Tuesday, 23 April 2013


I like to plan and to know how things will work out. Sometimes it's just not possible and the natural twists and turns of life write a much superior script to mine.
I have always thought of my eldest son as an introvert, typically quiet and not always forthcoming. He is at his happiest with a book or a pencil, indoors, often alone. He loves to write and has ambitions to be a published author and has never really been a "joiner-in-er". Last Autumn I came across a Shakespeare workshop being held at half-term. He has never shown any interest in acting, but I thought he might enjoy a week working with Shakespeare. The tutor was very encouraging, helping him to see the connections between excellent screen-writing and thorough understanding the acting process and so, nervously, he signed up. He had a great week and most of all loved the chance to stand up and act. He didn't have a big part but he loved what he did.
When we moved north, he was the one I was worried about finding friends. The other two had natural niches  to slot into but not my eldest. Given the success of the Shakespeare workshop, we thought we'd try drama and eventually tracked down a Youth Drama group at the Georgian Theatre in Richmond. This is now the highlight of his week and a place where he has found like-minded young people by whom he feels welcomed, valued and accepted in all his individuality and quirkiness.
So it has come as a surprise to find myself rehearsing lines with my younger two children. They are taking part in a play being put on in June as part of the Swaledale Festival. We know the author and producer quite well and the parts of two other-worldly children who act as one and link the whole play together were just right for them. My eldest is just too... well... old; and too young for any of the adult parts. He has struggled with understandable feelings of jealousy but is looking forward to his own week in the summer with his drama group and the play to be put on at the end of that.
He is also busy revising for two IGCSEs in Biology and Maths and my partner and I are spending a lot of time working with him at the moment and so he is recieving a lot of one-to-one attention. Which means that it is all balancing out rather well: he gets our focus academically and the others don't miss out because we are spending time rehearsing lines with them and they all have a goal in the coming months. I wouldn't have planned it like this, but it seems they all have just what they need.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


I'm home. I notice that I haven't blogged in well over a week, not since 8th April ,and I realise that it has all been rather busy. I had a nasty virus and it feels at the moment as if I'm ill as often as I'm not. Nothing serious, just a general feeling of being run down. Or, perhaps, over-run. I was stuck in a cycle of trying to increase my longest run, struggling into double digits and then being to tired to run properly for a few days. It came to a head last week when I set out for ten miles, only to get lost after two. Cold, still running ankle-deep in snow in places and slipping in the mud in others I conceded defeat and headed home. I found myself a "last minute" six-week marathon training schedule took a week off.
I've also worked the last six days in London and come home to work two more. But I am home. I am sitting on my bed looking straight out of my window across Swaledale, astounded by how very green it is: there is not a trace of white left. I ran a couple of miles this morning, just enough to remind myself that running is fun and I really do enjoy it.Getting home and going running as soon as I can helps me to reconnect with my home and I can remind myself that in all the work and all the busyness, this is my life. I have taken hold of what is right for me and am living a life I love.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Reviewing the Twelve....the last six

Oh dear! As I look up the twelve goals I set myself this year, I quickly run my eye over the last six with a "no, no, no ..." I haven't really got far with these.

7)One day out per month. This hasn't happened in any kind of way at all. We have found the regular trips down to London to take up so much of our time that we just want to be home when we're home. We certainly don't want to spend any more time in the car than we have to and we live somewhere so beautiful that we don't feel any urge to go anywhere else. There are all kinds of interesting places around - York, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Hadrian's Wall - but it just doesn't feel right at the moment. Also, the weather has been dismal, cold and snowy and not at all enticing. Perhaps the summer?

8) Painting. I've hardly painted since I arrived. This is something that I self-sabotage, procrastinating until there is not enough time left. I did paint dragons with my daughter, and a few trees in January, so maybe they can count for the first two months and I've still got stacks of time in April. Again, maybe it's something that I will find more mental space for in the summer.

9) Personal admin. Perhaps I'm being harsh on myself here. I have taught two students a creative writing curriculum which I am gradually developing myself. I have completed all my change of addresses and the last few changes of name. I have signed up with a tutoring agency and applied for my criminal records check which will mean I can also sign up with some on-line agencies. I've contacted a few people with whom I've not been in touch for far too long and I've been all the way through my filing system discarding pieces of paper I don't need any more. It's not quite been the clear, one-a-month series of projects I had envisaged, but I have not been idle!

10) I am doing much better with reading: "Never Let Me Go", Kasuo Ishiguro; "The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year", Sue Townsend, "The Help", Kathryn Stockett, "City of Beasts", Isabel Allende; "The Lifeboat", Charlotte Rogan, "All The Things We Didn't Say", Sara Shepherd and now I am reading "Lone Wolf", Jodi Picoult. Seven completed in three months. Definitely hitting my target. It's becoming more of a habit now to pick up a book after last term when it was usually the remote control! We have just cancelled our tv licence so I have no plans to change.

11) Breastfeeding Counselling. This has not so much taken a back-seat as snuck out of the fire exit! I was all set to return, beginning with telephone counselling, but I did not hear back from my mentor before we moved and then we had so much trouble with the internet and phone that it just wasn't possible. Now, I just can't imagine finding the time. And, if I'm honest, my heart's not in it. My passion at the moment is for my tutoring and I would love to build it up and do more if only I had the time so I'm not making the time for the BreastfeedingCounselling. Maybe I need to make a decision to let it go. I'll see. Another thing to look at properly in the summer.

12) Blogging. Well, I'm still here but Internet arrived mid-February and I still didn't hit 12 posts in March. This is number three for April so I'm not quite on track this month either but a few people have commented to me that they're glad I'm back posting so maybe I'll just keep plodding away, aiming for that elusive 12!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Maths Demon

Maths has always been a thorny subject. My eldest is approaching his Maths GCSE in May and is motivated by the knowledge that once this exam is over he will never, ever have to study Maths again. He is apologetic about this, even asking if I am disappointed. but I am not at all worried. In talking it through with him I was able to explain that this is the case for most students: Maths GCSE marks the end of formal Maths study and, unless they take a Maths qualification post-16, most people never go near a Maths problem again.
My middle son is a much more natural mathematician, maths just seems to make more sense to him, numbers are more concrete and the ideas flow. He has worked hard this year and, even though we moved house and life was quite disrupted, had finished his Maths for the year by mid-March. He was hugely excited by the prospect of starting his GCSE studies and so he began last week. We have, however, run straight into the quagmire of misery, confusion and over-burden and I have been confused as to why. Every time I sit with him and work through his exercises he seems quite happy with the concepts but as soon as he is left to his own devices he is lost again. He is not resistant and is trying hard, testament to his eagerness to study at this level. My frustration levels are rising and his morale is falling.
On chatting to my partner about it, we began to see that he is learning so much more than Maths and, as with any multi-skill learning experience, it is too much for him to be putting it all together immediately. My son and I sat together and I wrote a list of all the skills I can see that he is using and developing:
1) Laying his work out neatly. Up until now he has had workbooks and not been responsible for the clarity of the page.
2) Organising his time. Once the initial subject has been explained, he is responsible for finding time in the day to complete the exercises.
3) Aiming towards a big and distant goal. Workbooks were tangible in size and once every page was complete they were done but GCSE has no such physical "size".
4) Concentrating for longer periods of time. There is no doubt that it is a greater workload and he will have to sit at the table and work for longer.
5) Copying a question from a textbook, especially difficult with brackets and indices. Here, I am seeing the value of all the copywriting we have done together and reminded of attempting copywriting in a different language. Without the sense of words and letter sets that already have a place in the memory, copying is hard and even harder when it is dense text on a page.
So, today, I will copy some of questions into his book for him which will automatically set out the page for him and reduce the copy-writing burden. I will write a time-table for the day with short blocks of maths and we will start with a pep talk about his goals which are admirable and tough. He has much to be proud of - starting maths GCSE at just 12  is no mean feat - and that is the most important message he needs to hear today.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Owl Bishop

The Easter Day service in our tiny village church was led by the Bishop of Knaresborough: he was quite taken with my daughter's owl hat - which she is seldom see without - and evidently arranged a swap! I am impressed with this church man and his humour and humility and the laughter on his face is testament to his joyful personality.
Bishop James also led the Maudy Thursday service, held in a neighbour's house as the church path was still blocked by snow-drifts. This was an intimate and beautiful occasion which I found deeply moving. I went with my partner and children and we sat with, perhaps, a dozen others and listened to a re-telling of the events surrounding Christ's arrest and we shared communion. I felt welcome and included, accepted and even loved. Bishop James spoke the words of the communion liturgy with a liveliness and enthusiasm which I found surprising in a man who has read these words aloud hundreds of times. He opened the service with words to remind us that Jesus welcomes us all, all of us, everyone. My choices in the last couple of years have led some to comment, judge and criticise and my heart was touched to be reminded that I am welcomed by Jesus and that I do have a place in his church.