musingsponderingsandrants

Parenting, profundities and humour

Use it or Lose it… — September 20, 2018

Use it or Lose it…

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So here is a little known fact about me…I am the proud possessor of a Bsc Chemistry degree. First class no less. From the University of Sheffield.

So here is how my education panned out. I found boys, specifically A boy, when I was 14. I got into RPG and cheap beer from cans and rock music and wandering aimlessly about woods and such. I hit a minor rebellious streak and didn’t work hard enough for my O levels. Despite being an A grade student my whole life (excepting Games where I got a C3 every single time, please see Jolly Hockey Sticks for more information on that) I didn’t achieve anywhere near enough of those As at O level.

So my grades were not spectacular. Certainly not by today’s standard. I am not sure I would have hit the grade average now required to gain entry to my children’s school’s Sixth Form. Luckily for me such things were not so much of an issue then. I passed. I did well in the subjects I wanted to take at A level, namely Maths, Geography, Chemistry oh and a bit more Maths.

I kissed goodbye to analysing Shakespeare and conjugating verbs and drawing under pressure and I could not have been happier.

So I worked for my A levels. I really wanted to do Geography at University. But my Human Geography teacher (a Mr Pollard if I recall correctly, just out of teacher training, red trendy glasses, tight trousers, very evangelical about ribbon development and economic modelling, once had an interesting conversation with him about JJ Cale and cannabis in a record store whilst on a field trip in the Cotswolds) was not enamoured of my essay writing skills, believing me really a scientist at heart and not properly invested in Maslow, had not predicted me a particularly great grade.

Even combined with the much better predicted grade from my Physical Geography teacher (Mr Jones, never happier than when discussing plate tectonics, had seen my zeal for measuring river discharge when I was up to my thighs in a freezing stream on that same Cotswolds trip, had a very boring conversation about riffles and pools on a bus) it was not good enough for most Universities.

I was sick of Maths and anyway I was struggling in Further Maths with the ‘ethereal’ quality of it all. I liked remembering equations, plugging figures in and getting a right (or wrong) result. Black and white. Further Maths wasn’t like that. Mr Rodgers (older, big bear of a man, took a group of us to the Albert Hall to watch the Proms, had great conversations about music) said that that was what University Maths was like. I decided to run a mile.

So that left Chemistry.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I left education so choosing Chemistry didn’t seem a bad option. In any event I had been somewhat inspired during my extra special Chemistry sessions for proper geeks run at lunch times by Dr Galsworthy (just out of teacher training, complete dream boat, never had any sort of conversation with him as I could not string a sentence together in his presence) where we got to use all the intricate glass ware which fitted together so satisfyingly and produce such fascinating compounds as limonene. I still have the certificate for that extra bit of Chemistry. Still not sure what I took. It didn’t matter. Dr Galsworthy.

And I loved the logic of it all… atoms forever searching for completeness, a bit like me with Dr Galsworthy, it all appealed to my pubescent self…and fiddling about with explosions and Bunsen burners was always fun. I had a good predicted grade so off I trotted to Uni open days. They all loved me despite those questionable O levels because I was a serial joiner in-er; leading Brownie packs, ringing church bells, playing the double bass in the Youth orchestra and the like (just no sport…at all).

I did rather well in my A levels obtaining all I needed and more. Shoving two fingers up at Mr Pollard with my good result in Geography, delighting Dr Gaslworthy (I think he may have hugged me, or maybe that was just one of my fantasies) with my Chemistry result and fainting with surprise at my grade in Further Maths as I had a distinct recollection of sitting completely baffled in the Pure paper.

So I went off to Sheffield. I carried on with the RPG and drinking cheap beer, only this time from glasses, how civilised, and there was still quite a lot of wandering around aimlessly although this time in the Peaks.

Chemistry lost some of its logic and I seemed to spend the first year producing inorganic compounds which were invariably yellow powders or clear, colourless liquids that looked and smelled suspiciously like water. The labs, where I spent 3 hours every afternoon (except Wednesdays which was ‘sport’ afternoon-or ‘going to the Union and watching crap TV’ afternoons if you were me) were vast impersonal spaces full of out dated equipment and professors barking orders and trying to stop the 100 or so students from setting fire to each other or drinking those clear colourless liquids. All the mornings were taken up with lectures. It was like being at school with longer days and more work. And I smelled horrendous…

On the whole I enjoyed it. I gravitated to physical chemistry probably because of my maths background. I spent my third year practical sessions holed up in the liquid crystal department in the bowels of the basement carrying out experiments which took forever and left me a lot of time to draw, listen to rock music on my Walkman and generally mooch around in the gloom. My dissertation was finished. I took my finals and did my presentation on the results of all that waiting around to my peers. I left the Uni more than competent in Chemistry.

And since then I have had no use for the subject. I ended up in banking (it was the early 90s, jobs were scarce and I just wanted to stop eating tuna and pasta and eat some red meat protein for once and so a PhD wasn’t really an option and no employer in chemistry was interested without one) and then as a full time mum. It got to the point were I needed to fake a coughing fit if there were any chemistry questions on University Challenge, and then Mastermind, and then Pointless and now Top of the Class. Moles once more became adorable burrowing animals. Condensing was an annoying process on one’s windows. Joules was a clothes brand. At a push I could still name chemical symbols in a pub quiz but that was about my lot. Silver and gold though….still tricky…

However as my children approach the sharp end of their school lives I am slowly falling back in love with chemistry. Middlest is currently learning about the atomic model and isotopes and last year Eldest needed help with ionic and covalent bonding (see it is such a lovely subject all that searching and bonding, it’s romantic really… Dr Galsworthy).

And yesterday Eldest needed to find out the specific heat capacities of certain elements and quote his source. I no longer believe Wikipedia for anything after an unfortunate incident with densities and so I thought I would wheel out my Physical Chemistry University text book. Sure enough it had the heat capacities required but in totally the wrong units. It involved indices. It involved moles. Still furry. I hurriedly put the book back…. and used some engineering site which we hope is right…it seems to take an awful lot of energy to raise the temperature of hydrogen according to their heat capacity. I should know if that is true or not. I don’t.

When I took to facebook to bemoan the fact that I no longer understood a SINGLE word of this particular text book (Atkins 3rd Edition) a friend, whose daughter is starting a chemistry degree at Uni soon, replied to say she had just bought said daughter the 11th edition.

Ouch.

So two things are true. One I am old. Beyond reckoning. And two. If you don’t use it you lose it.

Jolly Hockey Sticks… — September 8, 2018

Jolly Hockey Sticks…

Many moons ago, well actually 1983 but we aren’t counting really are we, I started Upper school.

My mum was generally quite an organised person. I always had sensible black shoes from Clark’s, how I hated those shoes. I had the requisite uniform. My lunch money was always ready every Friday in a little brown envelope. And such.

However on this occasion the extensive list of equipment required for starting year 9 had got the better of her. She had bought me weird canvas hockey ‘boots’ which came up over my ankles and had built in studs and little discs of plastic over the ankle bones. I had long blue socks, the pleated gym skirt and matching big pants in regulation navy. I had the artex gym top. But she had missed the vital words ‘hockey stick’…

Well that first day double Games was scheduled. Never mind, asserted my mum, my old stick is in the attic somewhere amongst the half used rolls of 1970s wallpaper and your dad’s model railway, I’ll just pop and get it. That wallpaper always came in very handy for covering school exercise books which was always the first homework of every subject in every school year. My large day glow yellow and brown flowers always stood out amongst the brown paper and the sticky back plastic. Only slightly mortifying…

So this was news to me. My mother had played hockey as a school girl. I had not come across hockey so far in my school career. We dusted off the stick and I was set.

It dawned on me about halfway through the walk from lunch hall to hockey pavilion that my stick looked slightly different to everyone else’s. And not only because the grip was non existent. No the end of the stick was an entirely different shape too.

(I feel I must pause here to make mention of the hockey pavilion. Pavilion is really a very grand word for what was essentially a shed perched on the edge of the fields. The shed had a very particular smell of mud and teenage boy. The boys and girls sides were separated by a very thin sheet of mdf which many a curious young man had gouged holes in, with, presumably, a set of compasses which were also on the kit list. It was wise to hang ones school uniform up and stand behind it to avoid giving a random 14 year old boy an eyeful. There was no heating. The showers (which we were forced to use unless the period register allowed one to be excused) were cold, the floor was filthy, the roof leaked. In fact the whole place was utterly horrific.)

Anyway I got changed, carefully, into the regulation kit and grabbed my stick.

We filed past the terrifying Miss Stocking. Miss Stocking was scary in a way only 1980s Games mistresses can be scary. I had come across Games teachers before. Only the year before in Year 8 I had had the pleasure of Mr Dover as my form teacher. He taught the boys Games and us, randomly, Geography. And he took the register and once, frighteningly, when I had plucked up the courage to bring flour and eggs to school on the last day of term for the very first time in an attempt to look cool, conducted the bag search which saw me in front of the headmaster getting the ‘very disappointed’ speech. Mr Dover’s method of punishing low level disruption during Geography lessons was to turn around at lightening speed  from the board where instants earlier he had been scribing something on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or concentric settlement theory and throw his Games keys with the unerring accuracy of a frustrated professional rugby player at the offending child. I believe he only drew blood once.

Games mistresses were in a whole other league. Miss Stocking had terrorised my uncle at the school’s open evening when we had visited the school the pervious year to look around. Even now, 35 years later, he has ‘sweaty palm’ flashbacks to being pinned up against the wall bars in the sports hall whilst being interrogated about his sporting past. Which I don’t believe exists.

She flak flaked her way around her domain of sports hall and changing rooms with her nose in the air, her pristine gym skirt flapping and her long blonde pony tail swishing no doubt proving the centre of many a teenage boy fantasy, looking down her nose at everyone but the elite who could actually play sport. She was frankly awful. On so many levels. Inclusivity was not a word she knew how to spell. She barked, she demeaned, she sneered, she gave me a C3 in every single report for every single type of sport and wrote ‘could work harder’ every single time. She really needed a stamp.

As I filed past her that fateful day the words ‘You there!’  were screeched sneeringly in my direction (I don’t believe she learnt my name the whole 5 years I was there- even when she put me in a freestyle house swimming relay in my lower sixth after I had specifically told her I could not swim front crawl and I swam my leg in breast stroke)..

‘What do you call that?’.

Well the only reply I could conjure was ‘A hockey stick?’. She wasn’t best pleased. She proceeded to ‘explain’ that my hockey stick was so old it was the wrong shape. I didn’t dare tell her it had last seen use c 1960. She also told me that spectacles were forbidden on the pitch. I was mortified. The sniggering amongst the other girls was horrible. I wanted the floor to open up.

And thus began my hockey ‘career’. I played Right Half which seemed to involve being passed the ball after bully off and sprinting backwards and forwards an awful lot whilst being screeched at patronisingly by Miss Stocking. Exhausting. I hardly touched the ball. Mainly because I couldn’t see it or because it had bounced awkwardly off a divot made by the rugby team in the preceding lesson.  Occasionally someone would hit the ball hard enough that it made it further than a meter on the bumpy ground and it would usually bounce up and hit me on my unprotected shin, never once did it hit that small disc of protective plastic on my ankle bones. In the rain we would slip and slide on the mud, the built in studs offering hardly any grip on the slick surface as rain pelted our faces and left our perms dripping into our eyes.  As it approached Christmas we would run shivering in our artex shirts and gym skirts after balls which skidded haphazardly off the frozen pitch. I used to dream of snow the only weather condition that prevented play.  After an hour of this torture only the cold showers, muddy floor and peeping tom boys of the ‘pavilion’ awaited.

I hated it. With a passion.

Of course my mum replaced that stick the following weekend. It is not in my attic. I probably burnt it when I was allowed to stop playing after O levels. Ceremoniously.

Happily things have improved. My three kids all love hockey. They have been nothing but encouraged by their school, club and county coaches. The kit is amazing. The surface smooth. Spectacles are allowed. The game is fast paced and fun to play and watch.

Today Middlest played his debut match for his club’s Men’s 6s team with a bunch of inclusive older guys who are encouraging and welcoming giving him the benefit of their experience and valuing his contribution. The club embodies the word inclusive.

I wish my experience had been half of theirs’ for I might have actually enjoyed it given one iota of encouragement.

And by the way we now cover exercise books with stuff printed off the internet. Or not at all. I quite miss the wallpaper.

 

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Bad news…buses…idioms… — May 13, 2018

Bad news…buses…idioms…

bad news

Bad news always comes in threes. Doesn’t it? Or maybe bad news is like buses…nothing at all and then loads all at once…

It was hubby’s birthday on Wednesday. He had to work. I had a Governor’s meeting in the evening. We were going to pass like ships in the night. We decided to postpone his birthday until Saturday.

I decided to book us into a nice steak restaurant. On our own. This hasn’t happened since, well probably 2010. It was due. Youngest agreed that she felt comfortable being left for the evening with Eldest and Middlest. Result! No babysitter required.

I booked the restaurant and got the last table at a slightly earlier time than I had wanted but still beggars can’t be choosers.

My mum came round on Thursday. I had to pop to town for something. She wanted to look for summer weight trousers. We had one of those shopping expeditions when all the planets align and everything you try on fits and is in your size and colour. We spent a fortune. I replaced the 4 pairs of shoes (probably c 2004) which broke last summer. And got some new tops. And some new swimsuits. And some new sports bras. And hoped I didn’t look like mutton dressed as lamb in any of them. My mum said otherwise. But then she would. She’s my mum…

I decided to wear one of said tops and a new pair of rather gorgeous nude heels to our night out. Well it was his birthday.

Of course it was raining cats and dogs and so the overall look was going to be slightly ruined by the waterproof coat. But never mind.

Just as we were about to leave I noticed a damp patch on the landing floor. Weird I thought. I went to investigate only to be dripped on through the light fitting.

Up to the loft I went in my new top, my rather gorgeous nude heels and a head torch to discover that yes, indeed, my roof was leaking. Copiously.

Suddenly leaving the kids alone for the first time for an evening didn’t seem so appealing with the possibility of ceiling collapse or indeed a fused house. Still hubby wedged a washing up bowl, to my mind rather precariously, amongst the insulation and we set out.

We had a lovely meal. It stopped raining. The meal was unfortunately taken up in part by a contratend on the best way to deal with the leaking roof. I was hoping it was a blocked valley gutter easily solved by our lovely gutter men. Husband thought the whole roof was likely to need replacing. Glass half full versus glass half empty. Either way it was added to my to do list. But hey that was Monday’s job. There were virgin mojitos to drink and crème brulees to eat.

We got home and all ceilings, electricity and children were intact. We decided to deal with the washing up bowl in the morning and let sleeping dogs lie.

In the morning I headed up to the loft again, this time more appropriately dressed, to retrieve the partially upturned washing up bowl. Some water had indeed been collected. Quite a lot actually. Maybe I had been barking up the wrong tree and the gutter wasn’t to blame after all.

Whilst I was abluting I heard mention of ‘cakes’ and ‘House decorating competition’. Some time ago the boys had mentioned to me that they had put their names down at school for the House Cake Decorating Competition. Seriously who dreams up this shit. I had decided to cross that particular bridge when I got to it.

Apparently they had also agreed to make the cakes to be decorated. News to me. I had certainly arrived at the bridge, and it needed to be crossed.

Do not worry we will make them, they trilled. With what, I retorted. So we had to add ‘going to Sainsburys’ to the list of unappealing jobs to be done today which included revision, getting Middlest’s glasses straightened, trying on clothes and ensuring Middlest had the kit required for his imminent school outwards bounds trip, grass cutting and weeding .

Eldest then got a call from his mate and disappeared out calling back as he slammed the door that he would be home by 5.30… not sure when you will get that cake made then son.

The rest of us went to town for lunch and to go, yet again, to the opticians. I have been there so often lately I feel they should name a chair in the waiting room after me.

Wanting to kill several birds with one stone and with Middlest’s glasses duly straightened we nipped to Go Outdoors to replace some outward bounds type kit that sprouting Middlest had outgrown. During the trying on process he accidentally bashed me in the face bending my glasses… another trip to that optician’s loomed. But not today. Please not today.

Best foot forwards to Sainsburys to buy cake ingredients… just as we were about to enter the shop I noticed 7 missed calls from my husband who left town after lunch to drop Youngest at a play date and start the jobs which involved the garden.

Seven missed calls seemed quite high on the ‘urgency’ scale so I bit the bullet and called back.

Eldest had had his bike nicked from outside the cinema in town. He had locked it up along with his mate’s bike to a bike rack but some toe rags had come along with bolt cutters and half inched them. Leaving the boys stranded in town. They then spent an age talking to staff at various premises (who told them there had been 3 other bike thefts that week…might have been nice to put a sign up to that effect maybe?) and calling 999 and leaving messages for the closed Management Suite who deal with the CCTV.

Strictly speaking it is husband’s bike. Eldest out grew his bike about a year ago and it has now been passed down to Middlest. He hasn’t got a new one as he is sitting on the fence about what brand, type, colour of bike he would like next.

So now as a family we are down 2 bikes. Plus we had dealing with the police and insurance company to add to that unappealing list.

Eldest’s mate’s dad had brought them home and Eldest was prevailed upon to mow the lawn. He then got the starter pull cord tangled in the blades. His happened when Middlest and I were in the middle of baking the first cake of three. To be honest it felt like the last straw.

I didn’t really need to deal with petrol and mangled lawn mower starter cords at just that moment. Not really. Once I had the cord unwound from the mower blades the mower thankfully started again although the smell of burning oil was quite unappealing as it wafted in through the open kitchen door. Luckily I don’t need to eat that cake.

Anyway to cut a long story short it is now 8pm.

We have a crime number which we obtained after Eldest gave his account of the situation to the police who rang back whilst we were eating our roast dinner which I certainly wouldn’t have planned to make had I known about the cake baking fest.

I called the insurance company whose out of hours operatives took some details and promised me they would call back tomorrow. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The last cake is nearly cooked. The other 2 were too small for Middlest to pipe soldiers around the edge of (your guess is as good as mine) so this one is a monster and taking an age to bake.

I don’t even know where to start with the roof. I tried to have a look to see if I could see a loose tile by bouncing on the trampoline but had to stop pretty sharpish for reasons best left unsaid.

I’ll be back to the opticians at some point. Like a bad penny.

Serves me right for buying nude heels. Who was I kidding?

The Change… — May 2, 2018

The Change…

menopause

Here is another post that I have deliberated about penning or not. It is up there with Let’s Not Skirt Around the Issue– which incidentally remains one of my most popular blogs of all time- however it is raining here, it feels like December, I have a half eaten bag of Liquorice Allsorts to finish and the only alternative is cleaning. Or binge watching Outlander. This feels more productive. But possibly less fun.

Deep breaths then everybody.

I am a woman of a certain age. 48 to be precise. Therefore I have experience of being a woman. Quite extensive experience. And it is safe to say that being a woman sucks on many levels. And one of those levels is the beginning, middle and end of one’s reproductive life.

Currently I am grappling with the end. For those of you possessed of a penis (you lucky, lucky sods I am envious, really I am, seriously you don’t know how lucky you are- what have you had to deal with?- really?- a bit of shaving (if you feel like it- it isn’t even obligatory especially in November- it is more obligatory for me apparently which goes beyond unfair)- the occasional knock to a vital area causing extreme discomfort- and – and- no, that’s it – get over yourselves) I should may be explain.

For some considerable time, when I was happily producing reliable levels of oestrogen, I was labouring under the illusion that I would have a few hot flushes and maybe put on a bit of weight and then that would be it. The menopause would be done. No more periods. It sounded quite attractive. I would be done with the Feminine Hygiene aisle. The years of debilitating cramps and bloating would be over. I could go swimming whenever I wanted. Calendar watching and forward planning would be done with. I would no longer pull something unfortunate out of my hand bag whilst buying tiffin in Costa. I would caper gaily in meadows neatly eating baguettes with my new dentures and going on cruises.

Oh yes from the mire of PMT it all looked quite beguiling.

But no, the end of one’s reproductive life as a woman (and let’s not forget here that a man never ends his reproductive life, ever, he can remain potent up until the day he drops- again beyond unfair) has stages. And those stages can take years.

When I went to my GP about my severe breast pain (I am not a hypochondriac but even I thought something may be up) he quizzed me on the when this occurred and once we had established it was cyclical he put it down to hormones. But, I asserted, I have never suffered from this pain due to PMT before. Well, he patronised, as a woman ages her PMT symptoms often change. He also suggested I might be peri-menopausal and suggested I go away and look it up.

I think I have mentioned this GP before. I can’t remember where, I have had a bit of a look but it escapes me. So I can’t link it. Sorry. Anyway I found this whole consultation deeply annoying. After I had resisted the urge to punch him I trotted off like a good little woman with my frankly debilitating breast pain and googled the peri menopause.

I wished I hadn’t.

So here is the gen. I had my terminology wrong. The menopause hasn’t happened until a woman goes without menstruating for a whole year. The run up to this when the ovaries start producing less and less oestrogen is called the peri- menopause and can take up to 10 years. Seriously. 10 years.

There are all the classic symptoms. Hot flushes, night sweats, weight gain, mood swings.

But there are others. I had spent the previous 6 months gently worrying that I may have early onset dementia. But, no, my inability to remember words, what happened yesterday, my kids’ names, how to make macaroni cheese is also down to the peri-menopause. Seriously. It is called cognitive decline. Who knew oestrogen played such a role in braininess? Well certainly not the other half of the population. And I guess it just backs up the old adage that men think with their… well whatever.

The literature suggested I try Sudoko. My god. I hate Sudoko. I thought I would blog instead. Maybe I should track my vocabulary usage and see if it is declining as I make my weary way through this never ending desert of the peri-menopause.

My perky fitness instructor recently attended a training course to learn to deliver menopause exercise classes (not something she is going to need for herself for an annoyingly long time). Apparently one does a lot of weight bearing lunges (to combat bone and muscle loss and CV decline) whilst counting backwards from 100 in sevens. Once she had outlined this at our group circuits class yesterday she diplomatically asserted that she wouldn’t need to run that for our class anytime soon but that we could ‘do it for fun’ one time if we fancied. Meanwhile I was stuck at 93. She could start running them for me tomorrow as it happens.

And then ‘mood swings’ doesn’t really come close. Homicidal mania may be more appropriate. Seriously there are days in my ‘cycle’, normally when merely dressing is agony, when it is best to avoid me. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend asking for the whereabouts of your glasses or open the new box of cling film wrongly or alter the height of my desk chair. Not unless you want to be killed with a spoon. Slowly. I think this is nature’s way of ensuring men cop for some inconvenience. It’s about time.

I don’t think I get hot flushes. Yet. I am feeling the heat more though. Weirdly I am having arguments with my husband that the house is too hot. Those that know me will find this distinctly odd as I am usually cold. And I still feel the cold. But not at night. Or first thing in the morning when I wake up feeling like I am sleeping in the desert because hubbie has had the temerity to turn up the thermostat to 18.5 degrees. I might buy him flannelette pyjamas.

And then there is hypermenorrhea, a technical term for bleeding like a stuck pig. Many, many women get this in the run up to the menopause. Heavier and longer periods. Great. So now for 2 days a month leaving the house gets difficult. Thanks for that. A right kick in the balls. If I had any. So in order to stop having periods one needs to have worse ones. Is it just so we remember forever? Is the body having one last ‘hurrah’ at our expense? Whatever it is deeply unfair. Deeply.

There are other symptoms listed which I am not going to go into personally as you may have to leave the room… such lovely things as vaginal dryness, loss of libido, incontinence (maybe I won’t have much time out from that feminine hygiene aisle), loss of bone density, a decrease in cardio vascular function, muscle loss, insomnia, worsening of PMT symptoms, fatigue, depression.

I look forward to running the gauntlet of these over the next 5 years or so.

But I guess the hardest thing in all of this is that realisation that soon (if not already no one can tell you in any given month if you have ovulated or are just having a period for ‘fun’) one will be redundant evolutionarily speaking.

Facing the end of one’s ability to birth children, whether one has had them or not, through choice or not, whether one wants more of them or metaphorically runs screaming to the hills at the mere thought, can be hard. More than hard.

So again the penis owning ones amongst you spare a thought for your wives, mothers, daughters and sisters as they ride this particularly scary and frankly not fun at all rollercoaster to old age.

And if any one suggests (especially in those homicidal 7 days a month) that I will be reborn after the menopause into a golden age of my life where I will have much to offer free from the burden of my own fertility I will tell them to fuck off. Seriously. You have been warned.

Surfing….Or Not… — April 27, 2018

Surfing….Or Not…

image

I recently went to the opticians. I was due my biannual check up and besides I have spent the last few months peering very unattractively at small print on the sides of jars and considering the large print book aisle in the library.

I turned up for my allotted slot and, after having failed about ten times to not blink as a machine puffed cold air into my eye ball and as the patient lady tried to take a photo of each of my retinas, I finally got in to see the optician. (Apparently I have a very sensitive blink reflex, not sure whether to be proud or not…)

It is a cliche to say it but the optician or opthalmist or optometrist (if you know the difference please do let me know) really did look about twelve. She wasn’t the same optician as last time. But then it had been two years. We trawled through my eye history. How long had I worn glasses. Forever. Had I ever tried contacts. Please see above re my sensitive blink reflex. Did I have a history of eye issues. No. Was I experiencing any issues. Yes I can’t read anymore without the use of a magnifying glass, oh and recently whilst doing a particularly difficult colouring in by numbers with Youngest I had to wear a head torch.

The usual stuff.

Anyway she then said ‘Oh I can see you are a surfer!’

I was a bit taken aback by this.

Many things went through my head. I guessed that I had said this last time. I wasn’t sure why. Then I remembered that I had ordered prescription swimming goggles to wear on my holiday in Portugal where I was determined to learn to surf.

Many of you may have read Surfing. If not I suggest you do before carrying on. As you will therefore know my experience of surfing in Portugal had not been a success.

Despite this fact, and proabably because I was taken aback by the tone of admiration in her voice and that all these recollections were flowing into my brain at much too slow a pace to not leave a really, really pregnant pause I found myself agreeing that, yes, I was a surfer.

As soon as the words ‘Yes I do love to surf!’ left my mouth I realised my mistake.

My optician/opthalmist/optometrist proceeded to tell me how she was desperate to learn to surf and had tried but failed. She then went on to describe the exact problem that I myself had encountered when I was trying to surf. Namely getting up from one’s knees to one’s feet.

I murmured something which I hoped passed for understanding empathy for this dificulty. Which of course I do have. As I myself cannot get from my knees to my feet.

As I was trying to decide which was better ‘lens 1 or lens 2’ she proceeded to ask me for my tips for getting from one’s knees to one’s feet. Apparently she had had lessons, watched you tube videos, the works, nothing had helped. I was her last hope.

I managed to deflect the question by sympathising with her predicament and she was thankfully distracted by ‘are the dots clearer and brighter on the green, or the red’.

She then went on to ask me for my favourite surfing locations. As I have only ever failed to surf at one beach in Portugal, the name of which escaped me, I merely mentioned that we were off to Polzeath in the summer. This is true. I won’t be surfing.

We moved onto reading the extremely small print on a paddle.

I tried to deflect her persistent questioning on the knee/ foot/ location issues. She really wasn’t giving up. I decided on a new tack. I mentioned that if she found surfing too hard she could try body boarding. Thankfully she didn’t seem to know what I meant so I was able to fill some time whilst she fiddled around with the exceptionally ugly plastic frames perched on my nose waxing lyrical about a sport I can actually do.

Once I had outlined body boarding in some detail she seemed to suddenly get what I meant. ‘Oh’ she scoffed ‘that, well surely everyone can body board?’…

Well not really. I quite often leave keen looking middle aged men for dead when body boarding as they mis-time their jumps quite spectacularly.

She wasn’t to be persuaded.

I floundered on deflecting questions by explaining how good my kids are at surfing and desperately trying to avoid giving any advice. Which clearly I couldn’t give anyway.

The session ended. My reading prescription had jumped a whole half a point. New glasses should help with the reading. And colouring. But not my truthfulness.

As I left (rather hurriedly) to meet up again with puffy air, flashy photo lady to try to pick new frames whilst not being able to actually see what I look like, the optician/ opthalmist/ optometrist said to me,

”Well you have inspired me to have another go at surfing. If a lady of your age can do it surely I must be able to…”

The whole experience was wrong on so many levels.

Its two years until my next check up. I doubt she will still be there. Yes?

 

 

Inspirational… — March 19, 2018

Inspirational…

 

Four years ago (when she was a tiny seven year old in Year 3) Youngest achieved a surprise victory in the Year 3 and 4 House Cross Country race at her school.

Well it was a surprise to us, maybe not to her.

We had no idea she could run. She has always been fit by dint of the amount of team sport she plays but we had not seen her run in a competitive race before.  At her previous school Sport’s Day races had involved bean bags and hoops.

The House Cross Country race is an annual mass start affair with the younger Years 3 & 4 racing over about 2k and the older Years 5 and 6 running around 3k. The whole school running together. From the best runners to those that struggle. All take part and give it a shot. Quite impressive.

Following her victory and liking the weight of the gold medal Youngest decided to set out to win all four of the races that she would take part in during her time in the Junior school. I distinctly remember her telling me as much on our way home in the car.

This seemed to me like difficult personal goal for a 7 year old. Leaving out the actual running even the time frame was daunting. Four years. And the fact that she didn’t actually ‘know’ how to run.

So I told her it would be tough. I told her that in Year 5 especially when she would have to race against the older and bigger children in Year 6 and over the longer 3k distance, it would be a tall order.

I tried to manage her expectations.

I shouldn’t have.

Today she achieved her goal with a fourth marvellous win in her last race in the Junior school. Not only winning the girls’ race but coming 5th overall against all the Year 5 and 6 boys too.

Mission accomplished.

My daughter never fails to amaze me with her grit and determination.

She doesn’t like running. She doesn’t like the time in her own head. Which can be a scary place. And yet she has dragged herself off to Park runs when time allowed between her other sport to hone her running skills.

Since that first year the weight of expectation has been heavy. Her own fear of failure huge. She is sick with nerves beforehand.

She puts everything out there on the field.

Runs against bigger and older children.

Trains. Tries. Visualises.

This is why I believe she can do anything she puts her mind to.

Talent is a small part of the picture.

Desire is a some of the battle.

Hard work is everything else.

My daughter is quite simply inspirational.

Eldest… — January 28, 2018

Eldest…

So there is likely to follow an unashamedly schmaltzy and over the top piece about my son. I am allowed. Just this once.

Soon my first born son turns 14. In fact next Tuesday.

So what can I say about Eldest?

That he is becoming a lovely young man. Standing nearly six feet tall. Strong and handsome. And that this is hard to believe. It seems like yesterday that he was a babe in my arms. A 14 month old learning to walk with a sock in his mouth. A toddler with a sturdy, determined gait caring for his new brother. A pre schooler quiet and shy. A small boy learning to ride a bike and play football, playing his first notes on the piano, making friends, learning to read and write. A ten year old struck down by appendicitis. A young man changing schools and bravely starting over.

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That he is empathic and friendly, unhappy when anyone is left out, able to get along with different ‘sets’ of friends.

That despite the onslaught of hormones and puberty he has on the whole remained respectful and kind and fun to spend time with.

That he is still a mummy’s boy. Happy to have a kiss goodbye (surreptitiously) in the school car park. Snuggle on the sofa and accept bedtime hugs.

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That he likes Vera. And Batman. And Arrow. And will bore to death anyone who happens to be in ear shot about Marvel films.

That he is a fiercely loyal sibling. Despite the usual fracas and bickering underneath he ‘gets’ his brother and sister. He coaches his sister in football. Wrestles with his brother. Bosses them around far too much. Loves them.

That he loves history. Has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the World Wars. Likes museums and art galleries.

That he is a dedicated and talented musician. Playing the cello with feeling and passion. Practising every day to meet his own very high standards. Playing in groups and performing in shows despite crippling nerves.

That he is his own worst critic. Nothing is ever ‘good enough’.

That he has always been the inventor of games and the ringleader in playtime. From home made trebuchets, to duvet surfing, to extreme hot wheels.

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That he reminds me of me.

That he likes to cook. Although time does not allow this as much as it should. That we still laugh about the carrot and orange soup and the lemon ‘flop’ meringue pie.

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That he has an amazing work ethic. In every area of life. Always tries his best. Listens and learns.

That he is an artist. With creative ideas and talent to match. Taking himself upstairs to draw and producing art to be proud of.

That he takes perceived criticism much too much to heart and forgets all the praise and accolades and prizes.

That he is a team player. Loving his rugby and hockey. Working hard to get onto and stay in the team. Not a monopoliser of the limelight. But quietly doing his bit. A vital team member.

That he always notices. My new hair cut. New clothes. That he will call and chat to his grandma with love and affection. That he makes you feel appreciated. That he buys thoughtful gifts (except for that sabre toothed tiger).

That, although serious and on occasion earnest, he can be silly and loud and exuberant. Not as much as I would like. That when he smiles the sun comes out.

That he has always been an eating machine. And that recently he has found the turbo button.

That he loves the outdoors. Camping and cycling and Scouting and mud. Can map read (ish), start fires, hike, orienteer, climb. That he is adventurous; facing his fears after a thorough risk assessment of course.

That he worries too much. About making the grade. Being good enough. Hitting some ‘ideal’ of what achievement is about. Driving himself to extremes.

When really he has always been better than good enough. He has always been amazing. And always will be.

Love you son. Just as you are.

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Happy Birthday!

Mummy

x

Slightly taxing…. — January 7, 2018

Slightly taxing….

Tax-Season-is-Coming

Here is a thing about me. I am very efficient. I do not like stuff ‘hanging over me’. Occasionally this back fires.

Just over a year ago I was offered some one off consultancy type work. I can’t really tell you what this was all about but once I had got over my initial feelings of panic and allowed a little bit of ‘wow maybe I am still someone whose brain has not been sufficiently addled by years of child rearing and house keeping that someone thinks I maybe useful for something vaguely important’ to set in I decided to accept.

Being my usual efficient self I registered as self employed with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in case I needed to pay tax.

I am not a stranger to the HMRC as I am a registered Agent. This may surprise you. I do get a gentle frisson of excitement every time I get an invitation to join the Agent’s Forum or receive incomprehensible e mails updating me on the complexities of Corporation Tax. But really it is just a way for me to do my husband’s and mother’s  tax returns for them. Because I am slightly money minded. And enjoy form filling.

Mother no longer needs a return doing now she is no longer a property magnate. Well since she sold her rented one bed flat anyway. And so my Agency duty consists of copying figures from my husband’s P60 and P11D and informing the HMRC of the laughably low amounts of interest he earns on the money we haven’t yet squandered on electronic devices for the offspring.

To be honest I was quietly looking forward to the challenge of completing a return for myself. ‘Self employed’ is a whole new form which I had yet to tackle. I love a challenge me.

Anyway for reasons I won’t bore you with I never got paid for that work. I did it but not for cash. That sounds slightly seedy but I can reassure you it wasn’t, in any way.

No worries I thought to myself I will simply deregister with the HMRC. Ah unfortunately not. Having registered I have to do at least two years of returns before I am able to deregister.  Bummer.

Anyway for those of you not in the know the deadline for UK self assessment on line returns is the 31st January. Historically I have been much earlier in my submissions. This is because one of my clients (my mother) used to nag me to get it done. My other client doesn’t. Nag me. Which it now transpires is a shame.

Anyway Christmas is over. I can no longer put off all those things I have been putting off since October when Preparing for Christmas took all my energy or at least was an excuse I could use to put off all those things. All Those Things only really consisted of those tax returns. You will remember from paragraph one that I usually do not like things hanging over me. Apparently things that will land me a large fine are…fine though. I should really explore this part of my psyche at some point. Not now though. More important things to do.

And so yesterday on the 4th Jan I decided I needed to tackle those tax returns.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that I have a spreadsheet of all my savings accounts. This makes me sound a bit like Rockerfeller but I really don’t want to give you that impression. Most of the accounts are legacy and have tuppence ha’penny in and are a result of expiring ISAs from when I worked and had no children and had a bit of spare cash. Some are proper accounts from a similar time. Some I opened to take legacy funds off my husband to avoid tax as I am/was/still am but now have to prove it due to my damned efficiency a non tax payer. Some are newer and opened when I had a hotline to Martin Lewis the self proclaimed money saving expert and was trying to get a decent rate of interest on these funds. It has been impossible to get a decent rate of interest in the UK for several years whilst base rate has languished unloved below 1%. As such I have somewhat given up moving my small amount of savings around.

The mess of my savings accounts is further compounded by the fact that over the years a lot of those accounts have changed hands. So what started off as an Egg has hatched into a northern building society etc. I dutifully kept all the letters informing me of such things unread in a file which would be marked ‘stuff I should have probably read and got round to before the deadline for my completely pointless first ever tax return was upon me’ if I had the gift of foresight.

Anyway I trawled through the spreadsheet looking for taxable savings accounts and made a list.

No one sends out paper to customers anymore. Although I applaud this from an environmental perspective it meant that I had no tax based certificates from any of my savings accounts except for a midlands based building society who still kindly do write every year telling me the interest I have earned on my entirely tax exempt ISA. Thanks. I do often wonder what I should spend that fiver on.

Incidentally this also makes proving one’s address quite difficult. I no longer have utility bills less than three months old showing my address as no one sends them. Well the Water Board do but only every  six months and the Council Tax annually. This was an issue when I wanted to redirect my mail when we moved house, as my address proof was over three months old. It got quite problematic. I did at one point suggest that the postman who had been delivering to me at my address for around 5 years could call randomly one day to check I actually lived there. But they weren’t having any of it. I can’t remeber how I got round that one now, possibly a waiver, signed in blood.

Sorry I digress. Now I just had to get my hands on tax certificates from those relevant institutions.

This meant I had to go into the drawer. I expect everyone has such a drawer. It is full of passwords and user names for a myriad of on line accounts which I should have committed to memory. No one has the ability to commit such a large amount of stuff to memory. Do they? It also contains pass cards and readers for banks. Notes of my memorable answers to memorable questions. Which I cannot remember. And such like. One piece of paper from one bank had the words ‘kiwi’ and ‘tree frog’ cryptically scribbled and then highlighted by my own hand. I looked forward to finding out what the bejeebers that was all about.

I managed to get on line to a few of those financial institutions. The last time I did this was probably last year when I updated the spreadsheet with balances after the annual round of interest payments had been made. Still thinking of ways to use those fivers.

Anyway I managed it with a few. I was on my last one. I had saved it for last as it is like getting into Fort Knox as it requires a 9 digit customer number (in my memory obviously) a passcard and reader with another 6 digit code. Again committed to memory, obviously.

I found the customer number. I got to the card reader response stage and entered the PIN which was accepted. A number was produced which I entered. Then I got the failure message. My card had expired. I needed to ring up. Not to worry I had another customer registration number and PIN for the same bank for their telephone banking service. The PIN was missing from the tear off letter. I emptied the drawer and found it attached to the bottom of my old calculator which no longer works but which I keep for sentimental reasons as it got me through 2 O levels and 2 A levels in maths. If only those qualifications in maths were of help now. But no a degree in cryptology and a much, much better memory would be of more use. I stuck the PIN to the letter with sellotape. I was not going to be caught out that way again. During this process I also found about 15 plastic documents wallets, some address labels, some A4 manila envelopes and an on line banking letter from another bank which I also needed for my husband’s return which had fallen down the back of the drawers. Result.

I braved the telephone system. Once I had negotiated the customer registration number and PIN entry I then had to say in a few words what my problem was. A few words are never enough but not to mind I said “my on line banking authentication card has expired”. This was clearly too many words as the system only heard “card expired” and put me through to the Card Centre clearly thinking I needed a new debit or credit card. The menus then bore no relation to my issue. No matter I thought I will simply enter numbers or say words that will lead me to an actual human. What it led me to was them hanging up on me.

I tried once more from the beginning. This time after listening again to how much the phone call was costing me (perhaps not the best way to spend those fivers) and re doing the reference number/PIN combo I said “on line banking”. This time I got through to a human. In India.

I don’t have an issue with people from India. Except that they can’t understand me. To be honest I have this issue with call centres in Liverpool. What I really need is a nice middle class call centre in the Home Counties. Anyway after what seemed like an age and me desperately imploring my customer services advisor not to put me back through to Card Services I thought he got the gist of what I needed. He went away to take advice. And then he came back to say I needed to go into a branch with 2 forms of ID, one with proof of my address less than 3 months old, to order a new card. I am not in a good place water board/ Council Tax cycle wise and so this seemed like a very bad idea. Indeed.

Moreover I have been burnt by customer service telephone banking teams telling me to do this before. You dutifully go into a branch and try to explain what you need and they look at you all blank as if you have just landed from an alien planet. Then they tell you to call the customer services team. In short they cannot help you. They can, however, sell you a mortgage.

I decided to just order the Tax Certificate and cut out myself as middle man and tackle the expired on line authentication card at my leisure. My customer services advisor went away again and came back to say, thankfully, that this was possible. He asked me to confirm which account I needed it for. I have several. Mostly expired ISAs and terrible savings accounts they opened for me when I failed to deal with my expired ISAs. I looked down the list of accounts which had been sent to me when those accounts moved over from the previous institution I had actually opened the accounts with (which from memory had much easier on line security) and provided an account number which he seeemed to recognise. He assured me that the certificate would be with me in about  3 days. I hung up.

I then looked more carefully at that letter which I had got out of that file of stuff I should have read before my first ever and completely pointless tax return was upon me and realised there was another account I needed a certificate for. It had also occurred to me that maybe I should have been sent a new authentication card and that maybe I had never changed my address with them. Such things are possible.

I called back. Same painful process. Different customer services advisor. Same going away and coming back again. I provided the other account. Was assured my address was correct. Ordered the tax certificate. This one would take 5 days. Fingers crossed.

This whole process had now taken about two hours. My floor was covered with stationery I had retrieved from behind the back of my, let’s call them my password, drawers. The dinner was beeping urgently at me. I decided to quit.

I tried to forget that husband also had an account at this institution and that he would have to go through the same painful process himself.

The next morning galvanised and refreshed I logged onto the HMRC website to start off my husband’s return. And found I could not get past my Agency home screen. Too much traffic. The site had crashed.

I can only hope that my documentation arrives within the three or five days promised and that the site is accessible at some point. Some forums suggest before 8.30am. That sounds like my best option once the kids finally return to school next week. Apparently about 9000 people did it on Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year. They don’t seem so stupid now.

I am never ever leaving it this late again. Promise.

 

If the suit fits… — October 9, 2017

If the suit fits…

westsuit

So today I decided to clean the family room. Nothing unusual in that you may be thinking. Well you would be slightly wrong on that front. For I am a bit of a slob and I hadn’t given the room a proper ‘doing’ for…some… time. I had pushed a vac around a bit and plumped the odd cushion but that really wasn’t hacking it anymore.

I knew this because Middlest’s 12th birthday cards were still adorning the hearth. I won’t admit to his birth date, not because I am worried about revealing his identity, but because then you will realise quite how much of a slob I really am. But suffice to say his birth month is not October or, dare I even say it, September.

Yes the room was in need of a major overhaul.

I like to think I leave rooms for this long because of the level of satisfaction I gain from moving large amounts of dust. But, no, really I am just a slob. Husband had also been making rumblings about the level of dust. In fact when the Sky Q box recently decided to have a minor melt down he commented that ‘there is quite a lot of dust on it’ as if that could be a possible cause… That made me wait another week before tackling the job. And swear.

Anyway as part of the cleaning process I really needed to tidy up first. And part of that tidy up process involved dealing with the wet suit on the Poang chair. And, no, this isn’t a euphemism for an elephant in the room. There really has been a wetsuit on the Poang chair for quite some time.

And here is why.

We got back off our main fortnight’s holiday in early August (Middlest had not turned 12 at this point) and so my husband decided to start planning next year’s holiday. This is a bit of a ‘thing’ for him. I try to be all understanding about his need to have his next summer holiday booked at least 12 months in advance but really I just find it ‘mildly’ irritating to be bombarded with questions and e mails with links to possible destinations when my bikini is still drying on the washing line.

To some extent he is right because we do need to book early as we are (whispers) a family of 5. As anyone who is in a family of 5 will know this is a ‘bad thing’ holiday wise. The accommodation required to house families of 5s is often very expensive and very scarce and books up very quickly.

Still I like to get Christmas out of the way first.

Anyway this year’s process of holiday booking saw him downsize our choice from a 12 day safari to Botswana via 16 days touring the west coast of the US to finally a fortnight in a 4 bed cottage on the beach in Polzeath, Cornwall, England.

I won’t bore you with this process, it was bad enough being part of it as an ultimate beneficiary, but suffice to say we are all more than slightly relieved to be looking forward to spending 2 weeks literally on the beach, returning to our cottage of an evening to eat take away fish and chips and to partake of the good WiFi and a PS4. Instead of ‘basic’ camping in the bush or driving for 9 hours a day down Route whatever. Well the kids and I are anyway.

Not to become downhearted by this downscaling of his holidaying dreams husband has instead gleefully embraced the role of kitting us all out for this adventure. We love to body board and knowing what Cornwall may be like in August we had decided to spend some of the not inconsiderable savings we had made on the actual holiday on better equipment. I saw this as a longer term project.

And so it was that a while ago (!) I took delivery of a new full length wet suit which my husband had lovingly chosen for me completely autonomously. A full 10 months ahead of our sojourn. It is apparently a good time to buy wetsuits as the summer season is coming to a close. Obviously. It is lucky I am not one for fashion or brand new ranges as I am going to be a whole year out of date next summer proudly sporting my brand new not new wetsuit. In some ways his faith in my ability to stay around my current weight and body shape is flattering. In others… Luckily he hadn’t been stupid enough to buy the kids any new wet suits. Which is a good job as by next August it is possible Eldest will have hit 7 foot tall.

He casually threw the wet suit on the Poang and suggested I try it on. My heart sank. I ignored that wet suit for… some… time. Today, however, I could ignore it no longer. It was time to try it on.

We have all watched surfer movies. Blonde, tousle haired youths strolling around with their wet suits around their waists. Shrugging their arms into sleeves and reaching gracefully behind themselves to pull effortlessly at the back zipper before elegantly diving into the waves.

That isn’t me. In any way. In fact I try to avoid donning a wet suit in public. It often involves a lot of very unflattering wriggling and grunting. For I am the shape of a lady. I have a waist and hips and such like. Wet suits usually fit me fine once I have wrestled the small amount of waist material over my arse. But not until that point.

I am also unable to reach around to my back and pull up my zipper. I lack the shoulder mobility. Usually I have to sort of flick the long zipper tail over my head and tug it up whilst bent double. Again not a flattering look.

Clearly having taken this issue on board wet suit manufacturers are trying something new and my husband had already explained that this new wetsuit did up at the front in a quite complicated neck arrangement. He had taken ‘a while’ to work out how to get in his suit. I have worn bodies. I thought I could manage.

Things seemed to be going quite well (aside from the usual arse through small waist wriggling) until I got to my second arm. I had climbed into the suit through part if the neck. The neck line appeared to have several parts. I thrust my arm into a sleeve and it went precisely 2 inches before coming to a grinding halt.  I had my left arm half in the suit but couldn’t pull it up over my left shoulder until my right arm was in which meant the use of my left arm was severely compromised. I thrust several times and got no where.

I took out my left arm and tried inserting my right arm first and this worked once I realised that I was going down the wrong ‘side’ of the sleeve. After that I grunted and wriggled some more and got my left arm back in and the suit up to shoulder level. Then I realised the other half of the neck zip fastener was behind my head. I had to put my head back through the very small neck opening. Whilst not grazing my nose on the zip in a very unflattering way.

Once I had achieved this I got that satisfying ‘pop’ feeling as all my body parts found themselves in the correct area of the suit. Well all my parts except my knees which never seem to find themselves behind the reinforced knee area because I have short dumpy legs. Never mind I could live with that.

I squeaked upstairs to have a look in the mirror and decided it would ‘do’- the colour way being sufficiently garish to mask a multitude of sins and bugles.

By this point I was getting a tad hot. Which boded well for my future sojourns in the Atlantic.

And then it hit me. I had to get out.

To my knowledge I have never got out of a wet suit unaided.

The problem with the reverse procedure is invariably arms and shoulders. I reasoned with myself that without the added factor of sticky sea water I would be able to take off the wet suit.

I was wrong.

I managed to man handle that neck bit back over my head again without major lacerations.

Then I tried to get my arms out. They were totally stuck. By this point the exertions of trying to remove myself from the wet suit had caused me to break out in an unattractive sweat which wasn’t really helping. I was now seriously hot. And remembering the claustrophobia such garments induce in me.

Ten minutes passed and I had made no real head way.

I was starting to panic. I had visions of having to do the school run in my wet suit.

My mind was in overdrive deciding which friend I could call upon to extricate me from the neoprene hell I found myself in. My best bet was a friend in the next village who doesn’t drive. She would have found it hysterically funny but would have helped. The thought of getting in the car and driving over there, though, was not appealing. I started hyperventilating.

I decided to take five, calm down, and try again.

Thankfully it worked and I managed to get one arm out of the sleeve and the suit below that shoulder. With some more deep breathing the second shoulder was out. After that it was just a case of peeling it down inside out. It sounds a bit like childbirth. The relief at the end was similar.

Anyway the suit ‘fits’. I shall not be putting it on again until August.

No buns for me.

**That is not me in my wet suit up there…

 

 

 

 

 

And…. — October 6, 2017

And….

grammar

So today I found myself doing this.

Sitting in the car on my driveway pretending that dropping my daughter at football had taken longer than it had. Why? I hear you ask. Well I will tell you.

I was avoiding homework. Not mine you understand. My son’s. Middlest’s to be precise.

I find myself mystified at his English homework. As does he. To be honest I understand more about his Spanish homework than I do about his English and I do not speak a word of Spanish.

Facebook friends will know that yesterday Middlest prepared for his upcoming Spanish speaking test which requires him to discuss someone else and then himself. He shared what he had written and I actually understood a fair proportion of it just because I have absorbed a fair amount of Spanish via a process of osmosis (interestingly Eldest has been studying osmosis in Biology so now he gets the metaphor) during the 3 years one or other of my children (at the moment two of them but soon all three) have been learning the language.

For instance I understood the following:-

Se llama Homer y es amarillo y gordo. A Homer le gusta la hamburgessas y porjo. En su tiempo libre Homer baila con su amigo Mo, tambien Homer le gusta bebe cerveza.

Well I understood it once I remembered amarillo was ‘yellow’ (and not a destination in a song about Marie) and had googled ‘cerveza’. If you don’t have rudimentary Spanish there is a translation below. Apologies to any Spanish speaking readers- this is my son’s second full year of Spanish so I can not vouch for the accuracy of the passage but I think he gets the general gist across although his grammar may be a bit off.

And that, my friends, is where our problems really begin. Middlest has been told today of a certain number of English grammar tasks that he needs to complete on a program called ‘Doddle’.

I cannot begin to explain to you how misnamed this program is. There is literally nothing we have come across on Doddle that is in any way a doddle. Last year it was some incomprehensible biology. I didn’t do biology beyond year 9. When I was at school one could drop a science and spend one’s time doing more fun and interesting lessons like Art. This was not considered a ‘bad thing’. Dropping science is now considered a ‘bad thing’. It is no longer possible in the English school system to avoid biology and all its  difficult spellings.

I could rant on for hours about how wrong I think this is. And I speak here as a degree level chemist offered PhD placements (I didn’t take one, I was sick of being poor and smelling like a combination of a morgue and a dodgy, unemptied waste bin) who didn’t get beyond human reproduction in biology. I did Art and Music instead and had a lovely little break in my timetable when I could indulge my creativity. But, no, now biology is compulsory and I don’t even think they get to cut anything up.

Earlier Eldest wanted to run past me what a palisade cell does. It was all I could do not to bolt for the hills screaming silently. Instead I just mashed the potatoes a bit harder and tried to look vaguely intelligent. I understand what osmosis is but I don’t want a detailed account. I don’t need it for my metaphor.

Anyway where was I. Ah yes English grammar. Doddle.

So before leaving to take Youngest to football Middlest had stumbled his way through a section on apostrophes (not apostrophe’s people just not).

Now I get apostrophes. I was taught that at school. Although I have to say that I was only actually sure about it’s and its last year when I finally made myself learn the difference. Now I write a bit for public consumption it seemed important. It’s really not OK to spell its/ it’s wrong by getting its apostrophe in the wrong place is it?

But still generally I understand apostrophes and I see the relevance of teaching a new generation that it isn’t OK to tell someone on Facebook ‘your OK, chin up’ really it isn’t.

He managed the 90% pass mark but only because I taught him the rules as he went along. That’s the thing about this Doddle. It’s not very good as a teaching method as it doesn’t actually teach anything unless you get the question wrong. Faced with a 90% pass mark and not wishing to spend an hour on the uses of one punctuation mark it seemed easier to teach it to him myself rather than him having to take the test again.

Then he decided to look at Connectives and Conjunctions.

Oh my actual god.

I was lost on the first page. The difference between them anyone? No anyone? I mean it shout if you know. I didn’t and I still don’t.

The test then went on to ask about some other sorts of connectives/ conjunctions which involved words like sub-ordinate and co-ordinate and adverbial and something else-ial and blah blah blah-ial and the punctuation associated with each.

Suffice to say I have not in all my 47 years absorbed any such information by osmosis.

The test did not enlighten us much. He did not achieve the pass mark. And if he sat it again I am not sure he would next time. I certainly wouldn’t have passed it. I got that same glazed over feeling I got when I was faced with that palisade cell earlier.

Also I am not sure that there is a point in this knowledge. I write a lot and I may not be the best writer in the world (for I am overly fond of ellipses (and indeed subordinate clauses)) but I can certainly use at least three connectives/ conjunctions, whether adverbial or of time and place, in a sentence without being able to name them.

I believe I just have.

It is possible that there are grammar nerds and English teachers out there who gleefully spend their spare time underlining the different sorts of connectives/ conjunctions in their favourite work of literature with different coloured Sharpies. But I doubt it. The grammar nerds would no doubt prefer to trawl Facebook calling out abusers of the apostrophe. And those English teachers would probably prefer to spend their allotted curriculum time discussing those works of literature with their students. Which is most likely why this drivel has been set as homework.

So cheers English department. I told Middlest to leave his score as it was. And to explain to anyone who has a problem with that that he still does not understand it. But that he can use connectives/ conjunctions in his own writing. Quite adequately.

Like Middlest said, “It’s just the word ‘and’ at the end of the day!”

Spanish translation

His name is Homer and he’s yellow and fat. Homer likes hamburgers and pork. In his spare time Homer dances with his friend Mo, Homer also likes to drink beer.

 

 

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