Thursday, 27 December 2012

But Only Just

I cannot begin to tell you how hard I have been working these past few months. Everything, and I mean everything, has been put on hold. I work a full day, then race home with just enough time to stuff some food into me before heading back out to tutor more children in the evenings. Finally,  having done a 13 hour day, or so, I come back in and need to do marking or planning. Exhausted doesn't cover it. And I don't even get sick pay or a pension out of this madness. There is something wrong in the world.

Things I haven't done include blogging - I'm not up to date with even last summer's travelpod, which makes me sad. It is one of the things I love doing, that I'm quite proud of. I feel a part of me is missing because I have had my creativity removed by so much work. I feel like an automoton, who travels the country, spouting science and maths facts at young people endlessly. It feels like a type of Sisyphisian punishment, where I'm doomed to spend eternity repeating the same thing over and over again.

I have also cut out exercise. I've cancelled several trips to the mountains, failed to go swimming, not run a step and given the poor dog short shrift. Consequently, I'm getting heavier and more unfit and my blood sugar is rising significantly. It all sucks. I can't keep it up, but what to do?

Slowly, as my strength returns over the winter break, I am feeling panicky attacks. My throat is closing up with a condition called globus hysterica that I first experienced four years ago when working for the Bad Headmistress. She has since retired, but her legacy lives on. This psychological condition is caused by the muscles in my throat tightening due to stress and tension. It is bizarre that it is happening now that the pressure has eased. What's that all about then? I've just had a bit of a rest and I think it is a manifestation of the fear of going back to teaching next term. Ho hum. I gotta get a life.

Around the autumn equinox, Mel finally persuaded me to get a hamster. This beautiful creature, Noxy, came to live with us briefly and soon became a much loved addition to the family. Sadly Noxy escaped one evening in December and was not a match for our more predatory pets. Noxy was buried with full honours in the front garden.

Once the initial trauma had subsided, we decided to get another hamster. This one is thankfully still alive and has been named Hiro (after one of the characters in the TV series Heroes that the kids have been watching). He's a friendly little thing, and is filling a Noxy shaped hole quite well.

Nick is the Holly King
Just after the Winter Solstice, we headed off to Stonehenge for the Druidic ceremony that we get invited to at this time of year. The kids were under very strict instructions not to touch the stones, as they got into trouble for it last summer. The weather this year has been appalling. It has rained constantly since April. I'm not even exaggerating. There is widespread flooding and anywhere off-path has been turned into a quagmire. I'm actually looking forward to cold weather so the mud freezes up a bit. 

The Three Maidens
Anyway, the threat of yet more rain meant several regulars cried off the ceremony. Afterall, the thought of standing in the rain for two hours getting the ritual robes sodden wasn't all that enthralling. Anyway, we risked it and it did in fact stay dry. The knock on effect of fewer people attending, meant we all ended up with jobs to do. Nick was the Holly King, the girls handed out the mead and snacks and we all joined in mourning the demise of the Holly King, as his reign wanes before the return of the sun. 

Christmas Day itself was spent at Mum's. We'd done the preparation the day before, so there was only the actual cooking part to do, and the opening of presents and the eating marathon to get through. I think we judged the presents OK this year. The kids all seemed quite happy. Donny got a nook, which is like a kindle, but half the price. She and Eartha have been glued to it ever since. Mel's top present was an alarm clock, something he'd asked for. Saskia's most used so far have been a book of puzzles and a book on how to draw cartoons. Nick and I got a great selection of music, books and clothes. Not a single smelly bath product in sight. Hurray! Mel is making up for it on the smelly front though. He got a packet of Lily flavoured joss sticks, which he is now polluting the house with.

Xmas Lunch

So, onwards to 2013!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

I'm Still Alive

Just a quick note to say I'm still here, and still alive, just that I haven't posted in a while. I got another teaching job in September and it has taken over my life. I'm back to working 50, 60 hours a week and having no personal time to think or move. I have got to get out of this profession! I did apply to retrain as a paramedic, but pending an appeal, I didn't get one of the 24 places on offer, sadly. It knocked me back a bit as I think I was counting on it to get me out of here, but I guess the universe has other plans for me.

There are lots of things to tell you - like Mum writing her car off in a spectacular roll down the road, but I don't think I can catch up with everything in five minutes and still do it justice. Here's some of it in bullet points:
  • The kids are doing fine at school.
  • Our nephew had a baby in July. He's got Down's but he's doing fine and I can't wait to meet him.
  • We had the dining room tiled with a groovy green and cream design.
  • The kids got a hamster, whom they've called Noxy.
  • I've done no exercise or writing for over two months and I'm starting to go stir crazy.
  • Skyfall was epic. Frankenweenie made us cry. 
  • We're going to Portugal on holiday next year. 
  • An elderly woman with grey hair and a wrinkled face, driving a small, scratched, white car tried to snatch Saskia. Thankfully Saskia ran away. Our village was crawling with police for a while.
That's it for this installment, folks. I will write more as soon as I get my life back!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Bikes, Vikings and Karma

We spent the last few weeks dodging the raindrops of the torrential English summer. One of the days we managed to get some of the kids's friends together for a cycle round the forest with the dog. Then they all came back to our place to watch Cowboys and Aliens and to eat popcorn. Both were a bit messy, but as my brother pointed out, there were some nice close-up of Daniel Craig's tight trousers. I think that was lost on the kids. (Probably a good thing.)

Then, in my capacity as chief interviewer of anything I like for Pagan Radio, I added to my Tewkesbury success by interviewing the Svartland Vikings. It seems my friend Chrissy, whom I've known since the year dot, has taken an interest in the group. She and her eldest son were at the camp re-enactment, dressed in the traditional clothes, chopping up carrots for the stew. 

We had a lovely Norwegian Couchsurfer to stay. Asbjorn came climbing with me, amongst other things, and came for a walk in the forest with the kids and Kate. He also came with us when the kids tried the luge - skateboarding down a steep path. Woot! Loads of fun. Mel got a prize for fastest time and Saskia and Donny got prizes for Most Epic Crashes.

Kate, Asbjorn and the kids
I've been having some problems with someone who owes me a lot of money for some work I did for him. He's refusing to pay because someone else didn't pay him and he's basically saving his own bacon instead of manning up to his responsibilties. I've been really mad at him, so I thought I would do some spiritual work to try to get him to change his view point. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the right frame of mind, and I drifted off to sleep projecting thoughts of violently breaking his windscreen with a brick. This is not really what I wanted to send out and, unsurprisingly, the karma of such negativity came bouncing right back at me.
Saskia on the Luge
The very next day, driving down the motorway, a stone hit my windshield and left a big chip in the middle. Worse still, it also left a chip which cracked down at the bottom of the screen. There is now a spiderweb of cracks creeping their way up the glass and I'm stuck in waiting for the Autoglass men to call and bring me a whole new windscreen, instead of enjoying my holiday. And it cost me money too. So the moral of this story is: don't get mad when you are trying to influence the universe - it's bigger than you!


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tewkesbury Medieval Festival

Wow, what an excellent day out. For a start it didn't rain, and that's a miracle this summer. We went off to the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, which stages a re-enactment of one of the battles that happened during the War of the Roses back in about 1471 or thereabouts. The Yorkists fought the Lancastrians and on this occasion the Lancastrians lost, although they won the greater war a few years later.
My family, together with Pal. Pal didn't like the cannons much, but the others did.

Donny and friend.
As well as the re-enactment of the battle, with over 2000 people taking part, all dressed in authentic gear, wielding big weapons, there was a medieval market packed full of traders selling everything from archery equipment to rabbit skins. There were games for the kids to play, juggling equipment, story-telling and a merry-go-round. Eartha made her own hobby-horse and they all got to try out firing a bow and arrow.

Morris, with excellent music, much yelling and clashing of sticks.
Mel plays big chess. This is what they mean when they refer to Grand Masters.
Donny and Saskia discover naughts and crosses.
A knight and his steed.
I had an additional reason for wanting to go. Some time back I'd been roped into becoming a contributor to I got given a voice recorder and it has taken me some time to find my voice. That is, I tried being the presenter, but found the sound of my own voice droning on to be both boring and embarrassing. I didn't want to feel so exposed to the world as I did when it was just my ideas and mind being recorded for posterity, so I started to interview other people. It is much easier to let them do the talking. 

The Lancastrians take aim.

Lining up for battle.

Battle standards.
 Today was fantastic for interviewing people. I got to chat to all sorts of stall-holders and the organisers of the festival, listening to how they created their products and the history behind them. I learnt loads of interesting things - far more than I ever would have done just looking round the stalls. I loved it. 
It's hot in here.

Parley before the battle.
Darn it! Another job I love, for which I don't get paid!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Wettest June on Record

It's raining, it's pouring, the old man in snoring.... It's been raining. Every day. Heavily. For months. The last time we had any sun was the end of May for a few days. I am mega fed up of doing Bikeability in the rain. Last week the alpha male I was working with refused to let the kids stand under the group of trees during a downpour so heavy, it appeared on the news that evening. Roads had been flooded, a school had been evacuated, an accident and emergency centre had been temporarily shut, and me and alpha male had been soaked to the skin. I mean totally soaked. I wrung my bra out, for crying out loud. 

I do appreciate alpha male's point of view, that you shouldn't stand under a tree in a thunder storm, but I think that applies to lone trees in fields. It isn't applicable to three trees in a housing estate full of satellite dishes and TV aerials, when the alternative is to stand in the open with a group of wringing wet kids clutching their metal bicycles and screaming after each flash of lightning. Is it me?

All hail Ra.
Anyway, we managed an afternoon of relative dryness for the summer solstice celebration at the Rollrights. The pictures are of the dancers, paying homage to Ra, the Egyptian sun-god. I took the photos on my phone, as my camera had gone off to be repaired. The screen had broken while I was on trek and the insurance had eventually payed out, so I was without camera. My phone takes good pictures, but getting the pictures off the phone and onto the computer is a complicated business. I really missed my camera. I am pleased to announce, it came back all well and better this week, so I feel I can blog again. It's funny how I seem to use pictures I've taken for writing inspiration.

Winged Dancers.
The rest of my family have been off on their travels. I suppose it is only fair, as I had my big trip this spring. Donny and Mel spent a week in Barcelona with their school. They went to see Gaudi's famous buildings and park, the football stadium, the beach, a craft village and a chocolate factory. I think they had a great time, although they came back totally pooped. 

Nick, Saskia and Eartha have gone off to Canada to visit the relatives, courtesy of some financial help from both grandmothers. They have had some stonkingly hot weather and I think the little ones have spent the week in the pool with their cousins. Jealous, much! I'm looking forward to seeing them when they come back in a few days time. It's very quiet here without them... and surprisingly tidy too!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

I Want to Ride My Bycicle

It's Bank Holiday. Everyone is being festive. It's the one day of the four-day weekend that doesn't have rain forecast. Sunday had been spent in a mire of couch-potato-ness, thanks to the incessant drizzle, so Monday was going to be active. We dragged out the bikes and did a maintenance check on them all. One needs a new brake cable, another brake blocks, but we found enough roadworthy bikes to do for the day.

I took the kids and we followed as many small roads as I could find to head for the forest. The road through Buckerage was like the waves of the sea - we would sail down one hill, then have to push up the next. The kids needed plenty of breaks and had scoffed their snack food before we got anywhere near the visitor's centre.

I don't think I have a picture of Eartha looking normal.
Naturally, the centre was like a zoo, it being bank holiday. We bought some lunch and Nick met us with the dog and his bike. We followed the red route, which is about 3 miles, with Pal bounding along beside us. He loved having humans that went at his speed for once.

Back at the centre, there was some debate about what to do next. Home was unremittingly uphill, but Grandma's, although further, was downhill. We plumped for Grandma's. Nick dropped the dog off and got a lift back, then we wove our way through the trees to the back of Uncllys Farm. The bridleway was muddy and uneven and Nick's brakes squeaked like he was trying to kill a ferret with his bare hands. There was one exciting moment, when a rutted path crossed our route and I thought all the children would sail into orbit as their wheels hit the deep indentations. In fact, it was a little later that Nick suddenly stopped killing his ferret and landed with a grunt in a soft pile of brambles. We were sympathetic once we'd stopped laughing.

No, I don't know which gang symbol they are sporting.
We pushed the bikes over a cattle grid and followed the lanes and a steep hill into Bewdley. Somehow we made it through the town centre without losing any children and ended up at Mum's, where the kids were surprisingly quiet. We'd cycled about 15 miles, at a guess. I wanna do it again!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Olympic Jubilee Birthday Parties

My Birthday Cake
I got 'another year older and deeper in debt', as the song goes. I am pleased to say I am now the answer to Life the Universe and Everything. In my new capacity as The Answer, I ate a lot of Chinese food, first with my friends and then the next day with my family. Nick got me a birthday cake. My brother bought me a (3rd world gift) donkey harness, which he thought would suit me following the ravages of my trek to K2. I told him I would wear it on special occasions (if I can ever find the donkey that is currently borrowing it somewhere in the 3rd world).
Cheerleaders on a lorry
Anyway, the Olympic Torch is being carted around Britain by a selection of randomly chosen people. I raced down to Leominster to see it and just got there in time. There was a cavalcade of lorries with waving cheerleaders on them, numerous police motorcyclists and an old bloke carrying the replica golden light. I was surprisingly emotional with national pride. I didn't expect that. 

More Olympic Parade Lorries
My youngest twins saw the flame as it passed by their school. Eartha, being the cheekiest child in the universe, asked if she could hold the flame and amazingly got permission. How cool is that?! 

The Press Corps
Some other friends had to go to a funeral at the time that the flame passed through Hereford. The route to the crematorium clashed with the route that the flame was taking. Those flag-waving crowds that were watching the parade there would have seen lorries with cheerleaders, a carnival of police motorbikes and the Olympic Torch followed by a hearse. I couldn't make it up. What a send off.

Local Man Carrying the Olympic Flame
The national celebrations don't stop with the Olympics. Our Queen Liz has been on the throne for 60 years, which is quite a feat, however you look at it. Every school, village hall, town and city has organised an event, from a barbecue to a flotilla of boats on the Thames. 
Jubilee Garden Party
Nick looking like he's had enough of flag waving.
There are a lot of street parties happening this weekend and we get an extra day bank holiday. Friday we went to the Jubilee celebrations at the village hall. There was plenty of food, a quiz (we did terribly), a tree planting and a balloon release. It was really quite good fun, although I did realise half way through the evening that I'd turned up in a t-shirt that said Kyrgyzstan on it, which probably confused all the people wearing Union Jack print clothing.
Balloon Release

I think the rest of our long weekend will be spent trying to kill off the rampaging ground elder, which is trying to take over my garden. I'm on a mission. The stuff just won't give up. We're trying to stop it growing by smothering it with black bin bags, pinned down with house bricks. We've spread them all over the paths and beds where the unstoppable weed keeps coming up. My back garden currently looks like a mafia kill site.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Why'd You Put Your Backpack On?


Guarding the Gatepost
"Why'd you put your backpack on, if you won't just take a hike?" The words from the Barenaked Ladies song have come back to me regularly since I got back from China. For those that don't read my travel blog, I have been away for a month trekking to the base of K2 and having a mostly awesome time. I have learn an enormous amount about Uigur history and culture, a surprising amount about how difficult it is to trek at altitude and a fair amount about myself.

Pal in the Wheat Field
The trek was the hardest thing I have ever done. Not physically, maybe, but mentally I was not up to the job. Physically, well, I struggled and I needed to be a lot tougher. I could have walked it all, but I didn't go fast enough and this was more of a problem for other people than it was for me. Consequently, I sepnt a lot of time on donkeys/camels/motorbikes and by myself walking at a slower pace. The mule riding was not, generally, my idea. I was coerced into it by people who wanted me to go faster. 

Wild Garlic Trail
So, given the problem of speed, I decided, once I got back home to try to improve on my pace. Every year there is a walk called Pound the Bounds organised. The walks (pick your favourite length) are around the boundary of the parish of Rock. I decided to go for the 12 mile walk with my favourite mutt, Pal. And I was going to do it as fast as I could walk.

Mad Sheep
I have an app on my phone that tracks a walk. It talks to me every five minutes, giving an average. I wanted to average 3 miles/hour, but in the end I only managed 2.5 miles/hour, over fences and streams and stiles and getting lost. I did 13 miles (I told you I got lost) in 5hrs 30mins, with one five minute sit down. It was tough, and the tendon at the back of one knee hurt for a day afterwards, but it wasn't dreadful. I was reasonably proud of myself.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Big Girls' Sleep-over.

"Wow! You're going to stay at Kate's all night!" said Donny. "It'll be a big girls' sleep-over! How cool!"

And indeed it was. I went over to Kate's for mushroom risotto, wine and The King's Speech. Nick had refused to get out the video as it was a load of Royalist Rubbish, apparently. This is coming from the man that obsessively reads about the Tudor period and knows the details of Elizabeth I's love life. Am I missing something? Anyway, the King's Speech was an excellent movie, superbly acted by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

In the morning, we went and fed the ducks and a whopping great swan over at the wildlife reserve behind her house.

Arley, Areley and Helpful People (Not)

Despite just getting over the cold from hell, I decided I needed to do a bit of a walk. The trek to K2 is coming up really soon and I'm starting to freak out about my lack of fitness. Nick had given me a book of local walks for Christmas, so I picked one out of there. It starts off in Arley near the Severn Valley Railway station and heads through the forest, across the road at Button Oak, further through the forest, across the road at Callow Hill, then loops back past the golf course and Mum's house to the SVR station in Bewdley. I reckoned if I followed the route as far as Mum's, then it would be about a six mile jaunt.
Nick dropped Pal and me off. It was a lovely day. As before, there were a few points in the guide that were not exactly clear unless you knew the route, but somehow I didn't make a mistake. I saw a few people, but mostly these were at the Button Oak car-park. The rest of the forest was empty. Pal ran up and down, doing at least three times the distance I did.

Somewhere near the back of Uncllys Farm, Pal flushed out a magnificent stag, which bounded unhurriedly away through the oak trees. Pal bounded after him and I didn't see him again for twenty minutes... but he came back, as always. He can follow my trail for miles and find me again.

Not long after that, I stopped for lunch. Pal lay down by my feet for most of it, only wandering off just before I was ready to leave. I packed up, thinking he couldn't have gone far. I whistled and whistled, but he didn't come. Eventually, I carried on, thinking he would catch me up when he was ready. This usually works, but today it didn't. When I got to the main road I realised I had a problem. Pal couldn't follow my trail across the main road.

There was nothing for it. I called Nick to come and get me in the car so we could go and look for the dog. We drove up and down that track with no luck and then went to the visitor's centre at Callow Hill. Yup, there was Pal tied up. Someone had helpfully caught my dog and taken him to the centre (which wasn't on my route at all). They must have grabbed him when I was eating my sandwiches. I know they were trying to be a good citizen and all that, but it was a right pain in the backside. That was the end of that walk, but hey, there's always another one.

Close to Mum's is a place called Areley (yes, it is spelt differently but said the same). Dave has his workshop in the woods down there. A couple of days after the Arley walk, I went on a walk round Areley. Dave wanted me to sort out the NVC status for each compartment in the woods, so I wandered round with the dog looking at the different trees. I took a few photos to share with you. The woods are really peaceful - a lime pollard and a walk up through the conifers.

Saturday, 18 February 2012


The Chinese for a runny nose translates literally as "running nose bogies". My entire head is attempting to dribble out through my nasal passages. I had a bit of a cold - not much, just a gravelly voice - and then I went to the travel clinic. They gave me a vaccination against rabies ready for my trip to China next month.

"You may get a few flu-like symptoms," she said. Oh joy. Now I know it isn't flu, because I had the jab for that too, back in the autumn, but it sure feels like it. I am bunged up and sneezing, with skin that crawls when I touch it. I can't breathe so I can't sleep. My watery eyes are half shut and bleary. If this is what the vaccine is like, I'm sure glad I'm not going to get the disease.

Whilst feeling like my head was in the process of melting, we had a new boiler installed. Random blokes wandered through my house all half term. The old boiler was condemned last year, so we've done well to get it to limp on for a further 12 months. There comes a time when you just have to get things done, even if you don't know how to pay for them really. Somehow it will all work out, I hope. Anyway, now we have a new boiler and a radiator in Mel's room, which means he will have direct warmth for the first time in seven years. It's all very posh and even has a remote controlled timer system. This is a far cry from the archaic beast we've been living with. I kind of miss having to top the pressure up manually every two hours.

On a positive note, (Anne, if you're reading this) we have finally eaten all the green beans out of our freezer. Hurray! It's only taken four months. I wonder what we will eat now?

The trek is coming up soon and I am starting to get stressed out about it. I should be doing lots of training, and I have done a few long walks, but I feel it is not enough. This week has been impossible anyway, what with having the kids at home and having the team of boiler dudes strolling around my abode. Next week is looking more possible. Lucky Pal... lots of long walks for you!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Respecting America

Now, I think I need to rant just for a moment. This picture was posted by a friend on FB with the comment "huh?" It seems that Obama has failed to adopt the correct position for listening to the National Anthem. From the vitriolic commments that followed, you would have thought the man was standing there picking his nose with one hand and jerking off with the other. Any one with an ill-informed opinion is of course now allowed to spout it without recrimination. One such comment read:

thats messed he was only elected cuz he was the first black and no one wanted a woman to be president

Congratulations! A lurid combination of racism, sexism, ignorance and bigotry - and in only 21 words! Honestly, in my world, such that it is, being black is generally a social obstacle, not an advantage. They should have written "despite" not "cuz", and been proud of the American people for managing to get over their prejudices enough to elect him in the first place (personal political opinions notwithstanding).

But then 'respect' is a funny old thing. It seems Obama is pillioried for not 'respecting' America (because he failed to conform to the regulation position during a particular song), but the commenter is perfectly OK to disrespect American values - racial and gender equality, for a start.

The biggest disrespect the commenter is making, is to the right to freedom of expression. This states that someone is allowed to express themselves as they wish. Obama is hardly expressing his respect inappropriately in this picture. Even if he was doing something disrespectful - pulling a face or making a rude gesture, maybe - he would be within his rights - although, let's face it, he wouldn't be doing his re-election chances much good.

So, seriously, let's think a little bit about what the world would be like if we all had to conform to such a standard that we could only express an opinion in one way.... think hard... consider the constraints.... go read some history of repressive regimes..... are you scared yet? You should be.