Friday, 31 May 2013

Enough Food IF


In the press, there’s been so much about obesity, diabetes and the other diseases that result from eating too much of the wrong stuff.  And sugar and saturated fat doesn’t just make our youngsters physically ill, it can make their heads buzz so they can’t concentrate on school work. 

In the west, it’s a huge problem, yet in less affluent countries kids also can’t concentrate on their schoolwork either.   But it’s not because they’ve eaten too much fast food – it’s because they don’t have enough to eat!

 
A stunning report by Save the Children shows how malnutrition affects not just a child’s physical development, but even their level of literacy – making them less able to support themselves later in life. http://www.britmums.com/2013/05/save-the-children-and-food-for-thought/

Doesn’t it seem weird that in the West, we’re dying of a glut of calories, while in other parts of the world, people are starving?  Shouldn’t we just share?

And if that’s oversimplification, then I’m all for oversimplification.

Hundreds of major charities have joined together to demand that governments address issues of tax, land ownership, government deals and aid to share out more equally the masses of food on this bountiful planet of ours. 

Join us!


Especially, join the June 8th march in London to raise awareness amongst G8 leaders.


 

Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the latest chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Student Loan Surprise


I kinda thought we had the student loan done and dusted, but it got complicated.  It wasn’t difficult with Pascoe, but possibly that’s because it was still novel to us.  I was bright eyed and alert and kept nagging. 

So I think what happened this time round was that we thought it would be good to have a student account to put on the loan application.

We identified the Co-op Bank as having a good student account with a large free overdraft – vital as the twins are learning to manage their loans.

But Perran was in the middle of opening another account, a requirement of his part-time job.  He needed to put the details of this current account into his application for the student account but it had stalled somewhere. 

Every so often, we would remind him and he would nudge the first bank and nothing would happen, so we hadn’t started the application for the student account and therefore not for the loan either.  My nagging was definitely in slow motion.

Then today Carenza announced that if she and Perran wanted to be sure of getting their student loans by the start of term in the Autumn, the deadline for applications is 31st May.

“Friday!  Why didn’t you say!”

We still don’t  have the student accounts sorted despite plodding back and forth to the local branch with endless forms of ID, but it turns out it doesn’t matter – we can add the account in later.  The main thing, both for us and for you is to get that application in by Friday.
http://www.sfengland.slc.co.uk/media/494428/sfe_how_to_apply_quick_guide_1314_d.pdf

 

Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the latest chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Oz


It was time to leave the tipi and find out which of our university friends had already arrived for the reunion:  it had been drizzly, but as we emerged apprehensively, the sun had broken out and I felt like Dorothy arriving in Oz.  Everything was in Technicolor – the new leaves on the trees, the drifts of bluebells.

My heart lifted as we strolled down.  I had a slight wobble as we passed the “composting toilet”.

“Never mind, I don’t mind walking a bit further to use a proper flush toilet.”

We could smell wood-smoke and cooking.  Then, one by one, our friends appeared from beneath the trees.  It was reminiscent of one of those scenes when a stranger penetrates Robin Hood’s camp and everybody is welcoming and hearty, except at our age, we were all wearing something more substantial than green tights.

And that was how it was:  we took long walks through endless beautiful countryside bursting with flowers and butterflies.  We cooked fresh food in the communal kitchen and caught up with each other, and shared wine round the campfire at night.

I discussed with Jenny why it was more relaxed than previous such events and we concluded that perhaps, at fifty, we were more secure with who we were, more content with what we had and what we didn’t.

And the flush toilet –  I never did find one.

 

Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the latest chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Tipi


The forecast for our weekend reunion with  university friends was grey and drizzly.  We met up with Nick and Jackie en route.

“Do we know yet whether we’re in a yurt or a tipi?”

“I hope it’s a yurt – with this rain I don’t want to faff about with smoke flaps and being open to the sky.”

 We elected to follow their SatNav even though we are sceptical.  The very fact that we doubted the SatNav  should have ensured it got us there safely, but we ended up with the car nosing into a lane that said “unsuitable for motor vehicles.”

“Marvellous,” we cried, “Just like the stories.”

We got so lost trying to bypass the “unsuitable” track that we gave up and adjourned to a nearby pub.  Was it my imagination or did everybody else in there look bewildered too?

“Do you think the pub has somehow interfered with the SatNav signal to collect more custom?”

Outside, rain spattered the windows.

“If we’re in a tipi, I’m turning straight round and driving home,”  I announced.

Nick, Jackie and Nigel laughed nervously.

When, finally, we arrived in the wood with the tipis and the yurts, the site owner showed us to our… tipi!

Thankfully there was a wood-burning stove amid the rugs and cushions.   Perhaps we would survive after all.  In fact, although I’d been beefing about the tipi, what was worrying me more was how we would get on with all our strong-charactered friends for a long weekend.  Time to walk down to the clearing and find out.
 
 
Read the latest chapter of Drolls and Weirds
or read from the start

 

Monday, 27 May 2013

Guest Blog - Exam tips from Charlotte Methuen

Charlotte teaches theology at Glasgow University and sent some excellent advice.

Tip for humanities exams involving lots of writing: buy several pens of different thickness (the fatter the better) and change pen after each question. The different width means that you are using different muscles so that your hand does not get as tired.

Based on marking experience: DO read the rubrics. Do read the questions!!! DO make sure you are answering the question set and not the question you really wanted it to be.

AND if you are going to commit a howler, do it with grace. My favourite was the student who wrote John Chrysanthemum instead of John Chrysostom, and spelled chrysanthemum right.

Lastly and importantly – something I discovered early on in my career: DON'T go for a pub lunch after a paper in the morning and before a paper in the afternoon and drink half a pint of cider. It will NOT, repeat NOT, improve your exam performance!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Re-Union


In a bluebell wood in Herefordshire Nigel and I are facing our fiftieth birthday reunion with university friends, but on Friday night a bunch of Perran and Carenza’s friends were at our house again, beginning the night out which followed their last day at school.  Over  the years we have reached an accommodation – I have learnt not to body search them for vodka and they have learnt not to flip sharp beer caps onto the wooden floors and grind them in with their heels.

Hopefully there will be more gatherings at our house, but each of them now has a poignant nostalgic feeling, even before they are over.  A barometer of this is that I took a couple of photos of the teenagers as they partied and they didn’t ask why – they just posed.  They know they will want mementoes. 

For my generation, we have had to keep hold of each other by our fingertips, even if we quarrelled, even if we moved to another continent, because once we lost contact, there was no way back.  Even a once-a-year Christmas card was a lifeline that we could pick up on one day.  For Perran, Carenza and Pascoe however, social media mean that reunions will be infinitely possible.  After years of neglect one might opt back in again.  

I just hope those reunions happen at our house.

 

Read the latest chapter of Drolls and Weirds


or read from the start


 

Mix up


I was out walking in a bluebell wood with my friends. 

“Their first exam should be over now.”  I text them.

“No reply?” asks Diane.

“Nope – there are far more interesting things going on.  They’re all having a weepy final assembly dressed as Disney characters.”

But over lunch, Carenza rings back.

“Yeah the paper wasn’t the one we were expecting –it was Latin language not literature...”

I am flabbergasted  - how did we get that mixed up?

“…but it went alright anyway.”  She summarised the Tacitus and Cicero that she’d had to translate  and the stories sounded coherent.  If, on the other hand, the story sounds rather like the plot of Mozart’s Magic Flute, it’s a sign that something’s gone wrong with the translation.

“How did Perran ‘s go?”

“Okay, I think – we raised our eyebrows at one another across the exam room.”

Afterwards, Diane and Carol tell me I went white and I have to explain about the Latin paper-swap.

We are knee deep in bluebells when Perran rings and he is using Carenza’s phone – where is his phone?  I decide not to probe.  There’s a lot of background noise.

“Are you in the pub?”

“Sorry – I can’t hear you – I’m in the pub.  About the Statisitics – it was tough but I think it went okay.”

As for me, as soon as I get home, I’m going to check the exam timetable that I’ve pinned to the kitchen wall to make sure there aren’t any more interesting surprises.
 
 
Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the latest chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.
 

 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Lift


White Queen
Something I’m ashamed of – I’ve given the twins quite a few lifts to school over the years.  It’s not the distance – it’s the huge schoolbags, not to mention the saxophone.

Even last night, Perran called me from school.

“Just why should I come and pick you up, Perran?”

“Because I’m on antibiotics for tonsillitis, and I’ve been revising for hours and I’ve got an exam tomorrow.”

Any excuse.

And now, this morning, the final dilemma.  It is a fact that pupils are more acute after a morning walk.  That’s doubly important just before an early exam, and this morning Carenza has Latin Lit and Perran has Statistics.  They should walk.

But it is also the official “last day” with fancy dress and an assembly of mock awards and nostalgia, all on top of the exams.  So here they are in front of me dressed respectively as the white queen and a playing card soldier from Alice in Wonderland.  It is raining and we are a mile from school.  I have a vision of Perran’s playing card costume slumping into papier mache around him while he glares at his exam paper.

I don’t know what to do for the best.

But the twins know –
"We'd rather walk and be alert for the exams, Mum."
So I grab 2 bin bags and stuff the playing card costume in them.  Perran and Carenza put on their raincoats.  We pray for focus in the exams and off they go.

Leaving me to stuff my warmest duvet into another bin bag, ready for a weekend of glamping.
 
 
Read the latest chapter of Drolls and Weirds
or read from the start

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Like an Express Train


Perran and Carenza first day at school, 2006
It’s all rushing at us so fast, like an express train.  Yesterday, I had my last Latin lesson with Carenza and Beth.  Beth gave me a lovely card and flowers.  It was both the end of an era –

“But we’ll be seeing you again, Beth.”

Of course I will, but never again as teacher.  And also the beginning of something –

Beth’s well-written “thank you” showed me that a good teacher will receive respect and affection from her pupils – my year’s PGCE training ahead will lead to a rewarding future.     

Last day at School
Today is also the last normal day of school.  Perran wore black because after this year his form will be no more – there is an extra tutor group in the twins’ year due to a bulge in numbers, and that class is dissolved for ever from tomorrow.

Tomorrow is dressing up and a final assembly with silly awards.  It was meant to be light-hearted, but people’s sense of humour is somewhat frayed just before exams.  Apparently, nobody appreciates being voted “person most likely to become an axe murderer”, so things have been a little frought.

In the middle of this, there is also a smattering of first exams – Perran will be sitting Stats, Carenza Latin literature.  I haven’t dared to ask whether they’ll be wearing fancy dress in the exam room or not.

And me – I’m slightly dreading our University reunion weekend, glamping.  I don’t know if we’ll all manage to get on, and even more importantly, I don’t even know if we’ve got a cosy yurt or a drafty tipi.

 

Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the latest chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Glamp 2

Can you spot Carenza, Nigel, Perran and Pascoe?
I mentioned a couple of posts ago that we and our university friends are in the run up to a weekend of glamping to celebrate our joint fiftieth birthdays.  I guess I’m a bit apprehensive  - it’s a time of stock-taking and comparisons, and sometimes the unkind jibe that one made in 1983 can come back to haunt. 

With the same group of friends, for a number of years, we holidayed together in the Lakes, but the advent of children made it tough.  Nothing could be harder than reconciling four or five different approaches to bedtime, quirky eating and discipline.  Add in a few dogs and cramped accommodation because we were all skint and you have yourselves a picture.  Who would have known that an evening barbecue could become a cauldron of smouldering tensions?

So for over a decade, we stopped.

But if not now, when?  Two of our group have died and one or two others have had serious health issues.  It makes you think – we shouldn’t leave it too long.

So we are all set, packing the insect repellent.  And one of us is now a practising counsellor /therapist. 
Does he deal with emergencies?


Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the latest chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Cultural Exchange


If you are reading this as a prospective UK student, then I want to make you aware of a great opportunity you will have as a fresher.  Many universities integrate overseas students with UK freshers in their accommodation and you will get to know people from all over the world.  In particular, avail yourself of the chance to learn to cook a variety of cuisines!
But don’t be fooled – it is not just that you will learn about overseas cultures.  The questions that these bright undergraduates ask you about your own culture will make you see things that you have taken for granted in a new light.  I still remember trying to explain the links between Father Christmas and the Story of the Nativity.
“No.  Okay.  You’re right – there isn’t one, after all.”
That was one of the best Christmases our family has had, when Shuyu Song came home from UEA with Pascoe for Christmas because China was too far to go. 
Pascoe has since shared accommodation with Irene from Spain and Jenny from Canada.  However, it is Shuyu Song that I will always remember – thanks for coming and belting out the theme to Titanic in our midnight kitchen, and for sliding down icy country lanes with us.  And God be with you as you return home to China today.
 
Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the latest chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.
 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Glamp


So the run up to my fiftieth birthday earlier this year was traumatic enough, but now we have the run up to a reunion with our university friends and their partners – a joint celebration of all our fiftieths .  The arrangements have been rumbling on for some time, with the only fixed idea being that we are “glamping”.   Glamping is a form of luxurious camping, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms.

Annabel  finally managed to forge a consensus among us and to make a booking, but by this time, I was barely paying attention: “Whatever, Annabel – here’s the deposit.”.  We have opted to share accommodation with Nick and Jackie.  As the time approaches, I consult the website of the camping ground in Herefordshire.  I find it impossible to read aloud from it without assuming the voice of Neil – the hippie in “The Young Ones”. 

However, I now see that there is a vital difference between yurts and tipis.  The coded language on the website implies that tipis are perhaps more suitable for “hardened campers”, containing chimeneas rather than proper stoves and with smoke vents that have to be opened with poles from the outside.  The weather forecast isn’t good.  Suddenly it matters.

I ring Jackie,

“Are we in a yurt or a tipi?”

“I can’t remember.”

“The yurts look much nicer.”

“I expect we’re in a yurt then.”

Carenza has been passing through.  “Oh Mum, you’re so middle class.” She too mimics Neil – “Are we in a yurt or a tipi?”

But are we?
 
 
Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read the next chapter of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

What not to do in Exams 2


The memories are flooding back now.

Helen, how could you possibly have failed to secure the lid of the food processor in your domestic science exam?

Tracey, when in English ‘O’ Level, they asked you to “write an essay on this postcard”, they meant for you to take inspiration from the picture, not turn it over and physically write an essay in very tiny handwriting on the back of the card.

Kath, when they asked for somebody who “was to animals as a doctor is to humans” the answer they were looking for was “vet”, not some species of animal that was skilled in diagnosis and healing. (Although actually I see your logic on that one.)

As for me, I turned over too many pages in my booklet of ‘O’ Level history questions and accidentally sat my exam on the wrong period of time.  Note the word “accidentally”.  But I recently heard of one of the twins’ contemporaries doing that deliberately because he had done so little revision that he actually thought he stood a better chance on the other stuff.

Oh, and once midway through an exam, my hair uncoiled with force and shot a large plastic clip across the room onto the desk of a middle-aged man who must have been an external candidate.  Tense? Me?

 
Drolls and Weirds – "How did those men lose their eyes?"-  Read chapter 7 of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Sandwich


When they excavate Roman skeletons, they can see immediately which were manual workers from the enlarged muscle attachment areas on their bones.  This one pushed heavy carts, that one lifted sacks.

What I want to know is, does sandwich-making leave its mark?

Will Tony Robinson one day be shaking his head over my sad old skeleton as some expert tells him “Notice the spatulate hands and the enlarged shoulder from cutting bread and cheese. This woman clearly made over a thousand packed lunches and picnics every year for fifteen years.”

I went through a period of rebellion where I just bought bread with cheese and tomatoes baked onto it.  I’m not sure the kids liked it – one of them said something that sounded like “Focaccia.”

I had a patch of experimentation – pitta pockets and tortilla wraps.  Things fell out.

So basically, it has come down to two slices of bread with protein between them. 

At my height, with three growing teens, I was buttering ten slices of bread a day.

But next week is the last week of the twins’ school days and my last week of sandwich making. 

How will I cope? 

Perhaps Nigel will wake in the night to find that I have sleep-walked to the kitchen and am making a pile of phantom sandwiches.

 

Remember:  let me have your stupid exam experience story.

Add a comment to this post or email me at My Moon-Shot .

 

 

Drolls and Weirds – "The mine is how we make our money."-  Read chapter 6 of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

 

Friday, 17 May 2013

What not to do in Exams


Thinking to be helpful, and provide a humorous list of “Don’ts”, I have been asking my friends of all ages what the most stupid thing they ever did in an exam was.  I can only conclude that when you do something stupid in an exam, it is so traumatic that you completely block it out, as I haven’t had the many and varied responses I hoped for.

The best was when I asked the question in a social gathering where there were several graduates from prestigious universities.  They tried to think of something stupid.  They really did, sitting there with what I can only describe as a constipated expression.  But nothing would come – they had never done anything stupid in an exam. 

And that, my friend, is how they got to a pestigious university.

Steve magnanimously offered  - “I didn’t turn over the paper.” 

Thanks, Steve.

So here is my current, state of the art advice to all those students taking AS, A2 and degree exams:

Make sure you turn over the paper.

I’m sure we can do better than this: let me have your stupid exam story.

Add a comment to this post or email me at My Moon-Shot .

 

Drolls and Weirds – Winning gold from spriggans -  Read chapter 5 of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Final Final


Last night, when we rang Pascoe there was a great deal of rowdiness going on.  Apparently there were fifteen people at his place getting ready to go out.  From the state of the girl who snatched Pascoe’s phone off him and burbled to us, I wasn’t even sure they would make it to the door.

“Nice to meet you too, Miss….Er..” I bade her farewell as Pascoe wrestled the phone back.

The occasion – the end of final exams.  For the biologists at UEA, their degree is complete!

“Yes,” said Pascoe grimly, “People are writing their addresses on their arms before they go out tonight.”

It didn’t seem so long ago that I was writing our address on the children’s arms for not dissimilar reasons.   I was not a very good mother of young children – easily distracted - and found that the children were returned to me more quickly if I wrote my mobile phone number on them.  I have had children returned from:

The top of a mountain in the Lake District,

A beach a kilometre away from where we last saw him,

A lake warmed by hot springs (going under for the third time),

A campsite, at night, at a festival of twenty thousand people,

IKEA’s soft furnishings department.

Come to think of it, all those instances were the same child – Perran, usually returned by a kindly lady, and once, on the drowning occasion, by an enormous German man.

So this morning I texted and said I hoped Pascoe didn’t have a hangover.  But he was bright and alert - all he had drunk was tea and water.  Let’s hope that when Perran, one day, finishes his finals, he gets home safely too.
 
Drolls and WeirdsFetching water or gold?  Read chapter 4 of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Tattoo


Perran and Carenza are trying to make the baked potatoes I have served them look enticing.  They are failing.

“Adam says he’s gonna go back and have his apostrophe put in.”

“Shouldn’t hurt too much”

Me: “How can punctuation cause pain?”

“The tattooist left out the apostrophe.”

So we have tattoos now.

“Left the apostrophe out of what?”

“It’s a song lyric – ‘Hold on forever because that’s our final dedication.’”

“Blimey – that sounds like a big tattoo.”

“Yeah – everybody’s getting them – lots this week.”

One girl has a magpie on her ribs, another three monkeys. One has Arab script down her spine. A boy has a lengthy motto on his biceps.

I have mixed feelings – sometimes tattoos make me want to shout “Bravo!”   Sometimes they make me wonder whether huge laser tattoo removal fees are going to have to be added to that student loan debt.  Generally I’m more ‘comfortable’ with piercings as they heal up (more or less) when you don’t want them any more.

Cautiously, I ask, “You don’t, um, fancy a tattoo then, either of you?”

“Already got one. On my bum!” replies Carenza, then quickly, “Joking, Mum!”

Ha,ha,ha,ha,ha.
 
 
Drolls and WeirdsWhat was it that Sarah's grandfather saw, that moonlit night in the dunes.  Read chapter 3 of my romance set in Cornwall by clicking here. Or read from the start.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Dan’s Top Tips on Accommodation (Dan is our friend at Hull University) – Guest Blog


Some places have more or less dedicated buses. In my first year local buses started 3 times an hour from the car park.  How much will a bus cost? I had an annual pass that was over £200. That's equivalent to at least an extra £5 on the weekly rent.
The biggest problem I've had with facilities is fridge and freezer space, followed by sinks.
Consider proximity to shops. It's 30 minutes walk if I go to the local small shop, and shopping at the really big supermarkets is a bus job.  

Sound proofing is essential. One issue you didn't touch on - sex. Students seem to have a lot of sex, or at least my neighbour last year did. I don't think he ever realised how thin the walls were, but we did.  Where I am now is better, although with windows open you can still get to know your neighbours’ habits very well.

I've found an en-suite useful. We do get the cleaner in once a week. Even if we didn't, I would still think an en suite was worth it for the privacy.
Storage is crucial. My room is so much more cluttered than it need be, because there aren't any cupboards.

Finally, on holidays, moving out is a real pain – try and find somewhere you don’t have to.
 
Drolls and Weirds - Robert had heard stories of beautiful fairy children reared by humans - they were called changelings - But of course, he did not believe in them. Read chapter 2 of my story of love and mystery set in Cornwall by clicking here.  Or read from the start.



 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Eighteen


For the last year or two, there has been a steady stream of fiftieth birthdays amongst my friends.  Bravely we have celebrated and reassured one another of our maturity and experience.

Even so, when I hear of somebody turning eighteen I breathe a sigh of quiet envy.  They are standing on the dewy brink of life with a thousand possibilities shimmering before them.

Only now, just for the next month or so, I can find it in my heart to sympathise with those of Perran and Carenza’s friends marking their eighteenth birthdays.  The exam period is upon us.  A2s start the week after next, but re-takes of AS exams are with us now. Even the more last-minute students are beginning to buckle down now – not a conducive atmosphere for birthday dancin’ and drinkin’.  Presumably, for the unfortunates who are just turning eighteen, their sixteenth birthdays clashed with GSEs and their seventeenth with ASs. 

My compassion though has narrow limits – guys, hold on to the fact that once the exams are finally over you and all your friends will have boundless and unsurpassed celebrations stretching into the blazing blue summer.  You will only be eighteen once, and it is this summer, your summer.

 
DROLLS AND WEIRDS is finally here.  Read chapter 1 of my story of love and mystery set in West Cornwall by clicking here.