Friday, February 28, 2014

A man thing

It must be a man thing... that need they have to take you through their sporting exploits...

Dad used to come in here two or three times a week and he'd start 'I was playing with Stevie today - hit the ball 300 yards at least but it veered off to the left... I won four and three' (or was it three and four...?) On and on I'd be given a blow by blow description of each match. The problem was I didn't stop and ask what it meant the first few times and by a few years in it was a bit embarrassing to do so, so I am not sure I ever fully understood what he was on about.

Marcel has started it too recently. His year has started arranging football matches against the 6th years after school on Fridays. He comes in a takes Lots and I through every minute of the match - who marked who, who missed a shot and with which foot, the final score, the angle his shot entered the goal and which corner - yawn, yaaawwwn!

I am so pleased I seem to have married a man who feels no such need!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


"Music is god. In difficult times you feel it, especially when you are suffering."

Now there's one religion you could get me to follow. 

I defy you not to find inspiration in this ten minute clip of Alice Herz Sommer.

Multilingual leanings

It is interesting that of all the different versions of this song available on the internet, this is Amaia's favourite version... Looks like she'll be doomed like her parents!

Friday, February 21, 2014

I don't understand helicopters

We call them helicopter parents - Danes have a similarly appropriate term - 'curlingforældre' (curling parents) - both images are equally colourful. But I don't understand them.

I got to thinking about it again last week. Marcel spent a couple of hours on Thursday filling in a visa application form with the Indian Consulate for his trip this summer. He happened to mention the next day at school what a bugger it had been and the few classmates he spoke to all replied with 'oh my mum did that for me'! Maybe I'm a tough-love parent but this wee guy is going to be 17 on his birthday. He is potentially going to leave home and go out in the big bad world as soon as next summer and so are his friends and yet their parents still are not forcing them to step up to the mark. I have friends who still drive their children everywhere, cook for them without any reciprocal expectations, wash and iron all their clothes and make the phonecalls that need making. Marcel works in the corner shop from 5am on weekends - just him and his boss and he says parents often come in asking for newspaper delivery jobs for their kids, they even ask for references for their kids who have worked there as paperboys and girls in the past! His boss has a blanket rule - if the kid doesn't ask, the kid doesn't get.

I know from a friend who works in uni admissions that nothing is more off-putting than a parent phoning up to ask why their child hasn't got into medical school, instead of the child (who is an adult, of course) ringing on their own behalf.

In my humble opinion, given you can't go off to uni, or wherever, with them, your most important job as a parent has to be to prepare them for independence and self-sufficiency, however much our natural instinct is to make their lives easier. It's time more of us ditched the cotton wool.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How do you see your career?

I remember being 16. Don't sound so surprised! ;-)

I had just sat my Highers (university entrance exams). As the youngest in my school year I felt too young to go off to university but had secured several unconditional places so opted for a language degree at Glasgow in 1985. I was very proud as this was back in the day when very few people went on to university, and there were very few universities. I was particularly pleased as no one in my family had gone before me. It wasn't that we weren't intelligent; people of my parents' background simply weren't expected to go to university back in the 60s.

So off I went and I had a vague notion of how I expected my future to pan out. I was due to graduate with honours in 1990. With the European borders coming down in 1992, I was told the world (or at least Europe, would be my oyster). I learned two extra languages (Italian and Swedish) at uni to increase my options and figured that with those and French and German I could work in EU, or EEC as it was, maybe in translating or interpreting or simply work in business, in international exports or the likes. As a fall back I could even consider teaching if nothing else came off.

So the borders came down but the promised jobs never materialised, until I was offered a job in Bilingual Publishing. That suited me as language was still my passion. I started that at 23, six years after I had started my university course. Over the years many female graduates came and went, usually disappearing when they started a family. I also wanted kids but left that till I was 30 as I didn't want my degree to have been in vain. When I was 30 and Marcel was 6 months old, I returned to my full time job in Publishing. Private nursery cost me 35% of my salary but it was a specialised job so I didn't want to give it up for fear of not being able to find another once Marcel started school - the only other employers in that field in the UK back then were in Edinburgh or Oxford.

When I had Charlotte at 32 (in 2000), my childcare costs went up to 68% of my income. Once I added on the cost of my petrol to get to work I was working for less than £1 an hour but still I thought it better not to give up the day job. As a compromise I dropped to working 25 hours a week because it kept the job open but seemed somehow less pointless. So the country lost a third of my tax revenue and I worked for next to nothing.

I couldn't have any more kids if I wanted my job as the childcare costs for three would have been more than 100% of my income so I had no more till the two oldest were both at school. Around me both at work and at the school gate about 80% of women, all with honours degrees or similar, were giving up to be stay-home mums, going part time to keep their job open or simply muddling through freelance, if what they did suited working from home. Working freelance of course meant your income varied and therefore your ability to get a mortgage, car loan or similar varied equally. I would say most of the women I knew were struggling almost solely because of childcare costs.

I finally gave in and went freelance in 2008 when Anna was due to start nursery. Marcel and Charlotte were at school so I only had nursery costs for two, like most people, but salaries had stagnated and nursery fees had increased by 5%+ every year. I would actually have had to pay to carry on working with Léon and Anna at nursery.

Today when I stand at the school gate most women are not in full time employment. I know part-time and stay-at-home mums who have dentistry degrees, law degrees, science degrees, who are qualified teachers, who've worked in private industry as company directors. Isn't that a loss to the economy and a waste of their abilities? Did I see myself struggling freelance to pay a mortgage at 46 when I was 16? No, because no one had told me childcare here costs ten times as much as it does in other European countries.

Unless childcare is overhauled, there will be no way to add it into the equation once students loans are added, because I didn't have one of those to contend with. So my kids will have to decide between education and a family. Only one outcome in September is promising to address this issue.

As far as I can see every 16 old girl who votes no in September should be aware that in doing so they are condemning themselves to a twenty year career struggle followed by a twenty year catch-up. I know what I'd be advising Charlotte if she was 18 months older.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Happy Glasgow

 Now the Happy song has been done with a Glasgow slant :-) It's particularly pleasing to see the students 'conga'ing through the cloisters of my old Alma Mater - it brings back wonderful memories of some of the happiest days of my youth!

Sunday, February 16, 2014


We got the Gruffalo years ago, probably when Léon was wee and had always enjoyed it. But we'd never bought The Gruffalo's Child, I'm not sure why... Then, because Thomas has been studying Scots, the kids decided to buy him The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Wean in Scots for Xmas. The Gruffalo in Scots was sweet enough but because we know the original off by heart, the effect wasn't quite the same, but The Gruffalo's Wean was a bit of a wake-up moment for me. Here's a excerpt:

...The Gruffalo's wean felt gallus and bauld,
Sae she tippy-taed oot intae the cauld,
It snawed and it blawed, and it didnae cease nane.
Intae the widd gaed the Gruffalo's wean...

"Haud on!" said the moose.
"Afore ye dine, I think ye should meet a freend o mine...
 The fit prints led tae the Gruffalo's lair,
 Whaur the Gruffalo's wean wis gallus nae mair,
The Gruffalo's wean wisnae hauf sae bored...

As Thomas read it out, I didn't have the original to draw on. It suddenly struck me that this was more or less the language of my childhood. My grandfather actually spoke like this, my father used some of the words but I only have Scots as a passive language... why was that? If everyone around me was speaking, to some degree, like this, why do I only speak English? I was taught, both overtly and insidiously as a child that Scots was a second class language. It was fine for Robert Burns to write like that 200 years ago but if I was to write like that I would somehow be demonstrating a lack of education. I would be speaking in an unacceptable (to my educators) way. The enormity of this linguistic cleansing I had been subjected to as a child hit me, angered me and saddened me all in one moment. How dare I be told that the way normal Scots people spoke was second class! The language with its onomatopoeic words and its differing syntax is rich and somehow comforting to me. Hearing 'hoolet' instead of 'owl' made me smile. When he read 'freend' with its silent 'd' I heard it in Gramps' voice, not Thomas's because he talked about 'freends' all the time. There are so many words that have already been lost to my children. They have no idea where the press is in their house, where their oxter is or what is expected of them if they are asked to synd the dishes.

It is nice to see Scots finally being given respect in our schools and nurseries but I feel somehow cheated.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Divorce and politics - an anecdote

I've been wondering why the Scottish independence referendum has been annoying me increasingly over the last few months to the point that when I hear it mentioned on the news or similar, I turn off.

It isn't the I am not interested. I am passionately interested. It is plain to see that England, first under Labour and now under the ConDems, has no idea whatsoever what to do to start moving in the right direction. Their Education system has been priced out of realistic people's grasp, and not in line with the rest of the European continent that it is part of. Their Health service is failing miserably. The infrastructure is collapsing around them, they have youth unemployment but are trying to force pensioners into working till way beyond the age when people (in my family at least) tend to die. They are hysterical about immigration, even when fears are not realized. Childcare is so beyond people's reach that many women (even with degree-level education and beyond) are no longer able to go out to work - salaries just don't meet the costs. Some stay home and decimate their careers, others choose to have no children, many rely on aging parents who suddenly find themselves incapacitated and then they're faced with losing their home because their mortgage was based on granny childminding.. Many, like me, try to work half-time (plus a little) from home, staying up till the wee small hours to make ends meet, working all weekends and holidays but that isn't the way forward in the 21st century.

Sure enough London seems to be working reasonably well, a little part of the South East too but Birmingham up is quite frankly in a state! I want my kids to live in a fairer, more progressive country so it is incomprehensible to me after reading the figures (as quoted in the FT and even occasionally the Economist), reading independent GDP projections and reports on other small countries that are working much better, reading the White Paper and its far-reaching ideas that anyone would vote to sink with the ship that is floundering on the Somerset plains. Now this is nothing anti-English - many of my English friends who live here are also Yes supporters, quite frankly I think Northern England needs it as much as we do, they simply aren't being given the option and I am not willing to join them in a suicide pact when I can start to build a future they can hopefully draw example from.

Anyway, back to why the Indy Ref is annoying me. It suddenly hit me, while listening to Osborne's speech this morning... It is because of my divorce. I didn't just go through a divorce eight years ago, I went through the most acrimonious divorce that any one I know has gone through. That is not what I intended but it is what transpired. I don't usually talk about my real, innermost private life on this blog but let's discard that rule just for once and let me take you through my divorce blow by blow. There is enough distance between me and it now for this to be possible without it being overly upsetting...

So let's go back to five or six years before I left my first husband. We had grown apart. We were coexisting but didn't have much in common. I saw my future differently from where he saw it but I wasn't the divorcing type so I sat him down and told him we had to start having more time for each other, sharing parenting more and moving in the same direction. I said I wanted a little more respect and a bit more affection. He barked at me that by living in my 'shitty country' he was showing me enough affection so I'd to leave him in peace and not nag him again.

After that spectacular fail at repairing our relationship things carried on as before with me working full time, parenting full time and doing everything in the house while he worked long hours and de-stressed by treating himself to café trips, cinema trips and piles of rental videos of his choice. When I had finally had enough, I told him I wanted to leave and he came out with a phrase I will take with me to my grave: 'I didn't need to make an effort because you were never going to leave.' Of all the lessons from my divorce that one line has possibly shaped the way I have lived my life afterwards most. So does that attitude ring any distant bells? Anyway, for my marriage it was too late. I didn't love him any more.

His first reaction after I announced I was leaving was to declare his undying love for me and try to show me the affection I had craved for the previous decade. I was appalled and repulsed. I didn't want him to go anywhere near me, let alone hold my hand.

After a few weeks of 'I love you', he moved on to undermining me. I was never going to survive on my own, I was too dependent, I was too used to his salary, I was pathetic. Too wee, too poor? Any bells?

Next I was told he'd go to court and have my children taken off me because I was a hopeless parent and he was a victim of my mid-life crisis so he would obviously be favoured by a judge. The thought of him trying to take my kids terrified me. That kept me voting 'No' to leaving for a another few weeks. Slowly, I started to realize that I was the only constant in their lives so it was another lie - a bluff.

Then he tried bribery. He'd never bought me any jewellery and had always spent most of his money on things for himself so he told me that if I promised to stay I could have a diamond ring and a brand new seven-seater car. I guess this was his version of further devolved powers. Firstly, I wasn't as shallow as that, but moreover, I was slowly beginning to realize that I'd rather have neither than stay with him.

When that blackmail tactic didn't work he tried threatening to leave his job, so I would get no maintenance, this was followed by threats that I would have destroyed his career by leaving and he'd be destitute and it'd all be my doing. Of course later this all culminated in threats of self harm. I worried for another few weeks until again it started to dawn... all bluster and bullying. Yes, they worked for a little while but eventually I realized they were all time-buying bluffs.

He became quite verbally abusive for some time after that but that didn't wear me down, it strengthened my resolve greatly. Finally I got the threat that he would not give up the house. He wouldn't sell me his half so I'd lose my home. I guess this is the parallel of the current currency issue.

But the problem was that by that point starting again from scratch with less money, somewhere else, was still preferable to giving in to his bully tactics because we had gone way beyond the point of repair and more importantly I had started to believe in myself and see my route out. I'd seen what my future could hold and contemplated that other world.

Of course, he promised me the earth if I stayed but I knew realistically that once I opted to stay he wouldn't change, he'd be no more loving or supportive than before and worse still he'd spend the rest of my life casting the almost-divorce up to me, taking more and more to compensate himself for the hurt he perceived. Life after a 'No' vote to divorce would have been an utter nightmare.

So on balance, I think the reason I'm turning off to the Indy Ref is because it is way too close to the bone. The parallels are so strong, I am finding them upsetting. I've been through lies and bullying once and that is enough for one life time. Watching interview after interview on the BBC where Westminster politicians are allowed to lie or embellish the truth without being picked up by the interviewer just gets me down. I have read enough foreign and independent sources to notice the bullying lies and half truths. The fact that someone less well informed will be sitting there falling for their sound bites frustrates and scares me immeasurably.

I am starting to suspect that this divorce is becoming more acrimonious by the day and even if we do return a No, I sense we will have gone beyond the point of repair.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Léon and hailstones

The kids were out in the hail yesterday. I think this photo I took caught not only the size and ferocity of the stones but also the enjoyment the wee ones derived from a short burst of fun weather instead of the incessant rain we've had to put up with this winter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A parenting failure!

Ok, so I'm not going to win mother of the year for this one...

Usually I try to prepare my kids for the real world: when they bring down their washing, they are expected to put it on, they make their own lunches, they iron all their own clothes, they cook, set tables, wash dishes and all the rest... So when Marcel sheepishly ran in at 10:50 one Sunday evening, saying he had an exam the next morning but had forgotten to wash his school shirts, I thought I'd cut him some slack and volunteer. I don't need to go to bed as early as he does, because I don't work at 6am like he does. So I put it on, realizing that it would be ready for the tumble drier around midnight. What could I do till midnight? Well, the kids had left Despicable Me 2 lying out and we hadn't seen it. So Thomas and I stuck it on, not a kid in sight, and enjoyed the little yellow minions' antics... in fact we enjoyed them so much, we forgot all about the washing and went off to bed and the first we knew about the wet shirt was Marcel, standing in the doorway of our bedroom ten minutes before his school bus with a mix of panic and disappointment on his face. Oops! (Nine minutes of ironing is almost enough to get a shirt dry, we found).

(And did we admit to having been watching Despicable me? Did we hell! We'd been distracted by an interesting documentary, of course ;-) )

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Trying to see things through a child's eyes...

I turn 46 tomorrow. This comes as quite a surprise to me as I still feel about 23. Looking in the mirror sometimes shocks me as I don't recognize the face that is staring back. How did so much of my life pass by while I was too busy to notice? It may sound strange but occasionally I do find myself taken aback when Marcel, or even Charlotte, calls me mum. I don't feel it is wrong with the little three: I subconsciously feel old enough to be their mum I guess, but Marcel in particular makes me stop and wonder sometimes. He's six foot tall, has a deep voice and shaves every day! Maybe because I find my life pre-Marcel hard to remember, as if he and I originate around the same time, almost as two halves of the one self, I feel the face that greets me in the mirror ought to be similar in age to his! (No such luck!)

Anyway this started out with a conversation I had today with Anna.

Anna: Today in the playground I was talking to Euan and Rebecca about our mums.
Me: What about?
Anna: Well Euan said he thought his mummy was about 36 or 37. Rebecca said hers was 44 so I just told them that made me the winner because mine was already 45 and turning 46 tomorrow no less - they were all jealous that you won!

Maybe the key to happiness is seeing ageing as a wonderful achievement as you do at six rather than what it feels like at this age: hurtling ever faster towards oblivion...

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Before and after

After three years and four months Marcel is finally free of his braces. He had many issues to correct - a bad underbite and four teeth too many to fit in his mouth (that had grown in on the inside of his other teeth) but thanks to George the wonder-orthodontist we got there in the end. I've lost count of the number of hours I've spent in the orthodontist's waiting room over the years but when he had then taken off today, it was lovely to see him skip and dance the full length of the hall on his way out!

One child down, who knows how many still to go (one and counting, for now...)