Category Archives: Blogs

Weekly, monthly, whenever I get around to it really.

London Calling?

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For a couple of months now I’ve been trying to sort out a few school bookings in London but for one reason or another we haven’t been able to tie anything down. Agreeing dates, clashing diaries, other committments; they’ve all gotten in the way of booking confirmations. Then I received this.

Maybe the Olympics have gone to their heads? Maybe London is becoming as loony as La-La Land in California but for whatever reason, I cannot fathom out the depths of madness that this politically correct borough council authority is expecting me to go to, just to present to school children about bums and bogies.

At least, they claim to represent a borough council. You decide…

Dear Mr Reid (author)
Further to your recent enquiry regards your book reading presentation in the borough schools district, I would like to ensure that you have filled in your risk assessment pro formas and had a full CRB screening.  I trust your material has had a full equalities impact assessment made and that your teaching mode has been cleared as appropriate by the regional Ofsted co-ordinator, as moderated by the LEA senior trainer and core curriculum lead intervener.
 
The reading levels will, of course, have been tested by the literacy co-ordinator and subjected to a multi-cultural awareness examination, to ensure there is no implicit or explicit culturally insensitive material, as it relates to the families of those from 56 nations represented in the school district. 

During ecumenical-awareness enhanced times such as our own, the contents of your publication will need to be vetted by the All Faiths co-ordination committee to ensure that there are no references to anything that could remotely offend any of our diverse faith communities is presented, no matter how obliquely.  This is a tricky test, which may require the engagement of an all-faith, multi lingual, expert team of positive action assessors, possibly complemented by a specially commissioned and recruited, and ethnically and gender weighted, focus group.

An earth-moving device

The regional public Heath board will be required to conduct a series of tests on the bogies of a sample of mixed gender, sexuality, faith, race and ability/ disabilities to ensure that the full dietary needs of all – vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher and just fudging faddy or fussy are catered for, without there being too many challenges to those with particular dietary needs, and allergies. 

Use of the word “bum” will of course be prohibited, as it is too colloquial and fails to meet target 6 of Key Stage 2 communications through multicultural, non discriminatory interaction mode. Only posterier, derriere or glutomous maximus may be used.
 
You will be expected to be accompanied by two governors at all times you are on the schools’ premises and will not be permitted to film any part of the proceedings without the explicit prior approval of the parents/guardians/carers  for fear of any images taken being posted on the Internet and attracting unwarranted deviants.
You will not be permitted to use the word ‘Giant’ at any stage of your your presentation, as it has been deemed heightist and offends the vertically challenged amongst us. Studies have shown that 96.3% of all primary school attendees are below the average height of an adult, therefore, we presume, a highly sensitive group.
‘Geriartic’ is also inappropriate, considered ageist and ‘Chronologically Advantaged’ should be used instead. The council’s ethics committee has yet to deem ‘Generator’ offensive but we are sure it will happen at some point, particularly to protect the less efficient members of the public sector and the word should be removed from your presentation.
Whilst the nomiker ‘George’ is permitted, it must not be used with any regal or republican connotations or undertones, however the adjective ‘Gorgeous’ is wholly inappropriate, abusive, misleading and unrepresentative. We recommend you use the phrase ‘Less visually challenging’.
No child will be permitted to display any form of emotion during your presentation, as this would be regarded as the commission of an act of cultural bullying aimed at impacting adversely on the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy potentially suffered by child/children unknown who do not “get the joke”. Cultural bullying such as this has, in multi-national studies, been shown to possibly induce feelings of insecurity and inadequacy in as many as 0.2% of all pupils, and thus enhance the discriminatory exclusion sensitivities of many from different social and cultural family settings.
Once you have completed the above criteria in full and submitted your remittance of £499 to cover administration charges, then we will look forward to the event featuring your book Less Visually Challenging George and the Positively Pituitary, Chronologically Advantaged Mass Production Hardware in our district.
Yours Sincerely
Johann Spazierganger

Lest We Forget…

Sunday 11th November 2012. Armistice Day. Remembrance Sunday.

Poppy Day.

Poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour symbolising the blood spilled in the war. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” and every year since, Britain pays its respects to all those in the armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

Today it’s been a morning of quiet reflection. Partly due to Calvin Innes’ beautifully poignant illustration of two characters whom I love dearly and what they may be thinking. And possibly because I am working on a series of World War Two diaries given to me by my next door neighbour Graeme, whose father was held captive in a German POW camp for four years. He kept these diaries hidden all that time; he could’ve been shot if the Germans had discovered them.

These diaries are a sombre change from the normal ‘bums and bogies’ nonsense I write about but I’m realising that children love learning about history. I’ve seen the WWII projects that go on in schools where kids built Anderson shelters and recreate entire model streets and towns, only to come into school on Monday morning to find the houses demolished, as they might’ve been in reality 70 years ago. This first hand impact and the emotional connection this creates helps to develop a rounded understanding of what people went through back then.

And despite what some scare-mongering newspapers like to promote, children are still children these days. Whilst I’ve been visiting schools throughout the length and breadth of the country, I feel reassured that society will look after itself; that children are still just small people and 99% of them are decent little human beings being taught the same ethics and values that develop responsible citizens, regardless of their background.

Talking of trust and decency, I was incredibly moved this week, when I was due to visit Glebe Primary School near Derby. The literacy co-ordinator at the school, Freda, offered to put me up at her house for the night. Freda and her husband, Steve had been talking about my dramatic change in careers and wanted to help out a new author embarking on a different voyage. It was a wonderful offer, because travelling to different schools around the country can be an expensive business, with hotels and meals etc, and they very kindly agreed to look after me.

Nobody does that now, do they? Nobody agrees to take a complete stranger into their home, feeds them with wonderful pork and cider casserole, two baked potatoes and vegetables, fruit, ice-cream and copious amounts of wine?

Well, Freda and Steve did! A wonderful couple with a beautiful home and a strong artistic, creative streak running through their family. I hope Freda fulfils her dreams to begin writing seriously (and turns the cubby room under the stairs into her writing studio). I was amazed with Steve (a former policeman) and his stories about engaging with youngsters and leading a group of performing children to the Houses of Parliament to win a national award, promoting the serious message of Stranger Danger in entertaining ways. I will never forget your kindness and generosity.

However, Freda kept quiet about this but Steve told me later that her eldest lad Dan, aged 23, has just won the UK Final of the Loop Station and V-Drum World Championships and is now off to Los Angeles to compete for the world title. If that had been me and one of my daughters, I’d be shouting about it from the rooftops. Good luck, Dan!

And Glebe primary school pupils were amazing! 400 enthusiastic and engaged children (and 60 parents) willing to take part in some nooby author’s manic performance. They were a credit to the school with the superb behaviour and the ability to become very vocal and excited one minute then come back down to earth to listen carefully to the next part of the story.

But then again, most schools are like this. What made Glebe primary special was the size of audience, all the parents in the audience and the extra excitement around the school because of literacy week. Thank you Glebe Primary, thank you mums and dads and grandparents, thank you Mrs Seymour the headteacher and especially, thank you to Freda and Steve.

Finally, there’s that tiny percentage of pupils who haven’t quite learned what good behaviour is. I suppose the earlier you identify this, the easier it is to correct. There’s always one or two kids in most schools that can be a little er… flighty. However, I was still rather surprised at another school, with this outburst.

I had already performed to the Key Stage 2 children; they were brilliant. Then I was presenting to the Key Stage 1 pupils, reception and early years children aged between 4 and 7 years old. I was in full flow, coming to the end of my session, extolling the virtues of books and reading and I was asked what inspired me about books.

‘Books are great,’ I began, ready to continue when one little chap in the back row, who was about six, shouted out.

‘Boobs are great!’

‘No,’ I replied. ‘I said “Books are great.”’ Luckily none of the other children picked up on what the kid said. Then, the little nutter lost the plot altogether.

‘No, BOOBS! Boobs are great. Tell us about boobs!’ he started shouting. ‘Tell us about boobs!’

His teacher was swift to move in and the boy was whisked out of the classroom faster than a rocket on roller-skates. Amazingly, the rest of the classroom seemed oblivious to the disturbance and I managed to keep going with a straight face.

At the end, the teacher came up to me and apologised for the interruption, saying she was surprised he’d kept quiet for almost an hour; he could be a bit of a handful. Then the lad came back into the classroom and apologised, quite sincerely. Someone had had a word in his ear and hopefully he’d learned his lesson.

This blog began in a sombre mood and ended with a seaside postcard moment of madness from a very cheeky six year old. My only justification for including this today is judging from that diary, and the black humour of the British ‘Tommy’ soldiers in that POW camp in northern Germany, they’d be laughing their socks off right now.

Lest we forget…

Photoshoots, Chefs, Sheep and a Goat called Gorgeous George!

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It’s been a mad, mental amazing last few weeks. I’ve driven over 4000 miles, presented to over 20 schools and one fantastic book festival and done two or three slightly unusual things. Spot the odd one out.

  • A Masterchef winner cooked my dinner and came to the table for a chat.
  • Gordon Ramsay cooked my dinner and Gok Wan mixed my cocktails
  • I dressed up like Harry Potter and ran about a cemetery with an owl in one hand and a wand in the other.
  • I whisked my gorgeous young wife off out for her birthday to El Swanky Posh restaurant for her birthday.
  • I jumped into a pen with a couple of goats.

Sadly, the only thing I didn’t do on the list above was take Audrey out for dinner on her birthday – oops! Too wet to go out, too cold to play ball. We sat in the house, we did nothing at all. Well, I sent out my invoices, wrote to a few schools and generally tidied up my admin.

I did offer but Wednesday was horribly wet and Audrey didn’t fancy getting dressed up to get soaked going out. I really did offer though, honest.

I suppose Audrey is still hankering for the good life, after our fantastic trip to London, appearing on Channel 4’s Hotel GB. It was so surreal, coming out of the lift and chatting with How Clean Is Your House Kim, meeting Jackie Collins and Location, Location, Location guy Phil Spencer.

Gok Wan was top notch but Audrey won’t let me repeat his one and only Glaswegian catch-phrase – it’s a little bit rude but ask me when you see me. He does mix a mean cocktail though.

Gordon Ramsay was in charge of the kitchen when we went down for dinner and Gordon was…well, Gordon, I suppose. Doing what he does best, shouting at people, belittling them, swearing for the cameras. If this is how he behaves in his own restaurants, or expects his own chefs to behave, I’ll never eat in one of his restaurants again. It wasn’t pleasant and he does take criticism of his food too well.

‘How was the food?’ he asked when he came up to the table.

‘Burnt’ I replied. ‘The toast was solid.’

‘No,’ he snapped. ‘It’s sourdough bread, toasted over an open flame. Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.’

‘But it’s black?’ And he stormed off to the next table, pretending he didn’t hear me.

The following week Jess, Charley and I were off to the Wigtown Book Festival. This was my first appearance at Wigtown and I had no idea what to expect. Smoked salmon and lobster for lunch? Yes, please and a performance in front of my first paying audience. It was great fun and they’ve even asked me to come back next year for a full day of school presentations.

The best bit was the photo-shoot for the Wigtown Calendar. Authors had to dress up as their favourite literary character and since Jess had a large Hogwarts cloak, wand and large stuffed owl, Harry Potter was the obvious choice. Kim the photographer was really cool as I posed in an old cemetery, trying to look menacing in the face of Lord Voldemort.

Then it was off the the Radio Royal studios for an interview the wacky, flambouyant DJ Craig Ryan. Craig had us on his show for over an hour and even included the first live reading from Gorgeous George and the Zigzag Zit-faced Zombies. Of course, it didn’t take Jess and Charley long to take over the microphones and don the headsets. Luckily I’d PR trained them before they went on ‘live’ so they were only able to say really really good tings about my books.

 

This week was a mixture of schools in Sunderland, Stoke, Preston and the Wirral. The Preston school wanted me to officially open their new library (oh no, more scissors) and the pupils had even made a beautiful ceramic tile mural with pictures of themselves and a brass plaque across the top which read ‘Eldon Guild Primary School opened by Author Stuart Reid.’ I was well chuffed with that.

Staying over in a little village called Woodchurch I decided to book myself into a cracking little hotel called The Riverhill. The restaurant is run by a young lady called Claire Lara and her menu was superb. It should be, Claire was the winner of the BBC’s Mastechef a couple of years ago.

Choosing the starter was tricky, with Rabbit Terrine, Beef Carpaccio and King Scallops on the menu but I eventually plumped for Cumbrian Wood Pigeon with smoked pancetta, parsnip puree and red wine jus. Absolutely gorgeous.

The mains were equally impressive with pheasant, Gressingham duck, saddle of rabbit and Cumbrian Beef Fillet with oxtail and wild sauted mushrooms. My pheasant was cooked to perfection; the caramelised quince was sublime, and perfectly balanced with the port sauce.

Sorry if I’ve gone all poncy, foodie connoisseur but when Claire came to chat at the table she mentioned that she’d been asked by the BBC to write a cookery book but she didn’t know where to start. The BBC suggested a ghost writer but again she was at a loss.

Ahem, ahem!! I think I could suggest an excellent ghost writer who loves his food!!!

Finally, Calvin and I were off to Woodchurch High School and our joint drawing and book reading sessions. The kids were brilliant; enthusiastic and engaged. And hardly surprising…. The school was amazing. In the middle of a housing estate, they had created their own farm where the pupils looked after an enormous menagerie of goats, sheep, chickens and rare breed hens. What an awesome school!  We were ‘persuaded’ to have our photos taken by the inspirational teacher Julie Wood and after a gentle introduction the goats seemed quite keen to be read to….from my book, obviously.

And the school is receiving another guest tomorrow (Saturday). The two lady goats who we met will be joined by a young male goat and the school have already christened him.

His name? Gorgeous George!

Saved By The Bell.

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I have the best job in the world! Is this what real authors do? Is this what it actually feels like to call myself a proper author and do proper author things? Or maybe it’s all pretend and I’m just a proper Arthur (as one little fan wrote and told me this week).

It has been the most amazing week in my short writing career. Generally, I’m ambitious, determined and very impatient; I expect great things to happen immediately and occasionally I can get frustrated that I haven’t sold a billion books by now. But when I think that I only gave up my ‘real job’ six months ago I realise that the rollercoaster ride is still climbing.

This week I attended my first book festival, Stirling’s Off the Page. I presented at two fantastic libraries, to two groups of primary school pupils and had a brilliant time. I was even treated to lunch by Stirling’s Library Co-ordinator.

Then I visited another seven schools and was delighted to discover that the Airdrie Advertiser and Angus Courier had sent photographers to capture my sessions with the kids. I even had a phone call from the Daily Record, who wanted some ‘background info’ as I’ve been nominated for the Creative Scotland Awards 2012.

At one rural school I was even allowed to ring the bell; a proper heavy metal thing with a big clanger. I nearly pulled my arm out of my socket swinging it back and forth but that still didn’t top the two most memorable moments of the last 7 days.

Whilst I was leaving one school I turned the corner into the car park and bumped into a dinner lady, sobbing profusely into a hankie. I went across to see if she was okay and found out that she was retiring and today was her last day. Her husband had died earlier this year and she was moving house to be closer to her daughter. She loved the kids at school and was going to miss them so much. By this point, I had to pretend I had something in my eye and I gave her a cuddle. I led her back into the school canteen where I knew the whole school was waiting with flowers and presents.

Then, at my last school of the week I met a young man called Jay. He told me he loves books and asked lots of great questions at the end of my presentation. He hung at the back of the queue of pupils, who were waiting to buy my book and just as the lunchtime rang, Jay was last to be served. He was so excited he thrust his little money envelope into my hand, holding it in a very particular fashion. Knowing I was running late, I felt for the money inside and guessed there was a £5 note, a £2 coin and a £1 coin. I even asked him if that was £8, he nodded and I gave him 1p change.

It was only when I got home and opened the envelope that I discovered there was £11.10 in it; a bit of a strange amount and £3.10 too much so I called the school.

It turns out that Jay wasn’t given any cash to buy my book. He had spent both his and his little sister’s lunch money to get himself a copy. He’d loved the presentation so much, he had the cash in his pocket for weeks’ worth of school dinners and he seized his opportunity. He was prepared to starve, as long as he could have a copy of Gorgeous George and the Giant Geriatric Generator.

. I think that more children should go hungry to read my books. Well done, Jay!