Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Commonwealth Games: being part of it

You've probably noticed. There's something going on in Glasgow this week.

It's a little bit like an artist's impression of some improbably marvellous futuristic city that has come to life. Clean streets and squares throng with smiling groups togged out in matching track suits like off-duty astronauts.

There's a sense of united purpose and anticipation tempered only slightly by the bewilderment of those who hardly recognise their home town. Indeed, the commonwealth games seems even to have rendered the mean streets safe with the biggest danger tripping over a film crew or poking yourself in the eye with your security pass.

I've been working at the SECC for a few days now. (For a couple of weeks) I'm a sub editor for the Games News Service, based in a corner of the increasingly busy media centre. And it's somewhere I'm delighted to be.

Way back last year I knew that when the Games came to Glasgow I'd have to find a way to get involved. It would be horrible to have such an exciting thing happening on our doorstep but not being part of it - like hearing an amazing party next door that no one invited you to.

Some of the desire to be involved is simple nosiness - what does a thing like this look like from the inside? Bustling and remarkably well organised, since you ask.

But the bigger part, I suppose, is a hankering to belong inside something noteworthy and exciting. It's an addictive sensation - part of a well-oiled machine.

In fact, I learn there's a whole community of 'eventers' who travel from one championships to the next world cup. If you look closely you'll spot the odd Sochi t-shirt or pair of London 2012 trainers. 

From the inside, it doesn't matter how much it all costs, the relevance of the Commonwealth or what you think of rules of boxing: What we're doing here matters, and that's all that matters. And it's going to be good. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

NT Live Skylight: How perfection is only ever a few pixels away

Not only was the sun shining, making a walk through Glasgow's West End feel like going on holiday, but I'd got parked exactly where I wanted to. Twice. 

Things were looking good. 

It was the evening of NT Live's screening of David Hare's Skylight. For once I won childcare roulette and going was a real, actual possibility. 

With hopes high, I had floated the idea on Facebook and within days a few chums - none of whom knew each other and one of whom I'd never met in the flesh - said "me too". (Sheonad it was a treat to meet you at last.)

A swift but satisfying supper in the Hanoi Bike Shop and a single (school night/driving) cucumber and cranberry mojito set the scene. 

We chose the Grosvenor Cinema for many reasons, including the fact that licence trumps location. But also because of capacious sofas, an absence of sickly pop corn pong and, as far as I could see, no gangs of irritating youngsters deciding that the dark of an auditorium is the best place for conversation. Plus the carpets aren't sticky. So much better than a charmless cube in an out-of-town car park, in so many ways. 

Or at least that's what we thought. 

Just as we were were getting comfortable with the splendid work we were watching  - oddly it takes a bit of adjustment to watching a live play filmed and beamed into a cinema, a confusion of expectations perhaps - there was a bang, a few large pixels on the screen and the play stopped. 

Groans all round. But then it was going again. For a while. Again and again the link broke and, almost always, at a moment that appeared to be crucial or highly emotional. Or both. 

The tutting got very loud, raising the spectre of what a West End riot would be. The lobbing of stale ciabatta, an Evoque ram raid or flinging of movie posters onto the Kadai?

Between interruptions Bill Nighy, Carey Mulligan and Matthew Beard were acting their socks off (quite lideraly in one bit). The play, a sort of love story woven around a social commentary, is just as fresh in 2014 as it was first time round in 1995. 

As if there wasn't enough to admire Carey for, she cooked spaghetti bolobnese live on stage - and the sauce didn't burn and stick to the pan. I'd have enough trouble avoiding that without having to remember lots of lines and deliver them with flawless emotional authenticity at the same time. 

But polished performance and production weren't quite enough. Continual breaks in the feed from the theatre in London were brutal and infuriating. Jolting us from Hare's world  time and again. No excuse really. The technology isn't difficult, is it? And, frankly, the free ticket vouchers don't make up for it. 

I did consider turning this into the parable of the cracked Skylight, banging on about expectation and pursuit of perfection, but, you'll be pleased to know, I thought better of it...

Everything deserves a second chance and yours, NT Live, comes with this:

Only this time I think I'll choose modern and purpose-built (thus better connected) over charming and well upholstered.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Things I've learned about the first day at school

In less than a month my youngest son, Boy Three, will be joining the ranks of school pupils as he goes through the classroom door for the first time.

For him it's the start of a huge adventure during which he will tell me that his day was "OK" but that he learned "nothing much" something in the region of 2,600 times. For me it's the last time I get to wallow self-indulgently in the fact that my baby is growing up as I take pictures of a child wearing his school uniform in anger for the first time.

Boy One started primary 10 years ago and Boy Three will finish secondary in 2027. I would like to think that in 23 years as the parent of a school child, I might learn a thing or two about it. 

Here's what I've learned about the first day of school. 

You will be emotional. It's a huge milestone that you will never forget and doesn't your little soldier look soooo grown up in his school uniform?  

You will want to give him/her a spit wash and fix their collar. Please don't, it will make no difference and they won't like it.

Your child will not be very emotional at all. They will simply be excited and happy. Unless, that is, you make too much of a big deal about it. They don't care that it's another milestone on your road to old age/empty nest. Deal with it.

You need to reassure them that they get to come home at the end of the day. Somehow with the big fuss about going to school this was forgotten with Boy One. He was very upset until he realised he wasn't at school forever. 

But do tell them they have to go back every day. Otherwise they'll think it's like visiting the park, fun for a bit but OK to come home to watch telly when it gets a bit dull. Some of it will be a bit dull but learning to live with a bit dull is one of life's things.

Find out what uniform they really need. Schools have a habit of listing what they'd really like all the pupils to wear as well as what they must wear. Don't get them confused. Chances are the (optional) blazer is only ever worn for the first week by the pupils whose parents thought they'd look adorable in it. Save your money. 

Indelible markers are your friend. Get several and write your kid's name on everything. Also draw a picture your kid can recognise on the label if they can't yet read their own name. In heaps and heaps of lost school uniform, help them find theirs. 

Don't buy expensive things for school. Look for good value uniform, lunch boxes, pencils etc. They will get lost, damaged or forgotten. There is enough to get stressed about without caring whether the trousers have a hole in them or the water bottle has vanished. They do and it has. 

Look closely at the other parents. You will spend far more time than you can imagine in their company over the next seven years. It will serve you well to decide fast which ones you'll want to man the tombola with and which ones you won't and start to plan accordingly. 

Don't be scared to talk to teachers about things that worry you. They've probably heard it before and understand that happy parents make for happy pupils/teachers/classrooms. Also they aren't psychic - if you want them to know something, telling them is the best way.

Your child will be fine. Stop worrying.

You will be fine too. Stop worrying.

This post is in collaboration with George at Asda

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Call me ms and mind your own business

When a ms is far better than a mile, a mrs and a miss...

It has never crossed my mind to change my second name to that of my husband (either of them - successive not simultaneous, obviously). 

Why would I? My name is Ellen Arnison and it's as much part of me as a love of whodunnits and dark chocolate or my desire to eavesdrop on strangers or climb mountains. 

However, the minute I got married, I realised I had a problem. No, not the one where some people no matter how many times you tell them insist on calling you Mrs Husbandname nor the one where I find there's a fundamental problem with my spousal choice (that came later). 

The problem is that when leave the dark and gloomy vale of the spinster behind you're not Miss anything any longer. By the same token you can't just call yourself Mrs Maidennamethoughtheideaofbeingamaidenisdaftinthisdecade, because that's not who you are either. 

So if you're not a Miss because you're married and you're not Mrs Originalname because that's not what your husband is called, then who are you? A Ms, obviously. 

It's not a neat honorific by a long chalk, but it's the only one that is accurate. 

Of course, accuracy is only part of the story. Why on earth would my marital status - or even my gender - matter to anyone except the person to whom I am - or am not - legally attached? No one ever asks a man if he's married or not when he's going about his entirely unrelated business. "Two tickets in the dress circle, sir? Certainly. But first tell me are you single or not?"

What's rattled my cage today is that I sponsored my friend Ms Fionaoutdoors in her latest ill-advised open-air enterprise. All of which was very lovely and entirely unremarkable until I got to the bit that asked for my details so I could cough up. 

The drop-down menu offered me Mrs, Miss, Mr or Dr. And that was it. So which wrong thing should I choose? I went for Mr in the end and it didn't seem to mind. 

Firstly, why do these forms still insist on asking for that information at all - what difference does it make to the fundraisers whether I'm married, single, male, female or whether my professional qualification earns a different title? None, whatsoever, that's what. 

And then, if they must know - why can't they let us fill the box in ourselves? Surely there must be just as many Reverends, Captains, Lords, Duchesses or other kinds of Highnesses a bit cheesed off that they aren't catered for. 

Please can we ditch the need to know women's marital status - or even people's gender - all together, but in the meantime please can we make sure we don't Ms out an option that suits us all.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Karcher review: It's hip to be very, very long

Also known as the post in which I learn how hard it is to take a selfie while cleaning a very far away window while standing on one leg. 

And known as the post in which I learn that standing on one leg doesn't, in fact, make you any taller. Who knew? 

This month (well last month actually, but I've been a bit busy) Karcher sent me an extension pole and waist/hip bag to review. 

You get two extendable poles and a couple of window cleaning heads in the box. They are designed to go with the Karcher window cleaners about which I have raved. There's a neat and firm fitting to attach your cleaner to the top - as it requires a degree of control plus you use the other pole for the wiping sponge attachment (it probably has a more technical name.)

There's only one high window in this house and it's above the stairs where it has been uncleaned since it was installed when we had the West Wing extension done. Consequently the window and surrounding area have become a rather grubby haven for spiders.

Over the years we've tried various things to deal with the cobwebs, the nearest to successful being the tennis ball with a duster tied around it flung up at the window. Yes, it was as stressful as it sounds.

So the pole offered the chance at long last to evict the arachnids and clean the glass. 

Did it work?

In a word: Yes. Not only could I clean the window, but I could use the wiping head of the pole wrapped in a duster to get rid of the cobwebs. 

The hip thingy?
Gun-slinger style you tote this little baby stuffed with window-cleaning goodness and, 'pon my word, you look like the most stylish house person there is. Actually it's hugely useful as Karcher window cleaning requires a couple of bits of kit. This way, you can carry them round instead of leaving them on the dressing table for weeks. 

The bottom line.

If you've got a Karcher window cleaner and high windows, the extension pole kit is a must. If you''ve got the window cleaner and windows in more than one room, then the holster affair is a good buy too. 

Disclosure: We were sent the extension pole kit and the hip bag by Karcher to try out. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Views from a week in Wales

The boys make bread at Castell Henllys fort. 

Listening out for banjos on the River Teifi

Oarsome outing for Team Bundance

Every little helps with Boy Three

Getting used to verandah living

Making a splash off New Quay

Things I learned from going off grid (ish) for a week

Did you notice? No? I wasn't here for a week - not here, not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not even really on email or text. 

We were in Wales on our hols and the sun shined. So while we enjoyed some bucket and spade, I also learned a thing or two about being un-connected.

You don't get more done - not really, you simply find other things to do instead. You browse brochures, leaf through magazines, watch kids' telly and paint your toenails.

Middle child loves playing cards - if he's winning. Monopoly cards or Scrabble dash if we must. If he's not winning, it's an entirely different story.

Essential planning requires a trip to the pub. Honestly. Or for the downloading of the essential game of the week - Clumsy Ninja.

What the next environmental menace will be. Loombands will threaten our very existence, if we're not careful. They are elastic bands you loop together to make bracelets, anklets, glasses chains and, crucially, weapons. Only the thing is they have an almost magical way of removing themselves from the wearer's limb and becoming scattered over the countryside.

A loomband ping is very loud indeed, if it was well aimed. At a brother.

746 emails is about what you get in a week, give or take. Suggestions for managing junk mail welcome. Please. 

Worrying about what may or may not be happening while I'm not looking will not produce 3G connections. (Apols to Max Ehrmann)

Rocket science has had it's day. I've discovered something far trickier - the iTunes Store. I hadn't worked out how to make it give me the video I bought. That's because the iTunes Store is the most complex thing in the world. Only three people can work it and none of them is me.

Sometimes you just have to live with not knowing stuff. Dylan Thomas' life story; how to start a bee hive; when it's high tide; who sang that song; where to get a copy of Dumb and Dumber; whether Welsh people really eat rarebit and what's in a welsh cake. Without Google we'll never know. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Why The Fault In Our Stars Is Not A Chic Flick


Boys One and Two had the cinema to themselves when they went to see this summer's hot hit film. They were a bit surprised as the hype had them believing they'd be battling for a seat.

"You should have booked, mum," one of them insisted as we pulled up in the deserted car park the day after the film opened.

The Fault In Our Stars has been on our radar for months since Boy One spotted something about the book in one of the strange internet places he collects most of his information. And faced with a long drive to Chester, we all listened to the audiobook, sniffing up the M6 through the sad bits.

It didn't cross our minds that this was a book aimed at one gender or another. It was about kids with cancer and how they cope, or otherwise, and how the rest of the world copes, or otherwise. Sure there's a boy-girl thing in it, but there is also sport, computer games, history, sarcastic humour, fantasy fiction, travel, revenge, hope, despair and some bad driving.

After listening to the book, the Boys and I found plenty to talk about: Would losing a leg be worse if you'd been good at sport? Should people treat cancer victims better than healthy people? What would you do if you knew life was sorter than you expected?

None of the topics were gender issues, and neither they should be. John Green was inspired to write the book after spending time with teenage cancer victims and he lost a friend to the disease.

Cancer doesn't make a distinction between girls and boys, or age, race, wealth or, in fact, anything else. So surely a book about the subject should be equally indiscriminate in its aim.

After the film though, one of the Boys reported that his (boy) pals weren't interested in the film, dismissing it was a chick flick. Then I read a few things talking about it being mainly for girls (and gays).

This makes me sad and angry (though proud of my Boys for not caring - much). If a film falls into the chick lit swamp, half the population misses out the film of a pretty good book. And that's bad enough, but there's something worse going on here. The message appears to be that 'feelings' - love, hate, fear, joy and regret - belong to girls and women, boys aren't supposed to trouble themselves with them as they've got more pressing shooting, fighting, racing winning things to be getting on with. I just don't believe that possession of a penis means your emotions are less, well, emotional than those of vagina people, instead you learn to hide and suppress them.

TFIOS is not just for girls, just as cancer and feelings aren't. Chick flick labelling isn't helpful, it's a film about kids' lives, that's all. Encourage the boys to see it and, certainly, don't shame them for wanting to.



Friday, 27 June 2014

Movin' on up

You might be mistaken for thinking this is a young starlet on the red carpet at Cannes (maybe), but it isn't. It's Boy Two before his end of primary school dance and, despite looking as cool as the proverbial, he was very, very excited. 

Graduation ceremonies for nursery kids - unnecessary nonsense or, just, awwwwww? Dunno, but I do know that when you give a five year old a rolled up scroll of paper, he's going to peer down it pirate stylee. And, yes, it doesn't seem five minutes before he was a tiny thing being dropped at nursery with a bag of nappies and a list of nap times. 

Do Sting’s thoughts on giving kids money have value?

Partnered post

The rock star Sting will not be leaving the bulk of his £180 million fortune to his kids, according to recent reports.

He is one of a growing number of celebrities who want to give their money to charitable foundations and good causes, while allowing their children the freedom and independence to earn their money themselves.

Controversial views

There are some families who would strongly disagree with Sting’s point of view, and appear to spoil their children to such an extent that the child grows up with an unrealistic feeling of self-entitlement. If a parent wants to spend their money on themselves, downsizing their home and looking for new homes for sale from McCarthy & Stone without consulting their children, they can do so without feeling guilty.

It’s all a matter of communication. Explain the motives behind your decision to your family and they are sure to understand and support you.

Wealth has its assets

If your child has been brought up with money, they will have had a good education and they’ll also have met many contacts and family friends who will be able to help them for the rest of their lives.

As Bill Gates said, “(they) will be given a good education to help them develop their own abilities and deter them from relying on their parents”.

Bill Gates is the world’s richest man. He will leave a massive $76 billion on his death and most of this will go on his charitable work, which is active in the fight against malaria, HIV and numerous other important projects.

Gates has said that he will leave the bulk of his money to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. When asked about his children, Gates responded that, “they need to have a sense that their own work is meaningful and important”.

Money can deter independence

A quick look at news features over the last few years will show many celebrities in trouble as a result of receiving funds too young in life or relying on a future trust fund to furnish their material desires.

It is as a result of these horror stories that Gates, Sting and other wealthy parents (including the Obamas) want ensure that their kids have the best of all opportunities but learn how to exploit these independently of financial contributions from parents.


Wasting talents

Many hard working parents want nothing more than to leave their children a comfortable nest egg for their futures. However, there is a difference between the average inheritance and the potential for self-destruction that the super rich might leave their children.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the author Theresa Lloyd said: “They don’t want to leave them so wealthy that they’ll be likely to waste their talents.”

If children have grown up in an altruistic wealthy family, they should be aware of the need to spend money wisely and continue with the family’s charitable ambitions long after their parent’s deaths. Now that’s a great inheritance!

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