Friday, 21 August 2009


It was bin day today and an unbelievable amount of regulations and restrictions surround the simple task of collecting household waste. I find it infuriating that I am expected to wheel my bin out onto the pavement in order for it to be collected and that’s only the beginning. It must not block the pavement. It must be removed from the pavement within a few hours of being emptied. It must not contain anything other than designated waste. There are even regulations regarding the lid, which must not be open more than 5mm or the bin men won’t touch it.

Why is it that something so simple and straightforward must be over-complicated by officious busy-bodies from the local authority? I think the most insulting part is that it’s dressed up as legislation to protect residents! If we stick to the rules no-one is injured falling over a wheelie bin and no-one suffers from “incorrect” refuse. However, this ignores the huge rat infestation that congregates around overflowing bins that only get collected once a fortnight. These people should examine the failings in their own little empire before they start doling out fines for non-compliance! I hear they even go through the contents of bins to examine every aspect of the householders refuse policy!

Anyway, as I struggled up the path with the wheelie bin an ominous voice summoned me back to the front door. 

“Badders!” it hissed in a stage whisper. “Badders, come here!” (I do wish she wouldn’t call me ‘Badders’. 

I glanced back at the house, in no mood for trivial discussion. “Can I help you?” I asked impatiently. 

“What is this?” My wife waved an all too familiar Tupperware container at me. “Or rather, what is it doing at the back of the airing cupboard?” 

“Umm… I can’t quite see it from here, dear… is it some socks?” 

“No it is not some socks as you very well know! It is a plastic container of remains. Namely the remains of…” 

I fled back up the path, arms pinwheeling in my hurry to clamp a hand over her mouth. “Shhhhhh! For goodness sake, woman – do you want the whole avenue to hear?” 

She fended off my hand with a slap to the wrist and a loud tut. “What is it doing in the airing cupboard?” she repeated sotto voce. “I though you returned it to the Smiths!” 

“Well, I was going to, but…. I thought it would be too great a shock and then I discovered it didn’t belong to them in the first place.” 

“What? Well whose is it then?” 

I shrugged. “What would you have had me do, dear? Leave it on the Smith’s doorstep in its little plastic coffin? What on earth would they have thought, when it’s not even their guinea pig? What sort of sick individual would do that?” 

She lowered her eyelids and peered at me suspiciously. “I never suggested leaving it on their doorstep,” she said quietly. 

“Well it’s a good job I didn’t hand it to them personally, isn’t it? Excuse me, Smith, I’d just like to welcome you to the neighbourhood with the traditional Avenue dish of Guinea-Pig-in-the-Basket. It’s very popular with the professional classes. Do let me know if you’d like the recipe. My God, those loonies in the Home-Ed brigade would have a field day with that one! It would have been all over the internet within an hour. You’d be surprised at the lengths to which some of them go, trying to discredit me and make me look like an idiot!” 

My wife was still regarding me with an old-fashioned look. “Yes, well that doesn’t mean you can keep it in the airing cupboard. It has begun to smell! You’ll have to get rid of it.” 

“Fine. Yes. Good, I’m taking out the rubbish now; I’ll just empty the Tupperware box into the wheelie bin.” 

“You most certainly will not! Have you any idea of the amount of regulations regarding what you can and cannot put in the household waste? If the bin men see that I dread to think of the consequences.” 

“Well we can hardly recycle it!” I pointed out. 

“You’ll have to bury it in the garden.” 

“…..really…. I mean…. Must I?” 

“Yes! You can do it when you’ve finished with the rubbish.” 

“Do you want the Tupperware box back?” 

“No I do NOT want the Tupperware box back! I don’t want to risk you using it again. For all I know you’ve become some serial guinea pig killer.” 

I wanted to point out that it wasn’t actually me that had harmed the blasted thing, but the look in my wife’s eye suggested I should keep quiet. She turned to go back into the house, pausing on the threshold to deliver a parting shot. 

“And bury it deep. I don’t want the cat bringing it back in!” 

With a heavy heart and an even heavier sigh I carried the box over to the wheelie bin and plonked it onto the lid. I gripped the handle and resumed trundling up the driveway. When I reached the pavement, I furtively glanced back at the house, then up and down the Avenue. Re-assured that I wasn’t being observed, I hurriedly pulled the lid off the Tupperware container and tipped the contents into the wheelie bin. I caught a terrifying glimpse of a hideous mummified face staring up at me through discoloured, clouded eyes. It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard from Ed Balls for several weeks. 

“Mr Badman!” called a voice and I dropped the bin lid back in shock. I saw Smith beckoning me from his driveway. Horribly aware I was still clutching the Tupperware box and lid, I quickly hid them behind my back and strode over to him. This whole sorry affair is his fault and I wasn’t in the mood for his Home-Ed nonsense. 

“Are you all right?” he asked with a questioning look. “You seem flustered.” 

“No, no I’m fine. What do you want?” 

He smiled at a piece of paper in his hand and held it towards me. 

“Miranda wanted me to give you this,” he said. “It’s a poem and a drawing of you, to commemorate your visit the other day.” 

He held it out, but my hands were clutching the box and the lid behind me. 

“There’s really no need….” 

“No, it’s very sweet. She especially wanted you to have it.” He waved it towards me, but I couldn’t bring my hands forward and reveal what I was holding. He might have recognised them. 

“Could you just pop it in my top pocket, here?” I indicated which one with my nose. 


“Just pop it in…. no…? Oh for goodness sake, why are people always trying to put things in my hand?... Wait a minute…” 

I wriggled about forcing both box and lid down the seat of my trousers. It was a tight fit. They were extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t like to think of the potential contamination. 

“What on earth are you doing?” Smith asked with a mixture of concern and confusion. 

“Um… just an itch…” 

“My God! What’s that smell? I should see the doctor if I were you!” 

Finally I was able to bring both hands forward in triumph. I thrust them towards him, wiggling my fingers to demonstrate the lack of incriminating containers. Smith took an alarmed step back as I took the paper from him, examining it carefully. 

“It’s not very good, is it?” 

“I beg your pardon?” 

“This poem. It’s not very good. Quite immature actually and the handwriting is considerably below standard. And what’s this drawing? Is that supposed to be me? It looks like a goat!” 

“Yes… funny that!” said Smith, dangerously. 

“Look, I haven’t got time to mark it now,” I said. “I’ll take it with me and let you have it back later.” The pressure of the Tupperware in my trousers was decidedly uncomfortable. 

“Mark it?!” 

“Yes – look, sorry to rush, but I need to… um… sorry…. must go…” I began backing away with stiff awkward movements, severely handicapped by the bulky additions to my undergarments. Suddenly I sensed a movement behind me. Closing my eyes, I gulped. I didn’t want to turn around. The last thing I needed now was to find old Mrs Mort watching me. Smith was staring at me goggle-eyed as it was. I turned my head as far as I could and discovered Autonomous Ed, practically standing on his hind legs as he sniffed excitedly at my trousers. 

“Shoo! Go away! I don’t know whose cat this is!” I said loudly. I tried to aim a kick, but Autonomous Ed chose that precise moment to throw himself into a full investigation… literally! 

Later on in the evening I lay on the sofa examining Miranda’s handiwork again. Meanwhile my wife applied Savlon to the claw marks adorning my nether regions. 

“That’s nice,” she said, indicating the drawing. “Is it a goat?”

 Apparently it’s supposed to be me.”

 She looked thoughtful for a moment, pursing her lips. “Oh yes!” she exclaimed. “It’s very good…”

Friday, 14 August 2009


Although I felt I had clearly covered the importance of state secondary education, Robert Smith still didn’t seem to have grasped it.

“As a pupil then, what is the incentive for getting five GCSEs if it’s nothing to do with equipping you for the jobs market?”

“So that you can go onto higher education.”


“So you can apply for university and study for a degree.”


“So you can get a job in your specialist field.”

Robert was nodding solemnly.

“Uh-huh… my cousins did that.”

“Well there you are then.”

Smith confirmed that his sister’s daughters had both recently attained degrees. One in media studies and the other in history.

“Neither of them is working in their specialist field,” he finished, rather pointedly.

“Well… of course it is a difficult job market at present.”

“Both of them are saddled with massive debts. The one with the degree in media studies was declined interviews with the local paper, radio and TV stations. They pretty much told her it was a worthless piece of paper. The other one couldn’t even get a job in Sainsbury’s because they said she was overqualified….”

“…But they both have a degree though, don’t they!”

“Y-e-s….. and they have debt collection agencies threatening them with legal action or bankruptcy…”

“…But they both have a degree though, don’t they!”

 “The girl with the history degree is training as a plumber.”

 “Well there you are then! She has a job – my point proven, I think.”

Smith looked at me oddly.

“She lied about her qualifications on her CV.”

“What? Well, I don’t think I approve of that!”

“She had to tell them she only had three GCSEs!”

I cleared my throat noisily. Robert was grinning in an infuriating way.

“My uncle runs his own business,” he informed me. “He designs computer security software.”

Smith Snr confirmed. “He has some very big contracts, well known organisations, local authorities even a couple of companies in the U.S.

This was more like it. Surely this was a better example to illustrate the importance of state education.

“He owns a big house with a swimming pool,” Robert added. “Drives a flash car.”


“Better than yours.”

“Well I don’t think there’s any need to go into all of that.” I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was being set up for something. Smith had the air of someone about to prove a point.

“Funny thing is…” Smith said slowly, drawing out each syllable. “He dropped out of school before his fifteenth birthday. Played truant – refused point blank to go. Never even sat an exam.” He smiled at me watching for my response.

I silently concentrated on my clipboard for a while... I silently concentrated on my clipboard for a long while...

Eventually I became aware of someone tugging at my trouser leg.

“Dark Lord Badman?” Miranda asked in a whisper. “Would you like to see my dollies?”

“Ummm… no, er… I don’t think I….”

“Yes, Mr Badman,” said Smith. “I think you should. My wife has been teaching Miranda to sew and she has been making clothes for her dolls.”

“Oh.. well sewing isn’t really my field…” I said.

“But surely as an expert you would be interested to take a look. Go and fetch them, Miranda.”

“They’re in the front garden,” said Miranda. “They’re having a tea party.”

I ran a finger round my collar. “Ah well, perhaps we shouldn’t intrude then.” 

“Nonsense!” said Smith with a smile. (Very thin lips, these home-edders have. Genetic defect perhaps…?)

To my great alarm Miranda grasped my trouser leg and began tugging me in the direction of the door. So it was that I found myself outside in the front garden a few moments later, observing a little tableau of dolls sat around the table from a Sindy playset.

“Look, Dark Lord Badman,” said Miranda, picking up a doll. “This one is my favourite. She has lifelike hair that grows when you press a button.

I think I may have recoiled slightly as the object was thrust toward me.

“Umm…oh…lovely. And what... er…what is her name?”


I wrote down ‘lacks imagination’ on my form. Unfortunately that clashed with where I’d already written ‘over-active imagination’ earlier. I think that ably demonstrates the disturbed nature of home educated children.

“And did you make the dress she is wearing?”

“Yes. Mummy helped me with cutting out the pattern.” 

“Oh. Well that looks very good. And this one? What about her outfit?”

Miranda peered at the doll I'd indicated. “Yes, I did that one all on my own.”

I was surprised. I imagine she must have had a lot of help, but had been primed not to say.

“Oh… I’ve left Hannah upstairs?”

“Another doll?”

“My rabbit.”

“Oh… a pet.” A thought struck me. “Did you have any other pets at all… say, oh I don’t know, a guinea pig… perhaps?  One that might have…. disappeared…. suddenly?”

Miranda gave me a puzzled look. “Hannah’s not a REAL rabbit.” Her hand suddenly flew to her mouth. “My Daddy said someone put a dead hamster in a lunchbox on our doorstep.” she exclaimed in a hushed voice.

I shook my head at her. “I think you’ll find it was a guinea pig. I’m frankly appalled that your father doesn’t know the difference.”

“My Daddy said it was put there by some…” she screwed up her face as she tried to remember the right word. “…Sicko.”

“Or…. or it might have been a concerned neighbour who made a mistake after his rotten cat had killed it.”

“Do you have a cat, Dark Lord Badman?”

“Umm….. no….” I could hear my voice rising into that little squeak again.

“My Daddy said the ‘Sicko’ had covered it in glue so its hair stuck out.”

“Well he’s wrong again. It was blood, that’s all… at least… I imagine it was… I mean it probably would have been…. I…. Look where is this rabbit of yours?”

Miranda jumped up with a smile and raced indoors leaving me alone with the dollies tea party.

Now I came to examine the dolls more closely, the costumes really did appear to be very good. Surely Miranda hadn’t made them all. I crouched down for a better look, finally sitting cross-legged on the lawn beside the tiny table. I picked up the nearest doll and made it walk across the grass, allowing myself a little chuckle. How ridiculous I must have looked. I picked up another doll in my other hand and walked it around to face the first one.

“Hello, Mrs Doll. And how are you today.” I asked in a high-pitched dolly voice.

 “I’m fine, thank you Mrs Dolly. And how are you.” I answered myself using a slightly shriller voice for the second doll.

“I’m very well. Do you like my clothes. I like yours. Were they made for you?”

I jigged Mrs Doll up and down. “Yes they are, Mrs Dolly. Would you like to take a closer look?”

I put the dolls together in one hand and brought them close to my face, looking for flaws in the seamstresses work.

“Oh Mrs Dolly, they look very well made. Are you sure there’s no manufacturer’s label inside your skirt?” I carried on the conversation. “Yes. Take a look if you like.”

I turned one of the dolls upside down and turned its skirt inside out to peer for a label. Then I repeated the exercise with the other doll.

I heard a strange strangled gasp behind me. I turned to face the road. In each hand I held a half naked dolly, their legs waving under my nose as I peered intently into their garments.

I hadn’t heard the arrival of the Dial-A-Ride Hospital Transport service. The rear doors of the vehicle were open with ramps extending to the ground. There was a man at the bottom, ensuring the ramps were safe. Halfway down the ramp, guided by a volunteer orderly was a wheelchair. The wheelchair was occupied by old Mrs Mort!

All three faces were turned in my direction, each one fixed with a frozen look of bewilderment and horror. Old Mrs Mort’s mouth was forming that familiar wobbly ‘O’ that usually precedes phenomenal screaming. I leapt up. The poor woman was only just returning from hospital following our previous encounter.

“No! Wait! …. I’m not doing anything abnormal… I merely want to look up these dollies skirts!” I cried, waving them frantically in her direction.

Old Mrs Mort somehow shoved her wheelchair operator out of the way. Gripping the wheels of the chair tightly, she reversed back up the ramp into the vehicle and slammed the doors. I must say she moved surprisingly quickly for someone resembling Davros in a hairnet.

She refused to come out and eventually the Dial-A-Ride staff had no alternative but to return her to hospital. My wife informed me later that she appears to have suffered some kind of a relapse, so I doubt it’s actually anything to do with me at all. It may be some kind of agoraphobia I suppose. 

Saturday, 8 August 2009


I scribbled away on my clipboard and then peered at the children over my glasses. I always find this conveys a sense of wisdom and authority that children respond to. It invokes a sensation of awe and respect usually rendering them silent and attentive.

Robert Smith appeared to be picking his nose...

“I would like to ask you some basic questions to ascertain the level of education you are receiving. Who can tell me what two times five is, hmmm?”

Miranda looked shyly up through her fringe. “Ten,” she said.

I nodded solemnly and wrote on my clipboard. “Smith, I’m frankly concerned that your son wasn’t able to answer a question that simple.”

“Eh…? I knew the answer!” Robert protested. “I left if for Miranda because it was too easy.”

“Six times eight?”

“Forty-eight!” Robert snapped.

“Seven sixes?”

“Forty-two!” Robert again.

“Nine sevens?”

“Sixty-three!” Robert was clearly reciting the times tables parrot fashion with no real understanding of the computation involved. I addressed his father.

“You realise your daughter has only answered a question from the five times table? Why is that, I wonder?”

Smith Snr glowered at me, “Because Robert is answering so fast she hasn’t had a chance.”

I nodded thoughtfully. “All right, Robert – don’t answer the next question. Miranda, this is a question just for you. Are you ready?”

The little girl nodded, eyes like saucers. I leaned down towards her.

“What is the square root of 24.798?”

Smith let out an irritated gasp. “Now you’re being ridiculous.”

“What’s the answer?” asked Miranda.

“Never mind… We’ll try something else.”

“No, hang on. What IS the answer Mr Badman?” Smith demanded.

I favoured him with a withering stare. “It isn’t MY educational standards in question here, Smith. It is not necessary for me to provide the answer.”

“You don’t know, that’s why!” laughed Robert. The boy’s attitude certainly leaves a lot to be desired. I might need to inform social services.

“Can you spell ‘dog’?” I asked Miranda.


“I asked you to spell ‘dog’.”


“Does she suffer from hearing disability, Smith?”

“She is trying to spell it, Mr Badman. You’re not giving her the chance to finish!”

“Duh… Ogh… Guh?” Miranda intoned.

“Phonetic alphabet,” Smith explained. I made a tutting noise as I wrote on my clipboard.

“Now ‘cat’?”

“Kuh… Agh... Tuh”

“Now ‘run’?”

To my surprise she glanced at her father and fled the room. I imagine the prospect of having to demonstrate her lack of education was too overwhelming. I wrote that down on my clipboard. Smith and son seemed to find it terribly amusing, which I simply don’t understand. I turned to Robert.

“Can you spell ‘regulation’?”

As he did so the phone rang and Smith left the room to answer it. I smiled at Robert.

“Now spell ‘existentialism’ for me.”


“Come on quick… OK, spell ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ then… come on…!”

“A-N-T-I…wait, what was it again?”

“Oh dear,” I shook my head as I put crosses on my form. I spelled it out correctly for him from my list.

“Now then, what about R.I. / R.E?”

“What’s that supposed to spell? What’s a ‘rire’ I’ve never heard of it?”

“No – we’re finished with spellings now. I want to know about your religious instruction or education. Are you religious at all? I know some of you home educated children are brought up as Jedi or some such nonsense. Have you any normal religious knowledge? Have you heard of Jesus for example?”

“Of course I have. Christians believe he was the son of God. He was put to death on a cross and they believe he rose from the dead two days later.”

“Excellent. And what do you think Jesus would have been like?”

Robert thought for a few moments with a look of concentration etched into his features.

“I think he might have been black.”


“Well… dark skinned, anyway. Probably with dark woolly sort of hair.”

“How dare you!”

“Well he grew up in the middle east didn’t he, of Jewish parents, under the hot sun..”

“You see this is why I am so concerned about standards in home education. For your information, young man, Jesus was white with long straight fair hair.”

Smith had come back into the room and caught the tail end of the conversation.

“Yes, of course,” he chimed in. “White, middle class, read the Daily Mail and voted Tory! Mr Badman, we provide the children with the facts, but allow them to reason things out in their own way. Part of the trouble with formal schooling is that children are taught what to think, but not how.”

“It is not for parents to question the methods of state education.” I informed him, scribbling furiously on my clipboard.

Miranda’s head appeared around the door. She was red in the face and panting.

“Can I stop running now, Dark Lord Badman?” she asked.


“You told me to run and I have been. Can I stop now, I’m tired?”

I looked at Smith in bewilderment. What odd children. If this is typical of home education then I’m not surprised I gave it the bad report I did.

Smith handed me a pile of drawings and paintings. He also indicated some pottery work on a nearby cabinet.

“All examples of the children’s artwork, Mr Badman.”

I glanced through them. I have to admit they really were very good. Robert in particular had fine attention for detail and a surprisingly mature style. His work encompassed a range of materials with imaginative use of colour.

“How long do the children spend doing art?”

“However long they want. They’ll keep at it until it’s finished – or they feel they’ve done enough for the day. That piece you’re looking at took Robert a day and a half.”

“A whole day and a half?! What about his other studies?”

Smith shrugged. “He was working intently on that. I didn’t want to break his muse.”

“You didn’t want to break his muse? What kind of educational policy is that? You allowed him to spend an entire day and half painting?”

“Robert cares passionately about art so his education is biased towards it. I really think it could be where his future lays.”

“Painting?! How many people make a career out of painting, Smith! Drawing and painting are all well and good, but they’re only recreational pursuits really. No, you’d be far better off confining this sort of thing to a Friday afternoon and concentrating more of your efforts on proper subjects.”

I made a few more notes while Robert was asking his father what percentage of people leaving state secondary schools get jobs as historians, physicists, biologists, chemists or mathematicians.

I put down my pen and shook my head at him. “The purpose of secondary education is to achieve good qualifications,” I told him. “It isn't supposed to be about equipping you for the job market.”

“Then why are qualifications important?”

“So the school can demonstrate how well it is achieving its performance targets.”

Robert and his father both looked blankly at me.

I sighed. “So parents can determine which school to send their children to!”