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.



Reading between the lines — October 11, 2015

Reading between the lines


I wanted to write a piece about books. I penned something yesterday and when I came to read it back just now it was not really that great. My writing has let me down just as I want to write about, well, the written word. Ironically.

And so I am going to try again. Deep breath.

I suppose it is true that it is impossible to be a writer, even one as amateurish as me, without having a love for reading.

In today’s world many, many things get in the way of book reading. The TV with its myriad delights, the internet, social media, work, too many children doing too many things, blogging and the like.

It is also true that the reading many of us do has changed. From lengthy novels to snappy titbits on social media pages, magazine articles, blog entries. The modern world is displayed to us in short, easy to digest slices.

I am currently reading a Hilary Mantel. Not the Tudor ones- which I read in hard back as soon as they came to my attention because that part of history is one of my secret passions, my shelves groan with such tomes- no a piece of contemporary fiction. I am enjoying it. But I only seem to find time to read in bed before dropping off to sleep and so I spend an in-ordinate amount of that short period of time flicking back through the pages to remember what has just happened.

Some novels are like that. They need concerted effort. And the only time I seem to have available for such effort is on holiday. Well that is not totally true. I could turn off the TV. Stop writing. Give up Face book. But I don’t.

It wasn’t always like this. As a child I would curl up on my bed and read for hours at a time. Especially in the school holidays when kids’ TV finished at 12 noon and there was no such thing as the internet.

Middlest has the bug too. Despite all those distractions he spends a lot of time reading. He is a complete book worm. When we can’t find him he is usually on his bed in a position very familiar to me. And I am envious of the time he has to be so engrossed in his books. When I go to his room to bring him down for dinner he looks up almost dazed as he drags himself back from Middle Earth or Sendaria or Hogwarts.

My others read too. But much more in the vein of ‘just before bed’. Middlest reads with a single minded dedication and tenacity that I admire. He gets fully immersed. It is something I remember fondly.

And the thing is it shows in his writing, which is amazingly eloquent for a ten year old, and his verbal language, and his vocabulary.

And so I think I need to rediscover my reading mojo.

For then this piece may have flowed more easily.

%d bloggers like this: