Saturday, September 29, 2012

Back in the Desert

Been away for a while, mainly because of two huge life events. Those sort of life events that ironically enough, put life on hold while you carry on doing other stuff; feeding the kids, sleeping, driving to work, living! The two things were a death in the family and moving again. The death in the family was a sudden, unexpected, quick death. Sadly it was my mother in law that died. The reason I haven't written about the whole experience is because I found it all so sad and she is very much missed and it's been a difficult goodbye and so quick that I've never felt able to gather thoughts.
Then suddenly it was the summer, we had new jobs to go to (in a new country) and I was tied up with shipping and legalising documents and talking to the children about moving and telling friends and closing up our house in Spain.
And suddenly here we are in Dubai...we've been here just over a month and it's been a hectic, wonderful, hot and crazy time. We have a new home, new jobs, the children are in new schools. We're driving a hire car and relying on new friends for lifts to school and taking our kids to school.
Events have re-affirmed our faith in the best of human nature and the roads and driving in Dubai have reminded us of humanity's worst attributes (impatience, intolerence and road rage).
Moving around (this is our third move across continents in 5 years) tests everything about your life. Your sense of self, your relationships with family, your marriage. It test your inner resilience to the utter breadth and depth of being. I am full of gratitude that I am happy. Sometimes stressed but happy! The kids are great and my marriage is a wonder that fills me with joy every day.
There are a billion things I need to do, with our house (to make it a home), at school, for the new friends that we have made, with my children every hour of every day that I can spend with them. Moving continents stretches patience and tolerance and the bank balance...but it is also an exciting adventure, one that re-affirms our ability to enjoy the life we live and make the most of every single moment we have here. It's a time to re-evaluate and feel gratitude that we are here, now, enjoying life, writing a blog and rambling about life and death and love.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The bi-toed monster footprints in the sand

I love my walk on the beach. It’s become a wonderful ritual on my Mondays and Fridays off. I drop the children at their school bus then drive down to the beach, take a thirty minute walk along the sand and feel as if I have set myself up for a wonderful day.
I was a bit out of sorts this morning. We’ve had a busy week and even though I thought we weren’t late for the bus, as we drove past the bus stop I could see the other children all boarding and then horror of horrors, the bus slowly pulled away and we missed it. I didn’t panic, just followed the bus thinking than eventually it would have to stop again. It took a pretty convoluted route, stopped for a very short time at a major intersection (where I made the decision that I shouldn’t let my kids out – too busy, too quick.) Eventually, the bus stopped at a random roundabout with a convenient little parking place. There weren’t any other children waiting and then I realised that the clever coach driver had noticed the car following him along his convoluted route and had stopped for my kids. I was grateful but a little flustered and felt grumpy as I made my way to the beach.
There’s a magic in a beach walk though. Those waves dashing the shore work on an aural level through the brain fibres and along the emotional rivulets of your soul. The sky was grey but it didn’t matter. The sand was soft, forcing my body to work up just a little bit of heat and sweat as I worked at walking and my muscle memory worked at forgetting the tension of the bus catching drive.
It’s a sensory delight, the sights and sounds of the sand and sea, that inexplicable sea side smell of emptiness. The soft yielding sand and splash of cold salty tang. It’s a distraction for the body and the brain. As I walked I couldn’t help noticing the minor major details, the broken plastic chair that was a bit broken the time before last, very broken last time, has now disappeared. The small pretty shells washed ashore. The absence of those strange sea weedy little things that look like coconut shells but could easily harbour some watery creature from the depths of the scary deep. The smooth rivulets of clean sand that the tractor comes to tidy and the man in the tractor must take a great pride in his work because he always makes pretty patterns on the shore.
Today there was the added pleasure of the bi-toed monster footprints in the sand. There aren’t often footprints when I walk as I am at the beach fairly early. Today there were bare footprints that I puzzled at a while. There were clearly two sets, one walking up, one walking back, but they were so evenly spaced that the foot had landed in almost exactly the same place at times, creating a wonderfully neat bi-toed imprint in the sand. I had great fun imagining the monster creating the print with a set of 5 toes at each end of his foot.
The puzzle was soon solved by the appearance of the bare foot runner enjoying his early morning beach experience as much as me (but with more sweat). His running stride was impressively even and he was stepping on to his own footprints, Robinson Crusoe style. We said ‘Ola’ and he was away. I finished my walk, feeling refreshed to the very depths of my soul.

Friday, March 30, 2012

At a loss for words - morality and philosophy with children

Listening to the news with your children can be a dangerous thing. The headline a few days ago on the radio was: 17 year old sentenced to life in Florida for murder of two.
My son’s face was shocked. “17?” he said. “He murdered two people and he was only 17?”
Then my daughter joins in:
“Why did he murder those two people mummy?”
“I don’t know sweetheart”
“Was he a good guy or a bad guy?”
It is 8.30 in the morning, I am barely awake and my daughter is asking me about morality. I wish my brain would function more quickly, that I could think of the best thing to say to an 8 year old and a 6 year old as they ponder the realities of lives around them, of dangerous streets and disturbed people doing horrible things to one another. They are 8 and 6 and I want to love and protect them and keep them safe from harm but...
This is the real world...a world where bad things happen and I can’t pretend that it’s not true
Me: “I don’t know, but it sounds as if he is a bad guy”
My son is 8, in 9 years' time he will be 17. I look at him and hope that when he is old enough he won't ever want to hold a gun and won't ever wander, lost and drunk in an unfamiliar city and be cnfronted by a person with a gun. I hope that the world he lives in will be safe. They are both eating their breakfast, my son remains little overawed:
“17, he’s not even a man yet.”
And that seems a fitting end to our philosophical consideration of the news for the day.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Teachers leave them kids alone...

I’m a teacher. Sometimes that feels like a hard admission to make, since teachers seem to be universally reviled by the British press. Only today, Boris Johnson links bad schools to rioting. It doesn’t seem to be long before teachers will be blamed for the current economic situation (probably because we didn’t teach maths properly!)
For the last ten years, it seems that the teaching profession has been systematically abused by government and media agencies. Schools have been criticised for not being good enough whilst at the same time examination results have improved...but that’s been explained by exams becoming easier. Literacy and numeracy are quite consistently rated as not good enough with no headline space for the number of children in schools who speak English as a second language and whose only contact with English is through school. Meanwhile the current government has scrapped the investment in school buildings that started under Labour, so if children are being educated in damp and cold and overcrowded spaces, then that’s unlikely to change in the near future...but that doesn’t matter does it? Teachers and children working in decrepit buildings aren’t as headline grabbing as teachers causing riots!
Unfortunately, many people seem easily convinced by the media and government propaganda, believing that teachers have an easy life, work short hours and deserve the cynicism heaped upon them. Many people remember the dark sarcasm of their own classrooms and will never forgive their teachers for the suffering they caused.
So, let’s just look at the day in the life of an ordinary teacher:
Although school starts at 9a.m for most children, teachers will be in school at least half an hour before, photocopying, preparing materials, marking and responding to emails.
In the course of a school day, a teacher will come into contact with between 100 and 150 children.
Each class of children will be unique. Some children will work quietly and quickly, some will need plenty of additional support. Some will behave, others will not.
Can I just say it again....most teachers come into contact with 150 children every day.

150 children every day

The majority are lovely, some aren’t, but on any given day, 150 children are not going to be EASY.

On any given day, 150 children are not going to be PASSIVE (nor would you want them to be)

On any given day 150 children are not 150 adults following instructions

150 children will ask questions, will need help, will complain, and will shout (with excitement or frustration) will laugh, sigh, cry (sometimes), will hit out in anger, and will have a bad day.

150 children will swing on chairs, lose their books, forget their equipment, suffer bereavement, be ill, be happy, be unhappy, have fallen out with their friend...will love you or hate you...

150 kids will not let you, EVER, lose your focus because the moment your focus slips, someone is crying or shouting and you have a riot on your the WHOLE of your day is spent on maximum alert, monitoring every nuance and comment in the classroom- every potential conflict or joy.

And it’s your job, every day, to make sure that they are o.k. to make sure that they learn, to make sure that they can walk into the world with confidence, to make sure that they can pass an exam that will possibly have an impact on the rest of their lives...and you probably spend at least some of your summer getting ready for the new year ahead, planning and reading and resting your brain for a while.

As well as the 150 children, the teacher may also come into contact with their own ‘tutor group’; the teacher will closely monitor the tutor group students’ needs, socially, educationally, personally. It is the tutor’s concern if children in their group are under performing, unhappy or celebrating their birthday!

The teachers will also need to work together to ensure that they are aware of difficulties or problems, marking criteria, new government strategies and if there are biscuits in the staff room.
The teacher will make sure that the children have the knowledge and skills to pass exams, as well as the knowledge and skills to function in society. We try and make sure that the students we come into contact with every day are pleasant, can listen, can co-operate and treat each other with respect.

Lunch times are often spent helping students with work, offering lunch time clubs, spending time supervising the students on their lunch break, marking, catching up with e mails and planning.

More lessons after lunch

Schools finish at varying times, but most teachers will do some sort of work after school, either at home or at school. This may mean meeting with parents, planning, preparing the lessons, writing reports, marking or reading the new exam criteria to make sure everything is covered. know, if you worked with 150 young people every day, trying to help them to learn, to pass exams and to behave appropriately for the society they will eventually be a functioning part of, despite their indifference, or antagonism or social disadvantages, then perhaps you too would appreciate a week off every now and is exhausting.

And sometimes, you know that the children you teach will find it very difficult to get a job, that the economic climate will be unfavourable for them, that their family will not or cannot pay for the cost of university.

And you hope that any small thing that you can do with those children will help them to cope with the world they are about to travel into.

And you sometimes spend your evenings and your holidays helping those children to find work, suggesting voluntary arrangements that may help, giving advice, researching every possible avenue to help a child who gets help from nowhere else.

And sometimes you know that the students you teach have no hope that their future will be filled with learning. That school will be forever, the best part of their life because after school there's the dark future of unemplyoment and nothing to do.

And you’re probably not paid very much...but it’s a lot of fun

And exhausting

And you love it...because the children that demand so much and need a constant focus are also the warmest, most wonderful and enthusiastic and funny people that you know.

They are full of cynicism and greed for knowledge.

They love you and hate the system or they hate you as part of the system.

They love the time you give them and love or hate the books you make them read!

They make you laugh probably every day with their wry observations of life. They are the wisest and most naive people you know and you hope and fear for them in equal measure.

They thank you for their lessons and sometimes write down things that make you cry.

They are the future...

It’s just a shame that the British public seem to think, after every headline and every bit of bad journalism, that you do an easy job and you do it badly.

Thanks Boris, I hope that every single London teacher refuses to vote for you in the next mayoral election.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

It’s poetry, it’s wonderful. In this anthology Duffy deals with motherhood and life and loss. A mother herself, Duffy covers the sadness of the death of her own mother and ‘Premonitions’ holds the desire of everyone who has lost a loved one to unspool time backwards and experience those laughing moments in a shred history again.
The anthology also holds a love of Britain, its nature and geography, the poems The Counties, The White Horses and John Barleycorn drawing a nostalgic picture of a Britain deeply brewed in the honeyed history she creates with her word pictures. As an expatriate living in Spain, her words conjure the beauty of British landscape deeply imbued in our collective cultural memories. There are nods to Wilfred Owen in Last Post and Passing Bells, using the terrors of WW1 to look, perhaps, at the continuing wars that we are living through now with another’s eyes.
As the title suggest, Duffy is also concerned with bees, both as a symbol of what we may have to lose should our environmental destruction continue, but also as a symbol of the potential human ability to co-operate towards a better human good.
Finally, there are plenty of moments of laughter too, with Achilles a reference to David Beckham and plenty of poems in celebration of childhood and the delights of motherhood. Sometimes just celebrating nature and words themselves in a cacophony of assonance, alliteration and rhyme that Duffy is a true master of.
It’s a lovely anthology and one which I will return to with great frequency over the years to revisit the joys and the tears contained within.

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

This is a terrifically funny book and it is wonderful to be presented with modern fiction which doesn’t think that the word ‘feminist’ is one to be avoided at all costs. The book is an autobiography covering Moran’s life to date and although some reviewers have belittled the fact that she does not mention some significant aspects of her life (such as winning writing competitions in her youth that allowed her to plough the lonely furrow of journalism with some support), they are overlooking the fact that autobiography has to be edited and of course Moran is not going to include every single aspect of her life. Our stories are self edited and adapted every day, every year. We tell people what we want to in order to fashion our stories and create our own personal narratives. Do I really care if Moran has adapted her truth? Not really, because the book still stands alone as a funny look at modern womanhood and the need for women to embrace feminism because of the steps we are yet to take.
In the light of the current presidential race in the states; with candidates like Santorum claiming the hard won victories of women, such as birth control and abortion, are towers that he is willing to bomb into historical collapse, it is all the more important that women in Britain and abroad recognise the journey that we have already taken. The rights and privileges that are seemingly enshrined in our lives but which we cannot take for granted as the extreme right, mad patriarchy and the ideologists who disguise their dogma under religious beliefs try to strip away the things that have enabled women to have good health, choices about their own bodies and a sense of independence. When we look at what we have, it is all too easy to strip away.
Moran’s book is not overtly political but comes from a place where the personal is political, where she takes aspects of her working class roots and gender and subjects them to a heartfelt and funny analysis, pointing out the insidious changes in our cultural life over the last twenty years that make a the ideals of a patriarchal consumer society’s ideals of the modern woman’s life a little more proscribed and a little more difficult to achieve. Moran makes us want to be the women we can be, taking difficult choices and not caring too much about underarm hair and the shape of our vaginas. It’s a funny, fun book and well worth a read.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten

This is a magical book about magical people and highly unlikely events. As the title suggests, the protagonists create a circus based on magic. The inhabitants are magical creatures performing tricks that the ‘normal people’ believe are extraordinary and in fact are magically real.
The clever conceit behind the story is that two young people have been chosen for their roles as apprentices to two mysterious and malevolent magicians. They undergo rigorous training in order to enter a magical battle which only one of them can win.  Unfortunately, they also fall in love with each other which presents them with the conundrum, how can they ensure that they both survive and their love survives the battle created by their masters? The answer is The Night Circus which evolves and changes and adapts as the apprentices (now applauded and supported by the readers).
It’s an engaging and wonderful read. As a fan of magical realism I was captivated by the characters and their various skills and abilities although the protagonists eventual solution to the problem of defeating their unconquerable masters, who until that time had never been defeated, was a bit too surreal even for me.
The cast of characters, including a magical clock, a disappearing man and a wonderful tent of shapes and sounds and smells, was a wonderful world, one which I did not want to disappear or end. Cleverly, the book includes an ardent team of Night Circus supporters, a team which every reader will probably support and want to join.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Don’t be fooled by the title and descriptions of this book as a ‘Book about baseball’ because it is far far more than that. I know nothing about baseball and I did find myself skimming some of the game descriptions (which can be a disadvantage when the plot mainly revolves around the successes and failures of the team). Nonetheless, the characters and interesting and engaging and at a very basic level, the friendships in the book demonstrate many heart warming aspects of solidarity, male bonding and competitive, testosterone driven achievement.
Some people may find the storyline a bit clichéd, as the main male sportsmen are drawn through the traditional story arc of rising success. The fact of the matter is that the reader can see the clichés and know what’s going to happen next, but that doesn’t mean we like the book any less because by that stage we are living the adventures of the main characters, training hard, playing hard, studying curveballs and statistics and playing great games. We are supporting our friends and telling them lies and living the complex lives of money, power and friendships that so often unravel after graduation.
The book covers the sadness of loss and the temptation in youth to stay in the place of safety that is University despite that phase of your life ending. The realisation in early adulthood that all of the things you would like to live in permanently, studying and living close to friends and being part of a team, may be transient.
The book struck a chord about the strengths of friendships. Friendships that continue despite age and loss and life. My husband still maintains close friendships with three friends from university (all boys, and still referred to as ‘The Boys’), I also sustain close friendships with three girlfriends from my own university days. These friendships have not always been smooth, we are people after all, we have argued passionately, been there through illness and death. The friendships remain: sustained in a deep rooted self perpetuating truth about love.

Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne

I may be biased about this book as it is based very close to my former Welsh home and the areas described could well be where my brother is currently living. Certainly the ‘old hippy’ labels that could so easily be applied to the family represented in the book could be stuck on to many people in rural Wales. In fact rural Wales seems to attract its fair share of eccentrics running away from the strains and stresses of city life; hippies, mad surfers, Tai Chi teachers, people living in yurts.
 I was once told of a ‘Mystic Triangle’ theory about lay lines creating a triangle around Swansea and stretching down around Stonehenge. Apparently this Cosmic Triangle creates great peace and tranquillity, which is why people, once there, rarely move away, partly because of the beauty of the Gower Coast and the verdant greenery and despite the (almost) constant rain. Apparently, Swansea is also quite famous for the variety and availability of drugs...who knows..
I have digressed. Wild Abandon is a funny novel detailing the family life on a commune, although the number of people living in the commune doesn’t seem to make it practical for the place to survive. Dunthorne draws a picture of all the negatives of a commune and is a great reminder of why one should never ever ever venture into communal living. The trials of teenage life are covered wonderfully, as are the adventures of the slightly younger brother in the book. There are drugs and alternative lifestyles and some closely observed comedic touches about marriage and the power of dictatorship to override democracy.
Dubnthorne also explores the complications of relationships in general, and in particular the difficulties of negotiating a collective of too many people drawn together for differing reasons, some seeking solitude, others support and companionship. Eventually and of course, ironically, many of the characters desert the commune for the comforts of ‘ordinary’ suburban living. They cannot live the ideology, as with many concepts, the theory of communal living is far more romantic and wonderful than the realities of sharing a fridge and a bathroom with too many people.
It’s a funny book and should be read by anyone considering communal living.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

This book is based on the rather extreme concept of taking performance art to its very limits and living it, having children and integrating them into a life of compositions, performances in innocuous places like shopping malls or aeroplanes designed to create a response from the audience.
As a drama geek and a fan of modern political drama I had some understanding of the concepts the book is based on; that didn’t necessarily make it any more credible. I found it difficult to believe that parents would involve their children in such mad ventures...but then logically, parents do horrible things to their children, to a minor or major degree, every day, why should performance art be less believable than any other forms of abuse?
Wilson has made a good job of the characterisation, with the reader becoming absorbed in the difficulties faced by the grown up children of the artistic parents and left in a void of cruel unknowing when their parents have disappeared, are they dead or is this another piece of extreme drama?
The endless soul searching of the brother and sister of the family Fang was a bit too lengthy at the beginning of the book but the pace became more exciting after the apparent disappearance of the parents. My favourite parts were the descriptions of the family Fang performances, when the parents staged, with their children, their events and the reader waits with bated breath to see how the audiences will respond. The emotional highs and lows of performance are well documented as are the flaws, joys and tragedies of human nature and our responses to the people around us.
It’s a fun book, disturbing and funny in equal measure. Worth a read, even if some readers may find the aspects of performance art a little too obscure for their own liking.


Ok, it's time for some book reviews, been neglecting them (not reading, just writing about them). In fact, been reading lots of very good books recently, far too many, so I am now obliged to work through the back catalogue of the Kindle, finding the ones I liked best and reviewing them here so that you lovely people can share....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hot Chocolate

It's cold in Alicante at the moment, unseasonably so, I am told. The picture is of my daughter wearing her cow hat to keep warm in the kitchen. I don't like cold weather. Part of the reason for us moving here was to move to warmer climes so I am a bit grumpy! The sunny blue skies are a consolation, but it is very cold in the evenings, cold enough for having a duvet on the sofa upstairs for snuggling up with. Cold enough to wish we had already installed the log burner that we are planning for some future date when we have more money, (when August comes we'll find it difficult to believe why we ever need one).
I've had a busy morning today, the plumber has been, I've spoken to people about a random bill we may or may not have to pay for council tax, which seems to have been paid, but I need to go to the bank to clarify. The washing's been done, the kitchen tidied and I was feeling a bit busy and cold, so the heating has been put on and I have comforted myself with the best treat that Spanish culture can provide. A hot chocolate.
Here it is in pictorial form...

Feel much better now! In one of my Spanish classes, the teacher and I had a great debate about the origins of chocolate, he insists that it is Spanish, I countered that it's South American. He did some research and brought an article to the next class explaining the mixed origins of chocolate as we now know it - all in Spanish - which was a distinct disadvantage from my debating point of view. We eventually agreed that the origins of chocolate are indisputable South American but the chocolate that we now know and love (with added sugar and other flavorings) is Spanish. I have to say that the quality of chocolate here, particularly hot chocolate, is delightful. I am also currrently addicted to the Valor chocolate covered almonds pictured above. They were originally bought as a treat for Christmas, and have since been bought as a Valentines and now as just a cold weather treat! Lovely. Keep warm everyone.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fragments of Family Life: the Garmin

The Garmin
Basically it’s a computer for your wrist. It’s a very clever computer, with GPS and stuff. It’s my husband’s, purchased as a ‘treat’ after completing his second marathon, in Paris. His first marathon was the famous London, a marathon that is now so popular that it’s massively oversubscribed and wouldn’t be a marathon to go for a PB (Personal Best in runner speak). His third and fourth marathons were Dublin and London again, with lots of half marathons in between when we were living in rural Derbyshire/Staffordshire, so plenty of lovely hilly climbs!
Whilst we waited for husband at the finish line, I was always amazed at the variety of shapes and sizes and ages of people completing the marathon – a number of old and wiry looking men and women as well as large people who looked more like rugby players than marathon runners but all seemed to enjoy the experience (we were usually watching at the finish line where the enjoyment is probably at its peak, as opposed to at the ¾ point where everyone is hating the run and their bodies and wishing that it would all end!)
His next marathon is going to be Madrid and, using his Garmin, he will have a pretty good idea of what sort of time he can hope to run it in, although it seems that marathon running is not an exact science as you cannot always factor in the ‘human nature’ element of the race: how you will feel, if you’ll need a poo, if there are thousands of other runners, how you will feel when you are running your heart out only to have a person run past you wearing a womble outfit etc.
I only know all this because I am married to a keen, if not devoted runner. I can barely run a kilometre. I could probably walk about 10kms but running has never been my favourite sport. In fact I dislike running intensely and didn’t mind at all when a boyfriend at university pointed out that I was built for comfort and not for speed because, for me, it’s the truth. I’m an advocate of this School of life: why run when you can walk? Why walk when you can sit down? Why sit if you can lie down? I’m not averse to a bit of exercise, but I like it to be a walk, perhaps followed by a nice pub lunch or a lovely ice cream at the end as a treat.
I do like a good old competitive game of netball or basketball or rounders. Nothing like a bit of team sports to get the adrenalin going but I am pretty rubbish at sports in general and feel sorry for any team that may have me in its midst because I’m not that good. Not too good at tennis or badminton either. I like a swim, particularly a swim with flippers that let you skim through the pool like some magic woman from Atlantis. I think my favourite sport at the moment is a squash and a squeeze with my kids. This involves me tickling them heartily and sometimes ends in a pillow fight and wrestle – it’s good aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, my children, now 6 and 8, are almost strong enough to overpower me, so that work out may disappear soon as being a dangerous sport.
My son loves football and is also showing an interest in running, something his dad is happy to encourage. They have recently embarked on Sunday run together and to my shame, my son can run 5km now, an easy 4km more than I would be happy with. My daughter has the energy of a 6 year old and just runs around everywhere anyway, from the moment she gets up in the morning to her reluctant bedtime. We should really strap the Garmin on to her wrist one day to see how many kms she covers.
When husband first got the Garmin I considered it as a possible toy to get me motivated to start running, I was, for a long time, an aspirational runner, thinking that I could and would grow to love it with perseverance. Now I just accept that the Garmin is my husband’s toy. He is the marathon runner and I am proud of his achievements and will be happy to cheer him on at the finish line in Madrid. Next time you watch the start of the London marathon, watch the runners on the starting line, a good percentage of them, on starting, will push the little buttons on their Garmins to start inputting the data - some of them will have little bleeping reminders throughout the race to remind them to slow down or speed up and will use the Garmins throughout to monitor their progress and aim for a P. B.
They're all setting their watches!! Possibly Garmins!

I am happy to observe without participating; I am a woman of many talents – running just isn’t one of them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lessons my mother taught me – how to be fearless

I have a rubbish memory, so I have no idea how old I was. Older than 10 certainly and probably closer to 14, an awkward age full of hormones and crossing thresholds of responsibility and innocence.  Salem’s Lot was on TV. and for some reason my mother had agreed that we could watch it. Having no interest at all in films and television programmes she had no idea that the program was a film about vampires. I’m guessing that the film had been advertised extensively on TV. and that maybe it had been discussed at school, so I’m sure some relentless nagging on my part was part of the reason why we eventually watched it. It had David Soul in it for goodness sake, of Starsky and Hutch what would be the harm in that...
Trawl the internet and you will find endless horror stories of kids having the absolute crap scared out of them by the film. It looks kind of dated now but at the time, the vampires were a nasty, scary breed and the horror genre had not yet been satirised by post modern 90s. Despite the fact that I often loved Hammer House of horrors films (often shown, bizarrely, on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon slot on BBC1 or 2!) I was not immune to the horrors in the classic Stephen King story and I was terrified. One classic scene featured a gaunt and once beautiful vampire scratching at a window, waiting to gain entry and rip David Soul’s throat out.
When we went to bed that night, I uncharacteristically asked my mother if I could sleep in her room. I was not really an easily frightened child and mum didn’t usually encourage that sort of clinginess, but in this instance, she agreed that I could make a little bed for myself next to her bed, on the floor near the window. We got ourselves comfortable and mum turned the light out. I was feeling snug and warm in my little bed, safe in my mother’s protection because everyone knows that the primal instinct of a mother is to protect her babies from any harm, from cold and chicken pox to supernatural vampires. As I was just drifting off to sleep, I heard mum’s voice in the dark.
Mum: “You know why you’re sleeping next to the window don’t you?”
Me: ”No, why?”
Mum: “So that when the vampires come through the window they’ll get you first.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany, chaos and misrule...

6th January in Spain and it’s Epiphany. The day when the three kings visited Jesus and offered him gifts. The day when traditionally, Spanish children also receive their gifts from their families although increasingly, many Spanish families are now celebrating Santa Claus on the 25th December too, making it an expensive time of year.
For language geeks like me, epiphany is also an interesting time and word and idea. The concept of an epiphany is the sense of gaining, perhaps quite suddenly, an intricate and perhaps externally influenced understanding of a concept. An epiphany suggests to me a gift from the gods or supernatural elements looking out for us little people and giving us some insight into life the world and everything.
At the same time, however, an epiphany doesn’t come without some sort of prior work. We can’t suddenly grasp huge concepts of physics or matter or the universe without some prior building blocks and thought.
That’s why an epiphany is a great concept. The marriage of some supernatural, magical event or understanding in our lives after some serious thoughtfulness and meditation or maybe some serious physical graft or just some hard bloody work.
An epiphany is a major thing, an opportunity, a light shining. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a big thing in our personal worlds. It may be a decision to change something in our lives, to be more charitable, to be honest or enact a kind moment every day. The small stuff begets the big stuff, emotionally, physically, spiritually.
The celebration of Epiphany also coincides with Twelfth Night, traditionally the time to put the decorations away and prepare for the year ahead. Twelfth Night has been a time for the final acts of chaos and misrule as we celebrate the end of the disorder started earlier in the year (at Halloween).
The origins of Twelfth Night and Epiphany are complex, with religious and pagan ceremonies coming together in this significant date after Christmas. They may mean different things to us all, the end of Christmas, the recognition of a New Year ahead, the return to order after dark winter chaos, the celebration of the birth and recognition of Christ as the son of God.
I don’t think it matters what you may be celebrating or thinking about today, I just hope that we can all take a magical bit of the meaning of those ingredients.
Personally, I’d like to combine a bit of pagan chaos energy with a moment of clarity, an epiphany which will allow me to make changes for the better in the New Year. Perhaps it’s enough; if we believe in it, in combining those elements together today; magic will happen.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Husband has been on a seemingly never ending Lego quest this week. It was the after Christmas quest to put some order back to chaos. We have spent far too much money over the last 5 years on Lego. It’s an easy fix for birthdays and Christmas for my son as he loves Lego and Star Wars and Indiana Jones. So the perfect combination is Lego Star Wars figures or space ships
Unfortunately, what seems to happen with Lego is that the space ships are made in an excited flurry on first receipt...then over the course of a few months, they are dropped and bits chip away and friends come to visit and decide that making your own models out of various bits of broken space ship is far more interesting than keeping the original bits together.
Eventually you end up with a pile of Lego in a box, which is fun and leads to hours of imaginative play but what happened to that great space ship?
Thankfully, we are a family with two semi control freak teachers, so we keep the instructions...
So husband has been using the instructions to gather up all those teeny weeny little bits of Lego from the box to recreate the space ships.
We did it last year too....
It’s arduous, takes hours and is satisfyingly wonderful when you manage to get a space ship back!
We’ve been colour coding this year...collecting all the black, dark grey, grey, white, red , brown and cream pieces into separate zip lock plastic backs (easier for finding pieces). Sounds simple doesn’t it? Until you get a bit compulsive about it all...we now have a zip lock bag for pieces of ‘men’ and accessories and another bag for ‘interesting and strangely shaped and transparent’ pieces that don’t necessarily fit into colour coding or ‘men’ accessories categories....
My son is in charge of putting the appropriate men together with the ships and he has a surprisingly good memory for which particular bits belong to each ship (they all look the same to me..)
We’ve turned into LEGO geeks.....
Spent the morning making a space ship today... and yesterday. I suppose that’s what holidays are for when you have young children. Next week will be back to work and normality without the luxury of hours of leisure time and the Star Wars figures will go back to their organic and natural decline back into Lego blocks. Meanwhile my daughter’s Playmobil is far easier to store and play with...although her animal menagerie from last Christmas could do with reconstructing again...