Wednesday, 31 December 2014

January poetry day 1

To kick off our writing this first month of the new year, Maria ( and I are once again giving each other random words to spark a poem into life.  I'm going to try and explore my mother's dementia through these poems.  I may find that tricky though, having looked through some of the words we have plucked from the air but it seems a good place to begin.  This one is for you, Mum.

For the kicks
Do not misjudge her or assume you know
Something still, which she chooses not to share
With you, the unknown once known mystery
Creeping soft in those new shoes on the tiles,
You knock and enter before the response
Which waits forgotten in the tepid air
And throw cheerful loudness into the hush
Of a morning spent asleep and dreaming
Of time passed but still remembered with joy
Causing that rare understood smile to bloom
Which whispers I am alive and live still.
But this door is locked tight to you and I
Have lost the key, misplaced it somewhere dark
And new brightness can shine there never more.
Once, far away, I loved life for the kicks
I clutched it, I laughed and played and was glad.   

Monday, 22 December 2014

How much is enough and when do you know if it is too much?

A couple of friends of mine were interested in ways to support their children with their learning at home.  It's a really tricky and very personal decision as to how much you support (as opposed to interfere) with what your child is doing in school.  I think that ultimately, you need to know your child and understand what the school is doing for them in terms of providing learning opportunities that are stimulating, challenging and fun.  Doing too much at home can turn a child off learning completely but equally, missing opportunities to reinforce and extend learning if the child is keen (see also happy to be manipulated with rewards - it's all for their own good after all) is a shame if you have the time for it - I'm not suggesting parents wear sackcloth and ashes because they have busy lives and don't have the time, by the way.  I probably make my seven year old do quite a lot at home compared to many within a similar education setting but this is grounded in what I hope is a sound philosophy to encourage the naturally enquiring mind and instill a love of learning which does requires discipline. 

A lot of what I have come to expect from children has been informed by my own teaching experiences. I know that it is hard to stretch children (not literally although sometimes that is very tempting) in a class of 30 where you have: gifted and talented; special needs; low achievers; behavioural issues; difficult home circumstances; non-existent aspirations and self confidence; chaotic family situations and not forgetting the quiet ones who don't call attention to themselves because they are guaranteed to get on with whatever is asked of them and just keep their heads down.  You have to provide for each and every one of them.  In such a mix as this, where Every Child Matters and you as the educator are expected to get them all to a level of competence which the government deems acceptable, there is a distinct pressure to tick boxes and provide evidence for everything which happens in class: its educational purpose; how it links in to a myriad of other expectations and where it takes the child next.  And I haven't even begun to talk about the fun that should be an integral part of learning.  Is there even time for fun?

The school where my son goes is fine.  It was in special measures and isn't now.  His teacher is brilliant and he does really interesting projects.  There appears to be plenty of opportunity for investigation and self directed learning.  So why do I also expect him to do a maths programme, a reading comprehension programme, spelling, multiplication tables, silent reading, listen to me reading and then read to me?  Every week day.  Wow, even I think I sound like a control freak/dictator when I see that little lot.

So let me explain.  You remember when you used to take worksheets home for homework?  This is essentially because parents like their children to have homework.  Seriously.  Even parents whose children never actually do their homework, complain when nothing comes home.  So, clever people who saw a niche to be filled, created programmes that can be used in school and at home.  These are pretty good really as both the teacher and parent can see just what the child is doing and where they need to improve.  In class, in no way does it replace teaching by an actual human being but they are great for consolidating ideas and previously taught concepts and they can provide a challenge too.  The reading one is especially good for comprehension.  A surprising number of children are brilliant readers but when you ask them, have no idea what they have read. To be a good comprehender,  essentially, you really just need to read a lot and think about it a lot.  Why did that happen?  Did you expect it?  What would you have done?  Why was that character acting in that way?  What did she really mean when she said...?  Would you have done anything differently in the same situation? You get the idea.  Unfortunately, a lot of children don't enjoy reading so reading short books online with built in questions at least gets them into the habit.

Habit.  There it is.  Personally, I really do think that having a reading or studying habit is something which has to be learned and encouraged. If you need to use online programmes (like Reading Express) with built in reward systems and celebration assemblies in school for when goals are reached, then great.  It is creating a habit for learning.  The same goes for the maths programme (like IXL, MyMaths and Mathletics).  As for spelling and multiplication tables, the spellings they come home with once they are in key stage 2, will mainly be the tricky words that can't be read by knowing phonics patterns - they just need to be learned.  Sometimes there are little tricks to learning them, often not.  Ditto for multiplication tables.  Squeebles is probably as fun as it gets with those.  Again, a built-in reward of game playing is an integral part of its lure.  But ultimately, it gets the job done and immediate recall of multiplication facts is invaluable for all aspects of maths so whatever it takes to learn them...

Lastly, the reading.  Reading stamina needs to be built up.  As adults, we rarely read aloud (unless to a child) so it is unsurprising that this slightly alien way of engaging with a book is unpopular with many children.  However, we need to be hearing our children read so we can be sure that they are recognising what the punctuation is there for, using correct intonation and expression for dialogue, pronouncing words correctly and understanding what they mean, reading at the right speed... the list goes on.  And of course, we hope that they are enjoying it too.  Reading silently to yourself is a quiet, focused skill that children have to practice.  As they go up through school, they will be expected to be reading longer and more complex books and as they go into secondary education, textbooks will rear their ugly heads (unless ipads take over but even information on them needs reading before any understanding can take place).  I also read to my children at bedtimes and these are usually books which the children find exciting and fun but are either too long or have complex sentence structures, plots or language which would slow a seven and four year old down so much as to render the reading completely boring and pointless.  Books that I include in this category and which have been very well received include: Five Children and It; MoonFleet; Samauri, The Hobbit - you get the idea.

A love of reading comes from hearing wonderful books!

Nobody ever said it was easy being a parent and knowing the right thing to do.  But it's a pretty exciting journey to be on.  And if mine never finish learning and being interested in the world and their place in it, I will be happy with the job I've done.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

'I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.' Mary Shelley.

Girl power, female emancipation - hurrah we cry.  Of course women having choices is not a luxury but a given.  Or at least it should be and hopefully will be for all women across the globe in the future.  However, recently there have been a couple of things in the media which have offered an opportunity to refocus ideas on female agency and what it means or could mean or is interpreted to mean in the twenty first century.  I have also just been to see a recording of The Old Vic's The Crucible this week, in itself a magnificent thing for many reasons but it did make me think about women, their roles and representations in a way that  I haven't before.  Of course, this isn't to say that what I was awoken to isn't something that many scholars haven't considered in the past.  I am only me though and as this blog is written by me, I am giving my small brained opinion.  To paraphrase Mark Kermode; other opinions are undoubtedly more erudite and freely available (just google it).

The two news stories, one which has been rumbling around for weeks and another which is new, have provoked what I believe is referred to as 'a storm of debate'.  The first story concerns a professional footballer who has served a prison sentence for rape.  He has been released and was to return to his club but public outcry has led to the club having to change its mind and disallow him from renewing training.  In line with many commentators who have tried to talk about this issue without appearing to play down rape, it goes without saying that rape is a heinous crime for which their can be no apologists.  However, I don't think that the furore about this case is really about rape.  After all, he was found guilty and served his time.  Surely the debate is around our justice system and what we expect from it.  If, as it is widely suggested, the penal system seeks to punish and rehabilitate, then it has done its job.  Surely no good comes of further punishing somebody by preventing their reintegration into a society which requires atonement and the person to go back to being a law-abiding tax-paying society-contributing individual.  Perhaps then this is about the lack of atonement?  Although he has apologised to his family, girfriend and club, it appears that he hasn't said sorry to the woman involved.  As this case is currently being fast tracked to a review, it would appear to have more to it than currently is in the public arena. I suppose the point I am trying to make, which links into the female power thing and is my opinion based on what has been widely reported, is that as a young woman, enjoying freedoms unheard of to many women around the world, choosing to drink so much that you can't remember anything but are sure that you didn't consent to sex with a man whose hotel room you entered of your own free will after a night of excess which left you comatose, appears foolish in the extreme.  We have power, yes, but with that comes a responsibility to not let yourself down and always being aware of what is happening so that you can make good choices. 

The other case concerns a case in court brought by a county council who wished to gain compensation for a seven year old girl in their care who was left severely brain damaged by her birth mother who drank to excess while pregnant.  The council argued that the mother had committed a crime by doing something that she knew would damage her unborn child.  The result was that the court found they could not rule in favour of the child because at the time the 'crime' was committed, the foetus was not a human being.  In other words, it didn't count.  And as a result, the little girl doesn't count either.  Speakers and thinkers on women's rights were quick to point out that you cannot legislate for a particular time in a woman's life and that essentially denying her what other women could expect as the norm - drinking alcohol; would infringe her human rights.  In addition, it would prevent vulnerable women from seeking help.  Crap.  Women know that they shouldn't drink when pregnant.  The baby cannot do anything about it.  She can.  Stopping drinking for nine months is not too much to ask is it?  The vast majority of women know that they are going to be pregnant, know when they are pregnant and know their responsibilities.  You have rights but so does the child.  The power is with you as the mother to be to step up to that responsibility and ensure that the child has all the best chances life affords it.  If you cannot do this, then you should do something about being pregnant in the first place. 

And now seamlessly on to Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  What struck me about this was the way that the women held all the power.  The old woman, Rebecca, was the fount of all knowledge and certainly a voice of common sense.  The instigator of the terror, Abigail, wields her power carefully over her lover and increasingly forcefully and wildly over her friends and stealthily over her lover's wife.  Tituba, a suggested practitioner of the dark arts, finds her knowledge misused by others for their own purposes.  The men are powerless in the face of the extraordinary goings on which defy sense in their rigid society.  The girls are bored, stifled by rules that govern every aspect of their existence.  It is little wonder that when they want to cut loose, it has spectacular consequences.  By the end of the play, it is the men who retake the reins of power; the court decide the fate of those they have come to restore order to.

All of the above made me more aware of the power we strive to have as women and the responsibility we need to be mindful of (both to wourselves and others) when we achieve it.

Monday, 1 December 2014

'Advent: the time to listen for footsteps - you can't hear footsteps when you are running yourself.'

I must admit that I do find waiting and generally being patient pretty tricky.  However, I do love Advent, that time before Christmas which is filled with anticipation and hope.  This year I am going to think more carefully about what I am thinking about and why.  I have a tendency to rush through life.  It is because I recognise that this time on Earth is so very fleeting and precious and I don't want to waste any of it.  I may never get to travel the world or write a book which is deemed good enough to  be published but I am going to have a jolly good time while I am trying to do these things along with everything else.  Having children makes life whirl past at ever increasing speeds - some things are unbelievably quick; how did they get to be so old so quickly?  I want to be in this moment, I want to see it all and feel it all and most of all, live it all.  With them.  This is it.

Friday, 28 November 2014

'Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.'

'It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.'  So sayeth the mighty John Steinbeck.  Today has been Black Friday and what a black day it is.  Hordes of people desperate to have something for nothing.  It really is the antithesis to Thanksgiving yesterday and ironically hails from the same shores.  Why can't we import a festival that celebrates all that is wonderful about humankind, why do we have to have something which encourages greed and (if the tv footage is anything to go by), appalling bad manners when shopping?  Apparently, it was Amazon who imported Black Friday five years ago (thanks for that) and each year it has grown a little so that now it has become officially, a 'thing' in Britain.  To the uninitiated, such as myself, it seems to be an opportunity to hone those skills so beloved of the January sales lover - the shoving, the wanton neediness for tat, the gleam in the eye for a bargain that you never know, may come in useful at some stage in the future.  I sound cynical.  No, really?  I hate this about people.  While I appreciate a bargain as much as the next person, I don't see what this incessant need for 'stuff' is all about.  Perhaps if people thought a little more about what they should be grateful about; those simple things like shelter, water and food, good health and a wage coming in, they wouldn't worry about what they don't have and can't consume and might be happy with less.  But then if we weren't bombarded with advertising which tells us what we can't possibly be happy without, we wouldn't know what it was we couldn't live without.  And then we might be happy.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

'Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.'

Oprah Winfrey said that.  I like her.  She seems a sensible woman, who has control of her own life and appreciates everything she has worked hard for.  She talks a lot of sense, in-between the self-help twaddle.  I used to watch her show, back in the day, when I was in my teens and early twenties and it was on before Neighbours and Home and Away when I got back in from work.  I must admit to having the occasional guilty pleasure, buying O magazine and seeing what the great one had to say on everything from faith to fornication via cookery tips and meditation - all in one magazine!  Incredible.  I liked her strong sense of herself, her place in the world and how thankful she was to be there.  Okay, so she also had Tom Cruise jumping up and down on her sofa but even she couldn't avoid being pulled into the glamour of Hollywood sometimes.  I admire her still for the way she has a concept of her spiritual self that she is happy to embrace and to share. 
However, this was supposed to be about Thanksgiving.  I really do wish that we had something like that over here.  i woke up this morning to Radio Four's Prayer for the Day and for a brief couple of minutes was encouraged to think about what it actually meant to be thankful for simply being, not for having stuff, not for being glad that we weren't in a worse place (see BandAid's most controversial line - tonight thank God it's them instead of you), no this was simply a call to the heart to be thankful for what we have, the small pleasures and delights that are a part of every day we pass through, however bad it might seem at the time.  From the outside, Thanksgiving seems to be about reconnecting to simplicity, sharing time with family and friends and appreciating all that we have, rather than mourning all that we perceive to be missing out on - usually materialistic in focus.  I hope it really is still about this at its core and if it is, long may it continue.
I will try and hold onto those words of wisdom from Oprah and Prayer for the Day as this day comes to an end and the next, full of promise and wonder, prepares to arrive.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

'The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt'

Sylvia Plath wrote that and she knew a thing or two about creativity.  The more I read about writing, the more I think about it and learn about it as both a scholarly and creative pursuit, the less i actually write.  Before I even began my creative writing diploma, I wrote every morning before either going to work or beginning studying and i finished the first two parts of two separate trilogies.  I had even begun to send work off to publishers.  Now I rarely write even when a perfect opportunity like NaNoWriMo knocks at my door and what i do write, I agonise over ridiculous things and find it impossible to edit and difficult to share.  I don't really have much experience of anything much so although it doesn't appear that I am 'laying myself bare', I am constantly rereading and consulting with myself as to whether someone could find something out about me, about my character, my dreams and fears, the silly things that raise a white flag occasionally and say that no, it isn't alright and you are an idiot. Of course, the main reason that this doesn't happen is because nobody reads what I write so there is very little chance that anybody will find out anything about me that I do not intend.  I am going to have to address the not writing because I don't have time (I have the same number of hours in the day as everybody else after all) and that will definitely be the foundation of a new year's resolution - I love making resolutions.  As for the scholarly side, I will have to write pieces that can be published and the first thing that I need to learn is that you must have the publication in mind to write for rather than write something you think is incredible and then tote it around to a variety of journals and hope that they will like it.
Time to start writing a list of things I need to do then.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

'I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.'

You can thank Winston Churchill for that quote.  I wonder what he thought of chickens?  As far as I'm aware, history did not capture his thoughts on these feathered mercenaries of the garden.  I'm sure if he did have something to say about them though, it would be considered, erudite and finely tuned - purposeful you might even say.  Whether he said anything or not, I have a few things to say about these delightful birds.  I was warned that they would wreck the garden so I really, honestly was prepared for this.  However, looking out onto the sea of mud that was grass (not quite a lawn but manicured somewhere between a roadside verge and a sand-dune with a liberal spattering of moss added in for good measure), I have to admit that the ladies have beaten me.  The garden is no great thing of beauty but it was more beautiful than it is now so that is something which needs to be addressed.  I have a cunning network of a variety of fencing materials all designed to keep the chickens out and the foliage safe.  It has become clear that when necessary and often by accident, my feathered friends can fly.  Blast.  I need to up my game so a new, longer and taller fence is on its way to me and the free range opportunities for my little egg layers will shortly be curtailed.

Monday, 24 November 2014

My mother's handbag

My mother's handbag was a small, brown thing.  But she loved it.  It was always slung over her shoulder, her left I think,  I began below it and as I grew, my fingers were able to reach it, then my hair brushed it, eventually my shoulders passed by the once plush pouch with its huge tarnished, silver hoops which acted as the clasp.  I was allowed to carry it too then, you see.  The bag contained the mysteries of womanhood; articles that were of interest to me like spare change for sweets and lipstick to transform along with boring and less fascinating objects like tissues and tampons.  The tan colour would have once been a deeper chocolate brown I think but time and use had weathered it.  The bag smelled of mum on the outside and leather on the inside and when i opened it, the hoops clinked together.  I sat on the kitchen floor and spent some time trying to slip the rings through one another.  They never passed each other in this way.  I sat, feeling the knot in the long leather strap which was rubbed shiny and could never be teased out.  The shallow loop that it created at the top of the strap, with the double row of frayed stitches, was pleasant to hold in my small hand.  It fitted me. I looked for the bag once, at the bottom of her wardrobe after she was gone.  I never found it.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

'One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.'

Words are funny things.  We need language to communicate and for most of us, that means using words.  Words are sounds strung together with squiggly lines on paper standing in for them; just signs that mean something which we all agree to abide to and for the most part, think we understand.  But rules... rules... who writes them and what if they are not written down?  What do we do then?  How do we all agree on what we mean and what is the result of misunderstanding?  I ask this because I was misunderstood earlier this week when I put what I considered a perfectly innocent comment on a friend's facebook photo stating that I was scared of clowns (it was in response to a photo of a clown, fact fans, so not as random as that might sound).  I followed this with a further comment that I found the makeup which I took as a way to hide one's face, unnerving and that I worried that the person who spent their time using a persona to interact with their public might be actually unhappy and that the effort of being a happy, outgoing person would be exhausting, leaving nothing left for the person to keep for themselves.  I say, 'worried' but the word is used advisedly; it is hardly something which keeps me awake at night and there are far more troubling and worthwhile things in this vast and wonderful world to expend energy on but having talked to someone who was a clown and who was the saddest (and I mean unhappy, not sad as in pathetic) person I ever spoke to, this is what I thought. 
As I write this, I still think that saying it in the first place was rather banal and most definitely said more about me than about clowns.  In fact, to paraphrase wonder film critic, Mark Kermode; it wasn't even really about clowns.  However, I attracted some criticism from people I didn't even know (welcome to the open plan nature of Facebook, Rebecca - some friends of friends really don't have anything better to do than comment on things that are nothing to do with them) who seemed to read into my comment that I: felt clowning was an easy job; one with no skills necessary; not a real job; not an art form; had no history to it and that I had personally attacked clowns by suggested that they were tired, unhappy and pathetic individuals with nothing to go home to at night.  Wow.  Of course I knew that I didn't write that but that was what people had interpreted my squiggles on the page to mean.  I apologised and exited quickly because I found it surprisingly SO TEMPTING to get into an argument.  Ridiculous.  I did manage a few smart remarks and have ignored the responses as I don't want to be pulled further into head wrecking pointless correspondence with strangers whom I will never meet and who have no interest in a conversation as to what I actually meant over what they interpreted.
In future I will think more carefully about what I say and what I mean but not be afraid to speak my mind.  I will avoid anything to do with clowns though.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Wedding music and dreams in general

I heard a piece of music on the radio today which is one of my favourites: Corelli's Concerto grosso no. 8, or to give it the other name, the Christmas Concerto.  It is a sublime piece of music and one I have loved for a very long time.  So long, in fact, that it was my music of choice for my wedding.  As Oscar pointed out in the car as we were driving somewhere and I was singing along (or rather humming badly), 'but you never got married, did you?'  Thanks for reminding me.  He did make it sound as though I had endured some wedding aisle catastrophe from which I had never recovered.  But no Miss Haversham dusty white dress hysterics for me - no,  I never got that near a church because nobody ever asked me to marry them.  It does seem silly now to have thought so much about something that never happened but I don't think it has left me needing any long term therapy.  Dreaming is essential though and as we did our 'trick or treating' last night, I did find my attention wandering from ensuring the children said 'happy Halloween' and 'thank you' at appropriate points during the evening to admiring the beautiful homes we were on the doorstep of.  I could have a home like that, with beautiful tiles and lovely vases, I found myself thinking.  Thankfully, my sensible self was quick to point out that if I had a spare couple of million, yes, I probably could have a house like that but shouldn't I be thankful for what I did have rather than dreaming about what I hadn't?  Dreaming is wonderful as long as you remember the limits.  Otherwise it just serves to make you feel hard done by and miserable.

Talking of dreaming, I'm still attempting that novel and as it is now NaNoWriMo once again, I was up at five this morning to chug out three quarters of an hour on something, anything which might merit further attention at the end of the month.  I am going to indulge in some 'free writing' which hopefully will spark something interesting and even if it doesn't, will enable me to just write every morning with no fixed agenda and therefore no possibility of blocking or failure in the first instance.  It was quite liberating finishing mid-sentence when my phone alarm went off to tell me to stop.

Every day should have a few points where there are some missing full stops.  That's when the dreams creep in.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

How do we teach English?

For my Ed.D, I'm looking at English, culture, books, why we think all these are important, how we teach them and ultimately, do we need our children and young people to have prior knowledge of well, just about everything or a certain set of things in order to get the most out of their reading experiences? 
Thirty odd years ago, an American academic, E D Hirsch published his Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.  This makes for an interesting read; setting down everything that American children should know which will allow them to get the most out of their education and become successful and useful citizens.  This notion of needing to know things, that we get the most out of learning when it links to something that is already known, is something that many conservative (also labelled, traditional) educationalists over here in the UK, believe to be key in teaching English in our schools. In this case, familiarity does not breed contempt and certainly, in modern children's and YA literature, series fiction along with  novels derivative of so much that has gone before are fantastically popular. 

Hurrah, young people are reading!  it doesn't matter what they read, as long as they are reading.  Right? That's what I've always been told and it is certainly something that I have told parents, worried that their children never read 'proper books' but are content to read online gossip and comics or football and style magazines. But actually, maybe this is not the case.  What if, in not encouraging children to read a 'canon' of literature which will set them up to really get the most out of everything that they read, what if we, as educationalists, are actually dooming them to never being able to gain control of their own language and reading experiences?  This is certainly an accusation laid down by Michael Gove at the door of Michael Rosen after he (in an eloquent register, edited to an acceptable degree so that he was communicating in a discourse universal to educationalists and politicians), suggested that it was wrong to subject children to rigorous grammar, testing and an assumption that there is a correct sort of English that should be used - a canon of 'good' literature that has merit and worth in its study.

As you know, I love YA novels and I love their film adaptations.  I can argue for their place in any young person's personal literary canon until the cows come home.  But now I'm beginning to wonder if my ability to stand up for Twilight and see the best in The Bunker Diaries and Divergent, to marvel at the ingenuity of Malorie Blackman and the twisting gender roles in the Chaos Walking trilogy is because I recognise in them many elements of older writing and authorship.  I can bring a prior knowledge that makes the 'new' seem tangible and solid where their detractors see fluff and poor plotting.  I am beginning to think differently and I like it.  The more I read, the more I find out.  So it's back to the reading.  And the finding out.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

That guilty feeling...

Witch, hearts, fondue, Glitch, Almost, Thimble.

I feel guilty a lot of the time.  It is ridiculous and definitely counter productive but I just can't seem to help it.  In a self-help kind of way, I'm going to mention all the great new things that I now have time for in my life, what with working 'part-time' and all...  Dropping the children at school and being there to collect them; more study time where I actually go somewhere scholarly to focus and don't just sit around thinking that I should be doing the hoovering or something equally tedious but necessary; I've started running (again) and it is feeling sustainable right now; cycling to work instead of wasting petrol and wrecking the environment by sitting in traffic, stressing out; time to help out at a friend's stable yard and just enjoy being outside and not having to talk to anyone.  In addition, I have two new jobs and have the prospect of doing some freelance writing, now have a website, and have sent two short stories off to magazines, an article to an online magazine and have had an article on teaching published in a parents' magazine.   I'm also getting back into the swing of cinema once a week and not having so much to do after school (but more at the weekend) plus having some gardening time.  And did I mention I've already booked the holiday for next year?  Just so organised.

However, now I'm feeling guilty because I haven't finished the poetry task Maria and I set ourselves, I think I may end up with more work and less study time than is good for me and I'm not writing as much as I would like because I end up either reading (The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, excellent) or planning for my Ed.D or having lots of literary ideas but not getting anything actually down on paper!  Time to address the lack of poetry -

You were almost a glitch,
A thimble in my fondue,
You made my witch's heart melt,
And I love you.

Of course, life always humbles you and there are times when I am reminded of how incredibly fortunate I am to have so many things that could be taken for granted.  There are so many terrible things that happen in the world and it is impossible to be ignorant of the lives of others that make mine seem like a dream.  There is always room for improvement and self assessment but acknowledging that you are happy and blessed must be something for every day, not just when reality taps you on the shoulder and holds a mirror up.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Day 25 - Oscillate


I oscillate between knowing and not knowing
You hold the truth and did not choose to share
But now the revelation comes late in the day
But it comes, bright and charging into my life
News from the past, precious nuggets offered
For the future
Important.  Possibly.  Unknown.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Character, dissonance, holy, transcendental, traffic - several poems later...

Holy silence splashing macaw leaves
Falling characters beat a march
Drifting, transcendental in dilute sun
Autumn traffic meets misty dissonance

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Day 18 = Rhubarb

Rhubarb crimson rush blush
Nonsense over-analysing backwards
Pick me up and throw me down
Making sense is not needed
Spinning leaves smoothing the path
Black clouds of gibberish

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Days 16 and 17 - Hook and Semblance

This isn't a hook up
There is a semblance of a relationship
Nobody will know
Who will care but me

This isn't a hook up
There is a semblance of a relationship
Something I can tell my friends
They will believe me and be happy

That wasn't a hook up
There is a semblance of a relationship
She's forgotten my number
Left it at the bottom of her bag

She will be surprised at my message
Left in her bedroom
Scrawled on her mirror
Now she has my number

And I have hers

Monday, 15 September 2014

Day 15 - Questions

Who are you
How am I
Where are we
What are you doing
What am I doing
What are we doing
How did we get here
I want to go home

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Day 14 - Lions

It's Sunday night; here comes a cinquain.

Wild eyes
Danger lurking
Swift claws biting deep
Stealth shadows twisting behind grass

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Day 13 Cheerio

She says cheerio 
As though she intends to return
The avoided glance suggests otherwise
The missed kiss a suggestion
That the thing that was wrong
That thing which cannot be defined
That I cannot fix because
Is lingering and biting still.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Day 12 - Placemaking

You have made your place at my side
I will not fail you
You walk before me and with me
I am not alone
You see all and do not judge
Athough I falter and trip
You have made your place at my side
I am glad

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Many days - Foible, portmanteau, collapsible, Henry

Oh my goodness - four days late!  So now I have four words to write about.

Your foible?
What can I say?
Your limitations are legendary,
Your defects well known,
Your faults and imperfections?
Need more be said?
Your shortcomings are obvious
And as for your inadequacies,
Where do I start?
Your weaknesses and success in failing,
Should I go on?


You meant your sword?


I never knew that 'motel' derives from 'motor' and 'hotel'.
You learn something new every day.

Collapsible is useful,
Handy even,
Big things made small,
Neat and tidy.

Henry is Harry
The spare to the heir
Not second to last

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Poetry days 6 and 7 - a combined 'cheat'! Thingness and catastrophe

The Thingness of a Catastrophe

It is is the unravelling, this thingness,
This unexpected event, the shock,
The surprise - the unknowing of it all.
The happening happens with no alarm,
No herald of disaster or change and
no 'notice'.  No red fonted approach here,
No, this sneaks up on quietened toes,
Soft slippers felted and hushed, tapping,
The catastrophe is made, born, emerged, discovered
and even looking sideways, through a squint
and under furrowed brows, all has changed
And you can never go back.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Poetry days 3 and 4 - Upon and Home

Upon the hill there lies a life
It twists and turns as a knife
The spirit does not want to leave
Though the body gasps hard to breathe

Upon the hill there lies a dent
The last sign of a life mispent
The spirit which was ripped out fast
Remains to ensure no-one gets past

They came looking for a home
A place to rest
Somewhere to call their own
They tried their best
To enter the unfriendly zone
But just like the rest
They were outcast and alone

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Poetry day 3 Pernickity

She says I'm pernickity
Picking up faults
Saying them too

I say I'm honest
And insightful
I won't be the one to lie

Pernickity is as it does
Take it or leave it
Just like me

I'll leave my keys before I slam the door

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Day 2 - Apples

September sun splits through lilac asters
Blackberries hang jewel-like behind cobwebs
The thud of apples punctuates the insect hum

Monday, 1 September 2014

September poetry day 1

So it's back to poetry for this month!  My first word is 'abstract'.

Don't act all abstract on me.
It doesn't suit you when
I want concrete and certainty,
Not words of mist that get lost in your fog.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Where is the life that late I led?

The title of this blog post is from Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew.  It is not meant as a 'woe is me', hand wringing comment but is stated as a simple fact that I have been wrangling with and am now proactively addressing.  Chatting to friends, I have noticed that many of us are actively pursuing life changes, both personally and professionally.  Two of my friends are moving to live by the sea, not because they are anywhere near retirement but because they want a better life, a slower life and one that affords some of the pleasures of retirement which my generation and those to come can probably only dream of as we work longer for less and have no pension to speak of when we finally get there.  Several others are choosing to focus precious time on their families and spend less time working, although that choice in itself clearly impacts on earning potential.  Although I am sure that there are many men out there who face similar tricky decisions around what to do regarding the whole work/life balance thing, for my particular circle of friends (and that is a very particular part of the circle incorporating families with children now of school age) it is very clearly the women who are deciding to take a step back from their careers and re-evaluate what was once important and try to recapture that.

For me - being completely honest with myself - it has been a struggle trying to combine working full time with part time study and full time single parenting.  I've tried for two years and while freely admitting that compared to many, many people, my life is a breeze and I enjoy privileges that many do not simply by living in this country and having the ability to enjoy all the opportunities that this carries with it, it is not a situation that I was happy with or that could continue ad infinitum.  I think beginning to lose my mother to Lewy body disease (which is essentially a nightmare combination of dementia, Parkinson's and schizophrenia) in her mid-fifties has made me acutely conscious of the swift passing of time and the need to do something, anything, purposeful with what you have when you have it.  Alongside this, I am always aware of trying to be 'in the moment' and recognise good things when they are happening so that when sad times approach (as they always will), there is something of the gladness and grace of living a good life to remember and rejoice in. Therefore, continuing to be in a place where happiness was being compromised just to earn more money than we needed simply seemed madness.

This September, I am freed from having to pay nursery fees for the first time in seven years and this has enabled me to do something reckless (well, reckless for me, I'm not really a leap-in-without-thinking kind of girl) and hand in my notice on a perfectly good full time job for... nothing.  Deep breath time!  At least it was nothing but then within a week I was offered a new teaching job for one day per week plus supply teaching elsewhere and this should lead to something more permanent during the following academic year.  The situation really did seem to be one of being rewarded for taking a huge leap of faith and allowing a (scary) space to open up which could then be filled with exciting, new opportunities.  As a result, I can now do what I promised my daughter, which was to be able to drop her off and pick her up from school during her foundation year, be a real part of both children's educations and demonstrate to them that their school years are important to me because I will be there to look at their work on the classroom wall and hang out in the playground afterwards so that they can play with their friends without being whisked off to after school club because I am still at work.  I will feel like a decent mother! In addition, I will have more time for my studying which will lead to it actually being enjoyable and useful and hopefully also open up teaching opportunities in the next few years.  I will also have the time to explore other writing jobs and generally just have a little more head-space in order to combine motherhood with furthering my skills in other areas and feeling satisfaction in a job well done.

So, back to that Shakespeare quote.  It's on a fridge magnet; something I bought on a theatre trip way back when a day given over to travelling to the RSC in Stratford or the NT in London wasn't impossible because of the unnecessary relationship straining expectations it places on friends to have the children as it is too expensive to pay somebody to have them all day.  This fridge magnet?  I thought I knew where it was (okay, wise guy, no it hasn't been on the fridge in a while) but when I went to look  for it, I couldn't find it.  I think the fact that I remember it keeps me in touch with the old me but the realisation that I hadn't noticed that it hadn't been around in a very long time shows that the new me is more than happy with where I am now and the new challenges which present themselves this year.  And as for missing live theatre?  I feel as though NTLive on the cinema screen was created just for me!!
Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Why I love films and want my children to love them too or 'why can't I watch 12A when *all* my friends do...?'

Films, possibly even more than music but probably not more than books, are very, very important to me.  Now, call me a sentimental old fool (not all at once though, my self esteem is shaky as it is) but there is something wonderful about sharing much loved films with children.  Mine have been introduced to the delights of Laurel and Hardy and Fred Astaire before they were conditioned to need to see everything amid a technicolour glow of fast moving action and talking animals.

Thankfully, at seven and four years of age, they are just as happy to watch a Studio Ghibli animation as a Disney Pixar or Dreamworks offering and were only momentarily nonplussed at Tim Burton's black and white Frankenweenie before being wrapped in his world, forgetting how it looked because they were too busy being enraptured by how they felt.  For me, the miracle of being transported to another world is always thrilling and nothing matches the excitement of the lights going down and the studio logo complete with familiar music appearing (although one of my big beefs is with the lighting that never seems to be turned down enough.  I don't want to be able to see a room full of people, I want to be in the dark with the characters on screen.  I can see my way down the stairs because you have thoughtfully put lights on them.  Thanks.  You really don't need the overhead lighting on as well.  If I do fall down the stairs, I will be far too embarrassed to complain about it, believe me.)

Today, I took Oscar to see Raiders of The Lost Ark at the cinema.  This is such a wonderful, ground breaking film, it was just too good an opportunity to miss even though I did have some internal conflict over the content - it may have been PG in the eighties when I went to see it for the first time aged nine but it would be a 12A now for violence, blood, gory detail, language and threat.  Anyone who knows me, knows how I love a good conversation about film classification - I'm even a subscriber to the BBFC blog (bet you didn't even know they had one?!)  Much to Oscar's chagrin, I won't allow him to see 12A films although he assures me, lots of his friends get to watch them.  I tell him that when he is old enough to deal with the content of the films, understand them and enjoy them, he can watch them but why watch them now when it will just ruin the whole experience because he isn't ready?  One of his friends, also seven, recently went to see Guardians of The Galaxy, which is just completely brilliant but to really get the most out of it,  you need to know what has come before in terms of the genre, so you can not only see what it being riffed on and borrowed but also how the genre is being tinkered with.

Bearing all this in mind and having seen Raiders enough times to know exactly what was coming, it went against my 'rules' to let him see this film but nostalgia kicked in, along with the knowledge that seeing the film on the big screen far surpasses the DVD TV experience.  So, dear reader, what do you think happened?  Well of course, Raiders went down a storm.  I warned him in advance of any parts that I thought were going to be too scary (and covered his eyes much to his embarrassment) and of course, he was fine.  I think I was marginally more excited than him before it started but it soon spread to Oscar too and he pronounced it one of the best things he had ever seen.  Sitting there in the darkness (well, almost darkness), seeing that familiar Indy silhouette on the huge screen, took me straight back to sitting there aged nine and experiencing the magic of the franchise for the first time.  It was brilliant to be sharing the experience with my own son and rules are made to be broken after all.  I still couldn't watch the head shrinking at the end though.

Monday, 21 July 2014

'Sticks and stones...' or The perils of language

*Spoiler Alert* Beware, faint-hearted reader, this missive contains language likely to offend.  Read on at your peril and don't say I didn't warn you.

Hearing the word 'fuck' from the mouth of a seven year old is never going to be a happy occasion for any parent.  But like everything else you're not quite prepared for, you deal with it as best you can at the time you are faced with it and keep your fingers crossed that you won't spend years paying for therapy as a result of your helpful/encouraging 'anything goes' attitude to questions between mother and child.
Language is a tricksy creature: majestic and mercurial; slipping and sliding; context dependent; designed for so many purposes and as a consequence, so ripe for misinterpretation.  I have no idea how we got to the subject of swearing, but along with anything to do with toilets, bottoms, farts, poo, willies and vaginas, as a parent you can kind of hear the warning bells going off when it's too late to discover that there is no room for a U-turn in this particular linguistic cul-de-sac.  
My helpful answer to the innocent query as to why some words are considered rude went something as follows - 'well, it depends on who is saying it, why they are saying it and where, oh and to whom and it is usually something to do with your private area as people seem to find this insulting' (cue explanation as to what 'taboo' means as I usefully used that term to someone for whom it simply muddied the waters further by introducing another piece of marvelous language which had hitherto been unknown and indeed, un-needed).  At some point it also became clear that the 's' word was going to be mentioned  - as in 'why is sex rude then'?  Because I'd said that some swear words meant more to do with sex; 'remember, that's when the man puts his willy into the woman's vagina and it's one way that you can have a baby when the sperm meets the egg?' (as you can see, we were hitting all the marks for 'difficult' conversations in one fell swoop).  So as a result, I then had an interesting chat beginning, 'but why is sex not a rude word but fuck is when they mean the same thing?'  It isn't until you have a simple conversation with a child that you begin to see quite how empowering some words with a sort of linguistic superpower is really quite ridiculous.
I think we sorted it all out.  At least, nobody woke screaming in the night and I haven't had to wash anybody's mouth out with soap.  Yet.  Essentially, the message was; language is immensely varied and exciting and you should enjoy using words, experimenting with words and discovering what they can do for you.  However, use certain 'taboo' words in the wrong situation LIKE AT SCHOOL OR TO ANY ADULT OR FOR THAT MATTER, ANY FRIEND WHO IS LIKELY TO GO AND TELL ON YOU and you will regret that particular linguistic adventure.
I remember seeing Mamet's Oleanna in London when it starred Aaron Eckheart and Julia Stiles - she is a student, struggling with her classes who (and this is up for discussion and dependent on your personal viewing of the play) misinterprets her professor's offer of help as an act of sexual exploitation which ultimately leads to her accusation of rape and the destruction of his career.  The part that I remember the most, is what he called her - should I refer to it coyly as 'the c word' or just go for it and say 'cunt'?  Well. I've said it now and the world hasn't stopped turning.  I don't particularly have a problem with that word, any more than the use of any gender specific language which is used in a derogatory manner towards women, or for that matter, men.   I think what has made me remember this and indeed, what caused the audience to gasp (at a word which though still considered 'taboo', is hardly a rarity in its usage) was the meaning behind it; the anger, hatred and fury which accompanied it and the personally destructive nature that the word had on the recipient.  It was a very good use of the word if in using it, Mamet intended to shock the audience.   
This then shows, I suppose, the positive of the occasional use of 'taboo' words; when well placed and unexpected, they really do punch home meaning which is why, when these words are over used, they loose their power to shock and draw attention to themselves and are rendered useless.
It's the first time I've ever been a mother to a seven year old so I hope my honesty was well judged and won't catch me up on a dark night sometime, making me regret not simply moving on quickly to safer bedtime conversational territory.  
I think it's fine.
I still hope I don't have a phone call from school telling me about a certain young man experimenting with inappropriate language just yet though.

Saturday, 19 July 2014


I am new to the world of chicken keeping.  I'm not sure really why I wanted to have them but I suspect it taps into my dream of having a smallholding where I could keep my horse and pigs (there's no chance of ever having a horse or pigs so chickens seemed the closest farmy type creature that I could have... I know, go figure).  
Eggs are not cheap to buy, not if you buy ones where the hens have actually had the opportunity of having a decent - if short- life where they have space to move around and can experience the sun on their backs and dust baths.  I have discovered that chickens REALLY love a dust bath and they are very funny to watch as they try to roll over and then hold their wings out to catch some rays.  It's a win win situation when both parties are amused. At least I think the hens are amused.  I'm not great at reading human faces, less so with chicken ones.
The eggs my hens produce however, must be the most expensive known to mankind.  If I factor in the corn, pellets, treats, wormer, calcium supplement, liquid vitamins, purple spray for when they peck each other, wound powder for when they get their feet stuck in a door (...!), anti peck spray for the poor girl who is picked upon, sawdust and bedding, Eglu hen house and run (with an additional 2 metres as it looked too small), each egg must be worth about £10.  In addition to this, the eggs they lay are sometimes shell-less (hence the calcium supplement) so you either find something that looks as though it is the result of a science experiment or a squashed flat blob that once had the audacity to think it was an egg AND they go through periods when they don't lay any eggs so you end up buying them from the shop anyway.
In addition to this, hens REALLY love flower petals.  Let's get this straight, they don't actually eat them, no, because that would allow me to believe that destroying the garden was for a worthwhile, dietary purpose.  What they actually do is to take the most beautiful blooms, shred them and then leave them in a triumphant pile while they move on to further destruction.  The garden now looks as though I'm cultivating chicken wire as this is wrapped around anything (like the wildflower patch and veg patch) that needs to be not eaten.  It's an interesting look, not out of place in a Chelsea conceptual garden.  However, I think that there would be less chicken poo at Chelsea.
Keeping pets is brilliant for children and teaches them so much. It is also fun for adults.  I just need to remember that the next time I go into the garden with bare feet and stand in something squelchy.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Rubber bands can be so much fun...

I love a craze.  It is after all, something that I can ignore for as long as it is en vogue and then get into once everybody is bored of it and has moved onto something far more interesting.  This happens a lot with tv and music now and was a prominent feature of my childhood when essentially if the new thing wasn't about anything equine, I was just, like, so not there.  Okay, I did have a brief flirtation with a jelly bag but I drew the line at the shoes. 

I know, it's so cool, even now...who wouldn't want one?

But... thanks to the virtues of being a mother, I am here, right now, at this very moment WHEN I COULD BE DOING ANY OF THE SEVERAL THINGS ON ONE OF MY MULTITUDINOUS 'TO DO' LISTS, making loom bands.  The noise you can here above the sound of the laptop keyboard being tapped is indeed my teeth grinding at the sheer boredom of it all.  Yes, that's right - I have managed to be 'on trend' with this fad while simultaneously having the experience of one who has seen the initial high and is now just past this thing and needing to be on to something far more interesting.  I am making the blasted band as the person in the house who actually wants them desperately has ended up in tears because he couldn't make them and it's bedtime and nothing, not even coloured, scented (of what?  Rubber?) bands get in the way of bedtime.  Cue youtube (I love youtube - I bet there isn't anything you can't find on there.  Actually, I daren't look to check out my theory) tutorials for me and something else to do that is allowing me to avoid sewing up holes in tights and shorts, write my masterpiece, read the brilliant new book I've just started and get into a new tv drama starring Maggie Gyllanhall.  Didn't stop me blogging about it though.  I'd better get back to the bands or most of them are going to go up the hoover tomorrow at this rate.  The blighters are everywhere!!  I think they're breeding.

And come to think of it, who wouldn't want their circulation compromised with these beauties?