Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Let there be Light

Image result for images muna alfrink lightLast week I spent my half term break with a colleague and a group of students, including my daughter, at MUNA, a Model United Nations conference, at Alfrink College in the Netherlands.  The poster above introduces the theme and slogan of the conference which aims to open the minds of the students to issues in the world around them. This is the second year I have been on this visit and, yet again, it was a fantastic experience.  There were 375 students involved, many from local schools, but others had travelled from the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, India and China so it was truly an international conference.  We stayed with host families and, once again, I was welcomed by Annett, an English teacher at the college, and her family.  I had a lovely time there, enjoying her hospitality and friendship. We also met and shared a meal with the staff from the other schools.  Our students also enjoyed the social side of the trip, including the very loud MUNA party which was a less pleasurable event for the staff.

The main aim of the week was to introduce students to the work of the UN.  Each student represented a country and they then research issues, draft resolutions and participate in debates.  My daughter Kate represented Canada and debated human rights issues such as Child Forced Marriage.  She was a bit reluctant to speak up at first and rather overwhelmed by the older more confident students but did learn a lot from the experience.

We also visited Amsterdam and took students to the Anne Frank house, a very moving experience.What I found most poignant were the pencil marks on the walls showing how Anne and her sister Margot had grown during their time in the annexe.  I was very proud of our students who didn't rush through the house as they usually do on museum trips, but absorbed it all quietly and respectfully.

I'm hoping to return to blogging more regularly now spring is on its way.  It's lighter now in the mornings so I'm starting to emerge from my winter hibernation and am rising earlier.  I love light mornings and enjoy that quiet time before others emerge.  It's my favourite writing time,

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Year in Books: How do you read me? Let me count the ways...

I've been neglecting the blog recently, though I've been on Blogger fairly regularly checking out and reading other blogs.  And I've been thinking about how I read online. It's a different kind of reading for me than reading print.  An e-book is different again.  There are some posts I read all the way through properly; some I look at the pictures; others I skim or just read the entry on the home page.  And you are probably the same.  I tend to write fairly long posts not very often and so it's fairly likely that you are skim reading this post.  I doubt very much if all the 16000 + people who have come across me online have actually read a whole post. But you never know, perhaps you have time today...

Anyway here I am again with the only regular post I manage , the Year in Books link up with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees.  My January read was 'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton, which I received as  Christmas present.  I haven't quite finished it yet, one reason for my late link up.  I've enjoyed it. Beautifully written, it is one of those books that brings the characters and place to life.  It's full of detail about 17th century Amsterdam, obviously well researched.  I like the evocative descriptions of taste of the sugar and delicacies made from it, which reminded me of  Joanne Harris's 'Chocolat'. The plot, and its link to the dolls' house, is intriguing rather than gripping though, which explains why I've read it slowly.  It's a book to savour and one which will stay with me a long time.

But now I want a pacy, pointless, plot type novel to read over half term. A fast food kind of book, to read and forget - not good for me but enjoyable all the same. I haven't found it yet - considering the new S J Watson as I liked 'Before I go To Sleep'.  Any suggestions out there?

My February books, which I have already dipped into, are both non-fiction.  I've borrowed Steven Pinker's 'The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century' from the library.  It's  not one I'll read all the way through, but it looks interesting and I did enjoy his book 'The Language Instinct'.  I am also teaching Carol Ann Duffy's poetry at present and so am reading 'Rapture'.  Again one to read slowly.  I read the title poem yesterday and this line
stayed with me all day:
 'How does it happen that our lives can drift
far from our selves, while we stay trapped in time,
queuing for death?'

Another question.  Is it always better to read more, to get through as many books as possible?   Or am I alone in my occasional preference for some slow reading?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Pointless TV

Do you watch 'Pointless', the ironically named teatime quiz show?  We do.  I'm usually chopping onions or peeling spuds at the same time but I do find it mildly entertaining.  It's the opposite of Blanketty-Blank, the show where you used to gain points by guessing the answers that most of the 100 people asked to a simple question.  So divergent thinkers failed.  In Pointless, however, you get points for coming up with correct answers which no one else of the 100 asked has said.  So people like my husband who mind is full of trivial facts about sport and old films get to feel smart. The topics are varied and appeal to all ages.  This week we have had a picture round where you had to recognise leaders of foreign countries, a round on GCSE Science, Doris Day Films; and a round I liked where you had to supply the adjectives in novel titles.  (The _____ Curiosity Shop which the student studying English at university didn't know.)  All this is presided over by Alexander Armstrong, or Xander as he calls himself, and the unfeasibly tall Richard Osman,  The banter (or bants, a current favourite word among teens) between them and with the contestants is also entertaining though Xander is a bit annoying when he smugly gives the answers the contestants missed.

My point is that I watch this stuff and like it. And it is indeed.....pointless.  I used to listen to Radio 4 as I cooked tea. What is happening to me?

In our house we have two TVs, one in the lounge and the other in what is called 'the snug' by estate agents ie a space off the kitchen where the dog hangs out.  Often in the evening we hang out there with him; more often than not, the TV is on.  And, because it's January and we've not been out much recently, we seemed to have watched an awful lot of TV.

So there are three of us and two TVs and we all have different tastes, but, as I don't watch much television, it doesn't matter. Here's how it goes: 

Husband: Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Sport, Silent Witness, Holby City, black and white classic films, incomprehensible Swedish/Danish crime/political drama, Andrew Marr, Saturday Kitchen.

Daughter: Coronation Street, Emmerdale, reality TV shows, currently The Voice, Celebrity Big Brother, Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, the dating show, Take me Out,  Keith Lemon (shocking programme), reruns of Outnumbered on Netflix, (While possibly finishing homework at the same time)

Me: Loose Women, if I'm home in the day (I love Janet Street Porter and Gloria Hunniford reminds me of home); one-off dramas (I loved EsioTrot at Christmas) and series like Last Tango in Halifax. Not much else.

So, in theory, while they are wasting their time, at least, I'm off doing something purposeful, like marking or preparing lessons or mind-improving, like reading, or creative, like writing.  In theory.  In reality, I often join one or the other to snuggle up on the sofa and watch the least offensive of the choices on offer. (I draw the line at Celebrity Big Brother and cover my eyes at gruesome bits of Silent Witness)

Occasionally, I assert my right to the remote.  On Wednesday night the first episode of Wolf Hall was screened, I gave advance warning of this and my husband joined me to watch it at first, but gave up fairly soon.  I quite enjoyed it - Jonathan Pryce was good as Cardinal Wolsley but I wasn't that impressed by Mark Rylance, who is supposed to be the actor of this generation: he spent a lot of time looking miserable and saying little, though what he did say impressed everyone. That's probably the character though - I never did finish the book. I found myself nodding off at one point, and kind of wanted to be in the kitchen with the rest of the family, who were hooting with laughter at the large black lady's acceptance speech on receiving an award for Googlebox at the National TV Awards.

So what I'm saying, is that it doesn't matter if the TV we are watching is a bit pointless; at least we are watching together.  You'll notice that both Kate and her Dad watch Coronation Street and Emmerdale.  I usually join them.  We don't watch passively, and often talk back to the telly or to each other just like they do on Googlebox.  I don't see why I should apologise for enjoying a bit of purposeless popular culture with the rest of the family if I want to. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

New Year in Books

We're half way through January and I'm only just getting to my monthly book post. This is because I haven't finished my December book, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'.  I am quite enjoying it and love the character of Owen and the child narrator - he reminds me a little of Scout in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. But it's a long book and somehow over Christmas the slow afternoons I'd envisaged reading by the fire just didn't happen.  So I'll be finishing that this month along with my January book, a Christmas present from a friend who usually makes good choices. It's 'The Miniaturist', by Jessie Burton.  I see it's been a Sunday Times bestseller so I've broken my resolve not to read these.  It's nice to have a real book too, especially one with such a pretty cover.  I've started it already as I tend to pick up real books more readily than the Kindle.  It's set in Amsterdam which appeals to me as I'll be visiting the Netherlands next month on a school trip so reading this will get me in the mood.

I also finished 'Happiness by Design' by Paul Dolan which is another one of those self-help my husband laughs at me for reading.  The writer is an economist and some sections were a bit statistic- heavy for my taste but there was some sensible advice, the main, rather obvious point being that we are happier when choose activities which give us a balance of both pleasure and purpose..  So if I record my day so far (I have most of Wednesday off), according to his chart it would look like this:

1. Drove daughter to school while listening to her sing along to Now Disney CD 20 mins
Pleasure 7 Purpose 10 (Essential journey more fun than usual)
2. Tidied upstairs, including decluttering wardrobe, putting on washing etc.  (Alone, listening to Women's Hour) 2 hr  Pleasure 5 Purpose 7 (Can find something to wear in morning)
3. Walked dog on usual route with neighbour catching up on news 1hr
Pleasure 9 Purpose 8 (Exercise for dog and me)
4. Made healthy Lentil and Bacon and Carrot and Coriander soup while watching 'Loose Women' (Alone 1 - 2 hrs including eating lunch)
 Pleasure 6 Purpose 7 (Healthy,if possibly not very nice, meal for family - looks unappetising, especially lentil)
5. Wrote this post on Blogger Alone 30 mins Pleasure 7 Purpose 5

And now because I have chosen to write this I haven't really got time for the other thing I intended to do before work at 4 pm which is go into town and return some clothes I bought to M&S,  But writing this gave me more pleasure than a trip to town which can wait until the weekend.  That's his other piece of advice: pay attention to the choices you make and do things which make you happy.  Which is why I am here rather than in M&S.  Now time for a quick cup of tea, before selecting something to wear from my newly organised wardrobe for work- dog walking clothes won't do.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

January Blues and a trip to London

It's been a miserable week.  Christmas holidays have come to an abrupt end and it's back to mock examination week in school; stressed out teenager; grumpy commute-weary husband and piles of exam marking.  And the weather has been horrible. I usually deal with my low mood by getting out for a good walk with the dog.  So I set off on Wednesday morning with my neighbour on our usual route and we got absolutely drenched.  Some signs of Spring on the horizon though: I spotted this brave daffodil on my dog walk.

Last Saturday was a better day.  I spent it in London with a friend and our teenage daughters, catching the train early in the morning from Chester and returning at 10 pm.  The morning was spent on Oxford Street, shopping. Not really my idea of fun, but it was one of the main objectives of the trip for the teenagers with Christmas money to spend.  So we spend a long time in places like Topshop on Oxford Circus.  Many years ago I used to shop in that branch as, before training as a teacher, I worked briefly for Alitalia, the Italian airline which has now folded,  and its offices were just opposite.  We also went to Victoria's Secret, on New Bond Street, a truly awful place, looking like a night club with chandeliers, marble staircases and doormen insisting we put our dripping umbrellas in specially designed plastic bags lest we sully the overpriced undies on sale there.  My friend queued for 45 minutes to purchase a pair of the very ordinary looking knickers for her daughter, behind Spanish tourists spending £500!  My daughter, who is thankfully less brand conscious, and I escaped and went across the road to Fenwick's, a much classier store which hasn't changed that much since I worked London.

The day improved after that.  We walked down Regent Street, across Piccadilly and Leicester Square and ended up in Trafalgar Square.  Better than taking the tube, even it was a bit damp, as we could admire the lights and window shop.  Our friends had tickets to see 'The Nutcracker' at the Coliseum so they went there while Kate and I went to the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery.  She wasn't that keen but indulged me as I had endured Topshop.  Got my Monet fix and then went next door and saw a fabulous portrait of Judy Dench who looked just like she was about to walk out of the frame.  We rested our weary legs in the restaurant on the top floor for a fairly pricey but tasty afternoon tea.  Great views over London though, as you can just about see in my not very good photograph. A good day out to mark the end of the holiday.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year, New Start

I have just attempted a mini blog makeover - nothing too technical but have at least updated the old photo and swapped to a simpler template.  It's been two years since I started the blog and since then have posted 128 times, mostly weekly, but at times at more random intervals.  I'd like to be a bit more organised in my approach to blogging and considered resolving to blog daily as ganching did last year.  But I don't think I can manage that, so this is the plan:

  • A weekly round up on a Saturday or Sunday
  • A monthly book post.  I joined in with the Year in Books last year and want to continue.
  • Sign up to the 365 photo project. I'm not an expert photographer but like to document my life.
  • Join in with other link ups such as the Scavenger Hunt. 
At the same time I'm giving up the habit of 23 years which is a daily journal/diary I usually write up at weekends. Recently it's become a chore, so I'm switching to a one line a day journal and a personal notebook in which I will write longer pieces as the mood takes me.

All this is very self indulgent and mainly for me and my obsession with recording my life.  It's good to have readers, though, even if I have little in the way of advice, recipes, or craft projects to offer. Thanks to all of you who visit and comment here. 

Here is photo number 1 for the year. New Year walk with photo shy daughter and dog.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Happy Christmas

So presents are wrapped; Last Minute Christmas Pudding steamed and ready to go and Chocolate Roulade is only a little singed around the edges.  Thought I'd take a moment to compose a brief post since I've only managed to blog once in December.  We're going to Scotland today to spend Christmas in Alloa with husband's family this year.  But I did see my family - three of my four sisters, my aunt and uncle and the English cousins the weekend before last so I don't mind.  Here we are in our sparkles celebrating my cousin's (centre) 50th birthday.  I bought a proper long dress for the occasion, the first one I've owned since the navy blue flowery one I used to wear for dances in the Woods Parish Hall with The Reflections playing.  We had a great night - my cousin's sons have a band; their dad also joined them to entertain us. They played quite a few old favourites as well as their own songs and I haven't danced so much in ages. 

I'm also including  a picture of my only attempt at Christmas craft this year  - a slightly wonky wreath made with gold sprayed dried hydrangeas - I'm quite proud of it really. 

I'm hoping to catch up with my favourite blogs over the holidays though I've noticed that quite a few I read have like me not been posting so often - busy times.  Happy Christmas to everyone who does visit here.