Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas: the celebration of the birth of Christ. Alleluia!

I am away from the blogosphere for a few days as I cater for a multitude of relations. Normal service will be resumed next year. (At least, as normal as it ever gets!)

My blog doesn't seem to have been very Christmassy this year but advent has been a glorious time for us as a family and we are looking forward to all that 2010 may bring. In an attempt to compensate a little for my apparent lack of festive cheer, I leave you with a slightly obscure but favourite Christmas carol that sums up much of the wonder of Jesus' arrival on earth, and coincides with the title and theme of my blog: wandering and wondering.

Until next time, I wish you all a very
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The best days...

... are when ...

- it snows, but you don't have to go out in it (except to make snowmen).

- your children say 'thank you' without prompting.

- someone in the family volunteers to do the washing-up.

- there is peace and quiet, but not because the children are glued to a screen.

- we celebrate together as a family.

I'm having a good day!

Today my son is 9 years old - where did time fly? He has loved his birthday, full of delight with his presents and has, for the large part, played happily with his sister. I have had all the grandparents to stay overnight and the extra hands do make light work!

The Christmas to-do list is still miles long, but today is a day to celebrate and relax. I still have to decorate the birthday cake but otherwise there is just an endless call for cups of tea. And the odd snowball fight.

Tomorrow is time enough to be festive. Tomorrow we'll begin Christmas. Today, we party!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Bouncing cheques

Should we get rid of cheques?

I listened with interest to the debate on the Today programme. Apparently a timetable has now been set for their withdrawal. A method of payment for over 300 years it is now deemed out-of-date, old-fashioned and possible to surpass with other methods.

To a large extent they are right. It is more cost-efficient to use credit or debit cards and (believe it or not) cash is still a valid method of payment. Transactions can be made on-line, and they are quick, often immediate, and with the use of passwords can be checked and authorised in seconds. Cheques are slow and costly, requiring more training for banking staff and careful perusal of signatures to validate.

But do we really have to dispose of cheques all together?

The arguments on the radio were that it would upset the elderly most: people who have always used cheques and are not used to cards, chip&pin and cash machines. Despite the wave of silver-surfers, many elderly are not online, or would find it difficult to catch up with the technology required to run their bank accounts in that fashion.

To take away something that they are comfortable with and (more importantly) safe with seems foolish. And by safe I mean that they do not have to remember a pin number - an inherently unsafe thing, likely to be written down in obvious places or muttered under their breath; they are less likely to lose or misplace a cheque book than a credit card that can get lost in amongst papers; and given they may replace it with cash instead, safer than withdrawing large sums of money to pay for items and thus being a target for robbery.

Of the six million cheques written each day at present, how many are by the elderly?

Personally - and I am only elderly in my children's eyes - I write lots of cheques. I have gone through three cheque books in the last eight months. Most of our banking is done by direct debit; when out shopping I tend to use cash or credit/debit cards; I have and use internet banking. So why do I use lots of cheques?

School. I write cheques for school milk, school trips, school dinners. The easiest way to pay the PTA for the prizes I win (how do I do this?) is by cheque. I pay the trombone teacher. I pay for after-school dance, circuit-training, tennis, drama, swimming.

I suspect all these could be paid in cash or by bank transfer. In my limited experience, paying by bank transfer for one-off or irregular payments is quite arduous. Bank details need to be accurately given and received, and even then transactions are often lost by the recipient on their statement and thus queried.

And how do you deal with emergency issues, such as the boiler breaking down. Am I supposed to keep £200 (or more...) to one side just in case I have to call someone to urgently repair the boiler/ broken pipe/ electric fault? The tradesmen will want payment immediately: am I supposed to pay it on-line?

Of course, the other alternative is that everyone has a credit card machine. But, as I am often warned at shops, there is a 2.5% cost for these, and it is the retailer who bears that burden. Thus, in my basic economics, if cheques were to disappear altogether we should expect an immediate 2.5% inflation of prices. Big companies can absorb this, but small ones will struggle.

To my mind, the only people who really benefit from the complete withdrawal of cheques are the banks with cost-savings and efficiencies. The cost is transferred to cards, and in turn to retailers and thus to us.

What do you think? Is it an inevitable advancement in technologies or a move purely motivated by profit? Do cheques still have a use today?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Going for a song

We are in the middle of a whirl of Christmas shows - as are most parents at the moment, no doubt. I am the proud mother of a Townsperson and a Robin (two separate productions, neither with significant parts were they to drop down with the dreaded lurgy in the next 24 hours).

So, last night, my husband and I had a 'night out at the theatre' - i.e. Aladdin by Key Stage 2 (why have we dropped Infants & Juniors?) It was excellent: truly, I have to say that. It went without a hitch and to manage to organise about 150 children to be on and off stage at the right times is an amazing feat. Someone had painted a beautiful backdrop, the costumes were fantastic and I could hear every word.

It was a musical and I have to admire all the children who took major parts and sang solos. It is terrifying to stand in front of parents anyway - to do that and sing is marvellous. And no-one bottled out. And some of the notes were very high. But .... (and you knew a but was coming!) some of it was remarkably out of tune.

Now, I cannot criticise the children at all: they were doing really well. But it did set me to wondering whether or not I could sing at that age. Even my tone-deaf husband questioned the singing, and what his abilities were at that age.

My school had a choir. We were trained in classic choir songs, singing descants for the carol service and in harmonious parts. The spring term brought 'The Opera': a musical for the choir to perform. There were some solo parts and some spoken parts but the majority was choral. We did Joseph one year, Treasure Island another, I recall watching The Mikado once. I think we could sing. I know that in my final year at school we won a county choir competition and that later my sister's year recorded an album and were on the local news. So I suspect our choir was good, that we could sing.

I glimpsed the end of X-factor when Jedward were knocked out. I was fascinated by Danii's question: Is this a singing competition? Can any of these wannabe stars sing? I hear wobbles and moments of being out of tune. Is that nerves, or part of our current obsession with pushing for fame and stardom without having the correct training in place? Singing is a physical activity that requires controlled breathing and depth of voice comes from the correct use of one's diaphragm. Without this, untold damage to vocal chords can occur, which sadly will only become apparent at an older age.

I am no expert and strongly believe that singing adds so much to life: expressions of emotion, release of stress and outpourings of joy. So I am delighted that my children's school has a choir and the confidence to present a musical, but I just hope that their training will develop strength and depth rather than just enjoyment. And tunefulness...

And - for tonight - I hope that one particularly excitable Robin will remember all her words and actions. (See - extraordinarily proud mother comes first!)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Did I do it?

Of course not.

My November challenge was to write a chapter a day of my third and final book about our time in Zambia. I have written about ten, totalling 23,183 words.

Here is the list of excuses.

1 I never got a chance to write at a weekend (takes out eight days)
2 When there is a chance for Husband to do childcare and me to write, it seems that Husband's PhD takes precedence. (The PhD research was the reason we moved to Zambia. Six years on and it is 'nearly finished', or so he says...)
3 Writing a sermon took out the last week. I can't concentrate on two things at once.
4 I have been back and forth with my daughter to various clinics.
5 It turns out birthday parties take a lot of preparation.
6 My grandmother fell and broke her leg (again) and so I worried about and visited her.

These are all excuses. There were days when I did have time, but couldn't face writing anything. And days when my mind went blank: was there really anything interesting to say. Then I'd remember my son's first attempts to ride a bicycle, or the worries over my daughter's lack of social interaction, or the glorious sunshine and fantastic friends ... and then something would click and writing could begin again.

But most of all, I'm proud of having written over twenty thousand words! I cannot guarantee the quality of any of them, and much of it is jumbled up. However, I am a quarter of the way there, and a month ago I was no further than the title. If I were able to carry on at that rate I'd be finished by Easter.


Just got Christmas in the way now...

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