Saturday, 17 December 2011

Peterculter, Airyhall and glasses

On 8 December we headed north to Aberdeen. It was the day of the Scottish storm and it seemed a better place to be than the Central Belt, which was in line for 80mph gales.

Lovely librarian Jacqueline Adam collected us from the station. The journey had been fine, with little noticeable wind. Once in the car we set off for Cults Primary School in Peterculter. Now here's an odd thing (well it probably doesn't seem odd if you live in Peterculter, but it does if you don't): Cults is pronounced as you might expect, as in religious cults; however, Peterculter is pronounced as if there's no 'l' and with the the 'u' pronounced 'oo'. Just thought I'd mention it.

Great session in the school, thoroughly enjoyable. Outside the sun was being replaced by storm clouds, which were then replaced by sun a minute later. The weather was going crazy.

We left the building, rounded the corner and were almost blown off our feet by a huge gust. The sleet was also kicking in. Not pleasant. So we made for the car as quickly as possible, shook ourselves down and off we set, Jacqueline driving again. It was only when we'd travelled a mile that Keith realised something was missing. 'Eh...I don't seem to have my glasses,' he observed.

Where had they gone? It seems they'd been blown off his head by that huge gust. They're frameless and his eyes aren't so bad...but even so, you'd think he'd have noticed! And when we retraced our steps they were nowhere to be found.

Which meant Keith had to present to 200 pupils in Airyhall without being able to see them all. He began by apologising to any long-haired P7s at the read of the case he accidentally called them girls because he couldn't see their faces. However, all was well. He could hear the laughter, even if he couldn't see it in all the faces. It certainly didn't spoil the fun.

Some of the trains were off heading south again, so it was 2215 before we made it home. No, not the year 2215, the time....It didn't take that long to reach home!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Red Rose Primary School...and Red Rose Speedway

It started with a coincidence: Keith was listening to a very old Paul McCartney LP (yes, one of those vinyl things from the last century) entitled Red Rose Speedway when he received an email from the head teacher at Red Rose Primary School in Chester-le-Street. Someone was trying to tell us something!

That 'someone' wasn't Paul McCartney, but Mrs Bainbridge. And, when we met her a week later, the sun was shining brightly in Chester-le-Street, so we were relieved. It had been chucking it down and blowing a gale when we'd left Scotland. The sun was shining almost as brightly as Mrs Bainbridge. What a lovely, friendly woman.

It was Day 1 of Book Week and we were helping to kick it off. Keith had already scoffed an All Day Breakfast sandwich on the way there, but I forgave him - he'd been up since 0530, so 1030 was...lunchtime. Ish.

250 pupils were packed into the dining hall and they'd brought their laughing heads. Brilliant. It's what I love and Keith loves. Loads of laughter. And yes, regular viewers, they chose the funny and disgusting bit when given the choice. Well, don't all pupils (and most teachers)?

Then they saved Keith's life.


What? Saved his life? Really?

Kind of. There Keith was, talking, talk, talk, talk, talk...when a gust of wind blew over his pull-up poster. (Just to be clear, that's a poster than you pull up...not a poster of pull-up pants, the sort you wear when you're learning to use toilets instead of nappies. It's an important difference.) Keith was in front of it so he had no idea it was happening until 'WATCH OUT' was yelled in perfect Geordie by 250 pupils. Keith turned. The pull-up poster (which still wasn't a poster of pull-up pants) hurtle towards him and...

...missed. Shame. It was only light and it really would have been funny if it had caught him on the noggin.

When that session was over we headed over to the Year 6 outbuildings. That makes them sound like converted stables, where year 6 lounge about in sofas. And they do.


No, they work hard. And in this case they worked hard inventing a story plot in 5 minutes, displaying tremendous imagination. For once it wasn't a story about the end of the world or zombies.  It involved 2 youngsters racing up a tree. The loser (Oscar) wasn't happy, so he called his dad, who worked for secret services. He set trip wires so that his son would win the re-run race, however his dasterdly plan backfired.

By the time the school bell went (it sounds like an least in year 6's room) it was 1515 and we set off home. We'd had a wondeful time with brilliant pupils and equally brilliant teachers.

We took a different route home and ended up in Consett. It's on the top of a hill. Which is fine, expect that it's not where you want to be in a strong wind. And it was VERY strong. Shoppers exiting a supermarket had to hold on to the contents of their trollies for fear of their pizzas flying off like doughy frisbies.

On the way back along the A69 we were hit by rain so heavy that even with the windscreen wipers on superfast Keith was forced to drive in 2nd gear. That's heavy. You could tell we were nearing Scotland again...!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sunnybank, Aberdeen

This was the first of 4 visits Keith and I made as part of the 2011 Aberdeen Arts Across Learning Festival. And, as if to celebrate that it was the first session, someone in the audience at Sunnybank Primary School – our first stop - made a momentous discovery as a result of our visit! What did they discover? Read on…

Sunnybank is a big primary school in Aberdeen. Keith said it reminded him a little of the primary school he attended: a big, solid building with high ceilings and corridors that echo like caves. We were in the GP (General Purpose) Room, which I suspect doubles up as the Music Room. With us were some lovely smiley teachers and some equally lovely smiley pupils.

So there Keith was, talking about how your appendix can explode (fear not, it doesn’t happen to most people, but it does happen to Lee in Lee and the Consul Mutants) and he mentioned situs inversus.

Now you may not be an expert on Latin medical terms, so let me explain what that means. In a way it’s obvious (once you know the answer). Situs = situation; inversus = the inversus. So what is situs inversus? Simple: it’s when all your internal organs are the opposite way around to everyone else’s.

At this point you may be thinking Yikes! I hope that’s an incredibly rare condition…that only one in a zillion trillion gazillion people have it. Indeed, that people don’t have it at all, only visitors from the Andromeda galaxy do…and they’re aliens, so probably everything about them is the wrong way around.


One in ten thousand people have it…which means that unless you live on the Moon you’re probably not too far from someone with situs inversus. Indeed you may have it yourself.
And someone in the GP Room did. They realised because their appendix wasn’t where they expected it to be. (Indeed this person’s appendix wasn’t there at all. It used to be, but not any more. (And can I make clear that it didn’t go missing during the session. Some things do change during our sessions – pupils and teachers become inspired and pupils realise their teachers enjoy the disgusting parts of books just as much as they do – but I’m not aware of any incidences of people’s body parts disappearing purely as a result of being in one of Keith’s sessions.)

Who was it? Can’t say. That’s between the person and their missing body part.

So that certainly made our day. As to whether it made that person’s day…you’ll need to ask them.

More on our Aberdeen adventures soon!


Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Our first time in Fraserburgh, so we had a nosy around before heading to Fraserburgh Academy. The town is well known as a centre of the fishing industry, so the obvious place to head was the harbour. It was interesting to see that there weren’t any traditional fishing boats, the small ones that are tossed  around on the wild seas. The boats we saw were all large and modern, the sort that could go out to sea for several days at a time.
The lighthouse museum is another pointer to Fraserburgh’s sea ties. It left me wondering: are there also darkhouses & heavyhouses?
On to Fraserburgh Academy, where I was met by the lovely librarians Mrs Smith and Mrs Robertson, two ladies who work really hard to make reading as enjoyable as possible for pupils. Mrs Smith is really arty and had created this for our visit, which was fab.

The S1s were up first. We had a couple of short sessions lined up and the first clearly went well because most of the pupils were supposed to go off and do something else at the end of it…but didn’t, they stayed for more. That was either a sign that they were enjoying themselves or that they were meant to be doing a calculus exam!

After stuffing ourselves with sandwiches (you know what Keith’s like) we welcomed 3 of the local primary schools to the Academy. This meant the library was packed to bursting, which is just the way the author bloke likes it. So, we talked about exploding appendix and missions to the Moon and generally had a great time. Excellent questions, which was good because it kept Keith on his toes.

Here are some photos of the fun so that you can play Spot The Grinning Idiot in the Checked Shirt, a game that really ought to be made widely available on mobile phones.

And then we were heading south again, to a great guest house in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, one that has the comfiest beds on the planet, ready for a trip to Aberdeen the next morning.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Itchingfield is up to scratch (yes, you may groan now)

Village schools are quaint. They just are. And Itchingfield Primary School is particularly so, nestled at a bend in the road, overlooking fields a few miles outside Horsham, not too far from Gatwick.

They don’t use a piercing alarm to start school they use an old school hand bell. It’s fabulous. What a way to start the day when the sun is beating down outside so that you can wear short sleeves in mid March. Of course Keith is from Scotland, so I had to explain to him what sun is as he had never seen it before, only read about it in books.

The pupils gathered in the hall, one of the smallest we’ve presented in and all the more fun for it. And off we went.

Great session, fantastic pupils and really friendly, helpful staff. And yet again a teacher won one of the books! That’s now 7 times in the last 14 school visits. Yes, we’re still keeping count.

Afterwards loads of people wanted books but of course we’d sold all that we could carry back in Crewe, so a lovely member of staff made a list of who wanted what and Keith will be popping a big box of them in the post to the school on Saturday morning. Most ordered books at this school were Lee and the Consul Mutants and Lee’s Holiday Showdown. It’s strange how favourites vary from school to school.

En route to Horsham rail station we dropped into Waterstone’s. There’s a great children’s bookseller there (Katie), wonderfully friendly and keen to hear about new titles, so we had a great chat. She ordered copies of DarkIsle, the Royal Mail Awards winner, and if anyone is interested in grabbing one of those I can highly recommend it.

She also ordered copies of one of the author bloke’s favourite books, Firebrand by Gillian Philip, which Amanda Craig in The Times described as ‘the fantasy novel of 2010’. They’ve sold copies of this one before and no wonder, it’s an amazing read, though for teens and adults rather than for those of primary school age.

Onto the train for the trek north to where the forecast suggests masses of snow will await us. Sledge time. Excellent!

Big news in Biggleswade

The author bloke says he read every Biggles book ever written (by Captain W E Johns) as a child…Biggleswade has absolutely nothing to do with those books.

I like when a teacher starts a session by saying, ‘Those are my Mortimer’s Moans’ after she’s mentioned a couple of behavioural items. It gets the point over without making it too heavy. The Ogre could learn a thing or two from Mrs Mortimer.

This was Edward Peake CofE Middle School. Most parts of the country don’t have middle schools, so it had been a while since we’d been to one. On the evidence of this visit we’d like to go to more of them. They were a tremendous bunch.

We’d been robbed the day before. I say robbed…I mean the children in Crewe had bought all of the books Keith was able to carry…and ordered even more. Fortunately Keith had avoided selling the books he was meant to read from, but he’d also borrowed a couple from his sister-in-law’s bookshelf so he would have the full set. That turned out to be an excellent move because the first thing that happened at the Biggleswade school was that Keith had to pose for photographs taken by Tracy from the Biggleswade Echo and for that he needed a full set of all 4 Lee books.

Having stared down the camera lens like the grinning fool that he is, Keith took to the floor and we had a great session with 200 or so pupils. The pupils knew a lot about the Moon, but they didn’t know that there aren’t any trees there now because someone chopped them all down.

Heaps of orders at the end, so that will keep Keith busy signing during Match of the Day on Saturday night. I know that women reading this will be amazed: a man who can multi-task? Yes, surprising but true.

Off to Itchingfield next. What a great name for a village. What was in the field that make people itch? I’ll report back if I can find out.

Chuckling in Crewe

Wednesday 9 March. The author bloke opens the curtains and it’s SNOWING! What?!!!! I wasn’t expecting that. Luckily he’s a hardened Scot, so we were soon marching to the station, heading for a part of Crewe called Rope…which does seem like an odd name for a place, but let’s not get tied up in that. (Sorry!)

Mrs Slater had organised for me to visit. However, it wasn’t fair on her because she teaches Year 2 and didn’t get to sit through our session as it was for Years 3-6. We’ll need to return for another session one day and make sure she’s part of it.

I loved that the teachers at this school – The Berkeley Primary School – laughed throughout the session, vying with the pupils to see who could get the jokes first…or at all…they were Keith’s jokes after all…

But what’s this? Teachers…laughing…? That’s terrible brilliant. Yes, it’s how the world should be. It means everyone can go back to the classroom and share the experience they’ve had.

The author bloke jokes that he should be a schools inspector in his spare time given how many we visit (about 700 in the last 5 years). He is only joking – he doesn’t want to be that unpopular – but it does mean he is used to very quickly getting a feel for a school. This was one of those he had a great feeling about. It seemed as if the staff were all pulling in the same direction and getting the most out of the pupils as a result.

Talking of the pupils, hello to Adam and Siobhan (hope that’s the correct spelling) who made a point of introducing themselves before we started; to Rebecca who has the same name as my toe rag of a little sister; and to Charlotte who has my first name as her surname – Lee!

When we were finished loads of people wanted to buy books – so many that we ran out of books (don’t worry, Keith will be sending signed copies to the school as soon as he gets home) and time. Mrs Slater (a.k.a. Superwoman) saved the day, very kindly running us to Crewe station, where the train to London pulled in as we descended the stairs to platform 6. A perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable visit.