Ian Whybrow

…coming soon…

March 26th. Nightmayor

March 26, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I should never have watched that programme on Boris after Ann and I returned from a grueling choir practice last night. My sleep was disturbed at intervals by toothy flashbacks of the boy himself shaking his gory locks like Banquo’s ghost and giggling his way out of all sorts of serious scrapes as rewound for him by the teacherly, firm but fair Michael Cockerel.

“ ‘e mikes everybody lave im,” conceded Ken with an admiring shake of his own lockless head. What he meant was: “Trouble is, ee gits awhy wiv murder better’n wot I do.” Deeply worrying then to think he might be on course to lead the country.

Thus, disturbed at regular intervals by him and the groans of a wayward Saniflo toilet, I am ready for nothing this morning.

The Candidate

He twists his hair & gabbles
With a giggle and a shrug.
He gets away with murder,
Then he wants a little hug.

March 25 Gods, Heroes and Chimney Sweeps

March 25, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Bleak outside. Enough to get the Fotherington-Thomas in me going again.  Hark, the sound of the dustcart and the merry rumble of the recyclables.

Idled about yesterday, mostly reading The Oldie, a copy of which my darling brought back with her from a scouting outing to the Cruise Show; and The Song of Achilles. I’ve been mockingly subjected to The Oldie before and hitherto put off by the mannered nastiness and spite of Richard Ingrams. The April issue carries several bracing letters from Disgruntled of Harrow complaining about just that, but also has some terrific reviews – including one for the follow-up to Restoration which I must order up immediately.  I’m reading The Song of Achilles on the recommendation of Ann who has given it a going over with her book club. It’s a gripper – and a handy who’s-who for people like myself who struggle to keep in mind the family trees of the gods and heroes who fought in the Trojan War. (Incidentally, I didn’t have a clue before I got going on it about the steamy love affair between Patroclus and Achilles. Roger Lancelyn Green must have scrubbed round that bit.)

Speaking of family-trees: Ian Whybrow of Stapleford, Kent phoned yesterday. Ian, son of Arthur who is the grandson and great-grandson of Henrys, both of Rochester. There’s chimney sweeping and rope-making and navy-blood in this lot (no gods, but a few heroes) so somewhere along Ian’s tangled line of the labouring Warfortresses, we almost certainly connect. I must rummage among the Henry Ws and see how they connect to the Edward Ws (my dad and grandfather). Spoke on the phone, too, to Ian Whybrow’s 7 year-old son, Zac who explained seriously and in great detail the racing game that he and his dad and granddad had just set up where things get blasted at high speed along a track. That’s families for you.

March 24th Breakfast by Lt-Col. BJED Fotherington-Thomas (Rtd)

March 24, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Grey out there. My porridge mimics my grey brain for a moment as it gloops into the bowl – before it imitates the dull sky. It is unimproved in looks and texture by a spoonful of burnt umber Pusser’s marmalade I stir in. Grey out there for worried Cypriots and in the house of a dead Russian oligarch swarming with men in grey protective suits while they check for traces of poison and nuclear fallout. Grey to me is Radio 3: the Schubert Impromptu played by the late, heroic Katharina Wolpe; and the mournful opening bars of the Brahms Alto Rhapsody sung by Janet Baker.

Yet, if looking and hearing are grey, cheers then for taste and feeling! The smooth, comforting spread of my warm breakfast across my tongue is sky blue; it is heavenly. I feel moved to poetry.


This morning I have no ambition.

If I were nuclear I might go fission

& warm the knees of badly frozen

Austrians in lederhosen.


March 22 and 23 Basingstoke and Back and a Bracing Evening

March 23, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I’ve been contacted via ianwhybrow.com by a chap called Ian Whybrow who was, as was I, born in Gillingham, Kent.

My darling’s name was once Ann Jones, so she’s used to having namesakes, especially among the Welsh and hearty tennis-playing types, but this is a first for me. Ian and I are going to have a chat at the weekend, I hope. It’ll be interesting to find out which branch of the family he sprouted from.

Slept badly and not looking forward to the drive through the rain to Basingstoke, though I know I shall enjoy South View Junior when I get there. I’m scheduled to talk to parents as well as kids, so I may test the waters to see whether they’ll take part in the Read a Book and Raise a Reader experiment.


Arrived incredibly early at South View Junior in agreeably clement weather. A large school with an Infant school attached, it’s on a very green, spacious and pleasant site. A lovely welcome from Liz, the Literacy Co-ordinator, whose ear I bent about the RABARAR scheme. She seems keen to give it a go. The displays around the school are magnificent both in the corridors and in the attractive library – where Harry and Little Wolf both got the treatment.



I spoke to Yrs 3 and 4 – and some keen, supportive parents. “Does anyone know anything about meerkats?” I asked. A smiling girl raised her hand. “Uhuh?” I said. “Honey,” she answered. “I don’t think so,” I said. “Maybe you’re thinking of bears.” One of the teachers told me afterwards her name was Honey.

It was a real pleasure to discover that the lady from the local School Library Service had turned up and that the school has a very successful working-relationship with her and her department in spite of all the pressures on both.

Shame it took me nearly 3 hours to crawl home in the crawling rain and pouring traffic. Wrung out, I suddenly remembered I had been called to The White Horse to celebrate the retirement of an old mate, Brian Holgate, after 42 years of Fizz and Fizz Ed. The celebration brought out so many cheery old ex-colleagues and ex-students of his and mine that I was really glad I went. One guy failed to respond when I put out my hand – and I realised that his right arm was hanging at his side. He reminded me that it had been rendered useless in a motorbike accident years ago. I asked him how long it had taken to readjust to life with one arm. “I sulked for a year,” he said. “And then I realised there’s nothing I can’t do – except clap.” He still plays squash, drives a motorbike and now owns a racing car with a gear shift on the steering wheel. Brrm brrrm.

March 21st Terms of Disengagement

March 21, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I’m puzzled by all the fuss about “Quartermaine’s Terms”. A curate’s egg of a play, its good bits keep you watching and occasionally laughing out loud, but all in all, it’s disappointing. I went with Ann and a friend with high expectations and a sense that Richard Eyre and Simon Gray could do no wrong. We were all waiting for Rowan Atkinson to earn his five stars by doing somehow subtly off-piste but the old ticks and mannerisms are still there, though in a kind of stultified slow motion. In fact, the whole cast is made up of caricatures and the piece played as farce as if it were a tragedy by Chekhov played for laughs in the way we’re often told that Russians like it played. But that’s stretching a point.  What the old nitwit Q has done to merit a spotlight on his decline and fall, we never know, except that he offers himself as a cushion to be sat on by everyone he meets. A doddering, lonely old failure from the start, he never achieves tragedy except in broad existential terms – and watching worms wriggling on pins is not terribly satisfying, especially from uncomfortable seats costing fifty-eight quid each.

March 20th Fannying About

March 20, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

My dad was a Navy man. At the age of 8 he became a Boreman Boy, wore a sailor’s uniform and attended school at what is now the Royal Maritime Museum at Greenwich. At 13 he had a choice about whether to join the Merchant Navy or the Royal Navy; he chose the latter and stuck to it for thirty years.

I thought about him today at breakfast as I enjoyed another rummy spoonful of the delicious Fortnum and Mason Pusser’s Marmalade, my present from the generous James Peak at Mindshapes when we met at F and M for tea the other day. Not that Dad was a drinker. As a matter of fact, he would swap his tot for fags, a habit that eventually clogged his poor old pipes and did him in.

It was the Pusser or Purser who doled out the daily rum ration to the ship’s company. According to Dad, the vessel from which the rum was measured was called a fanny. So it was that if I was enthusiastically grateful for a threepenny bit or an extra helping of pud, (or “Going round the buoy”) Dad used to say, “Yeah, leave your thanks in the fanny.”  Navy slang tripped off his tongue all the time. Going to the snob meant taking your shoes to the mender; “Up ladder, Jack!” was always the rebuke for selfishness and “Give her a wide berth” was his general advice about dodgy drivers. I’ve heard other people use all sorts of salty bits of lower-deck talk, but I’ve never heard anyone use the word “fanny” in quite the way Dad did. It was different from Sweet Fanny Adams. The poor thing was murdered, cooked and eaten in a pie, so at first her name acquired a grim synonymity with rubbishy food and then with anything worthless. But Sweet FA was not what Dad was on about and   I can’t find any reference to “fanny” as rum-vessel. Now I’m wondering if he made it up. Da-a-ad!

Delighted by the enthusiastic response from Oxhey Wood Primary to test my reading experiment. Let’s hope it will make a difference.

March 19th A Doodling sort of a Day

March 19, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Up betimes, slightly fuddled by the Lacrimosa that we rehearsed last night as part of the Mass for Rossini. It was running up and down all those Amens that did me in.

I really should stop occupying myself with reading campaigns and get on with earning a living. But here I am stuck thinking about a poem. Where did “Go Lovely Rose” come from? Maybe Waller got up one morning feeling slightly fuddled and started mucking about with an idea. Anyway, I blame him.


All Waller’s Fault.

How did a Rose like me

Come by that scent?

A poet said, Go Lovely

So I went.

March 18th How do you think parents would react to this letter from school?

March 18, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

This is a draft letter, as yet untried. If your child’s school sent out something like this, would parents ignore it/ be angry about it – or do you think they’d rise to the challenge?  Could it be worded in another way to be more encouraging? I’d value your comments.  And if you think you can persuade your school to take part in the trial, please let me have some details.

I like the idea of starting this campaign in Chorleywood where the last Big Thing was the invention of sliced bread: hence the reference to Chorleywood Bookshop.

A Special Request to Parents

To be frank, our children’s reading standards are not as good as we would like. Our school is always striving to improve your child’s reading.   With this in mind, we have decided to try a pioneering experiment in which we would like all parents and guardians with a child aged 9 to take part.

Our guess is that if they don’t see significant adults enjoying a book, children will think that books are just things that teachers bang on about in school. They’ll think that in the “real world”, reading doesn’t matter. So here’s an idea that might make a real difference to your child’s progess in school and beyond.

We plan to check on your child’s reading-level. Then, over a period of 4 weeks, we would like you to be seen by your child reading a book, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. Any book will do, though Chorleywood Bookshop has provided some suggestions for good short reads, all of which are readily available from libraries or bookshops.

Unless your child mentions it, say nothing about your book to the child. Simply be seen by him or her to be engrossed in it now and then.  If the child does remark on it, say that it was recommended to you and that you’re giving it a try.

Keep a record of (roughly) the number of minutes per day during which the child is aware that you are spending time with a book.

At the end of the trial period, we’d like to find out how you got on and will report back to you about your child’s reading progress.

Please sign here to confirm that you are willing/ unwilling to take part in the experiment. Your response will be treated confidentially.


March 18th Campaign Complications

March 18, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

It’s more complicated than I thought, this campaign to get parents to be seen by their kids reading a book.  It needs explanation, testing, letters home, a questionnaire – and schools and parents willing to give it a go.

At least I’ve decided on an age-group to focus on. Experience tells me that parents normally give up sharing books with their children once they get past picture books. After that, children read less and less on their own, especially if they don’t see their parents reading;  and that by the age of 9, a great many children, especially boys, give up books altogether.  By this age parents have often lost the power to read with their children (who now think it’s babyish to be read to) and many parents feel relieved of a burden because they are not comfortable around books anyway.  They tell themselves that if the school thinks it matters: the school should deal with it.

I’ve devised a scheme for a four-week trial (I hope that’s long and short enough) in which the school tests  the reading-levels of 9 year olds, asks parents to be seen reading a book for a month, report back on their experience via a short questionnaire. The school then re-tests the children.  If the trial is successful, and demonstrates even a small improvement in reading, it might stand a chance of being tried elsewhere.

My biggest challenge now is to find schools and groups of parents willing to co-operate.  I’m on the case, though.

15 March. The Kids’ll read if they see you reading. Seemple.

March 15, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

There’s a bit of progress on the campaign front but I still need guidance to get this one going properly.

I reckon if schools could persuade parents to be seen enjoying a book, reading skills among their children would rise noticeably. But how to communicate this?  My following on Twitter is minuscule but there must be ways of reaching out to influential groups that I don’t know about. I sent a tweet to @huffpostparents which has a large following; so does @love2read2013 – but these are really only messages in a couple of bottles.

So far people have tweeted these slogans and comments of which my favourite is:

Read a book; raise a reader. (@Readitdaddy)

This is snappy, too: Readers raise readers. (@cjfriess)

And how about: Reading breeds readers. Read a book, share a book; raise a reader. (@CarmelHasselup)

Big bookworms were little bookworms once. (@laying the table) is cute, too.

“Quite right. I’m also looking at the influence of ebooks: my son is far more likely to pick up a book if he sees dad reading,”  writes (@DeborahFielden)

The problem is that none of these quite carries the essential idea that kids will only accept that books matter outside school if they see their mum or dad enjoying them.

I know that reading books with/to children makes a difference, as does supplying books to children and taking kids to the library to choose. But what I want to drive home is that simply being seen reading a book matters. It sends a powerful (and hitherto underestimated) message to children.

Maybe I should try hashtag literacy. But where’s the hashtag key?