Friday, 30 September 2011

How welfare culture evolves (2)

When the receptionist handed me the client's thick pile of case notes I noticed my own handwriting in changing the address. The size of the file tells me this is a "chronic client", someone who has come back again and again.

"Do I really want to see him?"

It was a rhetorical question. We run on a taxi-rank system (not unlike QCs on legal aid in that manner). We take on any client without prejudice (theoretically). We cannot refuse to see a client unless the client specifically asked to see someone else instead. This has never happened to me, but some clients refused to see our younger volunteers a second time saying they were useless, which is unkind.

Any way I saw this man who looked vaguely familiar, but I could not actually place him. But as he spoke I realized it was the man who "you people" me in a previous post. This was the man who started my bread-baking career!

His face has grown rounder. Obviously he has been eating a bit better.

We have managed to sort out all his (deep breath) income support, housing benefits, council tax benefit, carer's allowance as well as attendance allowance, housing benefits, council tax benefits, pension, etc for his father.

Yesterday he wanted to find out whether his father, his mother (in a nursing home, with attendance allowance, income support or is it pension credit?, and all related benefits) and he could go on a holiday to India for 12 weeks without losing their benefits. We are talking here of nursing home costing the taxpayer about £500 A WEEK.

At least he is polite this time. He learned not to mess with me.

Then I saw another couple who had worked in the UK, returned to their own country, and have now returned to look for sheltered accommodation.

They had questions about "heating", which I interpreted as "winter fuel payment" worth £400, and how to apply for that. We looked up information and assured them that they qualify for this payment being in the country on the third Monday of September. There is no need to apply.

Then they went on to ask if, because they are living temporarily with their daughter, she is entitled to any extra support.

Further questioning revealed that their daughter is actually quite well off: owns her house, has a job, not on any benefits other than Child Benefit (which is universal, for now any way). But this elderly couple wanted to know if the taxpayers should subsidize their stay with her. They are already in receipt of state pension and pension credit.

But nothing beats the man I remember from several months back. He's been separated from his partner. His son lives with his ex-partner but is planning to come live with him.

This man wanted to know whether he is entitled to any benefits for having his son live with him (if the son decided to do so).

I checked. Nineteen-year-old son. Big problem. They fall within no-man's-land. It depends on whether they are in full-time education or in a job. No benefits, I'm afraid. Besides we ought to be seeing his son to advise him, not the father.

Then this, "O, I just wanted to know if the government would support him. Or that simply because he is my son, you know, I brought him into the world, am I supposed to be responsible for him?"

Answer on a postcard, please.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

How welfare culture evolves

Yesterday I had one client at my surgery who enquired about mortgage relief.

He is on sick leave. He has exhausted the period of time his employer would pay him full pay without work, and they have moved him to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which is about £81 a week. This is still higher than the JSA (Job Seekers Allowance or basic unemployment benefit).

Clearly this is not enough to cover his monthly mortgage payment of about £600. What other benefits is he entitled to?

I checked and said, actually he's not entitled to anything else. The reason being he is not on other benefits.

He had told me that he has three grown-up children. So I asked, "Could you rent out one room to bring in some rental income?"

"O no. My children still live with me."

"And you don't charge them rent?"

"No, they have their own lives to look after."

Later on I realized that the two grown-up children (the youngest is at university) don't even contribute to Council Tax. In other words, they live with their parents without paying a penny.

Question: Why should I, the taxpayer, help to pay off his mortgage?

Question: Should his children help out financially in these circumstances?

Question: Should adult children already earning good money not contribute to the family expenses?

As soon as I finished my A Levels I had to start earning money to help out with the family expenses. I worked when I went to university, and especially during the vacation.

Immediately after I finished university my dad was demanding money again. So I took on part-time jobs which explains my spiderweb-like CV as I was often working "two and a half jobs" at any one time.

My Asian neighbours assure me that their culture means inter-generational care. So I was most surprised that this Asian man not much older than myself did not also expect his children to at least contribute towards the household expenses.

Surely, now that their father has suffered a greatly reduced income the children should offer to chip in?

No, the man expects the taxpayer to chip in.

I don't blame him. The "culture" of the welfare state, or its ideology, is "the state would take care of you when you can't take care of yourself".

So this man has given, and given without thought, into this system, diligently paying taxes and national insurance, council tax, etc. Now that he needs extra help, he feels that he should receive extra help.

However this man is not without resources, which is what the welfare state as safety net is all about. He has a house with rooms to rent out and which would easily cover his mortgage and more. But his children still live there.

If his children were living elsewhere they would be paying rent/mortgage and Council Tax.

From one perspective this is a case of a family that wants to have its cake and eat it.

From another perspective it is a family who expects the taxpayer to step in because it is their turn to receive some payback from all the taxes that have been paid.

They have forgotten, it seemed, that they have also benefitted from a free education that has made their jobs possible.

Singaporeans might think that the "welfare state" is the answer to all ills. Do what social anthropologists do. Do some "participant observation".

I, too, used to think what a marvellous system it is that children get free education and students get an allowance at university (this era has gone).

Within three months of working here and seeing how a large portion of my pay packet disappeared into tax and National Insurance (it's "Pay-As-You-Earn", so you are "taxed at source") I had second thoughts about this system.

In three months on a low salary I paid more in tax than the nearly three years I paid in Singapore as an above-average wage earner.

So Singaporeans who are agitating for a welfare state, please come and work here and pay some real taxes here first. Try making ends meet on a real salary (not scholarship funds) and paying real taxes, etc. before deciding whether Singapore should go down the same route.

The thing is most of us don't even mind paying the taxes if the benefits system actually helps people in need back into good health, and/or back into a job.

At the coalface where I deal often with benefits claimants at the Citizens Advice Bureau we know it is an ineffective, inefficient system that often takes away any will to work.

I happened also to have seen a young single mother before this man yesterday. She was thinking of doing some work around Christmas (all the shops require extra help) to bring in some extra income. But she is afraid of losing her current benefits.

That means it is far better for her not to work.

Consider also what I call the great "underbelly" of the welfare state: the huge army of pen-pushers doing unproductive work. Civil servants who check every few weeks what claimants are really earning, calculating their benefits, reducing their benefits, demanding repayment of overpaid benefits (which of course has been spent), taking claimants to courts for non-payment of overpayments, administering crisis loans (to pay court charges), etc.

This army just passes a fixed pot of money from one government department to another, and then to the large firms of debt collectors who go round trying to collect debts from benefits claimants who have suffered from their inefficiencies.

This underbelly sucks up a huge amount of GDP. What they dispense, from what I see at my bureau, is misery.

Once your attempt to find work lands you in a situation where you are taken to court for such debts, you soon learn: respect inertia. Don't try to find work. Work and you would get into debt. Stay low. Try not to surface on their radar.

If this army of pen-pushers were out there farming and providing affordable food, affordable good quality goods, providing care to our old people in nursing homes, they would be a net contributor instead of a pseudo-employee and GDP sponger.

Before Singaporeans get seduced by the wonders of a comprehensive welfare system, let me urge you to look beyond the surface. Check out this great big "underbelly". Then think how within a generation a "something for nothing" culture would soon evolve into a work-shy culture.

Like this man whose family believe that the taxpayers should pick up the tab for his mortgage payments while they live with dad, rent-free. In the absence of the welfare state it would be "natural" for grown-up, wage-earning adult children to help out.

I could not believe it when I came home and heard this boy on radio telling me that it was the welfare state that saved his family. That is why he joined the Labour Party.

No, son. It is the taxpayers who saved you. If your education -- funded by taxpayers -- has not taught you this important fact, then it has failed.
Update: 28/9/11 Today we learned more about this young man. He attends a selective grammar school but thinks selection is wrong. His father was a millionaire who over-extended himself. And so the taxpayers picked up the bill.
Update: 28/9/11 (a bit later):
Rory Weal wowed the Labour Conference. But if they'd known about his grammar school education, they'd have booed

Monday, 26 September 2011

A "Daughter" Visits

Normally I would be glued to the sofa watching the Gron Pree (or Grand Prix as I thought it was to be pronounced) when it takes place in Singapore.

I don't take pleasure in cars zipping round the track over and over again. I watch it to take in the Singapore skyline.

Eg, Look, look, look, that's Anderson Bridge, that's where we went to ....

Yesterday we were so, so, pleasantly surprised by the visit of a young lady from Beijing. She used to attend our church when she was doing her postgraduate journalism course at the university near us.

She is also a friend of our Chinese lodger (JJ) who happened to be on the same course. JJ is now a well-known talk-show host on Beijing Radio.

Our young lady dropped in at church and we invited her home for lunch and we had a lovely time catching up.

We talked about the welfare state, the NHS (free or affordable healthcare?) the income gap (in China and Singapore), how developers must consider long-term sustainability, etc. I kept saying, it felt like a daughter had come to visit.

If only I was so privileged!

Husband said, "Don't copy everything from the west."

I said, "Yes, there is a lot about Chinese culture which is great."

Confucian teachings about the Five Relationships, for example. Of propriety. Of relationship between the family and the country.

The western culture does not have that.

The most interesting thing is our young lady now works for an environmental charity. She's actually working on setting the standards for organic cotton certification in China.

How awesome is that?

I've always had my doubts about cotton from China touted to me as "organic cotton". Now the young lady we befriended, played host to, is now a key player in setting those standards in China.

Makes you think. Extend hospitality when you can. Be kind always. You never know whether you are entertaining angels.

There is no end in folklore in every language about how the person one despises or ill-treats, or the lowly person one treats with utmost respect, becomes a person of great importance and influence.

How do we know that the foreign domestic worker that we have to teach cooking skills to would not, one day, rise to the highest position of power in her own country?

Be kind to aliens.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Harrowing times ... not

I was so looking forward to yesterday.

My son was supposed to be going with a group of other boys from his school to ... O wait, I heard this on radio on Wednesday:

A: So-and-so's family fell upon such hard times that he had to go to the local school.
B: O? Where's he from?
A: Harrow.
(Canned laughter)

It is perhaps the most famous public boys school in Britain (because Churchill and a zillion other prime ministers and sons of sultans went there), together with Eton and something else. It's the school up on the Hill where the boys wear funny straw hats and tails to school. Apparently the boys are advised to go non-uniform when coming down the hill (where I live) or risk being mugged.

They organize a "Music Day" for boys in prep schools in the region with the view of attracting them to the school. The boys come to play music they have not seen before, give a concert at the end of the day.

Parents are invited to a tour of boarding houses, treated to a sumptuous tea, and then congratulate themselves on how well their sons played at the short concert.

Son was really looking forward to this. So was I, for the sumptuous tea that I heard about.

I missed the tea last year because my son was too ill to get out of bed on Music Day.

This year he went one better. I had to collect him from school the day before Music Day.

He was told that he would be playing piano for the jazz group. I could tell he was keen. Which is unusual. He actually tried jazzing on his piano.

At dinner we talked about how he might be persuaded to go to Harrow. Perhaps they would offer him a scholarship. Until I said one word.

"What?" he asked.

"Z-C." That's the name of the boy from his school who has transferred to Harrow.

"Yes! I'm definitely NOT going there." This chap was the older boy who gave him no end of trouble when son was younger.

He appeared cheerful when he went to bed.

Come Music Day, of course, son was not able to get out of bed, thick with cold, unable to speak with a sore throat, hurting from a mouth ulcer, etc.

Bah, that means Mum would have to miss the sumptuous tea again. (Worse, I had to miss my Thursday morning surgery at CAB.)

Two out of two. Husband says it's "a sign" our son is not meant for Harrow.

Today son went back to school. He learned that no one played piano for the jazz band. He was given a list of dates of school "open days" for prospective students.

Harrow School Open Day is on the very Saturday we are due to meet with the headmaster of another school -- where son has already been made a "conditional offer".

Of all the Saturdays I could choose between October and July 2012 I chose the Harrow School Open Day Saturday to meet another Headmaster.

There was a loud cheer from all three of us. Yay! That must surely (SHORELY) be a sign.

Thank you, God, for guiding us!! (And we were talking about guidance from God at church last Sunday.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Giving back to charity

Last Monday I stood in for another volunteer at Citizens Advice Bureau.

One woman client found herself in a rather complicated web of misfortune: separation, having her benefits docked, debt, etc.

Another was left with no money to feed her gas meter and to buy food to feed her young children.

In the first case the client was not properly briefed by Job Centre Plus what the implications of her savings were. Neither did the bank help in advice and counselling.

In the second the woman was messed around by civil servants who cut all her and her disabled husband's benefits because his social worker was trying to apply for more benefits to cope with his increased disability.

How could they stop payments before a new decision has been reached? What do these claimants live on meanwhile?

Eventually we decided to give the second woman some money from another charity available to us. She was very grateful.

What surprised me most was her near instant response that when she gets her benefits back on track she would give this money back to charity.

I have met lots of nasty people in my voluntary role here, and this response was heart-warming.

I said she had better sort all her debts out first. Then when the children have become successful, or when she becomes successful, then please do not forget to think about doing something for charity.

Of course, of course, she said.

As for the first woman she has already been thinking of volunteering. She may be on benefits. She may have a school-age child to look after, but she wanted to do something to help others, and in so doing, help herself along the way to a proper job.

Charity is like that. We sow seeds. Some time in the future, we hope to reap a harvest

Being surrogate mother

At one of my Citizens Advice Bureau surgeries last week I encountered a 20-year-old male.

He came in all flustered. He thought he was going to be evicted from his home.

He had already been assured by the Housing Department that his landlord had no right to throw him out within that week as he threatened, but further questioning revealed that this young man who had "a million and one problems" needed to talk through other issues.

Now I am supposed to spend as short a time as possible with clients and then move them on to the next person, organization, appointment, government department or whatever.

But this chap needed to talk.

His housing issue was also clouded with questions over university, where or whether to go to university, and a job offer.

He was made an offer to one of the top universities but missed a grade. He missed a grade because he did not get to the exam centre in time. He was late because he was working the night shift. He was working the night shift because he needed the money to support himself.

His college appealed on his behalf and based on his course-work he was given a "C". Still he needed a "B".

We discussed his options regarding university. He does not want to go to his second-choice mickey-mouse university but at least he would have a roof over his head if he went there.

By this time I had concluded that this was clearly a very intelligent young man. I probed further and discovered that he had also been offered a job.

Young man tells me he did not think he could take on the job because he cannot afford to live locally and travel to the job. There was no way he could afford to live nearer the job either as the taxes and rent will be higher.

So we talked through the options again. Working from home, travelling after 9.30am, getting more money, a loan, etc, etc.

In the end we pinned it down to him making a case to his prospective employer that he needs either a loan of £X, a promise of a raise after n months, or a straightforward increase in starting salary to allow him to take on the job, help build the business.

I assured young man that he must have been so good at his work (IT) that he was offered a job without a degree.

OK, he said.

Don't let anything take that away from you.

OK, he said.

Do you know exactly how much money you are short?


Well, work it out and then ask for the difference. Not an airy-fairy "I need more money", but "I would need another £700, say, to take on this job and do it well."

OK, he did not say. He just looked at me.

Your prospective employer could only turn you down.

More puppy-dog look.

After the long session with him I realized that I was not much more than talking to him like a mother would.

But he had no mother or father to talk to. He left the family home at 17 because of personal differences.

You see the welfare system makes it possible for 17-year-olds to leave home and live "independently", but young people do not have a mother or father they could turn to for advice like this.

You do the sums.

A Gifted Child is a Challenge

13/01/2017: See also Garbage


I can't be bothered to monetize this site, or check analytics as to who is visiting from where. I am amazed at how many times this page has been visited according to the basic Blogger stats provided. PLEASE do leave a comment to tell me why and how you've arrived on this site, where you are reading the post, and what you think of the piece. Many thanks.

See also: Parenting a gifted teenager

A certain letter of mine was published in the Straits Times today and I am being torn to shreds by readers.

Readers of Letters to the Forum should bear in mind that writers have 400 words and often cannot dwell on related topics to make a holistic or "joined-up" argument.

Editors also make changes outside of our control so that the original intention might be obscured. Eg the third and fourth points in print were one point in the original letter: MM Lee first alerted us to our limited gene pool back in 1984. What has been done since to preserve/enhance this gene pool? Has the “foreign talent” initiative superseded this urgency?

My (subtle? rhetorical?) question  was whether politicians are now happy with just buying foreign talent instead of investing in and nurturing our own. By breaking this one point into two it sounds like I was paying homage to MM Lee. As if.

This letter was written with the purpose of reiterating a need to support parents who might wish to take a career break so that their children (of whatever ability) could benefit.

The focus was on better-educated mothers because a PhD was at the root of this controversy. Such mothers find it harder because society makes them feel they "owe" it to society not to "waste" their education. The nature of their professional jobs also makes it more difficult for them to get back to work. I am saying, let's not forget to support these parents.

I noted breast-feeding to point to how "nurture" is just as important as "nature". I did not have space to say how much we should support mothers of all education levels who breast-feed. Babies breast-fed for more than six months (or is it 12?) are some nine (NINE!) IQ points ahead of their mums.

Imagine the results if every baby born has the privilege to be breast-fed by mothers for at least a year, by mothers who are not stressed about returning to work, pumping, freezing and transporting breast milk, etc?

I also hoped to encourage more young men to marry women who happen to be better-educated. I wonder how many male readers have, hand on heart, also walked away from women simply because of the women's education. (Let him who is without any sin .... )

I did not say anything about women who refuse to marry men they deem not clever enough for them.

In short I encourage women to do their PhDs if they are so inclined. I am also aware of the issues that cleverer (and this word is used in Britain) women face in terms of marriage, having children and nurturing them.

My father had at best two years of schooling in his village before coming to Singapore from China. My mother had four years of education before it was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation. They taught themselves to read the Chinese newspapers.

Would they have gone far in formal education? Precisely because of my own background I believe that giftedness is not restricted to those who have well-educated parents. I was also blessed with being nurtured by five older siblings who all did well at school.

What has been done to enhance this gene pool? Does our education system identify such gifted children who are hidden in neighbourhood schools, eg? What has happened to our meritocratic system which allowed children of factory workers, taxi-drivers, or butchers in my case, to get to university?
I made the point of my son having a high IQ. But I did not have room to say that at school he is classified as having "special education needs", like those who have dyslexia, autism, asperger's, etc.

To those who do not yet have such offspring a high IQ might seem a godsend. Let me assure you, having a child with an IQ in the "gifted", "highly gifted" or "exceptionally gifted" category is a real challenge to parents.

I think mine falls between the first and second categories (or "moderately gifted") and I thank God that he is not "exceptionally gifted".

My son exhibited quite disturbing behaviour at school when he was seven years old. We were told to engage an educational psychologist to assess him.

We did, and after careful assessment her conclusion was that he has a very high IQ (nine points above mine), a reading age about twice his real age, etc., but very poor skills in reading facial cues. But she discounted borderline Asperger's syndrome which so often comes with the territory.

Up to this point we thought, "Wow! Clever child, no problems there." We assumed that because he was so clever that he, like cream in milk, would naturally rise to the top.


I read all I could find about gifted children and helping a gifted child. Clearly this child needed a lot of help.

The good news is, four years later, he has shown great improvement and we are now confident that he would be able to cope in most new situations.

Some of the lessons I learned are:

  • their intellectual development is not in step with emotional/physical development. So while he could think through problems his fingers and fine motor skills did not develop at the same speed. Eg he came up with very convoluted story lines, but because his handwriting had not developed to the same level he could not finish writing in the given time. He hated, absolutely hated, his own handwriting which was not "perfect" enough for him. At one point he refused to write a test -- which alerted us to his special needs. In the last few years he was "invited" to join the handwriting club. He has since "graduated" and is now able to write quickly and fluently. (Some experts recommend that such children be allowed to type their exams instead or be given more time to write.)
  • they may have physical sensitivities. I have lost count of the times I've been asked to cut off clothing labels because they irritated him. He prefers to wear his socks inside out so that the seams do not bother him. He could not cope with being in a shopping centre because the echoing sounds disturbed him. Travelling in a bus with lots of other children was a torture because sounds were coming in all directions. (A friend who suffered trauma to her head has the same problem.) He felt the need to process every sound, which of course he could not. Thankfully he has learned to cope by eg focussing on one sound, one stream of conversation, but even this becomes very tiring. The GP advised using an iPod!
  • these children have an enhanced sense of right and wrong. He found it most difficult when a boy in class refused to obey instructions like sitting down. He felt it was wrong. He had come home complaining, "I learned nothing new today!!" What he did not say was this boy had disrupted the class so much he did not learn anything new and it is right that he should learn something new at school. When this boy left the school, my son became almost instantly a much happier boy.
  • I used to tell him off for being a "perfectionist". I learned from my research that he could not help it. You cannot say to a child her hair is too brown. Please make it less brown. You cannot ask a gifted child to be "less perfectionist". That's the way they function. That's the way they make sense of the world. I apologized to him and learned to accept him for what he is.
There is hope, I have learned, for such children. I spent many hours briefing and debriefing him. I began to recognize how when he is tired, when he's been "compensating" for a long time with his disappointments and frustrations, he blows up.

We had a "disaster scale" which we drew up together. It helped to remind him that things are not as bad as what he makes it out to be (gifted children suffer from extremes in emotions, every day was his "worst day of my life").

We had a debriefing routine at the end of the day, going through a checklist of emotions he went through and how he coped with it.

We "banked" good experiences so that when he had bad days we could draw on these happy memories.

I also had to supplement learning at home. Whenever he felt inclined to discuss a subject we would spend time doing this, whatever the subject.

What do you say to a six-year-old (he was six then) who wanted to discuss "artificial intelligence"? Or when he comes up with the statement "There's no right in doing wrong, and there's no wrong in doing right."???

Most of all as he moved up the grades where football prowess was not the only "social capital" on the playground, his confidence level rose.

I've lost count of the times he came home crying "We played football. Or I tried to. I was the last one to be chosen by the team captains. Nobody wanted me on their team."

I cried with him, too.

Then one day he came home to say, "We had a music quiz and I was the first one to be picked by a team captain."

Eventually the boys learned that to win a general knowledge, science, music (whatever) quiz, it's best to have him in their team.

They also started playing other sports. He discovered that he has inherited his grandfather's genes and was quite good at hockey. And he skis rather better than all his mates. (He is mix-handed which suggests that he has a more centred centre of gravity which makes slalom easier for him.) No one in the whole extended family skis.

Our son entertains us with some really good and original jokes. Unfortunately his mates at school often did not understand the word play. Now that these other boys are older, they are beginning to appreciate his sense of humour a bit better.

I am pleased that my son has a high IQ, but he is very hard work. I thank God that he is not "exceptionally gifted" with an IQ in the 160s or above ("profoundly gifted"). Such children find ordinary life even more difficult.

Clearly it was imperative for me to stay home to support him. He was more important to me than making use of my PhD.

We are also grateful to his school teachers who "extend" him in class as we are not in favour of accelerating him (skip grades). What's the point of doing 'O' Levels, say, at age 11? What does he do after that?

We want to let him enjoy being his own age, to be amongst his peers, have sleepovers with friends, etc. We only agreed to let him skip a year in Maths this year because it has come to a point where it would be cruel not to do so (having beaten the most able boys two years older than him in a national Maths competition last year). It is the subject he complains about the most. Now he's enjoying Maths again because it is a challenge again.

Over the years we have struggled to keep his emotions on an even keel. Slowly we have more calm times than tantrum/disaster/the-whole-world-is-against-me times. I think in the last year or so he has, at last, come to a kind of equilibrium. Long may it last.

The danger is that very often gifted children go unrecognized. In their frustration they begin to manifest behaviour which school teachers consider disruptive. "Why show working in Maths when I have already computed the answer in my head?" They get side-lined, labelled as lazy, uncooperative, trouble-makers, nutters, whatever.

Parents who struggle with gifted children please feel free to get in touch.

And my husband would object to being called "Caucasian". He much prefers "gwai-lo" as in my original letter.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

English as it should be writ (Part 5)

The headline CNB officers seize $70k worth in drugs in 3-hour sting (10th September 2011) refers.

9/9/11 I sent this email to the Straits Times editor:

Dear Sir

As we begin the Speak Good English campaign this year, may I urge journalists to (please,) write good English.

Yesterday I read online "CNB officers seize $70k worth in drugs in 3-hour sting" and wondered what is a "3-hour sting".

A "sting" or undercover operation, especially in the context of illegal drugs, often takes weeks and months to conduct.

Immediately I thought a "3-hour sting" is highly improbable.

When the report then goes on to describe a "three-hour operation" I was convinced that the word "sting" had been used in error.

Whilst the three-hour operation and eventual S$70K seizure might have been the result of a sting operation, it is incorrect to describe this three-hour police action as a "sting".

"Raid", "blitz", "roundup" or "exercise" would have been more appropriate.

Please teach our children well.

Surprise, surprise, nochet got reply.

Meanwhile I shared this with my Arer-Gee-Ess girls.

I seyz:

My main objection was "sting". I think it has been used in a totally wrong context. If I read this in pemmery skool I would think that, ah, "three-hour sting" equals "three-hour operation" and therefore, logically, "sting" equals "operation".

So nex time i write composition instead of using the boring word "operation" I substitute with the cool word "sting".

Eg. Making alterations to a dress is not as easy as it sounds. First you have to .... Then you have .... Finally you must not forget to .... All in all, turning my cheap $10 dress into something remotely suitable for the graduation dinner was a five-hour sting.

How can liddat?

Methinks the word "sting" has undertones/overtone/in-between tones/whatever of undercover work which is unlikely to have been completed within three hours.

A "sting" if you remember Robert Redford and the unforgettable music of "The Entertainer" and all that, is a complicated confidence trick, double-crossing and double double-crossing.

In the context of a police investigation it means tedious hours of undercover work, infiltration, furtive alliances, etc. etc.

So for me, rightly or wrongly, either it's not a sting, or it's not three hours long. Putting the two together does not make sense.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11

It's wall-to-wall TV coverage this tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I remember it well. I was sitting in the living room. Mum-in-law was visiting. My son was 17 months old.

The phone rang. It was my husband. "I think you should turn on the TV," he said.

He rang off. I turned on the TV and stared in horror, and disbelief, as they showed the clips of the first twin tower on fire, and then the second airplane hitting the second (south) tower.

Nobody knew exactly what was happening. There were just speculations and conjectures. Mum-in-law mentioned "World War Three" and my heart sank.

About an hour later, husband rang again.

"I'm coming home. We are being evacuated." As usual he did not give details.

After that it was a few hours of agony as we waited for my husband to arrive home.

As more news of senseless destruction came in, we in London became very conscious that we could be under similar attacks. I tried calling my husband to check his progress, but of course he could not be contacted.

You cannot imagine the sense of relief mum-in-law and I felt when he finally walked in the door.

We then learned that he and his colleagues were evacuated when there was a rumour that a plane had gone "missing" from Heathrow.

Thoughts of being widowed with a young child from a terrorist attack disappeared, at least temporarily, until 7/7 when its effect on me was even more traumatic.