Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Dogs at the school gate

The school yard is a funny place.

For the kids, it is the place of freedom and play ... and sometimes bullying and trauma.

For mums and dads it is a place to catch up, to arrange playdates, to part from tearful children.

For newcomers to a school it is bewildering. There are no set rules about where to go. Other parents don't wear badges stating which class their child is in. They can stand there day after day without anyone talking to them.

Our new school is no different from the last. Someone, eventually, will put two and two together, matching me and my child up with theirs. Until then I observe.

But observing is funny. Parents who can't leave their children. Children who can't leave their parents. And dogs (or rather, their owners).

Don't get me wrong here: I like dogs. I cannot begin to understand people who dress their dogs, although I am informed that there are valid reasons for doing this with small, bald creatures ... but why get one of them, when you can get big, soft fluffy dogs such as Retrievers, Spaniels or Setters?

Yet our new school seems to have a surfeit of dog-owners with another pet hate (sorry - dreadful pun!) of mine. Carrying dogs. Why have a creature with four legs of its own and then carry it? Surely God designed these creatures to run around?

The first one I saw was clearly a puppy. A small concession here: perhaps it needed warmth. Still, why not leave it at home whilst on the school run? It only takes 20 minutes or so. I'm sure the puppy would survive that period without physical human contact if it was left in a warm room or with a hot water bottle.

The second I saw was a Jack Russell. This was no puppy, so why bring the dog and carry him? (or her!) The dog should have been tied to the railings outside to wait while mum went in to collect the children.

Today I thought the locals had finally gone completely round the bend. Walking through the school gates I saw a lady with what looked like a small St Bernard under her arm. Doing a double-take, I realised that it was actually a soft toy. Phew! The world hasn't gone completely mad.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

You won't believe it, but ...

Yesterday my son had to have school dinner because his packed lunch fell in the fish tank.

Strange, but true.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Playing the waiting game

I have a simple problem: my left ear is clogged up. I assume it is wax (rather than a small piece of lego or a peanut) but it does now mean that everything I do echoes through my body. Walking back from school I could hear every step resound up into my head as big thuds. When speaking I feel like I am shouting in my own private cathedral, all the sound reverberating in a large, echoey chamber.

This has happened occasionally before. I know what to do: put ear drops in for a few days then go to the nurse and get it syringed.

Being a new patient to the practice (I sent the small rainforest of forms in last Friday) I know I need a 'new patient medical' so I ring the surgery for an appointment, thinking I can kill two birds with one stone.

"I'm a new patient in the practice. Can I arrange an appointment with the nurse for an initial medical?"

"I can fit you in next Wednesday."

Over a week away!

"I'm sorry, but I can't wait that long to have my ear syringed: I can't hear anything on one side." There is a hint of restrained anger. Only a hint, mind.

"I'm afraid you have to make an appointment with a nurse to see if it needs syringing first."

And thus I go quietly mad. Or rather, echoey, head-hurtingly mad. I must now wait for an appointment with someone who will tell me what I already know, and then have to wait for an appointment with her (presumably a further week later) to resolve the problem. Meanwhile I can't hear much except my own ringing ear.

When the NHS works it is brilliant; when it doesn't it is the most frustrating thing in the world.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Moving home - stressful?

I learnt today on Woman's Hour that Andy Murray has moved house this week, just ahead of Wimbledon.

Moving house is supposed to be up there in the top three or four most stressful events in one's life - together with death, divorce and the birth of a child. Thankfully it is a long time since a truly close member of my family died (my grandmother insists on keeping going, now into her 96th year!), I have not come vaguely close to divorce and I am rapidly forgetting those first traumatic years with young children.

But moving house? Something of an expert. This most recent move was the third in two years (the first of those being back to the UK from Zambia: international moves should have added weight in the stress-scale); my son goes to school boasting that this is the seventh house he's lived in - not bad, at eight years old. In honesty, his younger sister has lived in the same number!

So is it stressful? You bet! Planning the move takes months. Changing addresses is tedious (I know: we have barely started the list). And each time there is vast expense: not just for the removal company and house purchase/rental costs, but those additional bits and pieces that you just cannot live without or go missing en route.

For example, we have had to buy about another 7m of shelving for our books and belongings. We have bought quickly and cheaply (we had to unpack onto something) but will be cursing when we do the house up and plan better fitting storage space. We need a wardrobe, but are arguing over the value of buying one when we will be having a fitted wardrobe in the revised extension. Meanwhile our clothes still hang in the cardboard removal boxes.

Kirstie Allsopp stated on the radio that three moves is the equivalent of a fire. In other words, move house three times and you won't have what you started with (either from loss or destruction). We have done better than a complete inferno, although I have lost a beautiful hand-painted picture of a Chinese river scene, now under water due to the building of the Three Gorges Dam, which my father brought back from a holiday. And we have lost some important certificates - carefully kept together so we knew where they were, now we certainly know they are all lost. Picture frames have got chipped and scuffed, books have got crumpled, toys have lost important pieces. The cost of moving is high.

And all this is practical stress. This is nothing to the emotional stress of losing good friends (inevitably you keep in touch with some and lose contact forever with others, and you cannot predict who will fall into each category); nor to the exhausting process of making new ones. It is hard to go through the same small-talk again and again, hoping that this person may be the lifelong buddy that you need. It is hard to find baby sitters to trust when moving to a new place. It is difficult to break into existing social groups - not least Mums at the School Gate, but that is another blog entirely.

So I hope that Andy Murray is able to refocus for Wimbledon. No doubt he has the finance to have a lot more support around him than I have, but I wonder if he'll be dashing off to B&Q after every match in order to fix the house up. Somehow I doubt it!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Garden design

My daughter is making a miniature garden at school today.

She spent last week at school designing her garden. On Friday she brought home her list of what she needed to find in order to create and fulfill the design . It consisted of:

- little box for playhouse and shed
- little box for table and chairs
- flower seeds

Of course, despite a whole weekend at home, it is only on Monday morning that we do anything about this, so at some ungodly hour I am dashing around finding small boxes (how big is a miniature garden?) to provide all the hard landscaping for her masterpiece. The only horticultural bit - the flower seeds - we fail on completely: I had thought of raiding the pantry for sunflower or poppy seeds, but was a bit concerned that she actually wants these flowers to grow.

At breakfast, I'm thinking about what I can pull together for her and it strikes me that there are empty toilet rolls in the bathroom. Can these be transformed into garden shed? Probably not, but then I hit on an idea.

"Would you like a totem pole in your garden?" I ask.

Shaking her head she responds, "Because I don't have a pond."

No - I don't get it either.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Chalk and cheese

First day at new school.

Daughter (6 years old): up at 6.40am, bouncing into bedroom and onto our bed.
"Is it school today? Yippee!" (more bouncing)
"I wear my new trousers?" (lots of nodding) 
"New jumper?" (more nodding) 
"New shoes?" (nodding from me turns into a grunt that is supposed to be interpreted as Yes.)
"Yippee" (hands in air, more bouncing)
Little girl dresses rapidly and goes downstairs. She puts on her apron to ensure she doesn't dirty her new uniform during breakfast, eats and is ready by 7.45am.
School starts at 8.50am.

Son (8 years old): woken by bouncy sister, grunts and shouts of disapproval resound.
Reluctantly comes downstairs in new uniform. Looks great, but is upset that there are buttons on both the polo shirt and the trousers (he hates buttons).
Stands to eat breakfast (Weetabix falls on floor instead).
Retreats to watch TV until it is time to leave.

At the end of the day...
Daughter can't remember the name of a single person in her class, but does remember her teacher's name. I am already asked in for a meeting to discuss her, although the teacher was very, very positive and said she'd had a fantastic day with no problems.

Son is in a class with two other boys with the same name. And can name another three or four children. And had a great day learning about global warming and playing tennis (though not necessarily at the same time).

Day 2: as we leave, my son tells me he's left a note for me on my desk.
"OK. I'll read it when I get back - is that all right?"
Somewhat morosely he walks with us to school. (Daughter finds friend who lives a couple of doors down and skips away merrily.)

I get home to find Teddy on my desk with a note:

You can hug him

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Our new home

Finally, the children are back at school and I feel I can justify a little time to myself to blog and catch up with the world. I gather Gordon Brown's been having a few problems whilst I've been away...!

The move to the new house has all gone according to plan. We remain living in chaos: very few boxes left to unpack, but not necessarily anywhere for it to go. John Lewis are still awaiting delivery of the microwave we bought a month ago (grrrr...!!) so we survive using a single hob. One pot meal recipes welcomed!

There is so much work needing to be done to the house. Last lived in three years ago, the previous owners had bought the house 40 years previously, so it is a little dated and in need of modernising. We have inherited some delightful carpets...




Parts of the kitchen probably go back to the 1930's: perhaps we should open the house as a museum! 
The picture above shows the gas fire (now condemned by the Corgi man) and back boiler (only surviving through the grace of God, we fear). There is a two-way cupboard to the dining room, just visible on the right, which echoes back to my childhood. 
And below, the pantry - how extravagant is that!

Although the house requires a lot of work we have been very fortunate to have some lovely neighbours (with children the same age as mine!) and I am trusting that my two will have a fantastic first day at their new school. My daughter was up by 6.45am bouncing around, excited to go. In contrast, my son had a face longer than a wet Tuesday. (Which it isn't, incidentally.) Husband still loves his job, although the commute is hard work at the moment. I am trying to work out where I fit in this new community. Then again, with time to myself I'll hopefully get plenty of chances to write!

Of course, that depends on finding my desk. Big sigh! Time to return to those unfinished boxes.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Meme - Part 3

At last: the final part of the meme, first challenged by Maternal Tales. Here are the last six questions and answers.

13. What was the best thing you ate or drank recently?

Choc chip cookies (I refer you to the answer to Question 9 last Saturday…)


14. When did you last get tipsy?

Gosh – I live such a staid and boring life, I can’t remember. But I do recall sitting with the family infront of the TV with a glass or two of wine not so long ago and suddenly feeling rather giggly…


15. What is your favourite film?

Witness is probably the one I’ve seen most often; but I always feel inspired by films like First Wives Club – women have a lot more power than they really use! Recently I’ve enjoyed watching Harry Potter films sequentially after reading the stories to my son.


16. Share a piece of wisdom.

It is the little things that count most.


17. What's your favourite song?

Walking on Sunshine (Katrina & the Waves). Reminds me of my school days; fills me with joy and the desire to whoop! loudly; and it was put onto our wedding video despite the fact it rained all day!


18. If you could change anything in your life so far, what would it be?

I try not to regret anything, or I would wallow in self-pity for ever and a day. There is little I would change that I have had any control of: I wish my mother was still alive, so she could have met my husband and my children. All together I have had such a wonderful and privileged life that I would rather count my blessings than my regrets.

I hope this has given you a taster into the muddled world I inhabit. I am supposed to suggest another eight people to pass this on to but, as I hate all chain mail, I'm reluctant to name names. So, if you'd like to take on the challenge - please do! Otherwise, I'll be back blogging about the new house and the move and our usual family tales as soon as I can.

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