musingsponderingsandrants

Parenting, profundities and humour

Sock it to them! — October 17, 2019

Sock it to them!

So for those of you not in the know my house is full of hormones. A swirling maelstrom of hormones. A tornado of ‘-ones’ and ‘-ens’ rampaging through our lives for the most part unchecked blundering into feelings and harmony and those envisaged moments of blissful family life such as a quiet board game by the fire or a bracing walk in the countryside with disastrous consequences.

An awful lot of it is testosterone, two thirds of which is emergent and not totally under control or assimilated into shocked bodies. And a third of which is newly prompted into action by the other two thirds. There is a lot of posturing, chest beating, banging of heads and egos and territory marking going on.

There is also some gradually rising oestrogen and some gradually reducing oestrogen as if there is only so much available for our family and Youngest is stealing mine.

It’s a melting pot. On some days I swear the hormones are tangible like some sort of ominous, heavy Victorian smog where beasts lurk around every corner.

I have developed a maxim in order to help me navigate this swirling maelstrom. And that maxim is ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’…

And this basically entails ‘picking my battles’…

So yes it is infuriating that Eldest leaves a bowl every morning in the front room recently bereft of cereal but unable to find its way into the dishwasher. And yes on some days I take a picture of that bowl and Whatsapp it to him at school. With an ironic Smilie. But most days I don’t. For instance if Eldest has a particularly difficult Biology test in period 1 or is recovering from being pummeled physically and metaphorically in a rugby match the previous evening.

I have some non negotiables such as physical violence. I never let that slide. Disrespect to adults. Again a non negotiable. Kindness to siblings and friends. Again important, although not always achieved in the case of siblings- but I pick that battle I go into war over it. Using fingers to eat chips? Yep annoying. But not the end of the world. Not a battle to fight if Youngest is screamingly nervous about a football trial.

I have 3 teenagers/ pre teens. School has, well, several hundred. The melting pot has metamorphosed into a huge crucible on the smelting yard floor. And yet school seems to sweat the small stuff.

Maybe there is a thought process that says small stuff under control means big stuff follows. And they are afraid of anarchy. Or maybe they are all control freaks…

Here is my pet ‘small stuff’ hate. Socks. School is cracking down on socks. Socks must be black under black trousers. All mine wear black trousers including Youngest who will no longer wear a skirt after being told off in Year 7 for wearing a Junior School skirt to Senior school. Another ‘small stuff’ rant I am quite willing and able to have if you have the time? You do? Excellent.

In Junior school skirts are elasticated and flared. They make moving around the playground easy. Especially if one has a penchant for playing football. Youngest had such a skirt. It still fitted (and was within the regulation one inch of her knees). I am eco friendly. And tight. So I did not buy her a new Senior school skirt. Which are straight, have no waist adjustments and prevent ease of movement until they are a darn site higher than the regulation one inch maximum above the knee.

She got into trouble. Which if you know Youngest at all you will know throws her off for days.

I am not sure why Junior school skirts are so frowned upon. It has been suggested it is because they are easier to ‘look up’. Which in turn suggests to me a stern word about the ‘big stuff’ is required with all males in school. But I think it is probably just a ‘small stuff’ battle again. So Youngest is in trousers.

Any way back to socks. The school has a thing about ‘business attire’. I think black socks come under this. I believe this is wrong on a number of levels.

One: not all children (and lets face it we are dealing with children here) aspire to ‘go into business’. What does that even mean? Investment banking? Are we saying that to make it in the world one needs to conform? Really? In an era where employers are crying out for creativity and original, critical and higher level thinking?

Two: business attire is not what it was. My husband works in a traditional business. He now has to hot desk. People wear shorts. He, the epitome of respectability and up tightness, has started wearing chinos and an open collared shirt to work. To be honest it shocked me. But this is how the world is changing. For the better. Otherwise we would all still be wearing bowler hats.

Three: I often see teachers at the school not in ‘business attire’. For instance tie and jacket less in the heat. And before the ‘summer uniform’ rule has been invoked. Shock. If you are going to enforce a banal rule all those in that institution need to up hold that rule. Or it isn’t a rule.

Four: artists should be artists, dramatists should be dramatists, musicians should be musicians. Athletes should be sweaty. Engineers should be oily. Etc. My son is an artist and a musician and a sports player and a biologist and a historian. Only some of those work well in a suit and tie.

Leaving all that aside I can get my head around school uniform. It levels people. It prevents clothing shaming. It is cheaper if you have boys and do not have to fork out £25 per blouse and can bulk buy from Primark.

But I cannot get my head round the plain black socks. It is so not up there in the ‘battles we should be having’ stakes. Socks are an easy way to express ones personality without being too ‘out there’. Socks allow one’s hormonal teenagers a frisson of rebellion without hurting a soul. (Ha ha). Socks are fun. Socks pose no danger to anyone, not in a lab or a workshop or on a pitch. They make excellent stocking fillers. I need those.

So I turn a blind eye to my children’s sock choices. I may go so far as to say something to school if they get into trouble over their socks. I actually buy them fun socks. It’s a thing we have.

So there you have it. I think school should pick its battles. And not sweat those socks. There is enough sweat in all those socks already. And any way have you ever tried matching 3 pairs of almost identical black socks that only vary, slightly but crucially, in size once they have been through the washer? Thought not.

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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And…. — October 6, 2017

And….

grammar

So today I found myself doing this.

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

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

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

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

For instance I understood the following:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he decided to look at Connectives and Conjunctions.

Oh my actual god.

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

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

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

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

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

I believe I just have.

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

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

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

Spanish translation

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

 

 

What Fresh Hell Is This…. — June 11, 2017

What Fresh Hell Is This….

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Don’t worry dear readers. This entry is not about the UK elections. We aren’t talking about them here. It causes friction. So if deep political insight is what you are after please jog on. Watch Newsnight. Read the Daily Mail…or something.

A few weeks before half term Youngest came home and mumbled something about joining a school club. Youngest is quite savvy when it comes to requesting things and she usually asks very quietly at some key pinch point in a busy evening and takes my ‘sorry dear’ as assent.

In any event the club was at lunchtime and so had no direct impact on me. I was feeling slightly guilty as her club levels always drop in the summer term as the football season limps to a close in a flurry of tournaments and presentation events. Additionally this term, for some reason, school had dispensed with after school training for rounders/ football (this term’s sports of choice) for her year group. Why still remains a mystery. But the upshot was she was coming home every night on time and only venturing out again on Mondays (yep that football was continuing) and Wednesdays, oh and Fridays. So I was feeling under clubbed.

Anyway she went to her club. She seemed to enjoy it. I asked her about what she was doing and then got distracted by something else (probably Latin revision or a French aural exam or prising a teenager off an electronic device or suddenly remembering Eldest’s piano lesson with 3 minutes to spare) and forgot to listen to the answer.

I caught ‘posters’ and ‘may not get through to next half term’ and gleaned that there was some sort of competitive element to the club whilst still involving felt tip pens.

I did catch ‘it will be after school after half term’ which increased that impact on yours truly whilst simultaneously assuaging my ‘lack of clubs’ guilt. I decided to let this go. I was clearly missing my boomeranging backwards and forwards to school of an evening.

Half term came and went in a pleasant blur of those football death throws, a lovely trip to the seaside to visit my dad, some hockey, some successful shopping and a migraine. That wasn’t so pleasant.

I only had Youngest for most of last week (please read Sorry if you want to know why) and so I was able to listen more fully to her when I picked her up from this club on Wednesday night.

It transpires that the club is called the ‘Fiver Challenge’ club. Members have, you guessed it, a fiver to spend on set up costs and need to make as much profit for charity as possible. By selling stuff. Which must not be edible. Youngest and her mate had got through to the final four with the idea of making emoji cushions.

Now in common with most 9 year olds Youngest has no concept of money. And so she had not costed out this plan. At all. My head, of course, started working overtime pondering how to buy all the materials required to make enough emoji cushions to make any profit at all for five pounds. I asked Youngest to come up with a list of requirements. This is what she came up with; yellow, red, black and white felt. I added to this stuffing, sewing cotton in various hues, black embroidery thread, a glue gun with glue and labour.

As even a reel of cotton is about £1.85 I was quite unsure how all this was going to pan out. I have stuffing (from my previous knitting escapades. I have a really rather fetching knitted Christmas crib scene in my loft complete with sheep (well a sheep I got fed up after three kings, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, a manger and of course the baby himself and so the shepherd has quite an easy job herding one sheep)) and also some left over embroidery thread from my cross stitching days (although not really in very useful colours, they will have to make do) some cotton from general sewing (although no yellow) and Eldest had offered to be the sweat shop labour as long as he only got to make turd, devil or (bizarrely) heart emojis. That left all the actual fabric. And yellow cotton.

So after a morning driving her on a 2 hour round trip for a one hour football thing we decided we had better go out and see what could be done. I had a brain wave. Charity shops. We cruised into town to go on the Charity Shop Crawl which I usually only undertake when a ‘dressing up’ day has been announced at school. Tudors, Victorians, elves, Florence Nightingale etc. I thought maybe we could source some old bed sheets or cheap T shirts in the right hues.

I think it is fair to say that Charity shops have gone up market. I could easily find a prom dress or fair trade chocolates or next years Christmas cards but only one of my usual haunts had bed sheets. And then the yellow sheet I found (reasonably priced and would have made umpteen cushions) was too pale for Youngest. Not emoji enough. I couldn’t find a T shirt under four quid. I can buy them new for that. From actual sweat shops.

We left empty handed. And decided to try Hobbycraft. They came up trumps with cheapish felt and we bought as much as we could for that fiver. I also bought that yellow cotton and decided to pretend I had had ‘it in’. I only actually ‘have in’ black and white (for name label sewing) and colours that match scouting uniforms, that is bright blue and green. Plus weirdly red. Not sure why I have red. That will be good for sewing on tongues though.

Then the children decided to raid their T shirt drawers. I put back all the T shirts they still actually wear and ones I have bought this year but that still gave us a number in the right colours. Brown for turds, purple for hearts and devils (I challenged them on this, purple hearts? but then Eldest sent me one so I relented), green for a sick emoji and 2 yellow T shirts from when the boys had had house events in the Junior school. I had kept them so Youngest (in the same house) could wear them and then the school brought out a house branded shirt only sold at the school appointed uniform shop and those T shirts became redundant. Thanks god I had not got rid of them. The white T shirt (ghosts) that Youngest found in her drawer is size 6 -7 and has Eldest’s name in it so I can only assume he wore it in PE in Year 1. He is Year 8 now. Mental note to self- must go through the T shirt drawers more often.

So then the fun of turning this mountain of fabric into items children may actually wish to purchase could really begin. We spent several more precious hours making templates, drawing round them and cutting felt before we could even begin to sew. And then I was merely required to try to remember how to do blanket stitch (which I can never remember how to do, go on try I bet you can’t either) to thread needles non stop for two hours, start them off and finish them off (after having unpicked at least 5 stitches to allow me enough thread to actually finish off even after telling them repeatedly how much thread I need to finish off) and sooth Youngest when she drew blood. Oh and cut out sunglasses. In those 2 long hours Youngest and Eldest sewed precisely one cushion each.

And just so you know hand sewing T shirt material is really really difficult.

The pop up shop is in 2 weeks. I may have died of over needle threading/ knot undoing /finishing/starting offing by then.

Oh well I haven’t got the glue gun out yet. I like the glue gun. That will be a highlight. As long as I can find it. Preliminary searches have not gone well. Is it possible to lose a glue gun? I’ll let you know.

Cheers school. Again.

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Cushion number one.

 

 

 

Sorry — June 6, 2017

Sorry

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I feel I should apologise.

Not to all of you.

Some of you live abroad.

But to all my local readers I need to be humbly sorry.

For the unrelenting pissing down rain and heavy winds that we are currently experiencing in the south east of England are a direct result of my children’s school.

Eldest and Middlest are on Activities Week. Let me explain. The school has a commitment to ‘outdoor’ education which means nothing for most of the year (except for a requirement to stand on cold, muddy pitches an awful lot and having to avoid square drill marching cadets on Tuesday evenings) but for one week a year it does mean the children go off on jolly japes and adventures in the great outdoors to commune with nature, learn more about themselves and drive their parents into a tizz over the kit requirements.

Now don’t get me wrong I am all in favour of outdoor education. All my children are in the Scout movement. We camp. We bike ride and swim and hike and surf and climb and take measured calculated risks with pen knives and camp fires. In short we do a lot of outdoor stuff. I love the outdoors. So do my kids.

Middlest (in Year 7) has a week of fiendishly complicated logistics which involve him in 2 local days out at three different locations and a three day, 2 night away trip. Easy peasy? Not really. Despite filling in the comprehensive (bizarrely yellow) forms stating that I was not going to collect Middlest from either off site venue as he has, you know, siblings that I needed to collect from school contemporaneously I still got a panicked call the week before half term during an important meeting demanding to know if I was collecting Middlest from the Country Park on Thursday. I ignored the call, so they rang my husband who knows nothing about logisitics who then also interrupted my important meeting. In any event Middlest is camping in Oxfordshire on Thursday and so clearly even if he hadn’t had siblings I was not going to be collecting him from the local (ish) country park. We got that sorted. Eventually.

Yesterday he spent the day at a local lake. It was too windy to sail. He was a bit disgruntled about that claiming that surely the more wind the better. I explained about capsizing and ramming. Into each other and the bank. He relented somewhat. Not to worry he had enjoyed the kayaking (although he was frustrated at having to go slowly as he is a bit of a ‘pro’ at kayaking (his words)) and the bell boating. And the replacement sailing activity. Sliding down a piece of astro turf straight into the lake and swimming back to shore. He thought it necessary to wear his waterproof coat during this manoeveur. Not entirely sure why. Maybe I should have explained before the event that waterproof does not mean full immersion proof.  And he could have removed all manner of crap from the pockets first. Which I had to fish out and discard later. Yuck.

So a bag of wet clothes, towels, water shoes and waterproof coats awaited me. Not to worry plenty of time to get that coat dry ready for today. Not. It is at times like these that I seriously regret not having a tumble dryer. We love the outdoors remember. And would like it to stay unmolested by global warming for a little bit longer…

I hung the coat on the line outside and left to get Youngest from her footie training leaving Middlest with strict instructions to bring in the coat (and water shoes) if the black ominous clouds lived up to their appearance. Guess how well that went. I suppose I only lost an hour of drying time.

He needed that coat today as the weather forecast was even worse. He was due to spend half the day on a high ropes course which from memory when we did it a few years ago had no shelter at all and the other half in a wood orienteering. This is the wood which is one of our regular haunts in the holidays. The picture up there is what my children looked like after a wet day there last year. I was severely dreading facing the state of the waterproof coat, and indeed hike boots, when he returned.

It has rained solidly all day. And been very windy. In fact it would have been better if he had been sliding into that lake today as he got drenched to the skin anyway from the unrelenting precipitation.

His hike boots are literally waterlogged. His coat sodden. Not to worry these things dry out except that I have to pack them all later in a suitable rucksack so he can take them away camping tomorrow morning. He will be wearing both there. There is no way they are coming into contact with his sleeping bag. Which is currently dry. Looking at the forecast I doubt that will last.

Luckily Middlest is made of strong stuff. Despite his small and slightly puny appearance he has a great capacity for tolerating mud and rain and immense fortitude in the face of adversity. On the Year 6 ‘Outdoor Education’ trip he fell flat on his face in the mud whilst doing a blind trail. He thought he should just dive head first straight through the tractor tyre. He just found it funny as muddy water dripped off his nose. Apparently. Today he was fortunate as he was the first on the high ropes course (he volunteered- that’s Middlest for you, loves heights and climbing and is an all round monkey) and therefore got round the course before it was abandoned due to high winds. Some children had to be rescued after only a few obstacles.

So he will probably enjoy then next three days when again unrelenting rain is forecast- except for tomorrow when they are travelling there- he won’t wash, brush his teeth or change his clothes. He has a plan. Wear his waterproofs over his clothes all the time. Simply remove them before bed. And sleep. In the middle of the tent (or shelter if they are mad enough to go for that) away from the probably muddy door and also the probably wet sides. With his mates. So they can chat.

We packed all the other stuff anyway just in case. No PJs though. No point.

As for Eldest he left for a week on the welsh coast on Sunday. It was nice when they arrived. According to the text we got and the sparse Facebook photos. I glanced at the forecast for the rest of the week, shuddered and decided not to think about it. At least they are spending part of the week in an actual building.

So again my humble apologies.

The weather will improve next week when they are back in Maths and Geography.

Promise.

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The rucksack wearing Middlest

 

 

 

Silly Season — July 3, 2016

Silly Season

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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.

Ever.

I hope all that ‘marking’ makes him sick.

 

House Poetry anyone? — June 17, 2016

House Poetry anyone?

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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

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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.

The cost of everything, the value of nothing — February 28, 2016

The cost of everything, the value of nothing

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So Eldest. We gave him a phone when he started Senior school in September. It was an old handset of husband’s with a SIM only, well SIM.

Almost as soon as he had it and the novelty had worn off he was on the internet researching better models.

And then regaling me ad infinitum about the advantages of the Samsung Edge or the I phone 6S. Or some other such technical wizardy. In which I had no interest. And no intention of indulging him.

The deal had always been that he would keep the old hand set (which actually is an I phone 4 and so not too shabby, certainly better than my entry level Samsung touch phone) until at least Year 9. When apparently phones become so important it is impossible to live without the latest model. Well certainly not at Eldest’s school. Where ‘everyone else’ has a better phone than him.

Ah school. The one-up-manship. The ‘my phone is better than yours’ ship. Every time Eldest whinged about his phone’s short comings I was transported back to my own Year 8. And red shoe gate.

I suppose I should explain. I always wore ‘sensible’ shoes to school. Anyone born in the seventies and growing up in the eighties will know that this meant black lace up Clark’s shoes. In a time when Clark’s shoes were not fashionable. In any sense.

I was teased mercilessly about my sensible shoes. Others persuaded their parents to buy them court shoes. Slips ons with bows and tassels. It was the eighties after all.

I finally got my mum to buy me some of these beauties. To wear outside school. They were bright red slip ons. With bows. And they were shiny. Finally I was going to be accepted by the teenage girl elite. Of course they were not regulation black and so I had to sneak them into school in my back pack without my mother seeing. And change into them in the loo. I should also probably point out at this juncture that our school uniform was maroon. And the shoes were crimson. One does not have to be a fashionista to work out that that combo was not all I thought it was.

Suffice to say I got more ribbing wearing the red shoes than the sensible black lace ups. In fact I wanted to click my heels and forever disappear to Kansas. I never wore them again.

So there you have it. I have no interest in keeping my children up with the latest trends in order for them to ‘fit in’. It didn’t work for me.

And then of course Middlest is hard on Eldest’s heels. He was recently accepted into the same Senior school and is, of course, expecting a phone. To be able to function.

So actually it is not just that I didn’t want to get him a better phone so he could fit in. It is also that I didn’t need to. Nor could justify the cost.

And then a series of ‘incidents’ occurred. Eldest swears all accidental. Which may be true. At least consciously.

He first disabled the phone by changing the PIN on the lock screen and then forgetting it. And inputting it wrongly so many times the phone disabled. Well suffice to say about four evenings and a trip to the phone shop later we finally managed to un-disable it. I think much to Eldest’s disgust.

Then he took it out when he went to play football with a mate. I asked him to take it. Because it is a mobile phone and not much use sitting on my kitchen counter. Communication wise. So what happened next was of course all my fault. Namely that it fell out of his pocket during a rainbow flick. And smashed. Not beyond help. But enough to threaten cut fingers during screen swiping.

So of course now he has a better phone. Only up one level to an I phone 5 but still.

Twelve year olds are damn cunning.

I made him give me ALL his birthday and Christmas money though. All £110 of it. And spend some of his Amazon vouchers on a proper case. So now he is broke. Until next Christmas.

Serves him right. And at least now he has a better understanding of the value of things. After all it has cost him everything.

 

 

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