Parenting, profundities and humour

And…. — October 6, 2017



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.



Ginger Nut — February 7, 2017

Ginger Nut


I am not really in a very good mood. There it is out there. And yes it is partly cycle related.

And it is also partly because Middlest got hit in the face by a hockey stick and has lips the size of some celebrity who has had bad plastic surgery.

And partly because Youngest brought home English comprehension homework with questions based around the most appallingly boring text about the plight of pedestrians written circa 1970. Such gems as ‘The title of this text is a rhetorical question- what does this mean?’ To which I wanted to reply ‘A rhetorical question is something I wished this question had been so I would not have had to answer it and have had to try explaining  the concept of a rhetorical question to my 9 year old who really just wants to be in the garden playing football…’.

And then I fancied a bourbon with my cuppa as a kind of reward for not throwing the English comprehension out of the window. (‘The text says that pedestrian crossings are often in the wrong place suggest where they should actually be sited.’ Answer ‘Pedestrian crossings should be sited where people want to cross the road.’ Surely.) And I discovered that some bastards have eaten them all. Well to be strictly correct they are not bastards my husband and I being boringly conventional. But my kids have eaten them all.

I scoured the house for a suitable alternative. All the birthday wine gums are gone. Even the black ones. We ate the one last remaining meringue out of a packet of meringues (use by date Sept 2016) I found mouldering at the back of the tomato ketchup, onion and Christmas pudding cupboard with tinned pears and natural yogurt for dessert between four of us. There is no cooking chocolate. And even I refuse to eat jam straight from the jar with a spoon.

So I was left with a ginger nut. Now I quite like a ginger nut as part of a selection of biscuits. So for instance I will have a bourbon and a ginger nut. Or a custard cream and a ginger nut. But never a ginger nut alone. And I lamented my reasoning when I purchased the ginger nuts. I was trying to be ‘good’ and reduce my sugar intake. So for purely health reasons I decided to buy plain ginger nuts rather than my usual dark chocolate coated real ginger chunk versions. Damn.

And for this I blame another ginger nut namely Chris Evans.

I like Radio Two. For those overseas this is a national radio station here in the U.K. It is a bit of an institution. To explain Radio 2 is the place to go when the noise and inanity of Radio 1 no longer suits you but you are not clinically dead enough to listen to Radio 4 which has no music and as far as I can tell is wall to wall worthy news discussion shows, intellectual magazine shows and soap operas about farmers.

The breakfast show is hosted by one Chris Evans, once a wide boy, a self-made man and maverick turned mostly normal married man with kids, albeit a screamingly rich one. He is still quirky and I like his show, generally. In fact during January I enjoyed listening to him try to stay ‘dry’.

But now it is February and he and seemingly all his fellow team members, have decided to go ‘refined sugar free’. Every time I tune in he seems to be waxing lyrical about the joys of soups and avocados and telling us all how marvellous he feels. Today he was joined by Dr Mosley a TV doctor who has done such things in the name of ‘dietary science’ (i.e. money and fame) as eating only take away food for several months to see what it did to his body. It made him ill. Oddly. The good Dr (who surprisingly has a cook book out called something like the eight week sugar free diet) was taking questions from callers. Such questions as ‘Can I eat cheese as the packet says it has 1% sugar?’. Oh my actual god. Are people really that dense?

The good Dr explained how much cheese you would have to eat to consume the same amount of sugar as contained in a bowl of sugary cereal. Obviously it was a lot of cheese. And whilst I might be tempted in my current state of ‘mild’ irritation to attempt to eat that much cheese even I might struggle.

Someone else wanted to know if eating salad was ok as she had heard that even an undressed green salad contained sugar. It was such a stupid question the good doctor dodged it and explained he had several recipes for sugar free salad dressing in his book. Chris interjected that he had made his own humous yesterday which was a first for him having only ever made pesto before, the Doctor counter-interjected that he had made something for the first time yesterday that I had never heard of before but presumably involved a blender and some sort of pulse and his wife washing up every implement in the kitchen. His wife is apparently ‘thrilled’ that he is taking part in this exercise and cooking. Really? I bet actually she sobs into her washing up bowl secretly stuffing her face with Milk Tray whilst trying to ignore her sanctimonious, evangelical spouse. By this point I personally would have screamed obscenities at the radio but I had small people in the car.

Finally a runner wanted to know what he could substitute his energy gels for during his marathon training. Again err… To be fair the good Dr did say that a bit of energy gel was ok for anyone running over 10k as sugar is needed in some situations. But then he did go onto mention bananas and dried mangos. Those really portable fruits which I am a sure every marathon runner would be able to carry round the 26 mile ish course with ease. Not.

Then there was some spurious gumph about sugar feeding bad microbes and it is the bad microbes slowly being starved to death and shouting out in their death throws for sugar, sugar, sugar that causes the sugar slump when you try to give up. Sigh. I am not a biologist. I hate biology. So maybe that’s true. Sounds like utter crap to me.

I am of the ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’ school of thought. So a couple of biscuits. A bag of crisps. Broccoli if that floats your boat. I don’t do well if stuff is banned.

Suffice to say I am finding all the holier than thou sugar freeness a little tedious. So much so I am listening to Def Leppard instead.

And tomorrow I am going to the biscuit aisle and stocking up on proper snacks. I need them (bad bacteria or no) after answering Question 14 ‘Did you find this text persuasive and if so why?’ without getting Youngest to write ‘No I did not find this text persuasive as it is badly written, boring twaddle about the plight of pedestrians and you made me answer 14 inane questions about it and any possible power it may once have had to persuade me has been forever crushed during this tedious mind numbing process!’…

Yah boo sucks to you Chris Evans.




















Silly Season — July 3, 2016

Silly Season

taj mahal.jpg

It is nearly the end of term. All my children have done end of year assessments. We have concerts and sports days left. Cricket matches and charities afternoons. Swimming galas and house rounders. The last few weeks are busy.

As such I was hoping for a let off homework wise.

Unfortunately this is homework ‘silly season’.

In the last few weeks of term Eldest has been doing ‘mini projects’. One in science, one in RE and one in Geography. I am sure the teachers love them. I imagine them on Facebook or taking down classroom displays whilst their charges get on with ‘independent’ work.

To be fair Eldest managed his Geography project quite well alone and I had little involvement. Except to correct some fundamental errors in his map reading of our local area.

The science project has involved me driving him to a mates’s house so they could recreate the solar system out of polystyrene and represent the phases of the moon with Oreo cookies. I think the mate’s dad did get involved. Eldest mentioned a man cave. And the resulting model does imply that said dad has a lot of hardware type stuff ‘lying around’. Good job they did it there. We don’t have a man cave. Or lots of bits of stuff hanging around. Thanks mate’s dad…. All Eldest needs to do now is get said stuff to school tomorrow along with his cello and games kit. Luckily my friend is driving…

The threatened RE project has yet to materialise. Eldest did mention making a model of Exeter cathedral, which we recently visited. I put my fingers in my ears and sang ‘la la la la la’. Repeatedly. And am hoping it has all just ‘gone away’. If not we will stick a bit of coloured cellophane on a shoe box and call it quits…. It could be worse it could be making the Taj Mahal out of matchsticks…

In music they are filling in the last few lessons by learning to play a contemporary song in small groups. Eldest is his group’s pianist. I and the rest of my family are slowly going mad being subjected to the opening bars of ‘Seven Years’ over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. He does not seem to be able to get beyond those opening bars. I have been roped in to help. Which seems to consist mainly of me shouting ‘B flat major chord’ at him a lot, whilst washing up. I used to like the song. Now? Not so much. ‘Once I was 46 years old, Eldest said to me, got to learn the song, now I hate it all so much’. Or something like that…

Middlest’s maths teacher decided that setting ‘making chocolate brownies’ for homework was a ‘good idea’. Some sort of guff about ratios. How spurious? They are ‘due in’ on Wednesday. Of course Middlest has also been selected for cricket matches on both Monday and Tuesday evenings and also has other commitments on those nights. So guess what we were doing at 7pm today?

I am sure the maths teacher loves ‘marking’ this homework. And feels he is being cool and hip. What he is really being is a right royal pain in the arse. I like to cook with my kids. But I would like to choose the time. And the recipe. If it is all the same to you Mr Maths teacher.

And for the avoidance of doubt I don’t want to make chocolate brownies at 7pm on a Sunday evening.


I hope all that ‘marking’ makes him sick.


House Poetry anyone? — June 17, 2016

House Poetry anyone?


So Eldest is in his first year at Senior School. That is First Form in old money and Year 7 in today’s new-fangled counting system.

The school has a very active House System. There are 6 houses named after Old Boys of the school. Eldest was very happy to be placed in Bell. Not because of the accomplishments of its namesake, of which Eldest can tell me very little, but because their house colour is purple. His favourite. And so his tie has a purple stripe. And if he makes Head of House in Year 12 he will get a blazer with purple trim. This is now his aim. Purely for fashion reasons.

All his form are in Bell. He was elected Year 7 House Captain and gets a , yes you guessed it, purple lapel badge.

There are numerous House Events. The usual sport, music, drama, debating. But also some more unusual ones. So far this year he has been House Ten Pin Bowling, House Water Sporting and other such fun activities. He gets to mix with the older years and generally have a ball.

Bell have been ahead all year. According to Eldest this is very unusual. They have not won for five years at least. I like to think their Year 7s are particularly strong. But I may be biased. At the end of every term the leading house has its house colours suspended from the flag pole. Photos have been acquired.

So over all we are fans of the House system. And then Eldest came home with an instruction to write an entry for House Poetry. He wasn’t best pleased. The poem had to start with one of three Shakespearean lines. And had to be between 12 and 30 lines long. He stormed and riled against it. It hung over us all through half term. And then on the last day he dashed off the poem below. I think it is quite good for a 12 year old. Again biased.

I had written one for him to ‘pretend’ with in a worst case scenario. But his is better to my mind.

So there you are. Sometimes it is good to be forced to do things that one finds difficult. You might just surprise yourself.

By Eldest

When I consider everything that grows

I think of the smallest of creatures to the largest

I think of the loudest to the quietest

The predator to the prey

The oldest to the young


The different places with life

Africa to Antarctica

The varieties of animals

The difference in types

Prehistoric to the modern day


When I think of life

I think of myself

How I have grown up

Mentally and physically

All the memories I have embraced.



Lost in Translation — May 19, 2016

Lost in Translation


Here is a thing about me. I am not a natural linguist. I struggled through my obligatory language O level and achieved a B in French. Basically by learning what I needed to know off by heart.

My name is, I live in, I am x years old, I have two brothers etc etc.

I did a lot of verb conjugation (J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont (or is it sont? I never was sure)) and dealing in really strange tenses; pluperfect, imperfect future or some such guff.

I hated it. I particularly hated the speaking tests. Partly because I was very shy. Partly because if the examiner veered off course I had no idea what they were saying, however it was conjugated or whatever tense it was in.

In recent years we have been to France a few times and I was able to speak a bit to the locals. As long as I had prepared properly before hand with my phrase book. Luckily my accent is so terrible that none of the people I attempted to converse with tried to widen the conversation beyond:

‘That will be 10 euros please’ in response to my request for two scoops of chocolate ice-cream in a tub not a cone. I was quite pleased with that sentence. If not the price. If they had tried to respond conversationally I would have been lost. I need some one to listen for me and stall them whilst I think up a suitable reply. Unfortunately my husband is even worse at languages than me.

I am not proud of my inability to ‘get’ languages. I feel inadequate when visiting any other country where it seems most of the inhabitants can speak more than passable English. Although this does serve as a massive disincentive to bother. I am not embarrassed enough to try again though. I am good at a great many things. I feel I am allowed to be weak at this. So there.

At school I also flirted briefly with German and gave that up as soon as humanly possible. Capital letters for improper nouns. Why just why?

So foreign language is not my strong point. Eldest has inherited that trait. He is in Year 7 and currently studies three languages. French, Spanish and German. He finds none of them easy.

Soon he has exams in all three. Speaking, listening, reading and writing. I really feel for him.

Tonight we have been grappling with preparation for his Spanish written test. I have no idea. The text book seems to contain no English at all. He doesn’t know the verbs ‘to have’ or ‘to be’. They do not seem to use pronouns except when they do. The accents are all different to French. And I never really remembered them in French either. Punctuation is just weird.

I know I should just ‘let him get on with it’ but that is hard to do when he is sitting at the table at a complete loss. I need to mount that white charger and ride to the rescue. So I do.

My mother did the same for me on occasion. Although not in French. Mostly in maths. Which she liked and was good at. I can still remember the day she tried to help me with fractions. She had a complete inability to understand how I did not understand them. At least I ‘get’ Eldest’s issue with Spanish. As I do not ‘get’ it either.

Any way we seem to have cobbled together a few paragraphs which when entered into Google translate appear to make some sense, in patches.

He just has to learn it now including the spellings. And he doesn’t like spelling much even in English.

Then at some point we need to do the same thing in French, at least I know what I am doing, sort of.

We are not even going to bother with German which he is dropping for good next year. I never usually advocate not giving one’s all to a subject but in this case I feel some sympathy. Let him fail it.

Like me he has to do one language at GCSE. One will be enough. More than enough.

No me gusta el espanol porque es dificil. Or something.

Life Sentence…. — January 27, 2016

Life Sentence….


Today is Monday. Well actually it probably isn’t anymore as I never post entries on a Monday as they do spectacularly badly. But anyway when I was writing this it was Monday.

Monday is a particularly bad day.

For many reasons. The usual ones. Husband back to work. Kids back to school. Bag packing. Early, dark morning. Scrambling not to be late. All the usual stuff families have to work through.

Anyway after the husband and kids have safely left for work and school I spend a few depressing hours getting on top of the detritus left by two days of not dealing with it. And the admin which still seems to pile up even on ‘non’ work days.

Usually I meet up with some friends and we stave off the Monday blues with tea and biscuits and chat. A good couple of hours in an otherwise dismal day.

And then after school we have to deal with the return of homework.

I have mixed feelings about homework. In theory I believe in homework. Which is a good job as mine get quite a lot of it. It is our own fault. We chose the school. And knew the homework policy before we did so. Although like a pregnant lady facing parenthood I was in denial somewhat. I should have listened.

Eldest gets about an hour a day. Middlest gets 40 minutes a day. Youngest about 20 minutes. It is useful for me. I get to know what is going on at school. Books come home and I can surreptitiously trawl them to see how they are getting on. It highlights areas they may want to work on with me. I can ‘help’ with stuff I love. Like algebra and history. And I can be ‘too busy’ when it is English. Or a fact file….saints preserve me from fact files…

Mine are very good and we operate a ‘do it on the day it is set’ policy which served me well at school. This means Saturdays and Sundays are usually free of homework which makes the contrast to Monday even more extreme.

So I get homework. I know why it is set. I try to be positive about it in front of the kids.

But in some ways I hate it. And Mondays are particularly bad. And this is because Youngest brings home her spelling sentences. Every week she has a list of 15 words to learn to spell. Usually based around a sound. This week that sound was ‘or’. She writes them out each morning in her book before breakfast. And has a test on a Friday. So far so OK. I did this as a child. Along with my times table tests. I have no issue with it.

What I have an issue with is the Monday task of putting these words into sentences. In her handwriting book. She has to come up with a sentence for 5 of the words. And then write them out so her risers and fallers (get me all ‘Primary Teachery’) fall exactly between the sets of lines provided in the special handwriting book.

So far this term her words have been too loopy, too small, too far apart, too close together, too god knows what. I don’t get the point. She doesn’t write in this way in her actual books, which lack the numerous sets of lines provided in the handwriting book. The fact that her writing is joined up and legible is enough for me. I find it particularly irritating as it is impossible to read some of her teacher’s marking comments as their writing is so illegible. My writing is illegible. My doctor’s writing is illegible. It doesn’t really matter. Especially in the modern world. Where writing in pen is dying out. I never hand write anything except greetings cards and shopping lists.

So I find it a banal task. Extremely.

Today these are the sentences we came up with. Youngest wasn’t brave enough to actually write them in her book. I wish she had.

Please transport me to a place where spelling sentences do not exist. Period.

I cannot afford the time to write out these spelling sentences. I have a life. I am eight and my hand writing is better than yours.

The pupil found writing out spelling sentences so depressing that she committed Harakari with a sword.

Coming up each week with an interesting assortment of spelling sentences is driving my mother mad.

Writing out these spelling sentences is pure torture.

I think we should have written these. Seriously.


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