Thursday, 26 March 2009

A Blusterous day

I had washed clothes the night before, so the breezy morning I woke up to seemed perfect drying weather. I put them out on the line and, by the time I was indoors again, rain was coming at the clothes sideways. I ran out to rescue them, then half an hour later hung them back up.

Husband called from Edinburgh. He said it was a fine sunny day, but a little blustery. As we talked, I looked out the window to see our washing hanging horizontally. By lunchtime it was all dry. At about that time, the bin fell over.

Blondie likes to pee in private, so I took her out to her run for a quiet half hour to herself. When I went to pick her up to accompany me on a walk, her ears were blowing inside out.

I had meant to read from A House At Pooh Corner, but we ran out of time. Instead, the next morning, we snuggled up on the sofa and giggled through Piglet Does a Very Grand Thing.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Half term: theoretical gardening, singing, dogs and more theoretical gardening

We are having a week off school, so the boys are entertaining themselves. I write a list of (minor) chores for them each day; otherwise, they are on their own, apart from a few scheduled activities.

8-9: Calvin's still asleep. Hobbes reads in bed for a bit, then makes himself breakfast and feeds the dog. He feeds his online virtual pets for ten minutes too.

9-10: Calvin wakes up and the boys muck about in the sitting room for a while. I tell them to go to their rooms if they want to fight. I notice enormous holes in Calvin's socks:

Laura: Please take off your socks and put them in the bin.
Calvin: Yes, I quite like the way that the patch of skin sets off the colour of the socks.
Laura: In the bin please.
Calvin: Who ever looks at the bottom of my feet?
Laura: In the bin please.

The boys want to have an hour playing on the Wii. I tell Calvin to eat breakfast first. They start getting rambunctious again and I lay down rules for the holiday: I won't force them to run every day (as they do in term time) so long as they keep their outpourings of energy to their bedrooms or garden.

Laura: There's a whole world outside for you to discover.
Calvin: There are about a thousand of them in the library.

Calvin goes to the kitchen, then comes back to say there's nothing he wants to eat. He gets short shrift and is told to add any requests to the shopping list. He comes back again to tell me that I've eaten all the yoghurt. Short shrift again (mother is allowed to eat; it wasn't all the yoghurt).

Hobbes is reading a Marvel encyclopedia. He asks what 'intangible' means.

Calvin comes back and apologises for complaining. He's told it's not a big deal, but to try not to do it again.

10-12: Calvin eats breakfast and the boys unpack and repack the dishwasher. They then spend an hour playing on their Wii. I take a shower, then retire to Calvin's bedroom to practice for the concert that my choir is performing on Saturday. We are singing Bach's Passion According to St John. The choruses and chorales ring in my ears all day long ('Write thou not, write thou not....' 'Crucify him, crucify him...' 'Lie still, lie still....'). I read St John's account in the King James version with the boys last week, and was struck by how terse it is.

Calvin's bedroom overlooks the patio. I am distracted by the (lack of) planting in the garden. I've been watching Alan Titchmarsh's television series, 'How to be a gardener'. He calls this style of garden 'centrifugal' - all the plants have spun out to the boundaries. There's a thin line of planting around each obstruction (edge of patio, boundary fence, house, stray boulder) but none of it means anything. There's no shape or interest. It needs a lot of work.

12 - 3: We eat a hurried lunch (whole grain pasta mixed with tinned mackerel, along with steamed broccoli and an orange) before I take Blondie off to the groomer. The groomer is very chatty, so I call the boys when I've dropped Blondie off, as I've been away a little longer than I expected. There's no answer, so I call again. Still no answer. I realise that I'm going to have to go home straight away to check on them. It's very unlikely that there's a problem (beyond living in an old house with thick walls through which you can't hear the phone) but home I go. They are, of course, fine - reading and playing. While home I disinfect Blondie's carrying crate and wash all her bedding.

Hobbes comes with me when I go back to get Blondie; I like driving with just one of the boys - we have good conversations in between listening to my CD of the St John. Hobbes helps me to hold Blondie while the groomer gets gunk out of her ears.

On the way home, we stop off at the railway station to buy tickets for the boys to go to Chinese school on Saturday with their dad (I have choir rehearsal that afternoon). The nice lady in the ticket office works round the system so that we can get reserved seating despite using a cheap ticket. Hobbes talks to an elderly lady in the queue.

3-4:15: I work on some home education issues: Calvin's maths curriculum needs some consideration. I send and receive a few emails, and finally decide to try Life of Fred for him. I am also looking into geography IGCSE. The boys romp in the garden.

4:15 - 5:20: I suddenly realise that I will have to start cooking again at 4:30, so carve out fifteen minutes to read my How to Be a Gardener book, which arrived today; the boys received a Wii manual by the same post - they clubbed together to put their savings towards it - so they are studying that. Then it's a quick supper (shop-bought steak pudding with sugar snap peas and an apple) and we are on the road.

5:20 - 8:15: Chess club. It's a 40 minute drive each way. The boys are greeted by the high concentration of long-haired boys that constitutes the chess club; I take the opportunity to do the weekly shop. I discover a new horror in the freezer compartment at the supermarket: chips (french fries) in batter.

8:15 - 12:45: Home again, home again, jiggety jig. The boys have a snack and take showers while I go to the WTM boards. We call husband, who is in the US visiting his parents. Then I snuggle Hobbes into bed. Calvin and I stay up watching, yes, an episode of 'How to Be a Gardener', followed by The Nature of Britain. I see him off to bed, take the dog out, then type these last thoughts.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Accidentally wonderful

We were finishing up our art history book on Friday, before starting on music theory after our half-term break this week. We've been using Discovering Paintings - Myths and Legends, which we bought at the National Gallery in London. It's a little young for the boys, but we've enjoyed the link between well-loved myths and art.

The last painting in the book is Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (short digression to talk about the word 'deride' and link it to 'rire' in French) by Turner. Whilst we were at the National Gallery, Calvin chose a print of Turner's Fighting Temeraire to hang in his bedroom. I sent him to take it down and we sat with the book illustration of the one painting and the framed print of the other.

Then I realised: the layout of the two paintings is identical. Detail by detail, we went over the composition: the similarities were so great that it became easy to discuss the divergent moods of the paintings, evoked by the specific differences. I hadn't planned the lesson - our art history is a somewhat casual Friday session - but it fell into my lap and left us all excited.

I've been looking into the curriculum for the International Baccalaureate, on the assumption that the boys will go to school at some point before university. One of the subject options is art history. I wish that had been available to me at school: I had little interest and no obvious talent for making art, but I would have enjoyed studying the art of others.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Old wall, Fife

The Trees, by Philip Larkin

There is a wonderful recording of the poet reading his own poem here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Winter fair, Edinburgh

Petition to stop the UK government review of home education

Thank you Lorna, for bringing this to my attention. If you are a UK citizen or resident, please consider signing it. It reads, in part:

We ask him to remind ministers that recent DCSF consultations have concluded that current law, when applied correctly, is sufficient to the task of protecting home educated children should parents fail in their duties, and that the law represents a satisfactory balance between protecting children and the need for privacy and autonomy in family life.

We also ask him to call a halt to the review of home education, begun in Jan 2009. Home educators have already taken part in four consultations in just over three years. New guidelines for LAs regarding Home Education resulted from one of these consultations as recently as Nov 2007 and yet we are now faced with yet another review which appears to seek to erode parental responsibilities. We ask him to remind ministers that repeated consultations infringe the BRE's Code of Practice on Consultations, Criterion 5.

Monday, 2 March 2009

2nd September, 1985, Beijing

China is so endlessly tatty. The campus [where I live and work] is a continual building site but the new buildings look no fresher than the old. Driving from the airport, after a 19 hour sleepless flight, the road reminded me of France, with its tree lining and the road itself slightly raised above fields of trees.

Mr Shen [school representative in charge of foreign teachers] attentive and kind after a sticky beginning. Not very good English. All the figures on the road started off [in my initial impression] as Western people and turned into Chinese when we approached. Warm but not too hot. The campus is about ten kilometres from Tiananmen Square - a good solid trip by bike. Is the bike which is being 'loaned' to me a temporary or a permanent loan? There are new quarters being built for the foreign teachers, but I get the feeling that me [sic] and the other girl who is coming are meant to stay put [in this building]. This block itself is quite new but so drab; the feel of it is not their fault, as no room can feel lived in that has a new occupant each year, but the loo is filthy and I have not yet worked out how to have a shower without boiling myself alive. And to get to the shower you have to climb over the loo. The kitchen, similarly, is just dirty and tatty and difficult to keep orderly......

Not feeling too miserable; just tired, clean and a little lost. Wanting something to happen and doubting my courage, in advance, to do all that I have to do....

They eat so early here: I dined in state with Mr Shen on beautiful food, but at 5:30, and it is now only 8:30.

First Sight, by Philip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air,
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

© The estate of Philip Larkin