We strive for it, we long for it at times, we hug it when it comes along no matter from where. When a child look up to you and asks a question hoping you can answer it, or when an Academy gives you a gong or a citation for a life’s work. It isn’t all one but the way in which we feel about them is a mark of character.

To teach a child, even that you don’t know the answer, is the most precious gift you can ever give. The mind seeks patterns and answers all its life and it is vital to be able to inculcate at an early age that there are often many answers to the same question in life, and sometimes there are no answers at all.

To have adults secure in their ability to deal with unanswered questions will give us the best minds we can have.

Family Ties

It is often the case that no matter who hurts us in our lives, it is our families that have the ability to hurt or give us happiness more readily than that which we can imbibe and feel from other people. It is our families after all that know all our ‘buttons’ and press them without even thinking about it.

They say familiarity breeds contempt but it also creates our synaptic pathways; for it is as we grow up and it is with the people we grow up with that we lay down how we think. It is of course not pleasant for people who are taught they are free to believe they have a way of thinking, when that way has not been chosen but the more research done the more it appears to be the case. The reason seems to be that the emotional response  of a child, and the social connectivity of a child, are laid down (unbelievably) before the age of three.

This is of course in the normal course of family events. Since this can hardly we called the most intellectual or rational period in a human life, it explains that much of the reaction to family is on a par with instinctive. A place where we react to habit, sounds, smells in such a way as they propel us to particular thoughts and actions.

Our families have a huge hold on our imagination.

New Birth

I know this isn’t usually an Autumn subject, though Shelley once famously said that ‘If Winter Comes can Spring be far behind?’, but having now been accepted by my friend’s two year old son to the extent I have been cuddled and then had a mouthful of juice spat in my face (Oh how I pity his girlfriends), and watched my friends two month old daughter intensely looking at coloured plastic and returning my smile with her gummy grim, the ideas of birth are in my mind.

I cannot recapture my own youngest years mainly because most of the toys I had I broke in an effort to see what was inside them, or how they worked I am not sure which, but having two children to buy Christmas presents for is an eye opener. The shops are strewn with them of course, and the offers pop out at you as soon as you enter. Some of these toys are larger than the children and the whole idea of gender is very much in evidence. I wonder what would be wrong with a pink truck for a boy aged three or a rocket ship for a girl aged five?

It is interesting to me though that this age of wonder of which they are only vaguely aware themselves is, for me, a whole new age of wonder of which I am only too aware. The pre-fives are definitely the ages for adults:)


My close friend has now had a second child and one month old she is adorable. And completes a family of a two and a half year old son. I spend happy house with the son going through his books and being shown trucks and figures and lots of cars. I have to build the occasional wooden railway track and the occasional lego house.

The carpets becomes  a car park, the veranda a football field, the hallway a racetrack. Tables are for climbing, chairs are not always useful for sitting and sisters are not always the greatest joy in the house. Books are of course always to be shared, there cannot be a happier moment than a child bringing you a book to share are you have to repeat his or her mispronounced words and explain the picture to their questioning fingers.

I try to remember if I was like this and of course I must have been. I am told I was feral sometimes. All this energy and learning comes to fruition sometime, somewhere. One hopes by the age of ten but usually I think by the age of fifty.


Writing For Children

I knew I wanted to write for children when I was fourteen. I think it was the absolute joy of finding all those fairytales, reading C.S.Lewis and Hugh Lofting, J.R.R.Tolkien, Hans Christian Andersen, and the amazing fables of Greece, Rome and India. I think I still loved those kinds of stories in my adult life because I immensely enjoyed the riotous translation of Monkey by Arthur Waley.

It is important to evolves the imagination in children and give them a wide variety of experiences they can share with past generations. Firing that imagination will help them as they grow into adults. Like all things though it is a two edges sword. Because the world is not as fantasy filled as the books, and maybe that is their attraction. No other worlds to walk into through wardrobes, no talking animals, no magic off-stage.

And yet in a strange way the world is very like the books for there are honest people and liars, people you can trust and people you must ever trust, sour people and loving animals. There are brave things you can do which no one will ever know about, moments of crisis when you count more than others (look at the Russians who died stopping a nuclear disaster in their Submarine – they probably saved the world from war). And even more brilliant than in the books these things are in the real world.

No one asks you believe in giants and dwarfs and fairies; just that you recognise them when they meet them.

Reaching Out

When I was eleven we lived in a village that had a seriously lovely, if small, beach. Strewn with coloured shells that still today glisten on the shell box my mother made. It was whilst there that I went swimming in the sea for the first time and letting go of a rock kicked out towards a small boat bobbing in the tiny bay. It looked far away but probably wasn’t much further away that twenty yards.

And that defined achievement, striving to do something one has never done, going to a place one has never been; my first open sea adventure. What I didn’t do was do it again, and again until the technique from letting go of the rock to touching a boat that didn’t belong to me and swimming back was improved and less splashy. Because what I didn’t know about achievement in those days it is also striving to perfect one’s abilities.

But what I did know then, was that achievement is not a race to be better than someone else. I knew I was in contention with other children for something, but not the important things. No one else in the world could ever be me, and no other children (but me and my sister) in the world belonged to my mother.

What I have come to realise is that achievement is also recognising our individual and collective humanity. There are no prizes, no medals and no score cards in the Cosmos, just us and infinity.

Pied Pipers

I love children’s fairytales though the traditional ones have a longer history than as merely bedtime stories read aloud by parents to wide-eyed children fantasising about magic and witches. In their way they were morality tales. In the original story of Sleeping Beauty the prince raped the sleeping princess; Hansel and Gretel is about the child abuse of step-mothers and cannibalism, and many original tales (some of which can be found in collections of Grimm) have awfully racist things happening to people of ethnicity on the roads and byways of Europe.

It is only as Europe softened that these stories were either dropped, or changed so that magical worlds filled with good and evil became the ‘norm’ until we reached some beautiful new stories such the Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde.

The fairytale as a short land of wonder seems to have gone out of fashion with modern writers. Publishing houses enjoy the long books of magic but they don’t go for many ‘short stories’ that even adults can enjoy. Yet there is a space here for magic and wonder, a place that enlivens the ancient tales with modern nuances. To put laughter in places, and dragons in their place.

Instead of emperors we could talk of Presidents, instead of step-mothers we could write about same sex marriages and IVF; the little people have not gone anywhere, they are waiting in every house in the world to be brought to life and share an evening with the larger folk.

Catch A Falling Star

I was involved in a discussion about supporting your children in their dreams, no matter what those dreams are. I looked back on my childhood and remember my mother being very positive about all the things I hoped to do, and in the interplay of families I took on a few of her dreams too.

But she had nothing on her father who when one of his sons said he wanted to be a doctor came home with an entire set of a medical encyclopedia and promptly gave them to a ten year old.

Dreams are important but even more so is to help children understand that some of their dreams are put into their heads by others. To dream of ‘status’ is not as worthy as dreaming of giving happiness not for any ethical reasons or the airy-fairy nature of happiness, but because wanting to be looked-up to is only a hormonal driven desire whilst wanting to find happiness in the chaotic stream of events which make up life, is tantamount to wisdom.

Most dreams we have seem to centre of who we will be amidst all the others busily being. Intellectually that is of no importance. Become a doctor and ignore how you are looked-up in society, become a lawyer and ignore how you are admired in society, become a President and ignore the kudos.

Dream of self worth.

Children Of The Sea

I love sea horses. I am sure it is because of their heads because I even loved them after I saw all the different kinds of sea horse there are even to those that look like bits of floating seaweed. And I was very interested when learning about their habits that the male and female fertilise eggs and then the male takes them into a pouch and brings them to birth. I know a few women who would think that a good idea. At first marine biologists thought the male might be giving birth until they studied it more closely – which probably meant cutting one to bits. For some reason we still view dissection as study.

I am interested in the dynamics of society and in how human beings choose to live with each other, and part of the psychology of the give-and-take of human life is revealed in language. The modern man, (everyone who has ever lived has been a modern so I guess this is a shorthand for something people think is new) takes a share in rearing children. The ‘division of labour’ – a phrase itself which shows how we think of parenting.

However we do concentrate on the ‘physical’, the woman gives birth, the male should be there to help out, the tax issue, the childcare issue. We don’t give as much importance to the emotional and psychological. We are changed when we become parents. Tragically sometimes those changes do not happen.

If we could dissect our thoughts as readily as we dissent nature, society would be the stronger for it.


In the insightful book ‘The Boy Who Was Brought Up as A Dog’, Perry points out that in a lifetime of work he discovered the crucial importance of the first three years of life to the actions and reactions of the adult. It is in those years, when we barely speak, when we are putting the world together, when the brain is developing, that a hug at the right time performs what years if therapy may take in an adult.

Children left to cry become antisocial because they learn their pleas for comfort go unanswered,  the wrong touch traumatises and instills a lifetime of fear, behaviour patterns are laid down with the baby in the cot.

Many people look to education and try to amend the system to get ‘better’ citizens, more thoughtful individuals but the foundation of the individual is their emotional make-up. Their willingness to engage, their social skills, the ability to navigate through the complex social cues of a highly intellectual animal are all given in our early years.

You can help a child learn facts and make friendships at school, you can develop characteristics, but those characteristics depend a great deal upon parenting and you cannot ‘teach’ feeling. As Perry says repeated actions in those early years instruct the brain and thirty repeated hugs will do in the baby what it takes thousands to achieve to help stabilise a traumatised adult.

If you want to change the world, always be there for your children.


Most children learn to lie around the age of four. More intelligent children learn about lying around the age of three. These first lies are usually very obvious to parents, and are mostly altruistic. As the child ages the lies develop and so does the face, with that typical ‘face’ that parents know so well that children put on to further establish their lie as the truth.

There are many adults who wish they could keep that face! However it should be noted that beautiful people are often more readily believed than the rest of us because human beings can be mesmerized by beauty.

Lies develop into more complex systems as children gain knowledge of their surroundings, learn what their parents and other people expect, and learn how to manipulate the real world. We all learn these things; we all have reason to use lies; we all use them as adults.

A Brief History Of Lies:

Paperback black and white, 100 pages with 8 cartoons. $8.00
ISBN 1449963277
EAN-13 9781449963279

Published 14th February 2010.

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