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.