Thursday, 28 November 2013


Hello all

So this week is Book Week Scotland 2013.  There are lots of things going on (mainly in cities from what I can gather), check out their website here for more info.  How do I know about this?  Well, they're promoting it with one of those personality test things on Facebook - you answer a load of questions and it tells you which literary character you are.  There's a link to it from their webpage if you fancy a go (and if you do, let me know who you get).

Who did I get?  Batgirl from Batman.  Let's gloss over the concept of Batgirl as a literary character.  She's in books, she's a character.  It'll do.  

It is nice to be a superhero (and I had always suspected as much - Supergirl is called Kara, you know), but why are women superheroes so incredibly lame?

Why are they generally called somethinggirl, instead of woman?  Male superheroes are only called boy when they are actually boys, or they're being shown to be a bit pathetic.  So I guess women supers are generally seen as a bit pathetic.

What is she wearing?  It's not just batgirl.  Women superheroes, and indeed action characters do seem to have a penchant for clothes that wouldn't be much use down Tesco's, never mind for kicking baddie butt.  There are lots more women characters in superhero comics than make it to the big screen (like Captain Marvel - leader of the Avengers), but they do tend to wear silly outfits.  Not that the men don't, and thank goodness for that.  Chris Hemsworth doesn't do all that work on his body to be kept in a tracksuit.  There just seems to be a lot more fabric in the men's outfits for the most part.  I say fabric, I'm including textiles, leather, and metal in that.

There are notable exceptions among action heroes.  Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was rather fabulous, and wore clothes that real women might have in their wardrobes.  Catniss Everdene is, it is stressed, a real woman, who dresses practically (unless she's wearing a flaming cloak), but when it comes to supers they are few and far between.

Claire Bennet.  Yawn. pic from here
I think things have got better, with supers in TV series' - if you see them again and again they can't really get away with wearing silly outfits.  But still there are problems.  Did Heroes really need to "save the Cheerleader, save the world?"  I mean, if Claire Bennet had really wanted to avoid being seen to magically recover from injuries, wouldn't she have been the school librarian, rather than a cheerleader.  And did she really have to be so incredibly hopeless at saving herself?

I'm a big fan of Misfits.  If you haven't watched it, you totally should.  But don't let kids watch it.  They all wear orange jumpsuits, most of the time.  They all have super-powers (apart from the one who is someone else's superpower), and the one with the silliest superpower, and who is constantly posited as the sexy one.  That'd be a bloke.  Thank you for making me laugh a lot, Misfits.

To conclude, thanks, Scottish Books Week, for saying I'm a superhero, but if I am one, I don't want to be batgirl, thanks.  I've been thinking about it, and I'd like the character of Lauren Sorcha's Kelly (from Misfits - really, you should watch it), the strength and speed of Wonder Woman, and the sex life of Anna Paquin's Sookie (from True Blood).  Well, it's not going to happen is it?

Lauren Sorcha as Kelly.  pic from here

Sookie and Eric.  pic from here
By the way, what makes a superhero a superhero?  I am generally using it to mean someone with super powers, but in that case Batman and Ironman share the super power of lots and lots of money, and Batgirl?  To be honest I have no idea, but I'm guessing her super power might be her ability to fit into that outfit.  Which is quite impressive, so 7of9 should go on the list too.

So, if you were a superhero, which one would you be?  And why?  You're allowed a mash up.

Other posts you might like:

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

meeting our neighbours

On the way home from school drop off this morning, in the car, I listened to The Politics of Architecture on the radio.  It sounds pretty dull to me, but actually it was fascinating.  This morning Jonathan Glancey was discussing the layout of housing developments.  He was saying that there was a shift from planning for vehicles (with trunk roads, and a lot of cul-de-sacs with turning areas at the end), to planning for people, with thought being put into shared spaces, and encouraging people to meet their neighbours.

It made me think about the houses I've lived in.  Two questions that were asked in the show were:
  • Could you hold a street party in your street?
  • Our street: the houses could be more
    interesting, and it could be more
    connected in with the town, but for
    meeting neighbours, or having a street
    party, it's ideal.
  • Would you meet your neighbours easily?
Now I believe that the space we live in is very important.  Easily as important as the houses we live in, for the most part, but surely what you want from your home, and your neighbourhood changes as your life stage changes?

What is your neighbourhood like?  Is it part of what you like about your home?  Could you hold a street party?  Do you meet your neighbours easily?  Could you care less? Please share your thoughts.

Now our new house is a great place to live - the house is good, but we really chose it because it's next to a park, and because the children could play safely in the street.  It is a cul-de-sac.  I can confirm that we could hold a street party (perhaps we should get on that), and we've met lots of the neighbours.  Having the park nearby has been especially good for that.

When I was really little I lived on a busy road, but we still managed to have a street party, for the jubilee, in the back road.  That street was great, because it was really close to the shops, and everyone walked, so it was super for meeting neighbours, although it did have a lot of stairs down to the garden at the back, and the back road bisected the gardens, so I'm not sure I would have chosen it for our family now.  Still the jubilee party was fun.

Street party: 1977 style.  Thanks to Dad for the pic.
But do you know who we don't see much in our street?  The young, childless couple.  I'm not criticising them for that, it's a life stage thing.  When I was young and childless I didn't know my neighbours much either, and yet I was still happiest living in places where we could have had a street party, and you were likely to meet your neighbours.  In Otley, my friends and I lived in a cul-de-sac, within easy walking distance of the town, and we did get to know some of the neighbours, and in Edinburgh, we lived in a gorgeous tenement flat, overlooking a park.  We often walked to the corner shop; Margiotta's, but we met very few neighbours.  The streets were busy, but we could have had a party in the park.  If we still lived there now, with children, I'm sure we would make a lot more use of the park, and we would have met more neighbours.

So what about you?

Other posts you might like:

Sunday, 24 November 2013

drawing a blank

One day, long ago and far from here, a teenage me was walking to church...

...for the Friday evening rock disco in the church hall.

Just as I turned up the hill near the police station, a woman, walking the other way stopped and said:

"Hi Cara, how are you?  I haven't seen you in ages!"

"I'm fine thanks, and you?"
Thanks to my brother for the pic of teenage me

"Good, good, you know how it is, and how's your brother?  Is he still at college?"

"Yes, we're both there now."

"And how's his asthma, is he managing it alright?"

"Yes, yes, he's not had an attack in ages."

"Oh that's great.  And how's your Mum doing?  I've not seen her around much."

"Oh, she's fine.  She's around as much as ever I think.  She'll be in town tomorrow morning no doubt."

"And your sister?"

"She's fine too."

"Has she started school yet?"

"Not yet, she goes to the childminder."

"Oh yes, such a shame that she has to work, you don't get to enjoy them, do you?  Still, got to keep things together."

"Yes, and how's your family?"

"Good, good, mustn't grumble, you know."

At this point a friend of mine came out of the church for a fag, and I waved frantically at them:

"Sorry, I've got to go, I'm meeting my friend."

"Of course.  You have fun.  See you soon."

So off I ran, to see my friend.  She asked who I'd been talking to and, do you know what?  I had no idea.  But I did see her again, and we would get chatting every time, but every time she knew me so well that it seemed rude to say, "sorry, who are you?"  So I still don't know who she was.  I described her to my Mum, and she had no idea either, although my brother recognised the description - she kept talking to him like she knew him too!

I think the number of times I speak to people and have no idea who they are has only increased as I've got older, and especially, since I've had children (although other Mums don't seem to mind if you ask who they are after chatting for six weeks).  Does it happen to you too?

And do you think I did know that woman?  Or was she stalking my family?

This post is the most recent in my series of posts inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post suggesting 50 things to blog about, you can find the rest of them here, but here's some suggestions for other posts you might like (they are all tales of teenage me):

Saturday, 23 November 2013

asking questions

What are the most frequently asked questions in your home?

The fabulous blogger Chantelle, at Fat Mum Slim wrote a post suggesting 50 things to blog about, and one of the things was Frequently Asked Questions.  I've had a good think, and here are the questions we hear most in this home:

What's for tea/lunch/breakfast?
Which is generally shorthand for saying, 'get on with making me some food!'  Of course, finding something that they're willing to eat (and wouldn't bore the socks off me too much) is another matter, which I've talked about here.  Of course, about five minutes after the meal is finished it's time for the next question in my list...

What else is there to eat?
Erm, how about an apple?  Funny how people who are 'starving' rarely want a healthy snack isn't it?

When do I get more screentime?
This question is usually asked within about a nanosecond of getting off a screen.  The children only seem to not be asking this question if they are totally involved in something else.  However, if we don't limit screentime, they turn into head-spinning monsters, and we can't have that!  Do you try to limit screentime?  How does it work for you?  And have you got any ideas of limiting husband's screentime? ;-)

Why do I always have to do that?
Nobody knows where the 'always' in this question came from.  This question is heard when a child is asked to put things away, or to clear the table, or even to do their homework.  We are evil parents.  It is very hard not to point out that actually I always do most of the stuff around here, but I try.  I really try.

School uniform.  Horrible stuff
The girls would look at the camera...
...but they're having screentime.
Where is the school shirt I like?
My children have plenty of school uniform (even though I hate school uniform, as previously discussed here), and yet they only have two shirts each which they actually like to wear.  The big girl likes the more fitted style button-up cotton short sleeved blouse.  And the boy likes a polo shirt with a school logo.  Sometimes they get them, sometimes they don't.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if I only bought that style for each of them next year they'd want something else.  The little girl doesn't have to wear school tops yet - thank goodness, but she is meant to wear a special jumper for nursery, and most days she refuses point blank (you go girl).  Do your children have special requirements when it comes to school uniform?

Is Mrs Clarke at nursery today?
We had a hell of a time settling the little girl in at nursery.  You can read all the grisly details here.  Now she's happy to go, and she's having fun and making friends.  She likes her key teacher, whom she sees everyday, and is always happy to see her, but there's a teacher called Mrs Clarke who seems to instill love in every child who meets her.  She's very positive, and very warm, and I'm glad she feels so positive about her teacher, but it does seem disloyal to her key teacher who has put so much work into helping her get settled.  Them's the breaks, eh?

How far is it?/How long will it take?/That's going to take for ages!
To be fair, our children do travel further to see family than I ever had to as a child, and I do feel for them, especially on some of the seven hour trips we used to do from Suffolk, but things are better now.  We're only four or five hours away, and we've got a DVD player in the car so when we are on a motorway, the kids can have screentime, and we're all a lot happier.  However, trying to take them for a walk is not a happy affair (although once they get going, they have fun).
The boy, with the wishes jar we made this week

What are we going to do?
You there!  Entertain me!  Personally I suspect our children could do with a bit more boredom, but as I cannot stand the bickering involved, I do tend to find things for them to do.  Getting out and about is definitely a good thing, and I love eating out, and going to the cinema (preferably without the little girl).  I also love making stuff and drawing (I suspect I like this more than they do).  After playing together turned into bickering today, for example, we went for a walk/scoot, had lunch out (yay), did a bit of shopping, and then returned home for crafting (Christmas tree decs!), and then Star Wars (freaky how much the boy knew about Star Wars having never seen it).

Where's Daddy?
A lot of the time, this question is asked when I have done something unreasonable, as covered in the question above: 'Why do I always have to do that?'.  Daddy is looked to to give an opposing view.  Sometimes the children do manage to get out of things this way, but usually Daddy is bad cop.  Of course, a lot of the time, Daddy is at work.  Poor love.  But sometimes he is hiding/doing something important.  My favourite is when he goes for a nap, and the kids don't notice.  After a while someone will ask 'Where's Daddy', and I get to say he's having a sleep, and they are invariably ASTOUNDED.  Do you or your partner manage to quietly disappear sometimes?  Personally I'm a big fan of folding laundry for ages.

Look!  This is where I got bumped!
Whats' wrong?/What is it?/Why are you crying/whining/hitting?
This is one of my own two most frequently asked questions.  When bickering turns to fighting the children usually use the stop it code, and before too long I will have a queue of children waiting to tell me their grievances.  Meh.  I am not big on sympathy.  My daughter fell to the floor from her scooter today and I just said, 'see', while she cried.  I did give her a cuddle, but told her off for being silly while I did.  See, told you I was mean.

Where's the little girl?
This is my other most frequently asked question.  She's a wee force of nature my little girl, and great at running off.  She has a particular knack for running into the park adjacent to our house whenever it's time to get in the car.  Sometimes she's not running off, she's just busy doing something somewhere else.  But busy doing what?  If I can't see her I worry about what she might be up to, and what sort of cleaning products I might need.  I have a sneaking suspicion she's always going to be trouble, but she's so fantastic she might just get away with it.

So are these the questions that get asked in your house?  What else would you add?  Anything that's definitely not you?  Any questions I've got to look forward to (that my kids haven't grown into yet)?

You can find a list of all the other posts inspired by Fat Mum Slim's list here.  I'm really enjoying working my way through them!

Friday, 22 November 2013

getting a Boost!

As you'll no doubt recall, we've recently returned from a few day's holiday in York, but truth be told, we were pretty brassick before we left, so we needed a holiday on the cheap.  How to achieve this, and also have the kind of holiday we like (involving plenty of things to do with the kids, and yummy meals prepared by other people)?  Use our Tesco Boosts baby!

If you have a Tesco Clubcard, or a Tesco Credit Card (which is basically a Clubcard with extras), then you'll get points for the marketing research data you provide just by shopping with Tesco (and other places, with the credit card).  And we all know that points mean prizes.

At the basic level, those prizes come in the form of money vouchers you can use in your regular shop, but you can also Boost those vouchers by exchanging them, either for tokens to spend on your Christmas shopping (and at other times of the year too), or, to get even more out of them, you can swap them for up to four times their value in vouchers for days out, meals in restaurants, even holidays.  It is always worth checking out what you might be able to get at Tesco Clubcard Boost.  You can often save money, and, let's face it, Tesco vouchers are not really money anyway, so you're getting paid to shop.

Kenny explaining one of the new games we got
on our old 'phones to keep the kids entertained
on the train (it involves painting kittens' nails).
To give you some examples, on our recent holiday we travelled by train, using our Family and Friends railcard, bought for £15 in Tesco vouchers (that's half price).  We could have also saved money by getting our train tickets through Red Spotted Hanky, which we could have exchanged Tesco vouchers for, to get their special deals at half price.  Awesome!

You can use Tesco vouchers to get deals at lots of hotels when you get to your destination.

You can use them to contribute toward your meal at lots of family-friendly restaurants.  Usually you get four times the voucher price for the restaurant voucher.  Although I would note that this is often somewhat of a palarvar, as they'll have to recalculate the bill in most cases.  In York we ate out three times.  We used £37.50 worth of vouchers for £150 worth of meals:
At Cafe Rouge, waiting for food...
Thanks to my sister for the pic.

  • Pizza Express was great for the kids, and pretty easy, although we did leave before coffee, as the kids were bored of waiting.  Drinks were not covered, but the staff were great at working this all out.
  • Strada had a lovely atmosphere, and were very flexible.  They were quick with the bill.
  • Cafe Rouge had lovely staff, but took FOREVER to serve us (our meal took three hours - with small children), and then had to recalculate the bill, messed up the recalculation, trying to charge us twice for several things (and this was already the most expensive restaurant we visited).  They were suitably apologetic, and carried on being when their till froze, and they asked if we could maybe just pay cash.  Drinks were not covered, and food from the set menus was not covered (and I had to pay separately for that).  They did not get a tip, and I won't be going back, but the food was fine.
You can also use them to pay for your activities during the day.  In York, we used them to pay for:
and we could have used them for Jorvik and The York Dungeon.  We have previously used them for:
My aim this year is for Christmas to be sponsored by our Tesco Vouchers.  Fingers crossed.

What's been your best buy with Tesco Vouchers?

Other posts you might like:

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


In 1787, a man called Jeremy Bentham designed a new kind of prison.  He called it a 'Panopticon'.  

In the prison guards would be able to watch inmates at any time, and inmates would never know when they were being watched.  Mr Benthan thought it would be like the guards were always watching, and that this would improve inmates behaviour, because he had observed that inmates' behaviour improved when they knew they could be seen.  Costs on guards could be cut, because prisoners would regulate their own behaviour.  

Sound familiar?

In Big Brother the Panopticon concept is pushed further.  The inmates do monitor their own behaviour, putting on the show they hope will win the prize.  There are few places to hide, but the contestants find them, because we all need a bit of time to ourselves from time to time, if only to get ready to be watched again.  We cannot be ourselves when we are constantly watched.  Writing in 1959, Erving Goffman argued that we all need a 'back stage' area to prepare ourselves for being watched.

Recently, in a piece on snooping on your children on Woman's Hour, Annaliesa Barbieri said "None of us act normally if we think we're being overlooked."

Being watched, constantly, or even just the threat of it; Not being able to trust in your back stage area, causes massive amounts of stress, and yet still, the most common form of office setup is open plan.  There are reasons for this - open plan offices are cheaper to manage and to manipulate, but they also cause stress.  People start to feel that they are not trusted; not thought to be valuable enough, without being watched by a person whose very title means overlooker - the supervisor.  It doesn't encourage creativity, or communication, it just encourages blind, unthinking, obedience.  People who work in open plan offices get sick more than those who don't (link).  And I would hazard a guess that they spend more time crying in the toilets too.

But surely it isn't necessary?  We need to push the culture to shift so that we can work where we want (and when we want), so long as the needs of the job are met.  We surely have no need now of batteries of administrators, or even call centre employees.  Couldn't they do their work without being tied to a desk, or, where that is needed, with more thought given to their humanity - higher barriers, plants and windows.  Offices which are pleasant places to be.

I once worked in an award winning office building.  It was a smart building with great heating systems, and great IT inbuilt, it had a hardly-used swimming pool, and a gym studio for keep-fit classes, it had a tiny creche where selected employees could leave their children, and it had rows of staff sitting in front of grey computers, with grey 'phones, grey dividers, grey walls, and, out of the windows they could see if they looked around their supervisors was the grey sea, the grey sky, and grey ships going by.  I hated that office.  I would do anything to avoid being in it, and I'm not going back there.

Seriously, who in their right mind would choose to spend their day in here?  Pic from here

Do you work/have you worked in an office?  What's been the best, and the worst that you've worked in?

Other posts you might like:

Monday, 18 November 2013

visiting York

We haven't managed a proper go-away holiday this year, so we decided to head to York for the November weekend.

York is of course the county-town for God's own County of Yorkshire. It is beautiful and full of fabulous history.

So, where did we go?

Richard, the Duke of York (was he the Grand Old Duke of York? Or the Richard of York who gave battle in vain?) challenged Queen Margaret of Anjou's right to hold the throne after her husband, King Henry VI, became unfit to rule and he lost his head for it, although his sons Edward and the gloriously controversial Richard III both wore England's Crown, until Richard, the last Plantagenet, was betrayed, and the crown passed to Henry VII, the first Tudor. We went to have a look at Micklegate Bar, where Duke Richard, and his son, Edmund, had their heads impaled on spikes. Then we enjoyed walking along the city wall (while the children laughed at my fear of heights).

We had a great time at Dig, an archeology, hands-on exhibit which is great for kids, although when the boy started unearthing a skeleton we were all in there to help! We also loved the replica they had of the worlds biggest fossilised jobby (found in York, and on display at Jorvik). If digging is not for you, there are loads and loads of other things to do. If you have children I would highly recommend it.

We also really enjoyed Barley Hall, which could have done with some dressing up clothes, but we loved learning to play Nine-Men's-Morris, we loved the beautifully restored hall, and all the fun Horrible History facts. Special mention also goes to the stinky tubs. Big girl especially liked the jobby (there's a theme here)!

As I said, York is beautiful, and one of the nicest things over the weekend was just wandering around the streets, including The Shambles. 

We tried to spot some of the cat statues scattered around the city, with the help of the York Cat Trail (it's free, and it's here), and loved playing in the gardens of the Yorkshire Museum. They are gorgeous, packed with squirrels and interesting features, and a great place to be. 

There are lots of things to do in York, so here's a quick round up of what we didn't go to:
  • The National Railway Museum (although I believe it's a great day out)
  • York's Chocolate Story. Have you been? Unfortunately, York's Rowntree company has been taken over by Nestle, and I can't bring myself to like them. 
  • The Yorkshire Museum. Yet another museum you have to pay to get in. I thought British Museums were supposed to be free? Or is that another thing the money-grubbing Tories have done for? 
  • York Minster as it was £20 for us to get in (and then extra to do anything interesting)! Christian charity eh?
  • Clifford's Tower
We could have kept happily busy in York for a week. It's well worth a visit. What would you recommend?

Other posts you might like:

Monday, 11 November 2013

taking the Bechdel test

Have you heard about the Bechdel test?

Brought to our attention by Alison Bechdel, the awesome American cartoonist (check out her website here), is a blunt instrument tool to look at the sexism of ommission in films.  But you can use it for any sort of story.

The Bechdel test is a pass or fail test.  You need to ask yourself these questions about the film:

  1. Are there two (named) women in it?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. About something other than a man?
If you get through to the end of those questions with a YES, then the film has passed the Bechdel test.  If you don't, then it has failed.

The test, as I said, is a blunt instrument.  A film will pass if two named women have one conversation about shopping for puppies (giggle), and will fail if two unnamed superheroines kick butt across America, constantly discussing feminist theory.  But blunt instruments are useful.  Hammers are blunt instruments.

So what fails the test?  Lots of films, like
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • All Star Wars films
  • All but one of the Harry Potter films
And what passes?  Still, lots of films, but a lot less.  Here's some:

  • The Hunger Games
  • Tangled
  • Brave

The Bechdel test is also worth thinking about when watching TV, reading books, and playing computer games.  There are a lot of things that fail the test, but computer games are pretty terrible. 

Some say that it is unrealistic to judge people like Tolkien through the prism of what is considered alright now.  He was a man of his time.  He did not have women in his stories (or very few anyway), because there were very few women in public life.  To be fair, Fantasy is pretty woeful in its representation of women generally.  However, we can change things.  When Battlestar Galactica was remade for television Starbuck became a woman, and that worked marvellously.  Couldn't one or more of Frodo's companions have become a woman?  

Just because some good stories were told in patriarchal mode does not mean we have to keep them like that.

What do you think of the Bechdel test?  And how would you fancy changing a failing story into a passing one?  Me, I'm making the gang of Hobbits into a gang of lasses - it'll bring a whole different quality to their being constantly patronised.

Other posts you might like:

Sunday, 10 November 2013


Today is Remembrance Sunday.

I've been thinking of saying something, but what to say?

My Facebook feed is awash with poppies and quotes like "When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"  There are pictures of people's children in Remembrance Day parades, wearing their scouting/guiding/boys or girls brigade uniforms.

Remembrance Day is held annually on 11th November, and it has been since 1919.  It started off as a day of remembrance for those who died during The Great War, which later became known as World War I.  It is held on November 11th because that is the date that hostilities ceased in 1918.  We also keep Remembrance Sunday, because that lets it link in with Church Services, and people not working.

We were listening to the radio at 11 o'clock this morning.  I was drawing with the girls, Kenny was on his computer, and the boy was playing Minecraft (because you can never play too much Minecraft).  The radio played the bongs for 11 o'clock, and silence fell.  We asked the children to respect the silence.  They tried.

It wasn't easy for them, and no wonder.  We hadn't warned them about it.  Afterward we stopped what we were doing and tried to explain that we stop and observe silence to remember those that have died to keep us safe.  I told them that it had started to remember the dead from wars long ago, but that we also thought about those who had died recently, and indeed those who risk their lives to keep us safe now.

Anyone's opinion about what the armed forces ought to be involved in, what countries they should and should not be in is irrelevant today.  The fact remains that people with the best of intentions work hard to try to ensure we can live the lives we like.  And they put their lives at risk to do it.

One of my good friends is in the RAF.  When she was stationed in Afghanistan, and I was worried about her I talked to the children about the way things were in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and how my friend was there to try to help make it safe for the people to be able to run their own country.  My children, quite rightly, thought she was a hero.  They sent her blueys to cheer up her office.  On her Facebook page today it says that 'Freedom is not Free'.  It chills me that it is not.

I wish that everyone in the world could be good to each other, and respectful and kind.  And that there would be lots of little fluffy bunnies.  But I am hugely grateful to all of those who have died trying to ensure that people like me get to live our lives without thinking about how to get rid of the bad guys.  I am also hugely grateful to all those who have not died.  Even to those who have not risked their lives, but have worked for the good of others.

Thank you.

Friday, 8 November 2013

settling in: How to move house with children

Have you ever moved with young children?  Or when you were young?  Some people seem to just take it in their stride.  Some people travel the world with young children, and then there are those people who you ask if they've always lived somewhere and they say, 'oh no, my Granny lived in the next village along.'  How did you find it?

Today, in another post inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about, I am talking about moving with a young family.  It's an interesting experience, the light at the end of which is settling in.  So how do you achieve that?

What am I basing this all on?  

Well, although I did move house as a child, I never moved home town, so I never had to start from scratch again.  My best friend when I was 12, however, did move town - from Yorkshire to Plymouth.  I remember someone telling me it wasn't the end of the world.  But it was.

Leaving snowy rainy town
Since we have started our family in 2005, we have had to move three times to follow my husband's work.  We didn't move every time his work moved, so we had long periods while he was away as well.  We went from Central Scotland to Suffolk, to the borders, and finally up to Ayrshire.

It has been really hard, but had lots of good points too, the main one of which has been our family staying together, the children getting to see their Daddy.  We are now planning on staying in Seaside Town, where we have Kenny in a long-term position nearby, and his parents so close they can help out, which is amazing for me.  With the economic climate as it is, I guess lots of people are in similar situations to ours.  So, how to manage it?

1. Get ready

We are lucky enough that Kenny has always had a permanent contract with his company, but he hasn't always had a permanent position.  When his time was coming to an end in one place we'd have rumours of where he might be going.  Whenever I heard a rumour I went on the internet to find out all I could about the area, I checked out RightMove, and looked on Google Streetview.  I looked at inspectors reports on schools, and on Netmums to see what there might be to do.

Only once it was confirmed that we would be moving (often without a lot of notice) did we tell the children, put the house on the market, or tell the landlord, and tell the school.  By this stage we had some idea of what our lives might look like in the new place, but it wasn't set in stone.

It is really hard for children to leave behind friends they love, with no knowledge of whether they'd see them again.  We have of course, made an effort for them to keep in touch, but it is really hard with some children.  My children needed to go through a sort of grief process before they were ready to make new friends.  More on that later.

2. Get set
The boy exploring our new park

For us, with the timeframe we had between Kenny's job, he generally had to go ahead of the children and I.  So I would arrange appointments for him to look at houses, and he would look at them.  When we moved to Suffolk it was too far for me to go to check the house, so we bought it without my actually seeing it.  Seaside town was only a couple of hours away from rainy town, so when we thought we'd found the house, we were all able to come and look at it.  That was fabulous.

Before moving we also take the children to visit the school they'll be going to, and hope to goodness they'll like it.  I also check out what clubs and groups they can go to, and what fun places we can go.  Parenting is going to be pretty full on for a while after moving.

Don't forget to buy the new school uniform.

3. Go

The new school uniform
The best time of year to move is just before the end of the summer holidays.  It is not pleasant to have a new school looming over you for too long.  When we moved to Rainy Town we had two horrible weeks of not knowing anyone before the children had to start school.  When we moved to Seaside Town the children finished their old school on the Friday and were driven over to their Granny and Grandbob's for a visit, while we attempted to get the house in some vague sort of order, or at least have beds built, and school uniform ready for starting the new school on Monday.  Job done.  Kenny's parents have helped out with all of our moves, for which I am hugely grateful.

4. Entertain the troops
After weeks without TV, the little girl was
content with anything

I don't know anyone of late who has managed to move without a break in TV, internet, and telephone services.  This is a pain in the nethers, but it's also horrible for children who have lost their friendship networks and are going through massive stress, and could really just do with an hour of Moshi Monsters, thank you.  Do ensure you can find things that don't need TV or internet for the first few weeks, like games consoles, and DVDs, and try to get them out and about to see what's good about their new home.  My children are hopeless on the 'phone, so as soon as we could we Skyped their friends, and just sent photo's back and forth.

5. Cut yourself some slack

I was desperate for my children to be happy when we moved, but let's face it.  Even if change is a good thing, it's really hard to do.  We had to accept that people were sad to leave things they loved behind.  This time it hit my oldest daughter the hardest, last time it was my son.  And it hit me too.  I always find myself wondering why on earth I'm not in Yorkshire.  Making friends takes time, and requires putting yourself out there, which I am sometimes reluctant to do.

6. Encouraging friendships

Like I say, you need to get yourself out there.  You have to speak to people at the school gates, even if they don't speak back.  I made a deal with my children, that we would each find out the answer to a set number of questions each day.  For example, the boy was to find out if three other people in his class liked Skylanders.  I had to offer to sing a song at toddler group.  It's really hard to do, but it's mini-challenges, and you do them together, and before you know it you're talking to people.  To help the children I invited people over for playdates.  The best bet for people to make friends with are of course people with a friendship vacancy.  Another newbie is ideal because you can all make friends quite quickly (and I thank goodness for the lovely new family that moved here over summer), but there is always someone who needs a new friend.  

7. It will come together

It will of course take a while before you build friendships that last, but it will come together.  You will find out the pub that people like you go.  You will find children who make your children laugh, and who bring them joy.  Some places are more welcoming than others, and the process may be fast, or slow, but it will come together (unless you move to Bedford.  Don't move to Bedford).

What have I forgotten?  What helped you when you moved with children?  Or did you find it a walk in the park?

The full list of posts inspired by Fat Mum Slim's 50 things to blog about can be found here.  You might also like to check out my previous blog - Looks Like We're Moving.  It's all about moving house.  You might also like:

    in Tracey's tent

    I know it's not a popular work of art, but this morning on the blogosphere I came across Tracey Emin's 1995 work of art, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, otherwise known as 'the tent'.  Not the real one, of course.  That burnt down in 2004.  Just pictures.

    I've popped some pictures here (taken from Wikipedia), so you know what I'm talking about, although they're not my pictures, so I hope Ms Emin and, indeed, the photographer, don't mind.

    Lots of people have criticised Tracey's tent, which is harsh, if you ask me, because it's an incredibly well crafted and put together piece, and it's thought provoking too.

    One of the thoughts the tent has provoked in people is 'blimey, she's slept with a lot of people'.  There are two points to note on this issue:
    1. The people whose names are inside the tent are all the people she's ever slept with.  So her Granny is in, while a guy she had sex with in a field (if such a thing happened) is out.
    2. Isn't that what it's about?  Our judgement about the number, and our sticking our collective noses into her tent to find out?
    Alain de Botton defines snobbery as taking one tiny part of what makes up a person and using it to define them.  Check out his fabulous TED talk on success here (I watched it while researching my post on ambition).  For young women, a small part of their personality - i.e. the number of people they have sex with (and, speaking from personal experience, it doesn't actually have to be based in reality) is used to judge them as good women or bad women.  

    This seems like a terribly old fashioned thing to say.  Surely we have grown out of this nonsense by now?  And yet it continues.  Now in the form of slut shaming.  Young women's sexuality is still perceived as requiring control, and women who have sex with multiple partners are criticised for it.  It is still the case that people think that if you give away the milk for free, no-one is going to want the cow.

    Of course, this is ridiculous nonsense.  Women's bodies are there own, to do with as they wish.  My favourite thing in Emin's tent is that on the floor it says 'With myself, always myself, never forgetting'.  It really emphasises that this is her space, and her business.  If you choose to poke your nose into Tracey's business, you should accept her rules.  You can choose not to look, but once you look, and you see her Granny is in there as well as her lover, then you do not have the right to assume anything.

    Apart from being ridiculous to judge a woman on the number of sexual partners she has, it is also impossible.  Women simply don't have a counting device strapped to their heads.  So what is really being judged is people's assumptions about the woman.  When I was young I had a very strong rule about not giving away the milk for free, and yet got given the nickname Cara the Unstoppable Sex Machine (thanks for that, whoever it was).  Meanwhile, another friend of mine, with a good reputation, was having sex left, right and centre, because she enjoyed it, and because it didn't matter.  She got away with it.  She clearly chose the right people.

    Looking back now, I think maybe my rule was a little too rigid, and I could have cut myself some slack, and had some more fun.  That said, I'm happy with how things have turned out.  And my friend?  She's never expressed any regrets to me.

    Back to the topic of Tracey's tent.  I also like that she has appliqu├ęd the letters, because such needlework has a strong tradition amongst women.

    Do you like Emin's work?  What do you think of the tent?

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    Thursday, 7 November 2013


    Are you ambitious?  Is ambitious a good thing to be?  If someone described someone you didn't know as ambitious, how would you picture that person?

    According to ambitious means "having ambition; eagerly desirous of achieving or obtaining success, power, wealth, a specific goal, etc."

    This is Sanjit - he's our Happlyland businessman

    We've decided he must be an economist
    because he's wearing a pink tie. I doubt Sanjit
    would climb over his Granny to get promoted.  
    But he does intend to get promoted.
    But that's not quite what it conjures up to me.  To me, someone who is ambitious, is someone who would climb over his Granny to get to the top.  And by the top, I mean the top of the career ladder.  I don't think I've come across 'ambitious' being used much when not in the context of paid work.

    I know women who enter scones in village fairs every year.  They are very hopeful not only that they will win, but that they will have been seen to have won.  However, to describe them as ambitious seems too cut-throat.  The world of scone baking just isn't like that (children's clay-modelling is a different matter).

    Anna Fels, writing in the Harvard Business Review, in 2004, on whether women lack ambition, found that rather, women were uncomfortable with the concept of ambition (the article is here):
     “ambition” necessarily implied egotism, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, or the manipulative use of others for one’s own ends. None of [the women interviewed] would admit to being ambitious. 
     Fels defines ambition as being a desire a) to master a skill, and b) to be recognised as having mastered it.  So what's not to like?  That's why the ladies are baking their scones isn't it?  It clearly doesn't have to be about paid work (although payment is a great way to recognise a master).

    Do you ever listen to Radio 4's Woman's Hour?  They did a list of the most powerful women, and they've interviewed lots of them, and do you know what?  Most of those women dispute the idea that they are powerful, they say rather, that they are lucky enough to have been given some influence.  Cressida Dick, a very senior police woman was on Woman's Hour the other day, and she repeatedly stressed that she had not intended to rise so high, that she had been pushed and pulled into that position, and that she was not personally powerful.

    I'm wondering if women are happy enough to master a skill, and happy for others to recognise it, if they must (the prizes at the village fair), but they're not going to stand up and shout about it.  And maybe not willing to take credit for working hard at mastering it.  No-one is going to go into a toddler group and say that they make damn good scones.  Are they?  Maybe I'm wrong?

    I'm wondering if this is about women's fear of the crab-basket.  The idea (which I don't believe to be essentially true, although I can see how internalisation of patriarchal norms could have caused it to happen) is that in their struggle to all get to the top while helping each other, co-operatively, women will drag each other down.  Maybe women keep quiet if they think they can see a route to the top.  Maybe.  Of course, any statement of what 'women' do or what 'men' do is going to be a sweeping generalisation.

    What do I know? 

    I know how I feel.  I hope to be a good Mum to my kids, throughout their lives, to push them, catch them, encourage them to make the best of themselves.  I do not need external validation for that.  I don't expect my kids to thank me either, I just want them to be happy.  So I guess that's a wish, rather than an ambition.  Although that is the main thing I want in my life, so I guess I am lacking in ambition.

    I really hope I can manage to write a whole book, and to get this blog more popular.  I would love to make a living as a writer.  I want to win the competitions I enter, and I want a real publisher to publish a book of mine, although I don't have a specific time frame.  I guess this is an ambition.

    What's yours?

    Of course, anyone trying to succeed in anything will have to face some failures, and this can really get you down.  But let's look at it the way Thomas Edison did when he said he hadn't failed, just found lots of ways that didn't work.  If there's something we really want to do we might eventually find a way to do it.  Or we might not, so we should probably not try forever.

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