Friday, 31 December 2010

Remember to Dance

Mike and Angela came over on Tuesday. We all met at Mum's and did the present opening thing. The kids had bought and wrapped their own presents, which led to some eccentric offerings - including the single wrapped sock Saskia gave to Unky Monkey (Mike), having discovered it after wrapping the other 5 as a bundle. They also got given a selection of Christmas hats, which seemed to go down well.

Our annual visit to the pantomime took us to see Aladdin a
t the Courtyard in Hereford. It was a spectacular, colourful performance, with a different cast from previous years. Very enjoyable.

Well, as the end of the year draws nigh, I am thinking about resolutions and the future. In a spirit of eco-friendliness, I am recycling last year's resolutions - get fit, lose weight, get published - plus adding a new one: Remember to Dance. I spend so much time striving for things that I often forget to dance and enjoy life as it flows. So next year, I am going to try to remember to dance.

I'm thinking about starting a photo-journal blog, with an image a day on it. This is partly inspired by Druid Dave's blog The 11th Hour, where he takes a photo at 11am every day. I'm not quite that organised, and I think 11am photos would be a problem in a classroom environment anyway, so I want to do something more like a Snapshot of the Day thing, based around something interesting or unusual (in the hope that either of those things happen to me daily!)
or funny or just plain mundane.

I met someone at a Mensa meeting, probably 20 years ago now, who used to keep a photo-diary in the days before the internet was in everybody's homes. I thought then that it was a good idea. Maybe I'll fail to keep it going, but we'll have to see. If you don't try, you'll never know.

Anyway, it's called Blink and You'll Miss It. Happy New Year everyone.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Kah Peng and the Druids

A few weeks ago I had an e-mail from Kah Peng through the Hospitality Club/Couch Surfing that we do. Kah Peng is doing a PhD in Bath and is unable to go back to Malaysia for the holidays. Last Christmas he spent a miserable few days completely alone on a deserted campus. He didn't want a repeat of that, so he wanted to come and stay with us. Well, I couldn't let him be lonely, so of course he could come and stay with us.
Kah Peng turned out to be a lovely chap, very open and easy to get along with. He was great with the kids and happy to go along with any plans. We spent Xmas down at Mum's. Dinner was minus the roast parsnips, as the first lot went soggy and curly and the second lot burnt. We had to make three lots of gravy too, because the first two ended up on the floor (and we hadn't been on the sherry, honest!).

Boxing Day (or is it? Someone told me you can't have Boxing Day on a Sunday), we had been invited down to Stonehenge by my friend Veronica of the Cotswold Order of Druids. We all dressed up in cloaks and robes. The winter solstice was a few days ago so this ceremony on the treacherous ice inside the stones, was to mark the return of the sun. They released a helium balloon with a picture of the sun on it, at an appropriate moment, which I really liked. Kah Peng tagged along and said some appropriate words. Donny got to hand out the gold (chocolate) coins to symbolise prosperity in the coming year.

It was very atmospheric, standing in the snow, amongst the huge stones, though I felt somewhat like a goldfish, as about a hundred tourists were watching us from behind the roped off area! This is what those Buddhist monks must have felt like, when I took photos of them last year in China. Sorry guys.

I walked Pal round the Cursus Barrows (3500 year old burial mounds) while everyone else warmed up in the car. Then we drove Kah Peng back to Bath and went to Mum's for a second Christmas dinner - with roast parsnips this time!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


More Snowy Pictures.

Saskia sledging.

Eartha sledging

Mel sledging.

Donny sledging.

Down the lane.

Our road.

Squirrel - you can see the claws.

Bird - obviously.


Monday, 13 December 2010

My Cleaner Hid My Slippers

No, I have no idea where my new cleaner has hidden my slippers. I just wish I could find them, especially with the surprise offerings from the senile cat. I really want my slippers.

Did I tell you the towel rail fell off the wall? The catalogue of disaster gets longer. The wall clock stopped working too - new batteries needed. I'm starting to wonder if it is a conspiracy.

I finally succumbed to the dreaded cough and had to have a day off work. The snow had been so heavy I had to leave the car behind and walk up the hill. Anyone would have thought I was torturing Eartha deliberately, as according to her, it was minus 70, she had frostbite and her feet had turned into penguin feet. And that was just the half a mile up the hill. Two hours later, the power went off and stayed off for six hours. We all had a very early, candle-lit night.
I coughed my way through it, then, in the morning, looking at the glassy roads and feeling majorly rough, I decided to stay home, and promptly fell asleep for another two hours. Here I am, two weeks later, still coughing. Ruddy thing won't go away.

The intense cold did lift slightly last weekend, which allowed the Severn to unfreeze. I've never, ever seen the river frozen. This was a first for me. I could see bemused birds standing on the ice.

I took a weekend away with Mel to Wales (see travel blog), which was lovely, it being the Xmas meet and lots of people there. Mel, however, is still struggling with 'issues' and, consequently, within a few hours of getting home, he absconded on his bike and had to be brought back by the police, this time. Any suggestions? I am at a loss as to what to do with him. I have spoken to every out-reach worker, teacher and medicine man going. They keep shoving me from pillar to post.

I'm sure everything will be alright if I could just find my slippers.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Great. I have incompetent central heating, which fails to stay warm for a whole hour at a time. We have temperatures below freezing and snow which keeps threatening, but never actually falling. The torn ligaments in my shoulder are STILL hurting, over three months after my chiropractor ripped them from humerus and scapula. I live with four untidy children, one of whom is going through a rip-roaring tantrum stage, the like of which has not been witnessed since he was a toddler. Nick is slightly more messy than the kids and invariably does the opposite of what I tell him to do. My cat is both incontinent and senile, so despite having a litter tray in the bathroom, he craps on the dining room floor and leaves puddles for my kids to walk through in their stockinged feet.

Take tonight's scenario: The kids have little requests from school along the lines of 'please provide a set of Mary and Joseph costumes', which, oddly enough I don't have. I'm tired and cold. I have re-pressurised the heating system twice since I got home, because the radiators keep going cold. I discover that Nick has left one of my magazines on the dining room floor and the cat has pissed on it. While I'm clearing this up, one of the children leaves their dinner unattended for a moment and the cat helps himself. Meanwhile, Nick is having hell's own game extracting the car from Mum's drive after being expressly told not to try to drive up it, because it is so slippery. Mel is having a freak-out because I chucked cheese at his dinner and Donny is giving it the full on whine because her music stand is more complicated to put up than one of those interlinking metal puzzles you get in Xmas crackers.

Then, the
pieste de las résistance; I discover the painter has turned the freezer in the garage off, leaving me with a freezer full of melt water. Each tray now contains the rotting remains of frozen food, floating in a smelly mush of defrosted ice of its own making. The whole lot will need to be thrown away.

My stress levels are through the roof.

Is it me?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Let it Snow

So the last half term at the school I am in is half way through. I am here until Christmas and then? Well, I don't know. It has been a good experience. It has built up my self esteem a lot, really, considering how rock-bottom it was after the Bad School. The kids are mostly nice, and the staff are friendly and the regime is actually achievable. I will be sorry to leave. I can't believe I only have three weeks left.

I am doing some admin for Mum's friend Dave, and there is the possibility of writing and running my own wildlife/habitat management courses. I'm slightly daunted by the leap into the unknown, but the more I think about it, the more I reckon it is a good idea. How else should I get out of the classroom, back into environmental stuff and still use the skills I've got? Maybe it is the way forward.

Mel's traumas have not yet finished. His angst at life generally hit an all time high last week, when he decided to 'leave home' at 11.30 at night, wearing nothing but his PJs and a coat. He climbed through the living room window and got the best part of a mile before I found him. After that one (as a climax to all the yelling, shouting and room trashing that has been going on) I took him to the doctors. And the doctor's advice?

"Lock the windows."

No, I'm not kidding.

Currently, however, he is lying in bed feeling awful, having spent the night throwing up and the day nursing a fever and headache. He is not a happy bunny.

The girls and I went to the school Christmas Fete and they went to see Santa. These affairs just suck money out of your purse like a vacuum. Actually, there seems to be a big hole in my finances right now. I was doing OK so I got a bloke in to do some painting of the external woodwork. That, naturally expanded into fixing rotting frames and sills, which costs more. Then the heating started playing up again. The pressure in the system slides down to zero within a few minutes, meaning all we are pumping around the house is steam. The friendly local boiler man suggested putting our boiler in a museum and getting a new one. Hmm. It's not that old, is it?

Finally, to add to the massive amount of money I seem to be spending, I just booked tickets for Donny, Mel and Nick to go to Canada in February. It is the trip that was promised last year when Saskia and Eartha went off to Canada with their Dad. So altogether, that's about emptied my bank account. Anyway, the relatives across the pond will be pleased to see them. Some of them haven't seen them since they were less than 18 months old. I'm guessing they've changed a bit!

The temperature has plummeted in the past few days. The country is deluged in snow, apart from the bit in the middle - i.e. our bit, which has seen -8C but so far little more than a dusting of snow. We can but hope.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


So much to do, so little time! Half term, at the end of October, was filled with sick children trying to perform for the Brownies and Cubs extravaganza. Mel was a rock-star in the performance and the girls were cats. They soldiered on all week, despite flu, but the little ones had to miss the last show when it turned into a stomach bug. Altogether, they didn't have much of a rest.

On one of the better days, their friend came over and they carved pumpkins. It was delightfully squishy and mushy and orange stringy everywhere. They loved it. The pumpkins glowed in the night, as pumpkins should. Five days later the hairy, mouldy, ultra-squishy remains disintegrated all over my dining-room floor and the front of Nick's jumper during the clean-up process. A success all round, then.
I spent an afternoon manning the SARA fundraising stall. It was dead boring so I spent most of the afternoon taking pictures of the swans and the river, which, was far more entertaining than waiting for people to not buy the cakes.

I went to another lecture - this time by Leo Houlding, who is a top rock-climber and BASE jumper. He's just done a new route on El Capitan. He climbed it in about 10 hours, then jumped off the top wearing a parachute, before hiding from the American police - who for some reason think it is an offence to throw yourself off tall things for sport. The video footage was scary enough. I sat there with my palms sweating, just watching it!Lastly, I have some autumny photos of pretty places I've been. The colours have been gorgeous this year.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Directing Traffic

I seem to have been out every night for one thing or another. I did a lead climbing lesson on Monday (woo-hoo! I can change my membership card to read Lead Climber!), then I went to see Kenton Cool talk, which was fab. We are still looking at schools for Donny and Mel, and we went to see the fourth such high school open evening on Thursday.

It makes for some late nights for both me and the kids and consequently tempers have been a little frayed. Mel in particular has been hard work, refusing to sleep at night and refusing to get up in the morning. Hormones are kicking off all over the place.

I don't know how I kept my eyes open at work on Friday, but somehow I was still there at 5pm with a pile of stuff to take home over the weekend. :o(

I decided to take a different route home. It is a little longer, but every now and then I fancy a change. Just out of Worcester I had to stop because there was an accident. I was maybe the 4th person to arrive. A car had gone under a lorry and was totally mashed up. I was amazed the guy driving it was alive, let alone talking. He wasn't walking though and had concussion and shock. The lorry driver was OK, but his lorry now had seized brakes and was blocking the road.

There were three people fussing with the injured driver, so I made myself useful and directed traffic to turn around and go back the way it had come. An hour and a half later, I was still there, turning vehicles back and giving random directions to lost drivers. Police, ambulance and fire-engines had been and the chap had been whisked off to hospital, but no-one had managed to shut off the road. Someone lent me a fluorescent jacket as the dusk set in, as I was starting to wonder if I would be the next casualty ( standing in the middle of the road, wearing a black sweatshirt in the dark).

Eventually, back-up police must have arrived and stopped the traffic further down. Five minutes later, they got the lorry moved and opened the road again!

I took this naff picture just as I was leaving. You can see the state of the damage.

Cool Lectures

King's School in Worcester is putting on a series of lectures courtesy of their Himalayan Club. I went to see Kenton Cool talk last week. He lives up to his name, having climbed Everest eight times and lead Sir Ranulph Fiennes up both the North Face of the Eiger and to the top of Everest in various expeditions.

He was an entertaining speaker, too, regaling us with tales of Ranulph's eccentricities. Despite being an immensely successful polar explorer, Sir Ranulph, if you listen to Kenton's version of events, is joyfully clueless. His essential supplies allegedly include several packets of jelly-babies and hundreds of English tea-bags. Actually, I can sympathise with Ranulph about the tea-bags. I took tea to India too. An Englishman (or woman for that matter) can't cope without a proper cup of chai.
Kenton ended the talk by getting a member of the audience to clamber in to a down-suit, balaclava, hat and rucksack whilst inside a small tent set up in the middle of the floor. Needless to say the result was a semi-collapsed tent and a lot of laughter.

King's supports a school in Ladakh, which has recently suffered weather damage from a cloudburst. They auctioned off a couple of shirts and a lump of rock from the top of Everest, raising over £300 for the school in the process.

I enjoyed the evening, though I have no plans to climb Everest, or the North Face of the Eiger, for that matter. My trip up Cadair Idris was enough for me (see Gorillas in the Mist entry in my travel blog). That was quite chilly enough and a down-suit might have come in handy!

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Is anyone else bothered about warning signs aimed at people with less common sense than a toddler?

There clearly needs to be a 'idiocy law':

"Things that people generally work out before they learn to read, do not need signs."

I do not need jam jars labelled with "Open by hand"; I do not need to be told that things are "Slippery when wet"; I definitely do not need to be told that fireplaces are hot.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Fly on the Wall (OK, window, but you know what I mean)

The bathroom was all steamed up, as you would expect after a long hot shower, with vanilla scented shower gel and oodles of hot water. My bathroom has colourful virginia creeper dangling over the window, and the sun was shining straight into it, flashing all those gorgeous reds and greens right at me.

I noticed a fat fly crawling slowly across the textured pane, leav
ing a weird trail behind it in the steam. It took me a moment to work out what it was doing. It was making little round blobs and tiny footprints. I think it was wandering across the landscape of my window, slurping up the condensation.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Too Little Time and a Sore Shoulder

Did I tell you the one about the house with no heating fuel? They froze though the winter and had no hot water until one day the Tax Credit Fairy repaid them the more than two grand that they owed them. Unfortunately by the time they coughed up the cash, the heating pipes had burst and silt had clogged up the tank. It cost the poor little homeowner nearly that much to get the heating working again. Still, it's nice to be able to have a hot bath once in a while.

I'm back at work again and it's actually going quite well. I kind of like it, though I'm loathe to admit that anything to do with teaching could be anything other than totally stressful. I have even stayed late a couple of times voluntarily!

My kids are also settlingy into their new classes. Saskia and Eartha are in the same group at last, getting the same lessons, although not allowed to sit next to each other. Donny and Mel have a teacher, whom they describe as strict, though I suspect she's not that scary really.

Mel has a self-esteem problem. He takes everything anyone says to him to heart. He's very low at times and really doesn't like to go to school. I don't know what to do with him. Both he and Donny are getting hormones all over the place too. Eeew! Smelly and moody!

I got Donny a new second-hand bike. Her old one fell apart in many interesting ways about two years ago. The new one is a total hit now though. The kids have spent the past week cycling up and down and round and round. I got a couple of freebie bikes off the internet and did them up, so the smaller ones have some bikes that fit them too.

Some time ago, I pulled my shoulder, possibly at Go Ape (in May). It wasn't really a problem, but it didn't go away either. At the start of September I went to the chiropracter, who did his thing and leant his entire weight on it. The pain was excrutiating and thereafter I have had trouble moving it. It is weak and even turning the steering wheel or changing gear is a problem. I thought it was going to sieze up altogether and become a frozen shoulder. I had one before, when the big twins were babies. It was a major problem because I couldn't do anything, like wash my own hair or get dressed, so I desperately don't want another one.

It did start to get a bit better, after a couple of weeks, but then I did some fabulous climbing (4+, superb ascent of the grey holds on Wall 12) and the morning after it was like a lead lump attached to my upper torso. I think I need to rest it again. :o( I'm clearly going to have to be very careful with it from now on.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Poetry Corner

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again,to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all
I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey m
ist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all
I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all
I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And qu
iet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

- John Masefield

Or alternatively Spike Milligan's version

I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and the sky;
I left my shoes and socks there -
I wonder if they're dry?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Looking Really Pleased.

I don't do cooking. I really don't. So when the kids said they wanted to bake Grandma a birthday cake, I said "Go on then!" and went and hid upstairs.

The resultant giggles, sticky kitchen and gloop covered clothing didn't wholly prepare me for the green gungy 'disasterpiece' that the kids produced. You can see from Grandma's face just how thrilled she was to receive it too.
(It tasted like dumplings mixed with pancakes. Kind of heavy. The 'icing' was made from flour, sugar, water and food dye.)

We had some friends from Sheffield down for a couple of days. Angela and Russ and two of Ange's kids - Rebecca and Steven. It was lovely to catch up with each other. It's been a few years since we last got together. We refrained from offering them the birthday cake.

Today I went over to Much Wenlock to see Ruth, whom I used to work with. We had lunch at a cafe and took a walk down the lane. All these house martins were swooping around an oak tree. They just kept going round and round. It was quite magical.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Highland Fling Travels

So I've been off on my travels again... Highland Fling pictures, stories and mosquitoes can be found here.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

A Trio of Slovakians

This week we have had guests. Three Slovakians came to stay (via the Couchsurfing/Hospitality Club route).

Lucy, her boyfriend Tom and their friend Rasto stayed with us for the best part of the week.

Tomas and Rasto
They were great company and we enjoyed having people in the house.
Ludlow Castle.

Nick and Palafox

We took them to Ludlow Castle to start off with, then for a walk along the River Onny.

Jackdaw at Ludlow Castle.
They found their own way to Oxford, Stratford-on-Avon (Shakespeare's birthplace), Birmingham, and the local pub (The Bell, since you ask!).
Stained glass in St Laurence's Church, Ludlow.
They came climbing with me and we took them down the forest.

Kids on tree by R. Onny.

On the last evening they bought us all a Chinese take-away and we sat and chatted and ate together. They are flying back to Slovakia as I type.

Meal together.