Monday, 24 November 2014

Taming the Tiger Parent by Tanith Carey

The other Friday evening I drove 34 miles between the end of school and, eventually, gin o'clock. It was all on the account of my kids and their various activities. 

While unusual for me - I know lots of parents who cheerfully chauffeur their darlings round the county: football, dancing, Kumon, drama, swimming, athletics, chess, rugby, Scouts, Brownies, and so on. Two or three activities a night, rammed in between nutritious meals, neat homework and teeny, tiny portions of carefully supervised computer gaming. 

The thought of it has the potential to make me shrivel with inadequacy: Yet another way I'm failing my kids.

I'm so far from a Tiger Mother that I don't think I even register as a pussy cat. 

My Boys do a thing or two a week and only then if it's something they really want. Unlucky for Boy Three his thing is sitting in the car while we take his brothers to their things. For us it has been mostly Scouting with small side orders of swimming and football. And that's it. 

I don't stress about how well they're doing at school - but confess that moving from the village with the top-ranking private school to one with a fairly-well-ranking state school was as much so I could get away from the spotlight of competition as anything financial. 

I've never bought in to the idea that motherhood is all about feeling guilty - for goodness sake, it's tough enough without making up reasons to berate ourselves. Equally, I do believe that the greatest service we can do our children is to lead by example. And how can being exhaustingly, relentlessly, single-minded in our ambition for our offspring be a healthy act to follow?


So when Tanith Carey asked me to review her book Taming the Tiger Parent, I was delighted.

She calmly and sanely presents the case that by pushing our kids to achieve - even in the misguided belief it's for their own good - we are causing damage. Pushing them away, causing them anxiety and generally making everyone miserable. 

Instead, she explains, we must let our kids be free to be themselves, to be young and just to love them as they are. 

"The change starts with you, letting go bit by bit. We need to set aside our ideas of what our children are 'suposed to be' - and let them be what they are."

Well said, Ms Carey. 

And if  you haven't got it yet, I urge you to read her book instead of googling league tables, tutors and classes. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Mo and Roxy Razzaq: RBS – Finding Scotland’s Real Heroes 2014

When is a corner shop not a corner shop? When it’s an award-winning pillar of the community. 


Good neighbours: Not Kylie and Jason but Mo and Roxy, with their award. (Pic STV)

Last month, Scotland got to know Mo and Roxy Razzaq when they won the Community Champion category at the RBS: Finding Scotland’s Real Heroes awards. 

Of course, friends and customers of the Blantyre convenience store have long known all about the passion and power of the Razzaqs, who are always ready to go the extra mile. 

After Mo and Roxy had been nominated for the award, Carol Smillie paid them a visit. 
She discovered that Mo won’t think twice about delivering essential supplies to customers for free. 

He modestly shrugged and said he’s just “giving back” to the community that helped him. 

Neighbours are quick to talk about the numerous things Mo and Roxy do to help them, from setting up a football team to fundraising and teaching people to cook. 

But it wasn’t always like this. When the couple took over the shop it was heavily fortified, and the area was marred by violence. 

Mo explained: “We had an incident. A 14-year-old boy was stabbed at school. We gave him first aid – CPR – and kept him alive until the ambulance came, but he died on the way to hospital. 

“That was the moment. My wife and I sat down and said we need to do something.”

The couple threw themselves heart and soul into improving their community, and the first thing they did was set up Coatshill Boys Football Club. 

Then they started raising money for good causes, helping people in need and cleaning up the area. The transformation is remarkable. 

They’re even ahead of the rest of the country on plastic bag charges, using the few pence they make to raise funds for local causes.

Carol said: “This couple have turned the whole community around by their tireless energy and shining example. They really are good neighbours.”

Both Mo and Roxy are delighted and flattered by the award, and they hope it’ll form the foundation of further community work. 

Mo said: “Winning this award will give me much more confidence. I’ve got confidence with a business plan, but I feel much less sure with my charity work. 

“If I organise a fundraiser, I wonder if anyone will come. So much of it relies on everyone’s good will. 

“We couldn’t do 95 percent of what we do without everyone else. We help with fundraising. I think some people just don’t know how they can help. We show them.” 

It seems to me that Mo has hit the nail on the head when he says that people don’t know how to help… and he didn’t either at first. All he and Roxy did was to start taking action that they thought might make a difference. And it did. 

So they started doing a bit more and a bit more until they had transformed their community and become leaders. Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of their book and have a go at something that just might make a change. 

Congratulations to Mo and Roxy and best wishes for all their projects now and in the future – well-deserved winners.  

Maw’s Mafia: RBS – Finding Scotland’s Real Heroes

Marvellous mothers: Maw's Mafia with Bill Paterson after receiving their award (Pic: STV)
“Take care.” How often to people carelessly say it by way of goodbye? And it’s always struck me as totally unnecessary because who doesn’t take care of themselves, avoiding runaway buses, war-torn nations or tightrope walking?

“Give care.” Now, that’s a totally different proposition. That’s when you do something because it’s what’s needed. And it’s just a bit special. 

Not long ago I was asked to be the blogging ambassador for the RBS – Finding Scotland’s Real Heroes awards. It was a huge honour, and I was delighted to accept. 

I was chosen to represent the Carer of the Year category. I expected to be inspired by what I saw and heard. However I wasn’t prepared for just how impressed I’d be. 

The winner was Maw’s Mafia – four women who set up a club, called the EK Hangout, for young adults with learning difficulties. 

The maws in question are Elma Ross, Lynn Morrison, Lesley McGinley and Connie Smillie all of whom have sons who attend the East Kilbride club which now has around 40 members.

Elma’s son Lewis has severe autism and was upset when he learned that at 19, he’d be too old to attend the youth group he loved. 

So Elma got in touch with the other women, who had sons in a similar situation, and soon the EK Hangout began to take shape as a club for young people to make friends and have fun with people of their own age. 

She said: “We started with six to eight young people, now we have 40 and a waiting list. There’s a massive need for this. 

“Everybody’s living the same life, so it’s been good for the parents. This award has been an amazing experience to meet such lovely people.”

The women explained that they began by just setting up something that would benefit their children. However, quickly they realised that they weren’t the only ones to struggle with the gap that appears when young people outgrow services set up for children. 

“It’s about parent power,” Elma added. “Every town needs this and we’ll be happy to help.”

Connie said; “We are over the moon about the EK Hangout winning this award, it's fantastic to get recognition. I think every town in Scotland should have a Hangout club."

The EK Hangout happens every Monday evening at Calderglen High School. Activities include fitball and the ever-popular Scalextric. 

Elma explained: “At The EK Hangout we include everyone and try to create as many opportunities for our members as possible. This is their club, and that’s what makes us unique.”

Lesley, whose son Jason is autistic, added: “Jason has thrived at The EK Hangout taking part in every activity each week. His confidence has soared, and his social skills have exceeded all my expectations. It’s the highlight of his week.”

One of the youngsters in the group was 25-year-old crash victim Stephanie Kelly. Stephanie was struggling with isolation but joining the EK Hangout changed her life, and now she looks forward to the sessions where she gets to spend time with her friends.

As a thank-you her aunt Alison Gilmour nominated the group for the RBS: Finding Scotland’s Real Hero Award. 

When they were nominated, Elma said: “We feel we’re winners already, but this kind of recognition is just incredible.”

Elma, Lynn, Lesley and Connie were presented with their award by Comfort and Joy actor Bill Paterson. Bill said: “There’s this invisible army of people caring for others who do it out of love… who care for others in their community.”

And that’s exactly what the Maws did. They started something up because it’s what their children needed, but it quickly grew into a life-line for many local youngsters and their parents. 

After the receiving the award, the Maws said: “Thank you so so much to every single person who took the time to vote for us. The whole experience has been amazing not only for us but all our club members.

“Seeing all those happy faces on film is something we will treasure forever. A huge thank you to all our wonderful members and extremely supportive parents for helping us make the club a success.

“It truly is a fun, happy place to be each week, thanks for all your support again; everyone is totally buzzing.”

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Poppy Appeal


Every single fragile flower represents a person plucked from their lives. 
And each flower's loss is anguish, heartbreak and grief - wounds you couldn't see. 
That generation endured their pain, they could never forget. 

On my way to see the Poppies at the Tower of London, I overheard a conversation. 

"F***ing poppies," the speaker was a teenage girl, all dressed up.

"Yeah," said her friend.

"I know it's about them that died, but really. Look."

"Yeah," said her friend as the queued to leave the station.

"F***ing people. F***ing poppies."

One day, they'll get it. Once their own hearts have ached for love and vulnerability. 

But for now it's fine. Our young people for the most part have no idea what growing up in a world defined by absences might look like. And that's as it should be. 

"Why do we remember?" My son asked last week. 

"So it doesn't happen again," I told him, without really thinking about it. 

"But how?"

Good question, my lad.

For me it's about the small things that might make the world a fairer, safer and more compassionate place. I'm reminded by the sea of red petals building a huge memorial that little acts of conscience can help to create a force for good.

The answer then is that I'm remembering the fallen and reminding myself to do a little bit of good if I can and how it might make a difference.


 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Caledonian Sleeper: on track for a treat

It's not the dinky pack of essentials - a pen, socks, ear plugs and body lotion, since you ask. And it's not the deserted lounge car where you just know so many personal dramas have played. Nor is it the strangeness of being in your pyjamas in the heart of a busy station in a bustling city.



 

No. The magic of the sleeper happens when you go through the barrier from the neon lit, pigeon splattered concourse of Big Macs, Body Shops and drunks.

Down the chilly platform to where the train doors are open and there's someone waiting for you with a clipboard. "This way madam."

Like Harry Potter, you're in a place where the rules are different. 



 

The spell dissolves in reverse when you get there too. The special hush of the Sleeper platform gives way to crowds and Tannoys and ordinary, everyday life.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Pulling together to move forward with transparency...

And other equally irritating phrases.

I was directed, yesterday, to John Rentoul's round up of banned expressions. A splendid celebration of the cliche, the slackardly sayings and the downright nasty newspeak - the kind of phrases that induce indigestion.

His streaming heap includes "scalable", "baby steps" and "scientifically proven".

To his linguistic gravy lumps I'd like to suggest some additions. These are words and phrases the have irked me to the point of twitching, wincing and muttering swear words.

Iteration. What's wrong with version, update, repetition?

Reaching out. As in "thanks for reaching out with that offer that I am not the slightest bit interested in" - frankly I'd rather be told "bugger off, I don't care".

Viral. To refer to a successful marketing campaign rather than a kind of infection. I hope for treatment soon.

Hashtag. Spoken aloud for emphasis and comic effect. It's rubbish, we might as well say all punctuation exclamation mark. It took over after the dot com bubble burst.

So-so so. I'm so so so fed up with this one.

Pulling together. Not, in fact, what a tug o' war team does, but what people who work in offices do.

Methinks. And other mock olde worlde nonsense uttered by the kind of adults who play Minecraft.

Deliver. When done by anyone other than a midwife or postie.

 

(Thanks to Mike Ritchie for the Rentoul link)

 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Batman: the hamster returns

The last thing, on the way to bed. I quietly push the door open and slide into the gloomy bedroom. After a moment my eyes adjust and I find the little one curled up snoozing soundly.
It's only when I sigh and melt into my own bed that I realise I sneaked right past my dreaming children to check on the hamster.
The hamster - named Batman for reasons best known to Boy Two - has been in residence for a day and a half so far. Already I've experienced levels of anxiety far higher than I remember when the brand new Boys had been home 36 hours.
It's so flipping small and fragile - how can we possibly keep it alive?
We already had a heart-stopping few moments when Batman revealed s/he wasn't on the same page as us on the issue of calmly returning to the cage.
What if it's too cold? Does it like grapes? Is that bedding comfy enough? Blimey.
Sure we'll all get the hang of it soon. Fingers crossed.

Here's what all the fuss is about.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

The real horrors of Hallowe'en

Did you see any undead spirits around last night? No. Not even a timid spectre, a dribble of ectoplasm or a poltergeist's bump. That's either because you weren't paying attention or because they simply don't exist. 

Either way, you probably did see lots of small slightly bewildered children urged to ask strangers for sweets and slightly bigger children hunting in packs for bags of high calorie loot. If you stayed in how many times did you hear about the ghost that didn't have a body to go to the party with? 

All part of the fun though... Maybe. 

For me the Hallowe'en horrors lay elsewhere. 

The smell of pumpkin that's peaked too soon. Honestly revolting - like the grave. It's often a consequence of setting aside the previous weekend for a creative carving and family bonding time only to find your creation can't survive a mild week in October. 

What the sweetie glut drives grown women to (well this one anyway). Either it's the frantic but covert hunt through the kids' spoils for chocolate, or the shameful scoffing of low-rent candies until you feel sick, just because. 

Nutritional nightmares. Your children dash in loaded down with load and proceed to carefully remove all remotely healthy items such as apples and monkey nuts. Sigh.

Pumpkin envy. How (in the olden days, or the 1970s depending on how you look at it) we really did have to take what felt like weeks howking enough out of a turnip to make it into a lantern. And how now we have to tell our kids about it every year. And how they have to roll their eyes. 

That costume makers think witches only want to look slutty. Applying enough self-knowledge about limited crafty creativity, I head to the shops for costumes. On the way I mutter "it doesn't make me a bad mother, it doesn't make me a bad mother" and ponder the pros and cons of actual witchcraft. If you're female and old enough to do joined up writing the costume choice shifts from the slightly revolting cutesy variety to utterly nauseating tartiness. (By the way, asking for a friend, how would you go about learning to cast spells?)

The festering sense of inadequacy. All the magazines, Pinterest, day-time telly and posters in the shops are full of instructions for tasty foodstuffs fashioned into the shape of eyeballs or resembling severed fingers. Then there are lots of 'inspiring' ideas for decorating your home, turning your pumpkin into a work of art that you can then eat. Inspired I am, but only to chuck the magazine in the bin and return as usual to my Hallowe'en plan of a few plastic spiders, some pumpkins with holes in them and bucket-loads of the nastiest sweeties I can find. 

Happy Hallowe'en everyone. Spook to you soon, meantime here's three fifth of my horrible family. 



Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Poetry is not the most important thing in life... I'd much rather lie in a hot bath reading Agatha Christie and sucking sweets

It's quiet and I've sneaked off to write a blog post. You know how inspiration is as easy to catch as the reason you went up stairs in the first place, and just as frustrating. 

But I'm happy. All week I've had a hankering to listen to some Richard Burton doing some Dylan Thomas. The radio keeps offering me silky snippets: "To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black." 

Then it clunks back to Today or something else decidedly un-silky. However, I've found all of Under Milk Wood on Spotify. Hours and hours of lug-lapping loveliness. Try it. Impossible to listen without a great grin sneaking onto your face. 

"The only sea I saw was the seesaw sea with you riding on it. Lie down, lie easy. Let me shipwreck in your thighs."

And Miss Price's dream lover "tall as the town clock tower, Samson syrup-gold-maned, whacking thighed and piping hot, thunderbolt-bass'd and barnacle-breasted". 

So I've given up on the other thing I was trying to write while Thomas fills my head. 



Instead, I thought "stuff it, I'll do a Dylan Thomas post". (can't you see the poetry in my soul? kindred, I tell you).

The Panther of News would call first dibs on Thomas as muse anyway, what with him being something of a frustrated bard. In fact, he is hot-foot from an trip to the real Llareggub during which he cut about the bars of Laugharne almost sporting a spotted bow tie and celebrating the best excuse he's had in a long time for a night of beer and melancholy.

Thomas was born a little over 100 years ago which accounts for why the radio has been awash with tempting titbits and why you're getting this post. 

I wonder what he would have written if he hadn't died at 39 after decades during which he applied himself to drinking and destructive relationships as much as he did to poetry.

"An alcoholic is someone you don't like, who drinks as much as you do," he said.

Though it's much easier to like a long-dead alcoholic, than I imagine it would have been to live with one. What is it with creative types and booze? Perhaps it's true that a talent so strong wears out its vessel. The muse doesn't stalk the corridors or power or the supermarkets of the middle classes much. Content doesn't rage, rage against very much, except maybe cold callers and dog poo. 

"When one burns one's bridges, what a very nice fire it makes."

Time passes....

More time...

I find this quote: "Someone's boring me. I think it's me."

Right.

I'm still here. Instead of thinking up something clever myself or coming round to an intelligent conclusion I thought I'd just put one of his poems here. After all, I couldn't even work out how to make a Bugger All backwards joke work. 

So here...
Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.




Sunday, 26 October 2014

Review: Ozeri Green Earth Pan 20cm



Pans. Not anywhere near as interesting as the fried egg or sauted mushrooms they contain. Fact. 

However, I got sent an Ozeri Green Earth pan to review and review it I will. 

The blurb

This pan is coated with Greblon (which, admittedly, sounds made up), but it's actually a ceramic coating that is non-stick but also non-toxic. It also has a honeycomb construction that is designed to distribute heat evenly. And it's German. 


Pros

A good solid pan.
Things cook well in it - no hot spots or sticky bits. 
It won't emit toxins when it overheats. 
I've machine washed mine several times and it appears good as new

Cons

(Minor one) you need to prime the pan with oil before you break any eggs.
You may need to clean it later with lemon juice (I've been using mine for a month and haven't yet)

Summary

It's a good pan. It does what it says on the box - very efficiently. 

If you worry about the things you can't see, such as nasties that leech out of plastics and cause damage then this is the pan for you. 

The Green Earth Pan currently costs £19.99 on Amazon. 

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