Friday, November 27, 2009

CAVITY WALL INSTALLATION - EAGA-STYLE

Back in June or July a bloke from Eaga Scotland came to the door offering free surveys for cavity wall insulation. He left a leaflet. Remembering how warm my parents house had become since their installation, I rang on the off-chance they had some special recession deals and found out that was indeed the case. I arranged for a free house survey.
In August a guy came round, surveyed the house, filled in all the paper work and had us sign up. As he got into his car to leave, I asked when the job would be carried out. He replied that it usually took about three weeks but because our house had two separate extensions on it, one on the gable end and one on the back and both were timber kit extensions which couldn't be filled, he would need to get a supervisor's approval before the job was signed off. He took two photos, disappeared and the saga began.
After the three weeks had passed, I rang up. I went through the press 3 for the installation department nonsense, hung on for 15 minutes and was promptly hung up on. This didn't augur well. I rang back later and was asked if I wanted to book a survey. No, I had one of those three weeks ago, I want you to tell me the supervisor's decision since I can't sign up with someone else until you say no as I have already applied for all your grants and signed up. They promised to ring a supervisor and get back to me. Of course they didn't. This was a Friday. I rang back at 5pm and they were already on their weekend. I hassled them again Monday morning and was told the surveyor from three weeks earlier hadn't submitted my paperwork. I asked for his mobile number and when I rang him, was told he had taken the day off because his child had been hospitalised (aye sure...) And no excuse was given for the three previous weeks. The saga dragged on another week.
The following Monday a little boy on the switchboard said my surveyor had arranged a meeting with a supervisor for Friday afternoon and he'd let me know the outcome. Of course when I rang at 4-45pm (I was learning) on Friday I was told the surveyor hadn't turned up and the meeting now set for Monday. We were already into October. I explained I was going to rip up my contract and get their main competitor out the following week if I hadn't heard a yes or no. (In truth I couldn't really be bothered restarting the 'whether my house with extensions was suitable' nonsense with another company this close to winter but I sounded convincing.)
In one last attempt I tried the surveyor's mobile again. He asked if I wanted to arrange a survey - Arg - Nooooo - you did that in August, it is now bloody November. Immediately I got some cock and bull story about him having taken the photos in a non-downloadable digital format and him never being in the office at the same time as a supervisor. It was the second Thursday in November. I gave him a 24 hr deadline to track one down. Of course when I rang on the Friday, he was unavailable and my many friends in the Eaga office could find no notes pertaining to the outcome of the meeting with the supervisor. They offered me a survey once more!!!!
So last week on Monday I phoned to cancel and got someone I didn't know. She told me my notes had been updated to say that because of my extensions I could only be cavity filled by the Inverness van which was in Inverness until today at 8am! Believing this was yet another excuse, I said 'whatever' and she agreed to pencil me in for today. Given my nearly 4 months of jumping through hoops, I rated the chances of my walls being filled today at about 5%. At 7-50am however the doorbell rang and there was a nice Eaga van sitting at the end of my path! Shock and surprise!
A team of men jumped on my roof, drilled my walls with such ferocity the wee ones were running round the house by 8-15am shouting ' Watch out, there are dragons outside!' and by 10-30am they were packing up to leave. Thomas popped outside and asked if it had been a really hard job given the extension issue and the head filler looked at him as if he was quite mad and left muttering 'What issue? This was as standard a job as any we take on!'
Give me strength! (And if you are planning cavity wall insulation yourself, I thoroughly recommend Miller Pattison - they did mum and dad's!)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

TIME TO MODERNIZE?

Charlotte's French homework tonight was to draw a family tree. Obviously given our French background, this would have been possible for her despite the only vocabulary on offer being mother, father, brother, sister, grandmother and grandfather. But given at least 25% of the kids in her class would have needed to know how to say 'step mother, step father, half sibling, step sibling, step parent's mother or father etc etc , it is maybe time for a rethink of such exercises. By the time Marcel reached p7 at least half his class had divorced parents.
Charlotte, of course, went about things unconventionally. She first said she couldn't do it so would base it on a fictional family. She then decided to base it on me, but realized I had no sisters so she would prefer to use herself given she has both brothers and sisters. She drew herself, Anna and the boys. She then drew me and labelled me as her mother. I asked if she was going to add Thomas labelled Mum's husband, then add André and his Chinese wife. She said no, her page wasn't wide enough, so she added an unnamed father beside herself, explaining as she went along that if she drew the hair very short it wouldn't be overly obvious if it was Papa or Thomas, and then proceeded to add Thomas's parents above the 'father'!
Confused? You will be after this episode of Soap...

WHERE DOES THE IMAGINATION GO?


Pumpkin Pudge
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I've been observing Pudge a lot recently and comparing him to the other ages in my family's spectrum. I know this stage well as the older ones went through it too. I think it has to be called the imagination stage.
He can talk to himself for a long time, telling himself stories, or sometimes play-acting with plastic dinosaurs. None of what he says needs to be particularly sensible - I heard his dinosaurs having the following conversation yesterday: Wow we've reached dry land! I can tell it is dry land because I see the water from here! But he needs to hear the sound of his own voice constantly. I timed him the other day and he actually managed to carry on a conversation between himself and the dinosaurs for 85 minutes with no external input!
During dinner it is hard to get him to focus on eating because discussing his dinner with his knife and fork can be too riveting! It's a stage that at the same time is driving me mad with frustration and yet leaves me in awe of the imagination small children have, which I have seen all but disappear in his 12 year old brother and certainly diminish in his 9 year old sister. I wonder what reality does to all that imagination? What knocks it out of them so completely?
I guess we need to video this stage to show him when he too becomes a tweenager hooked up to msn chewing gum and looking disinterested in the not so distant future...

GERMAN XMAS MARKETS


munich 1-7-89
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I see the German Xmas market is back in Glasgow. It has been here for the past few years and I've tried to drop by at least once. It isn't quite up to the standard of Trier or Freiburg where I went a few times when I lived in France, but it has enough Glühwein, sausage and gingerbread to make it smell right and often has some nice, though slightly pricey arts and crafts. That makes me wonder... after the pound's 35% nosedive this year, the Germans are going to have to make a decision on whether to make no profit over here by reducing their prices, or make their prices so high that no one buys anything. Hmmm - I guess what will be more interesting to see is whether they are back next year or not!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SCOTTISH STATE SCHOOL OF THE YEAR

I was pleased to find this article about Marcel's school in the press the other day. Hope they keep up the good work! :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

HOW MANY DOUGHNUTS (DONUTS)?


Back in Stansted
Originally uploaded by PhylB
When Pudge and I were in Manhattan a few years ago we decided to go up the Empire State Building one morning because our jet lag had got us up so early there was no queue yet. Figuring we'd be hungry before we'd done our sightseeing, I decided to buy a couple of donuts to go in a bag. Luckily there was a donut shop just across the road so I went in and asked for two. The man behind the counter looked at me as if I had asked for two live chickens in a bag. He proceeded to explain that donuts were so much cheaper to buy by the half dozen. I pointed out I was alone with a baby and two would be fine. I probably ended up paying as much for two as I would have for six, but I didn't see any point in carrying four spares around all day.
Last night Lots and Thomas decided to make homemade doughnuts for breakfast for the first time. Thomas had a well-known American cookbook called 'Joy' and he and Charlotte disappeared into the kitchen for the best part of yesterday evening doing odd things with dough and yeast. It seemed like a lot of hassle. They made one batch of doughnuts as explained in the cookbook. This morning they were ready for frying. The one batch as recommended by the American cookbook contained approximately thirty donuts and mentioned they had to be eaten within two hours of frying. I assume most American families have two, maybe three kids at the most, so their breakfast batch suggests you should be eating six or even seven large donuts each for breakfast!
Suddenly I understand both why the bloke in Manhattan had mocked my order of two donuts and why Americans aren't generally the skinniest people around!
(Incidentally, I don't actually like doughnuts - they are greasy and heavy, and even one is too much, but these were light and fluffy and I probably polished off at least three in the required two hours, so maybe people should make their own.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A380


qantas a380
Originally uploaded by Joits
I know I'm a complete plane nerd, but what could have been cooler than a seat on the first Paris - NY flight on an A380???

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

HOME ECONOMICS THEN AND NOW

83 Coffee buns

Here's a photo of my little brother at the age of 12. Derek started high school as I entered my 5th year. He got double home economics twice a week. Eighty minutes of sewing that made me laugh, and eighty minutes of cooking that tested my ingenuity... He used to stand on the main stair case and wait to pounce. He was quite small at 12 so could hide behind other pupils. Just when I thought it was safe, a little voice used to squeak: Do you want to taste my onion soup? ... my coffee buns? ... my soufflé? etcetc You don't want to knock their confidence and you don't want to be nasty when your sibling is actually being nice to you for once, but those five words Do you want to taste... used to strike terror into me. As you can see, his coffee buns weren't the most appetizing. His onion soup was like hot dish water with a raw onion floating on top. I soon attempted to find a way to the top floor, avoiding the stair case! I tried being early or late to classes just so he couldn't find me. Although his initial culinary adventures were pitiful, he soon learned the talent of gourmet cooking and these days I actually look forward to a dinner invite! Although school didn't teach him to cook, it at least tried to make him rustle up some real food.
I was discussing cooking lessons with a friend the other day. Marcel hasn't started cooking at school yet but given he cooks an evening meal for six of us every 5th day or so (as does his nine year old sister), the calibre of the lessons didn't really worry me. My friend's son is also 12 and has already started cooking at school.
The first problem these days seems to be the lesson length. They have fifty minute periods and don't double them for cooking. Secondly, of course as always these days, is that the first fifteen minutes are then taken up with all the usual health and safety bullshit. With less than half an hour left once you consider the tidying at the end, they have no time to teach them anything that will be remotely useful for life.
My friend's son's first cooking lesson was called 'How to make an empire biscuit'. This is a bit basic (more what I'd expect Pudge to be doing at nursery) but if they had actually taught them how to do that, it wouldn't have been a complete waste. It turns out that they didn't have time to bake the biscuits and let them cool enough to jam and ice them. They had these 12 year olds simply take two digestives from a supermarket packet, jam them together and spread ready-made icing on top. If it wasn't so tragic, I'd laugh.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt my friend assumed they were trying to gently break in those who had never cooked before. The second week's lesson was entitled 'Homemade pizza'. She figured that at least might come in handy one day if her son goes away to university. But no, poor Gordon trudged home this time with a slice of cold toast with ketchup and grated cheese on top, wondering if he was going to have to live with his mum forever or die of starvation at 18. His mother is now teaching him to cook herself.
You do have to wonder in this age of ill health and obesity, if this really is the best our schools can manage. Personally, I'd rather Marcel did no cookery than this useless nonsense!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

PARANOIA - THE KILLJOYS ARE AT IT AGAIN

My local nursery, which Léon attends, runs what it calls helper mornings. Every Wednesday since Charlotte was there and possibly longer, each room (containing 50 kids) has allowed two relative helpers to come in and enjoy a morning with the kids. They sign up in advance, so there are never more than two adults and they come in an help the (approx) 7-8 members of staff in each room. Helping means reading the kids a story, or painting with them, playing with lego, singing, sitting around taking part while the kids discuss topics they are studying. Helping doesn't mean being alone with the kids, it doesn't mean taking them to the toilet or out alone for a walk in the woods. It doesn't mean strapping them all into a bus and taking on them for a drive to the local lake.
Many mums, some dads and quite a few grandparents volunteer and the two weekly slots are always full. The kids enjoy it, the adults enjoy it. Six months ago when Thomas's parents were over, Brita signed up to take part. As a minister, she had often worked with kids and was curious to see how nurseries function over here. The kids got to see someone exotic and strange. She got to see the workings of a Scottish State nursery - a win win situation.
But as usual, it was too good to be true. This week we received (completely out of the blue) a new directive from the council. This scheme is being closed down immediately and reopened only to relatives who hold full disclosure certificates - you know the usual police, criminal etc checks you need to be a teacher or childminder. I have no issue with teachers being subjected to criminal checks once to spend a lifetime alone with our kids but forcing Grannies to undergo criminal checking to spend 2 hours supervised with my child is the kind of overkill that will simply mean the Granny won't do it, and the child will miss out on that wider, richer life experience. When are we going to get things back into perspective in this crazy country?

Friday, November 13, 2009

HOW DO THEY KNOW?


At Rouken Glen Park
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I've been reading with curiosity in the media about the latest swine flu figures for Scotland. Apparently last week 21,500 people are estimated to have caught the virus in Scotland up from 17,500 the week before. Unless you are hospitalized or you die, to my knowledge no one is actually tested and if you go onto the NHS website you are told not to contact your GP unless you are in a high risk group so where are they getting these figures from?
When you check the NHS symptoms page you are told:
If you or a member of your family has a fever or high temperature (over 38°C/100.4°F) and two or more of the following symptoms, you may have swine flu:

* unusual tiredness,
* headache,
* runny nose,
* sore throat,
* shortness of breath or cough,
* loss of appetite,
* aching muscles,
* diarrhoea or vomiting.

So, given all four of my kids have been sick for the best part of a week, all with the necessary temperature, tiredness, cough and loss of appetite, the two biggies also with headaches, the three youngest with runny noses and the two middle ones with diarrhoea, am I to conclude they all may have it, or as I suspect, they all have a bad cold?
It seems to me no one can count real swine flu cases and these guidelines could cover all viral infections so no one is any the wiser.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

WOULD YOU JUST LOOK AT THIS!


Have you ever seen a weirder, less natural way of knitting than this???? I am married to a man who thinks this is how you knit! Hahahahaha!(He has significantly created very few garments in his 37 years though).
When I was a student I lived with a German girl who knitted every night. She did all sorts of weird things with her fingers and at times I wondered why she needed needles at all. Significantly, though we lived together on and off for 18 months, she never did complete a wearable knitted garment either. Here is what she did:

Of course every sane person knows that the only reasonable way to create baby clothes is the technique used here and in the States!

So now I'm away to knit a babysuit.

LUDICROUS!

Thomas and I decided to go for a walk in town yesterday afternoon (have I ever mentioned how nice it is to work for yourself, instead of all that 9-5 nonsense?!)
Of course any trip into town means a compulsory ten minutes in TK MAXX, Thomas's favourite (for some bizarre reason) shop. They had reduced age 4 Timberland jackets for kids. I'm not one for designer kiddie clothes - they grow too quickly and I'm paying no one for a label, however Léon's jacket is too short so I picked one up to check, given it's a discount store. It was nice and warm, better quality than his current jacket and reduced from £100 to a mere £35. £35, however is twice the price of Mothercare or ASDA so it didn't stand a chance. I was more than gobsmacked when I checked the lining though. Inside the left hand side of the jacket was a mobile phone pocket. I know this because it had a picture of a phone on it. I know it's 2009 but do 4 year olds ever have mobiles and if so what for? To let their parents know where they are if they are out alone? To ring for a lift to save them walking home from the station alone? To text their mates? Maybe so they can sit on mobile MSN to their girlfriend all night? I ask you...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

GERMANY 1989, SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR!


Freiburg Bierfest
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Everyone seems to be asking 'Where were you when the wall came down?'
By sheer fluke, my uni course meant I was sent to live in Germany, or rather West Germany, from March till August of 1989. Daily I watched on the news as more and more people trickled across the DDR border into Czechoslovakia then over to the West, not realizing that what I was witnessing firsthand was about to be one of the most important historical events of my lifetime. It was exciting, but none of us knew at the time whether it was a temporary situation that would be stopped again by some Soviet tank or whether the DDR would simply end up empty! Even in the August it wasn't obvious that the wall had to come down. It seems unimaginable with hindsight that we didn't see it coming!
In August I moved back to France (Besançon) where I stayed till October. I must have returned to the UK around 5 October to matriculate for my last year at uni. I must say I was kicking myself when the wall came down that week - if I'd known how close I'd come to witnessing in the flesh the demise of the wall I'd heard so much about from my dad throughout my childhood (he often worked in Berlin), then I'd have jumped on a plane to Berlin rather than Glasgow!

Friday, November 06, 2009

BAKED


Léon
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Now here's an interesting study. Given that when Baked is born, she'll have heard a lot of English, Danish, French, German and even a little Italian while in the womb, then this suggests she'll be so confused as to how to cry, she may just have to lie about quietly smiling for fear of getting it wrong!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO PARENTING


At Rouken Glen Park
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I have noticed that parents, or at least the ones I know, seem to fall into two categories.
The first group seems to try to fill junior's every waking hour with fun activities and sports and their parent runs around like an exhausted taxi driver skipping meals to get them from A to B. In my experience, this type looks rather blank when you ask how junior ever fits in helping around the house.
The second type tries to give junior an insight into the life that will soon be upon him while still trying to make sure childhood isn't all boring chores.
I have several friends who roll their eyes in disbelief when they hear me ask the kids what they want to cook on their respective cooking nights, or when I ask Marcel if he's ironed his shirt for school. Tonight Lots made homemade meatballs in bolognese sauce and spaghetti, while Léon and Anna helped to peel the garlic and pick the parsley in the garden.
Of course my kids may bitch when they are older that their mother was a slave driver and their friends were all out learning tennis, but I would prefer to think that on their first night alone in their own flat they won't need to ring me, as one student friend did to me back in 1987 when we left home, to ask how you cook a cabbage because her parents had never taught her to cook...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A SWEET BILINGUAL ERROR


Dinosaur biscuits
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Last weekend the weather was so dire, we hardly set foot outside. To distract the kids I got Léon and Lots to make biscuits together. They used a Danish recipe. Thomas told them they had to roll the pastry out fairly thin and bake the biscuits for just five minutes. After five minutes I wasn't sure whether they were cooked through because I wasn't entirely sure they'd rolled them thinly enough. Go and ask Thomas what colour the biscuits should be, I told Pudge. He returned and proudly replied pinkish brown! Pinkish brown??? What the hell is pinkish brown, I wondered. I know Thomas never speaks to Léon in English so I translated in my head the words pink and brown into Danish and suddenly I understood. Danish for pink is lyserød, literally light red. I had expected Thomas's answer to be either light or dark brown. Of course Thomas must have said lysebrun (light brown) but when Pudge heard the lyse the only colour he knew beginning lyse was pink. He's obviously never analysed the meaning of the word lyserød and has simply taken it to mean pink, no more, no less. Sweet!