, Sylvester McCoy to name three). The unfortunate last-minute cancellations which often blight this kind of event did nothing to dampen spirits, and when I arrived on Saturday the excitement was palpable.

When I first started coming to Comic Con about six years ago, I remember I had to queue for 3 hours just to get inside. I’d since become savvy to this and made it a tradition to arrive extra early and enjoy the parade of cosplayers from a spot near the front of the queue. This year I was naively relaxed about the need to queue and, after arriving just after 11am, I joined a queue so long it showed me parts of the Glyndwr Campus I’d never seen before (and I studied there for three years). Despite the mega-queue, there were very few complaints and organisers worked super-hard to get everyone inside in just over an hour. Shout out to all the cosplayers who must have been absolutely sweltering in their heavy costumes (Stormtroopers, Lady Olena Tyrell, Marvin the Martian and Catwoman to name a few!)

The main hall was packed to bursting and I fought my way past superheroes and the odd villain to get to my favourite stall, Goblin Dreams. This is a real gem of a stall which has some truly gorgeous things to offer, especially the handmade mini costumed dragons. This year I bought a beautiful Phantom of the Opera dragon to add to my collection.

One thing that I did notice this year was that due to the huge crowds within the main hall the access for wheelchair users was poor. There may not be much the organisers of WCC can do about this but I did notice a lot of people struggling to move through the hall. It did make me think whether WCC need to reconsider their venue. Glyndwr University is a perfect spot for this event so I wouldn’t suggest moving but perhaps expanding across the campus. Although Welsh weather is never reliable, it was a beautiful day so it would have been nice to see more outdoor events. The heat was so stifling inside the main hall and the vendors tent that it became uncomfortable to stay indoors for too long. It would have been good to see organisers think on their feet and expand into the outdoor spaces.

The crowds and queues, however, just go to show the success and growth of the event over the last ten years. People are travelling from all over the country to Wrexham and that is fantastic. However, it is sad to see the guests capitalising on that growth, as I couldn’t help recalling my first visit, when selfies were free and autographs were averaging at £15. This weekend some guests were charging fans £20 for selfies and £30 for autographs. I suppose they have to make their money somehow! Some of the guests were sat alone when I wandered through, which did make me wonder if people were too scared to talk to them through fear of being charged per word.

Cynical gripes aside, I do really love this event and I am being very picky. I always take away from Comic Con a feeling of safety and community. In recent years there has been a notable increase in police presence but, in my opinion, that is unnecessary as there is never any noticeable trouble (besides with all those Stormtroopers strutting round, there’s no need for police). It’s not just physical safety, but the safety to be whoever the hell you want. You could rock up dressed as a Pikachu and no one would judge. Everyone is welcome and it’s just what our town needs.

 

Christmas has arrived in Blwyddyn Un.

On the first of December, our elf arrived with instructions to ‘Christmas-up’ the classroom, and the festive season erupted into our classroom.

So far, we’ve built a toy workshop in the role play, rescued snowmen from a tuff spot and written letters for Father Christmas. It feels like Christmas has been a long time coming, with concert rehearsals being in full swing for three or four weeks now.

Speaking of concerts, we had our first full run through today. The children are working hard at learning their lines and remembering where they need to stand but I think we’ll all be breathing a sigh of relief next Monday after the final performance. I think that is when the Christmas fun will really begin, when all the official business is done and the concerts have finished and we can all relax.

I was thinking about a very special part of the job. It’s lovely to spend Christmas with children. It’s easy to forget how magical Christmas is for children and seeing their excitement every day is bringing back memories from my own childhood. I think that being in the classroom, no matter how rubbish your feeling, can have such an uplifting effect, especially at Christmas. The children’s excitement and wonder at Christmas is infectious. It’s lovely to share their joy when they come in to see which challenge the elf has set them, or listen to their questions for Father Christmas.

No matter how stressful it gets, how exhausted we are or how much we complain, it’s definitely a perk of the job to share the children’s magical memories of the season.

I’m conscious not to make these posts all about me. I know that that is sort of the point of some blog posts but I do try to steer the content away from myself whenever I can. Trouble is, I am all I know at the moment, so it makes it quite difficult, particularly when I’m in need of a good vent. Blogging is cathartic. Yesterday, I read something that was such a blatant massaging of the writer’s ego that it made me audibly shudder and make noises I was even embarrassed to make in an empty flat. I really hope this blog is never seen as self-indulgent, because that’s not my intention, but for the time being you’ll have to put up with the ramblings about half-written stories, experimental classroom content and rants about EastEnders until my life takes a more adventurous turn.

Anyway, last week was half term. A chance for a much needed recharging of the batteries before it’s full throttle into killer Christmas season (which, of course, I secretly love). By the end of half term my mind was typically racing and I was crawling towards that Friday finish. The problem with this job (and, I’m sure, many other jobs) is that you can never drop the ball. It’s impossible to switch off. I’ve spoken to teachers who say that feeling of unrest doesn’t leave you until well into retirement. You’re constantly feeling like you need to be doing something and the guilt that follows a duvet day is unreal. It’s one thing I’ve struggled with, as I appear to have lost the ability to relax. I was always a bit tightly strung but since starting the PGCE, it’s just been impossible to chill. Even on a Spanish beach, drink in one hand, book in the other, I had to take frequent breaks to go for a walk, check my emails or just do something! It’s relentless. And dangerous. Because, along with every other member of staff and the children, I was ready for a break.

Now for someone who enjoys being active, it’s not necessarily a bad thing (at the moment, but I’m sure in a few years’ time I’ll feel very different). I’m so precious about the time I have ‘off’ that I’ve started making a list of all the things I want to achieve over the holiday (that’s right. I’m setting myself targets. Welcome to the system.) On the list last week was; a blog post, work on a new story, edit an old story and another little project which I’m not going to talk about yet, but have been meaning to do for a long time. All little jobs that I’m sure mean nothing to anyone else but they’re important to me because, as I’ve said before, I’m finding it hard to express myself at this stage in my life, so I wanted to take advantage of the break from work to explore my ideas.

Guess what. Very little of it happened.

It’s frustrating because I know I am to blame. I make the choice. But a contributing factor is the many online distractions. I’ve ranted about the online world before and I don’t want to run at it with a pitchfork because, obviously, it provides a lot of support for people, including myself. It’s bloody hardwork though, when you’ve got an idea, but you can’t quite pin it down because your phone is buzzing, or an email comes through, or you find yourself scrolling through Instagram without even remembering opening the app. I’ve heard interviews about the online world being an addictive space and I believe that is true. I can’t help opening up these apps in the hope that something will interest me or that someone has got in touch, when 9 times out of 10 those things don’t happen. So instead it’s just a big waste of time.  Time where I could have been writing.

I worry that it’s not just my written work that is suffering. I’m craving a book that I can be absorbed into. A world where I can just sink in and forget the real world. I’m a constant reader but, even with something I’m so passionate about, I’ll gladly interrupt my reading to reply to a whatsapp or a snapchat or check my twitter. I hold stories so highly yet I’ll stop to check my phone. What the hell is that all about?

At times I feel like I’m losing the ability to connect. I’ll choose the saddest film, because I want to feel sad. Just to know I’ve felt something. But lately, I’ll find I’m bored after ten minutes and reading old whatsapp messages. I’m desperate for a new TV series that will absorb me and distract me from my smartphone, but after watching introductory episodes of lots of programmes, I just can’t get into anything. I long for the days when I was obsessed with Doctor Who, Torchwood, Lost…..this was about ten years ago when I didn’t have the access to the internet that I have today. I used to just sit and binge and enjoy and feel. I worry that I can’t do that anymore. Nowadays I’m checking Twitter during ad breaks of American Horror Story to see how everyone else feels about the episode. Who cares?

A safe retreat from all this is the theatre. The theatre is different. That is a space where I can immerse myself and I can connect. And, what a coincidence – phones are not permitted.

I’ve heard of people going unplugged and I think there’s a lot to be said for it. It’s a brave thing to do in this era where we’re so dependent on technology but I’m sure it would be good for the mind and the soul. I long for a quiet space, physically or mentally, where I can just sit and think and write and flow, but I’m struggling to see where that would fit into my life at the moment. My goal for next year is to figure it out, express myself and find the time to be unplugged.

Image result for nightmare gif waking up

Things are taking a suitably nightmarish turn in ChezG, just in time for Halloween. Like everyone, I’ve experienced the disorientating cold-sweat of a bad dream on many occasions. Sleep paralysis has trapped me beneath my duvet several times too. But over the last few weeks, I’m finding myself regularly trying to shake off a nightmare, and spending the following day in a sleep deprived mind-fog.

It happened again last night. Having lay awake for a few hours I drifted off at about 2.30am but by 3 o’clock I was jolted awake by a racing heart, soaked forehead and thoughts of ‘YOU WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN’ drumming in my ears.

It’s hideous.

I’ve got two recurring nightmares that stalk me in my sleep quite often. The first is that my teeth have fallen out (I’ve been told that this is an indicator that I’m either going to come into money or that I’m pregnant. No further evidence for either yet). I’m sure this is a pretty standard nightmare but it always sends me rushing into the bathroom to frantically check my gums. The second is that I’m back in the part-time job that accompanied my Uni days. I’m trapped behind the till, forced to face the mundanity of scowling customers and scanning milk. The incessant call of the petrol pumps. The constantly broken lottery machine. I’m forced to relive a time when my only entertainment for eight hours was a never ending production line of ill manners, reduced pasties and body odour. *shudders*. I know it’s hardly the stuff of a Stephen King novel but I will always remember it as my personal hell.

The recurring nightmares are bad enough but I’ve built up enough a resistance to shake them off after a few minutes of feeling very sorry for myself. But this recent barrage of horror stories created by my own mind, is proving a little more difficult to get over. I’ve had allsorts over the last few weeks – from the death of family members to spooky intruders in the flat – but, sometimes, it not so much the content of the dream but my body’s response to it. That sicky feeling, where you’re not sure what is real and what isn’t, is horrible and impossible to identify in those jolting first few moments after a dream, making it very hard to talk any sense into yourself. Last week I actually woke up shouting, which is alarming in itself when you’re ripped out of sleep by the sound of your own voice. A few times, like last night, I’ve had such an adrenaline rush that I’ve just been totally unable to get back off to sleep, which, although it’s frustrating, I can cope with during holidays but during term time, I panic I’ll be tired for school and then can’t recover the next day because I’m in work. It just ramps up into a vicious anxiety circle. I’ve spent several days over the last few weeks feeling emotional and exhausted because, like anyone, I really bloody value my sleep!

So what is causing it? I’ll admit my bedtime reading hasn’t been the most pleasant recently.  I’ve had American Psycho, Carrie and some very graphic Torchwood novels in the last few weeks but I’ve always been able to cope with anything I read before. I’ll often leave the TV to send me to sleep but it’s always with a light comedy (typically French and Saunders) or a Disney film. I’ve even taken solace in Desert Island Discs! I’ve found the internet is the worst pre-bed activity, because whether it’s twitter or Instagram or BBC news, whatever I read seems to buzz around my brain for the rest of the night. It’s a horrible feeling that I just can’t come down from. A theory from a friend is that heat can trigger nightmares, which is tricky as hot water bottle season is in full swing. I suppose it could be a combination of things. Either way, I’m spending Halloween Eve exhausted, looking hideous and dreading going to bed. Great.

It’s that time of the term again. Just a few days left and we’re all slogging away with the last of our energy, dragging ourselves towards Friday (and I include the children in this. We’re all exhausted.). With the end of term being typically hectic, it’s been hard to pin down any kind of thoughts to blog about. However, there is one thing I’ve been thinking about over the last week or so.

Beliefs. What we believe in is important to us. For a lot of people it gets them through their day. Some have more beliefs than others. Some think it causes a lot of problems. Regardless, what we believe in is an important human trait.

In education, we’re expected to be a whitewashed, stripped down version of ourselves. We’re not allowed to appear to have any kind of life outside the classroom at risk of appearing ‘unprofessional’. In most other aspects, this makes me cross, as I think sharing our true selves is part of being a role model of diversity and reality for young children. However, when it comes to religion, I think there’s a thin line we need to tread.

It’s important for us to get the balance right. It’s OK for us to talk about religion, after all it has been around for a very long time and will continue to be around long after any of us have shuffled off, but to impose a view on others is definite no-no. We wouldn’t do it to an adult, so to push a religious view point on a child is to take advantage of their impressionable position.

My Grandad always says ‘Never talk about religion or politics’ and as I’ve grown up I’ve realised this is excellent advice (unfortunately, a couple of times, I’ve learned this the hard way). It’s a road that can easily lead to trouble. Whether we’re the teacher or the parent, we should be opening doors for children, not closing them. Our role is to present the world with an open mind and allow the child to make their choice. We must only educate. There should come a time when each child should be allowed to explore their own thoughts.

Religion can be a fantastic gateway into exploring other cultures and whether you’re Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic…whatever, it’s a subject that should be respected and used to educate.  I know lots of people who are agnostic but wouldn’t dream of pushing those opinions on the children. I know some people with strong religious beliefs who wouldn’t do so either. I know some people who are less likely to follow that road. There are even more people whose religion I don’t even know because….I don’t need to! It’s a personal choice that doesn’t necessarily need to be worn on a sleeve.

This might seem like a strange stream of consciousness but the position we’re in, as adults, and the way it can effect children, for better and worse, has crossed my mind a lot this week. It’s a powerful position and one that should never be abused.

Image result for halloween craftWe’ve got a bit of a dilemma in Blwyddyn Un at the moment. Our topic is ‘Celebrations’ and at the start of the term I asked the children what kind of things we celebrate. We had the usuals – Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Weddings etc….

But then came the word we’d been dreading: Halloween. I managed to brush the suggestion off but it kept creeping up.

‘In the craft area, I’d like you to draw something to do with a celebration that we can put on display, please,’ I announced the following week, expecting an influx of birthday cakes and Christmas trees. One boy drew a spider. Another a pumpkin. Another child drew a ghost! ‘What’s this?’ I asked with annoying faux-ignorance. ‘For Halloween!’ they all chirped excitedly. ‘Oh, great,’ was my reply through a very forced smile.

See, personally, I don’t have a problem with Halloween. I love it. And I’m all for any celebration that breaks up the monotony of everyday life. I’m not a horror kind of person but in October I just want to watch American Horror Story, eat lots of chocolate (OK, that’s a constant urge) and dress as a vampire. It just comes naturally this time of year. But, professionally, I’m stuck.

When I first started working in schools I was surprised that the H-word had become so taboo. I’ve got a lot of fun memories of Halloween as a child and a teenager (well, from about 14 onwards. Before that I was actually scared of Halloween, much to my mother’s embarrassment, but I realise I was a minority). I get that the roots of Halloween have connotations to paganism and I’m not saying we should making any sacrificial offerings or anything, but I believe Halloween is a different celebration to what it used to be centuries ago. It’s part of our culture now, whether we like it or not. It’s something that we do. And if it’s true that Halloween stems from Celtic festivals, then shouldn’t we, as descendants of Welsh Celts, be using it as a point of education?

The most obvious change is that it’s now commercialised. Children are unaware of its original meanings and enjoy Halloween just because it’s a bit of fun! We all like a good scare to get the adrenaline going and on these winter nights there’s nothing better than curling up with some sweets and Hocus Pocus. It’s become bigger, even since I was a child. Chances are they’ll be trick or treating with their parents so why should we pretend like it doesn’t exist and ban it from the classroom? I’m not saying we spend weeks preparing for it, like we would Christmas, but I don’t see why we can’t treat it like Bonfire Night and have a couple of Halloween-themed numeracy or literacy sessions. We could base some work on Funnybones or Winnie the Witch. We could design a costume. We could be developing our fine and gross motor skills by pumpkin carving! Oh my goodness, think of the scope for craft activities! Further up the school we could touch on the historical links, more so to the Welsh and Celtic side of things. We’re encouraged to bring the children’s interests into our teaching so it seems ridiculous to just ignore Halloween. I understand it would have to be watered down to suit the age group but, come on, it’s just a bit of hocus pocus! Children learn most when they’re interested and having fun, and I think Halloween ticks both those boxes.

 ‘It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to talk about what’s wrong. It’s OK to play with girls if you like them, to dress like girls if you want to, to like the colour pink if you like it, [..] to not be all that bothered about football if you’re not all that bothered about football.’

‘How Not to Be a Boy’, Robert Webb.

We’ve all read special books that really mean a lot to us. I’ve got a shelf full, but How Not To Be A Boy felt very personal for me. In my review last week I discussed the messages Webb shared and some of the shocking anecdotes he recalled, but I was wary of including too much of my own personal experiences in a review of a book that was written by somebody else. So I’ve saved them for this week (you lucky things).

I know it’s not my parents or my family who were to blame, this isn’t a dig at them, and I’m not saying that the past has traumatised me beyond repair, but the rules of the patriarchy and society that Webb discussed definitely loomed over my childhood.

For me a big issue growing up was ‘football’. I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t that I hated it (although I have grown to hate the sound of football due to a) Too much exposure of football crowds chanting tunelessly on the TV as a child and b) Now living within ear shot of a football ground.  Why can’t they sing something with words rather than sounds? Songs that I know. ABBA, for instance.) Football just never interested me. Being a fan, my Dad was, I’m sure, disappointed at first but he’s accepted it, after a lot of perseverance. As I grew up, I knew that it was weird that I didn’t like football. After all I am male and all males have to like football, right? I began to notice that people found it hard to talk to me after I dropped the ‘I don’t like football’ bomb. We’d go to parties at the local club or get visits from extended family members and every conversation seemed to go like this.

‘And what team do you support lad?’

‘Oh, I don’t like football.’

‘Ahh…..’*quizzical look*

END OF CONVERSATION.

There were rare instances where, following ‘the look’, I’d get ‘So….do you like any other sports? Rugby? Cricket?’ To which I’d fail to redeem myself by saying ‘No’ or when I was feeling particularly brave ‘No but I do like to read.’ It was just totally incomprehensible that I was a boy who wasn’t involved in sports. I started to get sensitive to it and, knowing I was odd, anxious about the conversation which I knew would come. In a lame attempt to tackle it I started to answer with ‘Liverpool’ in the hope it would shut them up.

Of course, as you get older, you realise that you’re not as odd as you thought and there is nothing wrong with being a boy who is not interested in football, but it was such a big deal for me as a child that I remember being elated if I heard a celebrity on TV admitting that football doesn’t interest him or met another anti-football freak like me. Last year, an ex-family member said, whilst I was in the room, ‘Imagine having a son who didn’t like football. You’d be devastated wouldn’t you?’ This is the kind of message I seemed to be confronted with regularly, that I’d failed as a boy because I didn’t like football. Of course, as an adult I was able to shrug off his comments and stick two fingers up behind the idiot’s back, but a comment like that during my childhood would have really upset me.

So I was already failing the stereotype via my choices of hobby, but ‘the rules’ really started to affect me when I started school (Note: this was probably the only time I was ever seen as a rule breaker during my childhood). I don’t know how it happened but I ended up having a circle of friends who were all female. Perhaps I didn’t prove myself to be included as ‘one of the boys’ or perhaps I just thought ‘God, I’d rather be sitting over there with the girls than having competitions about who can wee the highest up the urinal with the boys.’ Perhaps I took part in said competition, failed, and was therefore excluded from anything ‘Boy’ for the next ten years. I don’t know. I just preferred to stick with the girls. ‘Oh, he’s a ladies man’ teachers would tease. ‘Oh he’s gay’, older boys would decide.

I didn’t want to be a girl or dress like them. Apart from a bit of an obsession with the pink power ranger, I wasn’t overly fussed about the colour pink. To me, I just had a bunch of friends. I couldn’t understand why it was an issue for a lot of people. The way I was spoken to, it was almost like I was letting myself down by hanging round with girls. Like I was showing a weakness by associating with them, because they were lesser beings than men (which is obviously totally incorrect). The fact they were girls never bothered me, until people started telling me very bluntly that I should be bothered. I remember in the last few weeks in year six, one boy in my class gave me a bit of a thumping in order to prepare myself for secondary school, where, in his opinion, I was going to get regular thumpings because of who my friends were. Great. It’s always good to have something to look forward to, isn’t it?

And so, like Webb, the ‘Sovereign Importance of Early Homophobia’ came into play. It seemed that because my friends where girls this made me more susceptible to becoming gay and in my town that is a big no-no. Throughout high school the same message haunted me – Do Not Be Gay. Whether it was someone in my family tutting when a gay character was on the TV or one of my English teachers reacting like I’d asked for it when a bunch of nasty girls humiliated me during class. It might have been listening to my Mum use some mildly offensive term to ‘joke’ with my brother or it could have been the time someone close to me gave me a very serious talking to because my gay friend had signed off a message on my Facebook wall with a kiss and, to them, it ‘looked really, really bad.’ The message was loud and clear. Some people decided for me and took it upon themselves to spread the news. All assumed from the company I kept.

I met my then-Best Friend in secondary school and she was a very vibrant and resilient girl. It never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t be friends with her because of her sex, I just thought she was really cool and I admired her confidence! But, by choosing another female friend, I’d inadvertently chosen five years of people telling me I was wrong, without even knowing me properly. I wouldn’t say I was bullied any more than the next person but I did have a label, which I could never shake. I was the boy who had girl friends (never to be confused with girlfriends. That didn’t start until well into my teens and the plural was never necessary). Whether it was a friend putting in a sneaky comment or an older boy humiliating me in front of the whole class just to get a few laughs, there seemed to be something every day. I’d never change it because I believe that my best friend was a better friend to me than any of the boys at my school would have been. We had a lot of common interests and we used to laugh so much! And there were others. I had a whole bunch of friends, most of whom were female, and I don’t regret meeting any one of them. But it’s a shame that my school life was tainted by the most humiliating and hurtful actions just because I chose to be friends with someone of the opposite sex. That decision seemed to put me into a category – I was a boy who chose female company so I must be weak. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that the females I befriended were probably more bolshie, stubborn and tough than most of the year 11 boys put together. But they were also the funniest and most supportive people I could wish to be around.

Secondary school was tough for other reasons.  It was a time of unrest in my home life and I needed someone to confide in, a service which was gladly provided by all of my female friends. Had they been boys, it may have been a different story, because society doesn’t take kindly to boys who listen or care.

As for talking about my feelings, I’ve been fortunate to have plenty of people to confide in over the years, should I need to, but the pressure of ‘manning up’ has certainly been there. I had to be strong, solely because I was a man. During a particularly grim period a number of years ago, I confided in a doctor about feeling constantly on-edge and miserable (at the time, dismissive of the ideas that I might be anxious or depressed, because I’d been conditioned to think of those illnesses as weaknesses. I now know that the strongest person can suffer these conditions). The first doctor told me to buck up and fix my feelings ‘the British way’ (whatever that is….having a cup of tea?). The second one told me to find a good woman. I’m thankful that, after many dark months of feeling awful and constantly on the verge of tears, I was able to manage my feelings in my own way, but to someone less fortunate than me, that advice from a professional could have been very dangerous. Webb’s book highlighted just how dangerous the pressures society puts on men to bottle up their emotions can be and it’s terrifying to think so many suffer in silence.

So in 2017, I finally got the advice I needed twenty years ago. It might have come too late, but as I grew up I taught myself that ‘normal’ didn’t exist, that I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I was and that the problem lay in the way my life was viewed by others, not with myself. It would have been great to have been given this advice when I was younger, and I’m sure in a way it was hinted at by some people, but I can’t regret anything because it’s made me who I am. That’s sort of why I shared it (or a slice of it. I have enough material for many, many blog posts).  Yes, it’s been a bit of self-indulgent therapy for me, but I hope that if the teenage me is out there reading this they’ll realise that they don’t need to be ashamed, or feel like the odd one out because it’s absolutely OK to be themselves. You might feel like a failure at the moment, but in time you’ll realise you’re only failing a stereotype, and that can only be a good thing.