A discussion group of which I am a member was considering the philosophy of education.   One lady quoted the illustrious Dame Mary Warnock, who had said that the chief duty of education was to stimulate the imagination.

Now I have never regarded myself as a hard-nosed factual sort of person.  You will have noted the sorry absence of ‘facts’ from most of my epistles, and how readily I will trumpet an unsubstantiated opinion.   My paragraphs thunder with ancient gods, nymphs dance at my fountains, you might be forgiven for wondering if angels gather on the heads of my pins.   In the wilds of my prose, you are more likely to be surprised by the sudden appearance of a unicorn, than a ‘fact’.

Yet I have to admit, I keep turning over the worthy Dame’s phrase.    I don’t really know what she means.    ( Our friend actually quoted Mary Warnock as having said ‘education deepened her imaginative pleasure’ but I could not find a written quote to that effect.)     How can imaginative pleasure be deepened by education?    I would have thought on the most prosaic level, education with its emphasis on ‘facts’ quite discourages imaginative pleasures.

I considered myself as a mother the principal person educating my children in alliance with their father and with professional help from teachers, coaches etc.   I had  given the matter some thought in advance and I had three main objectives.

The first was to enable my children to survive independently in a potentially hostile environment as rapidly as possible.    I did not subscribe to the body of opinion that seeks to shelter children and safeguard their innocence.    You never really know what the future may bring and what danger they may meet.   Obviously, you don’t want to overburden a child with inappropriate anxieties and you want them to go out confidently to meet whatever the day brings.    But when they went on the first school trip for example, where they were away from home without us, as well as the usual lecture about good behaviour, support of teacher, etc., I also pointed out that they had to be responsible for their own safety and should assess and consider and decide for themselves what they would undertake.   (They all went off cheerfully and returned whole and hearty.)

Secondly, our children had to make their own way in the world (though I would have felt  this however rich they were.)   So first they had to learn the basics tools for acquiring an education, (reading, writing, counting), and then as part of their overall education, acquire the skills and qualifications to enable them to make a living and be a  useful member of society.

Thirdly, you hope to introduce and encourage your child, within the bounds of what your circumstances can afford, and guided by the child’s own ability and inclinations, to a wider cultural, artistic and ethical awareness.

So for me, the purpose of education is to enable the child to become, in his maturity and according to his own desires, the most enlightened, competent and fulfilled person he or she as an individual is capable of becoming.    As parents you are of great influence over the beginning of this life long journey, but the eventual result and destination is a matter for the individual himself.    In the end, they go places you would never have considered, and their experience becomes part of your education.   In my opinion it is not, absolutely not, your place as a parent to decide your child will become a champion golfer/mathematician/medical expert/ astronaut and dedicate yourself to that goal.   That decision is for him alone to make.    Your role is to empower, assist  and support him in his decision in  so far as possible, compatible with your means, circumstances and other responsibilities.

The education of one’s children is an expensive, difficult, time-consuming, exhausting, frustrating, anxious affair.    But to see them grow and develop, now that is one of life’s great delights.

And if in the process they deepen their imaginative pleasure, well, why not?


Last week I wrote from my fiery Scottish heart about the interesting state of the union.     This week from my cool British head, I’d like to write in praise of England and the English.

We have lived in England, in the glorious county of Sussex, for 22 years.    When I first saw Sussex all those years ago, I fell in love with it on first sight, and knew it would be mine, as you might fall in love with a man when your eye first lighted upon him.   Sussex is neither swift nor demonstrative;  it does not come out to meet you.   Never the less, it promised me and has delivered a long and peaceful embrace.    I love Sussex.   It is the most beautiful county in England.   (We who live in Sussex must be forgiven for saying this, though of course there are other lovely counties which might aspire to this title.)

And I love England.   I love its infinite variety;  its superb architecture;  its people.   I love how different it is to the majestic and tempestuous Scotland.   England is peaceful, slow to rouse, conservative in the best sense of that word, enduring.   It has a still, magic and ancient beauty that cannot be easily evoked elsewhere.   It is subtle and contradictory and difficult to understand.    The English are on the whole good-natured and tolerant, with a dry sardonic wit.   They are proud of their reputation for fair play and will put up with a lot, contentedly complaining; yet you antagonise the English at your peril.      Once provoked into action, they can be swift and unpredictable; they make a redoubtable foe and a bad enemy.        They are understated but this is because they have no need to brag.     They are the English.    Being anything else is unthinkable.

But for all I love and appreciate England, I can never BE English.   Every word I speak, the cadence of my language, the process of my thoughts, my instinctive reactions, every step I take, marks me out as a Scot, and proud to be so.   I can only ever be an adopted daughter of England.

Once, when in Davenport, New Zealand, we went in search of a pub showing an England/Portugal football game in the then World Cup.   It was 9 am but their love of sport and hospitality was so great, the pub  opened to us, and the barman made us comfortable.   The barman was a Scot.   “So,” he said finally, when he had attended to all our requirements.   “Have you come to see England get stuffed?”   John replied politely that, no, we had come to support England, but I had a burst of (silent) irritation.      Scotland, now it’s going to be a mature nation, should abandon this persecution complex it has over England.   Obviously, in an England/Scotland game, Scots would support Scotland; but in other games…     When Andy Murray said of some fixture he would be supporting ‘anyone but England’, sadly, he wasn’t joking (though he later qualified the remark.)

My own mixed loyalties (and prejudices) were revealed when in a Ladies’ Toilet outside the Royal Palace in Tokyo, Japan.   I was washing my hands when a very large, very loud American woman emerged from a cubicle.   I could feel her studying me.   Eventually, she caught my eye in the mirror.   “Speakee English?” she enquired.    Now I am a Scot, NOT tolerant and patient like the English.    Speakee English?   I thought.    Clearly I am not Japanese.   I look like a European.    Do I look like I can’t speak English?  Can SHE speak English?    I flung a prayer for forgiveness to St Andrews and looked her in the eye.    “I AM English,” I said, and then turned on my heel and departed, not waiting to hear whatever urgent remark she wished to impart in her English-as-spoken-to-Foreigners.   (Yes, I agree, one of my Could have been kinder, episodes.)    St Andrew didn’t appear to mind, and I trusted St George was willing to take me in.

And this rather illustrates my position.     Asked the somewhat silly question, for it’s not going to come to this, ‘If you were forced to choose, which passport  would you have, Scots or English?’    I’d be proud to carry either, and I hope both would be pleased to have me.

I’m for St Andrew and St George.

And seeing as how we, the British, are famously humorous, perhaps we can give the last word to Flanders & Swan.

*   *   *

The English  (Flanders & Swan)

The rottenest bits of these islands of ours

We’ve left in the hands of three unfriendly powers

Examine the Irishman, Welshman or Scot

You’ll find he’s a stinker as likely as not

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

The Scotsman is mean as we’re all well aware

He’s boney and blotchy and covered with hair

He eats salty porridge, he works all the day

And hasn’t got bishops to show him the way

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

The Irishman now our contempt is beneath

He sleeps in his boots and he lies through his teeth

He blows up policemen or so I have heard

And blames it on Cromwell and William the Third

*   *   *

The English are moral the English are good

And clever and modest and misunderstood

*   *   *

The Welshman’s dishonest, he cheats when he can

He’s little and dark more like monkey than man

He works underground with a lamp on his hat

And sings far too loud, far too often and flat

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

And crossing the channel one cannot say much

For the French or the Spanish, the Danish or Dutch

The Germans are German, the Russians are red

And the Greeks and Italians eat garlic in bed

*   *   *

The English are noble, the English are nice

And worth any other at double the price

*   *   *

And all the world over each nation’s the same

They’ve simply no notion of playing the game

They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won

And they practice before hand which spoils all the fun

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *

It’s not that they’re wicked or naturally bad

It’s just that they’re foreign that makes them so mad

The English are all that a nation should be

And the pride of the English are Chipper and me

*   *   *

The English the English the English are best

I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

*   *   *



Stands Scotland where it did, Macduff asks in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.     Not exactly, I think would have to be the answer now.

It was our impression  when we visited recently that the suggested statistic of 60+% of people wanting an increased form of devolution is probably about right;  the Unionists (Tories) are rabidly opposed, and the English resident in Scotland are concerned.    The civil service who would have to administer any such change seem anxious and uneasy about it.    What also seems probable (and we heard various people in different groups voice this) is that if the Scots are forced to choose only from a choice of Yes/No to full independence and secession from the Union, many of them will vote Yes, even though that would not have been their first choice.    (Of course this is a personal impression only and hardly scientific.)

I don’t think the English actually understand the basis for Scots desire for independence (or greater devolution.)    In the first place, the Scots were never conquered, not by Rome nor by England, and the union of the Crowns was agreed to by James VI of Scotland and lst of England to satisfy hIs own ambition.   In those days kings had not yet been brought to heel sufficiently to understand that they are the servants of the country and not its masters and considered themselves appointed by God as fit to make decisions without consultation.   Even the salutary example of what happens when you try the patience of the English too far, in the unhappy fate of Charles 11 (later in history than James of course) did not appear to modify their arrogance for some considerable time.

It seems doubtful that England alone could have created the empire without the freedom from domestic dispute it enjoyed, plus the manpower and the special skills contributed by each of the four nations who comprised Great Britain.   We have all benefitted from the wealth and power that the empire brought us;  the Scots are not suggesting that they are an oppressed people.    But the English have always regarded ‘English’ and ‘British’ as being one and the same thing, whereas they are not at all.    I am proud to be British, but I can never be English.

So I posit that the other nations feel that whereas they made an equal contribution to our wealth and prosperity,  their equality of status has never been recognised by England, who dismisses them as ‘the provinces’ and is impertinent enough to appoint a Secretary of State for each ‘province’ as though these countries were dependencies that had to be ‘governed’ instead of independent and equal partners with themselves, the English.  (  These particular Secretaries of State are generally loathed as traitors in the countries where they hold office, and perhaps symbolically they should be escorted to the borders and requested to return to whoever employs them;  or else to accurately represent Scotland and the other nations’ interests, instead of ‘ruling’ Scotland etc in England’s name.)   Why is there no Secretary of State for England?

This view is borne out by England’s complete rejection of any devolved parliament for them.   Why should they need this, when (they suppose) Westminster is theirs anyway?

I live in England and love Sussex and the English.    There is no country on the planet more beautiful than England, and the people of England are a fine people with many virtues of their own.     We need to handle this transition –  which I believe will come to pass – with tolerance and kindness for one another.   We the British have lived and worked together for centuries to our mutual benefit.   Our kinship and friendship circle is intertwined.    To tear this apart, to turn our backs on one another, would be a disaster for all concerned.   In this case, we truly are all in it together, and personally I hope we stay that way.   However, in my view. there is little possibility of maintaining the status quo.

I hope that in say ten year’s time, we have a British Federation under the Crown (initially anyway.   If future monarchs follow the exemplary conduct of the present Queen, there should be no difficulty;  but this remains to be seen.)    The English can keep Westminster for their parliamentary affairs, but it should handle purely English business on exactly the same basis as the other countries of the UK govern their national affairs.   The House of Lords, elected only and reformed at last, could, with equal representation from the constituent countries handle the UK’s agreed commonalities:  foreign affairs, the defence of the realm, etc.   (We could call it The House of the Nations?)

Cameron needs to get his act together.   His condescending and bullying treatment of these issues, his contempt for the people of the countries apart from England, could jeopardise our whole future together.     He has to stop meddling in the affairs of the other British nations (and certainly in Scotland he has no mandate other than that he is Prime Minister of the Union, which is the point at issue)  and address himself urgently to the task of explaining to the English the choices before them, and guiding them along a peaceful path to our future British cooperation and prosperity.

On this journey, which now it has been started, cannot I believe be aborted, the English have by far the longest way to travel.     We, the British, want to remain friends and allies;  we do not want to happen to any of us what happened in Eire.

This is presumably not  at all one of the principal  tasks that Cameron thought was facing him when he took office.   But Harold McMillan, when asked what was the most difficult thing to deal with as Prime Minister, replied, Events, dear boy, events.     This issue is not going to go away.

Although I have no time for the Tories and have never been an admirer of David Cameron, I wish the Prime Minister good fortune in this endeavour, for all our happiness depends upon it.



What is wrong with people at Hotel Receptions?

OK, I admit I’m possibly not at my sunniest at this point.    Of course I try not to be rude, but I’m tired and  all I want is rapid and unimpeded access to my room with as little interaction as can be managed.   I don’t want to say where I’ve come from, or how good the journey was.   I don’t want to hear of the delights or dangers that await me on the Spa floor.      I don’t want to be asked where I’m eating dinner.     All that I will address later, from my room.     What I want at that point is to give my name, the receptionist smile and say, yes, we’re expecting you, sir and madam; your room is ready.   No 406.   Lift to the left of you.   Do you want help with your luggage?  Let us know if we can help you further.

When Joanna worked at the reception of a large hotel in Glasgow, she had the opportunity to observe different attitudes.     Some people were like me, but others preferred to chat.   She thought the art of doing the job well was to assess the customer’s frame of mind and react accordingly.   She noted that a German colleague, gaining wider European experience with them, had a difference of expectation.    In Germany, she explained in irritation, the prospective guest presented himself at the desk, With His Papers, so it could be ascertained that Everything Was In Order.    She seemed to expect the guest to arrive with the expectation of fitting in to her administrative system.   But the disorderly British guest arrived at her desk and announced, I’m Higgins, as though his name were sufficient of an entree anywhere.    They had to impress on her that it was NOT acceptable to demand, ‘And where are your papers?’

This reminds me of our exit from an irritating hotel somewhere on a pseudo ranch in Colorado.     Everything about the pretentious place had annoyed me, including its themed decor, so that I felt like heaving its giant (and solitary) cowboy boot into the Sorrel River that flowed past our room.    When John came to check out, the receptionist said to him, accusingly, I don’t have you listed.    John looked at her and said nothing.   She looked again.   Then she said to him, Are you travelling with someone?   Yes, he said.    She smiled in triumph.   What is the person’s name?    My wife, same name as me, he said, and her face fell.    She searched on, and then again said to him, as though  it were his fault, I don’t have you listed.     Shall I go then, said John, since according to your records, I’m not here?     You can’t do that, she said.   She looked at him; nothing more seemed forthcoming from her.   Then find me someone competent to check me out, he asked, not unreasonably.    The girl pouted.    This is my first day, she said.    Clearly you need more training, responded John.   Someone else was found who discharged him with all speed.   The girl glared at John as he  left, as though he had done her some injury.

And on a Hebridean island, in a lovely house which was being run as a Bed and Breakfast but where the owner had presumably been forced to do so and was an unwilling participant, and had passed all the actual running of the hotel to a lanky young female Glaswegian who behaved as though she were the lady of the house.     John thought she actually was the mistress of the establishment, but the owner had no wife and this bossy kitchen maid did not, in my opinion qualify.     She had crossed over on the same ferry as us, in her landrover with the hotel’s name on it, and was unpacking at the front door when we arrived.    Her reaction was one of such surprise that one felt she regarded us as inappropriate guests.   ‘Are you staying with us?’    John replied, ‘That was the general idea.’   More astonishment that she hadn’t met us on the ferry.   Had we not noticed her vehicle with the name and come and introduced ourselves?   Now I’m afraid I’d had enough of standing on the steps by this time, so I replied rather crisply that I hadn’t been aware that they operated their reception on the ferry and could we check in now, please?      This treatment was not well received though she did comply but our relations never recovered from this low point.    She was very noisy and chatty, flirting with the men (most of whom she towered above from the vantage point of her skinny, 6 foot height.)    She reminded me of a skittish young giraffe attempting an exchange with wildebeest.   She called John by his Christian name throughout to which he did not object.      When it came to her addressing me, I just looked at her;  so she called me nothing, and I refrained from calling her, Girl, or Waitress.    (I should point out here that this was no homely bed and breakfast where the lady of the house gave you a friendly welcome and cooked breakfast herself, and in which places we have often been very happy.    This was a large house of architectural significance with prices to match.)    But oh, I had sweet revenge.    I was sitting in a chair near the door way while she checked ‘John’ out, hoping he would come again (Not a chance, I thought), when an old man came through and started when he saw me.   ‘M’lady.’   I raised my eyebrows.   Then he explained that he was the Head Gardener and had mistaken me for the late Lady of the house, who used to sit in that chair and discuss the day’s plan with her staff.   ‘Is she no awfully like to her Ladyship?’ he said to the far from pleased giantess.    Naturally I was gracious, sympathising with him over the difficulty of working in a house ‘with no Lady’, and I took my leave of the kitchen maid pleasantly enough, saying what a lovely house it was and that she had looked after us well, and how delightful our room had been.   In fairness to her, there was nothing wrong with the actual service, and although she did not say good-bye to me warmly, she remembered her manners and was courteous.   We had just got off to a bad  start, and this is no doubt a Could Have Been Kinder episode.

I list below the things important to me in an hotel, in order of importance.



Comfort of bed (including large size and/or twin available)

Bathroom ensuite which functions with ample hot water

Quietness in room

TV with stations you want to watch (it’s misery being with husband when the channel showing golf isn’t available.)

Staff professional,  friendly, helpful and unobtrusive

Hotel in pleasant surroundings (garden, sea view, pleasant city location as appropriate)

Good food in hotel or nearby

Attractive under-stated decor

Room service if you need it

I’ve dithered over the order, but one thing I’ve no doubt about: location is of prime importance.

Pet hates in hotels:

Ones run by owners for their own convenience, with themselves as arbiter of taste and etiquette, and an inflated idea of their own importance, who behave as if you were a guest in their private fiefdom, when in fact you are paying for the services.

 Being asked repeatedly if everything is alright with the meal.

 Toilet paper folded into some tortured shape.

Artifical flowers.

Anything with a strong smell.

Other guests.