Thursday, 29 April 2010

Going, going, gone!

I haven't blogged about the house renovations for some time, so felt it was probably appropriate to get you back up-to-date. After all, I am inundated with questions about it all the time from the neighbours (and, in fact, just about anyone who lives in the village)!

If I am honest, this is the point when I have really wondered whether we've gone too far with the house renovations. There are now no floorboards in the house and holes knocked through walls left, right and centre. We have found asbestos in the garages, which needs removing by specialists. Thankfully there are still four walls, although I do wonder whether we would have been better knocking it all down and starting again...

Once upon a time, our house looked like this.

Those were the days. The sun shone, the flowers bloomed and the grass was green.

And, we had a roof on the house.

Then ... the builders got to work. Last week they began taking off the tiles. When walking the children to school in the morning they were beginning to remove the tiles; by the time I collected them they were nearly all gone. A couple more days and all the rafters had been thrown to the ground as well (our front lawn is covered in old, nail-ridden wood). On Tuesday morning it looked like this:

By lunchtime, it looked like this:

And by the end of the day destruction had transformed to construction...

There is yet hope that we will have a watertight house and a home to live in within three months!

(Note to self: keep focussing on the end product!!)

Monday, 26 April 2010

If the vote went only by displayed signs...

Last weekend I went across the Pennines to visit my father in York.

The M62 isn't known for its suburban outlook, but there was a fair amount of driving through countryside at my father's end, and through built-up areas at our (Manchester) end. Partly to amuse the children, the journey became a game of 'spot the election campaign notice.'

Large orange diamonds are hard to miss. And it seems that farmers have the space to erect large Blue posters all along their hedgerows, nailed to every tree (surely that isn't good for them?) But no-one - I repeat, no-one - was displaying a Red sign.

Is this a reflection of the likely voting outcome? Based on our survey, the Conservatives would have about 590 seats in parliament, the Lib Dems about 60, and Labour would be signing on the dole. None of the swingometers and polls seem to mirror our observations!

Whilst the family prepared dinner, I nipped across town to visit my grandmother. She wasn't having a good day, which made it almost impossible to have a conversation. She knew that she knew me, but struggled to understand anything I said, wasn't really clear that I have a husband and children, and started wondering why my mother hadn't been to visit her. "Oh, I suspect she's busy," Gran said. My mother, her daughter, has been dead over twenty years now: a very difficult situation to explain. (I didn't: I just let it pass).

I enjoyed my journey through York. The evening sun cast a beautiful light on the old Roman walls, and the grassy banks were covered with bright yellow daffodils, heads held proud. It is a sight that never fails to delight me.

Returning to Dad's I was delighted to declare that I had - at last - seen a Red poster.

"Really?" my husband asked.

"Yes! In fact, lots of them! They were nearly covering a large window."

"Crikey! Where?"

"The headquarters of York Labour Party," I said gleefully.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Too many babies

Over the last month we have spent a lot of time with our siblings, and thus my children have had time to play with their cousins. In particular the under one-year-old girls. (They are both fab and beautiful, by the way).

Their mothers are both amazing at breastfeeding. I say this from the position of failing my son before he was three months old (still feel the guilt when I gave up) and that my daughter gave up on me before reaching a year: she recognised there was nothing much coming out and so drifted into preferring the bottle. I try to view this as just the first rejection of her mother - there are plenty more to come, no doubt!

My daughter has been fascinated by both her cousins. One, nearly walking, had to be rescued repeatedly from her over-caring attention: the attempts to help her to walk were frightening to watch, as a seven year old doesn't understand the speed of a child who has just taken their first steps! Watching my daughter love and care for these babies makes me realise just how gifted she may be, even as she struggles academically.

It turns out the fascination was not just with her cousins. Last night I watched as she took teddy off the chair and gently pushed up her T-shirt, positioned teddy and settled back to let him 'breastfeed' while she watched the TV. No fuss, no chat, just a loving cuddle to her 'baby'.

But I'm not ready to be a granny yet!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Ashes to ashes

What are we to make of the cessation of air travel in the UK, and across northern Europe? Is this the end of the world?

Well hardly, although no doubt some will point to portents of doom that anticipated exactly this occurrence. Having said that, it is causing immense hardship and difficulty for some. It is costing the airlines millions of pounds each day. It is separating families and loved ones. Some will miss important events, such as weddings or funerals. It means that we can neither import nor export - which will have a huge impact on farmers in the third world trying to sell us their flowers and mange-tout.

I confess to little sympathy for holiday-makers. I think that is principally because so many of my holidays have been based around the journey not the destination, and I love land-travel so much more than going by air, therefore the extra travelling should be viewed as adventure. And (before you ask) I have travelled long distances with children as well: we took the train from Kapiri Mposhi to Dar es Salaam - a two day journey - when they were aged 1.5 and 4. Then again, I recognise that was planned, and we weren't doing it surrounded by thousands of other panicked travellers. It was all gentle and relaxed, with little in the way of deadline to worry us.

Nevertheless, I have more sympathy for cargo transporters and people trapped because of work travel. Their frustrations at not carrying on with a normal day's business must be maddening. And I feel sorry for organisations who don't have their employees, thus losing trade or (in the case of teachers) education.

It is all made worse by the fact that no-one knows how long the volcano will erupt for: it could be days, weeks or even years. This uncertainty makes it impossible to plan ahead. If we knew that it would finish a week on Tuesday, we'd simply extend holidays until then and close the airports in the meantime. As it is, we are trapped in a sea of panic and confusion: do we make long or short-term plans to deal with the problem? Compost all the imported roses, or sack all the workers?

But what can the authorities do? Is it right to fly when there is a risk of damage? And the damage may not be immediately obvious: perhaps the plane could fly for the next week, or month, and then - suddenly - when the air is clear - it's engines will fail and it will fall out of the sky. Or if we flew now, and then the London to Glasgow plane failed and crashed over central Manchester - how would we feel? Can we risk this?

When there are alternatives over land, albeit slow and arduous ones, surely we have to adapt our lifestyles to accommodate them. We have lived in a luxurious world for so long, where we can have whatever we want almost whenever we want. Maybe we now have to eat British, homegrown food, rather than bananas from the Caribbean. Maybe we have to holiday in the UK for a period instead of abroad. Maybe we have to make better use of video-conferencing to clinch business deals or attend family celebrations.

Maybe this is giving us a quick lesson about what will happen when we run out of oil. Then we won't have cars, trains or boats either. Do you think we'll ever survive?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Sense and sensibility

Yesterday my son came home from school with a headteacher's award.

"Wow!" I said. "What did you get that for?"

"Being sensible," he replied.


Is this the same child I know? Does he have a character transformation on walking through the school gates?

(Extraordinarily proud mother whichever way you look at it!)

Monday, 12 April 2010

Wonder where I'd wandered?

The Withenays have had a well-earned rest, after all the house-moving malarky that seems to overwhelm our lives. We've had a fortnight filled with views like this:

... and this:

Have you guessed where yet?
This may give it away a little...

Yes, after what seems like an age, we had a holiday back in Zambia, visiting friends and family. We had a fantastic time - thanks to all of you who entertained us and (almost more importantly) our kids. It was wonderful to see the changes that have happened (just what is going on at Manda Hill?!) and to be reassured by things that never change ("Ah, sorry, we have no more of those either madam...")

Talking of change: did you pick up on the Zambian news whilst I was away? (I gather we have an election or something coming up here in the UK...?!) Well, I guess not. President Banda chose to retire the heads and deputy-heads of the Air Force, Army and National Service and replace them with others: all six men changed in one fell swoop. He said it was to allow the younger men to rise up through the ranks. This argument is fine (I believe all six were above retirement age) but would have more credibility if he hadn't brought one of the replacements out of retirement. 

Some things, as they say, never change.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Happy Easter!

Christ is risen! 
He is risen indeed!

Enjoy this Easter hymn from Stuart Townend, one of the greatest modern hymn-writers. 

And to carry on my Zambian Easter theme, here is a song we sang in church there, together with as many bells as we could muster, gloriously singing out the joy of the risen Lord. 
(No need to watch this: just enjoy the vocals!)

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday?

I first saw The Passion of Christ in Zambia, the Easter it came out. The cinema was packed: Zambia was (and is) a deeply Christian country. The film is, of course, an interpretation of the Bible stories, but I have never seen a more vivid production: nothing else that has truly brought home to me what suffering Jesus went through. Whether or not you believe Jesus to be the Son of God, death on the cross is perhaps the most painful way to suffer and die.

Similarly, I first heard Tim Hughes' song when in Zambia. The two complement each other, both in my memory and in their vision and message. Don't watch this if you are feeling squeamish (it gets better on Sunday!)

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