Monday, 30 May 2011

How my forgetfulness turned my sons into Munro baggers

This year Super Sister and I put Walking Thursdays in our diaries. So about once a month we sneak away from our children, other halves and worlds of enterprise to yomp up a hill. 

Occasionally others - as well as Pinto the Dog - join us. Mum and Stepmother J had a walk at the Whangie on what would have been my brother's 40th birthday.

This time, Stepmother J, a seasoned hillwalker, was en route to Glencoe and would like to finally get to the top of Ben Lomond - we were driven back by nasty weather the last time we tried.

I had done the juggling, boys at school and nursery with an early start from Rowardennan should have me hurtling home at the same time as the school bus. 

Then on Wednesday the Boys clattered in, flung their bags down and announced that was "them". 

"What do you mean?"

"D'oh. We're off now, it's half term, can I have some Coke?" they replied as they slumped on the sofa. 

Woah. I double checked, they really were.


"Guess what boys we're going up a hill tomorrow. Get your boots out and let's see how they fit."

Within an hour both Super Sister and Stepmother J had called to say: "Are you sure? Shouldn't we do an easier walk? We could do it another day."

"Of course," I crossed my fingers. "We used to do it when we were that age, didn't we?"

So off we set on Thursday armed with spare footwear for one, cake, jelly babies, wine gums and Tang-fastics. And it wasn't raining. 

"Which one are we going up?"

"That one over there in the mist."

"No! That's miles away."

"Not really. It looks further than it is," fingers crossed again. 

And within a few hundred yards the whinging had begun. I was just giving serious thought to packing it in and spending the day throwing stones in the Loch while SS and SJ climbed the hill, when the whinger powered off into the distance. 

We got to the top in thick cloud and wind, but we got there. And it didn't rain. 

Boy Two reckoned he was drunk on wine gums and Boy Two seemed a little disappointed with the consistency of the inside of clouds. We played lots of alphabet games - clergy's pets, countries, food, animals, cities and movies. X and Q are always troublesome.

And I was incredibly proud of my two hill-walking Munro-bagging boys... Which one shall we do next?

Friday, 27 May 2011

Feminist Friday: boys will be children and so will girls

Girls and boys go out to play
When Boy One was born I had lots of notions about parenting. He would eat the same food as me, I'd discuss things reasonably instead of dictating and there would be no gender stereotyping.

Eleven years on, I realise how naive that was and how complex the area of sex and gender is. I only have sons, therefore, I can't compare boys and girls, however here is what I've learnt.

While the sexes aren't as far apart as Mars and Venus, to coin a phrase, boys will be boys. They will run, kick, punch and shout. They will be fascinated by machines, tools and vehicles. They will fight and, probably, shoot each other with pretend guns... even if they have to bake them out of cake mixture.

That's not to say that girls won't do all of these things, but I just haven't seen so many of them do it.

So it seems that possession of a penis will coincide with a tendency towards snips and snails and puppy dog tails and there's not a heck of a lot we can do about it.

However, among the cars, Lego and bows and arrows two of the most enduring toys my sons have played with are a pram, into which the favourite teddy is strapped, and a dolls house, but wood mind you not pink. They bake, do housework (badly), cry, cuddle, sing, dance and, in some cases, care what they wear.

Just the other day when I dropped Boy Three off with the child minder, she asked if I mind if he dressed up with her female charges. Sparkles and wings were the order of the day. Why would I mind? Boy Three is partial to a sequin. But some parents do. I remember a friend recounting her husband's fury on finding his small son running about in a tutu. This is both sexist and homophobic and stupid and has nothing to do with a sensible discussion on gender.

Elsewhere I've found frustration in what business think our boy and girl children want. Publishers, for example, think boys are only interested in reading about farts and football whereas girls want friendship and frocks. And don't get me started on the Tiger Who Came To Tea. Boy clothes will be in shades of blue and sludge whereas girls will have an array of pinks and glitter to wear.

There isn't a neat conclusion to this one: boys and girls differ and should be allowed to do so; boys and girls should be free to choose books, clothes, games and activities. I suspect the best thing we can do, is teach them to respect and responsibility whether they want a pink toothbrush or a blue one. It's not easy, but I'm trying.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tunisia: things I learned there

A life of interesting times is, apparently, a curse. Chinese probably. I suppose if things are interesting all the time, they might become a little wearing. However, I just spent an interesting couple of days in Tunisia and it was fascinating. Anymore, though might have become somewhat trying. I met some marvellous people and I learned a great deal.

Here's just a taste of what I learned. 

Nations south of the Mediterranean will be unlikely to have a bad weather contingency. So when it pours in a very un-North African kind of way, no one will know what to do. Consequently, there will be an attempt to press on no matter how soggy and impractical the whole exercise has become. 

The sun awning at the dolphin pool of Friguia Zoo does not keep out the rain. See above. 

In some regards Brits will press on regardless too. It doesn't matter that it's just stopped pouring and it's, frankly, rather parky, some British people will strip off regardless because they are south of the Mediterranean.

Big hotel rooms are not always a bonus. Especially when you forget your phone, your glasses, your book, the TV remote and your glass of water one at a time.

Maria Carey was the last person to stay in the biggest hotel suite in the world. (I didn't guarantee interesting)

Revolution reduces road rage. Tunisian drivers - once impatient and horn-honking - are not serene and smiley.

Gerald Kaufman has a fine collection of flamboyant shirts. The MP also needs to eat regularly to avoid becoming grumpy and avoids sugar (apart from ice cream). 

Sidi Bou Said really is as lovely as it seems in the pictures. The winding alleys and blue arches are picture postcard perfect... and currently empty of tourists.

Our honorary consuls are a force to be reckoned with. Old-school manners coupled with enthusiasm and passion for their guest nation, they are a splendid institution... and can cut a dash on the dance floor.

The return to stability is a long road, but one lined with jasmine. The Arab Spring first sprung in Tunisia in January, but the glow of success is still on the nation. It seems the knowledge they are free is like suddenly remembering at lunchtime that it's your birthday and there are treats in store. 

Politicians like the sport of a good row. John Taylor, Lord Kilclooney seems especially keen on some amiable shit-stirring over a long lunch. 

Brazilian bottom lifts are the very thing this year, for men and women. Linda Briggs - pioneer of the cosmetic surgery tourism - said so, and she'd know. Warm and attractive, she's a walking advert for the benefits of face lifts and "buckets of botox". "Anything is possible," she says.

Sometimes people conform beautifully to expectation. For example Denis MacShane was elusive and the archaeologist from the British Museum hirsute and passionate. 

Royals are not the same as commoners. Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia has a regal and interesting way of making her presence felt.

An airline of a nation desperate to win back tourist confidence especially one launching new fights should try very, very hard. There shouldn't be grubby planes, late take-offs, departure delays, surly staff, confusion or bewilderment. It's true striking caterers may be unfortunate, but surely there is a tastier emergency meal than a chicken sandwich sadly deficient in chicken. 

It's possible to make a living as a trick golfer. Makes you wonder what else there could be a trick version of. Trick postie, trick dentist or trick checkout person?

Empty resorts are melancholy. Think Largs in November... Tunisian medinas, hotels and restaurants are empty, yet the people haven't given up. Every day they turn out, smiling and cajoling, waiting for the tourists. I hope visitors return before they give up. 

If you put people on buses for long periods, they will grumble. And if you expect 100 people to turn up on time, you will be disappointed. Plus they will get later and later at each rendezvous.

You can make a theme park of just about anything. Carthageland has huge plastic elephants, log flumes, trains and lots of other rides. 

Libyan tourists spend far, far more than British ones. Millions of them used to head for Tunisian resorts for their jollies, ready to spend, spend, spend. They don't now. Instead refugees continue to stream over the boarder. There is a little nervousness about how it'll all end.

I visited Tunisia on a press trip organised by the Tunisian National Tourist Office.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tips for Edinburgh Moonwalk and a mystery gift

The Moonwalk is looming and I'm beginning to realise I haven't done enough walking - not really shocking news, but anyway...

Instead of going for a walk, I wrote some top tips for the blog of my friend Fionaoutdoors.

The observant, or slightly stalkery, might have noticed I've been pretty quiet for a few days. I was on a press trip to Tunisia that I'm nearly bursting to blog about, that's tonight's work, however, perhaps someone could shed light on what this thing is. It was a gift from the Tunisian Tourist Board. The black bits are quite strongly scented, like incence only nicer.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Am I a feminist?

Millie Tant from Viz - not my kind of feminist
This week I was asked when I knew I was a feminist. That remarkably good question was posed by Transatlantic Blonde. She has hosted a regular Feminist Friday slot at her blog.

She got me thinking: Am I a feminist? 

Well, it makes me furious that men get paid more than women for doing the same job. I rage that women get become insignificant at work once their work-life juggles become conspicuous. I think it's just crap that some girls aspire to be only someone's wife. (I'm not saying that being a good wife/mother/homemaker isn't important and sometimes difficult, but it's hardly splitting the atom. In my book, kids should start off with the loftiest goals and work down.) It also makes me cross that some men really, really, deep down don't think women are their equals - it's almost impossible to prove (and why should we) but you just know.

So, yeah, I am a feminist, just probably not a very good one.
For a few years, I worked on the Daily Star. Proper feminists wouldn't do that. The paper features pictures of women with no shirts on because men like to look at breasts. That's true, but I also believe it's one of the most honest newspapers of the lot. It promises nothing more than an entertaining 15-minute read during one's lunch break.

I gave up the battle to have it all. It was just too exhausting so now I work from home and my husband has the Big job.

I quite liked being wolf whistled (note, past tense as I'm over 40) but then, when I was bigger of bosom, men passing comment about my chest (they always said it was a complement) made me shrivel inside. That confused me.

While no women is to blame for being raped or otherwise assaulted, I do think it's important to take responsibility for your own safety in general. I mean you wouldn't leave your purse stuffed full of £50 notes, lying open and abandoned in a public place, would you? (UPDATE: I realise I've been as clear as mud here. Rape is rape and women should be free to dress exactly as they like. In any case, it makes no odds as rape is about power not 'sexiness'. My point, without wanting to open a can or worms, is that it's important neither to become unnecessarily vulnerable nor to live in fear. Neither will help.)

I like the trappings of being a girl, even if I'm not always the most accomplished with them. I like lacy bras, hairless legs and armpits, and high heels.

My biggest failing, though, is that I've never done anything to help other women. I'm just not sure I'm awfully good at 'sisterhood'. (Except, hopefully with my real sister)

But to answer Transatlantic Blonde's question: when did I realise I was a feminist? My first answer to her was that it was when men spoke to my tits not my face, but it wasn't then - that just astonished and amused me.

It was when I read The Women's Room by Marilyn French.

It tells the story of Mira Ward's life as she meets various women who are variously screwed over by various men. She, herself, is dumped by her husband who was almost certainly cheating on her. Not to worry, her kids have left home so she picks herself up and goes off to university and enjoys a personal renaissance. Then, though, she meets a man - a younger, hotter, more modern guy - and they set about having a blisteringly sexy relationship. All's well until she realises he wants her to go to Africa with him, giving up everything she's worked for, in order to be the mother of his children.

This was the point for me, to answer the question. I wept for Mira. She loved her man, but he wants kids and kids would mean her giving up everything else she wants.

That's the sticking point - you can't properly fly high when you've got kids. Or you can but the effort will nearly kill you. And the other way round, you can't give your kids what they need at the same time as giving yourself what you need. It's just impossible.

So what's to do? Lord knows. But more men who do more at home and with their kids would be a start. How about childcare that is affordable and guilt free? Let's chuck out the idea that work should happen from 9 to 5.

And perhaps the biggest thing? I know I said I'm a rubbish feminist, but I'm not half so bad as many women. Girls, if you really want equality then take action. Stop dissing your man's efforts at childcare and domesticity. Never, ever, tut, roll your eyes and say "men", they are not overgrown children with no emotional maturity. Pay your way. Don't let him get away with suggestions that you are in any way inferior to him - the only thing he can do, you can't is pee standing up. Oh, and, if you can manage all of this while looking sexy and not loosing your sense of humour, that'd be great.

Having thought about it over night I'd like to add two points.
I don't shave my armpits because I like it, I do it to conform.
The other thing 'They' should do to improve matters is force everyone (particularly male people) to read The Women's Room.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

High School - the smell of fear or just old baking?

Yesterday I opened Facebook to find a picture of my 11-year-old (or thereabouts) self peering out at me. In a blink, I was there in a slightly-too-big blazer, knee socks and a stiff navy skirt (although you can’t see them in the photos). I’m with my housemates Fiona, Suzie and Carolyn. Where are you all girls? We’re on our way to join the dining hall queue.

I’m only slightly older in that picture than Boy One is now, and he’s getting ready for high school – my baby a tiny fish in a huge pond again. 

But that wasn’t the only school based blast from the past on a wet Monday. As part of his preparation for the move, Boy One got a tour of Gryffe High School, Boy Two and I got to tag along too with him and the wonderful Mrs D from the Columba Unit at St Benedict’s.

The Columba Unit has an outreach support team for the area’s autistic spectrum kids. They have decided that the best use of some of their resources is to offer inreach (I’ll forgive the use of this horrible word in this case) to the kids who most need help in getting their heads round high school. So Boy One has been going one morning a week for the past two years. 

So there we were, maps in hand, navigating the corridors like extras in the unlikely to ever be made Harry Potter goes to a Modern School and Comes Away Pleasantly Surprised. Then whoosh it hit our noses – the whiff of baking mixed with cleaning products and children’s schoolbags. Mrs D and I laughed domestic science rooms still smell exactly the way they always did. 

Back in the early 80s, the only thing I ever remember making in Mrs Weir’s class was something peculiar with mince. I believe it was flavoured with Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup. Funnily enough, I’ve never had the urge to mix the two since. But the smell in the room was identical.

Science labs too still have that gassy, metallic odour you can almost taste. And they still use Bunsen burners apparently. Changing rooms pong of socks, sweat and that rubbery stuff that comes of crash mats.

The Panther of News asked: “Do they still smell of fear?”
Did they ever? Not mine, I don’t think. 

I came away impressed by a sense of busyness, lots going on, equipment well used and a place where there’s a job to be done. I think Boy One will survive there and learn something. He might even enjoy it. 

And my school days, through the telescope of time, they weren’t so bad, but, then again, I’m very, very glad it’s not me starting high school this year.

Thanks to Gillian M-H for the photo and the trip down memory lane.

Monday, 16 May 2011

These are a few of my favourite things

King's Theatre Glasgow
So it was The Sound of music on Saturday. The big Boys and I up in the Gods because I'd left it too late to get nearer seats. After a while the weird stuff my new varifocals were doing and the rustling and banging of the matinee cheap seats didn't matter, we were drawn in.

I suppose if you were a theatre critic you could probably find things wrong with the production, but I'm not, so I won't. Jason Donovan, sigh, as Captain von Trapp was perhaps a little on the wooden side, but it didn't matter - you wood, woodn't you? (Sorry).

We were Climbing Ev'ry Mountain, Do-Re-Me-ing, and having Confidence.
Ah. And our Favourite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

I thought perhaps it might be mildly diverting to list my favourite things. For the purposes of this exercise I'm taking my darling family and our lovely home as a given.

Lattes at stations and clean sheets on my bed,
Songs from the musicals stuck in my head,
Friends sending emails that make inbox pings, 
These are a few of my favourite things

Comments on blog posts and grown men with poodles
Good books and 'tec shows and stir fry with noodles
Through airplane windows a view of the wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Eating spaghetti with bolognaise splashes
 Catching the moment when my camera flashes

Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things

When the bills come
When the boys fight
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Do stop whingeing - it really doesn't help

Hi, it's Perpetual Pollyanna here again banging my tiny little drum on the subject of positive thinking.

The week began with Boy One taking the huge leap of joining his primary seven classmates at the outdoor centre at Ardentinny.  Exhaustive preparations ended with me dropping off a pale and over-excited 11-year-old off at school with his meticulously packed (and repeatedly re-packed) bag.

All week I worried about him - tried not to, because I know it's a waste of energy, but nevertheless....

But by about Wednesday, I realised that something else was going on. The remaining household was unexpectedly peaceful and harmonious. Requests were responded to first time and shouting levels were unusually low. Perhaps it was simply that Boy Two didn't have anyone to fight with. Or possibly it was because we didn't have an Aspie in the house. Am I alone in observing that people with Asperger's Syndrome don't have what you'd call an up-beat view of life? I hadn't realised just how wearing that is on a daily basis.

Then I caught Desert Island Discs on the radio. The colourful Molly Parkin chose Bette Middler and Bing Crosby's version of Accentuate the Positive.

I can't imagine how I'd missed this but it's now firmly on my newly imagined playlist of positivity.

Now, while I don't generally like to encourage the Daily Mail, I was struck by an article that I currently can't find wherein a woman decides not to complain for a while week. Her family think she's been replaced by aliens and she is deafened by her internal whingebag. In the end she concludes that while complaining is pointless she really quite enjoys it.. a hobby if you will.

Yesterday, Boy One came home with a bag full of sodden clothes and a smile on his face. "It wasn't good, it was great."
He also says he's got a taste for steak pie, arctic roll and lemon drizzle cake. I felt myself relaxing - I had been braced for a disaster.

It's lovely to have a full nest again, but some tension levels are increasing already. We've had a series of moans about broken toys, missed TV shows, perceived misdemeanours and threatened - but unlikely - dangers. There have been jostles and squabbles and it's far, far noisier. Business as usual then.

Then, today, I came across a blog post that puts the whole thing into perspective. Derek K Millar died of cancer and his last post was published by his grieving family. He begins "Here it is, I am dead... "

I'll leave you with his words:

"The world, indeed the whole universe, is a beautiful, astonishing, wondrous place. There is always more to find out. I don't look back and regret anything, and I hope my family can find a way to do the same."


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Crimes against my children

Boy One escapes his evil mother
I stand accused of crimes against my children. The most recent of which was earlier this week and I fear I'm guilty.

Boy One isn't at home this week. He's at an outdoor pursuit centre with his classmates. I hope he's having a ball. He's supposed to be climbing, canoeing, orienteering, cliff walking or otherwise getting wet. I really hope, it's going well for him. A good week like this and he'll cherish it for the rest of his life.

It didn't start well, though. We were at school, the Boy and I and his huge suitcase (six pairs of tracksuit bottoms, if you please). His nerves started to give way to excitement and he joined his friends. I spied another mum I wanted to speak to. So, I went over to let him know where I'd be while we waited for the bus and the Big Wave Off.

I called him his pet name.

Oh no. The moment I'd uttered it I knew. His friends - nice fellows all - had barely noticed, but my Boy had gone red and curled up like a slug with salt on it. His hands were covering his blushing cheeks. "How could you mum?" I so wish I could take it back.

It's not my first crime, nor, likely my last, just the most recent. Clearly, I've sent the boys to school in uniform on come as you please days, failed totally to bake anything when I was supposed to, not given them money when I was supposed to, forgotten about early pick-ups and left them sitting on the doorstep and a host of other dreadful deeds. But Monday's mistake will take quite a lot of popcorn in front of the telly time to redeem myself.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Things I learned from my de-cluttering homework

Isn't that nice?
Nadine at Jugglemum has me under her charge this next few weeks. I was lucky enough to be picked to be her case study for her Cybermummy2011 session about striking a blog-life balance.

I don't think she was terribly impressed by my first attempt to do as I was told. At first she asked me to make a note of my work, blogging, chaos and thoughts thereof. I was supposed to do something every day and
An improved view from my desk

Boy Three helps me tidy up
 write it down. Instead, I wrote a jumbled and garbled email at the very last minute of the last day. But the subtext was clear - Nadine, save me. I'm drowning in stuff and there's never enough time to do all the things I have to and some of the things I want to.

Her next lot of homework I'm pleased to say I'm halfway through. She told me to declutter my desk. It was full of potentially-organised baskets of stuff and quite a few heaps, piles and some mountains. Ta-da I did it this morning and here's what I learned.

Specs must lose their shells like snakes lose their skins. I found three empty glasses cases... four if you count the one that held the pair I was wearing.

Just some of the stuff - includes three tubes of glue
Wishful thinking drives purchases. I found several calming and soothing unguents and lotions, some remedy drops, a scented candle and some nasty smelling organic oil. I suppose eventually I might find the magical product that affords me calm, serenity and order, but in the meantime I find that gin ensures I don't care.

You can have enough staples. Three boxes full and I can't remember the last time I had occasion to staple anything,

Who makes a mess like this?
Half-finished notebooks are an issue. To date, my notebook pile contains 14. Oh and while I'm there, it's time to get my head round the fact I can no longer read my own shorthand... Hello Dictophone.

How it looked before I started
Nadine was right after all. She told me not to keep all those just-in-case things that fill my life. I was thinking that maybe she wasn't so smart after all when I used an empty fancy tea tin to store all those staples. Or at least, I did think that until the ever helpful Boy Three decided to investigate and scattered staples far and wide. Nadine was right and the whole lot went in the bin apart from one small box of staples.

De-cluttering is viral. One small session of desk tidying and I was hooked. I went through my pending underwear collection and got rid of all the bras that - thanks to something permanent Boy Three did to my rib-cage - I will never be comfortable in again. Goodbye dainty, lacy things.

I'm allowed to accept I will never file things. Yes, I am. I'm 43 and I don't file. I'm going to go through my to-be-filed-at-some-fantasy-future-date box, take out important things and put the rest in a box with the date on it. Hurrah, thanks N.

And for my next homework trick, the end of the Skype shame.... tune in next time.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Meccano: the nuts and bolts of a solution

Brace yourselves for a bad joke.
I've always said my sons were really creative. They can make a mess with anything. Told you so. 
But they do have their construction moments. Lego has long been the medium of choice, although toe jam and ear wax sometimes suffice. Consequently we have flipping tonnes of it in the house. I've tried to steer this spirit of invention in other directions. And, for a while Airfix was king. But that has it's drawbacks. There's glue and paint and minuscule plastic bits that seem to have a life of their own.
Then the kind people at Meccano sent us some of their Space Chaos range to have a go at. At first I thought they wouldn't be captivating enough, but they can be dismantled and turned into a different kind of interstellar fighting vehicle. The boys love them and so do I - the bits don't hurt half as much as Lego when you stand on them.

Disclosure: we were sent Meccano Space Chaos sets to try.

If you’re happy and you know it answer any of the four questions that rate how you feel about yesterday

It was raining in Glasgow and it seemed to me that motorists were deliberately hitting those oily puddles as people walked past. They wouldn’t be trying to soak a passer-by, would they?
For once I didn’t get a splashing. And I arrived on time at the Marriot Hotel where the British Psychological Society was holding its annual conference. So I was feeling pretty happy, dry and not rushing.
I had been invited to attend a hot topic session on measuring national well-being. Where Stephen Hicks, assistant director of the Office of National Statistics, and Peter Kinderman, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool, were speaking.
Last year David Cameron announced that he was going to measure our well-being and launch a Happiness Index, if you will.
He said: “Now, of course we’ve already got some very strong instincts – even prejudices, sometimes – about what will improve people’s lives, and we act on those instincts. We have got an instinct that people who feel in control of their own destiny feel more fulfilled…We have an instinct that having the purpose of a job is as important to the soul as it is to the bank balance…Our instinct that most people have a real yearning to belong to something bigger than themselves”

What he wants to do is see if his instinct is right and to what extent.
Predictably some of the papers had fun with this. The Mirror, for example, “proved” that a chip buttie was all that was needed and the Treasury could therefore save millions on its survey.
Clearly it’s not as simple as that, far from it. Stephen Hicks explained the very reasonableness off it:
  • It’s important for policymakers to know what matters to people
  • “There’s more to life than GDP” – personal income is no longer sufficient a measure of things.
  • It seems well-being is roughly based on economy, environment and quality of life – two of which you can measure with a piece of string.
  • Lots of important bodies in many areas agree it would be useful to be able to quantify quality of life.·    The factors that form part of the equation are reasonably predictable: age, employment, health, education, crime etc. Interestingly the number of single parent families is included and I’m not sure what I make of that.
His measurements are still a work in progress, but it seems he’s going to ask 200,000 people the following questions:
  • How satisfied are you?
  • How happy did you feel yesterday?
  • How anxious did you feel yesterday?
  • How much purpose does your life have?
He was at pains to explain that his department wants to get the process right and produce results that mean something and are actually useful. A sentiment you can’t really argue with.
Professor Kinderman took the floor and confessed that he couldn’t find serious argument with the intent or execution of the survey. And he seemed like a man who is generally fairly effective in finding argument, kicking off, as he did, with a dig about how the killing of Obama bin Laden can’t be seen to replace due process of the law.
Anyhow, it’s worth pointing out that Professor K devised the BBC well-being scale so knows what he’s about.
He made a few points about what can make an individual feel happy other than, as he said, large amounts of cocaine. They are:
  • Having enough money to to meet your needs. And this, interestingly, is around twice the national income.
  • Living in an equal society.
  • Knowing your children have a secure future.
  • Your relationships – and not just with your significant other.
  • A sense of purpose or meaning.
Relationships are those with colleagues, friends and family... but especially between parents and children. Now that was interesting. He was adamant on this. “A parent’s relationship with a child determines how well he or she will succeed in the future.”
So investment of whatever kind in that relationship and the wider well-being of a nation is an investment in the next generation. Now that is a really powerful thought.
So, if you’re happy and you know it, count yourself lucky and see if you can’t help someone else get happy.
Thanks very much to Jonathan Calder (AKA Lord Bonkers) for the invite.

PS Interesting miscellany from the session included:
  • Happiness is highest in young people and those at the older end of the scale. The ones in the middle are most miserable.
  • People who don’t work and those who work long hours are less happy than those in the middle ground.
  • Happiness is only part of the picture and well-being includes contentment, satisfaction, self-reliance, resilience and many others.
  • Inequality causes great unhappiness.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I've got a little list - Mikado madness

Oh the irony.
Soliliquizing is the word Boy One is having the most difficulty with. I don't suppose most 11 year olds use soliliquizing in the course of their daily conversation. "I was just soliliquizing on the plot of last week's Doctor Who episode" or "Stop soliliquizing on I've got the message". But, I've had to remind him of the pronunciation and meaning at least three times a day for the past week.

You see, Boy One is leaving primary school at the end of this term to go to high school. It's a very big step, bigger then most for him. He's already babbling with excitment and I'm starting to worry.

However, before we get to that moment, well have to deal with an array of end-of-term/school/year things that are supposed to be fun and celebratory.

The lastest of these - the culmination of a topic on Japan - is a valedictory performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado... Tit-Willow and so on. Boy One has announced he's auditioning for the part of Ko-Ko and has come home clutching three photocopied sheets (both sides) and announcing that I must help him learn the part.

By the way, when did end of term concerts become valedictories? Possibly the same person who decided that deputy teachers must all become deputes...

Back to Titipu. We had an initial read-through with Boy One being Ko-Ko (who apparently sounds like Prince Charles before his voice broke) and me being variously Nanki-Poo, Poo-Bah and Pish-Tush. It became apparent that the language of the Victorian comic opera isn't easy for children a century and a quarter later.

So we've been watching the show on YouTube once or twice, with pauses for explanations. Now I've got Three Little Maids skipping ironically around my head and I'm not really sure Boy One is any closer to his big part. I'm also slightly concerned that he thinks getting a solo part will be less to learn than someone in the chorus.

So should I ever be in the position of The Lord High Excecutioner of Titipu I too will have a list and on it will be whoever thinks Gilbert and Sullivan is a suitable subject for a hormone-riddled 11 year old who lives on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

A splashing time in new swimming trunks

It was all going swimmingly. There we were getting ready for a family outing to our local baths. Well localish but the nearest baths with added fun.

The lovely people at Vertbaudet had sent me swimming trunks for the Boys. They were supposed to be for our trip to Haven, for all the water-based romps we were going to have. Clearly their late delivery was a prophecy as even shiny new trunks couldn't have improved our appalling experience at Burnham on Sea.

As an aside, we were much cheered by the arrival of a jauntily mass-produced postcard from Haven, thanking us for coming, hoping our visit was memorable (it was!) and that we'd be back (erm...).
But back to last Sunday morning. One, Two and Three were trying their new cossies on. This was necessary for two reasons, firstly so we didn't have the grumpy changing room revelation of them not fitting and so I could get a picture. but whoever said don't work with children or animals was right. I have new respect for the photographers who manage to make children stand still long enough to capture them modeling clothes for catalogues. Instead of the smiling, arty images I had in mind, this is what I ended up with.

Boy One is very, very long and thin. I expect he'll fill out, but for now unless stuff is suitably elasticated he spends the whole time clutching the waistband in a way that irritates everyone. His dukers stayed up - so they were a triumph.
Boy Two is a fairly standard sort of chap - size wise. He's easy to please so long as whatever he gets to wear is blue, or blue ish. His are a pretty blue hue - another success.

Boy Three dances to the beat of his own drum, particularly when you're trying to get him wriggled into clothes. It's never an easy task and one that brought on one of his pretend tantrums. He's taken to gently lowering himself to the ground, bum aloft and bellowing until he realises he's getting laughed at. His stayed up and on and have a stout enough waistband to capture him by. Another hit.

The resultant trip to the Waterfront Centre in Greenock was a success too. It's a great place, clean and full of helpful staff. Boy Two wasn't allowed to take his snorkel mask in, but they found him a pair of goggles to borrow. The changing rooms are big enough to swing the proverbial and low enough at the bottom that Boy Three can't get under. The showers roomy and flowing hot water. The flumes were open, the lazy river meandered and no one told us to get out, we could have stayed all day. Haven people, please note.

Disclosure: I was sent a pair of trunks by Vertbaudet to try for each of the Boys.

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday
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