Joy’s Stars and A-Levels
The great thing about spending a few days at home is the chance it gives me to clear up a few things, like the garden and the garage and the rumours about paternity.
My children Daniel and Natalie are back in California now, busy with their careers — that’s what they insist, and I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with the surf and sunshine.
My daughter Nat routinely scooped prizes at school, and my son Dan enjoyed his lessons so much that he aced the most arduous exams in the world, the English bar qualifications. It’s baffling, because I was a real handful throughout my education. My abundant energy would probably earn me some sort of label in today’s classrooms: hyperactive, for instance, or attention deficit. I’m pretty hyperactive now, in my sixties — but that’s a good thing. In fact, I believe many things that are labelled ‘problems’ in children turn out to be a major advantage for adults.
Look at dyslexia, which teachers traditionally regarded as a ‘learning difficulty’. Most of the world’s most successful actors, including Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley, Harrison Ford and Whoopi Goldberg, are dyslexic — which suggests that, when it comes to learning lines and conveying emotions, it’s a positive advantage to rely on memory instead of reading.Great teachers see potential, not problems. And I was lucky that, at Terra Santa College in Cyprus, I was mentored by teachers who believed that, inside that disruptive, mischievous, day-dreaming boy was a student who could shine.
I never became an A-grade student — certainly not by Daniel and Natalie’s standards. And when I tried to help my children with their maths homework, I realised I must have skipped plenty of lessons.
But I’ve never stopped being grateful to the teachers who helped to mould my young self, including a remarkable woman named Joy Philippou who taught English.
Almost half a century later, Dr Philippou is still dedicated to helping teenagers achieve their best. Now in her eighties, she is launching the STAR foundation, to encourage and reward youngsters for community work.
STAR stands for “Sociable, Trustworthy and Reliable” — three qualities, Joy believes, that are essential for repairing damaged bridges across the generation gap. She is backed in her work by Lord King of West Bromich and Crown Prince Shwebomin of Burma, and the first STAR awards will be presented at the House of Lords on Monday, 9 November.
Among those handing out the medals and diplomas will be my dear friend Patti Boulaye, whose own work for young people is tireless.
There is no doubt in my mind that by devoting her whole life to young people, Joy has kept herself young. She has more energy than most people half her age. To celebrate her 80th birthday, she auditioned for The X Factor, showcasing her talent for mimicking musical instruments.
And after the organisers made her wait for hours in the X Factor Boot Camp, she made headlines by asking the judges if they thought they were running a concentration camp.
No wonder she never had trouble keeping me in line!
I’m thinking of going back to school, after I learned that A Level students will be able to study “anomalistic psychology” including psychic healing, telepathy, levitation and, of course, spoon bending.
Finally, I’ve found the kind of homework I’ll enjoy doing.
The course is an option for psychology students who want to learn more about studies into extra-sensory perception and life after death. I think it’s great that such an important subject is finally on the syllabus. Life after death affects everyone, in the end — schools must not remain silent about it.
I hope the examiners will be open-minded about marking the papers: some students will be complete sceptics and others will have convictions born from vivid personal experiences of ghosts or mind-reading.
Everybody’s beliefs are valid, and it would be a travesty if students lost marks because, for instance, they expressed a firm belief in poltergeists.
Sensible lessons on seances, mediums and contacting the dead might prevent inquisitive youngsters from attempting to talk to the spirits using the ouija board, which can have unsettling or even dangerous effects on the unwary.
And all youngsters should be taught to dowse at school. I don’t care whether it’s called biology, physics or psychology — it’s a basic human ability which at least three-quarters of us can do instinctively when we’re young. And it has profound uses for grown-ups in real life: you might never need to find underground water, but crystal dowsing is the surest way of quickly finding a lost wallet or set of keys.
One thing bothers me. Stress and pressure can drain ESP potential to zero. That’s why so many lab experiments into telepathy and precognition fail.
And there’s no more stressful environment than the exam room. I’d hate to have to bend a spoon under the beady eye of an invigilator. Maybe I’d better leave the A Levels to my two brainy children.
Paul Firmager, our postman, is retiring after 31 years of delivering everything from stamp-sized postcards to monster parcels around our village. The most bizarre package he ever had, he told me, contained a queen bee. I bet he didn’t have to be told to handle that with care!
The latest sculptures in our garden are this beautifully smooth stone globe and a steel fork. I promise I didn’t bend this one myself!
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