Tuesday, October 31, 2017


This year's ludicrous haul - thank goodness I only let the out alone for 90 minutes or they could have developed full-blown diabetes before they got home!

EU/UK families and Brexit

This is a must-read for anyone who doesn't grasp the complexities of Brexit for mixed UK/EU families.

It's almost laughable to admit that this MSP's situation is so much less complicated than my own that I almost envy her, though of course, I feel nothing but solidarity.

We are in exactly the same situation but a decade further on so it's much more complex. I have the issue of kids half way through the Scottish school system - should I move my 12 year old s1 to a country where he speaks the language (Danish) but has never learned to read it properly and hope he does well enough to catch up before uni entrance exams? Should I drag out primary kids, leaving behind their best friends? Should I leave behind my 17 year old who is in s6 and had planned to go to uni next summer living at home with us (and studied so hard last year to get her six A Highers to get in?), should I leave behind my Scottish mum who's had a stroke and lives alone since my dad died? Should I sell the house I've been paying for for 12 years? What do I do with our jobs, cars, possessions? I'm about to be 50 and starting over from scratch again (given I already started over in my mid-30s when I got divorced) is such an unappealing mountain to climb... I've been paying a mortgage now since 1993, am I meant to start again and pay forever?

Brexit is an absolute disaster for families like ours.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Diversity, but not so diverse

I grew up in the 70s in Scotland attending a 'non-denominational' primary school in a suburb of Glasgow. For non-denominational in Glasgow in the 70s, read Protestant (with maybe one Jewish kid per class). Catholics went to Catholic schools, Muslims and Hindus hadn't got as far as the suburbs so non-denominational meant Church of Scotland religious. Every day started with us all having to stand, bow our heads, clasp our hands and recite the school prayer. I can't tell you now the words of it, even though I was made to recite it every school day for six years. I know it had been written for the school because we definitely mentioned the school by name in it, but for the most part my early school days were marked by me standing with my eyes tightly shut, squirming and out of place, wanting to run away or scream because I felt like I had landed on an alien planet.

Every assembly was conducted by the local CofS minister, a sickly sweet, condescending man who oozed insincerity (to me anyway), most people seemed to love him. There again most people knew him from the weekends, and I didn't.

We were often read bible stories by the scary head mistress too. These made me feel less ill at ease because the stories themselves were interesting enough, but still, I always feared that the scary Mrs Scott would find me out. What would she find out? That I was the freak in the class, the one child who was being raised, unchristened and in an atheist household.

By about p5, the first Muslim and Hindu children has touched down and I often wondered if they felt like me - they had the same dirty secret, that they couldn't relate to all the Protestant prayer and worship, but I couldn't ask, without giving away my own secret.

As I reached upper primary, a quiet goody two shoes in general, I was really at odds with the religious parts of the curriculum. I remember wondering when I would be shouted at for not bowing for the morning prayer. Resolute, I stood there, straight-backed and with my eyes open, and the teacher stared me out. She could not let on she had seen me, without letting on that she too was unbowed and open-eyed. I remained silent during the Lord's prayer, I refused to let my brain parrot it as it was not who I was.

Things have come along a lot in Scotland since my childhood. Classes are mixed now - in my own kids' classes there are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and even the odd Catholic!! Instead of being made to pray, they now teach them about each different religion and its beliefs. Kids are taught in a sensitive manner that even if they have been told at home that their god is the true one, they should treat other religions with an equal degree of respect. They encourage curiosity about each other. It is all very nice and inclusive.

Last month all the kids in p6 in our school went on a school trip called 'Diversity day' - they spent a good number of hours discussing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and they even went into the Bahá'í faith, but here's what I don't get, they never teach kids about atheism. Not only do they not go into it in detail, they don't even touch on its existence. Looking at recent figures for Scotland, atheists account 52% of the Scottish population, so why does no one ever tell school kids that it's actually ok to be from an atheist family? In the last 5 years I have been to four funerals, three were humanitarian/atheist, one was christian and I am not sure I can even remember the last time I attended a christian wedding in Scotland.

Three or four years ago Anna asked me what our family was because they'd been learning about religions in school. She was about 6 years old. I explained that daddy's parents were christian (Protestant) and mummy's were atheist and that our own family unit was also atheist. I explained what that meant and she felt happy that we too had a label just like all the others. She mentioned it to a boy in her class the next time the topic arose. The boy, from a Christian family, looked her straight between the eyes and announced that if she didn't believe in god, she would be sent to hell and burn for all eternity! Delightful child! There is no way that child would have said that to a Hindu or Muslim child because he had been taught to respect them, but apparently it is ok to treat atheist families with contempt as they are brushed under the carpet. Because atheists don't have specific festivals or places of worship, it is somehow felt that they are not worth mentioning, but that does a terrible injustice to those kids. Until we are lined up alongside all the other faiths, schools shouldn't claim to be teaching diversity, but instead religious diversity.

Anna had a really lovely day out with her classmates, came back wearing a bindi and proudly showing me her name in Arabic, but felt a little deflated too because, as she put it herself 'it was as if we didn't exist'.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The last moments of innocence

Anna's been researching John Muir (from 1838) for school. One of the first facts she found out was that he was one of eight children. Thinking this over and analysing too that her Großvater had twelve siblings, she commented:
'And I thought I had a lot of siblings! People definitely seemed to have lots more kids in the old days, mum, why was that?'
Hmmmm. I try to answer my kids in an honest, if age-appropriate manner, wherever possible... 
'Well Anna, back then they didn't really have any way of not having them.'
'How do you mean?'
'Well, you know how babies are made, right?'
'So these days there are things you can do to not have babies. There are pills you can take or condoms for example'
'Sure, but why on earth would you need that?'
'Well, adults who love each other have sex, honey'
'Really, why on earth would they do that unless they wanted to have a kid?!'
'Emmm, well adults kinda find sex fun!'
'Wooooah! Really? I mean seriously???? Now, that's just plain weird!'

There is such a huge gap between ten year olds and high school kids! Hahahaha.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Need for speed

Charlotte turned 17 in January and wanted to learn to drive immediately (not sure why given she hasn't a hope in hell of affording a car, but I guess I did the same at 17). 

In February she was too busy with prelims, March with oral exams, April and May with Highers, June with going to Nicaragua, July with going to Italy, August with settling back into school, so I figured it was off for this year... 

That was till she started asking about my availability on Thursday afternoons. I work from home so can move stuff about within reason. It turns out that Thursday afternoon is the only time she has free periods when she hasn't volunteered to be a teaching helper for the lower school. So yesterday she ordered herself a car (dual control for £11 for 2 hours). 

It's been a long time since I sat beside someone who has never ever been behind a wheel, the last time was possibly Derek in 1988! When Thomas learnt he had the basics and Marcel took some proper lessons, so there I was with my first millennium baby explaining 'that's the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator, this is the gear stick and that is the hand brake...' She surprised me with a few odd questions like 'are the three pedals in the same order in all cars?' Hahahaha - can you begin to imagine? 

But then she really threw me... I'm not much of a gamer; Candy Crush Soda on my smart phone for ten minutes at bed time is the extent of my gaming. She asked 'You press the brake to stop, right?' of course, then she followed up with 'and once it has come to a stop, if you press the brake again at the same time as putting the gearstick in reverse, you go backwards, right ?' WTAF?????? Sorry? Mind-blown! Well apparently on 'Need for Speed' (something on a PS3, I think), that's how you make your car reverse - the  L2 button (whatever that means!) Why on earth would you make a game that teaches kids that is how you drive a car? Are they insane???? She seemed a bit put out that she'd been misled! Kids today probably think they know how to fly a plane if they've got a flight simulation game 😜.

All in all it went well. She seemed to get the hang of hill starts fairly quickly, though I still need to get it through to her that you don't pull on the hand brake to stop 😂. But we definitely came top of the class that day... The other mum who hired a car with her 17 year old son at the same time as us returned it after just twenty minutes of the two hour hire, citing the fact that she'd got in such a big fight with him that he had pulled the car over and stomped off home leaving her to return it alone! She was last seen making her way to the pub, fuming 🤣.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Such a sweet boy

Léon's school has organised an s3 Maths trip to NYC for the October week... I'm not sure how they got away with that one but well done to the Maths teachers for managing to come up with a reason for needing to go to New York; I don't suppose exotic school trips are usually too high up the list of perks when you're a Maths teacher!

Léon's Maths teacher seems to be one of the lucky ones who departed yesterday, which meant his class had no teacher today. (Their half term holiday started today so this only meant one day with a sub - (apparently these are called 'please-take ( teacher)s' in today's speak, as in 'We had a please-take today' - I do try to keep up with the lingo as best someone can at my age)).

Léon was moaning over dinner that she had not only left a seating plan of his class for the please-take, but that the seating plan had a photo beside each name. I asked why this was an issue. He told me he and his friend had had the idea to swap places and names for the day (like no kid in the world has ever done that before!) but that the seating plan had ruined their fun.

Before launching into an explanation of why this was a stupid idea (citing the example of when Andrew and Dylan had done that in Charlotte's first year class many moons ago, and the wrong one had ended up with a demerit against his name), I casually asked which friend he'd been plotting with. 'Ayaan Shaik', he replied! 'Ayaan Shaik and Léon Buchanan-Widmann?' I asked. 'Yeah!' came the reply. 'The teacher would have been able to tell, Léon', I pointed out. 'Well, I have no idea how', came the sweet reply, 'not if she hadn't had photos!' I love that at 12, he can't see what is glaringly obvious to me at 49. It gives me hope for his world, especially when we are currently living in such horrible times.

The hole in the middle

Here we all are in 1990. Young, though older than we look, Linda and I are 22, Shona, Sheina and Gillian are 23. That was a great day; we sat our Senior Honours Swedish exam and celebrated with fish suppers from the Philadelphia in Great Western road, eaten straight from the newspaper on the mangy, green carpet in Linda's great Glasgow Street party flat. The accompaniment was Lucozade from plastic cups, though I suspect we moved on to wine later in the evening. Uni was over, we were six weeks away from being able to write MA(Hons) after our names and we vowed to be friends forever. 

And we are, and will be, except we now have a gaping hole in our middle... We didn't know when this photo was taken that one of us was already more than half way through her life.

Sheina was the quiet one, so politely spoken. She was the lady in the group, the one who organised dinner parties for us when we were still arranging piss-ups. That's how she came across to others, but to us she had a wicked sense of humour, especially after a wine or two. If you wanted to get us all talking about our deepest and most intimate thoughts, Sheina was the one who could steer us on to the topic without us even noticing she'd taken us there. She made us laugh and cry. Sheina lacked the self-confidence to realise she was a beautiful person, but we all saw through that. Her death five years ago this week changed us forever. Our annual meet-ups became much more frequent. We see each other many times a year a now. We are a family and will always be there for each other. But there will always be a little unspoken hole at the centre of us all.

How to conker

Ever since I had kids, we've spent October in parks searching among the leaves for conkers... Early
on, when Marcel was two or three I found a tree hidden in a far corner of the Botanics that seemed to have escaped most of the passing schoolchildren so we were always guaranteed to get two or even three there. It was enough to play conkers with, well once at least.

Then I moved in with a Dane. Unlike Scots, Danes don't battle with conkers, they build animals (and more) from them (how civilised!) This posed a problem - try making several animals out of just three conkers. So conker season has always been a bit of a failure, until this year!!!

We went for a walk round a graveyard in September. Much to our surprise the trees had already started dropping their conkers and more to the point, it would appear kids hang about cemeteries much less than they hang in parks(!), so we had no competitors! We left all the damaged ones for the squirrels, but we still amassed a whole bag full. We'll be able to have a major conker animalfest next week when the kids are off for the October week and the rain inevitably leaves us housebound. Woo hoo.