Friday, October 13, 2017

Need for speed

Charlotte turned 17 in January and wanted to learn to drive immediately (not sure why given she hasn't a hope in hell of affording a car, but I guess I did the same at 17). 

In February she was too busy with prelims, March with oral exams, April and May with Highers, June with going to Nicaragua, July with going to Italy, August with settling back into school, so I figured it was off for this year... 

That was till she started asking about my availability on Thursday afternoons. I work from home so can move stuff about within reason. It turns out that Thursday afternoon is the only time she has free periods when she hasn't volunteered to be a teaching helper for the lower school. So yesterday she ordered herself a car (dual control for £11 for 2 hours). 

It's been a long time since I sat beside someone who has never ever been behind a wheel, the last time was possibly Derek in 1988! When Thomas learnt he had the basics and Marcel took some proper lessons, so there I was with my first millennium baby explaining 'that's the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator, this is the gear stick and that is the hand brake...' She surprised me with a few odd questions like 'are the three pedals in the same order in all cars?' Hahahaha - can you begin to imagine? 

But then she really threw me... I'm not much of a gamer; Candy Crush Soda on my smart phone for ten minutes at bed time is the extent of my gaming. She asked 'You press the brake to stop, right?' of course, then she followed up with 'and once it has come to a stop, if you press the brake again at the same time as putting the gearstick in reverse, you go backwards, right ?' WTAF?????? Sorry? Mind-blown! Well apparently on 'Need for Speed' (something on a PS3, I think), that's how you make your car reverse - the  L2 button (whatever that means!) Why on earth would you make a game that teaches kids that is how you drive a car? Are they insane???? She seemed a bit put out that she'd been misled! Kids today probably think they know how to fly a plane if they've got a flight simulation game 😜.

All in all it went well. She seemed to get the hang of hill starts fairly quickly, though I still need to get it through to her that you don't pull on the hand brake to stop 😂. But we definitely came top of the class that day... The other mum who hired a car with her 17 year old son at the same time as us returned it after just twenty minutes of the two hour hire, citing the fact that she'd got in such a big fight with him that he had pulled the car over and stomped off home leaving her to return it alone! She was last seen making her way to the pub, fuming 🤣.





Thursday, October 12, 2017

Such a sweet boy

Léon's school has organised an s3 Maths trip to NYC for the October week... I'm not sure how they got away with that one but well done to the Maths teachers for managing to come up with a reason for needing to go to New York; I don't suppose exotic school trips are usually too high up the list of perks when you're a Maths teacher!

Léon's Maths teacher seems to be one of the lucky ones who departed yesterday, which meant his class had no teacher today. (Their half term holiday started today so this only meant one day with a sub - (apparently these are called 'please-take ( teacher)s' in today's speak, as in 'We had a please-take today' - I do try to keep up with the lingo as best someone can at my age)).

Léon was moaning over dinner that she had not only left a seating plan of his class for the please-take, but that the seating plan had a photo beside each name. I asked why this was an issue. He told me he and his friend had had the idea to swap places and names for the day (like no kid in the world has ever done that before!) but that the seating plan had ruined their fun.

Before launching into an explanation of why this was a stupid idea (citing the example of when Andrew and Dylan had done that in Charlotte's first year class many moons ago, and the wrong one had ended up with a demerit against his name), I casually asked which friend he'd been plotting with. 'Ayaan Shaik', he replied! 'Ayaan Shaik and Léon Buchanan-Widmann?' I asked. 'Yeah!' came the reply. 'The teacher would have been able to tell, Léon', I pointed out. 'Well, I have no idea how', came the sweet reply, 'not if she hadn't had photos!' I love that at 12, he can't see what is glaringly obvious to me at 49. It gives me hope for his world, especially when we are currently living in such horrible times.

The hole in the middle


Here we all are in 1990. Young, though older than we look, Linda and I are 22, Shona, Sheina and Gillian are 23. That was a great day; we sat our Senior Honours Swedish exam and celebrated with fish suppers from the Philadelphia in Great Western road, eaten straight from the newspaper on the mangy, green carpet in Linda's great Glasgow Street party flat. The accompaniment was Lucozade from plastic cups, though I suspect we moved on to wine later in the evening. Uni was over, we were six weeks away from being able to write MA(Hons) after our names and we vowed to be friends forever. 

And we are, and will be, except we now have a gaping hole in our middle... We didn't know when this photo was taken that one of us was already more than half way through her life.

Sheina was the quiet one, so politely spoken. She was the lady in the group, the one who organised dinner parties for us when we were still arranging piss-ups. That's how she came across to others, but to us she had a wicked sense of humour, especially after a wine or two. If you wanted to get us all talking about our deepest and most intimate thoughts, Sheina was the one who could steer us on to the topic without us even noticing she'd taken us there. She made us laugh and cry. Sheina lacked the self-confidence to realise she was a beautiful person, but we all saw through that. Her death five years ago this week changed us forever. Our annual meet-ups became much more frequent. We see each other many times a year a now. We are a family and will always be there for each other. But there will always be a little unspoken hole at the centre of us all.



How to conker

Ever since I had kids, we've spent October in parks searching among the leaves for conkers... Early
on, when Marcel was two or three I found a tree hidden in a far corner of the Botanics that seemed to have escaped most of the passing schoolchildren so we were always guaranteed to get two or even three there. It was enough to play conkers with, well once at least.

Then I moved in with a Dane. Unlike Scots, Danes don't battle with conkers, they build animals (and more) from them (how civilised!) This posed a problem - try making several animals out of just three conkers. So conker season has always been a bit of a failure, until this year!!!

We went for a walk round a graveyard in September. Much to our surprise the trees had already started dropping their conkers and more to the point, it would appear kids hang about cemeteries much less than they hang in parks(!), so we had no competitors! We left all the damaged ones for the squirrels, but we still amassed a whole bag full. We'll be able to have a major conker animalfest next week when the kids are off for the October week and the rain inevitably leaves us housebound. Woo hoo.


 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Cool boots

Another little souvenir I'd have liked to have brought back from Amsterdam was a pair of boots. These caught my eye in a shop window and if I could have come up with any legitimate way of charging them on company expenses, I swear I'd have come home wearing them! Sadly, I think that would have been a hard one to explain to my accountant. 😥

Souvenirs for intellectual infants :-)


Playmobil and Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum have got together and come up with an adorable way of making art accessible to the tinier amongst us. Amaia was thrilled with her present from Holland but also interested to see the original and ask about it. Well done to them. At less than 5 Euros, I was pleasantly surprised too.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

EU life and Brexit

Where do we stand today, mum? How close are we to knowing whether we'll need to leave?




That's what I was asked this morning on the school run by my 11 year old. There was neither fear, nor excitement in his voice, just resignation as he spends another day playing the waiting game...

I expect Leave voters today fall into two categories; those who just want TM to get on with things and ignore all the media hype and expert warnings about imminent economic collapse, or those who feel they were lied to and misled and may have voted differently, had they known the truth.

I also imagine Remain voters, for the most part fall into two categories; those who are resigned to EU withdrawal and feel vaguely sad and those who go through periods of rage when they scream at Twitter and Facebook (or at the TV or radio) whenever the utter incompetence of the UK government is mentioned. These are probably still hoping against hope that sense will prevail and potentially bring down TM's government before all the EU doctors and uni professors leg it to the first available job on the continent, but in between times they get on with their daily lives, they go to work, they go shopping, they go see a movie or whatever.

But there is one further category; those who didn't vote at all. It wasn't that this third group were disinterested, or busy washing their hair that day. Ironically, those who didn't vote were the most affected by the whole thing. Those are the EU UK residents. This means my family and all of those millions of families like mine across the UK... over three million families to be precise. I voted of course, but my husband couldn't vote, he was disenfranchised. He's been here nearly two decades, he's the director of a UK company, he's the father of UK citizens, but he wasn't permitted a say on his family's future. This third group, unlike the first two, doesn't think about Brexit once a week, or even once a day. It doesn't even think about it every time TM or Boris or one of the others says something stupid. This third group breathes Brexit every minute of every day and has done since June 2016 and let me tell you, it's getting awfully tiring.

My husband's status will change, though no one knows what to. Currently the date for this is March 2019 - though that may be longer if a transition agreement is agreed, or shorter of course, if this crazy dictatorial clause whereby Brexit Day is decided by a government minister without consulting parliament (that the HoC voted for the other night) is fully accepted. The conundrum is this: the day he potentially loses his right to live in the UK coincides exactly with the day I lose my right to free movement and therefore my ability to leave the UK permanently with him. So suddenly there is potentially nowhere where a family like ours (and those other 3 million) can legally live together.

This means we've been placed in a situation where we must look at the current state of affairs and decide if it will be safe to stay here or not. And let me tell you - the shambles that is the UK negotiating team is not giving us much to work with at all. We somehow have to find out in advance that Thomas's rights won't change, despite the fact that we are now seeing on a daily basis that EU citizens are being turned down for loans, mortgages, rental agreements, jobs and more. This, of course, isn't legal (yet) but EU citizens are a risky client now so they are best avoided. My mortgage fixed rate is up for renewal in the summer of 2019. If EU citizens are deemed too risky, I will not be able to renew my mortgage (we will be 15 years into our mortgage at that point) as I cannot pay it alone. It, like most mortgages, is based on two earners. So I could lose my home.

There is also talk about fining companies who employ EU citizens rather than UK ones in future. This, of course, will make my husband unemployable, which again means I will lose my home.

There are many other more complex issues being mooted but let's just work with these two, given how huge they are. Let's work backwards from the official date of March 2019 with these two points. If we deem there to be a possibility that these two things go ahead, the last date an EU family can escape the UK is the middle of March 2019. By that date the EU member needs preferably to have found a job abroad and also have sold their UK home and found somewhere to live abroad, so you can't start thinking about it with two weeks to go. When you have children, disrupting them during a school year is not ideal, so the best time to take them out of school is the holiday before March 2019, so preferably the summer of 2018, (or Christmas at a pinch). Assuming you go for summer 2018 as that gives the kids longer to acclimatise to a new country before starting a new school, your house sale and new EU job need to be in place by June 2018, so realistically you need to start looking for them around January 2018. That gives us EU families just three months to find out what is going to happen and at the moment it looks extremely unlikely that we'll know anything at all in three months time.

So if we know nothing by Christmas this year, we are left with the question: do we sit it out and assume the government will finally come to its senses, negotiate something in the country's interest or even call the whole thing off or do we give up everything we've worked our whole adult lives for, disrupt our kids' schooling by pulling them out of a school we know is good and moving them potentially to a country where they don't even know the language, shatter our family in two (because at the very least Marcel needs to finish uni here, and Charlotte is due to start uni in Sept 2018) and start our lives again at the same time as we hit our late 40s/early 50s? Does this government instil the confidence in you that they'll sort out all the issues on the table, diplomatically by this Xmas? I have my doubts.

And that is why we breathe it every minute of every day. That is why many have started leaving already. If this doesn't get sorted in a more serious manner soon, it will be too late for my family, and for many of the other three million like us.

A trauma-free life

Léon comes across as a laid-back, happy boy. He can run a little bit on nervous energy, but in general things don't seem to get him down too much, all things considered:



  • his mother decided to leave his father when he was less than a year old
  • he has poor eyesight but we didn't discover the problem till he was four, so he couldn't really see properly till then
  • he used to visit his biological father about once a week from his 2nd birthday till his 6th and then he simply vanished from his life
  • when his father stopped seeing him, his French aunt and German grandmother also disappeared from his life
  • six weeks after his mum went freelance (when he was 3), his stepdad was made redundant, so the family's income plummeted drastically
  • his grandpa was diagnosed as terminally ill four weeks after he started primary school, so his mum's mind was elsewhere for the following twenty months (plus)
  • when he was six, his gran had a stroke and lost her ability to speak for several months
All in all that's quite a load for a child who is still only 11. Of course, those are just the negatives, and there are many, many more positives on the other side of the balance. 

Two weeks into high school, the English and Maths departments are still trying to make sure the kids are streamed according to their ability, (they've been put in sets based on the primary work and standardised test results). To check the quality of the pupils in the top three English classes, the teachers decided to set them the task of writing a 'personal reflective' essay, along the lines of the one they'll need to do for Higher in five years time. (See Charlotte's which I mentioned previously). 

Léon came home talking about having to write an essay about something he had experienced which has marked him in some way... Given what both Marcel and Charlotte chose at Higher, I was apprehensive. Léon is definitely way too young to open that can of worms. I asked tentatively if he'd an idea of what he could write about: I dunno, he said, I don't think anything really bad has ever happened to me in my life... I was about to point out that it didn't necessarily have to be something bad, just something that had moved him in some way when he suddenly looked as if a light bulb had come on. I braced myself... I know! Once when I was six and school had just started letting us eat our packed lunches outside, I took out my sandwich, put it on the picnic bench and turned to open my juice, and at that moment a seagull swooped down and stole my sandwich! Do you think that would count as a traumatic experience? Cos I can't think of anything else that's ever really upset me!
What a sweet, innocent and optimistic child he still is! 

At the end of the day he decided to write about this summer as it had been momentous for him to be left behind in Italy and gain a little independence away from his parents for three weeks and his home for five. The teacher was very happy with it.




Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Typeface

Thomas has decided to challenge the kids with this month's chores chart. Apparently it's the typeface his German grandparents were taught in school. It should be interesting to get their reaction!



Sunrise over a volcano

Nicaragua World Challenge MCHS

I meant to blog a link to this when she came back at the beginning of July, but we left for Italy then and I never got round to it...

Imagine being 17 years and eight months old and already having climbed to the top of a volcano on the other side of the world in complete darkness at 3am, to sit on the top and wait and watch sunrise over four more volcanoes. Imagine then going down and climbing those other four and volcano-boarding down the biggest one, Cerro negro, which last erupted the year before you were born...

One of the most difficult things I find with parenting teenagers is the sheer amount of envy you have to control deep within yourself, when you see their freedom and what's on offer these days. I was thrilled with a week in Switzerland (on a bus) on a geography trip as my high school experience (and I didn't even do geography!), now both my kids have gone to the other side of the world to do charity work and I'm practically glowing green. I don't envy them what awaits them after uni, of course, the world is so much more depressing than it was in my 20s, but as a traveller, I would kill to hide away in their rucksacks at times.

Charlotte came back with wonderful tales of another world. She taught in crowded outdoor classrooms where kids sat at desks combined with chairs but always with one eye on the sky as the daily torrential downpour meant they needed to be ready to run for their lives in the middle of a lesson, though being kids some were tempted simply to dance in the refreshing rain. Kids as young as seven could be under cover in less than thirty seconds with all their belongings when they needed to be. She described them as curious and desperate to learn all she could teach them. She told us of them crowding round her wanting to touch her hair as they were all much darker than her.

She also spent a few nights sleeping on the floor of semi-derelict classrooms, none of which had or needed windows, under mosquito nets and spending the days painting and restoring them. She got quite acquainted with the Nicaraguan flag as all school buildings have to be painted in the country's colours!

She showed us photos of the wildlife; things I've never even seen in a zoo. They simply walked past her in the more dense jungle areas: tiny frogs, coloured birds, monkeys, sloths and snakes. We've had pet hamsters since Charlotte was 13 and she's never picked one of them up yet - for as long as I can remember Charlotte has never liked animals with fur (yes, I know that rules out a few!) but she used to ask for terrapins, tortoises, snakes and the likes when she was little, so I'm surprised this itsy bitsy frog didn't make it home in her luggage!

She told us of the amazing food, proud that she was the only one in her group not to get an upset stomach! But most of all she told me that she'll keep in touch with her school and go back one day to see how they are doing. Then she turned to the three wee ones and said 'One day, I'll take you there', and for now at least, she really means it! Her world is much bigger now.

I'll leave you with this cute conversation I overheard when Charlotte was taking Amaia through her photos:
'Lotsie, see when people go volcano-boarding?'
'Yeah?'
'Do they shut the volcano while people are doing it? I mean, like, do they turn it off!?'

And here are her photos if anyone wonders what Nicaragua is like.