musingsponderingsandrants

Parenting, profundities and humour

Ear…ear… — August 2, 2019

Ear…ear…

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So here we are in sunny France. Day 6 of our 2 week sojourn to the Vendee on the Atlantic coast.

It’s actually Day 7 but I refuse to count Day 1 as it consisted of getting up unfeasibly early and driving for hours and hours before having to speak broken French in tabacs and supermarkets, cook pasta, unpack and try not to shout at the kids before falling into bed in an exhausted heap… “let’s make the journey part of the holiday” some smuck said. No let’s forget it ever happened and enter complete denial until Day 15 when we do it all in reverse with nothing to look forward to except those 4 bananas I am certain I left in the fruit bowl….

Sorry I digress.

Day 6/7 then. So far days 1-5 have involved us in unbridled fun. Body boarding, swimming, jacuzzi-ing (even a word?), sandcastle building, reading, sleeping and yesterday a day at a water park sliding and getting an adrenaline fix.

Time today, therefore, for something different. It began at 12.30am this morning when Middlest stumbled into our bedroom complaining of ear ache.

Middlest really did stumble too. The shutters here, which resemble shop shutters but are automatic, let in very little light so it is pitch black in the night. This sees me regularly waking up in what I consider to be the middle of the night but is actually 9am. This was especially confusing during Days 1 to 3 when I could not work out how to alter the time on my Fitbit and so had to manually add on the hour myself. Which my brain seemed incapable of doing in the middle of the night/ 8am/ 9am.

I groaned, I like to think inwardly but it was probably outwardly too, and stumbled into the other bedroom (husband and I currently occupy 2 as the one we started sleeping in at the end of that exhausting Day 1 had a bed so hard my left arm went numb so we turned Middlest out of his twin to share with Youngest so we could sleep with full feeling in all our limbs. This sees our clothes, toiletries and the medicines in one room and us in another) to retrieve the analgesics. I bunged him an ibuprofen and went back to sleep and dreamt of doctors and giant ears.

And thus Day 6 has been spent dealing with the french medical system.

Middlest and Youngest have ear ache form. They first got raging ear ache in Portugal during our 2016 summer holiday. Please read Why are there No Aspirin in the Jungle for that particular tale.

They then both got it again on 2 holidays to the Canaries.

With our own private pool here we hoped we might evade the dreaded ear infections but, no, either the pool contains remnants of previous occupants or it was yesterday’s water park that was the culprit….

We spoke to our rep who suggested a pharmacy. So off I drove to the nearest town having readied my script which consisted off: I am English. I speak a little French. My son has ear ache. Is there something you can suggest?

Day 6, it transpires, is market day. The place was rammed. I drove futilely round 2 car parks, pulled the wrong way up a one way street, reversed quickly before anyone caught on and finally parked up at the supermarket.

We made the pharmacy. The assistant understood my french. Unfortunately I did not understand hers. I caught the word doctor and interior and ear and guessed she was saying I needed a doctor.

Back home we drove. Husband called the rep back. She found a doctors open to people without appointments in the same town we had just left open for just another 30 minutes. Back we raced this time with husband to drop us off seeing as time was limited. The surgery was rammed. There was no receptionist, which was in part a relief. No need to speak broken French to someone who may or may not have been from the same mold as British doctors’ receptionists. I will say no more.

People disappeared into the 2 doctors’ rooms and never came out. This was slightly disturbing. Anyway our turn came. I gave the same speech. The doctor asked me something in French. I looked blank. She asked it again in quite good English. I gave the answer: “His name is Middlest”. About this point I decided, not for the first time, that I really need to learn how to listen to French. I can read and speak it to a useful level when holiday but I am totally incapable of understanding it when spoken. Even something as simple as “What is his name”….

Anyway she got the details she needed. I managed to convey his penicillin allergy. We got a prescription. We paid the 30 euros (frankly that is cheap compared to Spain and Portugal) and left through a second door….ahh now we understood…

Back to the same pharmacy. The previous assistant smiled and said “Ah antibiotics”. The male assistant had less English. We managed with hand signals and my occasional French word of agreement and me deciding to just say ‘Oui’ and decipher the French instructions when we got home. He was concerned, I think, that he didn’t want me to think he was ripping me off as he had to sell me two packets of ear drops. Frankly I would have paid a lot more than the 10 euros to just get the whole sorry mess over with.

We drove home. Middlest had been feeling bad that he was ruining the holiday. So we span it as a worthwhile cultural experience.

No holiday would be complete without a trip to the doctors. This one has the added advantage of not even being worth a travel insurance claim. Less paperwork. Result.

In Search of Waves… — July 31, 2019

In Search of Waves…

imageSome of my more loyal readers (and let’s face it with my posts getting scarcer and scarcer you would have to be pretty loyal right now; and that scarcity is a whole other story I may write one day) may remember that I enjoy a bit of body boarding…

If you don’t remember why not go back and revisit Surfing or Surfing….or not…. or even If the Suit Fits they all bear some testament to my love of riding the waves. On my belly…. I decided after Portugal to just give up on proper surfing for good, The relief is palpable. Body boarding…all the thrill…much less effort..

In search of waves last summer we went to Polzeath in Cornwall for our annual two week summer holiday. The house we rented was literally a short trot to the beach (admittedly across a car park) and then it was only a small hike up the beach to the waves. We had decided to buy full length wet suits of a decent quality and exorbitantly expensive Dry Robes (TM) which as it happened were unnecessary as Cornwall basked in unusually high temperatures for our entire staycation.

Once we realised you needed to get your boarding fix either very early or very late to avoid the hoards of surf schools and sightseers we had a high old time. The waves were mostly good.

Probably beacuse we didn’t get the Cornwall weather we expected and felt cheated by all that sun we decided to head back in October half term for another go. This time the weather was distinctly Cornwall. We used those Dry Robes (TM) in anger as well as neoprene hats, shoes and gloves. You may scoff but we body boarded in November. In the rain. And howling wind. The waves were ‘frisky’. It was quiet.  But nothing was open. All the cafes and tea shops and chippies had closed up for the year.

In a bid to combine sun & open amenities with not hitting your head on a surf board or taking out a toddler or two on every wave we decided to head back to the west coast of France this year.

We last did this in around 2011. We remembered excellent waves. Long empty beaches. But we have moved on a bit from static caravans. So husband found a house again a stroll from the beach. With a pool and jacuzzi. And a washing machine. We bought a roof box for all the wet suits, neoprene accoutrements and Dry Robes (TM) (the weather in West France can still be a bit hit and miss if memory served) and off we drove across the tunnel and seemingly all of France.

The house is spectacular. The beach beautiful. But not body boardable. We tried, looking a bit ridiculous in our wet suits amongst all the bikini clad French bathing in fairly calm waters, but really, no.

Luckily Rob, who had shown us around the house when we arrived, had mentioned a surfer beach, La Conches, just up the bay. He claimed it was a bit busy with surf schools (sigh) but worth the trip especially as it had life guards.

Yesterday with a surf report of 5-7 foot waves we tried our local beach one more time, gave up after having to walk over the rocks to the waves which were breaking at weird angles, got straight in the car sitting on towels and said Dry Robes (TM) and drove in sandy flip flops and wet wetsuits to La Conches which took all of 15 minutes. We banged the roof box on the car park barrier, got out and walked to the beach.

We were greeted by awesome waves of indeed epic proportions breaking in huge straight lines. The beach was deserted. As it was raining.

So off we went striding into the sea catching wave after wave and skimming the shore with our boards. Looking like we at least needed the wet suits.

We went back today in slightly tamer 3-4 foot waves. Which allowed Eldest to catch them just before they broke much to his delight, and Middlest to try his barrel rolls.

2 hours later we again sat on those towels and Dry Robes (TM) in the increasingly sandy car and drove back to our house and the outside shower. All exhilarated, tired and ready for our baguette, cold meats and cheese.

Why do I like it so much? I love the visceral effect of the sea. I love being so close to all that power. I love fighting my way back out through the breakers. I love the crash of the breaking wave, the gurgle as you ride the breakers and the rustle of the shingle under the board. I love the smell. I love the pull of all that energy propelling you up the beach. I love that time slips away unnoticed. I love seaweed tangled in my feet. I love the feel of sand in my toes. I love the triumph when you catch one just right and go from shoulder high water to inches of foam.

And you see here is the single best thing about body boarding. It is a physical activity that I enjoy and can actually do as well as my off spring. In every other area I lag behind, get tired before everyone else, feel like the lame duck. But with body boarding I out last them all. Except Youngest who could have stayed even longer. It is truly a whole family activity.

At one point during today’s session we all managed to catch the same wave riding it up to the shoreline in what , in my mind, was exquisite harmony. Perfect.

Body boarding is something that I can foresee carrying on with even after the kids have left and into my older years. I imagine myself at 60 or even older still riding those waves.

And then I struggle into or out of my wet suit slowly and often with help and reconsider…. I will have to develop an immunity to the cold. Or a layer of fat. And do away with one altogether. For I never want to give up that feeling of pure exhilaration.

 

 

 

It Drives Me Crazy… — January 27, 2019

It Drives Me Crazy…

 

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I have wanted to write this post for a while but never really knew how to start. I still don’t really so I guess I am going to have to hold my nose and just jump in…

Bringing up three kids was never going to be easy. Parenting isn’t easy full stop however many you have. Over the last few years parenting mine has been particularly difficult. They are growing up, hormonal, teenage. All those cliches.

But in addition to that 2 of them have suffered from and still do suffer from mental health issues.

I am not unusual. The statistics surrounding the numbers of children and teenagers suffering in this way is frankly frightening. Regardless of the reasons (and they are no doubt multidudinous) we are, in this country, in the midst of an epidemic of youth mental illness. Statistics published recently state that 10% of 5 to 16 year olds suffer from mental health issues. That is three children in every average sized school classroom.

And yet the help out there is woeful. Totally woeful.

The NHS can’t or won’t provide anywhere near sufficient resources to tackle the issue. 75% of those suffering have not had any help at all and on average it takes 10 years to get the treatment young people need, when usually their issues have brought them to a crisis point.

Over stretched NHS resources send children away because their self harm isn’t bad enough, or they haven’t yet attempted suicide enough times, or they are not painfully thin enough. That is the reality of mental illness provision in England today. That is real. That happens to young people every day.

I struggle to understand how, as a society, we find it acceptable to not provide proper NHS support for the around 22% of fourteen year old girls who self harm for instance. Whether that’s better research into causes, treating people with the issue or providing preventative care.

I wonder how many headlines there would be if 22% of 14 year old girls suffered from cancer and nothing was done? Or indeed they were turned away by the NHS until their cancer was ‘bad enough’ as so often happens to those with mental illness.

The spotlight on mental health has got a little brighter in recent years with the input of royalty and sufferers speaking out but funding for the area is shockingly poor. Not only in the NHS but also in the charity sector. Research is pitiful. Suicide is the single biggest cause of death in both males and females between that ages of 20 and 34 and three quarters of those people will have started with mental ill health in childhood. Research into mental health currently runs at 6% of the UK’s health research funding and is around £8 per sufferer per year as opposed to £178 per cancer sufferer and £110 per dementia sufferer…not even in the same league. Of this pitiful amount less than 30% goes into children’s mental health research despite 75% of cases starting in childhood.

We donate and run and walk and put on national events on a huge scale for other types of disease. But mental illness seems not to have gathered such a following. It isn’t well publicised. It isn’t high profile. It isn’t big business. It is just a canker in our society which is still brushed under the carpet. Or worse not believed in.

I can tell you categorically that mental illness is real. It ruins lives. In an on going way. Not only for the sufferer but also for their families.

Who wants to hear their teenage son decide he would be better off dead than deal with the noise in his head a moment longer? Who would not believe that? Or want to help?

We were lucky. In our area there is a charity, CHUMS, which provided both my children with 4 hours of counselling (all they can afford to provide per child) and helped me learn to help them myself. Without them there would have been no way to get my children help; they were simply not ‘ill enough’ to get NHS treatment. Those 4 hours were precious. It hardly felt like we touched the surface. But still they were four hours that got us from the edge of cliff and back to a path we could manage, albeit a precarious one.

Without it I would have been left in the same boat as most families in the UK with children with mental health issues. Not being able to help my child out of their pain and anguish. Not knowing what to say. Feeling powerless to help my teenager deal with his totally crippling stress, anxiety and rituals which were literally ruining his life. The impotence I felt at times would have continued to overwhelm me.

Thanks to CHUMS he and I have some idea how to deal with his issues. It is still a daily and on going battle which shouldn’t be underestimated. And we are not alone.

To say ‘Thank you’ that same son is cycling a Coast to Coast 140 mile route over 3 days at Easter to raise money for that charity which I can honestly say saved his life.

He is trying to raise £1000. Which is a relatively a small amount but it’s a struggle. We are hoping to get there.

If you are reading this and can help with a donation, however small, please go to his Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/Matthew-Harrison21 where you can read his story in his own words.

He and I and other families will be very grateful.

Thanks.

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object… — January 17, 2019

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object…

Well I think we are about to find out folks… hang on to your seats…

As the unstoppable force that is Brexit runs full pelt into the immovable object that is 29th March we all hold our collective breath.

There are many sorts of people around at the moment….

There is a loud group of Remainers who think that all their dreams are going to come true and that a second referendum is the only way out. Glibly closing their minds to the fact that it seems more than likely the Leave vote will be stronger. And over looking the fact that even if there were by some miracle a Remain vote we will have to slink back to the EU table with our tail between our legs like a sorry mongrel who got ideas above its station, all negotiating power and standing shot to ribbons. Deluded.

There are Remainers and Leavers trying to put a brave face on it. Wondering how we got into this mess. Trying not to believe that the people we elected into power are so stubborn and lacking in the ability to think outside their own personal and party based interests (to act as bleeding statesmen) that we are going to crash and burn in spectacular fashion. Powerless to do anything except stand back and watch it all happen like rubber-neckers on a motorway as a million car pile up happens on the other carriage way.

There are those of both persuasions who think ‘it will all be OK in the end’. We survived two world wars for gods sake. How hard can it be to live in a world with no food on the shelves or medicine in the pharmacies. Well quite hard but hey you know it will be alright in the end.

There are those Leavers who think this is exactly why we need to leave because the EU are so damn unreasonable.

There surely must be some Leavers out there (although I have yet to meet one) who have decided that ‘oops’ maybe they didn’t think it through properly in the first place. That maybe they just voted based on a red bus and a few lying toe rags or maybe because ‘immigrants’ were taking their jobs (and picking their strawberries, and cleaning their hotel rooms, and serving them beer, and resuscitating them in A&E and teaching their kids Physics) and we needed to ‘stop the tide’. And who now think it wasn’t such a great way to vote. Who knows. To be fair I think most Leavers were not expecting this massive cock up.

Some people must just be ignoring it. For the sake of their mental health or because it means so little to them as they exist in a day to day vacuum of simply making it to the next day caught up in a world where politics has stood still for 2 years as all focus was put on avoiding a catastrophe that know seems inevitable…

There must be I guess some people sitting in corners quietly rubbing their hands together ready to pick up the pieces and make a killing in the fall out… there are always people like this: knitters at the guillotine, looters of bodies, dubious business men, Boris Johnson. The human condition is such that one person’s bad news is usually some unscrupulous person’s good news.

I for one am sick of it. I wanted to stay. Now all I am sure of is that the reputation and standing of this country has been immeasurably harmed by the whole sorry mess. A whole two years when we could have been sorting the issues (poverty, inequality, housing, health, education) that led to the referendum decision in the first place have been lost. My faith in politicians and democracy is in shatters. There is not one single party I can vote for based on their sorry performances.

It’s getting to the point where I would rather it was just all over for good or bad. And I could deal with the fall out as best as possible.

Onwards.

Adulting…it ain’t all that.. — December 7, 2018

Adulting…it ain’t all that..

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‘So,’ Eldest said this morning, ‘What are you going to do on your day off?’

Well son it’s like this.

First I am going to go in to school (in the rain as it happened) to hammer out an agreement on which netball matches your sister can miss next term so she can at least step onto a football pitch.

Then I will probably tackle the weekly round of scraping dried on shit stains off 3 toilets and cleaning mine which of course still smells of roses, collect an obscene amount of almost but not quite empty shower gel and shampoo bottles, sweep finger nail cuttings off window sills into the bin (why do finger nail cuttings end up on widow sills? it flummoxes me), remove layers of toothpaste off every available surface so that you can all take great sweeping spits at the mirror later to put them all back, remove around 20 used toilet roll tubes and then try to remember which child said they needed them, presumably for some ‘fun’ Christmas homework or other, shine sinks so that your father can shave his head onto at least 2 of them during the weekend covering them with a plethora of tiny little hairs, fight back the tide of hay that seems to migrate from the guinea pig corner into every other pigging room in the house, put muddy shoes outside, hoover the stairs which get miraculously filthy even though NO ONE is supposed to wear shoes upstairs. Etc.

At some point during this process Sainsbury’s will arrive with over a 100 quid’s worth of food which will probably last until, oh I don’t know, Sunday? And I will spend a good half an hour trying to resurrect crisps that have been helpfully placed in a bag under the 5 kilos of potatoes, unpack so many bags of said crisps it is obscene and try to work out how to fit all of it in the fridge. If I am lucky it might be the fit, friendly young chap dealing with my returns. But it is more likely to be Mr Miserable.

Oh and then I will do all the admin for all the week which I no longer have any time to do including trying to work out who is where on Saturday morning and at what god forsaken hour I will have to arise, filling in Scout camp forms, updating Pitchero, and ensuring we don’t go overdrawn.

I will wade through the 6, yes 6 separate sport’s kits that were left in the washing basket (or indeed on bedroom floors, on chairs, on the floor next to the washing basket) last night and which are covered liberally in mud, sweat and quite possibly blood and which without fail are inside out.

I will take delivery of numerous parcels as Christmas arrives from Amazon. And again wonder where to put it. I will wrestle with my conscience about not sending Christmas Cards this year…due to a lack of time rather than any environmental values.

I will attempt to start 2 tax returns, determined not to leave them until January again, but I will no doubt be confounded by on line banking and call centres.

I will drive to Sainsbury’s to buy all the missing items from my on line shop and take the umpteen billion empty bottles to the bottle bank which will no doubt be full.

I will move your cereal bowl which I have absolutely every confidence you will leave on the coffee table after breakfast rather than putting it in the dishwasher…

‘So nothing fun then?’

‘Well I will eat a whole family bag of Tyrell’s Salt and Vinegar Furrows for lunch, because I can’…

Adulting, it ain’t all that…

 

 

 

The Beginning of the End… — December 3, 2018

The Beginning of the End…

 

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And so the inevitable has happened. Eldest has acquired a girlfriend.

I really don’t know how I feel about it. At all.

On the one hand I am pleased for him. I have always maintained that he would benefit hugely from a close relationship which isn’t founded on taking the mickey or benching or rolling around in mud… and that’s just his siblings. His friendships with his male peers are even weirder…

Eldest is a deep thinker. Immensely caring. Thoughtful. He has a lot to offer and a lot to gain from a close friendship with a girl.

But on the otherhand it feels like the beginning of the end.

My time as the main female in his life is in its death throws. I know it happens to us all. I just wasn’t ready yet to have a rival for all that love and affection.

Being the mother of boys is an immense privilege. They learn how to treat women from you. They learn to understand how we tick. They worship you. When they are little they run to you in a way daughters don’t. It seems odd but that is how it has always been with mine.

And letting go even ever so slightly hurts. Just a little bit, but it hurts.

So make the most of those hugs and kisses and special times when warm fuzzy heads nestle in your arms and sticky hands clasp at yours for before you know it they are  6 feet tall and you have to stand on tiptoe to steal an occasional kiss.

My beautiful boy. Let’s hope I have equipped you to be the best boyfriend you can be. You are certainly a wonderful son.

Love Mum x

It’s a Man’s World… — November 22, 2018

It’s a Man’s World…

So here is the thing. My daughter likes playing football. She is good at playing football. Better than good. Excellent.

So has played in Saturday clubs since she was 5. Very successfully. Her current club are brilliant and have always been very supportive of all their players.

But she is also very good at hockey, netball, running- in fact most sports that don’t involve a racquet!

This causes us issues. School wants her to play for them and she wants to as she likes to play sport with her school mates and represent her school with pride.

Unfortunately this means she has to miss football matches for her Saturday league club or has to let the school down.

Fed up of trying to juggle fixture lists I decided to bite the bullet and try to find her a Sunday football club where she could train this season and play matches, assuming they had space, with a view to signing for them properly next season.

The FA, who provide her elite training, helped me find some clubs. And told me how to phrase the email to try to get them to respond. They were all ‘boys’ clubs. Which was fine she is used to that. Girls leagues don’t seem to play on Sundays.

The FA guy said my main problem would be getting them to see Youngest in the first place. He said that once she was in front of them actually playing football she would sell herself…

Alarm bells started ringing.

I sent emails off to about 9 managers.

A sum total of 1 came back. I did not even get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ or ‘we are full try in June’; just silence.

The one who did reply was a bit cagey but suggested he assess Youngest ‘over a few weeks’ reiterating that they were a 1st division side and playing at the ‘highest level’. I knew that, that was why I had emailed his club. The intimation was that he was sceptical but at least he had replied so that was a big thumbs up to him.

We rolled up on Tuesday to training. Youngest did her thing and the manager, coaches and training were great, the boys were lovely and she had fun.

After the hour was up the manager pulled me over and said how impressed he was with how well she played and that he definitely wanted her in the team for next season and this season if a space became available, that she was welcome to training for the rest of this season and that he was convinced she would settle in extremely well.

When I told him he was the only manager who had replied to my email he was not surprised. He said most coaches would have read the word ‘girl’ and dismissed the idea out of hand. He, however, was glad he hadn’t. As he said ‘Their loss!’

Maybe all the other recipients of my email are horribly busy, I know they are all volunteers with more important things than football on their plates but even so how long does it take to write an email? Certainly not the 2 weeks I have waited.

And I wonder how many of those coaches would have emailed me straight back if they had read ‘boy on an England Talent Pathway’ rather than ‘girl on an England Talent Pathway’… probably all of them.

This situation is indicative of the slight under current of sexism in grass roots football. It is not overt (most of the time) but it is there, subtly.

Youngest doesn’t play well for a girl , she just plays well. She should not be picked out for special mention because she is as good as her team mates, she is as good as her team mates and deserves only the praise they all get unless she does something above and beyond. It gets tedious when people raise their eye brows and then say something along the lines of ‘oh when the boys start growing she’ll have to move to a girl’s team’. Have they seen Kante and Shaqiri? Height isn’t a pre requisite to playing good football.

She doesn’t get ‘pushed off the ball’ and she isn’t going to ‘lack in physicality’. She is not ‘more likely to get hurt’. And anyway why is it worse if my daughter gets hurt as opposed to the person standing next to me on the touchline’s son?

She should not ‘concentrate on girls’ sport’ as was once said to me by a (male) PE teacher. She should just focus on the sport she loves.

Her team and most of the opposition she meets don’t see her as a girl, they see her as a player. It is a shame that some of the adults surrounding football find that so hard to grasp.

In fact I think all grass roots youth football teams should just be mixed. Not ‘girls’ football or ‘boys’ football. Just football, with success based on participation, attitude and commitment and, eventually at the right age, ability; but certainly not gender.

The fact that my child does not have a penis should not mean she is dimissed out of hand or treated any differently. Talent, hardwork, commitment, coachability and desire don’t care what genitalia you possess.

Anyway she will be playing for her new side next season (and hopefully before) against most of those clubs who didn’t reply. Their loss.

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?

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