Parenting, profundities and humour

Conkering Hero — October 2, 2016

Conkering Hero


Today has been one of those perfect autumn days. Sunny. Crisp. Warm. There are probably not many of these left here in good old Blighty before the damp and cold of winter sets in.

I love this time of year. The colours are fantastic. Hedgerows are full of berries. Fields have been harvested. Squirrels are busy laying away acorns and beech nuts for winter. Cobwebs shine in the early morning dew. Daddy long legs flutter at twilight. The last hopeful butterflies emerge and dance in the sunbeams. The crispness of the, increasingly later, dawn gives way to a warm sun-filled day.

We have had a lovely summer and autumn here in the South East of England. It took summer a while to get going but during our long school break the weather was generally kind. Unless we had a day planned at the lido.

September has also been generally glorious. There have been many days like today. To start with actually hot, unseasonably so, but now pleasant with the heat of the summer sun ebbing away into autumn. Even so I have line dried sheets and walked coatless much later in the year than usual. A couple of weekends ago Youngest, husband and I blackberried in glorious heat with insects still buzzing. Of course we have had rain, mainly on Saturdays to coincide with pitch side viewing, but mostly it has been set fair.

This weekend was Harvest festival. I have spent a large part of it at church celebrating the bounty this season provides. Eating too much good food. Yammering with friends. Marvelling at the low October light streaming through the stained glass dancing coloured shadows on the floor. Singing Rutter and hymns. Enjoying children serving food and singing Sambas. Including my own.

And today was also the day for our Annual Conker Extravaganza. As to my mind nothing symbolises autumn like conkers.

As a child I can still recall the excitment of finding a spiky case fallen from a horse chestnut tree. An unopened package containing one or possibly two beautiful gifts. Finding such bounty was difficult. All horse chestnut trees near my home were regularly scoured by children with sticks beating the branches to release these packages. One had to get up early and brave that crispy dawn to find them.

Last week I went on a walk to the local bottle bank and passed a beautiful old tree near to our local school. I was amazed to find literally tens of conkers and unopened cases lying underneath. I guess life is busier. Kids have other activities to soak up their time. But even so I find it sad that there are any conkers left for a woman of a certain age to collect on a random Thursday lunch time. Of course I was unable to resist hoovering them up and taking them home for my children.

But really that is not the same as doing it yourself. So today we went off to do just that at a local park. In the well trodden areas I was heartened to discover that conkers were hard to come by. People who had got up earlier than us had been bothered to collect them. So we had to resort to ‘children on shoulders’ to retrieve some directly from the branches.

But in more tucked away areas there were still hundreds to be found on the ground. The slight wind also helped as we had timed it perfectly and newly ripened fruit regularly dropped to the ground around us. It was very exciting to chase after them as they bounced along the grass. Youngest came away reluctantly from one tree pockets bulging with beauties.

Of course there is no use in just collecting conkers. One has to play the game too. Which we duly did in the back garden. Youngest remained undefeated. Middlest burnt through three, Middlest one and myself two.

I have plans for Christmas decorations for the rest of our not insubstantial haul. Maybe a wreath or tree hangers.

Horse chestnut trees are in trouble in this country due to a leaf mining insect and a fungal infection. They are dropping their leaves earlier and often look rather dry and sad by this time of the year. They still produce their wonderful fruit though. I am not sure how many more years this activity will be viable. It will be a very sad day indeed if they do die out.

For as much as we love bashing the bejeebers out of each other’s conkers the real joy is in the collecting and unwrapping of these wonderful free gifts provided by Mother Nature.



I accuse Anglian Water with the lead piping … — March 24, 2016

I accuse Anglian Water with the lead piping …


So here is a thing.

A couple of weeks ago my new neighbours popped round to tell me that a recent water survey had shown that they had dangerous levels of lead in their water.

I am not sure what prompted them to get the water surveyed. But anyhow they had. And Anglian Water had done some scientific testing and the upshot was they were banned from drinking their tap water until the road could be dug up.

New neighbour explained that Anglian Water thought the problem might be the pipe between the main main and the house.

In a neighbourly way she thought I ought to know the lie of the land so to speak. Lay of the pipe? Obviously the road being dug up was one issue but there was also the fact that Anglian Water thought it likely my house would also be affected.

I think I may have mentioned the road being dug up in my blog Fares Please . Well I don’t think I did I know I did but, hey, links get me visits. So sue me I am a shameless reader numbers whore. Secretly all bloggers are. Numbers do matter. Sorry guys.

Here is another thing. Pipes running up to your boundary are the responsibility of the Water company (yea). Pipes on your property are not. They remain your responsibility.

We have all had those letters in the post warning us of the dire consequences of not taking up one’s Water company’s insurance for pipes on our property. We have all binned such letters. Or if super security aware, shredded them. I am one of those people. My laissez faire attitude to pipe ownership was perhaps coming back to bite me. Poison me.

Anyway our road was dug up. Neighbour’s pipe was lead. Anglian Water replaced it up to their boundary. And not an inch beyond. However they did say it looked unlikely that there was lead on their property. I am pleased for them.

Anyway in the manner of Pandora’s Box I now had to do something. I had been happily imbibing my tap water since last May with not a thought to its possible heavy metal content. Of course now there was the distinct possibility I was absorbing the old Pb I became paranoid. Not paranoid enough to switch to bottled water (too expensive and environmentally damaging) but paranoid enough to run my tap for two minutes each time I wanted a drink. I couldn’t put the thought back in the box.

I should probably add at this point that I have historically been a tap water evangelist. I have never seen the need to spend money on bottled water and pollute our local rivers with empty plastic bottles. I have always firmly believed in the benefits of tap water. And often told others so. I still believe this. Sort of. I will when all possibility of lead has left the arena anyway.

Of course I googled the effects of lead poisoning and wished I hadn’t. No really, I really wish I hadn’t.

So I called Anglian Water who, considering the circumstances, were happy to send out a scientist to test my water. And its level of toxins. I was expecting lab coats. And possibly a bespectacled gentleman.

I got a man in a van with steel toe capped boots and what looked suspiciously like four washed out coke bottles. Surely enough residual toxins in there to get my water onto the banned substance list. Anyhow he took his very scientific samples. Without labelling a single one. And nipped off to his van for a fag before drawing his last one- a 30 minute standing test.

He promised the results in writing within 10 days. That seemed an awfully long time to a person possibly building up ruinous levels of lead in their system. But then I reflected that since I had been gaily doing that for around 10 months it possibly didn’t make much difference.

In the manner of blood test results I expected a phone call should things be particularly hairy (sorry heavy). I hadn’t heard anything for 6 days and was starting to relax. I had stopped running the tap for two minutes every time I wanted a cuppa anyway.

I was just mentioning to my mother that I thought we were in for a clean bill of health when the man from Anglian Water called up. Irony or what… Leadery?

Suffice to say the level of lead in the sample taken from the street was over the safe amount of 10 mg per litre. Not much over but still over. The samples taken from my kitchen tap were lower but still showed the presence of lead. So there are lead pipes somewhere. My levels were not so bad that I was banned from drinking my water but he suggested going back to running it for two minutes before drinking to minimise the lead content in each refreshing glass full.

His suggested course of action was to dig up my road again and have a look at the pipe leading up to my boundary. If that proved to be made from lead they would replace it free of charge. Next another steel toe capped mad in a van would roll up and repeat the sampling. This time they would do a slightly more scientific test (in my view not difficult) for the ‘fag break’ one and take many more smaller samples which would help pinpoint where the lead piping remained within my property if indeed it did at all.

Quite why they didn’t do this before is unclear to me.

I asked him was it likely that the whole road (which predates the 1970s when lead piping became illegal) would be in the same predicament? He thought it likely.

That begged my next question. Why didn’t they just survey the whole street in a systematic way. Thus presumably saving time and money on hole diggers, pipe replacers and hole filler in-ers, temporary traffic lights and road closures.

His response? “That would be ideal but we have to target our resources”.

Clearly a stock response read off a card ‘to be used with difficult customers’. (I had one of those cards when I worked in a bank and had to sell loan insurance. ‘Overcoming Customer Objections’, I think it was called. If only the banks had not overcome such objections they would be a lot better off now. But hey ho that is a whole other issue and I appear to be getting side-tracked.)

His only suggestion was that I mention it to my neighbours directly. Of course I will. But a bit of proactivity on their part might have been nice. No not nice. Responsible.

It is not clear to me why shareholders in Anglian Water would come above public health but they clearly do.

Neighbour and I may do a leaflet drop. That will screw them right royally.

Serve them right.



Project Management — October 20, 2015

Project Management

Actually that was my face...
Actually that was my face…

There is currently a big black cloud on my horizon. Not literally, although after I put my washing on the line earlier it did go quite dark, no I mean metaphorically.

And the reason is the impending Year 6 Local Environmental Issue project. A forty page plus project on a local environmental issue of your choice. Quite self explanatorily.

Last year when Eldest was in Year 6 we got through the winter term relatively unscathed. Rugby took its toll and in early January his Senior school entrance exams loomed. Although the school were at pains to point out that they were just a formality.

And so he went back to school in January on fine form. Looking forward to the football term although not those exmas. And then on that first day back the school emailed out a letter.

The letter outlined the project that needed to be undertaken during the next term. At first I was confused, did they mean after Easter? Then it dawned on me that the letter was late and should have come out before the Christmas break.

And my heart sank.

The letter pulled no punches. It explained that parental involvement would be necessary. As the project required site visits and interviewing and photos. That in itself was quite refreshing. At least they were being honest about the level of work I would have to do. Usually schools seem to believe children can produce, say, the Taj Mahal out of matchsticks unaided. Ha. Ha. Ha.

In some ways I was glad for the fact that the letter had been issued late. And therefore we had remained in blissful ignorance over the seasonal festivities.

No such luck this year as Middlest hurtles his way towards the same project.

I am never really sure what such pieces of work are for. Or who.

I agree that children need to learn to manage larger pieces of extended work. They need to practise time management. Be able to plan in sensible chapters.

Unfortunately mine are some way off being able to do this independently. And so guess who ends up doing most of it? Well guiding them to do it but you know what I mean.

Not only that but they are supposed to use their humanities lessons at school to progress the project. And so in order to ensure they don’t spent those valuable hours sharpening pencils and chatting to their mates I am left lesson planning too.

And then there is the topic. I shot my best bolt local environmental issue wise last year with Eldest. I now need to think of another issue that around 40 pages of work can be produced about. Along with a photo journey and an interview and site visits. Without too much colouring in. Middlest hates colouring in.

Asking my ten year old to come up with an idea for such a project is laughable. I have asked him a couple of times if he has had any thoughts. I get a sort of blank, quizzical look. I guess one could take it as a shocking lack of knowledge. Or just be realistic; that the average ten year old wants to cause his own environmental catastrophe by owning every plastic gun in the known universe not write an extended piece about it.

So I have been wracking my brains since last year to no real avail. I have come up with the recycling journey of a yogurt pot or the impact of the new bypass near by. Neither are filling me with excitement. And both involve me in speaking to the council to get access and information and facts. Which requires me to do something before Christmas. The clock is ticking.

Had the project been about something Middlest was passionate about, say elephants or the wider environmental and conservation issues surrounding elephants, he might be more engaged. But no it has to be local. Not many elephants round here. That site visit would have been more fun too…

Or it could be a history project which would get my juices flowing and therefore by default his. And we could visit castles and I could once more coo over medieval plumbing (still find that fascinating…the forethought to build drainage through those thick, thick walls, mind blowing). In fact for me it could be any other sort of project really; history, geography, art, politics etc. Just not the same one as last year.

But, no, we are stuck with these parameters. Yawn. I spent six weeks plus of my life living, eating and breathing the last ‘issue’. Spending our weekends trawling round our local Community Forests. I like a woodland walk. I enjoy birds and wildlife. I like feeling that I am ‘contributing’ to such a worthwhile cause whilst eating organic flap jack. I just don’t enjoy having to do all that with half an eye on chapter eight whilst photographing every information board and surveying cyclists. And I certainly don’t relish having to come home and force a child to sit down and write about it. As such I have no enthusiasm left.

It is safe to say that when Eldest got 39 marks out of 40 (he lost a mark for his slightly ‘thin’ Conclusion…. by that point he had truly HAD ENOUGH) my heart sank a little. For now we need to replicate that this year. Or else Middlest will plead favouritism. Again.

I truly hope that in another two years when it is Youngest’s turn the subject will have changed. If not it will be severely tempting to recycle Eldest’s. In the name of the environment.

Footnote: After writing this I was inspired enough to e mail the Council. I got the standard ‘Our turn around time is 10 working days’ response. This is why I need to start now. Weep…

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