Tuesday, June 30, 2009

EDUCATIONAL DILEMMAS

A new dilemma of this recession struck me the other day.
The last (tiny by comparison) recession took place at the end of the 80s and wasn't accompanied by the same credit crunch. Back in the 80s the student grant system had just been phased out and although loans were coming in, tuition fees weren't. Student life was poor but generally didn't leave you up to your eyeballs in debt.
In the last few years England has introduced student tuition fees. Scotland hasn't yet but students still need loans and proper summer jobs to make ends meet. Of course in a credit crunch with graduate jobs at the end of degrees much less guaranteed than before, students are finding credit much harder to come by. For that reason they are even more desperately in need a summer job than usual if they are to contemplate paying next term's fees. But of course companies are in such dire straits, they can't even pay their employees. Bucketloads of those are being made redundant so there won't be many advertising for casual summer workers, will there?
Are we about to see students dropping out en masse? I wonder if they will appear in the unemployed statistics if they do, or if, like school leavers, they will be hidden in some government-created grey area.
And of course once students stop being able to pay their fees, I guess unis will stop being able to pay their staff... The word snowball springs to mind, despite the current heatwave.

UNUSUAL WATER


Prestwick beach
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I decided to take the kids down to the coast today to make the best of this nice, unScottish weather. Marcel of course decided it'd be cooler to hang about at his friend's house so the three little ones and I set out for Ayrshire. Given both Anna and Léon wouldn't care where they landed as long as there was a sandy beach, I decided the obvious choice was Prestwick given it has free parking and is less than half an hour from the house.
We arrived at 1-30, spread out the picnic blanket, made sand castles and collected shells. After an hour or so Charlotte noticed her swimsuit had been left in the buggy from a previous trip elsewhere. She asked to go for a swim. Believe me it isn't too common to hear your child ask to go for a swim in Ayrshire... in fact the last time I went for a swim in Ayrshire myself was on a trip in 1980! I still remember it was bloody cold! (And that was years before I became accustomed to my beloved Mediterranean!)
She seemed to skip in like we were on the South coast of Spain. Léon took off his shorts and followed swiftly. Puzzled, I picked up Anna and waded in in my skirt. The water was noticeably warmer than it usually is in Cannes in July! I stand amazed.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

DON'T TAKE MY KODACHROME AWAY!


I'm one of the reasons kodachrome finally died this week - I guess I haven't used it in 9 years so it was inevitable but it seems odd to think my kids will grow up in a world where the media actually feels it necessary to explain that old cameras had no way of being connected to a computer and that photography didn't used to be instant. It used to mean waiting days or weeks to see the prints or slides that were then unable to be changed. There was no button for red eye, you couldn't change the unwanted lamppost in the background into a tree and you couldn't chop off the half person at the side of your shot, unless you took a pair of scissors. The upside I suppose is that a childhood will no longer be documented in just 20 grainy or blurred shots but so many more memories will be jogged by the myriad digital snaps on your mum's laptop!

Friday, June 26, 2009

END OF AN ERA

No, I don't mean the inevitable happening to Jacko, as it was always going to...
I mean my biggest wee boy finished primary school today. It feels like about two (three at the most) years since I first walked him through the gate holding his hand, sweet, innocent, blond, curious and not much taller than my waist, but of course that was August 2002!
Now my child is as big as me, definitely more worldly wise than I was at that age and about to start on some of the most fun and challenging years of his life. He's done really well at primary and I am very proud of him. I hope he takes all the wonderful opportunities his next six years will offer him and change, no doubt even faster, from a cheeky, fun loving, young adolescent to a responsible and well-adjusted (gulp) man.
Leaving primary forever

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FERAL BABY


Burritos
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I took this photo of Anna eating burritos the other night. I love the look in her eyes, like some sort of feral child protecting her food, feasting on it not daring to break eye contact with the possible preditors around the table. I wonder if that is a look common to all kids with many siblings?

THE SIZE OF MARCEL


My first wee baby
Originally uploaded by PhylB
It's been a week of shocks for my ego. In my head I am about 25 so I often get a surprise when someone the same size as me calls me mum. But Sunday took the biscuit. I had noticed recently that all his clothes were too small but was taken aback when he tried on some age 13 clothes and they were also all too short or narrow. (He'll be 12 in July). When we looked for age 14 clothes we were told that there were none - age 14 corresponds to small in adult sizes. So now I have someone wandering around in a male adult t-shirt and trousers calling me mum! Arg!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DRIVING


first car
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I hear were all to get EU driving licences from 2013. Sounds fine to me given how often I hire cars in Europe and how annoying that ridiculous piece of paper the UK currently insists on us carrying along with our credit card licence is. Foreign car hire places almost always look harassed when confronted by this crazy halfway measure of a credit card that the info isn't stored on coupled with an old-fashioned printout with the info (that anyone with a home printer could copy themselves!)
I wonder however if they are going to make the driving test in all countries the same to go with the issuing of the same licence. That would be an interesting one, given the huge national differences in the test itself! I guess whichever state has the easiest/cheapest test will see a huge surge in driving tourists from then. But of course, as always the Brits will have to contend with the disadvantage of having learnt on the wrong side of the road as usual.
Why didn't we swap when we still could have?

Friday, June 19, 2009

THE LIMITATIONS OF PHOTOGRAPHY


Colorized rose
Originally uploaded by PhylB
In my garden at the moment we have three different types of roses with the most amazing smells and one other rose with no smell at all.
I wonder if at some point in the future we will be able to take a photo of the smell as well as the beauty of a flower?
I would find it strange to upload photos of all four side by side as if they were equally perfect when one of the four, however physically beautiful, just seems to be a pale copy of the others.
The one pictured here on the right has the most sensuous of smells.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

OUTDOOR EATING


Picnic
Originally uploaded by PhylB
For the best part of the last three weeks we have had every meal outside. We have even had breakfast under the parasol some mornings. Bliss! It's almost been like living back in France, but without the olive trees in the garden.
Yesterday and today we had to eat in the dining room. It was quite depressing to come back indoors but not for the reasons I had expected. Tonight's dinner was running late so I made some chicken noodle soup as a starter - talk about Armageddon! The table and floor were swimming in soup, there were noodles all over the table, noodles the full length of the ornate table legs and stretching all the way to the coffee room door. Half a kitchen roll later we had pork and potatoes with gravy and cauliflower. Pudge was so covered in gravy by the end of the meal that I was terrified he'd touch the wallpaper and Thomas was elected as the person who should strip off completely and carry the two grubby monsters to the bath.
Eating outside where the noodles and soup simply fall on the grass and where, by the time they've run around the garden for an hour after dinner, the sticky, greasy hands have lost some of the element of danger is just so much less stressful :-(
Come back sun, now!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

KETCHUP


Yummy ketchup
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I am beginning to feel like a freak. Everyone in my house loves ketchup and I just can't abide the stuff. I can think of absolutely nothing that's flavour could in any way be enhanced by adding sugary tomato purée.
At first the philistines reserved it for chips. Then at some point fried rice with bacon bits started inheriting the sickly stuff. (Believe me, when you don't like the putrid gloop, the smell is much more overwhelming when you are surrounded by 5 people dousing their dinner in it).
As if to torment me, Thomas started offering it to Anna on chips and rice before the poor kid could say no, and much to my digust, she liked it so much she started pointing at it on the table and squeaking until it was profferred.
But tomorrow I have resolved to hide it at the back of a dark cupboard... Why? The sight of Anna eating a bowl of cornflakes this morning, suddenly spying the ketchup bottle on the table, pointing and squeaking was just too much for my stomach to take. It has to stop somewhere, NOW!

USELESS LITTLE JARS OF SPICES

I was in Chinatown in Garnethill today getting some shopping. Being in the Chinese supermarket reminded me about another rant. How do Schwartz get away with selling people 3 spoonfuls of spice in a jar for extortionate prices in all our supermarkets? Why would any sane human being buy these pitiful little jars when any Chinese or Indian supermarket in town will sell you a bag of the same spices at approximately 10% of the price? You can get 2kg of paprika in Chinatown for £1.55. You can get about 3kg of dried chilis for less than £2 too - Schwartz want £2 for one of these little jars that will barely do you one meal. Maybe I just use more herbs or spices than most but with sell-by/use-by dates 2 and 3 years down the line, I really don't see why more people don't source their spices elsewhere. (Oh and soy sauce is also about 30% ASDA price, while I'm on the subject).

Friday, June 12, 2009

CARSEATS


Anna's got a big seat now
Originally uploaded by PhylB
If this is indeed true, it is interesting that in my 12 years of parenting I have never seen a single rear facing seat aimed at the over 9kg range in a shop in the UK. Of course, you could buy one on the Internet but you then couldn't try it first to see if it fits in your car, given seatbelt length is often an issue. Also if you have a bench-type seat, rather than individual seats in the back of your car, it might not fit in along with other seats you already have in there for older kids.
Is it the UK lagging behind as ever?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

WILL THIS FAMILY EVER LEARN?

It isn't the first time. Years ago I ended up having to take dad to casualty on Father's Day because he severed his finger on a broken glass taking the bin out.
Tonight I noticed our black binbag was full, so took it out and up the path. It was so heavy I couldn't hold it out so it banged and scraped off my leg all the way up the garden path. Walking back towards the house my leg was nipping a little, but I was alerted to something being amiss when both Lots and Pudge were standing open-mouthed staring at me, pointing. Why are you bleeding so much? they asked in unison. I sat on the outdoor toy box and sent them in for kitchen roll. Under a rather bloody mess I finally found a gash about 2cm long and quite deep. I quickly checked my silk skirt to make sure only my skin had been pierced and not my clothes - Phew!
Thomas was called out from his office to clean and dress it, then I was sent in for a coffee and a chocolate biscuit. Thomas took over cooking dinner while I sat nipping on the couch. I'd really like a bath now, but that doesn't really look very feasible :-(
Question is - which silly bugger put the dagger shaped broken glass in the binbag anyway, and what would have happened if I'd slung the binbag over my shoulder!?

NEW BED? MAYBE NOT?


Lots in our new bedroom
Originally uploaded by PhylB
This is our bed. There are many things I hate about our bed. The frame is IKEA but the mattress is a UK one so there's a 5cm gulf all around the mattress where the bed slips and slides and gathers dust and crumbs. Then there is the iron headboard. The width between the vertical bars isn't enough for one's back, so reading sitting up is painful and annoying. It squeaks and shakes and generally is not really sturdy enough for the number of people who often end up hugging in it.
Mum and Dad offered to buy us a new bed as a wedding present, which will be nice if we ever get round to looking. One problem we (un)fortunately won't be having with any new bed is this! You've got to laugh, no?

Friday, June 05, 2009

AGE GAPS


Brothers
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I've never found the big age gap between Marcel and the two little ones (8 & 10 years respectively) a particular problem. He loves them both to bits and they worship the ground he walks on.
Today however, I had my first problem with it. Léon is used to listening to how his brother views the world and I'm not altogether sure that fits in with the cute 3 year old image...
Léon was swinging on our iron garden gate while Marcel was sitting in his bedroom listening to some rap music with the window open. MARCEL, MARCEL!!!!, shouted Léon, as a group of high school girls (of about 13) walked by in their tight skirts and straightened blonde hair. Check out how HOT these girls are, he shouted to his big brother proudly, as the girls walked past giggling. Thanks Léon! grinned Marcel from the window.
Yeah - thanks indeed Marcel!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

BILINGUAL DILEMMA NUMBER TWO

I have just listened to Thomas and Léon having a 5 minute long bilingual argument!
Léon is looking at a wildlife picture search book. He came to a page with a giant squid on it. 'Would you look at that giant squid Thomas?' asked Léon. 'Ja, jeg kan godt se blæksprutten!' replied Thomas. (Like all bilingual kids, they often have these two language exchanges.) 'No, it isn't an octopus Thomas, it's a squid - it is bigger than an octopus' (and has two more legs you know!) So Thomas explained over and over that there was only one word in Danish and it covered both animals but to Pudge that just wasn't good enough. Léon brought more and more pictures of squid and octopuses to try to convince Thomas to invent a new word in Danish. He even showed him a toy one as if that would suddenly make him see the error of his ways.
Of course to help explain, I mentioned to Pudge that it was just like both turtle and tortoise being skildpadde in Danish or tortue in French, but that only resulted in him showing him pictures of turtles and explaining they had flippers instead of feet and lived in the water as if, once again Thomas would suddenly find a second Danish word to differentiate between the two shelled creatures.
I just love having bilingual kids. If I had all the money in the world I think I'd take time out to do a PhD on bilingualism :-)

BILINGUAL DILEMMA NUMBER ONE


eating pineapple
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Léon's had a morning filled with bilingual dilemmas.
I was being a bit lazy so instead of reading an English or French book to Anna and Léon this morning, I picked up the first thing I saw which happened to be a Danish A-Z (or rather A-Å) picture book. All was going well. I was chatting away to Léon in French asking him about various pictures. The first page contained the Danish words for a monkey, a face, an arm, a duck, an elbow, a pineapple and a cucumber which all begin with 'A' in Danish. Pudge was happy for me to mention le singe, le visage, le canard, le coude, le bras and le concombre without a bat of the eyelid, he happily pointed them out for Anna but he got quite upset when I said 'Tu vois l'ananas?' You see, although I am allowed to speak English and French, I am not allowed to speak Danish, just as Thomas is not allowed to speak English. I am allowed to understand Danish and hold conversations where I reply to Danish in English but when I say a Danish word, Léon says 'That's not your word, that's Thomas's word, your word is X'. What had thrown him of course was that Danish has quite a few borrowings from French. So when I mentioned 'ananas', he took it to be Thomas's word for pineapple and therefore thought I was daring to use a Danish word. I tested my theory when we got to 'c'. I was allowed to mention le chocolat, l'ordinateur, le casque and le vélo but le champignon and le citron were no-go areas - they were 'Thomas's words'. It's funny he thinks of these three words as Danish and not French! I guess Thomas is the chef in our house so food's first language in Léon's mind is Danish.

Monday, June 01, 2009

THE GREENHOUSE FROM HELL


The greenhouse from hell
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Thomas and I have been building a greenhouse now for some months (15 to be precise but don't tell anyone). In general, I think we are both fairly clever people - we both have masters degrees, we can both do maths as well as languages. We should be able to rise to this challenge but my God this contraption takes the biscuit.
First time we built the frame in the winter last year it blew across the garden in a storm leaving pieces, nuts, bolts etc strewn all over the lawn. The instructions hadn't mentioned you needed to cement in the base before building the greenhouse. Of course in chicken and eggy way, you couldn't cement in the base till you checked the greenhouse fitted on it, but if you built it before the base was ready it blew round the garden snapping in pieces. The instructions are unimaginable. I may even feel compelled to scan them in to show you, they are so bad! Every one of the approximately 500 pieces has a number etched onto it - not a sequential one of course - random nonsense such as 10145, 10238 etc. So every time you try to put two bits together you have to go through all 500 and find the two pieces you need. Almost no pieces are the same. Even the pieces of glass came in 20 different sizes - they were just great - they didn't want to etch those so to find out which piece of glass was which you had to measure those with a ruler (to the nearest millimetre of course). That meant laying them all over the lawn and drawing ourselves a diagram of which piece corresponded to which bizarre 5 figure number. By the time we got the glass in (it took 12 hours on Saturday) the lawn was scorched and beyond repair. By 3pm on Saturday I was googling alternative greenhouses and taking the seats out my car with a view to driving this one to the dump and starting again... but Thomas persevered. Interestingly, the windows seem to be held in by paperclips and rubber shoes laces - I wonder if this is a standard design?
Now we've finally got it upright, there are of course 3 pieces missing - 2 panes of glass and the hopper for the roof vent. According to the back page of the instruction tome, we could have had that sent, had we notified them of the missing pieces within 7 days of receipt of the greenhouse. Even bloody Einstein could not have assembled it quick enough to work out what was missing if the deadline was 7 days. A cheeky email will be sent demanding panes of glass anyway. We'll simply have to explain we were not clever enough to assemble it in less than 15 months.
Anyway it gets the tomatoes out my kitchen and means my bathroom won't fill up with seedlings this summer and that's the main thing!

WHEN TECHNOLOGY WENT TOO FAR


The 'not grey' car
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I know I usually sing my car's praises whenever I mention it. I like the sliding doors that mean the kids aren't constantly knocking them against walls or other cars. I appreciate the way the windscreen wipers come on when it starts to rain and the lights come on at dusk. The one thing I am not happy about this week is the interior motion sensor alarm. In this heat I want to leave all the windows open while I sit in my garden because I am in and out all day and have no desire to step into a furnace on wheels and wait for the air conditioning to combat the melting dashboard. Of course when I leave the windows open but lock the car, anything bigger than a midge flying in through the open window sets off the alarm over and over again. After various attempts at cooling it down I am now giving up - it is simply impossible to leave its windows open. :-(