Food Fight

Cheese is funny… Why is that? Maybe it’s just me, but some words and concepts make me smile. Coleslaw is silly too.

29-utterly-puerile-rounds-of-cards-against-humani-2-3844-1401459108-7_dblbigI love Cards Against Humanity, it’s such a simple giggly game after a few drinks. I play a lot of board games with my kids, but of course I can’t play Humanity with them. (If you’ve tried it you’ll know why.) Apples To Apples is a a child friendly version, but we don’t much like it. So the kids and I decided to create our own  word fighting game.

Our game wasn’t exactly the same as Cards Against Humanity. We decided to write some words on cards (bits of paper) and the object was to put the words together, to create characters with weapons, to see who would win. We had great fun coming up with the words. There was ‘awesome’ and ‘bunny’ and ‘sparkly’ and ‘dead.’ There was ‘zombie’ and ‘smelly’ and ‘silly’ and ‘tickle.’ There was lots more word madness. We tried it, and even in its most basic form it worked.

So you might have, ‘Cute bunny shooting flower gun’ versus ‘Giant robot with pizza breath.’

Clearly a no-brainer, the pizza breath robot wins..!

We chatted about the game on the way to school. We talked about a system of levels where you gain more powerful words. We worked out how the points were scored. We spent days saying, ‘That’s a good word’ in conversation and adding it to the game list.

Yesterday my daughter came running downstairs, wailing “Nooooo!”

She told me the bad news. “Google Superfight,” she said.

So I did.

superfight-card-game-10317 (1)There was our game! There were a few differences, it was more serious and adult orientated, and the phrases were  a bit longer… It meant we could buy this game and play it. Perhaps I should have looked up ‘fighting with words’ card games and found it? I decided it would be good to have a proper copy of a game professionally produced.

Who am I kidding? We were gutted!

“Don’t worry Mum, we can make other games.”

This is true. We are a family who like to talk games, and sometimes, sitting on the living room floor, we invent games that are different versions of the ones in our cupboard. My son was right. We would make other games. So I decided to put Superfight on my Christmas list and forget about it.

Then we had pizza.

“All the best foods in the world have cheese on them,” I said. “The best countries for food always use cheese.”

“What about sushi?” my son pointed out.

“Italian and Mexican are pretty good,” my daughter pointed out. “But there’s no cheese in Indian.”

“Cheese on toast,” I said.

This argument was poor. My children laughed. You see? Cheese is funny!

This is when I got the idea. We started again with our game… It had a new concept now, it was ‘Food Fight.’ We scribbled down the silliest food words on scraps of paper. We fought with food and the yuckiest won. We had ‘Stinky cheese custard splat gun’ versus ‘Terrifying baked bean fountain’. The grossest food won, and our randomly invented characters were covered with splats when they lost.

43545fb2-3bcc-43e3-bce1-ca72b8ffde7bYou had to use only the food you had in your cupboard, and in a twist that seemed to work , a ‘food fight’ would sometimes switch to a ‘food feast’. Then suddenly it got all Great British Bake Off, and we were trying to create the most delicious concoctions with our silly ingredients.

There will be a lot of laughs about my passion for Pot Noodle, there will be many references to the fact I love the word falafel… The kids will argue for the inclusion of the word ‘fart’ and I will say no.

I don’t think it matters that someone has run a Kickstarter campaign and that a better game exists. We like our game, it even has ‘sea food platter’ which is a hilarious family thing. There’s just as much fun in the making as the playing.

I stand by my statement that cheese is important to world food culture. Yoghurt too. So I know that when I play Food Fight tomorrow I will score maximum points for yoghurt barbecue sea food platter.

This is a family  joke, and this is a family game. And it’s so much better that way.

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There is more in you than you think

stichtag_juni106_v-ARDFotogalerieI have a picture of Kurt Hahn on my desk. It’s not a pretty image like the other pictures in my office; he’s an old man, rather gaunt. He’s not a famous man. He didn’t write books, he rarely bothered with speeches. He is my hero.

I am sure that he had flaws,  and he never married which leads to debate about his personal life (that doesn’t interest me one bit.) All he did was have an idea, believe in it, and take it into the world and try it.

He is listed on Wikipedea as ‘an educator’. He was the founder of Gordonstoune school, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, the Outward Bounds movement, and the inspiration for educational movements such as United World Colleges, Round Square and Expeditionary Learning schools.

He believed that young people, when challenged, find something in themselves to become better people. He said, You can say to young people, “you must volunteer.” That is the devil. And you can tell them, “you are needed” that hardly ever fails.

He believed, more than fifty years ago, “As affluence has increased, the young person’s environment has become impoverished for responsible and productive action, or any action that tests and develops him.” 

GREAT-BRITAIN. Scotland. Gordonstoun College. 1962.
GREAT-BRITAIN. Scotland. Gordonstoun College. 1962.

He found a  mad solution with a school where teenagers had to operate the town’s fire station!

I could tell you so much more about Kurt Hahn, but the bit that got me, was that he believed in experience as a teacher. Sitting in a classroom learning stuff is important; but I know that all the most important things in life I’ve learned by trying stuff that scares me.

I got a promotion, ‘I can’t manage people’ I thought, then I had to do it and I coped. I set up a writing group, ‘No one will come.’ They came, I dealt with it. ‘This will be a disaster.’ It was, I coped.’I should try again.’ I did, it was a good decision. ‘I can do this.’ I could, and  it worked and I went on to bigger things.

I learned none of this at school. Could I lead and organise and create things at fifteen? I don’t know, no one ever tested me.

I could bore you with Kurt Hahn quotes all day. Here’s another one, ‘A schoolmaster made the remark, ‘I have no faith in this boy.’ He said, ‘Then you have no right to educate him.’

Schools are nothing like the schools Kurt Hahn wanted. And instead of just theorising or dreaming he tried things in the schools he created, and he achieved things with the lives he influenced.

I feel strongly that if someone had asked me aged fifteen, “What do you want to do?” I’d have said, “Write.” And just maybe they’d have helped me to set up a writing group… That would have been better in so many ways than anything I learned in geography.

And instead a few years ago I set up my writing group, and it was awful. I had no confidence to lead it at all, I messed up, I made a bad writing group. Somehow I got through that and I learned, and I now organise an amazing group that is fun, it works, and it’s so big it meets twice a month, and we’re publishing a book next May. Imagine if I’d learned I could do all this aged fifteen? Maybe now I’d have a worldwide writing group organisation, and we would have published dozens of writing group books!

This is, of course, a flippant point. But still. I learned that I could manage people, and organise things, and make stuff happen in my thirties and forties. Is this because I needed to be this old to learn to do all this stuff? Or did I have this ability, but school only taught me geography and never tested if I could create things, and manage people, and be responsible?

When people care they push themselves, and when people push themselves they learn.

So here I am, with a love for a long dead german educator. I’m pleased that his ideals are there in practise in schools in America. Expeditionary Schools sound like amazing places,  it’s not only exams on the agenda, it’s self discovery, curiosity, responsibility, learning from failure, competition, reflection and service…I’ve thought of trying to set up a free school in this model in Canterbury. I may yet. I’m pleased the Duke of Edinburgh and Outward bounds stuff exists in this country, although I think challenge doesn’t need to only translate to the physical things…

So I have a hero, and I know the lesson he would teach is to keep on trying the difficult stuff. Experience and challenge is always the best teacher. I tell my kids there is a bravery muscle, it gets stronger if you use it. And my next step with the difficult stuff is deciding how to translate my enthusiasm for this long dead german educator into something that makes an impact in the world in some way.

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Hello middle of November

Years ago I had a well liked blog that I updated every day. But blogs aren’t so popular these days, the world has shrunk from long posts into tiny tweets, Facebook posts, Snapchat and Instagram. I still like blogging, so I will use this place to write my thoughts now and then. The months have gone by and I wish I’d found more time to write about some of the things I’ve busy with, here’s a whizz through some of the significant bits.

The Oval Chalet 

As my last post suggests, the council was slow to reveal information about this controversial sale, and as information has been revealed it’s clear mistakes were made. Our seafront is our town’s finest asset. It’s pretty much our Canterbury Cathedral, or  our Big Ben or Eiffel Tower. So of course people care about this bit of land and will be sensitive about any changes. Here’s why many people are understandably upset that this sale :

  • It was sold without us knowing anything about it, or having our say.
  • it was sold for a price that insults it’s value in our eyes. (A reputed £160,000)
  • Mistakes were made, particularly with a contract that makes no real demands for open space.
  • We want open space of some sort, but have no realistic chance to get that now. The council took legal advice and voted that the contract stands, our only chance to fight this now is through the planning process.
project-ssw (1)
Reputed to be an image of the sympathetic development with open space voted for by councillors in the meeting where the £160k  land sale was decided.

I share a passion for putting right these wrongs, but bizarrely I have fallen out with the group leading the protest. They don’t like that I’m a councillor’s wife. I seem to upset them because I try to share the facts that I know, with the unhappy conclusion that there is not a lot we can do now. I hope I am wrong, but I am basing my information on discussions with councillors.  I think facts matter, and I don’t think anything is to be achieved by encouraging false hope. We can fight for a compromise in the planning stages but I don’t see much else we  can do. It won’t be the kind of development I would have wanted for this prime spot by the beach, but I don’t have any ideas to fix this. Believe me, I’ve tried looking for solutions.

The council have been quite open and informative since this issue reached their committee meetings. I think they want to prove they are different from the secretive council who made this bad deal. The report from the council’s chief executive explained a lot, including the honest admission of the mistakes that messed up the deal.

This made me realise that the council don’t really have very good channels to communicate effectively. There have been lots of people demanding answers on Facebook, and there have been a lot of rumours, accusations and misinformation. It’s taken a while but there is now a page on the council site listing all the reports about the sale. It’s not perfect and I’d love to see some kind of fact file or summary of the key points, but it’s information at least.

Poor old Oval Chalet, I do hope it has a happy ending.

Online Local Democracy

This point follows from the last… There were some interesting discussions in the Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury District Facebook group about the Oval Chalet situation and the communication of council information. I’ll be meeting a few like minded people to discuss ideas, either with the aim of encouraging the council to have a better consultation and communication policy, or creating a local democracy site to take on some bits of this task ourselves.

I would hope CCC might be encouraged to create an excellent engagement strategy, but I can see why it might be tricky. It would be an interest plan B to try to create a local democracy site.

Museum of Fun

N4ICiCtZhvzyzoCtEzs70NtyBjkyDifgwPfv8RqStTI (1)The second year of Museum of Fun was loads bigger and better than the first. I’m especially proud that we managed it without any grant funding. It shows you don’t need a huge budget to get things done.

The Museum of Fun entertained over 1,000 Whitstable people in and around the Umbrella Centre on October 4th, and also offered a smaller event at Lucerne Neighbourhood Centre the day before. The Neighbourhood Centre event turned out to be just as rewarding as the big one, we took a smaller version of the event to children who don’t usually get to experience this kind of thing.

The event involved more than 50 volunteers, and bought together groups as diverse as the Twin Towns Association, architecture, event planning & physical sciences departments from the University of Kent, Whit Word, Whitstable Museum, Vattenfall the wind farm people and numerous individuals who wanted to create something arty, sciency or fun for our event.

I love that this event is such a hotch potch of things. The highlights for me were our Whitstable smell museum, and adding a sea to our cardboard Whitstable.  I’m not sure quite where to take it next year, it’s an awful lot of work but it is satisfying creating something with a bunch of amazing people who give time and effort to their community for free.

Secondary Education in Kent

Where to start with this one? I started writing an anonymous blog about Kent education, and somehow got into an intense 10 day Twitter debate with ‘the hated’ Peter Hitchens, a noted supporter of selective education. He ended up linking to my blog from his blog a few times, so I ended up with thousands of people reading about the failings of Kent’s education. Mostly Peter Hitchen’s fans were in favour of grammar schools too, and via the long debate, reading and thinking, I started to see both sides of the debate.

I really enjoyed learning how to argue a point from a master debater. I would go as far as to say that this Twitter conversation was one of the highlights of my year. If I didn’t put my point across well I was dismissed. I fought with facts, he fought with facts, they were the only weapons allowed… I researched, I presented my case, he stuck to his guns and explained his rules of having a principle. I realised I didn’t actually have a principle, at least not a clear one, just a vague sense of injustice.

I admitted some of Mr.Hitchen’s arguments were valid points, I believe he thought about my side of things too. He is one of the grammar school movement’s biggest fans but I think I influenced his opinion a little, if only by presenting some of the issues in Kent. Interestingly he’s not in favour of a one off eleven plus test like we have here.

My problem with Kent education is that there is no answer for the secondary modern schools. The schools denied academic children are not like the comprehensive schools in other parts of the country. The grammar schools take 25% of the high achieving, mostly middle class pupils, and the schools they leave behind have many disadvantaged children, and too many children who see no point to school. These schools are often troubled and get bad Ofsted reports and league table results. Chasing a quick fix drives them still deeper into trouble as they fight to catch up. My daughter’s school bribes children with cookies to attend homework clubs. I don’t know if this is a good use of the pupil premium but I doubt it.

Statistically speaking schools with high numbers of disadvantaged children and low attainment, do badly. So with the grammar school system we are creating a lot of schools with this likelihood of doing badly. We have no real plan to help these schools, and mostly we turn a blind eye to the problems.

At the recent Comprehensive Future conference I was impressed by Jonathan Simons of the right wing think tank Policy Exchange, who explained that the selective system in Kent is a sort of social selection, as advantaged parents use it to further their child’s education.

I have no time here to tell you about my admiration for Kurt Hahn, or my believe that we should aim to find another kind of success for those who might find limited success in exams. I’ll try to write another post on this some time.

Anyway, secondary education has become a bit of a thing for me.  I don’t feel changing the grammar school system in Kent is a winnable fight and I like proper goals. So I am looking at general ideas involving education, rather than trying to change such a big thing.

I’ve considered:

  • A free school in Canterbury, if I can get any support this would be an expeditionary school. I love this model of schooling, it means involving children in challenging projects and experiences to encourage learning, lots of practical projects and exam subjects studied in creative ways.
  • A community project to work with failing schools. These schools have little joy in them, but what if a group got involved to offer after school clubs, and extra curricula stuff? I want to ask demoralised kids in schools, ‘What do you want to learn?’  I believe anyone can discover a love of learning. Sometimes schools are far too narrow in their definition of education. I learned far more  from ZX Spectrum computer programs in magazines, collecting cacti, and Clubs Week than my geography lessons. I have no idea what we did in geography but I can still tell you about the complex biology of cacti grafting.

I’ve whizzed through the explanations for these ideas but I have given them a lot of thought. Both are big things and will take over my life, so I need to make sure anything I do is the right idea, and that I’ve time to do it properly.

Writers of Whitstable short story anthology

A couple of years ago I set up a local writing group and it has grown and thrived. It now meets twice a month,  one group for novels and one group for short stories. Over a glass of wine in the Marine Hotel we share feedback on our work. It’s my perfect sort of writing group, it’s so useful to get notes to help a story find a better direction, and many of the WoW writers have become my friends.

We’re publishing a short story anthology in May next year. The theme is Whitstable and I hope the book will make a small profit and benefit Beanstalk a local children’s charity. I’ve written two stories for the book, one I like, the other I need to get on and finish.

Story Planner

logo-squareStory Planner is my second web app project,  and I’m thrilled with the way the whole thing came together in only two months and launched with excellent feedback from it’s users.

PlayMaker was my first app, and definately my learning project. My son still loves PlayMaker and nags me to go back to it, but I fear it has a lot of  flaws to fix, plus it’s not as easy to monetize as my writing site.

Story Planner is a site offering templates to help plan novels, short stories and screenplays. I think it works pretty well, but not everyone is a story structure nerd like me… The main feedback I get is that it’s hard to know which writing plan to choose. I have a fix for that, and a few tweaks to improve the user journey. My developer friend has been busy with his own projects but will work on a new version of the site in January. It’s a bit of a bore making site changes, but I know it will be worth it. I’ll give Story Planner a relaunch in the new year with a bit of a marketing budget behind it.

It is only a side project, though I hope it may make a bit of a profit. I know I have far too much on in general, with a job and a family too.

I think writing this list has helped me see that I need to prioritise the projects that matter. The tricky bit is deciding which those are.