Saturday, 26 December 2009

Santa's Little Helpers

The first disturbance was around 5.30am. Something, possibly Mel or maybe his stocking, fell out of bed with a thump. The chatter of four excited children babbled away in the next bedroom, discussing the relative merits of a pink, orange, blue or star-shaped version of whatever was in their stockings.
An hour or so later, stockings clearly explored, eaten and abandoned, someone decided to play the piano. Shortly after that, Eartha poked her head around our door, took a long look, then bellowed down the stairs.

"They're still asleep!"

So, after breakfast, we gathered in the living room to open presents. The kids got cameras, which were an instant hit. I got a guide to China, which is my next big adventure, and one I'm looking forward to very much. Mel got a Lego helicopter to build.

We trooped off to Mum's where Ang and Uncle Mikey were cooking the turkey. The snow meant we had to park at the bottom of the drive. It was just too slippery to attempt the hill. Mike spent half an hour with snow chains on, trying to get up the drive on Xmas Eve.
The feast was magnificent. They are really into their cooking and do it very well. There was no way we could eat it all. My offering, the Xmas pudding, went down well with Brandy sauce and Vanilla liqueur. Although, I'm sure that if Ang and Mike had done it, it would have been home made. (Mike and Ang, apparently, steep their vanilla pods. I'm not even sure I know what this means.)There were more presents and some excellent TV before we finished off with a game of "in the manner of.." which I've not played before. It was funny and entertaining and we all cracked up at Mike miming in the manner of "enormously".By the time we got home, the kids were dog tired and the dog was ravenous, being several hours past his normal dinnertime.

A good time was had by all.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

We got Snow!

Frozen flowers left on a bench.

Slippy ice.

Skeletons of bracken.

They say "Love is out of season when the gorse does not flower."
It even flowers in the depths of winter.

Eartha puts a fairy on the tree.

This year's snow-lady is called Blanche.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Winter Solstice

The Earth is spinning on its axis. We are 94 million miles away from the Sun. The Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from our Solar System's star at this present time; the Southern Hemisphere is tilted towards it. Here in the north, it is winter. We have snow and ice. The days are below freezing and the nights are even colder.
Last night was the longest night of the year. Yesterday was the shortest day. To mark the occasion I went out with Sarah and our (7) kids to Mitchell's Fold in the Shropshire hills. Mitchell's Fold is a Bronze Age stone circle on a frosty hillside.

Legend has it a magic cow lived upon the hillside. This cow would provide enough milk for everyone, so long as they only brought one bucket. The good people of Shropshire were saved from starvation by the magic cow.

One day, however, a bad witch came and tricked the cow. She milked the cow into a sieve. The cow kept producing milk, because the sieve was never full. Eventually the cow saw all the wasted milk pouring across the ground. Realising she'd been tricked, the cow disappeared.
The witch was turned to stone and the locals built a stone circle around her to stop her escaping. The spilt milk explains why the ground is still so boggy and wet across the hillside.

We climbed up to the stone circle. It is not far from the lane. There are 15 stones left out of a possible 30 that used to be there. The centre stone (the witch) is no longer there, but the circle is clear enough.
The kids ran around climbing on the stones and breaking the thick ice on a deep puddle, which took some time. Little Izzy (2) spent quite a lot of time patting handfuls of snow onto her Mummy's coat. I wandered round the circle touching each ancient and lichen covered stone, the way people have done for Millennia, ensuring the Sun comes back for summer.
Maybe it is an arrogance to assume that touching rocks has any influence at all on a ball of fire so far away across space. Or that walking a circle on the shortest day makes the Sun rise in the morning. But, then again, is it worth the risk?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Black Country Alphabet.

The Black Country Alphabet.

Check out the video/song. It's funny.


Well, my spell at the school in Shropshire is over. My last day was Thursday, and I have to say I'm sorry to leave. The kids were sweeties and the staff were lovely. They even thought to get a box of chocolates as a leaving gift - how thoughtful is that? I'm going to miss them.

By contrast, I have a three month placement in an academy in Tipton next. Tipton is in the Black Country, a part of the Birmingham conurbation. It has its own dialect and social rules. The difference couldn't be greater.

Academies, on the whole, are a recent invention. A failing school can rejuvenate itself by turning into an academy. They change the name, uniform, term dates, funding, style of lessons and subjects they offer; voila! A new school. What they can't change, is the demographic area the school is in, and therefore the kids are still the same, with the same social problems and attitudes.

I went to look round the one in Tipton. I managed to get lost both on the way there and on the way back. I ended up skirting fields in the middle of Staffordshire.

I love the emphasis they place on developing the whole child. The kids are growing up really self aware of skills like confidence, listening to others and independent learning. All of this is far more beneficial to the child than academic qualifications are to kids with no aspiration to do anything with them.

The lessons are blocked into morning and afternoon lessons, lasting a good three hours each. I like the idea of this in principle, though how it will be to plan and teach, I don't know. I was never into the high stress six short blasting lessons a day, with kids forever being unsettled and changing rooms. I have always preferred a calm approach.

I'm not under any illusion that this will be an easy placement. City kids are more edgy and take longer to accept new people. Close knit communities can appear friendly, whilst not letting you in. You can be their best mate, and then they nick your phone.

We'll have to see what happens. It will be an adventure - a bit like the journey to and from the place was.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


We raced back from Snowdonia (see travel blog) where I've been for the weekend with Saskia. It is Sapphire's first birthday party and we couldn't miss that! Oli and Helen got together for their daughter's celebration and there were many friends and children there to enjoy the celebrations.

Sapphire was in a 'daddy only' mood, meaning Oli got no rest at all. Sapphire wailed loudly each time she was passed to anyone else. The only respite was when Nick held her, providing Sapphire couldn't see her Dad! Everyone else was out of favour.Helen had got a lovely chocolate teddy cake. After blowing out the candle, we all got to try a bit. Sapphire thought it was yummy too.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Local nature

Glories of our local countryside:
Roses left for a loved one.Some sprouting mushies.
Rainbow from our window.
Ollie the Owl helped Saskia make Xmas cards.

Much Wenlock

Last weekend we went to the Christmas Fayre at Much Wenlock.

We visited my friend Ruth and had a cup of tea before walking round the stalls and enjoying the entertainment and atmosphere. I took loads of photos because it is a pretty town, with lots of old black and white houses dating back centuries. The church is beautiful too. I took some of the stall holders, selling hand made crafts and mistletoe.

Afterwards, we went back to Ruth's and the kids decorated biscuits.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Full on Weekend [long].

The trouble with working for a living is that all the fun stuff has to be fitted in around it. There isn't enough time in the week to do all the things you want to do, if you do all the things you have to do as well. The past few days have been a gravity defying feat of trying to fit everything in.

I went to see my friend Sarah on Friday evening. Her husband was away all week, so it was a good excuse for a girlies night in and a chat. I brought round some pretend wine (virtually alcohol free because I had to drive home again afterwards) and we talked until late. That was really nice. We are hoping to go camping together in the summer. We're planning Northern Ireland with my four kids, her three girls, and possibly another friend, Jo, and her three boys. Should be good (or at least fun chaos) for a couple of weeks.

Saturday was manic. The kids had their swimming lessons, then Elaine brought her three boys over to play. Elaine had a concert she was singing in so it made things a little easier for her. Anyway, because it is the school Xmas Fete today (Sunday), Mel wanted to decorate a cake for the competition being run. Of course, if one wants to do it, then they all do....

I had 7 Swiss rolls - one for each child - bowls of icing and melted white chocolate and jelly tots and sprinkles and writing icing... all over the table. It was a lovely sticky hive of activity for a little while.

Once the cakes had been decorated, we left them to set and went to meet Sarah down the forest, where we got our first taste of what it would be like to take 10 children camping. It's kind of like a school trip - there are kids everywhere. So, we let them burn off some steam and get coated in mud at the same time, which is what kids do best.

We went home for tea, and the boys got picked up. Then I had just enough time to get changed and find that having three girls means you have no lipstick left when you want it, but that they all blame each other and their brother. So, we raced out in the rain to the Bewdley Mountaineering Club Xmas meal. Most of them have never seen me not wearing jeans and hiking boots. It was out at an Indian restaurant I've not tried before. We very much enjoyed it, and the food was marvellous, but it meant another late night.

Today started off with at least a partial lie in. I carted the decorated Swiss rolls down for judging and placed them alongside some fabulous, professional looking cakes made into Santas, Xmas trees and snowmen. Our cakes were definitely the poor cousins, but I bet they didn't manage to do seven at once.

The Fete was good. I got some gorgeous wrapping paper, Saskia and Eartha got their faces painted, Mel won a Casper DVD and Donny won a necklace. Everyone got to see Santa, though Eartha has pointed out that he isn't the real Santa. The real one only comes on Xmas eve. (Silly Mummy. Get it right.)

Nick followed us home from the fete, having waited for the raffle draw. He won a large Xmas cake and, better still, Mel's cake won the Class 5 prize! Fabulous!

The weekend is still not over, as I have a friend coming over in a couple of hours for a bit of therapy, though I'm not quite sure where she's going to sit because the ironing is taking up most of the living room at the moment, and I suppose someone should feed the kids at some point.

Oh, and Mum has surprised me completely by agreeing to come to Beijing to walk the Great Wall with me. I have the coolest Mum!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

TravBuddy Map

I've visited 11% of the world according to the TravBuddy map- doesn't sound like much when you put it that way, I guess I've got a way to go then...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Langdale Meet

Eartha and I took a trip out to the Lake District in severe weather this weekend. You can read about it in my travel blog.

Remembrance Day Parade

Mel and Donny are in the cubs and brownies, so they got to take part in the Remembrance Day Parade last weekend. We arrived on time, that is to say ludicrously early and spent half an hour shivering in the car while the Leaders sorted out flags for the parade and distributed fluorescent yellow jackets to temporary traffic controllers. I ended up with one, which helped to keep the wind off.
They marched up to the church for the service. It was very moving. Maybe, as I get older, the reality and enormity of the ‘Great’ Wars starts to sink in. I have a better idea of the sheer scale of it now, than I did when I was a kid.
At the end of the service, the veterans laid wreaths. Everyone filed back outside and the parade paraded back to the car park.

Painting Again

I spent Saturday gainfully employed, painting the dining room. It is a delicate shade of ‘hint of sunshine’ or some such name that some marketing geezer thought sounded better than very, very pale yellow. It took me most of the day, but I’m glad it’s done.

New School

I’ve got some supply work until Christmas. It’s at a school about an hour away in a rural little town. I’ve done a couple of weeks there now, and it is a lot calmer than my old school. The kids lack that ‘near a big city’ edginess that many of them possessed at my last school.

The whole timetable is laid out in a much less frantic way. There are five lessons instead of six, which are longer and allow you to get deeper learning in. The breaks between lessons are long enough so you can actually wind down, catch up with paperwork and find time to look at what you’re teaching next. All in all, the tension I felt at my last place is just not there amongst the staff or students. Not surprisingly, it gets much better Ofsted reports than my old school.

Actually, I saw that my previous school is advertising for a science teacher, so I guess one of my old colleagues has decided to get the hell out too. I wonder who it is. I wonder if they jumped or whether they were pushed.

The evil head there likes to do a lot of pushing. One of my ex-colleagues is going for constructive dismissal and has advised me to do the same. I know I have a case, but I don’t know if I can be bothered. I’m just happy to be out.

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Mice Came Back

The mice made a reappearance on Friday night, looking for their crocus stash. Mum discovered they had burrowed into the remains of the sofa, disembowelling it of its stuffing.

Saturday, we took a trip up to the Animal Rescue centre in Tibberton and came away with a shy 10 month old black and white cat. He's spent two days under the sofa, trying to get his bearings. Hopefully, he will deal with the mouse problem. Usually, just the smell of a cat around the house is enough for the mice to decide to move out.

After much deliberation, Mum has decided to call him ... Crocus.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Missing Crocus Bulbs

Yesterday, we took a trip out to buy some bulbs for Mum. She wants to fill her dingle - the little valley at the bottom of the farm drive - with crocuses. We bought 300 bulbs in mega packets, which should cover the dingle, ready for the spring.

I left them at Mum's on an old sofa that's been used in various capacities for the past 50 years. Mum tells me my Grandma bought it in 1957. It coverts to a sofa bed, so it has somehow avoided being thrown out, despite getting tattier every year. Anyway, it sits in the veranda and provides somewhere for the dog to lie when he comes in covered in mud.

So, this morning, Mum called me to say that she got up to find all 300 bulbs had gone. Just the packaging and crocus flakes were left. She had to go and buy some more before we could come and help put them in.

By the time we arrived at Mum's, she's bought another 300 bulbs, but we still couldn't work out what had happened to the previous 300. There was little evidence of the bulbs having been eaten. It looked like they had been stolen by something small and furry.

There was nowhere for a mouse to get in. The cat flap is locked. The mouse must be inside. We took the sofa apart. There, along the back of the top 'mattress' were two tell-tale holes. The whole thing rattled with the sound of falling bulbs when we shook it.

We took it outside and jiggled it and wriggled it and shook it and pummelled it. Crocuses kept falling out, along with mouse nesting and for some reason an empty snail shell. Eventually, we took a pair of scissors to it and chopped it up to get the rest out. We didn't find the mouse, but we did find most of our bulbs.

Now we have 600 to plant. That's going to take a while! The kids decided to write the name of Mum's farm in bulbs, so Mum pegged it out.

I took the remains of the mousy sofa mattress and gave it a decent cremation. Thankfully, they didn't do fire retardant in 1957.