#500 words Harry Potter fiction

Trying to persuade my son to enter the BBC Radio 2 500 words competition this year, I came up with this to show him how easy it is to write 500 words…

When I woke up this morning, I was Harry Potter. I knew that was my name before I even opened my eyes. When I did open them, the bedroom was all fuzzy. Someone had cast a spell that blurred the world. I took my glasses from the bedside table, then everything looked normal. Only it wasn’t. This was an ordinary bedroom in suburban house. A toy aeroplane hung from the ceiling. This wasn’t right. Not for a wizard. This was a house for muggles.

I reached under the feathery pillow. My wand. Once my fingers closed around the holly wood, I relaxed a little. I might not know what was going on, but at least I could defend myself.

There was a rectangular plastic and metal device there too. It lit up when I touched the front of it with my wand, but not even the relashio spell would make it give up its contents. It just flashed “swipe to unlock”.

I sat up. I was wearing pyjamas. They looked a bit like my quidditch uniform. There were muggle clothes – jeans, t-shirt, pants- in a heap on the floor. My school robes hung on a hook on the back of the bedroom door. I slipped out from the bedsheets and flung the black cloak of my uniform over the pyjamas. Again I felt better, more like myself.

I could feel eyes staring at me. “Homenum Revelio,” I muttered, waving my wand. Nothing happened. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. If that spell didn’t show it, a thing, not a person was watching me. I turned towards the door but as I did so, a flash of white caught my eye. An owl. A cuddly snowy owl was perched on the bedpost at the foot of the bed. I picked her up and stroked her smooth, silky wings. “Hello Hedwig.”

I had no idea why she had that name. It sounded like a mistake. Hello Bodyclothes, hello Footshoe.” Not my choice, but Hagrid knew his creatures and it certainly fitted her style.

I was expecting the door to be locked. All those years with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had led me to expect this of muggles. It opened without even needing the alohomora spell.

“Henry Porter. I was wondering what had happened to you.” Downstairs in the kitchen, the witch was at the stove, stirring a pot of lumpy grains. Orange and green dots studded the mixture and a pile of chopped fungus lay on a wooden board. She added a handful. “It’s nearly lunchtime. It’s risotto,” she said.

I was beginning to think I had been hit with a confundus curse. Nothing was making any sense.

“You fell asleep as we left the studio tour. Daddy thought it was best to put you straight to bed.”

I felt my stomach drop with disappointment. “I’d better get dressed, then.”

She waited until she thought I had gone upstairs. “Finite incantatum,” she muttered.
Then I knew everything.

The modern world is bad for children

Ok that’s it.  What, exactly, are we meant to do, to be doing the right thing?


As you can tell by my ever so slightly fed up tone, today there’s yet another report that say that something that parents do all the time is Bad For The Children. Today it’s television that’s in the firing line.

The article I’ve hyperlinked is fairly self-explanatory.  Children getting fat, eating junk food, have worse IQs in the longer run, etc. etc.  All of these things are apparently the long term impacts of toddler-age television viewing.
The professor in charge of the research says:

“Common sense would suggest that television exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks that foster cognitive, behavioural and motor development.”

Ok.  No normal parent wants their child to miss out on important cognitive, behavioural and motor development skills.  So toddler TV’s got to be eliminated, right?  There must be something wrong with it – it’s illegal in France after all.
But let’s just think this through for a minute.
I’ve never seen my child watch TV for longer than about 10 minutes at any one time. 
Much as he loves Cbeebies, the TV’s just not that entertaining for that long when there’s building to be done, beds to bounce on, toy cars to drive up walls making vroom noises rather than just the lovely plastic garage, wax crayons and paper and all the card from the recycling bin to build with… and of course mummy to cuddle, to jump on, to play with, to help sort washing, to help find all the red buttons, to chase the frog across the lawn…

As you can gather, it’s not that my toddler lacks interest in the world around him.  That’s just a small sample of what he gets up to when we spend time at home (as opposed to the time in town, time at playgroup etc. etc.)
Nor does he lack the ability to concentrate, in fact he loves reading and often wants to look through books uninterrupted by me,  telling himself stories about the pictures, for a long time.
But even on what are laughably called my non-working days (unpaid work days more like, unless you count the non-means tested child allowance as payment?), I cannot spend 100% of my time as his playmate.  Nor should I – he also needs to play with other children his own age (hence playgroup to make friends), and to learn to entertain himself.
And sometimes, when I really, really need it, TV can be an electronic babysitter (not for long – my toddler has a kitchen stall designed to help him reach the worksurface safely so he tends to try to join in). 
But mostly we watch it together.
Timmy Time and the Tweenies are great for showing hm that it’s not just him that goes to nursery while his parents work, and the Tweenies teaches stories, nursery rhymes and social interaction, while 3rd and Bird stresses the value of a strong community.  Alphablocks and Numberjacks are so good that primary school teachers often use them in their literacy and numeracy lessons. I’ve never been a fan of In the Night Garden, and Waybuloo is a bit hippy trippy for me, but I like the sign language and normalised treatment of children with special educational needs and physical disabilities in Something Special.  Given the reaction of some parents to Ceri‘s employment, this sort of show is very much needed. 
And we don’t just sit and watch TV -we talk about what’s happening, when something similar happened to us…
But this is yet another report that tells us that we’re doing long term damage to our kids.
And while frankly I’d vote for the party that can actually bring the recommendations of “Toxic Childhood” into policy (NB it would involve cost, social change, standing up to the Daily Mail and the older feminists for whom equality is about the workplace), the central theme of that book is implying that parents are not up to the job.

There’s a terrible irony that we are so child centred these days, but that it is in a sort of “quality time“, taxi driving to activities way.  Being with the children takes time – for example, when I ask other parents how they handle the change to available nursery hours when their child turns three, they say I don’t know, I had a second one so I’m at home and able to do the school run, or that they are lucky to have grandparents near by etc.  otherwise they couldn’t work. 

But the child-centred approach that parents have is being squeezed. 
For example, some people I know have had their ability to work and raise their family affected by local authorities that can’t allocate the school places in a way that avoids someone having to drive miles between a school drop off and a nursery drop off. 
For others, it’s been that in order to “get on” – i.e. to be in the running for promotion etc., work has to be full-time – and that means 4 or 5 full days a week at nusery for the bambino, something we’re also told by the childhood experts is not good for children (note how short the school day looks to a parent and you’ll see that has been accepted fact for some time).
Long parental working hours are not good for anyone – tired workers are less productive, tired parents that don’t see each other suffer strained relationships not least because being a parent is really very hard work, parents working hours don’t get to see their kids and are not on good form when they do.  The right to request flexible working is genuinely a good thing (supported by all 3 main political parties in the UK) and being allowed to work from home sometimes cuts travel time and therefore means that more time can be spent with a child before and after childcare, and reduced hours means sometimes actually being able to do one leg of a school run rather than trying to get one of the rare paid childminders willing to do both before and after school and who ends up seeing more of the child than the parents do.
But many parents seem to fear that flexble working will impact negatively on their careers, so one parent doesn’t do it and the whole set up just gets even more complicated. 
Some compensate by treating the children as princes and princesses – in other words little monsters that are so used to being indulged that they don’t know what no means, and have been treated that way not necessarily becausse parents mistakenly think that this is what being child centred is, but because they are so damn tired all the time! 

France might think it has it right by banning toddler TV, but few women breastfeed there for fear of ruining their figure and if you are a career woman, your contemporaries expect you to return to work after 12 weeks otherwise you are letting down the sisterhood.
But even in the UK where we value choice, we don’t really value mothers that choose to stay at home to raise the kids in the way the childhood experts recommend for the first two years. 
Or if we do, we make it a choice only available to the middle classes who can just about afford to exist on one income, and the very poor who don’t work at all.
And those that work part-time are at risk of everything crashing if they are not circus-quality jugglers.
And those that work full-time are effectively letting someone else bring up their child.
And the tired, stressed out parents probably let the kids watch TV so that they can relax a bit.

So basically, with an economic set up that expects both parents to work, and a soul-selling attitude to work that – no matter what the lovely words in the HR guidance say – sends a mesage that flexible and part-time models are for slackers that don’t want to get on in their careers, and every moment that the child is with the parent needs to be a learning activity but that learning activities include pairing socks as well as structured play… argh! 
Basically the modern world is bad for children. 
I just don’t know what to do, except hope that trying to bring my son up to be happy, secure, friendly, outgoing etc. etc. in the best way I can is enough.  And try not to add yet another thing to the list of things to be tired over and stressed about…

And this?  My toddler took an unexpected nap and I was quick typing it…

New Who…


 (amazing regeneration wallpaper from www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho)

Yes, pleased to report that I enjoyed the Eleventh doctor’s first outing “the Eleventh hour” (available on BBC iPlayer here).

Thanks to my son’s perhaps unsuitable addition to sci-fi TV programmes (the Sarah Jane Adventures, MI High etc.) I’ve had the opportunity recently to rewatch the Christopher Eccleston era Doctor Who episodes in the last couple of weeks (the less scary ones at least).  I remember now how I feared that the actor that played the singing policeman from Blackpool and the young Casanova couldn’t surely be a better Doctor than the one-that-looks-a-bit-like-my-husband?  But after the slightly disappointing “Christmas Invasion” (worst line?  “This new hand?  It’s a fightin’ hand!” in a cod Wild West accent), David Tennant became the best Doctor Who that I can remember, and I remember back to Tom Baker… well, the repeats at least.

I was one of the five people that watched and enjoyed Party Animals (the series which made Matt Smith’s name 🙂 ), so I was actually quite pleased when he was cast, and didn’t respond “Doctor Who?” (hohoho).  Though I have to admit I was bothered about being older than the Doctor for the first time.  The friendship with the companions is important and I was a bit afraid that a younger Doctor meant more romance stuff and less exciting adventures.  The wedding dress (which I guessed was coming) at the end of the episode suggests that Stephen Moffat might have thought about this too… 

I was genuinely enthusiastic about Stephen Moffat taking over at Doctor Who and I’m glad to say, so far it’s lived up to my expectations. 

There are reviews galore online and I’d rather you watched it and formed your own views. But some highspeed random thoughts:
– new titles – great graphics, not so sure about the theme remix;
– liked the kid with the talking bedroom wall, hated the praying to Santa business (yes, we know the writers are atheists, but this felt petty);
– liked the not-quite-done-yet Doctor and the revamped tardis;
– liked the “corner of your eye” business and the camera technique of  “what did I see?”;
– liked the references to earlier themes and incarnations: the William Hartnell library card, the stealing clothes from the hospital (Paul McGann does that!), the inability to know when exactly he’s returning to (like the Girl in the Fireplace);
– loved the “village” atmosphere of Leadworth where everyone knows Amy…

The monsters were scary enough to mean that my son certainly won’t be seeing it for a few years (prisoner zero and the prison guard ships i can’t remember the name of), and the Doctor as the protector of earth theme was pleasingly in place. 
The dialogue is quick-fire and less “Coupling” than the Blink episode from series 3 (where both heroine Sally Sparrow and even Martha Jones sounded suspiciously like Sally Harper at times), and the oneliners are thick and fast. 

Essentially, >>jealous<< that I’m not writing it.  Though that means I get to watch it and get the enjoyment from that. Can you see the grin from here?

(And – given the random groups of people that read my blog – having read two thirds of the Ben Cook/ Russell T Davis email correspondence that forms “Doctor Who: the Writer’s Tale” and seeing the struggle going into Torchwood: Children of Earth, if series 4 gets the go ahead, email me via the contact sheet if you need a new writer…)

Very much looking forward to next week!

The Sugababe and the philosopher’s axe

philosopher's axe

The philosopher’s axe is a nice shorthand for an important idea.
The axe has been in the family for generations, in constant use for wood chopping. Over time, the handle falls off and has to be replaced, and then again, and then the head wears out and needs replacing. It’s been used all that time, but the question is, is it still the same axe?

So, the Sugababes.
No, this isn’t a subject change.

It’s just been announced (via Twitter and the band’s website of course – this is the 21st century) that Keisha Buchanan, the last founding member of the Sugababes has left the group.
Here’s the BBC’s coverage
But leaving aside the who-said-or-did-what-upsetting-whom stuff, look at the band line up.

In 1998, Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy formed the Sugababes (they were not a manufactured group, hence the stupid, teenagey name).
Siobhan left in 2001, replaced by Heidi Range (formerly of Atomic Kitten). Mutya left in 2005 and was replaced by Amelle Berrabah. And now Keisha’s left too – to be replaced by Jade Ewen.
Jade was the UK’s 2009 Eurovision entrant – it’s all getting a bit like football transfers, isn’t it?

So who are the Sugababes?
Are they the singers (although none of the original three are now in the line-up)?
Are they the songs and the back catalogue (most of which were written by the band members and from which presumably they’ll continue to get royalties)?
And if you see the new line-up performing songs from before Heidi joined, are you in fact watching a tribute band?