Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Archive for November 2009

‘But I wanted to be Mary’: the politics of the school nativity

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"I wish mum hadn't complained about me not getting the main role"

It’s that time of year when parents run around like loons, finding last-minute costumes for the school nativity, Christmas production or festive service.

(I dread the letters that emerge out of the school bag a week after they were sent from a stressed teacher, asking for nigh-on impossible costumes. Especially when you realise you have two days’ notice to find a Major General uniform from 1844 or a Tudor-style dress, complete with ruff. And what have they got to do with Christmas, anyway?)

But, for some parents, it isn’t the costume that fills them with dread: it’s looking at the cast list.

Over the past few weeks, you might well have heard the complaints: “I see Tabitha is Mary AGAIN. She was Mary in Reception and took the lead singing role in Oliver last year.” Or: “I see it is the Smith/Jones/Peters [insert appropriate family name here] show again. Why do teachers always pick the same children?”

I certainly have.

I have had conversations with parents whose children are at different primary schools complaining that it was usually the same girls and boys who took the starring roles.

They were not bemoaning the fact their own son or daughter hadn’t been given the main part, but cast doubt on whether the schools offered the same opportunities to all.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=nativity+play&iid=3013096″ src=”9/8/a/d/Pennywell_Farm_Hosts_4ed8.jpg?adImageId=7846866&imageId=3013096″ width=”500″ height=”303″ /]

It was an interesting point: so, armed with neither evidence to support assertions nor an agenda, I asked the question on Twitter: do you think your school always chooses the same children for the lead roles in plays/team captains etc?

I posted the same query on Mummy Bloggers. It was also picked up by Jim Hawkins on Radio Shropshire and he had parents contact him in droves.

The responses were interesting, to say the least.

One caller to Jim claimed that when she was an active member of the PTA, her children were given main roles; when she left, they were no longer considered for major parts. Coincidence? Who knows.

Others were insistent it didn’t happen. A few callers suspected it did.

Here are some responses I received:

Yep, the same girl at my sisters grammar got picked every year. It’s always the kids with the starry names too! At my school it was Antoinette. She got to play Eliza Dolittle-she’d actually left our secondary school, but they brought her back to play it! (Claire)

At our school it’s always the same kids who get the lead roles and while we all moan and groan about it, they are the kids who have charisma on stage and are capable of remembering all those lines! (muummmeee)

I don’t think this goes on at Amy’s school, but I do believe it goes on at another school I know of. It also seemed to be the same kids with the better roles – the ones that have all the best lines and all the best scenes etc. I remember mentioning it once and was hit with excuse after excuse about the fact that some kids are just shy and others really want to be in the limelight. But you could guarantee whatever the play, the “shy” kids were never given a chance. Shame. (Crystal Jigsaw)

I think at my daughter’s school they definitely choose the same children over and over for the big speaking parts. I think that’s because they are the loudest, but that does mean other kids don’t get a crack. Until you know that you can stand up in front of the lower school and say a handful of lines…you don’t know it. (Jennifer Howze)

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+nativity&iid=4586952″ src=”d/7/d/a/Nativity_Play_9ce6.jpg?adImageId=7847112&imageId=4586952″ width=”380″ height=”290″ /]

There are some children who shine on stage. Should we turn it around and say they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do that so a child who doesn’t gets to have the main part? I’ve sat through countless school productions and I’ve noticed the ones who are good in shows are the ones who are most comfortable on stage. Not all children want to be in the spotlight.Our school is excellent at ensuring there are five or six decent parts for the oldest children. They also give solos to the ones who are good at singing. It’s lovely to see someone you perhaps thought of as quite shy singing like an angel. (Deb)

Other comments via Twitter included:

So far, they’ve been really fair at my kids’ school, with kids who don’t have parts in one play getting them in next one … Last year someone was really put out their daughter wasn’t Mary & told us all. Pathetic. (@VWallop)

If they think that is a big ‘problem’ then they need a reality check (@LindaSJones)

It’s a snapshot; it’s not scientific; for me, it is an interesting topic for discussion.

I hate unfairness and hate to think that a school teacher would favour one child over another, although I know/strongly suspect it goes on in SOME schools.

I know that there are a goodly number of children who aren’t interested in the starring role; some prefer to be the giraffe (I know, in a nativity, too. How does that work?) or the third tree on the left, but there are many who want to be given a chance, if only their teachers would offer them encouragement.

Let’s give those shy children – who deep down would love to be given  a chance to shine on stage as Mary, Joseph or the inn keeper – a chance. It might just give them the boost they need.

What do you think?

(two photos of nativity courtesy of PicApp)


Written by CommonPeople

November 26, 2009 at 4:33 am

Glad to meat you

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A few months ago, I posted about a dilemma I was having about whether or not I should allow my children to eat meat. (I can’t find the link – bear with me.)

Traditional Sunday lunch by adactio (http://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/10098413/)



I have not eaten meat for about 20 years, having weaned myself slowly off the stuff during my teenage years.
I gave up fish for many years, too, but cravings during pregnancy (and sheer boredom with a purely vegetarian
diet) meant that I now eat fish.
1. I know I am NOT a vegetarian, although I do sometimes say I’m a veggie because I have received too many blank stares when I say “pescetarian”.
2. I know the only reason I gave up meat was because of welfare issues. It had nothing to do with the fact that I don’t think we should slaughter animals for food.
3. I have gone too far down the line now to even contemplate eating meat that is organic, free-range etc.
4. I NEVER preach to meat eaters that they shouldn’t eat flesh (although I do tend to reach for the soapbox when my husband goads me by attempting to choose fois gras or veal at a restaurant).
When I had my first child ten years ago, I insisted that she be brought up on a predominantly vegetarian diet. I believed it to be healthy and thought it would introduce her palate to a number of different tastes.
Obviously the same principle applied when I had my son two and a half years later.
But, I always said that they would be allowed to eat meat when they were old enough to understand where meat came from and the processes that occurred in the production of meat. The link between the cute animal in the field and the slab of meat on the plate had to be made.
This year, that watershed moment came: I was to be tested. Would I be a woman of my word?
The children insisted that they wanted to eat meat.
I admit I faltered, but had to be true to my word.
I decided that at least I could offer good quality – organic – meat once in a while. I don’t cook it; I leave that to my all-too-willing-to-eat-meat partner.


The result?

Bacon – huge thumbs up from one (the other prefers Quorn)
Steak – the bloodier the better (and, yes, it breaks my heart…)
Lamb – one isn’t keen; the other likes it.
Beef – medium rare and the first thing to be eaten.
Saausages – one can’t tell the difference between organic meat sausages and Quorn (which makes me weep for his palate); the other loves them.
Poultry and game – bring it on.


I’m still restricting their meat intake to about once a week because I honestly think that is sufficient. The rest of the week is mainly based on pasta, pulses and rice.
But now meat isn’t considered a forbidden food, it is losing its appeal slightly. It’s no fun for the children to goad me about meat anymore as it now water off a (living) duck’s back.
Equally, I no longer have nightmares of them lusting over a McDonald’s cheeseburger.
It took me months to get round to letting them eat it – but they have made up their minds.
As far as I can see, there’s no turning back now. It’s just little old me who eschews meat in the house.

Written by CommonPeople

November 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Jayne's posts

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Nigel Slater’s chocolate beetroot cake (yum)

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I must admit I didn’t have much hope about this cake. I imagined that it would be vile. But I should know better:  I have never followed a Nigel Slater recipe and have anything but a fantastic end result.

(Must admit, though, I didn’t cook this cake. My husband did!)

Serves 8


250g beetroot

200g fine dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

4tbsps hot espresso

200g butter

135g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

3 tbsps good quality cocoa powder

5 eggs

190g caster sugar


Lightly butter a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Line the base with baking parchment.

Pre heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4

Cook the beetroot, whole and unpeeled, in boiled unsalted water (30-40mins). Drain, let them cool.

Once cool, peel them (under running water), slice off the stem and root. Puree roughly.

Separate the bar of chocolate into small cubes and place them into a small glass bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and allow chocolate to melt. Do not let the simmering water touch the bowl; do not stir the chocolate.

When the chocolate is almost melted, pour in the espresso and stir once.

Cut the butter into very small pieces and add to the melted chocolate. Dip the butter down under the surface of the chocolate with a spoon and leave to soften.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large mixing bowl.

Stir the yolks together.

Working quickly, remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes and stir in the egg yolks. **Do this quickly, mixing firmly and evenly so the eggs blend intothe mixture. Fold in the beetroot.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold in the sugar. Carefully fold the beaten egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture. Using a large metal spoon, fold in a figure of eight. Then fold in the flour and cocoa.

Transfer quickly into the prepared cake tin. Immediately turn the oven down to 160C/Gas mark 3. Bake for 40 minutes.

(The rim of the cake will feel spongy, but the middle but will wobble a little).

Leave to cool (it will sink a little in the middle). Loosen it around the edges with a palette knife after 30 minutes. Do not remove the cake until completely cold.

Serve with creme fraiche and poppy seeds.

Taken from Nigel Slater Tender. Fourth Estate. £30.



Written by CommonPeople

November 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm