Saturday, 26 January 2013

A little light reading

A rather special thing happened this week. Well, it was wonderful to me but may well seem a little trivial to others. S started reading my library book and what's more she is thoroughly enjoying it, taking every opportunity she can to get back to the story including smuggling a torch under the bedclothes. This is a girl who despite being a good reader, preferred the limited scope of Captain Underpants and Humphrey Hamster.  Whilst I'm always pleased to see children reading, and I've nothing against these characters (well not Humphrey anyway) - or the over popular Jacqueline Wilson of which we have a whole dedicated shelf - I am delighted to see that she's crossed over to where the literary grass  is most definitely greener.  Now I can talk to her about it,  she discusses characters with me, makes predictions about what might happen and we have our own little mother daughter book club going on.

What a pleasure reading is.  After a stressful day I like nothing better than retreating with a good book to a cosy spot in front of the fire, though often I take said book up to the bath, another favourite reading location. Having on more than one occasion accidentally dropped it in, it's one of the main reasons I don't use a kindle!   I am also fond of reading in bed, while dunking chocolate biscuits in my coffee. When deeply engrossed, I sometimes turn the page before noticing the melted chocolate droppings then squished between the pages.  I'll say now that I am truly sorry, Dunbar Library, for the often interesting  state that I return books in. 

Look! Look!
I distinctly remember the process of learning to read.  It was something I desperately wanted to do long before starting school.  My mother read the same bedtime book over and over at my request and, having memorised it word for word, I set about using the book as my code breaker for others.  By the time I started school I was able to read books meant for older children and so I found the 1970s selection of picture books and pre-readers incredibly disappointing.  In particular the Janet and John series and the slightly later, and just as dreary, Peter and Jane were mind-numbingly dull (though now the illustrations have vintage appeal).  For those too young to be familiar with, or too old to remember, this depressing series then I'll explain.  These books supported the 'look and say' method of learning to read and consisted of endlessly repetitive sentences, 'Here is Jane', 'Look Jane is here', 'Here comes Jane', 'Look, Look, Peter. Can you see Jane?'   AAAaaarrgghhh! Wait, Peter has killed Jane for being sssoooo boring!

Ok that didn't happen but you get the idea. It doesn't surprise me at all to learn that the proponent of this torturous scheme, William Murray,  used to be the head of a school for the 'educationally subnormal'  (that really was the name of the school by the way not me being politically incorrect).
I don't think the man in the sweet shop should be trusted!

Fortunately, I was able to read a whole host of much more thrilling books at home; by thrilling I mean that they actually had a plot. (Take note, Mr Murray: 'Here is a plot', 'They have a plot', 'There was a plot!')  One of my absolute favourites was the classic series Little Grey Rabbit by Alison Uttley.  She is often confused with Beatrix Potter or Enid Blyton (who incidentally she knew and despised) but personally I think she has a far more magical way with words.  I recently bought a copy in a second hand bookstore and took a trip down  nostalgia lane, re-reading many of the stories I remember so fondly.

Apart from Rabbit herself there are the delights of Brock the Badger, Speckledy Hen and, how could I forget, little hedgehog Fuzzypeg. You would be forgiven for thinking that the author of these charming tales was as sweet and charitable as the characters she created but by all accounts she was a frightfully difficult woman, controlling and prone to jealous rages.  Nevermind, I will ignore the facts behind the creator and immerse myself again in Grey Rabbit's fluffy world; it's often much nicer than the real one.

Little Grey Rabbit helps Fuzzypeg who has managed to turn himself into a snowball

Friday, 25 January 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no some words*, capturing a favourite image from the week. A special and treasured moment that I would like to pause and remember.

*This week in honour of Burns Night in Scotland, a few accompanying words from the man himself bonnie, sweet, wee dochter...
As fatherly I kiss and daut thee,
As dear and near my heart I set thee

Saturday, 19 January 2013

White magic

Nothing quite instills a sense of wonder like pure white snow. When you don't have to be anywhere, and you have all you need at home, then there's nothing more magical than the transformation the white stuff brings. Recently I've begun to feel a bit marooned in the sea of mud all around the Little House and everything has that January colour scheme of brown, more brown and...brown.  But this weekend all is bright and I have been transported into a Narnia-inspired winter wonderland. 
The mud rutted track has been replaced with shimmering walkway
I am so in love with the stuff that I've developed a bit of an obsession. It's driving L beserk. I text him from work exactly 10 minutes after I have arrived at my desk and then at 10 minute intervals: 'Is it snowing there?' I ask again, hopefully. I stalk the weather forecast constantly, consulting the BBC, the Met Office (even though I know they actually provide the updates for the Beeb anyway),  Netweather, Weather Outlook - they are all on my browser favourites. I am far more distracted by the possibility of a snow day than any of my pupils, sometimes even sticking my head (and tongue) out of the window to establish whether it is in fact snow falling or that most disappointing of five letter words in the English language - sleet.  

Even the electricity cables look good
I find myself getting caught up in the media hype that inevitably comes with even the tiniest amount of snow: 'Snowmageddon', 'Going Snowhere', 'Snowpocalypse Now', reports from 'The Red Zone'  - the puns and hyperbole are rife, but when you actually examine the facts we're generally only talking about centimetres of snow. Centimetres, I ask you - I've got a deeper layer of dust on my TV stand!

The trouble is that although snow is not uncommon in the UK, it's not frequent enough to foster any kind of resilience. It's as though the strain of maintaining that stiff-upper-lip stereotype becomes too much at the appearance of the first flake and most of the country regresses into a sort of national learned helplessness. We give in to hysteria and indulge in locust-like behaviour in the supermarkets, stripping the shelves of bread and milk in case we are stuck in the house for more than 48 hours and forced to eat each other. The Scots are a little more hardy but even the most stolid and resistant of school heads gives in and closes up the learning shop for fear of weather-related injury and resulting snowball law suit.

The petrol stations have long queues which I've never understood as you can't actually get anywhere and, even when the ploughs and gritters have cleared a way, stories about people being stuck in their cars for hours and hours make you too nervous to attempt it. My cousin's recent facebook status made me laugh. Clearly tired of RAC-inspired checklists on being properly prepared before embarking on even the shortest of car journeys, she concocted her own very extensive list. Along with requisite shovel and blanket she thought to add an ice pick, Morse code machine, fluorescent jacket and a crib sheet on how to make an igloo. I felt compelled to suggest a St Bernard as well. 

She may not be a St Bernard but Luna can still run in the snow!

L thinks he can go anywhere because he has a 4x4 and he's definitely basking in his elevated status. The rest of us are forced  to drag ancient ski-wear from the back of wardrobes and waddle across the snowy landscape as dayglow Michelin men. Trying to keep warm indoors without using up the extortionate heating oil tends to blur the line between what constitutes acceptable daywear and pyjamas. I was tempted by one of the weekend offers in the newspaper - a double slanket (a blanket with sleeves for the uninitiated). It was offered in a wine colour with a hood much like a Galactic robe but, although the idea of pretending to be conjoined Jedi knights was weirdly appealing, I'm not quite sure that I want to be that close to anyone while ensconsed in 100% polyester microfibre, even The Wonderful Man. He's usually quite warm enough without extra static electricity or fire hazard materials.

Friday, 18 January 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no some words, capturing an image from the week. A simple and funny moment that I would like to pause, rewind and enjoy again.

This week I discovered that hens really don't like snow. Brave Betty, one of our more adventurous chickens, ventured out the hen house but staved off the chill from her feet by alternating standing on one leg!

Hen or flamingo?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Dance like no one is watching...

While searching for an entirely different song to do with snow, I came across an oldie (well, 2001) from Nick Cave and I couldn't resist sharing it with you.  We have the tiniest sprinkling of snow here and S and I are wanting more - at least enough to mean that going into school is impossible, and enough to make a family of snowmen in the garden.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seed sing about being "under fifteen feet of pure white snow" and I'm thinking this reference may well be metaphorical and really just one foot would be lovely.  

This song has some ludicrous lyrics; I particularly love: 'But they haven't put their mittens on' !!  But it's the dancing that does it for me.  Click on the link below and look out for Jason Donovan, Jarvis Cocker and Noah Taylor; you cannot help but smile at their groovy moves.  Jason Donovan in particular throws caution to the wind in complete abandonment as though no one was watching or filming!  All very weird but wonderful all the same.  

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Back to uniformity

Going back to school this week was quite a shock.  We have had two weeks of no schedule and if it hadn't been for visitors I suspect there wouldn't have been even one day where we were properly dressed. When I put my work shoes on on Monday morning I actually thought there was something wrong with my ankles until I realised that I was simply unused to the sensation of wearing heels and any sort of supportive footwear; I have been wearing bed socks with my wellies,  bouncy fake Uggs and furry slipper socks. There were collective sighs all round as we dragged out school bags (although I suspect that L's sigh was one of relief as he gets to enjoy peace and quiet again). Even the brand new fully-stocked pencil cases, supplied by Santa & Co, couldn't lift the 'back to school' gloom.

H & S in younger days
When the alarm went off at 6am on Monday it honestly felt like I was coming round from a general anaesthetic.  I immediately consulted the calendar and worked out though that there were exactly five weeks of school-led structure left and then we get another mid-term break so there really is very little to moan about.  It is perhaps one of the only monetary benefits of being a teacher - all those paid weeks of holidays.

As a teenager I was desperate to leave school.  One of the main reasons for hating it so much was the capital A-line grey skirts and maroon striped ties of the uniform. I've never been one for conformity so it seems quite ironic to me that I have ended up back at school all this time later with all the rules and regulations that extend to teaching staff too.  At formal events we are even required to wear academic gowns though I have to say they are very good for smuggling whole bags of illicit sweets into assembly or for concealing a hot water bottle to make sitting in the freezing chapel more bearable.

The UK has a long history of school uniform dating right back to Henry VIII.  Then the long blue trenchcoat-style jackets had some practical and cost saving benefits, though I'm sure they must have been heavy and most certainly humbling to wear.  The supporters of uniforms have a long list of purported benefits - suggesting that they somehow instill discipline and even improve results. Of course, the most common given reason for uniform is that it is a great social leveller, but there are so many other just as obvious ways to display your wealth or lack of it; a quick glance at mobile phones, shoes and school bags for example.
Pupils at Christ's Hospital School in West Sussex
The school I teach in has a distinctive uniform that I have to concede the children seem proud to wear.  They still have their complaints though, not least about the wide unfashionable trousers and stiff wool blazers that smell like wet dog the minute they become the slightest bit wet - which is all the time in Scotland. Older girls will attempt to shorten their kilts by rolling over the waistband but this results in a deeply unflattering pleated tutu - a bit like a tartan version of a Greek dancing skirt.  They're lucky in having a fairly kind ensemble. They could have ended up with a Tudor-era uniform complete with Malvolio-inspired yellow socks or a ridiculous ribboned straw hat.

"Am I bovvered"
You can probably tell, I'm not really an advocate of uniforms; I find them restrictive, impractical and, well, a bit bizarre. Ties especially I think are nasty germ-ridden things and girls in ties? - what's that about!  I was very surprised when S really liked her tie when she started school in Yorkshire, but then I realised that this was only because she found it very useful to use as reins when playing horsey games with her friends in the playground! The boys at her school preferred to tie them around their heads Rambo-mode. Older teenagers would attempt to tie the biggest knot possible, not a Windsor or a half-Windsor but a full on Windsor Castle knot which they would then leave askew in the style of  Lauren Cooper. My colleagues try to persuade me to the merits of uniformity saying, 'It will prepare them for the real world of business'.  Put that off for as long as possible I think - I have no desire to see that my children are 'ready for work'.  No! Back to weekend rebellion say I - bring out the fuzzy leopard boots, the hoodies and the onesies and let's turn our backs on the real world, for 48 hours at least.

This post is linking up with 'Oldies but Goodies' blog hop hosted by Suzanne at 3 Children and It

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Twelfth Night
Old Twelfth Night traditions are pretty strange sounding to a modern community and worryingly reminiscent of  'The Wicker Man' style of revelry.  I have a charming book called 'Festivals, Family and Food' that details many of the traditions, games and recipes that have been forgotten (though possibly for very good reasons).  In it a recipe is given for a special cake - a 'Galette des Rois' baked to celebrate the three kings and containing a dried bean and pea (yummy).  If I ever manage to find ground rice in our local Asda I may try to make it.  Apparently, the person who finds the bean is the king for the night and the person finding the pea is the queen .  They rule the household for the evening and take charge of the 'games' .
Traditionally, games seem to consist of cross-dressing, supping bowls of ale, riotous dancing and playing tricks and practical jokes on friends and neighbours - sounds like a normal Saturday evening in Dunbar to me.

In Western Christian culture the 6th of January is celebrated as the Epiphany - the arrival of the three wise men or the Adoration of the Magi  if you want to be proper in your liturgy. Epiphany means 'to make known', 'to show' or 'to reveal' and so I guess by seeking out the Christ child and bringing gifts for him they 'reveal' him as the son of God and make it known that he is King. As a child I could never understand the business of Frankincense and Myrrh at all; what rubbish birthday presents! Gold made perfect sense but I could not comprehend the symbolism of what to me sounded like an ancient equivalent of Febreze and Vaseline.
These are our much treasured wise men  

Now I am older (but not a lot wiser) I can appreciate that these were rare and  highly valuable gifts. They were also symbolic and prophetic. From a quick Google search I can also update myself with the modern thinking that there were probably more than three kings, that they were not really kings as such but more likely spiritual leaders, prophets or even early astronomers.  Despite the Christmas card depiction of camels, we do not really know their mode of transport just that it must have been a long and dangerous journey.  Were they led by a star, a comet or some other  spectacular celestial event? Again, we don't know but it seems fitting to imagine a brilliant star and three exotic kings in  resplendent robes convinced of the birth of the true Messiah and determined to find him. In this sense it seems a shame that we don't generally acknowledge Twelfth Night as anything other than a bad luck superstition to do with housekeeping. I think to put this right I will dig out my three kings from their hibernation in the loft and put them back on display and indulge in a little merrymaking myself. Now, where's my crown...

Friday, 4 January 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - few words, capturing a favourite moment from the week. A special and treasured moment that I would like to pause and remember.

A New Year's Eve Feast with oldest and dearest friends

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Ring out the old, ring in the new...

If you say the phrase 'New Year' to me, like a lot of teachers, I automatically think of the new academic year.  In my mind the new year heralds in September with the opening of my teacher's planner and the register of new names and faces for me to get to know. After the long leisurely days of summer the arrival of the autumn term with its regularity and structure comes as a shock but not an entirely unwelcome one.

In contrast, January seems to slink in like a depressed guest at the new year party; the one you forgot you invited. It is a month with no personality, with nothing to recommend itself and with no festivals or celebrations to look forward to (unless you count the bizarre custom of waissailing and even that's really just about the cider!) Bereft of any highlights, January is a continuation of the dark months of winter - dank sodden ground and glacial drizzle; it is my least favourite time of year.

Psychologists refer to the third Monday of January as 'Blue Monday'.  Apparently this is the most depressing day of the year. I don't need a degree in psychology to work out why - it is a Monday after all, the weather miserable, most people have yet to be paid and regretting all that 'bargain buying' they did so enthusiastically. Much of the population feels and looks like a Christmas pudding having put on at least four pounds over the holiday period  (a reported average which I hope isn't true). But, one of the less known but just as valid reasons for this post-festive slump is the almost immediate failure to live up to those new year resolutions.

Historically, it is relatively recently that January 1st became the first day of the year in Western culture. Until 1751 in England and Wales the new year started on the 25th March and the idea of a renewal certainly seems more in keeping with the passage of Spring and Easter.  For the origins of January being the new year  we have the Romans to blame. The word January comes from the name of the Roman god Janus. It is also derivative of the Latin word 'lanus' meaning gate or opening. All the gates of ancient Rome were said to be held under the care of Janus and because there was much coming and going through these gates the god was said to have two faces: one looking forward and one looking back. Perhaps this is why we have this idea that on New Year's Eve we look back at the year gone by and make New Year's resolutions for the coming one.

Personally, I don't hold with this resolutions business at all.  I do not have much hope in self-improvement or a radical change in my behaviour. I am hopelessly stuck in my ways and I stubbornly resolve not to try one new thing every day or to exercise more or to learn a new language. I think if I were to make any resolutions at all I would focus on the more attainable - take more naps, not wash on Sundays, visit more cake shops... I agree wholeheartedly with the French author Anais Nin when she reportedly said: 'I made no resolutions for the New Year.  The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.' 

Seriously though, if I am to endure January and avoid the predicted arrival of Blue Monday then I think my approach to January will at least have to be a positive one. I plan to keep the multitude of Christmas candles lit during the dark evenings and draw family and friends close. It might well be a time for introspection but I will beat off any tendency towards melancholy. It is a mindful time but not a month to dwell on what I might have done better or to let past hurts and disappointments linger.  I will metaphorically ring out the old, ring in the new and look forward.

    Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light;
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.