We always took care to never swear in front of the children when they were small...but one of us must have let slip and have been overheard because Luke came home with a new reading book one afternoon...he pulled it out of his bag and his face fell..'.Another bloody Red Lorry story Mummy...'

He could read fluently long before he went to school at five years and was driven almost to distraction by the eejit teacher who made him start at the very beginning regardless of the fact he sailed through each reading book without a bother...

And he could tie his own shoelaces...eat with a knife and fork and button up his coat...

But I've just read a report about the first week back for the First schools here in Ireland...they are the same as a Primary school in England. So many teachers are up in arms about the sheer numbers of children who cannot sit still at the table for even a few minutes...cannot fasten their own jackets...can't go to the toilet unaided...and there are many who don't even recognise their own names when they see them written down.

So...err...why not?

I doubt I spent more than about twenty minutes a day with Luke going through a simple book...he learned to fasten buttons and pull up zips properly and tie his shoe laces because I showed him how....never made a big drama out of it though...it was all part and parcel of getting dressed in the morning or getting ready to go out. He learned to write his name...I just wrote it out in dots and he followed the dots to make lines and there you go...easy peasy. And we had those brightly coloured magnetic letters on the door of the 'fridge...he used to make words out of those...

He watched some television...not much 'cos he wasn't really interested, but he'd sit still and watch something like a cartoon or anything which involved making something...like Blue Peter.

And he always had a bedtime story...every night he chose a story...often the same one mind you...but he would sit up in bed totally absorbed in those terribly unsuitable Grimms Fairy Tales...

When we first moved to this cottage there were several children living in the street who were fascinated by the fact I made stuff...so I asked would they like to come here every Saturday morning and we'd 'make stuff'. They were thrilled to bits and invited all their friends and third cousins and the barn was full of eager children...who couldn't even hold a pair of scissors properly. They looked askance at a needle and cotton...thought I was joking when I told the older ones they could use the scapel blades but they were extremely sharp...used several Band-Aids that particular morning until it dawned on them I meant it.

I dumped some cardboard boxes on the tables and loads of paint and glue and told them to make a castle...there was a chorus of...'Can you show us how?'

After a few weeks it became horribly clear that some of them couldn't read. They were aged from five to about eleven then...I'd put shelves up clearly marked with what was supposed to be kept on them...like crayons and paints and paper...they couldn't read those words. When they were putting everything away at the end of the morning it was going in all directions because they couldn't read 'Crayons'....or 'Paintbrushes'...

So, for the first few Saturdays I taught them how to use a pair of scissors to cut with...then how blue and yellow paint made green...they thought that was nothing short of a miracle...then I showed them how to glue two pieces of cardboard together and how to thread a needle and make a knot at the end of the thread and...well...you'll get the drift.

I started to read them a story about twenty minutes before their parents came to pick them up...they were gob-smacked with sheer delight. Even little Kenneth who was the youngest at just four, and spent the entire time outside with Neville feeding the hens and cleaning out the turkeys, would put his head round the barn door and say...'Please Sue...tell me when it's story time...'cos I don't want to miss it'

Those childrens parents are perfectly pleasant people...they live in nice houses and own two cars and go to Spain on holidays. The Mothers had good clothes and manicured nails and probably went to the hairdresser every week for a blow-dry...but their children read at at least three years below their age-group...they'd never been read a story before...they took ages to understand when I said sit down at the table, because...that wasn't the signal to race about shouting...they fumbled with the fastenings on their winter jackets and didn't know how to use glue and if the laces on their runners came undone they'd simply stick their foot out in front of me and ask would I do it up again...

But quite the saddest was when they'd settled down a bit and we'd got to know each other and they'd had a lovely morning working away intently at making a horrible monster from the inner tubes of toilet rolls and were thrilled to bits with their creations...the saddest part for me...and for them...was when the parents told them to leave their beautiful monsters behind because they didn't want them in the car...or as one Mother said...'I'm not having that rubbish in the house'

I could have cheerfully slapped her when I thought of how her child had laboured over that monster...remembering what I'd said about not using too much glue and to be patient and wait for a bit until it stuck and dipping into the button tin to find just the right buttons for its eyes...I could have not only slapped that woman but I could have burst into tears as well....

All those children are adults now...some have emigrated to Australia...some are married and have children of their own...even little Kenneth who trailed around after Neville talking non-stop, now drives one of those enormous tractors at ninety miles an hour and waves like a demon when he passes by...

I hope they remember the times they made bright green monsters and listened to old fairy stories...and learned to tie their own laces and petted the geese and planted spring flowering bulbs and fed tiny forlorn kittens and learned not to treat them roughly but with care and the day they mastered cutting out with sharp scissors and choosing just the right buttons to make the eyes of the monster they'd created.