Steely, with a hint of flamboyance

Celebrities, much like us lesser mortals, come in many different guises. Some instantly attract our attention (engendering feelings of admiration and respect) whilst others make less of an impression, failing to engage with us on a more personal level.

My staunch inability to identify even the most notable of ‘household names’ has (over the years) become a source of utter bewilderment to my husband, but I’ve reached the conclusion that I’m just not that good at remembering the names of those whom I haven’t actually met.  And besides, I’ve reached that age when managing to stay awake for an entire evening’s viewing poses a significant challenge!

Some celebrities are not quite as easy to forget though and names such as Morgan, Paxman and Clarkson seem to invite the sort of ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ response previously only associated with the tag line of a certain yeast extract spread. And despite having only watched a handful of ‘Top Gear’ episodes (in the days when I could stay awake for 60 minutes at a time and felt compelled to at least try to share in my hubby’s passion for performance cars and dangerous antics) Jeremy Clarkson certainly made an impression with his cavalier comments, dry wit, and proclivity for causing offence.

Having trained as a journalist, secured various roles as a motoring columnist, and written several humorous books about cars it was no real surprise that Clarkson cemented his reputation as something of a ‘petrolhead’.  However, his decision to buy an arable farm in the Cotswolds in 2008 (and then to take over its management in 2019 with no previous experience of farming) was rather less predictable – although his decision to rename it ‘Diddly Squat’ (owing to its lack of productivity) was certainly in keeping with his penchant for self-deprecating remarks. His decision to make the project into a documentary was, of course, pure genius.

Almost inevitably, Clarkson’s Farm achieved the highest viewer ratings of any Amazon Video production with fans seemingly lapping up the way in which Clarkson (aided by the clever editing of Andy Wilman) had managed to bring entertainment and humour to the topic of farming. However, in true Clarkson style, his latest project has courted a great deal of controversy too. Whilst many of us have simply enjoyed being a ‘fly on the wall’ (watching his exploits from the comfort of our own homes) the locals have seen their hitherto delightfully sleepy and picturesque village turned into a major tourist attraction, complete with crowds and queuing traffic.

I can only imagine the tone that was set at the meeting that he recently called in order (purportedly) to assuage the fears of the local community in Chadlington. Known for his straight-talking and uncompromising approach I suspect that he was simply ‘setting out his stall’ so that the rumour mill might simply have a little more substance to it. Either way, when it was mentioned earlier this week (on Heart’s Breakfast Show) that Jeremy Clarkson (in addition to opening a restaurant) might be planning to plant grapevines with a view to producing his own wine, all sorts of questions began to assemble:

  • Which variety of grape might he choose?
  • What might it taste like?
  • Would it be as successful as the rest of his produce?

And in much the same way as a pet’s appearance is widely believed to resemble its owner, I wondered if this particular wine might reflect the personality of its producer:

‘Steely, with a hint of flamboyance’ perhaps, ‘with mild tones of unpalatability’?   

Striking out

The start of any new chapter inevitably brings with it a glut of conflicting emotions, but it’s how we channel those emotions that ultimately sets the tone for what happens next.

I’ve mentioned before that (rather regrettably) my default setting would seem to be that of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person. This is possibly why I am prone to dwelling upon all of the things that didn’t go so well, rather than simply deriving pleasure from those that did.

With this in mind, I am trying hard to gradually adjust my mindset, in the hope of becoming a better role model for my children whilst also improving my own sense of wellbeing. [I’m also painfully aware that the saying ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ (quite apart from being laced with hypocrisy) seems woefully inadequate – and would only invite all sorts of unpalatable comebacks, the likes of which I am eager to avoid!]

‘Striking out’ by Gaynor Hall

Dwell not upon what went before – it’s better left behind,
You’ve got a bigger project now, an exciting future to find.
By all means use what you have learned to fashion out a path
That furnishes you with everything you’ll need to help you laugh.

Hold close those friends that matter, be mindful every day
Of those who’ve had a part to play in helping you on your way.
Be brave and view each challenge as a chance to show the world
That you are like a silken flag just waiting to be unfurled.

Don’t shy away from difficult tasks, use every ounce of wit
To meet each obstacle head on, until you’ve conquered it.
Try to view each worry, each failure or fresh doubt
As a means of growing stronger – success turned inside out.

Follow your convictions, hold true and don’t be swayed
By those who’d see you falter just to quash their own malaise.
Extend the arm of friendship to those who need it most,
Be proud of your achievements but reject the need to boast.

Approach each day with honesty, compassion, and good humour –
Resist the urge to inflict harm by fuelling vicious rumour.
Remember that your legacy (when all is said and done)
Is the meaning that your life has brought to the memories that live on.

New chapters

First days are seldom easy and, regardless of the setting, there always seem to be a fair few hurdles to climb. Most of us do ultimately survive them though, and the general consensus is that ‘things will get easier’ as time goes on.

With secondary schools starting back this week, there will no doubt be a large number of Year 7 children who feel incredibly nervous. This poem is for them. Be brave, be positive – and please know that ‘lunch’ is sometimes still the highlight of my day! 

‘First day nerves’ by Gaynor Hall

The waiting’s almost over, there’s only a few hours left,
The Summer passed so quickly, he hardly caught his breath,
Uniform named and ready, school bag neatly packed,
Bus route walked and memorised, timed both there and back.

He knows this is just the way of things, done countless times before,
By children who’ve felt just as scared as him when they stepped from their front door,
And yet a hundred butterflies seem to dance inside his belly,
What he wouldn’t give for one more day snuggled up in front of the telly!

The bus arrives, he scrambles on, not sure quite where to sit,
And then he spots an empty seat and gratefully seizes it.
He watches as the trees go by and drizzle strikes the window,
Relieved to have managed at least one ‘tick’ in this game of first day bingo.

The bus departs and the day begins with numerous introductions,
Each member of staff (all nice enough) reeling off a host of instructions.
He feels his head begin to spin and starts to get a hunch –
That the highlight of today, at least, might end up being lunch.

With his stomach full (and old friends found) he feels his spirits swell,
Just Art and History still to come and then the final bell.
The journey home flies quickly by, there’s a spring in this young man’s step,
What a shame that it’s only Monday then; there’s a while ‘til the weekend yet!

Defying belief!

Most people will be familiar with the phrase “Never work with children or animals” coined by W.C. Fields all those years ago. However, I’m willing to bet that (following an extended period of COVID driven home schooling) an even greater proportion of adults now have a better understanding of the potential pitfalls of even trying to achieve something useful whilst the ‘ankle biters’ are around!

As a mum of boys, I discovered quite early on that my children needed ‘exercising’ in almost the same way as a dog. Any fleeting thoughts of spending a ‘lazy day at home’ were usually swiftly dispersed upon realising that there would almost certainly be ‘pay back’ – in one form or another. If we were lucky, it might simply be under the guise of incessant bickering and the joyful refrain of “it’s not fair!” being emphatically chorused on auto repeat. On a bad day though, the afore mentioned arguments and protests would gradually escalate into the damaging of toys, furniture, or (much to my husband’s annoyance) the paintwork. And so, a genuine love of the great outdoors developed (amongst their parents at least) and with it, tangible improvements to behaviour, sleep quality – and (I’ll admit it) home décor!

Having moved to Derbyshire in 2014 we have been fortunate enough to have acquired an enormous natural playground, right on our doorstep. Many a Sunday is spent happily exploring the astonishing beauty of the rugged terrain and majestic rocky outcrops of the awe-inspiring Peak District. Bracing climbs and spectacular views do wonders for one’s physical and mental wellbeing and only the most appalling weather conditions can generally dissuade us from heading out there.

Shortly after Christmas then, ever mindful of the usual post-turkey resolutions, we took the decision to brave the snow and head out to the Peaks. We had chosen a circular walk from ‘The Fox House’ in Longshaw and (at just over 4 miles and supposedly well within our capabilities) headed confidently in the direction of Higger Tor.

All went well to begin with, both boys happily running ahead and delighting in trying to shatter some large sheets of ice that were dotted about at the edge of the trail. In no time at all we had reached the first proper ascent, stopping only to watch a handful of intrepid motorists do battle with some horribly icy country lanes. As we picked our way carefully amongst the rocks, my husband became aware that his phone battery was almost flat and that since this was our only means of navigation (coupled with the fact that an ominous mist was threatening to obscure the landscape altogether) there might be genuine cause for concern. Without a feasible alternative though, there was no real choice but to carry on – and besides, our youngest was making short shrift of the rocky ascent, emulating only the most experienced of mountain goats!

Eventually, (and after an undignified fall on my part that ironically followed a plea to ‘be careful’ to my two infinitely more agile children!) we reached the summit and discussed the quickest route down. The snow had fallen more heavily on that side of the tor and so it was quite difficult to gauge (with any certainty) what lay below. The mist was closing in more rapidly now too and so we promptly chose our ‘path’ and began our descent.

Having negotiated countless twists and turns (largely of my ankle joints) and numerous precarious screes, we stood at the bottom, peering into the distance. We knew the general direction of our car’s whereabouts but a veritable minefield of boggy land and grassy tussocks (blanketed in snow for additional challenge) lay between us and welcome refuge.

And that’s when it happened.

My husband (very much pack leader on such occasions) literally disappeared into the marshland letting out a cry of anguish as he began to sink deeper into the quagmire. I, of course, was expected to leap to his aid but, having now been utterly paralysed with laughter, could do nothing but crumple in a heap and giggle inanely from afar. Fortunately for him, our eldest (upon realising that his father was not in the least bit amused by his wife’s shameful behaviour) swiftly regained his composure and rushed to my husband’s assistance.

Just as we were taking stock of the collateral damage to both my husband’s clothing, and his dignity, we heard a mighty splash nearby. All three of us whipped around to see what on earth had happened now. There, only a matter of yards from where my husband’s ‘rescue’ had recently taken place, was our youngest – up to his waist in bog and waving his arms frantically above his head as a means of attracting our attention. This time (mercifully) the maternal instinct kicked in and (instead of giving in to helpless laughter) we all rushed to hoist him out. The fact that there was a sort of tide mark just above his nipples was a clear indication of just how deep the marsh had become now that the thawing process had begun in earnest.

But before you devote too much sympathy to our ‘little man’, I feel that I should tell you that he later confessed to having in fact ‘chosen’ to launch himself into the bog… Apparently, the reasoning behind his actions was that because he knew that he was considerably lighter than his father, he “thought (he) would just skid along the surface of the ice and not sink in at all”!

Nice one, kiddo!     

The quest for anonymity

The extent to which one’s perspective can change over time, is nothing short of extraordinary. What seemed desirable just a few short years ago can suddenly seem rather alien to us as we strive to understand the many different stages of our own ‘metamorphosis’.

Of course, some stages are easier to detect than others, conveniently highlighted by physical changes that are instantly identifiable. And whilst humans do not undergo the sort of conspicuous or abrupt change to their basic structure that occurs in insects (for example), subtle changes are often afoot – not least in terms of the developing personality. 

I recently took a trip down memory lane and spent a couple of hours thumbing through a series of photographs from my childhood. It will come as no surprise to learn that (rather than simply focusing upon the happy faces of the subjects captured within) I spent most of the time cringing at the various outfits on display – presumably fashionable at the time, but now nothing short of bizarre! From shell suits to rah-rah skirts, quilted dresses to satin bows (that were almost as big as one’s head!) I unwittingly modelled them all. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why I feel so grateful to be a mum of boys – unashamedly flaunting my right to fill their wardrobes with jeans and t-shirts that are both uncontroversial, and likely to stand the test of time. Hurrah!

As the new academic year begins to come into focus, the inevitable flurry of shopping trips and internet sessions (in an attempt to meet the increasingly stringent requirements of the secondary school uniform list) has begun. Trying to achieve the perfect balance between buying clothes that will last for more than a term, and clothes that look as though they were at least intended to be worn by a Year 7 pupil (as opposed to someone sitting their GCSEs) has not been without its challenges. The overriding consideration though (certainly from my son’s point of view anyway) has been to ensure that all purchases render him utterly inconspicuous so that he can avoid the unwanted attention of older pupils and blend seamlessly into the background.

I’m pretty confident that this is something that we can all relate to. After all, schools haven’t changed that much and neither, sadly, have children. That ‘pack mentality’ of looking for difference, weakness – or indeed anything that is likely to get a reaction – is as prevalent now as ever it was. However, I have to admit to having been rather taken aback when a friend told me that her daughter (a thoroughly personable young girl) had been going through a difficult time at school and that her circle of friends had started to alienate her. I suppose that I assumed that the age-old suspects (such as hair colour, poor complexion, budget clothes brands or unsightly braces) would be at the root of their cruelty. Imagine my incredulity then, when I discovered that it was because her daughter didn’t wear braces that she was being ostracised! I didn’t see that one coming… 

So, when does individuality become acceptable? And at what particular stage in a person’s development is it ‘OK’ to stand out from the crowd?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that there is a definitive answer to either of these questions. What I do know, however, is that I’m eternally grateful to have left the uncertainty of youth behind – and reached an age where, quite frankly, no-one feels the need to pay me very much attention at all!

Marvellous mackerel and peppery pasties

Whether it’s glorious beaches, rugged coastline or mysterious moorlands that take your fancy, Cornwall certainly seems to have it all. Steeped in history and folklore, it is a county that never ceases to capture the imagination and, once again, proved to be the perfect destination for a family holiday.

Having promised the boys some sizeable waves for their bodyboarding this year, we headed straight for Polzeath with its sandy beach and long, slow-breaking surfing waves. And we were not disappointed. With waves of between 5 and 8ft, opportunities for honing our skills were plentiful and although the sea was incredibly powerful, thankfully the only casualties were my dignity – and my Fitbit.  Note to self: salt water and technology do not make for happy bedfellows…

A bracing walk from Constantine Bay (taking in Dinas Head and the lighthouse, Trevose Head, Padstow Lifeboat Station, and a couple of other bays) and returning along some cliffs at Harlyn Bay conjured up countless images of a bygone era dominated by smugglers and shipwrecks. A collapsed cave just beyond Booby’s Bay (you can imagine the hilarity with which that particular name was met by the all-male company that I am frequently forced to keep!) would not have been out of place in a TV adaptation of Du Maurier’s ‘Jamaica Inn’.

Of course, no trip to Cornwall would be complete without a fishing expedition. Quite apart from the region’s rich history of sea fishing, I wanted to give our boys the experience of (quite literally) catching their own supper.

We set sail from Padstow Harbour in search of adventure, and hopefully some mackerel too – although my sister-in-law had apparently taken the precaution of defrosting some burgers, just in case! O ye, of little faith… Passing the ruined towers and engine houses of the old tin mines so typical of the Cornish landscape, we left the hustle and bustle of the port behind us and headed for open water.

The first (very real!) challenge that we faced was that of trying to remain upright as we drifted broadside to the waves. Our boat quickly became engaged in a great deal of heaving and yawing making it almost impossible to concentrate upon the tutorial being given on the finer techniques of fly fishing. The rods themselves were quite heavy too, and countless reminders from the skipper about the significant cost of replacing them did nothing to settle the nerves! However, once a number of us had borne the humiliation of snagging each other’s lines (rather than a nice plump fish) my husband managed to claim the honour of producing the first catch of the day and this swiftly became the catalyst for a veritable flurry of success. Those burgers were beginning to look as if they might be redundant after all! Bursting with pride (and with more than enough fish for the BBQ) we returned to dry land where we indulged in a sumptuous feast of chargrilled mackerel and baby potatoes in a garlic butter, all served on a bed of crisp mixed leaves. Our reputation  as hunter gatherers having now been well and truly established!

For me personally though, one of the things that I enjoy most about foreign travel is sampling the local cuisine. As they say, ‘when in Rome’… And so, it seemed only right to sample the local produce with as much alacrity as if the various ‘dishes’ had in fact hailed from a different continent altogether. Purely in the interests of market research, therefore, we took it upon ourselves to try the famous pasty in no less than three different locations – our (not entirely altruistic) way of supporting the national dish that accounts for an incredible 6% of the Cornish food economy. It was also a rather cunning way of getting our two to eat swede.


The verdict? All three were very tasty (as my post-holiday waistline will testify) but not quite peppery enough to compete for pole position with one enjoyed some 9 or 10 years ago in Launceston.

With locally made fudge and ice cream in abundant supply too (not to mention the opportunity to re-enact a variety of dramatic scenes from Arthurian legend amongst the striking ruins at Tintagel) it is no wonder that our boys are keen to pay a return visit in the not-too-distant future. Their parents are not entirely against the idea either.

Dha weles skon, Kernow!

Selective hearing

How many times have you held a ‘conversation’ with one of your children, only to discover (much later) that they weren’t in fact listening to a single word that was said? If your children are anything like mine, I’d hazard a guess at it being quite a few!  I’ve noticed that husbands can sometimes be guilty of this particular affliction too. My own husband is particularly adept at claiming that he has absolutely no recollection of the many minutes that were invested (sometimes only a couple of hours earlier) into making sure that he knew what the plans for the day were. That way, of course, he skilfully avoids having to take ownership of, or responsibility for, any small part of the planning or execution. Ingenious, right?!

Even more remarkable though is the breakneck speed with which auditory, cognitive, and memory function is miraculously restored just as soon as the subject matter holds greater appeal – or that a particular game has finally finished! So, you’ll have to forgive me if there is just the tiniest hint of cynicism in what follows…

‘Stuck on repeat!’ by Gaynor Hall

There’s the faintest of suggestions that their eyes are growing glazed,
They’ve moved on from ‘feigned interest’ and they’ve reached the ‘tuned-out’ phase,
They glance down surreptitiously – tapping deftly all the while –
Pretending that they’re listening can take a lot of guile!

They assure me that they’re “engaging” (despite appearances to the contrary),
Whilst avatars dart across their screens, each action wholly voluntary,
I press on with the schedule detailing exit, and arrival
But still they seem oblivious, seeking only ‘virtual’ survival.

I pause to gauge their reaction – not a word escapes their lips –
So I busy myself fetching coats and all the things we’ll need for our trip.
I remind them (once again) to bring their current game to a close –
As time for a shower evaporates, I catch sight of the garden hose.

What fun it would be to douse each one in water both strong and icy,
The thought makes me smile, they’d move quickly then, I’m in danger of getting feisty!
I resist the urge and content myself with another gentle nagging,
As finally they deign to respond, they can sense my spirits are flagging…

They leap into action (well, gently crawl) and head out to the car,
(The usual arguments quickly ensue even though we’re not going far!)
And then the questions tumble out, like ‘Where?’ and ‘What?’ and ‘When?’
I remind myself to take deep breaths before I explain again!

Moving on

Life is rather like a novel, consisting of a series of different chapters that vary in both length and intensity. Of course, some chapters are more compelling than others, but each one has its part to play in the ‘novel’ as a whole, either endorsing what went before or striking out in an entirely new direction.

Yesterday afternoon, my eldest son’s primary school ‘chapter’ drew to a close and it won’t be long before he finds himself embarking upon the next one. He is by no means unique in having reached this particular milestone, and the wide range of emotions that he has been exhibiting over the past few weeks will have been typified by countless children around the globe. Nevertheless, he is the first of my children to have reached this stage and (quite apart from having made me feel incredibly old!) it has spurred me on to record my own feelings on the matter. After all, in a vain attempt to ‘keep all the balls in the air’ we sometimes neglect to give our children the resounding endorsement that they so desperately need.   

‘Moving on’ by Gaynor Hall

You’ve learnt so much already, achieved things great and small,
Managed each disappointment, risen bravely from every fall.
You’ve nurtured each tendril of friendship, and shown that you understand
That laughter and humour don’t always suffice, so instead you’ve offered your hand.

You’ve laid the best of foundations, established healthy routines,
You know your strengths (and your weaknesses) and appreciate the value of dreams.
You’ve experienced the shame of wrongdoing, and faced your punishment well,
Each one an important learning curve, not something upon which to dwell.

Step boldly forth on your journey then, and embrace the next new phase,
(You’ll be shocked to learn just how fast it goes, that 7-year ‘secondary’ haze!)
Embrace every opportunity with courage, good humour, and joy
But don’t forget to have some fun – after all you’re still a young boy!

Believe in yourself, be honest and true, stand firm in all your endeavours,
Success is by no means guaranteed, there’ll be plenty of storms to weather.
But know that whatever befalls you – be it fortune, or perhaps a low tide –
We’ll always be right there beside you, ‘midst a surfeit of devotion and pride.

The Adolescent

Parenting is undeniably one of the greatest challenges that I have ever faced, and I frequently question why quite so many of us put ourselves through this particular ordeal…

As voluntary jobs go, it is ‘right up there’ in terms of emotional investment and logistical planning and (once the prepubescent hormones kick in) the ‘goal posts’ certainly seem to move with baffling proclivity.  Nothing that I have encountered in either the exam room or the classroom has even come close to the dramatic surges in blood pressure that my own children have managed to induce, and (for a reasonably confident person) I’ll admit to having given in to feelings of utter inadequacy at one time or another.  It is then, as they say, just a happy coincidence that I am writing this now – before my two boys decide that they are old enough to contradict me!

Despite frequently thinking that a user manual might have been helpful, I’ve never been one for reading vast tomes on parenting. Besides, who actually has the time to read that type of stuff whilst frantically trying to juggle the demands of their job with the day to day needs of their offspring? On the other hand, if someone (who has done the necessary research) could please just explain to me how two children from the exact same gene pool can be so utterly different in temperament and outlook, I’d be ever so grateful!

What follows then, is my (deliberately tongue in cheek) ‘Attenboroughesque’ commentary on the ‘Adolescent’ – that most complex of human species!

If one looks carefully into the dense urban undergrowth, it should be possible to pick out a lone adult female scratching her head in bewilderment. The eldest of her offspring (at just over a decade old) is seemingly ill-equipped to take responsibility for any aspect of his existence and looks to her to ensure that his every need is met. Multiple items of clothing lie strewn about the enclosure whilst the parched bristles of a toothbrush show no sign of recent activity. A pair of glasses (the lenses of which look oddly opaque, buried as they are under a thick crust of grime) lie discarded upon the ground, whilst the pages of a book (heavily dog eared from the nocturnal pursuits of the past 11 hours) rest casually within the creases of a hollow fibre duvet. Contained beneath the solace of the cosy bedding, glimpses can be snatched of a bleary pale blue iris, tentatively attempting to take in its immediate surroundings, braving the relative intensity of the new dawn. But alas, this brief display of energy proves utterly overwhelming and (having issued a deep guttural groan for good measure) the adolescent willingly submits himself to the clammy darkness of his natural habitat once more.

Meanwhile, movement can be detected from inside enclosure two. Light streams in through the main observation point revealing meticulously organised sleeping quarters and a spirited young male engaging in the final throes of his morning routine. As he nonchalantly casts his towel over a nearby radiator, deftly selecting a playlist at maximum volume on his Echo Show, it is clear that this young mammal has no intention of awaiting instructions (or seeking approval) from the adult male who can be seen lethargically arriving upon the scene. Hackles rise as the two males begin posturing for supremacy, and the early threads of conversation swiftly escalate into the loud staccato tones of conflict. For now, at least, the young male grudgingly accepts defeat and beats a hasty retreat. From the confines of his den, he sets about laboriously (and vociferously) pacing the perimeter until the call of the alarm clock finally beckons. With a degree of calm temporarily restored, the adult male can be seen lavishly preening himself, as he basks in his first (and probably last!) victory of the day.

Three Lions

Lions are frequently depicted as symbols of strength and courage and, as such, they feature in the works of various literary heavyweights. Aesop’s fable ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ used to be a particular childhood favourite of mine, not least because I fell in love with the idea that the humble mouse could lend such crucial assistance to a creature as formidable as the mighty lion. Of course, the lion is not portrayed in a particularly good light here, exuding vanity and arrogance as opposed to dignity and valour…

As I grew up, I discovered C.S. Lewis’s ‘Narnia’ and (like so many) found myself drawn to Aslan, one of the main characters. And whilst the description of his physical appearance (and irrefutable status as the ‘King above all High Kings’) was genuinely awe inspiring, it was perhaps his compassionate nature and strong moral compass that left the greatest impression on me during my teenage years.

More recent examples include Jessica Olivia Sinatra’s book ‘Leonardo the Lion. A leap of faith’ (written in 2018) which introduces children to a courageous and determined lion cub. The stories explore the many challenges commonly faced by today’s children (making friends, being accepted by others, and embracing diversity in the community) and each book in the series is centred around the core values of love, kindness, and respect.

The lion (sometimes referred to as a leopard) is also a dominant feature of the royal arms of England, having been adopted by the Plantagenet kings who ruled over the country from as early as 1154. There is something truly majestic about the sleek (golden) lions placed against a background of rich crimson and this bold image of heraldry has endured over the centuries – despite our country’s rather chequered history.

As I have mentioned before, I spend most of my Saturdays ‘braving the elements’ in order to watch our boys play football. At times, the biting wind and driving rain has tested my resolve to the limit, and I have frequently noted that ‘grassroots’ might reasonably be substituted with ‘mud bath’ (football) instead! (My washing machine would certainly agree…) However, the notion that healthy roots are the most likely catalyst for abundant growth and development has not been totally lost on me, and the ethos of Grassroots Football is one to which I can wholeheartedly subscribe. After all, bringing children together through sport “whatever their age, gender, physical condition, skin colour, religion or ethnic origin” is a powerful vision and one utterly worthy of the 40,000+ clubs that are represented by this organisation.

Since England’s defeat in the Euro finals last week, there has been much discussion in the media about managerial tactics, individual (under) performance and of course those missed penalties. And it would seem that everyone has an opinion on the matter, with little or no reluctance to share it! However, with the power of social media to reach an audience of epic proportions (instantaneously) it has been sickening to read the comments of a reprehensible minority who have seen fit to deride and wound this group of young players with their vitriolic remarks.

I am in no doubt that all 26 of the young men who were chosen to represent their country wore the ‘three lions’ with pride and I am also absolutely certain that each one wanted desperately to ensure that ‘football (was) coming home’ thereby putting an end to all those ‘years of hurt’.  However, for whatever reason, it was not meant to be, and it is now time to regroup and move on.

I, for one, enjoyed every minute of England’s progress to the final. If nothing else though, it has highlighted the need to address the abhorrent behaviour of some of our so-called ‘fans’ once and for all, and for us to take this opportunity to educate our children on the vital issues that have once again disgraced our nation. By exercising the compassion, wisdom, and humility of Aslan and casting aside the narcissism of both Aesop’s central character – and those individuals who feel that they have the right to boo the national anthem of every other nation – we might just build a national identity of which we can justifiably be proud.