Monday, 31 January 2011

Today is the beginning

Today is Day 1.
Today my daughter will have the support she needs to learn.

I have blogged before about my frustrations with my daughter, and all the incomprehensible difficulties she has with comprehension, concentration and learning. Not much more than a year ago she was silent at school: she refused to talk to any adults. I'm delighted to say that this does not appear to be a problem at all now - instead, she is more likely to answer back and tell them they are wrong when they are not doing what she thinks is right. More recently I battled with the NHS, trying to get her seen by the right people. This is more 'on hold' than dealt with.

For my successful battle is with the school. And I mean with. Together we have applied for IPF funding, only for the council to decide to assess her for a statement. Much to my surprise, given these cash-strapped times, she has been successful in obtaining that and has twenty hours of funded 1-1 support. It was the best Christmas present we could have asked for. The school has been fantastic, fully recognising my daughter's needs in order to progress.

And today it began.
Today the teaching assistant (TA) began working with my daughter.

Today the TA sat in with my daughter and the Speech & Language Therapist to see how my girl performs and to be able to carry some of the lessons and activities back into class.

Today my daughter had a TA prompting her to remember the teacher's instructions throughout the morning's lessons.

Today my daughter had a TA prodding her into concentration, into keeping to the task at hand, into trying everything not giving up.

Today is the beginning.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

3 important things I've learnt this week about the Aga

1  If you take a saucepan out of the oven, then put it on the hob/hot plate, do not then attempt to hold the metal handle without ovengloves on.
The red stripe across my fingers was sore for days. I struggled even to open door handles with my left hand.

2  If the oven door isn't open wide enough, do not knock it open with the back of your hand or wrist without protection.
This time my ovengloves were on ... but if they aren't long enough to cover that part of my arm they are ineffective. The oven door is also hot.

3  Pay attention to the information that Agas do not emit smell. Leaving the pudding in to cook for longer than the required 20 minutes will result in charcoal.
Must remember to use - and pay attention to - the timer.

Aren't you glad I've only had to learn three lessons?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The sweet pressure of inflation

I walked into the supermarket the other day and found myself staring at the sweets on an aisle end. At eye-level, staring me in the face, were Polos: the mint with a hole.

I was flung into nostalgia. When I was a child I used to love these, because they always seemed such good value for money. For 5p I could get a whole pack. Each sweet could be sucked for hours. With a bit of good self-restraint it would last me an entire week until I had pocket money again. I didn't like the fruit-flavoured ones: those would go all sticky and glue themselves together before I finished them all. My favourites were the basic mints, with extra kudos points for sucking them into the finest ring without them breaking.

And then, of course, the price went up to 6p. No longer could I afford one tube each week. Now the pack would have to last longer. (I now know it is 20% longer, that over 6 weeks I could buy 5 packs ... but that was a lifetime to a young girl!)

In my teens Rowntrees was bought by Nestle, much to my disappointment. For a long time I have boycotted Nestle products due to their stance on baby milk; now all my favourite sweets and chocolates would have to be abandoned. In amongst the list were Polos.

So it was a shock to find myself staring at them last week and realise that they were now 44p. An eight-fold increase on my childhood memories! Could this be right?

I was once told a rule of thumb about inflation: everything doubles in price over ten years. Thus something costing £1 now will cost £2 at the beginning of 2021. For the sake of argument I am going to say that it is 30 years since polos cost 5p: that would make them worth 40p now, going by my inflation calculation. Given that I am sure the 5p price was more than thirty years ago (I hate to admit that: I have a round-figure-number birthday due this year!) the 44p price is probably in line with inflation over the period. How scary! I can expect my grandchildren to be paying closer to £4 per packet!

Yet, if I go to a website calculator for the period since, say, 1976, I should expect my 5p sweets to now cost 27p. That is a massive 17p per packet of increased profit for Nestle more than would be reasonable to expect. And that shows my rule of thumb to be flawed, at the very least! The UK must have had some delightfully low inflation years.

Today the government announced our CPI to be 3.7%, having been consistently over 3% for the last year despite the Bank of England's responsibility to keep it below that figure. To a large extent this is difficult for us to understand. All we know is that everything feels more expensive, particularly as wages and pensions are frozen or falling, and as jobs and careers are in peril. At that consistent rate, my 44p polos will cost 63p in ten years time: check back in a decade and find out how close we are!

So how much should your favourite sweets be costing now? Can such things as Penny Chews exist? Have a play with the calculator below and let me know what you find out.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Sheer musical brilliance

Quick update to let you know my son passed his Grade 1 trombone exam.

Absolutely delighted, given he knew he messed up one piece completely. 
We celebrated with fish 'n' chips all round.

(Privately, I'm celebrating never having to listen to Bright Eyes on the trombone ever again...)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Musical irony

I had a long conversation with an old lady on Sunday about playing the piano. She took it up on retirement, but had to stop lessons when her husband got ill. Nevertheless, she achieved Grade 4 and since he died she's been playing again and loves it.

"Oh, no," she said, "I won't give up my piano. I love to go and play it. I love classical music - don't you?"

Now, I like to think that I have a broad appreciation of music. And yes, part of that is liking classical music. I love it's soothing tones and clever cadences; I love the way it can take me away from where I am to the middle of a battle or a love scene or a desert island; I love the fact that it doesn't finish in less than four minutes, as a general rule, but can sustain attention for long periods of time.

Yet, when put on the spot, all I could think was: I choose to listen to Radio 2. I choose the pop songs of my teenage years. I choose fun and upbeat, something with regular time-checks in order that I get the children to school before the bell.

I don't choose classical music.

Then, yesterday, at teatime I was listening to Radio 4 and my ten year old boy decided it wasn't for him. (It wasn't really, at that point, for me either: I just couldn't be bothered to cross to the other side of the room and switch channels.)

"Radio 3," he said, "is that classical music?"

"Yes," I reply.

"Urgghhh!" he exclaims. "I hate classical music. What about Radio 1? Is that pop music?"

"Erm... yes," I reply, and quick as a flash he has changed it over.

So tea was accompanied by a dull, thumping base and a whiny synthesiser overtones. That description makes it sound a lot worse than it was (I am, actually, physically capable of walking over and switching the radio off!) but I didn't spot much of a melody. It was a slight shock to realise that shortly I am going to lose my children to this tuneless beat.

Yet what surprised me most was my son's dismissal of classical music - or, more accurately, my immediate defense of the same type of music I had struggled to appreciate two days earlier.

"You shouldn't dismiss classical music, boy. Classical music is great. It has a lot of feeling and emotion, and great tunes and..." I stumbled through.

Am I a music hypocrite? Or just someone with wide and varied tastes? Or (and this is most likely) someone who likes different things at different times in different circumstances?

And how am I going to teach my son to appreciate classical music?

Time to dig out the Tchaikovsky CDs and go to a couple of concerts, I think!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Happy New Year!

It is 2011. This year, everything is going to change. This year I will keep those resolutions that I make.

Obviously apart from the one where I actually make them before the New Year begins...

Actually, I find resolutions very hard to make because I know that I will break them. 365 days (thank goodness 2011 isn't a leap year!) is a long time to keep doing one thing. Or more than one thing. Particularly if you are not in the habit of it, or it involves getting up early on cold frosty mornings. Or if all you can think about is what you must do rather than what you want to do.

Take for example what I ought to do now:
  1. Strip spare bed
  2. Write thank-you letters
  3. Check and file the pile of receipts.
Now, I can make these into resolutions ('Strip and make spare bed after guest leaves rather than an hour before they arrive...') but, in all honesty, I'd break them. And the second is only short-term (supposedly). Whilst all these things would be good to do, they are hardly inspiring nor likely to make me a better person.

The 'better person' comes with this list:
  1. Go on a diet
  2. Exercise more
  3. Eat fewer biscuits
Again, I know I'll break them. Particularly the last one. (Would it still count if I substituted the biscuits for cake, or chocolate, or both?)

Then there is the 'must finish off the house' list:
  1. Get the builders to finish installing the woodburning stove 
  2. Get the builders to fix the toilet seat 
  3. Get the builders to connect the TV aerial connections 
  4. Get the builders to fix all the plumbing errors
  5. Get the builders to finish off the electrics
  6. Get the builders to complete all the certificates for the building inspector
  7. Get the builders to touch up all the paintwork where they've messed it up
  8. Get the builders to correct the doors that stick
  9. Get the builders to finish (full stop) 
  10. Employ a landscape gardener
Dull, dull, dull. Necessary, but dull. And hardly a New Year resolution.

So there is my list of what I am willing myself to do:
  1. Complete the edit of my book (including possible change of title)
  2. Send it off to agents and publishers, with plenty of positive thinking
  3. Go out regularly for meals or dates with my husband
And here is what I have actually decided to do:

Put on some make-up every day. Just a little mascara or lipstick - nothing fancy (no-one would recognise me if so) but just something that will make me feel good about myself, give me a little confidence and won't break the bank.

For a non-make-up wearing girl this is quite some change. Five days so far and no failure yet! Maybe this year I will actually achieve my New Year Resolution thing.

Or at least for January.
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