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Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Is teenage unique to humans? Are there teenage cows? David Bainbridge, in “Teenagers, a Natural History” says that our teenage stage is what makes us human.

Duncan is going through the teenage explosion at the moment. He is discovering the entire world simultaneously – novels, science, girls, music, politics. His world is a bewildering kaleidoscope of new ideas, new sensations, new meanings. Fifteen years old, and his world holds an infinity of possibilities.

His teenage is different from mine. I absorbed everything I could lay my hands on, mopping it up: but he wants to master it, to conquer it. Is this a boy thing? I read books because I wanted to escape to different worlds, he reads books because they are long (The Count of Monte Christo, 1400 pages) or have shock value. But whatever his reasons he does read them, he is amazed by them, he falls under their spell, he talks about them. “What’s a really difficult author to read?” he asks me. “Try Kafka.” I say, offhandedly, and a few weeks later he is insisting on reading yet another bit of Kafka to me, “Mum, you’ve got to listen to this.”

(I can’t tell him how much I loathe Kafka; next time he asks I must swear to him that Jane Austen is widely known to be the most impenetrable of writers; that it is a unique and highly regarded achievement to read all six of her novels and the juvenilia.)

He doesn’t just learn information, he wants to test it, to see if he can break it. There is no subject on which he does not have an opinion, often several opinions, the more outlandish and shocking the better. Next week he will have a different opinion, but he is not likely to have just accepted any given piece of information as settled fact. He will espouse every political shade of the spectrum, sometimes simultaneously, as long as he can provoke an argument. He is furious about quantum mechanics: how can the heart of matter, the truth about the world around us, be so weird, so incomprehensible? Watching television with him is a nightmare: he challenges every statement. (“How do we know his mum is dead? I bet he’s just saying that. Now there’s no way the judges can vote him off, even though he can’t f***ing sing!”)

Some weekend nights I let him stay up a bit later to talk. He’s a night owl – he loves that spooling out of conversations into the late hours. When he’s a student he’ll want to talk through the night with friends. I try to keep any arguments gentle, not too rough – I’m too old and tired for that. Anyway, I want him to learn how to argue, how to spar, how to disarm his opponent, not to bludgeon them over the head. But I also want him to think round and check his opinion is on solid ground, and be able to abandon it. That’s a good point, I say, but have you thought what would happen if…

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Bostadh beach – the most beautiful place in the world

I have a Liebster award, thanks to MeWhoAmI (a great blog, do go and read it). I like the Liebster award – it is like a kind of social glue, cementing us smaller blogs together. However I have studied some maths, so I do feel a little bit nervous about the impact of ten recipients each nominating ten more recipients and so on – in no time at all we would be faced with a tidal wave of Liebster awards rippling around the internet. And though I am sure this would increase global happiness, it might also hammer the Western economy while everyone was busy answering their ten questions and thinking up ten more. So I am going to be a little naughty and modify the rules a bit and nominate just a handful of people, and propose just a handful of questions to answer.

The (original) rules:
-Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them.
-Answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominator.
-Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers.
-Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
-Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them

MeWhoAmI dreamt up some great questions for me, so here are my answers:

1. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done? Got married and started a family.

2. Where is the most beautiful place you have ever been to? (Easy!) Bostadh on Isle of Lewis – I often dream of returning.

3. If you could do one thing tomorrow that you have always dreamed of doing, what would it be? Visit Orkney and the Shetland Isles.

4. If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it? First, convert it to pounds sterling. Then pay off my house, take a sabbatical from work for the summer, rent a camper van, buy a Calmac ferry pass and some supplies of tinned food and head out to the Western Isles.

5. What is your favorite pastime memory? Playing music with a group of friends late at night one Christmas (I play tin whistle in a folk group).

6. Who is the first person you go to, in your times of need? Me, unfortunately.

7. What is one goal that you have not yet met, but are working to achieve? Learning to shut up.

8. What do you believe is the greatest flaw among people? Being afraid and refusing to admit it.

9. If you only had time to save one thing in your home, what would it be? Well obviously that would have to be the kids – so two things!

10. In your life, what brings you the most happiness? Chocolate.

Here are my nominees. This may not be the first time they’ve received this award – but can you have too much of a good thing?

1. Diary of a Teacher. A lovely lovely blog full of the gentle ups and downs of teaching in a primary school, gardening, cooking adventures and family and friends. Warning: quietly addictive!
2. LookingForBlueSky does have a little more than 200 followers – but hey, she deserves a bigger audience still! Non-standard family life taken with a good pinch of Irish humour.
3. MrBoosMum patiently charting her (sometimes not so straightforward) family life.

If they want some questions to answer, then here they are (just three, not ten):

1. What blog post are you most proud of?
2. Have you ever removed a blog post after publishing it, and if so, can you tell us why?
3. Who do you secretly hope reads your blog?

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The kind of work I do (programming computers) requires a lot of focus. There are some projects which require long periods of concentrated work; they need analysis; they have subtle corners requiring careful negotiation; they call for experience and skill, and also a certain kind of elegance. When I see a project like this coming up, I feel a tingling of pleasant anticipation – the thrill of the long distance runner.

You can be so absorbed in these projects that you lose all track of time. You fail to notice the pain in your back, or that your shoulders ache, until you stand up and realise that you have been hunched over the desk in some terrible position for hours. These projects leak into your daily life: you wake up with the solution to a problem, you are still solving equations in your head when driving the children to school, you try to hurry through cooking dinner to give yourself time to check the results of some tests you left running. You become obsessed.

It goes without saying that this work fits badly with motherhood! If you start to lose hours here and there, are unaware of pain, and forget to put on your shoes, then it is quite possible to forget to pick up a child, fail to cook dinner, or book the dentist. Even if you resort to alarm clocks (I have several) to force you to stop work and attend, your mind is elsewhere. You are not having a conversation with another mum at the school gates, you are miming responses while calculating how long it will take before you can get back to your desk.

There are two main classes of people who hate it when I become absorbed in a project at work. The first are my children, who resent not having my full attention. It has been a huge (and ongoing) challenge to learn the skill of shunting my work out of my head at the end of the day, and replacing it with all the things that matter to them. The second are the rest of my team at work, because it turns out that management is rather like motherhood in that respect: you can only do it well when you are not preoccupied. So it turns out that the skills I need for my children are needed to make me a better manager of people too. The tricky thing there is timing: while I can use a cup of tea, or the journey to the school gate a cue for doing my mental shunting around, at work I have to switch my attention very rapidly, even as I turn from my desk to answer a query.

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I love this time of year – especially those September days when the heat of the summer is gone but the days are still long and bright. It is a good time to start something new, a time full of energy and promise. The school year starts again, the sins and omissions of last year are forgotten, and everyone plans to work hard this year and do well.

Summer strolled past slowly, but the last week has vanished in a flash. Julie started at sixth form: a big challenge after three years out of normal school. Her new support team, who seem good, are in touch with me every day. She needed extra support in the corridors, and some lessons. But she is making new friends and loves the work. I let the balance of my life swing back slightly towards home and away from the office: what you don’t want is to be absorbed by some project at work just as the crisis hits.

Duncan has another year to sixth form, and his last year in school uniform. A difficult year lies ahead, full of public exams and teachers driven beyond the limits of patience to draconian punishments. He is not going to become a good student – and I should be sorry if he did, for it is that streak of originality, that remorseless questioning of the status quo, that I secretly treasure. It is going to be a difficult year for him, for his teachers and for us at home too. But if he can only survive this, and not fall into the trap of despair again… Next September, when he moves to sixth form, and has more freedom, really holds the promise of something better.

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These are some sort of tomato relative, according to my husband, Joe, who bought them earlier in the year. Joe loves to grow things in pots – he is not particularly enthusiastic about the rest of the garden – but every year he celebrates summer with a collection of more or less exotic vegetables bought as small plants and grown on in pots. This has been a great year for chillis (most of our meals have been pretty hot and spicy as a result, to the dismay of the children). But it is always touch and go whether the other vegetables are going to ripen up in time before the sun gets too low in the sky to flood the patio with heat. I don’t think these tomato relatives are going to make it – there are lots of flowers but not many of these beautiful green paper lanterns in which, apparently, the fruit will grow. I move the pots around the patio during the day, trying to keep them in pools of sunlight, but the heat has already gone out of the sun.

It has been a successful year in the garden. There have been several frustrating years when there was no time to garden, and hard winters killed off half the plants, leaving some real thugs and a few local weeds to dominate. This year I’ve managed to teach some of the thugs some manners, have restocked some of the more delicate perennials, and seen off some of the more difficult weeds. I am drawing up plans to bring the rest of the thugs to heel over the winter, and I have a lovely stock of echinacea raised from seed to move into the gaps left in their ranks. For the next year or two it seems my gardening will have to be military in flavour, described by words like “decimation” and “campaign”, but I hope it will become more gentle and administrative eventually.

I am reading “The Morville Hours” by Kathryn Swift and am feeling very inspired, even if my garden is very small and not at all remarkable.

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The summer is drawing to a close. The last few days of the long holidays are slipping away. There are last minute panics over school shoes, books and satchels.

Julie is preparing for sixth form: she is already getting up very early in the morning to make sure she can cope when school actually starts at the end of the week. There is no more uniform for her, which she finds exciting but also unnerving. It is the social world of the sixth form that worries her most: navigating the mysterious codes, signals and taboos of ordinary teenage life. The study itself worries her much less now that she has managed to finish one set of public exams. She will have extra support, but the chances are there may still be a few of the usual alarms and excursions (mostly to A&E) while she settles in.

Sometimes a friend or colleague with a daughter of roughly the same age as Julie lets slip some achievement: completing their grade 8 on an instrument, competing at national level in their sport, winning a scholarship to a top university. I seem to have friends and colleagues with some incredibly high-achieving daughters! This did hurt at one time – Julie had also been successful in everything she touched, until she became ill in her mid teens and all these things dropped by the wayside. I did once feel the loss of my golden girl. But I can honestly say that it doesn’t matter at all now: we have been through so much, and I am just glad to have her alive and out of hospital. I love to hear of the achievements of the children of my friends, and I don’t grudge them their successes. Julie has had her own (private) triumphs over her illness.

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