Difficult lessons to learn

Copy of r-BODYGUARD-HALL-large570

We’re worrying about a lot of things right now. We’re probably right to. This week I saw that an American company called Pro Techt had started selling something called a “Bulletproof Blanket” which is being bought specifically by parents for their children to shield them from bullets at school. My response? It made my blood run cold: how terrible for children around the world that they should not be able to even study and learn without threat or danger.  The Bodyguard Blanket, according to its website, ‘is made of the same materials U.S. soldiers wear while in battle, and is equal to or exceeds the protection used by police departments. After extensive research, it is estimated that Bodyguard™ blanket provides bullet resistant protection against 90% of all weapons that have been used in school shootings in the United States.’


When I was a child we used to have to do fire drills. Do you remember? The worst was if you were in the middle of PE, once it happened when we were swimming and we had to line up in on the playground in our swimming costumes with our goose bumps grew much bigger than any other burgeoning bumps  whilst Mrs McCann slowly read our names out (I knew she was a sadist before I even knew the meaning of the word). A fire drill was something you did to appease the Health and Safety monitor and it was a pain, nothing more. Now children are being taught how to react in the event of a shooting in their school.  Will this new practise extend to our schools? Can we even imagine our world like this? Have you worked out yet how you can make a difference? It seems to me that we have to communicate more and more with each other, not less. We have to find ways to understand and respect differences, but stand up to and stop intimidation. In our current world situation do we really know that much about the politics and motivations or are we just reading what someone else is posting on Facebook? Could be time to get an education and start really learning about other people’s cultures. I’m privileged that I can write this short article from the perspective of complete horror rather than being with a world weary sigh as I pull out my credit card and buy one of the blankets (priced at a thousand dollars) for my daughter. The manufacturers say that they originally designed the blankets as a portable way to shelter in tornadoes or other natural phenomenon. The whirlwind that is rushing through our lives now is a manmade disaster, and one we need to find ways to halt.  Malala Yousafzai said “Let us pick up our books and pencils. They are our most powerful weapon”. Let’s start there.

That time of year



The summer holidays aren’t finished yet? Are you kidding me? There’s STILL another five weeks to go? WHAT? REALLY?

La Gidg, and I are struggling. We’re struggling with protracted (ridiculously protracted in my opinion, but you probably already figured that out) holidays, with the heat, with what she wants versus what I have to do, and with each other. Showdowns about tidying up her bedroom are happening on a daily basis, I fear that we may not get out of the vacations alive. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have kids of school age just exactly what a miserable thing it can be to have a child off school for three months whilst you are also trying to work for a living.

I have practiced and honed my argument about the length of the Mallorca summer holidays over many years now, so forgive me if you’ve heard this one before. We live on an island, the island’s main income comes from tourism which is at its peak during the summer months, most of the people who live on the island and have children at public schools on the island also work in the tourism industry or are in some way connected to the industry, which means that they are at their busiest in the middle of the summer, so why make the long school break coincide with this time? How can anyone enjoy this when they have to struggle with kids moaning and complaining about summer school (why don’t they ever seem to enjoy it?), you can’t work properly if your children are unhappy or not settled in their school. Why instead can’t we take a long break in December and January and February? You know what answer you get to this question? That it is too hot in the schools in the summer. I have two words: Air Conditioning. They have to heat the schools in the winter, why not just swap that attitude around?

Teachers and schools aren’t babysitters, and they’re probably the only ones who actually want to have three months off in the summer. But understand this, this the money that I pay for my daughter to attend summer school so that my husband and I can continue to work and earn money for our family and pay our taxes? Yeah, you guessed it; we can’t include it in our accounts and expenses. It’s almost as if the Spanish Government thinks that this is a luxury. It’s almost as if the Spanish Government thinks that the woman should stay at home and look after the children . . . ah, hang on a minute. . . Let’s start a revolution, I want to campaign for parents in business to be able to claim for their child care.


Passing the book

Family Matters by Vicki McLeod

When I was a little girl I loved to read. I read voraciously. I read anything I could lay my hands on. At the breakfast table I would read and then re-read the back of the cereal packets because I wasn’t supposed to read my book at the table. I was never seen without a book. I loved books about ponies and schoolgirls and adventures, about things that happened years ago, and things that may happen in the future. I was a book geek. I had every single Flambards book, plenty of Enid Blyton, all of the Narnia stories, along with lots of other classics and I would dive back into them time and again.

My books have been with me throughout my life. I did consider giving them to a charity shop about fifteen years ago. I gazed at them thinking ‘Why am I keeping these?’ And out of somewhere in the back of my mind came the answer ‘You’re keeping us for your daughter’. Ahh… well at the time I didn’t have a child or even particularly think I would ever have one, so this was a turn up for the books, but nevertheless I thought, okay then, I will hang on to you.

Now La Gidg is in her first year at our local primary school, and her reading in both Catalan and Castillano is coming along very nicely. But my husband and I had noticed that she wasn’t so keen to try to read in English at home, she was happy to have stories read to her but wasn’t so confident about reading to us. We’d tried encouraging her: putting on silly voices, trying out new books, bribery even . . . but nothing had really inspired her until she started to go to the Kip McGrath centre in Son Quint. They specialise in tutoring kids in English and maths and their methods have really helped Gidg to turn the corner from bookshy to bookworm (which makes her geeky mother very proud).

Gidg has been going every Saturday morning for an eighty minute session with teachers Julie Staley and Jay Hirons to get her on the right track with her reading in English. You’d think (well I thought anyway) that it would be pretty simple to get a kid to read in English, but it turns out when they’re also dealing with two other languages then possibly they don’t really want to bother. But the pronunciation of certain letters is entirely different so it is important to get off on the right foot. So with a great reward system (we’re now the proud owners of a completed star chart and some very swish new colouring pencils) the Kip method (including playing specially designed computer games, drawing and reading aloud) over the last ten weeks has worked like a charm. Last weekend without any prompting I found Gidg holed up in her bedroom pouring over a book (she’s into mermaids and animals) rather than watching the Evil Tiny Pops on the TV so that’s a 100% result as far as I am concerned.

So, after all these years, my childhood books will be getting their airing after all, I think it’s going to have been worth their wait.

You can find out more here:


‘What’s she saying?’ G’s Grandmother turns to me as if I am going to be able to translate my daughter’s babblings. G fixes her gaze on me and launches into another stream of complete nonsense accompanied by hand gestures and deeply serious facial expressions. ‘I haven’t a clue’ is the only reply I can give, as I truly don’t know what she’s on about.

I’m not exactly a baby expert you know, only having the one. So I don’t really know what to expect in the way of language development. My girl was born in Mallorca, she lives in an English speaking family, with English telly, music and books, and goes to a local municipal nursery where she is taught in Castillano and Catalan, and surrounded by other little Mallorquinas and Mallorquinos who are probably also growing up with at least two languages in their heads. She’s been at the nursery since she was a year old, which is almost two years ago now.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I know my girl is smart and quick – her sense of humour and understanding of what I am saying to her is absolutely on the button. I very proudly explain to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to me that my daughter will be at the very least trilingual, and I hope she learns many more languages than that along the way. But right now she’s all over the place with what comes out of her own mouth.

Or is she? Perhaps it’s just me not understanding a little girl’s interpretation of the languages that are around her. I don’t know. And that’s what is frustrating me here. She is so desperate to communicate and talk to us, but most of what comes out is gibberish, to us at least. Which leads to the most almighty of tantrums and misunderstandings.

It’s galling when she hangs out with our Mallorquin friends, Tomas and Consul, who quickfire Catalan at her and she nods in assent whilst we gape in incomprehension. And even worse when we’re stopped in the street by a kindly, well-meaning neighbour who kicks off in Catalan again and G again enjoys a better conversation than we ever do.


I understand why Mallorca is so adamant that its schools should teach in Catalan, I do. It’s a cultural identity, one which was denied for so long by Franco. But isn’t it actually going to disable its young as they grow up studying predominantly in a language which isn’t spoken much outside of Catalonia (which, although of course it is the centre of the Universe, is not the centre of the Universe of educational possibilities for a bright, young thing – if they studied outside of the confines of Catalonia where Catalan is the prinicpal language, then how would they manage in Spanish, which would be their second language rather than their first? Does that disadvantage a student? Possibly).

I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I get by. I like to throw in the odd Catalan word here and there, to show willing, but really it’s so different to Castillano, that I don’t know when, if ever, I will truly understand it. Which leads me to my next worry….. what happens when G goes to school? How will I help her with her homework if I can’t understand it either? I’m not the only immigrant parent who suffers this indignity, plenty of my girlfriends with similar aged kids are in the same situation, and we’re going to have to figure out a solution before homework becomes important. Or cross our fingers that Mallorca will relax its stance on teaching mainly in Catalan and move over to the more international Castillano. I know that I am not alone in feeling that the insistence by the Balearic government for Catalan is misguided, you’d be surprised by how many local people also think it’s a foolish thing to be doing.

There’s a private school opening in September which is going to be teaching in English, German and Spanish…… which hits hard against my Socialist principals, and my need for my daughter to grow up in her local community. It’s not an easy decision, but something we won’t need to seriously think about until she’s bigger. For now, she’s going to the local school in the Port from September where she will learn in Catalan and Castillano and we will supplement that learning at home by teaching her to read and write in English.

When I first came to Mallorca, I considered the future which I hoped would have children in it, and it does, but I certainly didn’t consider the details which all currently seem to be in Catalan.