Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Quinoa risotto

Julia's Bespoke Babies went down a storm on the 1st, selling a whole bunch of baby gros, and taking in a few orders from strangers, as well as from friends.  So I am very happy, and have a big bag of cash, and am starting to think about other craft fairs and future orders.  I've got a couple to make this week; two for a woman in Ealing, one for a friend.  Hurrah.

It was Hattie's birthday on Monday, she is two which is unbelievable, and I'm finding it difficult to come to terms with my little baby turning into a big girl who stamps and shouts and is generally difficult.  She's been practising her terrible twos tantrums for ages now, and is quite good at them; sadly for her, I'm now immune, and I just pick her up and make her get on with what ever it is I want her to do.

We are having quinoa risotto tonight, which is an Esther Walker recipe, and I've made it before for my parents.  I was walking disconsolately around Waitrose this evening with Hattie pulling my hair and wiping mashed banana on my coat, and I suddenly remembered this recipe, and that made my life that bit easier.  Hurrah for Esther Walker, and wouldn't it be nice if she wanted a baby gro?

Work is going quite well at the moment; I am still looking around me, and still looking for a change for September, but I'm relieved that my observation went well and that things are stabilising.  A bit. 

There's more,  but I'm not sure what to say about it at the moment. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Stir up Sunday

Another domestic couple of days.  The Christmas pudding is bubbling away in its little ceramic pot with its foil and baking parchment lid - another hour and a half to go and then it's ready for Christmas.  I'm using Dan Lepard's recipe again - I made an Epiphany pudding in January, but this year I am being more traditional and making Christmas pudding the weekend before Advent.

The collect for the day:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So stir up we did, and the whole family had a go with mixed results.  Harriet did not want to, Lucy patted it like a cat with a toy and Simon gave it a good stir; I made lots of wishes while I was stirring away, mostly to do with the extraordinary amount of cooking I've done this weekend and the horrible cold that is lurking at the back of my throat, in my ears and on the ulcers on my lips, cheeks and tongue.  Yuck. 

Parents' Evening on Wednesday and a Book Fair, and dear Lord, please let the parents plenteously bring forth the cash so that we can turn over at least £400, although I'm prepared to make up the difference, so that the Travelling Book people aren't too annoyed with us.   

Next Saturday I'm at the Ealing 135 Christmas Fair, so wish me luck for that.  I've got about 13 baby gros ready and want to make another 10 or so, which may well be wishful thinking or may be completely possible, I don't as yet know.  I may even sell one or two. 

Pink gingham stegosaurus anyone?  Other stegosauri also available.  Probably.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


The cure for not having any time to write anything is to sit down, turn on the computer and just get on with it. I am waiting for my supper to cook; curiously enough, it's the same as last time I wrote in the blog, orzo from Nigellissima, but this time with baby broad beans, chorizo and stock instead of plain boiling water.  One day I'll make the recipe as written, but as it is a bit of a store cupboard standby, I just use what ever is at hand.

It's been a busy few weeks - I've been out a lot, twice with my husband, shock horror, and we have had a great time, although two hangovers on two consecutive Saturday mornings were less fun.  Last Saturday was Messy Church, where I locked myself in the kitchen, and didn't have anything to do with other people's children, which suits me fine.  We have obviously tapped into a need in Hanwell with our Messy Church - the inaugural event had 74 guests, last week we had 114.  Of course, the General Synod, in their infinite wisdom, have voted against women bishops, so all we will hear is that the Church of England is out of touch. It is infuriating.  We work so hard to be relevant - our Messy Church is exciting and involving and full of fun things to do and worship pitched at just the right level, we are heavily involved in the Winter Night Shelter charity that is for rough sleepers in Ealing, and yet all you hear is that we hate gays and women.  Rubbish.  Maybe the time has come to do some proper shouting.

Mind you, I've got a lot of shouting to do about Disney bloody Princesses - what a lot of old crock.  Big eyes, powerless and totally wet.  Mind you, the boys don't come out much better - the Beast is the only one with any sort of back story - the Prince in Cinderella is rubbish, just a cipher.  Prince Philip (what a stupid name for a prince I scoffed, oh hang on) is alright I suppose, but he is also a bit pathetic in lots of ways.  The other message from Disney is that you can only be a useful woman if you are old and a bit bats - Mrs Potts, the Fairies, the Fairy Godmother.  Grr, grr, grr, and it is only because I was forced to watch three back to back that I am on the old high horse about it all.

In crafting news, I am knee deep in baby gros - I think I have made 13 so far - for the Ealing 135 Christmas fair on the 1st of December, and as they won't sew themselves, I had better get on with it.  My target is 25 made, and I'm hoping to sell a lot of them as well as getting orders for others.  A girl can dream.

Pictures to follow.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Orzo and chocolate brownies

There are to be no apologies for the following hero-worshipping and general "oh wow, I think she's wonderful" ness, I love Nigella, I understand that she may be considered to be a counter-feminist (because men don't cook) or a sex symbol (she is a sister, not a siren, at least in my eyes) but I don't care.

I was given Nigellissima for my birthday yesterday, and I'd recorded all the programmes to watch in my own time, so I've had a bit of a Nigella moment today. One of her Italian inspired recipes today was a "pasta risotto", and as we are at a bit of a loose end tonight what with one thing and another and our guests having a family emergency involving elderly relatives, so I thought I'd make it for Simon and I as we babysit.  I don't have pancetta, but I do have chorizo, so I've improvised, and I do have shallots, so I chucked them in too, but it smelled pretty good and was very easy to make.  It was also delicious, of course, as anything with that much butter and salt tends to be.

The chocolate brownies were baked for a coffee morning I held this morning, and didn't I feel the total woman beating eggs and melting chocolate at 8:15 this morning?

They've all gone now, of course.

Stuff and things

It is Wovember, and I will be attempting to knit 2 hats for the children, as well as finishing my Vine Yoke Cardigan and Lucy's Rainbow Jumper, all out of pure wool.  The hats will be in lovely, lovely Jamieson yarn, and I'm looking forward to it.  Lucy wants a Dollheid like mine, and Hattie wants a hedgehog hat like Lucy's, and obviously will then want a Dollheid too, so there's lots of lovely knitting to do. 
Lucy has taken to glaring at me now when I announce I've got her a present, in case it is a "knitting present", although she still likes the things I make her and wants to be involved in dyeing and making the yarn.

It was my birthday yesterday.  I can just about remember the days when I would go out and get utterly wasted, but yesterday was a very sensible affair - we went on a family day out to Windsor.  Windsor is pretty, full of interchangeable posh boys built like bricks and horsey looking ladies, and the castle is magnificent, and even though it was raining, we had a lovely day.  We then went on to Reading (will the excitement never end?) to go to Decathlon, where I bought a bright yellow anorak for cycling in the rain.  Nothing says attractive like a bright yellow anorak, nothing.  The slightly less horrible ones were black, which seems a foolish colour for cycling in the dark.  As I will be using the bike to take Lucy to school, I think I do want the most visible colour there is, and sod the aesthetic aspects.

Not much else to say; the house currently reeks of vinegar as I am making pear chutney, so that is a delicious little treat.

Aah, half term.

Monday, 29 October 2012


Which is the sound made by someone who has no energy for anything outside of work and children and desperate scrabbling around for time to write about ANYTHING.

Ah well, it's been a busy old month what with one thing or another, what with racing across London to see a man in Stratford of all ghastly places, wrestling Lucy from school to school to French Club, to Rainbows, to Cubs, to ballet, to Costa, to exhaustion and tears, hothousing Hattie in playgroups, baby French clubs, trips to the park and Waitrose.  Hattie can now sing "Brille, Brille", which is "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in French (in so much as she can sing anything using words), and Lucy is interesting, interested and can write her own name and count up to 100, so it must all be worth it, mustn't it?

I even have time for myself occasionally, knitting and crocheting away, making baby gros, tending the orchids (which are thinking about flowering again, how exciting) and even sometimes sleeping, although never enough.  I've even had a chance to dye yarn, in order to make a new Rainbow cardigan for Lucy.

October Unprocessed is nearly over and I will have a Diet Coke on Thursday.  I have missed it like crazy, but as that is really the only thing I feel I just couldn't make at home, I felt that the letter of the law had to be applied in that case.  We have a variety of wonderful meals recently; tonight we are having Ox Cheek stew with Mushrooms and Orzo.  Ox cheeks are cheap and very meaty, although I don't really recommend cutting them up.  

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Ginger biscuits

Five years ago, on honeymoon in Egypt, we bought a bag of gnarly dried ginger.  Obviously we haven't used it for anything, as it requires grinding before being anything approaching useful, and until my first pregnancy, I was never very keen on ginger.  Since everything I ate made me gag, I tried all sorts of old wives tales, and the only one that seemed to work was eating vast quantities of ginger biscuits.  I am now very keen on ginger, and use it a lot, particularly as the fresh root, but still haven't made anything like a dent in the ginger stash.

One of the blogs I enjoy, domestic sluttery, posted something about making ginger biscuits, promising that they were easy and delicious.  This is apparently in tribute to the Great British Bakeoff, something I really can't be bothered to watch, as I don't particularly enjoy that sort of thing, I'm not a competitive person.

I started making them tonight, thinking that Simon would be playing tennis, so I'd have all evening, but as it's been either raining or hailing on and off all day, I was able to go to my knit night, and thought I'd rustle up a batch before going out.  Of course, we had no eggs, so the ginger biscuit experiment was shelved until about 10 minutes ago, and I can confirm that the biscuits are incredibly easy to make, smell fantastic, but take 15 minutes in our oven, not 12.  The ginger, on the other hand, remains a major pain in the bum to grind, mostly because the spice grinder is difficult to clean afterwards.  

The hole, by the way, is from me giving them a poke to check readiness, and is not a design flaw.

October Unprocessed is still going well.  Hurrah for October Unprocessed.  I am still craving diet coke, and find myself feeling very, very tired without the boost it provides at about 5pm.  Ah well, I suppose it is good for me., and at least I don't feel like I have to give up things I enjoy that I make myself.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

You say Chermoela, I say Chermooula

October Unprocessed continues with bread and honey for breakfast, carrot and apple for lunch and  aubergines with chermoula paste, feta and giant couscous for supper.  It takes about 40 minutes to cook and smells delicious.  I am, unfortunately, craving diet coke, but am trying to be strong and drink water (no ribena) or wine (which counts, I could totally make it at home, but it would probably taste disgusting).

Edit: It's taken me so long to think of anything else to write, so my food is cooked, eaten and it tasted fantastic.

It's been another jolly day in Nursery.  I will leave it there otherwise I may be verging into bringing the profession into disrepute territory and that would not be the wisest thing to do.  I do wish that children who have additional needs were dealt with more sensitively.

The learning to love crochet as a way to reduce the stash project is going well - I have two cushion covers that need cushion pads, and am nearly finished with the blooming flower cushion cover that will grace our front room.  I cannot say that I love crochet, but I do find it considerably faster than knitting.

Who says er-sters anyway?

Monday, 1 October 2012

7 day week

What's a weekend?  I've spent the last 7 days looking after other people's children, and sometimes even my own.  Don't get me wrong, I sometimes quite enjoy Nursery, and I really enjoy Rainbows and Junior Church, but I am tired, and I need a break from the whole volunteering/working thing.  Unfortunately, that won't happen until the Ally Pally Knitting and Stitching Show in a fortnight's time, which will be a yarn heavy weekend with a great deal of petting and sighing and buying.

On Saturday, we took the Rainbows to London Zoo.  There were a lot of Rainbows there.  It was as you would expect it to be, so I will draw a veil over that part of the weekend.  One girl was sick, a couple were a bit tearful when we left, my own daughter was as good as can be hoped for, and the whole thing went with a swing.

The gorillas were my favourite animals by far, and they make me feel sad, as they are clearly too intelligent to be in captivity.  They have very sad faces, she says, with great profundity.

Simon went for a date with my friend Lyn's husband on Sunday - they went to get "manscaped", which in practice meant a wet shave with hot towels, rather than a back, sack and crack, but that took the whole afternoon, so further child entertainment was provided in the form of Lyn and Laura, Pizza Express, some swings and a lot of food.

I am doing the October Unprocessed thing again this year, so tonight we are having home made from scratch spaghetti bolognese with parmesan and extra wine.  Yum.

Monday, 24 September 2012

A very Barbara Pym-ish weekend

Barbara Pym, for those who do not know, was one of the best writers of the previous century - a chronicler of small things; the vicarage tea party, the jumble sale, the gentlewoman's companion, village life, which is all lovely and feminine on the surface, but actually full of the loneliness of unrequited love and a deep ironic comedy.  Get me.

Anyway, this weekend we went to many, many local events - a child's 4th birthday (at the Wacky Warehouse, as far from BP as from the moon), a children's playday in Walpole Park and a Reskilling Day run by the local green nuts, the Ealing Transition people.  This was the high point of my day - I learned how to keep chickens and a pig.  Apparently, if you are a vicar and have a massive vicarage behind the church with a field for a garden, you can have a pig in suburban London.  The pig was nice and clean and very grunty, and Hattie was utterly entranced (moo! moo! oh oink! oink!, then later, mo' oink! mo' oink!).  I don't think that the ancestral home has space for either a pig or hens, but I can dream.

In the evening, to round off the whole suburban dream, I went to a recital at the church, featuring the undiscovered talents of members of the congregation.  Some talents should have remained undiscovered, but the majority were great, and of course, Maxine, Lucy's godmother, is a professional flautist and rose above all the others.  I did feel as though I should have been hand embroidering new orphreys on the chasubles instead of knitting a hat for myself and stuffing up the pattern because I had to keep stopping to clap.

I do recommend Barbara Pym though if you haven't read anything by her.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Sea Room

 dovegreyreader is a bad, bad lady.  She is currently reading a whole load of nature books, and makes them sound like the most wonderful things ever committed to print, and as I am the most easily influenced person in West Ealing, I have put most of them and more on my amazon wishlist.  The first one I bought was this, Adam Nicolson's Sea Room, about his love affair the islands he owns (!) in the Hebrides, near Lewis.

Part history, part biography, part geological survey, the book is amazing.  I finished it a few days ago, and I love it. I'm ashamed that I'd never heard of Adam Nicholson before, which considering that he is the grandson of Vita Sackville-West is a bit shocking.  His father was very rude about the D of E in a dispatch, and now I know more about him, his name is cropping up every where.

Such a wonderful book, and I look forward to reading some more of his things, and to having a bash at the rest of the books on the list.

Not much

Being back at work is making my life simultaneously more and less stressful.  More, because, well, I have to go in and be treated like a mushroom by a sociopath, and less because, hurrah, Nursery has restarted and someone else gets the pleasure of my girls' company for 4 and a half hours every day.  We have our mornings together, then just as I'm beginning to feel that this has been enough joy for one day, I get to drop them off and they have a great afternoon and I have, well, an afternoon.  My favourite time of the day is 3:35 - after my Nursery children have gone home and before I pick my angels up.  I put something interesting on the iplayer and do my work, and then I pick the children up and we go home.

It's been a whole week since I wrote in the blog, and we've been so busy since then, as normal, and I've also been ill with some kind of ghastly tummy bug, so I've not really had the energy to write anything at all.  On Saturday, I left my family and flew across London to Brick Lane for the Renegade Craft Fair, which was great, and I spent a bit too much, mostly on beautiful handmade stuff, but also on some shoes from New Look, which appears to have repositioned themselves slightly upmarket. I did take some photos, but they are even worse than normal, so will stay under wraps.

Not much less to say - the tummy bug has exhausted me and I have no energy for anything at the moment.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Apple and blackberry with vanilla is my new jam

And very nice it is too, if a bit sweet.

Crumbs, what a weekend.  Lucy is going to be 4 on Wednesday, so we had a party for her and about 20 3 and 4 year olds on Saturday; fortunately as we've been having our summer in September, it was baking hot, so we were able to colonise the local park.  They had a brilliant time - no one was sick, no one wet themselves and no one cried too much.

I consider that to be a terrific success, and as it was all outside, there was minimal clearing up to do afterwards. We went to the pub as a family, which was really nice - the girls tore off round the garden and on the climbing frame and swings, and we sat and drank.  Not as heavily as we might have done, but still with concentration and great sense of purpose.

Sunday was spent at Whipsnade - the birthday girl decided that that was the ONLY place.  Hattie loved it there - there were "moos" (antelope), "yak yuk" (yaks), "bah bah"(bears), "bou, oink oink"(boars), "maos"(lynx), "raaaaa"(tiger, lions) and "ack ack"(ducks), not to mention all the "bur"(birds) that one almost two year old could spot. We had a great time.

At church on Sunday, we sat next to our MP, and obviously got chatting to him about the coalition and all who are hell bent on destruction and "iconoclasm", which is in quotes because it is one.  Being some what of an awkward cuss, our MP, who shall remain nameless, was rather non-politic about his colleagues on the opposite bench, describing one as a malevolent, vicious little meerkat.  No prizes.  I do like our MP.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Sparkleberry jam and other things

I am a magpie, attracted to anything shiny and delicious, so when Nigella Lawson re-tweeted this link, I knew I just had to have a go at making my own.  I do not have the patience to pick my own; well, I do and Lucy does, but after yesterday's blackberry and damson picking carnage which resulted in Harriet running out across the road, I don't think it's quite for us yet.  So I bought two punnets of just on the turn strawberries from one of the greengrocers on our bit of the Uxbridge Road, and made sparkly strawberry jam.

The recipe in "How to be a Domestic Goddess" for strawberry jam is excellent, I've made it before and got good results, so I just substituted pomegranate molasses for balsamic vinegar and shoved the whole lot in the pan and boiled it up.  Another slight modification; I added 2 pots of edible red glitter - possibly too much, but it is really, really sparkly, something that I'm not sure shows up in the photo.

We now have three and a half jars of Sparkleberry Jam.  Wonderful.

For all I don't want to be at work, I do love September.  I love going to pick blackberries and damsons, rose hips and crab apples, rowan berries and elderberries, and then turning them into jams, jellies, vodkas and syrups.  Mind you, the first time I made elderberry jam it carbonised, so I'm hoping for a better result this time.  Lucy, eccentric child, won't eat baked beans, but wolfs down crab apple jelly, so I'm going to have to make three or four jars so she doesn't run out.  We all like crab apple jelly, it's sweet and savoury at the same time.

I've found a damson tree half strangled by brambles on a locked up building site a couple of doors up, and there's another on the way to church, so I'm going to have lots and lots for jam and jellies.  I might have to give some away, I think I've still got a load from last year.  This year I want to make rose hip syrup, and I will not let my husband near it - he burned it last year, the idiot.

Right, I have to cook something more suitable for supper than sparkly strawberry jam.  Salmon, beans and noodles I think, and I need to wash my hands several times after handling the chillis, especially before I take my lenses out.

Monday, 3 September 2012

In which I come out as WI curious

I'm trying to be a gardener but I'm really not very good at it.  It's not instant enough for me, the idea of waiting for things to happen is anathema to me, and I either over-water my plants, thus killing them, or shamefully ignore them, thus killing them.  I have had a very hardy Dracaena marginata for the past 15 or so years, which I haven't managed to kill yet, although it was touch and go at one point, but a  bit of pruning and a lot of feeding saved the day.  I've kept my basil plant around for a while, and most of the plants that I've put in the garden have survived and even, whisper it, thrived, including a French Lavender and two English Lavenders, so perhaps I am getting better.

Last week, I decided that the time was right to go to the local WI meeting, and went along to Northfields Community Centre with my mug and my poorly orchid, and listened to a very interesting man from Kew talk about gardens, gardening and caring for orchids.  Apparently appearances are deceptive, and my orchid is not on the verge of the compost heap, but has a whole bunch of healthy roots just under the surface.  With this in mind, I have fed it a bit, and watered it over the draining board so it is not standing in any water and it doesn't look any better yet.  Instant gratification - why isn't it perfect immediately?  Ah well, and I'm sure it will pull through soon, I have faith.

I did enjoy the WI meeting.  Disappointingly, we only sang the first verse of Jerusalem; having had to sing the damn thing frequently at school, I like to show off a bit and put in a bit of vibrato on the whole bow of burning gold line, although no one else likes it much.  The talk was very interesting, and I learned a whole lot about orchids, so much so that I was inspired to look after mine a bit better, and actually follow instructions for the first time in years, and the cake was delicious, so I'm really looking forward to the September meeting.  I might even take my crochet along next time.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Back in the jug agane

I managed to hit my self-imposed target for August with a mighty 13 posts, which is extraordinary.  I wonder if I will be able to do half as well now I have to go back to the place of toil and tears and general rubbishness.  I will get a new job this year.  I will.

We've been super busy in the last week, what with trips to the New Forest, swimming, a day at the Paralympics, a trip to Cambridge and Wimpole Home Farm and Lucy's first theatre trip to see Ange-rina Ballerina at Richmond Theatre.

Each deserves a new post, but I can't be bothered with all that, so here is a photo montage.

The village I grew up has a duck river, and after sharing the remnants of the stale bread with the ducks, the girls decided to climb the fence and look for conkers.  We found a whole bunch, but they were white inside,  so must of come down in the wind.  Most disappointing.

We paid a visit to Auntie Kaili in Cambridge, and went to the park where there is a very cold paddling pool.  Hattie got herself completely drenched, but as I was expecting that, she was only wearing her nappy.  Lucy was far more civilised, and just paddled about.  

We paid a visit to Wimpole Home Farm, where we were treated to an example of realism in farming.

These piglets were all of a day old, and still wet.  Adorable.  

Hattie appreciating pigs in her own unique way.

Both girls were absolutely fascinated by the Shire Horse and her foal.   Beautiful animals and only 1,500 breeding mares left.  The foal is a female, which is good news for the future.

It's been a lovely summer holiday all in all, although I'm part looking forward to going back to work, if only to find myself a new job.  

Monday, 27 August 2012

Bank Holiday

I had to go and hide away from my family a bit earlier, so went up to the grandly entitled Craft Room and had a bit of a stash sort.  I've unearthed two projects that were supposed to be "next" about three years ago, and have brought them downstairs, therefore making them a bit more of a visible reality.  One of them is a very fancy hat that I am convinced will make me look wonderful but in reality will probably make me look like an idiot, but time will tell.  I have the needles, I have the yarn, I have the patience and I have friends who will suit it very well if needs be.

I do love Bank Holidays. Even on a Bank Holiday like this one where we really couldn't be bothered to do very much as a family, bad parents.  Saturday was a bike ride for Simon and his friend, us playing around and not going to the Farmers' Market or foraging, as I'd planned owning to some spectacularly bad behaviour from Lucy, and then a birthday party in the afternoon.  Sunday was spent prostrate in the house on my own, recovering from the horrible tummy bug and then going out in the evening to discover that I hadn't recovered at all.  Joy and jubilation.  I think I'm a bit better today, although I thought that yesterday and was wrong, so I'm not celebrating just yet.

Today we've spent in the house doing as little as possible - the girls have been threading beads, watching television, painting and other amusing things.  Harriet is currently in the middle of painting a banner for Lucy's birthday; she is not aware of it, but I think that it will work out.  This is the joy of Pinterest; I saw a "We love You Daddy" banner for Fathers' Day, made of cut out letters from scribblings/painting, and I'm now adapting for the grand 4 year old party that will be happening in two weekends time.

Tomorrow we are going to the New Forest, just me and the girls.  Which will be fun. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


I was a bit concerned by how tired I was last night considering that I hadn't really done much except sit on a train and go for a short walk, so I was (not at all) relieved to find out that in fact that I had a bit of a tummy bug and spent quite a lot of last night clammy, cold and sweaty and shivery.  Hurrah.  At least I'm feeling a whole lot better today and am not so tired that I have to lie down and cry.

Today's big adventure was a trip to Northampton to see Karen and her lovely little girls.  The big one is the same age as Lucy and they get on like a house on fire, screaming and laughing and running and shouting at us and doing what passes as playing nicely when you are almost four.  The little one is a tiny baby and as such is of great interest to Harriet who prodded her and lay on her and gave her lots of hugs and kisses and squashed her a lot, which is, I suppose, playing nicely with the baby when you are not quite two.

We drove up this time, up the M40 and the three dozen round-abouts that the local authority see fit to put on the road to slow us all down to a reasonable 50mph.  I do not like driving at 50mph when I have two noisy so and sos in the back shouting and demanding more crisps and mini cheddars. Still, we got there in plenty of time - two hours including a pit-stop at Oxford services; refuelling with even more than usually over priced pain au chocolat and pain au raisin.  Honestly, after a week of driving in motorways in France, I'm most disappointed by the services in the UK.  France is so much more civilised - not every stop is an expensive shopping experience, some places are just picnic areas with a loo.  I suppose the weather being that bit better in France means that people are happy to stop and have a picnic, and don't really like shovelling food into their faces in supermarkets.

I have finally put the photos on the other computer, but not yet onto the internet, they will come when I am feeling stronger.  I'm sure that's what everyone is waiting for - 70 odd photos of odd people in La Carneille. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


I'm becoming somewhat of a stuck record.  I am utterly shredded today, following a very lovely day out visiting a friend who has moved out of Ealing to lovely semi-rural Horsham.  Being a glutton for punishment, I went by train from Victoria.

This was before the massive tantrum, which brought me to my knees.

I really thought I had this travelling with children thing sorted out, a massive changing bag full of snacks, books, pencils, pens, papers, colouring in and songs, but Lucy defeated me when she wanted crawl under all the seats, and I felt that that wasn't the thing to do.  Then she hit me.  I was very restrained.

Anyway, we had a lovely day, and her ladyship had her first Fab lolly, and Hattie enjoyed a Mr Men mini milk type thing after shouting "me, Me, ME!" while I was buying ice creams for the children.

Horsham has the most wonderful park in the middle of it, and we spent a long time there being very active and running around - Lucy's dear friend Michael is an active boy with a very competitive older brother, and she manages to keep up with both of them for a while, stopping for a cuddle and a hand hold every now and then.

The way back was super easy and we really had a good trip, despite arriving at Victoria in the middle of rush hour - 5:20, what a gorgeous time of day.  The girls amused a District Line carriage of commuters by pole dancing and running around sitting on people's laps and shoes; another thing I really hope they will grow out of soon.

I had to have a lie down when we got home.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Back home

I started writing this last night after we got back, but I was, according to my husband, "too tired from knitting all the way from La Carneille to West Ealing".  Being in a house with 4 children under 5 is somewhat exhausting, as they always seemed to be either shouting or running or screaming or laughing or something that was far louder than anything any of the adults wanted to do.  At least it's almost completely put me off the idea of having any more children.

Fortunately, it was a bit too hot to do much bicycling in the Suisse Normande, and after a 12km cycle up hill, the cycling was mostly done by Lucy on the back of her Daddy's bike, and I just enjoyed cleaning and tidying my euphemistically called "beau-pere"'s house.  He has many admirable qualities but cleaning is not one, and having a huge, hairy dog in tow doesn't help matters.

I got a lot of knitting done as well, which is always a good thing.  The Olympics project is almost completely finished - I just have to do the thumb on the right one, but it's just too hot to contemplate working on a mitten.  So I am making an afghan blanket for Lucy instead, in pure wool.  It's in squares, and now I only have 4 left to make, then a whole load of crochet, and then lining the damn thing.

We took out with us when we went bat hunting in the park round the back of the house, and Lucy loves it already, which is gratifying.  It's lovely and warm, and just the thing for when the sun goes down and you're only wearing a vest.

I wanted to write a whole lot about the holiday, about the book I read (Julie and Julia - surprisingly good), about the seaside and the trip to Mont St Michel, but I've got to take the photos off the camera, and not use the nerd computer for that, so it must wait for another day.

We had a lovely time, and now have a fridge that honks of Pont l'Eveque and unpasteurised Camembert, and I highly recommend the Suisse Normande for a short cycling break, especially if you have Sir Chris Hoy-esque thighs of steel.

Friday, 10 August 2012


We are going on holiday tomorrow.  For some reason, I appear to have agreed to go bicycling around the Suisse Normande, so called because it is apparently the only part of Normandy that goes up.  So I will be spending an internet free week holed up in rural France, pulling that blasted tag-a-long up hills in the rain.

Mind you, as holidays go, it should be great fun.  We are going with friends of ours who have children who are slightly younger than Lucy and Hattie, and the girls absolutely adore them, so the four of them will be occupied.  We will have other people to talk to and cook for and be cooked for, so that will be less of a chore and more fun, and the house we're staying in belongs to my father in law, so there won't be a massive bill at the end of it all.  Plus we're going to go to Paris for a day trip - well, the outskirts anyway, visiting my grandmother, which should be good fun.  I might even finish the hippo mittens.

I might even be able to upload some photographs when I get back, and might even have some to show of me collapsed at the top of a slight rise with Lucy laughing at me.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Tourist Trip around my own city

In the summer holidays, I generally enjoy taking the children around London, showing them things and going to the National Gallery and just pottering about.  This year, having been warned to expect 1000 million people, I decided to give it a miss, and took them in briefly before the Olympics started.  Everyone else seems to have felt the same way, and the West End and Central London are not exactly deserted, but certainly less busy than I would have expected for the time of year.

The couple of million that was spent tarting up Leicester Square was money well spent in our opinion, as the fountains are wonderful and we spent about thirty minutes jumping up and down in the water, and getting absolutely soaking.  Hattie ended up only wearing her vest for the rest of the day - a real advertisement for my parenting skills, I must say.  Lucy tucked her dress into the front of her knickers, and looked, well, ridiculous frankly.

Gosh, I love Instagram.  I've found a new way of getting it onto my computer and off the itoy, and I'm very pleased with it, which is why there are a mass of photos in my post. 

We also went to the National Gallery and saw the Sunflowers, the Water Lilies, the Tiger and the Little Girl who Looks a bit like Lucy, which is all we ever go to see; both of them seem to enjoy the trip and can recognise some paintings now - well, Lucy can, Hattie just shouts "Raaa" at the Tiger (Surprised) and marches around shouting at tourists gazing seriously at the ART.

According to The Middle Class Handbook, Costa is at the bottom of the coffee shop pyramid, and it isn't that great, but it suits us - cheap, child-friendly, free WiFi and full of things that the children will actually eat.  This one is right on Wardour Street, so we walked through Chinatown and practised our Mandarin, courtesy of The Lingo Show, on the locals. 

I quite enjoyed being a bit of a tourist, and we will do it again later in the Summer.  Shame we can't have the Olympics every year, it makes for a delightfully peaceful capital.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Knitting Olympics

My goodness, but I'm excited about the Olympics.  Last week, I was entranced by the shooting - can you believe how precise their shots are? - and this week it's lovely Laura Trott and her cycling.  On Super Saturday, when we were holed up in Hay on Wye, eating chocolate orange as the kitchen stopped serving pudding shortly before we wished to order pudding, I fell head over heels in love with her and her infectious giggle.

The three girls were so over-joyed and excited to have won, and, despite not giving a bugger about cycling competitively, or indeed by any sport, I was entranced by them and the whole 6 gold medals in one evening thing.  Hurrah for us Brits, says the half South African, quarter French woman.

And now it looks as if we have surpassed Beijing, and produced 21 gold medals, which is extraordinary.  I am inspired to push one or both of my daughters to the peak of human endurance and encourage them to be Olympians in 2028; Lucy is already showing great promise in the cycling, she greatly enjoys being pulled along by me on the tag-a-long, and Harriet is a keen swimmer, flinging herself around in the water like a baby seal, entirely without any concern for her or my wellbeing.  Their mother, alas, was always the least competitive, least bothered of all Miss Chambers' pupils, and it is too late for me in all events, except, of course, in knitting.

I may have mentioned knitting before, and the knitting Olympics in particular, or Ravellenic Games as the lawyers would have it.  (spoilsports)  I have chosen a particularly easy discipline, the Mitten Medley.  My mitten is this one, which is easier than it looks but going slower than I'd hoped.  I should have finished the first one by the end of tonight, and then I have four days to make the other in order to win a gold.

The problem I have is that I am too easily distracted and keep on wanting to do other things, like watch canoeing at Eton Dorney or sit in the car, where I can knit, but can't do colourwork as it involves looking down and concentrating too hard, and of course, my baby gro empire is growing fast, so I have to sew like mad most evenings.  Also, ironically enough, the Olympics is so exciting that I really have to WATCH, rather than watch and knit; normally I can multitask in front of the television, but not at the moment.

Oh and news just in - Chris Hoye has just won his sixth gold, so now we're on 22 golds, which is extraordinarily exciting, even for a non-competitive, non-goal focussed, lazy sod like me.

Monday, 6 August 2012

5 years

Five years ago, this happened.

This weekend, we went to Hay on Wye to celebrate the fact that we haven't managed to kill each other in that time, despite bike related arguments and other traumas, and two adorable if rather exhausting small girls.  We've had a lovely five years, and I hope that we'll have many more.  It doesn't really seem fair that we can marry and celebrate being husband and wife when other people don't have that right.  My friend Jon wrote this about equal marriage and Scotland calling civil partnerships, marriages. 

Does what happened to me 5 years ago count for less if two men can get married and call each other husband?  Is my marriage any less stable and happy if two women can marry each other in a registry office or a church?  Of course it isn't, and anyone who says that it is being ridiculous.  The church in which we were married is fairly liberal and accepting - one of the church wardens is in a long partnership with another man and the curate's son is gay.  I haven't yet asked the vicar about the his views, but I'm pretty sure that they are not in line with the hierarchy; I know he has mellowed greatly during the last 20 years or so as Rector of Hanwell. 

In any case, marriage is a deep and meaningful thing, and why should I be allowed to marry when others aren't?  It's not just for the procreation of children, it's not just about promoting faith, it's about two people's public declaration of a private intention.

So happy anniversary darling, and here's to the next 5 years.


Food crush #2

As well as making a wonderful pea soup on Thursday, I had my father's birthday meal to cook.  It was his actual birthday on the 2nd, then I was semi-expecting my brother and his wife to come round on Friday and for us to celebrate then, with him having the meal of his choosing.  So I'd planned to make something interesting and new on the Thursday after the Olympic heroes had returned from the top of the billing Russia vs Tunisia volleyball match at Earls' Court.

My second food crush is the rather wonderful Esther Walker who is the wife of Giles Coren and writes very amusingly about food and motherhood and other trivial matters like that.  One of her recipes from ages ago was for Quinoa Risotto, and I thought that making that would be a delicious surprise for everyone.  The moaning!  The complaining!  The sulking!  The back-tracking when they tasted it and realised that it was utterly, utterly delicious!  The apologies!

It's a really easy recipe and much quicker than a normal risotto, and the only problem I have with it was that Esther Walker is considerably less greedy than my husband and family as they felt distinctly short changed by the portion size.  I felt that it was a perfect amount personally.  Have a look and have a go at it, all the ingredients are available from Waitrose.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Pea soup

Pea soup
Originally uploaded by JuliaCroyden

Well, this appears to be the only way to share the poor quality photograph, so there we go. You can see the pea pods and all sorts. Smells wonderful, hopefully tastes the same.

Cooking the perfect pea soup

Harriet is definitely NOT WELL, and is sleeping peacefully in her bedroom, and the double trap shooting is too tense for words, so I've popped into the kitchen to do some cooking.  I picked up some lovely (cut price) peas in their pods from Waitrose earlier, and I'm trying out Felicity Cloake's Perfect Pea Soup. 

For a start, I don't have streaky bacon, just back bacon, so I'm using that.  I also have a mixture of chicken stock and garlic olive oil that I used to cook little gem lettuces (a novel idea, but it works, look in this book), and Ms Cloake recommends plain water or vegetable stock.  Even perfection can be improved on, however, so in they go and now the soup is boiling away behind me, ignored like my children's whines.  It smells wonderful, and is a delicious green colour.  Unfortunately, the cheap peas were cheap for a reason; they are really quite large and there weren't that many of them, so I have had to add a large quantity of frozen petit pois to the soup, and of course they have cooked very quickly and are now done and ready to be blended.

Live blogging cooking soup is the most exciting thing I'm doing today.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Courgette jumble

Of course, the first thing my husband asks in the morning is always "What about dinner?", and, as usual, I ignored him this morning.  Even though we don't have the ingredients for a proper meal in the fridge, and I haven't bothered defrosting anything useful like mince or salmon, I know I can make a meal in a matter of minutes.

Hence, courgette jumble.  Courgettes, onions, garlic, roughly chopped and fried with bacon and chilli, adding toasted pine nuts half way through cooking.  When I made it on Friday for mine and Hattie's suppers I used pesto and raisins, and cooked some penne, which was all Hat would eat, along with all the raisins and discarding the courgettes and everything that wasn't bacon.  This evening's accompaniment will be spaghetti, and if Simon doesn't like it, I will punch him.  He turned his nose up at adding raisins to a savoury dish - evidently he is not entirely on board with my South African heritage, where fruit and meat are frequently paired.

I currently have a foodie crush on the rather marvellous Esther Walker, and as she is shortly to be publishing a "Best of" blog, I am reading through her back posts, and have found this rather wonderful sounding recipe for quinoa risotto, which again, his nibs has turned his nose up at, although he will be having it for supper on Sunday.  I have SPOKEN. 

My other foodie crush is on Felicity Cloake, and tomorrow I will have a bash at making her Perfect Pea Soup, but with normal bacon, not streaky, as that is what I have in the fridge.  Yum.

Gosh, a blog post about cooking rather than knitting or sewing.  Anyone would think I was some sort of non-criminal Martha Stewart type.

Ravelry, Olympics, Opening Ceremonies and other topical things

We are desperately trying to leave the house today; yesterday was spent inside watching CBeebies all day long, and I am slowly going berserk.  Hattie has bronchiolitis again - well, it's a holiday, what else is she going to do, and Lucy technically has chicken pox, although I think as her spots have faded, and were never that bad really, it was a very mild dose.  Today, however, I have decided that we are going out - to Hobbycraft, to Costa, to Ealing Town Hall, to the library, to the garden centre and to somewhere else desperately exciting like Sainsburys.  Unfortunately, my plans have been derailed by Mr Tumble, who is our current hero, but at least it means I get 10 minutes to myself to witter on about the Olympics.

I watched the Opening Ceremony, half expecting it to be, well, a bit rubbish.  And bits of it were, especially the whole green and pleasant land nostalgia for something that never existed anyway at the beginning.  Then Ken as Brunel, portraying him as a fat cat industrialist, when he was more that annoyed me.  But then the rings were forged and rose in the air, and I decided that this was generally a great experience and I was going to stop huffing and enjoy it.  Of course, Daniel Craig, the Queen, blah blah, sense of humour and all that, Gawd bless yer NHS, GOSH, and I could have done without the commentary, but by the time I worked out how to turn it off, it was the athletes parade and I needed it for that. 

Interesting what they chose to celebrate - I think Danny Boyle's vision was the way that the left would like to portray Britishness - diverse, interesting, tolerant and religious in a non-specific way.  There was a lot of God in the ceremony, what with Jerusalem, Bread of Heaven and Abide with Me, but it wasn't specifically the Christian God, just "God", someone who everyone could relate to; this non-denominational faith based approach is rare, unfortunately.  I think the majority of the country has some form of faith, and we should celebrate it sometimes; it should unite us more than tear us apart.

Well, what with all that deep thought and provocative tweeting and twitter reading, I managed to cast on 64 stitches for my mitten three times, each time getting a different number.  The Ravellenic Games are taking place along with the other Olympics, and I am making a pair of mittens with tiny blue hippos on.  So far, so good, although I found the ribbing tedious, and I need to make the mittens longer than lovely Spilly Jane's teeny hands.

The arrival of my children indicates that Mr Tumble has gone back to Tumbleland, so I'd better go and be a mummy properly.  *sigh*

Buy baby gros!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Green tomato chutney and spots

We tried growing tomatoes this year, but they've been a total washout.  The seeds took ages to germinate, and were then totally drowned by all the rain.  Such a disappointment, especially as the packet was something daft like £3 for 6 seeds.  Of course, Lucy was very upset about this, so last weekend we went to the garden centre to buy a tomato plant as a replacement.  £8 later, and a rosemary and a lavender, and an ice cream, we were the proud owners of a yellow tomato plant. 

Alas, the course of true love etc, and it developed some form of blight, involving the leaves turning yellow and curling up but the fruit being unaffected.  We decided to cut our loses and make green tomato chutney, loosely based on a recipe in Beryl Wood's book Let's Preserve It, which has over 500 really great ideas in.  It's currently doing its thing, and the whole kitchen smells of vinegar.  It should be cooked in about an hour, and ready to eat by Christmas.  Most expensive chutney ever though.

In other news, Lucy now has chicken pox; she is covered in spots and very sad and sorry for herself.  She understands that she mustn't scratch, and is dosed up on a cocktail of Piriton and Calpol, and is hopefully sleeping it off.  It's a bit of a pain, as we're supposed to be running a playgroup on Monday, but that's impossible now.

I want to write about the Olympics Opening Ceremony, but I need to think a bit first.  I've not done that since about 2005, so wish me luck.

Thursday, 26 July 2012


Golly gosh, the power of advertising.  My last post was about the baby gro "business" and since then, I've had 117 people read the post and a whole bunch more look at the flickr page, and a couple of what I can only call pre-orders, as in people saying that they will be ordering one in a few days once they've been paid/had the baby/found a baby who needs more clothes.   It's all rather exciting really, and I think I'm going to need some more stock this week.

Let's hope that I can make £100 this year; that would be a wonderful thing.

Just in case: Baby gros

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Bespoke Babies

I've been making baby gros for a couple of months now, and had some minor successes - an Indiana Jones one, a Chewbacca one and, my favourite, the kissing elephants.

Ideally, I would like to sell these and want to set up a website.  What a pain in the bum that is;  it takes such a long time, and I have to actually think about the text, and I've realised that my photos are super rubbish, and moan moan.  Anyway.  If you want a baby gro, send me a message via this or Facebook, or Twitter and it's only a tenner.

Here is the flickr site with all the photos on.


I can draw most things, given enough time and gin.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Pox infested

When you are cuddling the newborn and smacked up on hormones and epidurals, no one tells you "One day, darling, we will have chicken pox".

Hat goes to nursery at the Children's Centre on site, and the nursery manager came to collect one of my boys today.  She asked me to come along as soon as possible as she thought Hattie had chicken pox.  By the time I got there, about 20 minutes later, she was definitely spotty and starting to look a bit sorry for herself.  I took her to the chemist and it definitely is the pox, which means that Lucy will get it, and it's terribly inconvenient, what with it being the summer holidays in a week, rather than next week.  Still I am brightsiding like mad, and at least they'll have had it by the time they are adults.

The job situation is going from bad to worse, and I am just about struggling through.  I'll get a new job soon; I don't want to be working for a sociopath next year.

There's nothing cheerful to write about; non stop rain, pox infestation, funeral tomorrow.  I'll try harder over the weekend.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Insanity update

The most unrealistic list of New Year's Resolutions ever.

12 unread books read - tbh, this was always here as a make weight, I've more than doubled this in the six months since January. 

12 babygros made - half way through this

12 meals from Nigella's Kitchen book - hmm.  Two.  Not so great.

12 pounds lost - nope.  Moving on.

12 jumpers knitted - apparently, I've made 9.  Blimey.

12 knitted things for Lucy - including some of the above, 5 things. 

12 knitted things for Hattie - fewer for Hat, er, 1.  (note to self: knit for the baby) (although I have made her a quilt, so that counts)

12 individual socks - no way.  Haven't even thought about socks for months.  I might manage one pair.

12 weeks no yarn buying (except to finish projects, otherwise they become WIPs and part of the problem, not the solution) - I think I've managed this, on and off.

12 patterns used  - 13. 

12 blog posts a month (hmm) - moving on.

12 other things - decided that would be 12 things for me.  So far, I've made 3.  Which is not bad at all.

So now all I've got to do is lose 12 pounds and go back in time to write 50something blog posts for February, March, April, May and June.

Next year, no sock or weight loss based resolutions.


We joined the NCT back in April or May 2008, when we were expecting Lucy.  We didn't really have high expectations of the programme, and knew that we might be fed some, well, inaccurate information regarding pregnancy and childbirth, but felt that the opportunity to meet some people in the same situation as us was unmissable.  There were 7 couples in our group, and our babies were born between the 1st of August and the 12th of September, and they are all healthy, happy and strong children.  We had 4 girls and 3 boys between us, and some of the children have grown up to be very fond of each other.  Lucy and her friend Jessie are very fond of each other, and do ballet together, and talk. all. the. time.

My mummy friends are all close to each other in relative degrees - some I see fairly regularly, some I see rarely.  We have now mostly all had second children, and it's all starting again - the sleepless nights, the terrible twos, the going out and having to rush home to breastfeed a screaming child, the general scattiness, the lovely closeness that comes from sharing a deep experience with someone.

Last night, though, we went out for a different reason.  A week ago, one of us took her children to the park.  She didn't come back.  So far there is nothing to say what happened, what caused her to fall and why she didn't get up again.  It is totally unbelievable and shocking.  Her son is Lucy's age, her daughter is a tiny baby.  I am so sad and angry and want to shout at the world and God and everyone about this particularly unfair, random event.  We can't bear it, not one bit.

The friends I made in my NCT group were closer than I realised, and I feel that I must cherish them more.  If there's one positive thing that's come out of this, that's it.

RIP Sherryn.  We will miss you.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Photo heavy weekend

We had a really adventurous weekend, as it was so lovely and unseasonable.  We went to Spitalfields Market on Saturday, where we failed to buy anything except lunch and a coffee.  I want a work box, but by the time we went back for it, it had gone.  Simon bought one on ebay instead, which is in Hove - we are sending Jim to pick it up, hopefully it will be here soon.

As you can see, we found the giant fibre glass rabbits, and had lots of fun on them.

I thought we might be a bit more calm on Sunday, but no.  We went to the Bunny Park after church where we saw the animals, Lucy had a minor meltdown, and we played for many hours on the swings.

We then went to Kew, where we had the first picnic of the year.  Bit cold, but with a coat on, it was lovely, and of course a real bonus to be eating outside during February.  Harriet is now a big girl, actually, and can drink from a carton of orange juice, without my help thank you.  

She is now walking, Harriet fans, which is exciting and depressing at the same time.

The main reason we went to Kew wasn't just to tire the children out so they'd stop bugging us for ten minutes, we wanted to see the orchids.  They were very beautiful.  I let Lucy take some photos, which are a combination of rubbish and actually not bad.  They are available for viewing on Facebook, these are mine.

I wonder why I am knackered all the time.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

All work and no writing

12 blog posts a month?  I must be a moron to think I've got the interest in writing and the time to do something committed like that. 

Well, it's nearly the end of February and this is the first time I've written anything.  It's not like I've not been busy; we went to Paris to see my grandmother, took a whole lot of beautiful photos of our lovely little girls in the snow, read a whole lot of books including French Children Don't Throw Food, about which more later, had friends to stay, been to Spitalfields Market for the first time, been for a late lunch with a very dear old friend and the girls, which I think has put him off having children for ever and ever, and worked and worked and worked.

I can't think of much to write about - I want to write a piece about French Children Don't Throw Food because it's changed the ways I think about parenting, but I don't have the energy at the moment.  I think I need to re-read it first, and maybe have a look at some of her sources, especially Fran├žoise Dolto, although I'll have to brush up on my French before then.  I'm not sure I'm quite up to reading about child psychology at the moment, especially as I'm downstairs, listening to Hattie shout a bit - she is exhausted, and dropped off in my arms, then when I tried to put her down, woke up and started shouting.  I've left her for about 7 minutes now, I think I'm going to have to go back upstairs in a bit.  Apparently, this controlled crying is anathema in France; I don't like it at all and rarely do it, as it doesn't really work.  She does self settle after a few minutes though, and I suppose I've got to let her learn to do it, otherwise I'll be sitting next to her when she's ten, holding her hand and waiting for her to drop off.  My friends do that with their three year old - madness.

I might try writing again on Tuesday - fewer distractions.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

In praise of homework

Because I am rapidly approaching 35, and no longer consider myself to be in the Top Shop demographic, I have started reading a blog dedicated to growing older in a witty and stylish way.  I am, actually, about 10 years too young for the blog, but enjoy it very much; similar to the way I enjoy talking to my parents' friends.  Of course, my parents and their friends are far, far older than either of the writers.  Have I covered myself?

Anyway, I like reading their stuff, and sometimes feel a bit scared by their descriptions of living with teenagers.  Recently, they have been writing about homework.  I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I am a primary school teacher, and spent three long and happy years in Year One, teaching writing, reading, Maths and, well everything really.  As part of my remit, I had to set homework.  Now, I believe in homework.  I believe that, while education in school is incredibly important, most education happens at home, and a child's chances in life are enhanced by the way that education is regarded in the family.  This is not a snide class thing - after all, that awful Toby Young is on record as saying that he didn't enjoy education until his parents took an interest in it at secondary level, and his father is a peer - this is a teacher thing.  Education happens at home and at school, and the two have to work together in order to provide the best for the child.

I gave homework to my children that involved the parents.  I expected the children to be read with every night, and gave out two reading books a week.  I handed out spellings that related back to the sound that their group was learning - some weeks it would be "igh", some weeks "o", depending on the progress of the children in the group.  Obviously, with my incredible professionalism, I knew where all the children were all of the time, and made sure that all the children moved at roughly the same quite rapid pace.  (This is true by the way - it is not comic hyperbole, for a change).  Each week, the children had a maths worksheet to complete that involved, and this is very important, cutting, sticking and colouring.  It irritated the parents who believed that darling Raveena should be doing her fifty times table, and it irritated the parents who didn't like darling Reece using glue outside school as it is too messy, but that was OK by me. 

My personal favourite homework was about "Toys in the Olden Days" where I got the children to talk to their parents and grandparents about the toys they had played with when they were children.  Most of my parents at that time were the same age, or considerably younger, than me, and the grandparents weren't much past 50.  I had quite a few complaints about that, fortunately all of them light-hearted. 

Homework is a window for both parents and teachers.  I could see what was happening at home as I encouraged parents to write in the diary and would respond to their comments frequently and often at great, inappropriate length.  Parents could see what I was expecting from their children - as my maths homeworks were solidly aimed at the middle, the parents of the top group would boot their children off to do it on their own, the parents of the middle group would encourage independence, and the parents of the bottom group would, well, ignore it frankly, and sometimes do the work for them.  Ever wondered why your child isn't achieving?

I wouldn't dream of setting homework every night.  I would be upset to think that the children were unable to do their homework; I expected the parents to sit with the children for 15 mins and complete the work.  However busy your life is, you have 15 minutes out of an entire weekend for your child's formal education.  Don't you?

I expect that other schools, other teachers have different views, obviously.  I know several of my colleagues disagree with homework in the Infants, and dislike it in the Juniors, and I know that secondary school is different, although perhaps it shouldn't be.  Perhaps there should be more emphasis on the whole child, rather than individual subjects?  Who can say?  At primary school, we deal with everything, we wipe noses, zip up coats, put on plasters and give out cuddles, we teach every subject and are expected to have excellent general knowledge, and detailed specific knowledge.  We generally get good results.  My first class, the first lot to have the Miss Harries (as was) homework regime forced upon them have just surpassed other Year 6 classes nationally, across the board, but especially in English.  Maybe something stuck.  Good foundations are crucial to any successful building.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Middlemarch and all that

I have shamelessly taken this picture from dovegreyreader's blog, as it perfectly illustrates the book I have been reading.  She is holding a "read along", reading Middlemarch in instalments, which meant that I romped through Miss Brooke at a speed of knots, and now have to wait until February to read Part Two. 

It's been interesting to re-read George Eliot.  Being a literary sort, I chose Science A-Levels, and had to self-teach myself critical reading.  In my wasted youth, I read all the CLASSICS (Middlemarch, Dickens, Trollope etc) and didn't particularly gain much from them, although many I enjoyed greatly and have gone on to re-read and re-read, especially Jane Austen and Trollope.  Middlemarch has not been one I've re-visited, and I can't really think why.  I watched the television adaptation relatively recently, with the lovely Rufus Sewell in his prime (he's gone to seed now, of course) and the utterly entrancing Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea Brooke.  Perhaps that's why? 

For whatever reason, Middlemarch is on my list.  I loved reading it as an adult.  A proper adult, I mean, with a job and a mortgage and two children and an account with John Lewis.  Miss Brooke is far more pious and difficult than I remember her being, Cecila is a sweetie, Sir James is very proper and manly, and Casaubon is made out of beige.  What a wonderful character he is.  A key to all mythologies, honestly.  And silly Dorothea for being taken in by him - I suppose he would seem like some form of hero to an eighteen year old longing to be taken seriously by someone and, feeling herself to be far cleverer than the people around her, longing to have someone to whom she could admire intellectually.  Unfortunately, she doesn't realise; the first rule of being cleverer than everyone else is to pretend not to be cleverer than everyone else. 

George Eliot's writing is needle sharp - it's as if she has specially sharpened her pen and is creating perfect little pen and ink drawings of her characters.  She is also funny - I don't remember laughing during the television adaptation, except at Mr Brooke, so it must be the strong author's voice, so disliked by Linda Grant.  I follow her on Twitter, I don't have a personal connection to her. 

The thing I love most about reading the book with a group, especially via dove grey reader, is that she is able to make connections to things I had vaguely noticed and mentally filed under interesting.  A S Byatt's writing about GE is the example I'm thinking about at the moment; here is a vast chunk I have copied and pasted.

'I taught it with a passion because it I perceived it was about the growth, use and inevitable failure and frustration of all human energy - a lesson one is not interested in at eleven, or eighteen, but at twenty-six with two small children, it seems crucial. George Eliot's people were appallingly ambitious and greedy - not always for political, or even exclusively sexual power...they were ambitious to use their minds to the full. to discover something, to live on a scale where their life felt valuable from moment to moment...'

I can't say anything more about it.  That's it really.

Jane Austen, A Life by Claire Tomalin

I started this book just at the end of last year, and finished it the other day.  What a wonderful book.  From actually very little evidence, Claire Tomalin has managed to piece together a very creditable account of Jane Austen's life.  I've never felt that the sainted Jane was a shrinking violet - her novels are sharp, witty and to the point, with a lot of truth in them about human weakness, vanity and the way that people are incredibly unpleasant to each other while maintaining a social mask. 

It is particularly strong on Mansfield Park, a book I'm ashamed to say I've only read once.  While I know Persuasion backwards, and Pride and Prejudice very well indeed, Mansfield Park's difficult, unloveable heroine has never really appealed to me, but having read this excellent analysis, I am going to give it another go.  I'm sure Jane Austen is overjoyed to hear it. 

More than a teacher

I had to speak to Martina's mother the other day regarding her recent behaviour deterioration at Nursery.  She is starting to behave in a very, for want of a better phrase, attention seeking manner - pushing the other children, occassionally hitting them, complaining frequently that they are hurting her (on one occasion, she said that a little boy had hit her - impossible, he was sitting with me at the time) and most upsetting for me, destroying her own work.  Her mum is expecting another baby in May, and Martina is apparently being equally attention seeking at home, demanding that Mum does all her bedtimes, reads to her constantly, cuddles her, carries her, feeds her, everything.  She is also starting to "act up" a bit in public, something she's never done before. 

I wanted to talk with Mum to let her know what is happening at Nursery and to discuss her behaviour generally, and whether there was anything that we could do to help with her behaviour at home.  We all acknowledge that this is a difficult time for her, and we all need to show her that she is loved and valued despite the new baby coming.  I talked to Mum about the ways I had handled the transition from only child to sibling and tried to reassure her that this phase would pass.  It is very difficult for us to explain these concepts to Martina; not only is she three, and therefore only just becoming able to understand that Mum will still be the same when the baby comes, but she is also Polish, with a fairly limited understanding of English.

As examples of good practise, we will all monitor Martina's behaviour and help her make good choices at home and at Nursery.  At Nursery, we will be on hand to make Martina feel special and loved when the baby arrives - hopefully we can provide some familiarity and normality for her - her world is about to be completely turned upside.

I don't think this is really in my remit, but I think it's important for everyone concerned.  All names changed.  Obviously.