Wednesday, November 30, 2011

PENSIONS

So today was the big strike day in the public sector. My initial reaction a month ago when I heard about it was flippantly to wonder if I would be on strike if I worked in the public sector, given their projected pensions are much higher than I can expect, having always worked in the private sector. It's been exactly ten years now since private sector pensions closed their final salary schemes, moving the money into stocks and shares... and we all know what has happened to stocks and shares since then. They got away with it at the time because the average earners saw their house price increase year after year and contented themselves with the fact that although they would have no pension, a simple down-sizing of their property would solve the cashflow problem of their old age... but of course that is a fantasy bubble that has since burst, and I suspect has some further bursting to do!

Of course there will be a small percentage of private sector MDs with decent pensions, just as there will be top civil servants with decent pensions too but an average worker will get a pension that will not allow him to retire ever. Add to that the issue of redundancy - when people lose their jobs they have to choose between continuing to invest in under-performing pensions or paying their mortgage. However short-sighted it may seem, many people choose to pay their mortgage! A quick poll of my freelance friends today (many editorial staff and journalists work freelance these days, having either been let go by struggling publishers, or having resigned, like me, unable to pay childcare costs from my very average salary, thus figuring working from home was the only option) reveals that next to none of my friends (all in their 40s) are currently paying into a pension at all. I wonder how many of the rich Tories in charge of the country are aware of that?

So rather than lamenting the fact that the public sector workers didn't exactly rush out in their thousands ten years ago in support when this was happening to us, I think it needs to be said that the government and country doesn't need to rethink their plans for the public sector so much as rethink pensions in their entirety. Twenty years from now we are suddenly going to hit a point when there are no jobs for us 60-somethings but we have no pensions either. It's time to break down that old us and them divide and realize all of us, public and private alike, are facing an impossible retirement.

It isn't the rights of public sector workers we should be fighting for, but the rights of all workers on average salaries, regardless of their sector. We should all be out there today pointing out to the buffoons in charge that a major rethink is needed.

(Here's an interesting quote from Macwhirter:

Here's a statistic to think about. At present annuity rates (that's what you get when your savings are converted into a pension) to buy an index linked pension of £24,000 - roughly what a teacher gets - a 60 year old would need to have saved over £600,000. It is impossible for normal people to save anything like this. The average personal pension savings “pot” at retirement is currently £30,000, which will generate about a £1100 a year, most of which is lost because the pensioner loses entitlement to means tested pension credit. And remember, a third of British workers, round 8 million, have no pension at all.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

ALPHABET PLATES

My car by PhylB
My car, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

Léon asked me yesterday why car number plates were called number plates when they are predominantly alphabet plates! It's funny how young children see the world through different eyes.

Then we got talking about number plates. He noticed a car with a number plate that contained only one letter and two numbers. He wanted to know why it was so short so I explained the UK's system of private number plates and mentioned that such a short number plate would have been quite expensive. The wee guy is now on the look-out (he says) for a car with the whole alphabet on the back because he hears there's a recession on so he figures someone around is going to be that poor!

Friday, November 25, 2011

ANNA

Anna by PhylB
Anna, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Léon is very long-sighted. Anna's now been to the hospital for her own eye-test and we've found out her issue is caused by astigmatism.

Of course, the result is the same. She too is likely to need glasses always. Ho hum :-(

Anna, of course, is a very positive person. She is completely thrilled that the only glasses that are small enough for a three year old on sale in Boots opticians are bright pink. She was dramatically claiming she was so blind she couldn't possibly leave the shop without her new glasses (despite not realizing last month she had any vision problems!) And she's already ordered Thomas to put a shelf beside her bed (he put one up for Léon's glasses a few months ago.)

Let's hope they don't take too long.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SKINNY

Climbing by PhylB
Climbing, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Here is a photo of Amaia climbing the stairs in my hall. We have two halls downstairs - an internal one painted pink and the one leading from the front door upstairs which is painted light and dark terracotta.

Last night I asked Anna where she had left her nursery bag. 'In the skinny hall', she replied. The pink hall, being internal, with five doors off it, is substantially smaller, so I assumed that is what she meant, but her bag was nowhere to be found. I went out to the big hall and there it was. Odd... until I questioned her further. You see according to Anna, apparently 'skinny' doesn't mean 'narrow', it means 'the colour of skin'! So my pale terracotta hall is in fact my 'skinny' hall!  Sweet!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PHOTOGRAPHIC SANITY RETURNS

For the past three years my kids' school has been annoying me on sports' day and at school shows with their blanket ban on photography. I have no major interest in taking photos of kids I don't know but I do want to show mine photos of their achievements and milestones when they reach adulthood. How often when we are on facebook these days does an old school friend upload a photo taken in the school playground 30 years ago and we all fall about laughing with genuine affection for our youth? Banning that has been grating on me for some time... Then this year, I finally snapped.

School sports day fell the week after my mother's stroke. My son was in primary one and I was banned from taking a photo of him to his granny in hospital for no reason I could see. I didn't want a class shot, simply a photo of him alone in his sack or holding an egg and spoon. So I wrote to my MP.


Dear Mr Macintosh,
I thought I'd ask for your help on this minor issue. Today was Sports' Day at my kids' school here in East Renfrewshire. As has been the case for the last two years the head opened it warning parents not to take photos of the event for private use as a few of the children didn't have permission to be photographed. It seems to me that the majority of the parents did want to photograph the event - many sneaked out mobiles while the teachers' backs were turned. Why are the majority's desires ignored in favour of the minority? I agree publishing photos would be another matter. But a snap of your child for personal use is harmless. My mother is in hospital after a stroke last week, my father is terminally ill with cancer so neither was able to attend my son's p1 sports' day. I feel terribly upset I couldn't brighten their day by showing them a photo of him with an egg and spoon. I have no desire to take photos of others' kids, I simply feel aggrieved that someone is telling me I cannot document my own child's childhood because of the desires of a few paranoid individuals. Ironically if these kids are walking home from school on say Mearns road nothing stops me from accidentally snapping them as I take a photo of a nearby church for example. I don't need to ask permission of every individual on Prestwick beach on a sunny day before snapping the view. And of course the rules have changed over the years - I have plenty photos of my older kids' sports days. How do I explain to the youngest that his own mother is banned from photographing him? I think it is time we got back a sense of reality. And the reality is 95% of parents want a cute little photo of junior with his egg and spoon and 5% are spoiling that. Why are we allowing that? By pandering to this paranoia we are sending the kids the message that the parents watching them at school are potentially dangerous. That is completely wrong. I wish the Scottish government would step in and issue some guidelines for sense.
Thanks for your time.

I assumed it would be ignored but I felt better for having moaned at least. A month later I received a letter stamped 'Scottish Parliament'. Mr Macintosh said he agreed with my points, had kids in the same council area and agreed to take up my case with the council. I was surprised to say the least. Another month passed and both Ken and the council wrote to me saying new guidelines allowing parents to photograph their kids on condition they didn't upload the photos to social media sites had been sent to all East Ren heads.

Today I attended the school's p2 show where we were allowed to take photos of our kids for the first time in three years. So I guess the lesson is to be less cynical. Complaining sometimes actually works!

SCOTTISH PANTO SEASON

I decided today it would be nice if I could take my kids just once in their childhood to see a proper Panto at the Pavilion or the King's theatre in Glasgow. What better time to take them than when Brita and Peter are over for Anna's birthday in December. It would be a fun and interesting experience for our foreign guests and kids alike...

So I fill in the booking form - 2 adults, 2 over-60s, 5 under-16s... that'll be £208 + booking fee! You are kidding, right? A two hour show, that you are meant to go to over and above your other December plans and Xmas presents buying costs around £25 a head and there are no family tickets or reductions for under-5? A baby pays the same as a 15 year old? I don't think this is anything like realistic in the current economic climate and urge a mass boycott by normal Glaswegians in favour of amateur equivalents until they considerably reduce the greed factor for the future.

Monday, November 21, 2011

HOW SWEET CAN ONE CHILD BE?

Léon by PhylB
Léon, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Thomas was reading the kids a story about a deer the other night. Léon, like many kids, got confused and thought Thomas meant a reindeer - after all, kids hear more about them than about any other type at this time of the year. Thomas told him he meant a normal deer, not a reindeer and Léon asked: What's the difference? Are normal deer just reindeer that don't know how to fly? The wee man was completely serious!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

BILINGUALISM

Painting the puppet theatre by PhylB
Painting the puppet theatre, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Bilingual kids have to memorize from as young as possible who speaks which language. Amaia, for example (at 22 months) is still at the stage where she comes out with completely mixed sentences and happily uses the wrong words to, say my parents or Thomas's. Anna (who is a month short of 4) already knows how to interpret for non-Danish/non-English speakers so would explain conversations between her Danish-speaking cousin Ursula and my parents.

Funnily enough learning who speaks what doesn't stop at people! Bilingual kids may have a teddy or similar who only speaks one of their languages!

This fantasy continues to quite an advanced age in childhood. I remember Thomas telling me his dad had a box of puppets when he was a child who could only speak German (Thomas is bilingual German/Danish from birth - his dad was originally from Germany). Thomas was happy for these puppets to only speak German but one day he had some kids home from school, so his dad was obliged to make his German puppets speak Danish so the other kids, who were not bilingual, could understand the show. Thomas told me he was beside himself - completely distraught, as the illusion had been broken. He had known for years that the puppets were German-speaking so speaking Danish was really wrong in his young mind.

Thomas has a box of puppets who only speak to Léon, Anna and Amaia in Danish! I have a horse and a dinosaur glove puppet who only speak to the three of the them in French!

Yesterday we dropped in on my parents and my mum asked Anna if she had any wishes for her 4th birthday next month. After a day's thought she asked me tentatively this evening: Do you think if we went out shopping we might be able to find any puppets who can speak English, mum?!

STIEG LARSSON

Last year when we were in Copenhagen, we nipped across to Sweden for the afternoon because Thomas wanted to buy the Stieg Larsson trilogy in Swedish. Thomas never reads translations... if he fancies a book, he'd rather learn enough of the language to read it than read it in translation! (Yes, I know he's eccentric, but you have got to admire his madness!) That left me with a dilemma... I don't read translations when I speak the language, but I haven't read anything in Swedish for twenty years, and I noticed that even after one afternoon in Sweden, my Swedish was interfering with my Danish. On return to Copenhagen I noticed I was reading the 'K's on shop signs in my head as if they were written 'SH' and I could hear a ridiculous singing intonation creeping into my head as I read station names and the likes on the Copenhagen metro. Had I spoken the sounds out loud Thomas would have fallen over laughing at me. Danish is so much more macho sounding than Swedish! I learned Swedish at uni but given in its written form Danish is about 80% understandable to someone with Swedish, I never officially needed to learn to read Danish. Then I moved in with Thomas and after many years of hearing Danish every day, I now understand that better but in its spoken form it is very different sounding to Swedish. If a foreigner has only learned Swedish and hears Danish they are clueless as to what is being said unless the Danish comes with subtitles in Danish. Swedish is fairly simple phonetically - it looks like the words you hear. Danish is unfortunately like English - full of words like 'light' or 'write' with silent bits and bits that aren't pronounced like you expect if you haven't learned it! To sum it up - I understand spoken Danish easier than Swedish, but written Swedish as well as written Danish.

Having watched the nine hour television series of the Larsson trilogy in Swedish, I am now tuned back into that but if I spend the rest of the year reading Larsson in Swedish will my Danish become laughable? So do I break my own no-translation rule? (I happily read translations when I don't speak the language by the way!) Do I do the ridiculous and buy it in Danish (given the price of books in Denmark) or do I take Swedish to bed every night and start singing my Danish to the point where I start to sound like the muppet chef?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

APPLE JUICE


Amaia's linguistic expertise has taken on a new dimension today. Following on from her inventions of her 'tired' and her 'drive' the other day, she has now decided that things are called what she wants them to be called, and if that doesn't match the real name, then that's simply tough - we should learn the new name!

Today she came in and asked for 'apple juice'. It was as clear as day. 'Mummy, I wan appoo juice'. No problems there. So I gave her a glass of diluting apple juice in a plastic beaker. She was distraught! She has an inflated sense of her age, so I assumed I had offended her with the lid (she doesn't use a lid at the table any more, but I'd given her this so she could walk about with it). Even without the lid, this apple juice made her fall to the ground in dramatic, hysterical tears. She stormed through to the living room and started pointing at her auntie wailing 'appoo juice' over and over. Amanda was drinking a caramel cappuccino I'd made two minutes earlier. I took Amaia back through to the kitchen and pointed at the cappuccino machine. She became less agitated. I poured the remaining frothy milk, a dribble of coffee and a spoonful of caramel into a Toy Story mug, half filling it. 'Apple juice?' I asked. She smiled, took it from me and wandered back to the living room where she sat down in front of the patio doors happily repeating the words 'appoo juice' over and over while hugging her mug and sipping her coffee.

If only I had more money I could commission myself to write and publish an Amaia-English English-Amaia bilingual dictionary!

Friday, November 18, 2011

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Paint fun by PhylB
Paint fun, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Eighteen months ago when Hazeldene Nursery told us Léon had failed his eye test, we were more than surprised. Neither Marcel nor Lots has any eyesight problems and I didn't get my first reading glasses till a few weeks before my 41st birthday.

We took him to the hospital follow-up and were told he was long-sighted and would need glasses at least till he was a teenager, if not permanently. So the fun and expense of keeping glasses unscratched, unbroken, unlost etc began.

I immediately tried to get Anna's eyes tested at the time. Opticians refused because she was under four. I tried in vain to get the hospital to look at her when I was there with Léon. I asked for a doctor's referral but was told she would be checked at four anyway.

She isn't four until next month but the nursery contacted us last month to say she too has now failed her nursery sight test.

Yesterday, I phoned the hospital who said she'd be receiving a non-urgent appointment at some point in the future. Léon's first appointment had taken nine months to come through. I wasn't going to put up with that again. After speaking persuasively to them for half an hour Anna has now been given an appointment next week.

Given the hassle value of glasses and small children, I really hope they've made a mistake, but Anna is so excited about being old enough to get glasses just like her big brother, she's already picked out a pink pair in Dollond & Aitchison so if they tell her she doesn't need them she's going to be beside herself!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

MEMORY TECHNIQUES

On our way home from school today Léon was discussing his school winter show. He's one of the narrators. I asked his lines, and he told me them. I asked how he knew when to say them and he explained that he knew that as soon as Lily had sat down, he had to stand up and say his bit. Charlotte asked what Lily's words were. Léon looked blank and replied that he didn't know, he just knew she only said one thing so when she sat down it was his turn. Charlotte looked shocked. Ever since p1, I have simply memorized the school play so I know when to speak, she explained, somewhat matter of fact. The whole play? I asked. Of course, she replied! Given last year's offering was a cut down version of a Shakespeare play and she was only ten, I was more than surprised. So I guess I have the two extremes of personality in my kids - one who doesn't know the preceding line, the other who could give the whole half hour as a monologue!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE

Bouncing on the bed by PhylB
Bouncing on the bed, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Amaia, unlike the rest of my children, has taken to making up nouns by taking the adjective or verb she associates with a particular item and substituting that for the real noun. You can tell her in English (or Danish) that she should go to 'bed' as often as you like but she insists on referring to it as her 'tired'. Yesterday, sitting at a junction, a rather nice car passed. 'Nice drive!' she exclaimed pointing at it.

It will be interesting to watch how this pattern develops.

FUTURE SHOPLIFTER/DRUG SMUGGLER?

Old, wise Amaia by PhylB
Old, wise Amaia, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I know many people dream of rich and powerful futures for their offspring, but I am beginning to suspect Amaia may simply grow up to be a shoplifter or drug smuggler! :-(

She has a habit of taking things and hiding them in her vest. She pops them in at the neck and we find them at various places throughout the day.

Take this last week. First, ten or so of Léon's lego men, complete with guns, spears, helmets and Viking horns all went missing. No one had seen them until I noticed Amaia had a limp the morning after they went missing. She was wearing her fleecy all-in-one pyjamas. The men were found in her left leg, after she'd managed to sleep a whole night with them.

The following day I pulled off her pinafore at bath time and her cutlery from dinner fell out of that!

Today I was about to change her nappy when I found sound strange dented patterns on her pelvis - I opened the nappy to find it full of paperclips, which once again had been inserted at her neck and fallen down through her vest into the nappy.

Finally, on another nappy change, I opened the poppers to reveal her stomach had various coloured stripes on it... and as I searched further up inside the vest, I of course found various crayons and felt tip pens minus lids.

Given we have so many relatives abroad, I really need to take great care before boarding a flight, especially with some of the more budget-end airlines... Trying to explain that I was not in fact trying to smuggle a knife, a cork screw or various unidentified powders, gels or substances in my baby's nappy might not just wash with them! :-\

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

O2

Have you ever tried to buy a phone off O2? I wouldn't bother if I were you...

Lots has had her heart set on buying a new phone since her old Sony Ericsson(?) gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. After a rather large rant at her about her not spending half of the savings she's been amassing for over three years, she finally gave in and opted for the lowest spec Smart phone she could afford. Everywhere on the web seemed to be selling it at around £120, O2 had it  at seventy something.

She has her own debit card these days - one of those teenage accounts to get you used to cards but with no overdraft facility - so first she ordered it with her own card, got a delivery slot of the following day and was very happy. I waited in and nothing turned up. She phoned and they had no track of her order. I asked if she'd followed the online instructions to the letter - nothing had gone wrong but she hadn't received a confirmation email so she reordered. She still got no email. I phoned again - no order. Assuming they had maybe tracked it as a child's card and were maybe blocking it that way but giving her no indication she was being blocked, I offered to buy it if she went to the ATM in the sweetie shop and got me the cash instead.

I followed the tedious instructions again all the way through and after a wait, I was told my transaction had been declined. This was the third time with no info. I was seriously annoyed at the lack of explanation. I decided to phone and buy it instead. Another half hour was wasted going through all the same details. And at the end my transaction was declined! At least over the phone they actually tell you why! My bank smile.co.uk wasn't authorising the transaction unless I rang to confirm it was me. For crying out loud! If I can spend £70 in Tesco without being hassled, why can't I buy a phone? Thanks Smile! 2/10 for customer services, but O2's online shop could easily have explained this to me too 2/10 to them as well.

I phoned Smile and told them I was me and they told me they'd authorise me spending my money, (thanks a lot), then I phoned O2 back. No, I have nothing better to do with my time, really I don't! Yes, back to square one, I re-re-re-re-ordered the phone and was given a delivery slot of today between 7am and 9pm! No I really have nothing better to do all day than man the doorbell, honestly.

At 2pm, O2 rang me to ask if I had any suggestions for their customer services department! Communication would be a good start - I explained the saga, and before I let him off the hook I asked if my phone had been dispatched. Yes, at 1pm! Great - no more moody female child to deal with... or?

8-30pm came and I had that sinking feeling for the third time. I wasted another ten minutes with O2 who gave me the phone number of Yodel who were delivering my phone. I rang them. The reference number didn't match anything they had, so I gave them my postcode. Oh yes, that's been dispatched from head office, said the bloke in a scouse accent, it should be in Scotland tomorrow but I'm not sure when it'll get to you. I explained O2 telling me to wait in today and was informed that they'd just leave it with a neighbour if I was out so I had been misled. I also mentioned that I'd been promised a delivery today and told them I'd stayed home to wait on it. Oh some of these companies we deliver for like to promise dates but they aren't set in stone, just best guesses, he informed me helpfully!

Great customer service O2, well done - you just went down to 0/10! Next time one of my kids wants a phone I'll be recommending the T-mobile shop who always dispatch my new company phones on the day I ask and are never late!

Rant over - I'll let you know what (if anything) tomorrow brings!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

HOME-MADE POLITICS?

Thomas has always been very political, blogging constantly about both UK and Danish politics but when I found he'd installed a home-made voting booth at the entrance to our bedroom this morning, I had to wonder what he was planning!

It turns out, in fact, to be a puppet theatre that he's been working on so he can throw puppet shows in Danish for the three youngest kids - he has a box of puppets upstairs - how sweet! Though rumour has it he expects me to paint it before use.

It is a shame really - I had this thought that if I installed it in my garden during the next general election, I could  put up posters directing locals here to vote and have some fun with it! It could be quite a good way to influence the outcome of the local poll but it'll probably be less convincing in red or blue!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A CLEAR NIGHT

Whitelee wind farm by PhylB
Whitelee wind farm, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I was up at the wind farm again today just for half an hour. Unfortunately other commitments meant I couldn't hang about for sunset. I was quite surprised how far you could see. It's the first time I have noticed the sea and the Ailsa Craig in the distance.

PROUD OF THE MAN MY SON IS BECOMING

Me with Baby Marcel by PhylB
This photo was taken yesterday... yesterday on my time scale but nearly fourteen and a half years ago in reality.
When Marcel was this small I couldn't begin to imagine the adult he would become but today I am starting to see who he will be.

Life doesn't always turn out how you expected but you do your best for your kids as they grow.

When I left his dad, when he was eight, I was convinced that I was doing the right thing. It was right for me because I didn't love him any more. But more than anything I thought it was imperative for my boys that I show them the consequences of neglect in a relationship. I figured that if I stayed, I was tacitly telling my boys that they didn't need to make any effort with their future partners and the ultimate outcome of that could be their partners walking out on them, potentially taking their kids away many years down the line. I had to leave to protect them from future heartbreak, otherwise I would have failed them.

Although I knew divorce was best, you never know if your kids are going to see that. It takes a certain maturity to get there, I imagine.

Today I was driving my child into town.

We talk a lot these days. Suddenly, spontaneously, he came out with the words I have secretly needed to hear for the last six years, but that I didn't expect to hear until he had a family of his own:

I'm so glad you and papa got divorced, he suddenly revealed. It was the best thing you ever did, mum. I can't begin to imagine our lives if you'd stayed with him. I remember what it was like, the others don't. You two together is unimaginable to me. When you were with him, you were frankly a bit weird, but now you're you!

Phew - what can you say to that? He is so right. André made me a nervous wreck, Thomas calms me but how can one so young, with so little life experience be quite so astute? I'm a very proud mum.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

INHERITED CHARACTER TRAITS

Watching TV by PhylB
Watching TV, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Looking at your child and seeing yourself is such a special feeling. You see your expression in eyes of another colour, your smile on a man who was your little boy just a few years earlier, you hear your laugh in a baby - it makes you realize what everything is all about.

Listening to the little ones parent the littler ones is always amusing. I overhear Anna chastising Amaia (or even Léon) in words she could have only stolen from me and I laugh. She accuses me of procrastinating and I know she's heard Thomas and I chatting!

One of the most amusing things when you have as large an age spread as me is hearing the younger ones use their knowledge of what they hear from the older ones when interpreting what is going on around them. Léon occasionally refers to girls as 'fit' when he means 'pretty' for example! Marcel! And tonight Anna was standing on a chair above me singing what she thought were the correct words to the nursery rhyme: "I'm the king of the castle, and you're a dirty wee 'arsehole'!" I'm not sure that happens when three year olds don't have teenage siblings!

It is particularly fascinating to analyse the character traits your children inherit. Thomas hates embarrassing situations. Movies of the Borat type leave him squirming to the point he cannot physically sit on the couch and he dashes for the kitchen at the first opportunity on the pretext of coffee-making or the likes. Anna has inherited this character trait and I suspect from Amaia's concerned look in the above photo she probably has too. It was taken as they were watching the Swedish (dubbed into Danish) film Emil i Lönneberga. It shows a boy of about eight getting into all sorts of scrapes and up to all sorts of nonsense - he upsets his father by filling his wellies with water to check if they are water-tight and drops some black pudding mixture on his head for example. Instead of laughing, as intended, at the slapstick comedy of the situation, as Léon does, Anna squirms nervously on the couch saying he makes her feel ill at ease, while Amaia chews her fist worriedly, neither girl even smiling at the fun goings-on. Thomas came in last night and looked similarly uncomfortable. It is very sweet to watch!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

SMARTER, OR... POORER?

First day of primary 2 by PhylB
First day of primary 2, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
When Marcel started primary school back in 2002 the uniform at his school was a white polo shirt with a school logo, a blue sweat shirt with the same logo, non-branded grey trousers and black shoes.

When I was a child standard uniforms for little boys like Marcel consisted of a plain shirt, a school tie, trousers and shoes, as Léon is pictured wearing above. This was the original 1960s uniform and was still an option when Marcel started but was worn mainly for school photographs and perhaps on a child's first day when the parents wanted them to look extra-smart. When Marcel started in a year with 90 children, no more than five or six wore the 'smarter', old-fashioned uniform on a daily basis. I was greatly relieved as I am not in favour of four year olds having to waste time of fiddly little buttons and ties. I don't think they look smarter (after their first toilet visit of the day) as their shirt tails are generally flapping in the wind and after PE ties are backwards and the likes - little boys tend to look a state in the old uniforms! I have taught in France and been married to a highly intelligent Frenchman and Dane who both managed to get a first class education despite sitting in class in jeans and a jumper!

When Léon started at the same school last year, I ordered the usual uniform out of habit. He started to moan constantly about wanting to wear the old uniform. I figured it was a phase he'd grow out of, but he didn't and by p2, I relented, allowing him to wear the old-fashioned uniform on non-PE days. I hadn't asked myself why Léon had taken such a fancy to the uniform until recently. Standing at the school gate I started to notice the percentage of kids wearing the old-fashioned uniform had increased noticeably. Back in 2002, 6 or 7% of kids wore it, today I noticed it was closer to 25%-30%. Maybe Léon was simply seeing more kids in it and that was what was inspiring him?

I started to ask myself why it was coming back into fashion? It is not more practical, it is not more durable, and with the youngsters in charge, it is not smarter... I could think of one main issue. It is much cheaper. A pack of five shirts is £4 in Tesco, five plain grey (unbranded) jumpers cost £15, and a tie (which can be used for the whole seven years is £4.99). So a whole week's outfits cost just £19, with a one-off outlay for the tie. The branded polo shirts cost around £7 each and the sweat shirts are about £10 each. So if you wanted a polo shirt and sweat shirt for each day, a week's uniforms cost £85 plus trousers and shoes.

East Renfewshire contains some of Glasgow's most affluent suburbs. People pay inflated housing prices because the schools are unrivalled in the state sector. Most residents are typically professional or senior and middle management. The current recession is not following previous patterns where low-level workers are made redundant and find a new job or live on benefits. This is a recession where middle and senior management are being thrown out with no possibility of benefits to cover their hefty mortgages, and because their houses have not increased in value in four years, and self-certification is no longer accepted, they are unable to sell up and move unless they can find cheap, rented accommodation, which of course doesn't exist in East Ren. Public sector workers are also now beginning to be hit with pay freezes but rising inflation. I am beginning to suspect that what on the surface looks like people returning to the smarter, old-fashioned look for their kids is, underlyingly, actually something much more sinister.

Friday, November 04, 2011

BEANBAGS

beanbag girl by PhylB
beanbag girl, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I remember being in B&Q many moons ago with my beloved ex-husband. We were walking past an assistant when he accosted her with the query 'Where can I find beanbags?' She thought a moment, then replied - 'We don't stock beanbags' Now, my ex was not exactly known for patience so he immediately jumped down her throat pointing out he'd often bought beanbags in B&Q. I am not sure if he'd just been annoying me that day or if I was an evil or twisted mood, but I didn't rescue him... You see, after many years together, I immediately realized he was asking about 'binbags', he simply had (and still has) a very French accent. Vaguely amused, I continued to look on as he became more and more exasperated with the poor girl who by then was adamant that B&Q didn't have any beanbags! He just didn't seem to be picking up on her repetition of his pronunciation. Childish, I know but everyone is allowed the odd amusement!

Years have now passed (this episode probably dates from 2002ish). None of my kids, though they speak French, has even a hint of a French accent, having been brought up and schooled here... or so I thought till this week. I was driving in Newton Mearns on Monday morning when all the wheelie bins and recycling bags were out on the kerbside for collection. Léon was riding up front with me when a paper recycling bag blew out onto the road in front of my car. 'Watch out for that beanbag!' he shouted very clearly. I was stunned. 'Binbag' I corrected, and he looked puzzled before correcting his pronunciation. How odd!

Still surprised at that, Charlotte (who had not been in the car when this event occurred) blew me away this evening. I have been negotiating with my ex for a pair of bedroom curtains on and off for five years. Given we don't speak, this hasn't been the easiest task but this week he finally relented and allowed me to have my ladybird curtains back for Anna and Amaia. Charlotte bounced in from the dining room at about 5pm and asked 'Did you see Papa dropped off those green curtains this morning?' 'No - where?' I asked, given I hadn't seen them. Her reply... 'They're in that beanbag on the table!'

What is that man doing to my kids suddenly?!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

AUTUMN ENVY

Bruyères from tower by PhylB
Bruyères from tower, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I've just been speaking to my mother-in-law in Italy. She described the wonderful, golden colours she's seeing from her house across the Tuscan valley while mentioning the warm temperatures and outdoor village gatherings she's been attending.

Here I am sitting in my cold Glasgow house watching the wind and rain rip the leaves heartlessly from the trees once more, giving little opportunity for a photo shoot or outdoor gathering.

I loved living in France in autumn. Every day I would get up to a different, more vivid shade of red or gold and sheer joy at being able to walk through the countryside in Franche-Comté in just a jumper with my camera around my neck.

One of the worst aspects of this recession to me is having my wings clipped by necessity, no longer being able to fly over to France for a long weekend on a photo shoot, or Italy to visit my in-laws. Sitting here knowing the autumn photo opportunities I am missing in France, Italy or even NY is just so frustrating. I want to throw all my kids in a plane and show them autumn is a beautiful season that lasts weeks, not one wet, stormy, dark Glasgow day that blows everything off the trees while you hide inside with the heating on. After nearly four years, even the oldest ones struggle to remember those days.

Closing my eyes I can still smell the air in October in Avignon, or the sea breeze in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. I so miss the pre-recession days of freedom.

Is it ever going to end?