Tuesday, May 31, 2011


A lifetime ago, when I was just 20, I moved to France to teach English in a couple of high schools. For the most part, it was a wonderful experience - especially my realization that there were in fact four seasons and they didn't all take place the same day! But linguistically one one-hour lesson, given by the head of the English department in the senior high school, still gives me nightmares to this day!
The head of English was a man called 'Guy'. I arrived on my first day and was introduced to him. He was extremely friendly and pleasant and then I opened my mouth! He was horrified by my accent, muttered something about how non RP-speakers should never be employed as language assistants and ranted about the adverse effect my accent would have on his pupils! I tried to argue that there were many accents of English and his class of 14 year olds might benefit from learning that. He reluctantly agreed and led me to his class. What happened next was astounding from a logic and language point of view. He was teaching his class about travel. He wrote on the board something like:

  1. He went to Spain
  2. The girls are going to Germany
  3. I am going in Japan
  4. He went in Denmark

I was new on the job. I tried to attract his attention quietly to point out the two errors in English as I thought a 20 year old humiliating the head of dept publicly during the first lesson was perhaps a bit off but he dismissed my whisper that you don't use 'in' with direction and went on to explain the biggest and most illogical piece of nonsense I have ever heard in all my years of language learning and teaching! He explained the correlation between the gender of a country in French and the choice of preposition in English! Apparently with feminine countries you use 'to'. So Il est allé en Espagne becomes He went to Spain, however with masculine countries the English used 'in', so Je vais au Japon was of course I am going in Japan! I was dumbfounded! How could anyone with an ounce of linguistic knowledge imagine a correlation between genders in one language and prepositions in a different language without gender? The man was barking mad!
At the end of the lesson the children dispersed muttering their newly learned grammar under their breath and I took Guy aside and explained as politely and tactfully as possible the we go to Japan and to Denmark in English and that his gender theory was off the wall. He exploded that his initial hunch that my(!) wacky English would be highly damaging for his classes and told me that I would not be allowed to participate in his classes for the rest of the year, as undoing the damage I would cause would be too much hassle!
Fortunately, the other teachers took advantage of my newly acquired free time and used me more, not less than usual, believing my English would add a new depth to the kids' understanding. Guy blanked me for the rest of the year but I had the last laugh on my last day a year later when I threw a dinner party for all the members of the English department who had made me so welcome and made it one of the best years of my life. Of course, I didn't invite Guy!
But 20 years on, as he must be reaching retirement, I do wonder occasionally how many children are wandering around the east of France asking each other if they fancy a wee trip in Mexico! ;-)


On Sunday we took the kids to Glasgow's Tenement House museum. Marcel and Charlotte had been before when they were little but didn't remember it. Of course the flat we'd sold in Rose street in 2007 was identical so it was interesting from that point of view.
In the kitchen an elderly female NTS rep explained all the ins and outs of the range, the built-in beds, the coal, the gas lighting and the mangle above the sink, which she demonstrated for Léon and explained to him in great detail. On our way back to the car I asked Pudge what had impressed him most and the wee sweetie replied, as only he can 'I liked the old lady's funny tumble dryer'!

Monday, May 30, 2011


Léon keeps talking about Moshi monsters. I am not actually sure he knows what a moshi monster is but he hears everyone else raving about them at school so wants to be in on the trend. I decided to adopt him one but was a bit snowed under with work and life so asked Charlotte to read up on what you were meant to do with it on the web page.

She came down the other night and announced it was some kind of tamagotchi-like thing that you had to feed, play with and stimulate to keep happy. When you log on it asks for nutritious snacks and new decor for its house that you pay for by earning money doing general knowledge and mathematical quizzes. No issues there - or so I thought...

But I hadn't banked on my daughter turning out to be some kind of sadistic lunatic! With a gleam in her eye, she started force-feeding Pudge's monster bowl after bowl of soup to see if she could make it explode! She then tried giving it 20+ cans of juice in a similar (failed) attempt to kill it! Around midnight I caught her googling 'how do you kill a moshi monster'! I began to worry I was raising some sort of psychopathic offspring.

On Sunday my brother dropped by... my respectable, 40 year old (this week), lawyer brother. I started to recount what moshi monsters were and how they functioned with a view to asking him if he thought Lots's behaviour was worrying. Before I got as far as that though, his eyes lit up like the little boy I remember from my childhood and he mused - I wonder if you could starve one to death or overfeed it!

Bloody hell - it all came back to me - the jars he'd caught wasps and bees in at 10, the bugs he'd used a magnifying glass and sun rays to heat till the popped. When I told him about Charlotte's behaviour he simply looked proud rather than appalled. So if my daughter is a psycho, I guess the gene comes from her uncle!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Two weeks ago Léon came home from school with a letter telling the kids that the last day before the long weekend holiday was going to be their annual crazy hair day. Léon's been unable to contain himself ever since. Every morning he's asked if he can dye his hair (while Charlotte, of course, is refusing as usual to even comb her hair into a different parting as that would be far too daring!) Last night we told him today was the day. We fully expected to be woken at 6, but at 7-30 he bounced down announcing he'd lost the battery from his wall clock. Thomas had told him he couldn't come down till 8 so apparently he'd taken it off the wall and sat on the top bunk watching the hands go round until the battery fell out the back and he lost all idea what time it was! So he's off at school now as pleased as punch, and I'm just hoping face-paint does come out of hair after a whole day!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


As I've mentioned before, I decided when my kids were born that they needed to be fluent French speakers. Firstly, it was paramount because their family in France don't speak any English but also French is a big part of who I am so it seemed only natural to speak to them in French from birth. Either they'd grow up to love it like me, or they'd at least have a working knowledge that wouldn't do them any harm in life. With their father working long hours, I felt leaving him to speak to them in French would not suffice, so picking up the odd error or strange pronunciation from me was better than giving up!
Obviously things changed a little when we divorced but it was the man I fell out of love with, not the language or the culture, so my quest continued, and even the two half Danish children weren't going to be left out of my French programme!
Last week, at the ripe old age of 13 Marcel sat his Intermediate 2 exam. School doesn't have the money to give him his own member of staff, so the French assistant and I have spent the last six weeks teaching him. Since the first week of first year Marcel has not participated in French classes because they were deemed irrelevant to him after a French member of staff interviewed him on my request.
So I downloaded a few past papers to familiarize myself with the exam format. It was called an 'O' grade in my day so I wanted to see what it was like. The first thing that struck me was the speed at which the listening comprehension is read. I have never heard a French (or Belgian, Swiss or Canadian person) speak at that speed. Suddenly it came back to me - I had never been to France when I started to learn French. I went to le Lavandou when I was 13 and nearly fell over when I heard the speed real people spoke. It terrified me! I then listened to the Credit level Standard Grade past papers to see if they were more ambitious, but they were even worse as they broke the information up into bite-sized chunks just to make sure no one could miss anything! I assumed they would maybe pick up the pace for Higher at least but when I listened in to that it was maybe 5% faster.
What is the point in making it artificially easy? Is the point of learning a language in Scotland to pass the exam or to be able to converse with the natives? Why have we lost the focus? Listen to Scandinavians, Dutch and the likes - they don't expect their kids to be mediocre at English, so why do we expect ours to be mediocre at French? I also noticed that only standard French was on offer - in one past paper a man claimed to be from Martinique, in another someone claimed to be Belgian and Canadian but again all the accents were exactly the same. This might help the kids pass but it doesn't help anyone grasp the realities of real French. If I was in charge, they'd not be sitting anything until they were at least capable of understanding le journal de 20h.
Needless to say when I start teaching Marcel Higher next month, we'll be focussing on real French.
Ok, rant over...

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Often in the park over the last couple of years I have witnessed small children zooming about at crazy speeds on little bikes with no pedals. I thought very little about them, though occasionally wondered why anyone would waste money on a pedal-less bike?
At the end of last summer, I took the stabilisers off Léon's little bike and then Thomas and I started the chore of running along behind him breaking our backs as we tried to teach balance to a child who already knew how to pedal. Snow came prematurely and coincided with Léon getting his first glasses so we only got 60% of the way there when we put his bike away for the very long winter.
Last month we started the running again. And as we ran, once again 3 year olds were shooting past us on pedal-less bikes. Suddenly the penny dropped. These pedalfree bikes were 'balance bikes' and were teaching tiny kids to cycle all by themselves so adults didn't need to intervene. I stopped watching Pudge and started watching the tots on the balance bikes. I was right.
I went straight onto ebay when I got home - no luck - all the cheap ones were pick-up only but even on amazon they were only £30 and with three kids who still needed to learn cycling, I figured it was worth a tenner each to save my back and Thomas's.
It arrived last week and within an hour Léon was tentatively balancing all by himself. Three trips out onto the road at the back of my house by himself without us even looking on and he was also shooting by with his feet in the air. I was so confident by today that I dragged out a real bike the same size to test my theory. He hopped on and cycled across the road without the slightest look back over his shoulder. It had taken less than 3 hours to teach my boy cycling, cost £10 and it didn't even make my back twinge!
Today I have lowered the balance bike's saddle to Anna's height and though I guess at three she might take longer than Léon, I will be more than surprised if she hasn't learned to cycle before the end of the summer.
Balance bikes were possibly invented as parents became older. You may be able to run crouched over a bike behind your five year old at 28 but by 43 another solution was necessary! They certainly have my vote. Any idea I had that they were a waste of money is definitely wrong. It made the whole process stress free and Léon looked more than pleased to have taught himself! Three cheers for balance bikes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


It started at about 3am. We'd gone to bed too late at 12.30 and at 3 the voice shouted 'Daddy, can I have some water?' The annoying thing when your older kids share the baby's room is the baby monitor doesn't just pick up babies - but given we sleep on a different floor, even screaming kids can't be heard without it. I pressed the button and said 'Sleepy time, Anna!' Ten minutes of silence followed. Just as I was about to drop off a wee voice said 'Daddy, can I have some water?' I repeated my end of the conversation. Water was then demanded at ten minute intervals for the next 90 by which time Daddy and I were so awake we might as well have got up and got dressed but I wasn't setting a precedent of turning up with middle of the night water, hugs and kisses in case she decided it was quite a nice occurrence. Eventually I shouted in a rather short-tempered manner for her to be quiet and not waken the whole house up and that I'd see her in the morning. Nothing for twenty minutes. I'd been holding my breath afraid to move, I relaxed, I closed my eyes... 'Daddy, can I have water!?'Thomas finally cracked, marched up stairs and explained to her how to get out her bed and walk over to the shelf with the cups and get herself water and made sure she knew she was meant to do it herself in future.
Finally we could go to sleep at 5. An hour later we heard a shout. I was ready to nail her to the wall when I realized it actually was the baby this time. She was brought down and instantly fell asleep with us. I was beyond caring, it was an hour till school run time.
Marcel had decided to do his paper round at 7-15 instead of 6-30 because he'd stayed up to watch The Apprentice last night. I expected the extra sleep would put him in a good mood... silly me! He was ranting and grumping about how much longer it took to do it when you were awake and aware of delivering papers, instead of in his usual zombie state! I even missed the odd house and had to go back, he growled! Strange child! So he was taking an age to have his shower and do his hair and all things that teenage boys find important. It was 8-25 and he was asking if he could iron his shirt or if I thought the noise of the iron would wake Amaia! He needs to leave at 8-25 and wasn't dressed. I peeked into my dark bedroom to see him with an iron in one hand and a bowl of Weetabix in the other! I made him lunch figuring he'd never get to that task. As I was spreading his bread, Charlotte walked in, also in morning-mood. You haven't filled in my PLP (Personal learning plan) and it is due in today!True enough, but had she given me it or even told me it had been in her bag since Friday? Nope, but that was apparently my fault! (In arguing with Lots, I managed to forget to pack Léon's lunch and only found it sitting on the toaster six hours later!) At least he was being sweet. I went back to the fridge to get Marcel some cheese, telling Lots there was a ten minute window between High school starting and her bell for me to fill in the PLP. The cheese was covered in cream, as was the cucumber... it turned out absolutely everything in the fridge was covered in cream. Someone had tipped over a 300ml pot on the top shelf and when 300ml runs out it can apparently cover four entire shelves of a fridge. Just what I needed on 2 hours sleep. I went to get the car key as Thomas shouted Quick!!!!! What now???? Someone (I am assuming whichever child got the ice lollies when we were watching Alan Sugar last night) had forgotten to close the freezer. We now had an in-kitchen swimming pool and a choice of defrosted items for today's menu.
So if anyone knows what you can make with:
  • 6 Swedish cinnamon rolls
  • 4kg of sweetcorn
  • 1 garlic bread
  • 6 slices of svenskt tunnbröd
  • 6 rolls
  • 3 fruit scones
  • 6 potato scones
  • 1 bag of lamb stock
  • 4 battered haddock
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 square sausages
  • 1 sage and onion stuffed chicken
  • 1 IKEA almond cake
  • 1 sticky toffee pudding
please let me know by dinner time or I'll have to go on Ready, Steady, Cook!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I have spent the best part of two weekends prising open tins of paint, sealant, tile adhesive and the likes in my garage, finding paints have turned to porridge and adhesives to cement over the course of the last winter. I have then had to drag them up to the dump as there are far too many to fit in our fortnightly bin collection. I have owned a garage now for ten years and these last two winters have been the first to see temperatures cold enough to destroy everything water-based stored within. So I am away to write on my calendar for the first weekend in November to bring all surviving pots into the house for the winter. I suggest you do the same.


Léon announced tonight that he quite fancied going to Japan to see what it's like and to eat sushi (I'd have thought Silverburn was closer, but there you go!) I mentioned that Thomas could read and speak Japanese so was perhaps a handy person to take along. Léon seriously agreed that that was a great idea given he'd be able to read all the road signs and check if there were any earthquake or tsunami forecasts on them. If only it was that simple!

Sunday, May 08, 2011


What lunatic came up with squeaky shoes? I was in ASDA the other morning half awake when a woman my own age walked past me with a toddler of about 20 months wearing these atrocities. As she walked towards me a pair of pensioners by my side exclaimed how cute they were, and perhaps as the child passes you for 12 seconds, they could be deemed cute but if you are mum or dad and walking beside what sounds like a demented doggy toy all day long, I swear you are going to end up on Prozac! You'd have to be truly insane to buy these things!

Friday, May 06, 2011


Unlike my two older children Léon loves ties and has been badgering me for weeks now not only for a school tie but even a blazer. The other two always wore the casual uniform at primary and have never even owned a primary tie. Léon is definitely not going to follow suit. Today the kids had a dress as you please non-uniform day and whereas most kids turned up in bright cartoon t-shirts and shorts, Léon insisted not only on his party shirt and tie but also his smart cardie! He has definite fashion ideas for a 5 year old - I am beginning to think he may have to change the spelling of his surname from Gautier to Gaultier!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I went to Culzean at the weekend. I swear in all the years I have been going there, I have never seen the sea so Mediterranean-like! :-)