Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Archive for the ‘Jayne’s posts’ Category

For Tara’s gallery

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Here is my entry to Tara Cains’ Sticky Fingers blog on the theme of White … the view outside of my bedroom window yesterday …



Written by CommonPeople

December 8, 2010 at 8:49 am

Posted in Jayne's posts

What’s the benefit for children?

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Child benefit is the sacred cow that has been slaughtered before our eyes.

I understand the need to make massive savings. The country is in the mire; we owe £900 billion and that is forecast to soar to £1.1 trillion by next year.

According to the UK Debt Bombshell , it is the equivalent of every man, woman and child paying back £15,213. UK pays £120 million debt interest every day to foreign governments.

That kind of debt is not sustainable. Everyone agrees that significant savings must be made across the board. Something has to give.

Getting rid of child benefit for high earners, those people earning over £44,000, is one idea.[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=george+osborne&iid=9913374″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9913374/the-conservative-party/the-conservative-party.jpg?size=500&imageId=9913374″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]

The Chancellor George Osborne, who before the election pledged to save child benefit, says it will save £1 billion a year.

While there are undoubtedly good arguments to scrapping a universal benefit for high earners – whatever they are (that depends, naturally, on whatever you earn. It’s probably £5,000-£10,000 more than what you are on) – the dichotomy comes with the mathematics.

In a one-income family, with the sole earner’s yearly salary at about £44,000, they lose their child benefit. For the oldest child in full-time education, that payment stands at £20.30 a week, with £13.40 a week subsequent youngsters. For that one-income family, it means losing £1,752.40 if there are two children in the family.

That’s a lot of money.

While some families may not even notice the money going into their bank accounts every month – see India Knight’s tweet about how she used her child benefit (she also tweeted that she didn’t claim it after 1998 when she returned to work) – for others, it is the difference between being able to keep the house warm in the winter; it is being able clothe their youngsters. It isn’t about paying for piano lessons.

But the real problem for the angry middle classes and Mumsnet and the like is the incredibly iniquitous decision to allow two parents who each earn just under the 40 per cent threshold (£40,000 each, say) to continue claiming child benefit.

How does that seem remotely reasonable? To many people, including Tory activists, high earners and those who will continue to receive child benefit when the changes come into effect in 2013, it is a monstrous policy.

Is the government sacrificing the simplicity of the system, by introducing a crude cut-off point without any regard for household income, for fairness?

All of this rather overshadowed Osborne’s next announcement to cap the amount of benefit any family can claim to £26,000. Of course, the comfy middle classes won’t be wringing their hands about that.

What next? What are the next elephants in the room to be sacrificed? Winter fuel allowance; pensioners’ bus passes; free TV licences for pensioners? More than likely. We are, as this government continues to say ad nauseam, all in this together. Unless you are super rich. Then that doesn’t apply, of course.

Written by CommonPeople

October 5, 2010 at 8:31 am

September is my New Year

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For years I have maintained that September 1 is the REAL New Year, the time when resolutions should be made.

How many of us make solemn pledges to ourselves as the final bars of Olde Lange Syne fade into the ether, only to abandon them by mid January?[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=new+year’s+eve&iid=3324244″ src=”http://view3.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/3324244/debbie-does-new-years/debbie-does-new-years.jpg?size=500&imageId=3324244″ width=”234″ height=”290″ /]

And January is such a depressing month to be making big changes: you are still coming down from the heady excitement of Christmas (avoiding all bills until February) and it feels so very, very flat. It’s dark, dank, gloomy. Usually wet or snowy. It is not the time to be planning dramatic weight loss.

So, September 1 it is for me.

Why? It’s probably something to do with the new school year, when new beginnings are tangible and you could see the challenges ahead. And there’s a chance the sun is still shining. It feels a more positive time to set challenges.

So it is with me.

For the past two years, I have been toying with the idea of not changing my career, but enriching it. Journalism is my first love and always will be. But I need something else.

I love the idea of teaching, but not being a teacher (this makes sense in my head). I feel utter frustration when I read stories of adults who cannot read or do not have sufficient literacy skills to get a job. [picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=reading+a+book&iid=6751297″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/6751297/the-new-term-begins-for/the-new-term-begins-for.jpg?size=500&imageId=6751297″ width=”234″ height=”153″ /]

I cannot imagine their despair. What must it be like to pick up a book and not being able to understand the words? What must it be like to look for a job, knowing you cannot read the adverts? If they have children, they are denied the pleasure of cuddling up and reading together.

After two years’ prevarication, I actually took the plunge last night and signed up for a course that will, hopefully, lead to a new and important strand in my life: teaching literacy skills to adults.

The course starts in a month and I am very excited. I hope I’m good enough. There are far too many people out there who do not have the skills they need and they deserve the very best help.

Written by CommonPeople

September 10, 2010 at 11:45 am

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The child prodigies that make me uneasy

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Parents are always proud of their children’s achievements, however small and insignificant. From the first “proper” smile about seven weeks’ through the ten metre swimming certificate and beyond, we are programmed to burst with pride at every opportunity.

Every child is talented at something, of course, and it is always something to celebrate.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=Einstein&iid=2946646″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/2946646/albert-einstein/albert-einstein.jpg?size=500&imageId=2946646″ width=”234″ height=”320″ /]

But there is something about stories of child geniuses and academic achievements that make me a little uneasy.

Take, for instance, six-year-old Esther Okade, who has just attained a grade C maths GCSE, and seven-year-old Oscar Selby who was awarded an A* grade in the same subject .

No doubt these children are incredibly talented, bright and gifted. Their parents are proud. The two wunderkids look happy enough.

I wish them every success as they grow up and hope they are happy and settled as they go through life.

But stories like these nag at me and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Am I concerned about their well-being as they grow older and put themselves under intense pressures to prove themselves? Or is it about the outside influences, which heap pressure on them, leading to myriad problems?

Is it pushy parenting? There are elements of that in some cases of child prodigies, of course.

Is it about allowing them to have a “normal” childhood so they develop the social skills that are vital to living with their fellow humans?  A person who cannot empathise is an isolated and lonely figure.

What is it that makes me so troubled about six and seven-year-olds taking such formal exams?

Most importantly, what do you think?

Written by CommonPeople

August 26, 2010 at 3:23 pm

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It’s time for Walsall to show its culinary mettle

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It’s fair to say that Walsall is an *ahem* poor relation to neighbouring Birmingham when it comes to fine dining.

The town does lack its one and two-star Michelin restaurants, although it does have a fine selection of chip shops and pizza emporia (I know many of the latter in particular).

But now is the time to put Walsall on the culinary map, people.

Will we find Walsall's Fanny Cradock?

The Channel 4 show Come Dine With Me is returning for a new series and it is looking for Walsall residents to take part.

Who wouldn’t want to see Walsall’s equivalent of this?


For those of you who are not aware of this show, it takes four strangers from the same town and each has to host a dinner party for the others. At the end of the week the most impressive host wins a £1,000 cash prize.

If you or anyone you know would like to take part then email leaving your name, address and contact number ASAP on: comedinewithme@itv.com or call 0871 200 3939.

And – no, I will not be applying. I don’t want to end up like this stressed-out woman:


Written by CommonPeople

August 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

School shoes: the agony (and no ecstasy)

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I am trying very hard to be patient and to be understanding.

I remember the pain and the sorrow.

I remember all too well the stand-up rows I had with my mother about them: both sides adamant that the other was wrong; neither would back down. It was like the OK Corral, but in a shoe shop.

The reason for this grief?  School shoes. I recall the shelves heaving with dreadful footwear that *no one* would be seen dead in: the “sensible” lace-ups with delightful crepe soles; the t-bars that no one over the age of eight would wear.  No – what every secondary school girl wanted to wear was the patent pumps with big Minnie Mouse bows (am I showing my age?).

Unfortunately, my mother with one eye on her purse and the other on the perceived longevity of this fashion attire refused to say yes. What I needed, she assured me, was sensible leather shoes that would keep my feet dry when it rained, warm when it snowed and were still appropriate when the sun was shining.

But – I was a near teen, going into what is now Year 7 and I didn’t want little girl shoes. It was an argument we endured at least once a year (depending on how long the shoes lasted). I can’t remember who won. I imagine it was 50/50. Maybe.

Fast forward *cough* a few years and I am having the same issues with my daughter. She is about to go into secondary school and does not want sensible Clarks. Fine – I don’t rate them anyway. But we are definitely at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to deciding what’s appropriate.

Do you think these Alexander McQueen shoes will go with my uniform?

Thin soled ballet pumps – as far as I am concerned – aren’t going to last when you are walking a two and a bit-mile round trip five days a week in all weathers. She won’t touch the Hush Puppies and I do sympathise: most are hideous or just too young (adorned with butterflies or silver hearts).

History is repeating itself. The stand-offs are probably hysterical to an outsider. I’m having palpitations each time we enter a shop; her body language speaks volumes. She can’t even look the shop assistants in the eye. I just apologise continuously.

Oh, that I could fashion a pair of school shoes that were right for a girl on the edge of teendom!

A plea to shoe designers: please save me from the embarrassment of another ding-dong of a battle in the middle of a shop. Is it so hard to come up with leather shoes that can satisfy mums and their fashion-conscious daughters?

Excuse me for a moment. I’m just going for a lie down …

Written by CommonPeople

August 7, 2010 at 7:59 pm

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It’s the end of an era

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It’s not every week I find myself feeling a bit wobbly when doing the ironing.

I mean, I hate ironing and could cry each time I see the pile of clothing that needs doing.

But this week was different.

This week I ironed my daughter’s primary school uniform for the last time. And, look, I even took a photograph of it (except one shirt, skirt and cardigan, which she was already wearing by the time I got round to doing this).

Five small-ish shirts, two cardigans, a skirt, pair of trousers and a pair of culottes (you never know what the weather is going to be like). All done.

As I (kind of) ironed out the creases of each item, I thought back to how I first proudly ironed the aged 2-3 grey school skirt, crisp white polo shirts and bright red cardigan she wore when she first went to the school in nursery. Always desperate to grow up, she couldn’t wait to put on her uniform for “big” school.

Now we’re buying a proper blazer, garish tartan skirt, trousers from only one shop, a tie (five stripes showing, please, or she’ll be sent home), a PE kit to be worn for every sport known to man – including gum shield, and a “performing arts” kit.

I get a lump in my throat even thinking of her leaving the cosy environs of a primary school, a place where everyone knows each other and everyone is made to feel special.

I’m dreading the leavers’ service on Friday and know that I and my friends will be blubbering idiots at the end of it, while our partners laugh at our emotional outbursts.

But it’s the end of an era – and it’s all about to get very serious.

It’s all about to get very scary.

And she can’t wait.

Written by CommonPeople

July 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm

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