Talking Books on why we should all want ‘Little Creative Days’ for our children

What are seasons but children’s soft dreams, and
Sunrise, their opening eyes?
Seeing at a glance
The days and years open…waiting,
Fringed with softness, or
Laced with abandon…

(From Children’s Eyes and Children’s Toys by Elysabeth Faslund)

The incredible Pojo
The incredible Pojo

This is SO late going up but I thought it important to make sure you got the opportunity to listen to my Talking Books show on from February 14th. It wasn’t a ‘Valentine’s Day’ themed show – I have featured poetry and prose that expresses our romantic yearnings on past shows – but it was one that should be of interest to anyone with children, or who is involved with children’s education. I started this post with an excerpt from a poem that sums up for me how important it is to see the world through a child’s eyes and to give them the tools to make the most of a time when their imagination should be allowed to fly.

Tonya Meers kindly came in to the studio to talk about the business she has established with her sister, Natasha Dennis. Little Creative Days started with the provision of craft kits for children, but when Tonya decided she would like to write children’s stories the sisters decided to combine the two. Between them I think they have come up with something that can really bring out the creative side of all children and perhaps inspire them to be the writers, dramatists, artists and even theatre impresarios (well let’s think big!) of the future. Working with and in schools they have developed kits that work across the curriculum; Pojo and the Chest of Dreams for example can support work in geography and Pojo Saves the Rainforest uses puppets to tell children about the impact of deforestation.

This isn’t a sponsored post, or a review of the products Tonya and Natasha offer but it is something of a plug for anything that fires a child’s imagination and after this show you will be in little doubt that Tonya’s stories, and the opportunities the kits offer to children as part of their primary school education, are exactly the sort of thing to engage children across ages and abilities.

When my children were much younger they both had issues with certain aspects of their school day. My son would daydream and lose concentration; my daughter is dyslexic and found phonics a real challenge. They both found an outlet in performance – my son in drama and my daughter in sport – and finding a way to express their true selves, away from the challenge of tests and league tables proved invaluable.

Creative storytelling uses ‘creative group activities to bring stories alive’ and in our interview Tonya describes how puppet making for example can  enable all children to explore a story and become engaged with the story and its message. The drama activities can build confidence and offer children a way to express themselves in their own stories. Do take a listen; I am sure you will be as inspired as I was by Tonya’s enthusiasm and by the Little Creative Days ethos.

Find out more by going to the Little Creative Days website at

University as a ‘rite of passage’: On becoming an empty-nester

institution_full_545__winchester_CENTRE_hero (1)On Saturday my lovely daughter Evie is starting her first term at the University of Winchester. She only made her mind up to go to Uni at all at the beginning of August, having had a year out to focus on her athletics and train with the GB high jump coach Fuzz Ahmed in Birmingham. Her friends came home after their first years of study, extolling the virtues of the Student Union and her determination to avoid the debt of a student loan went out the window.

Evie & James in 2000
Evie & James in 2000

Both children (and won’t they always be our children?) will now be at University. James lives with his partner is London and all being well is fully fledged and on his way. Now Evie follows – promising to come back in the holidays, but only until she graduates and can find a job ‘anywhere but Taunton’. I don’t blame her, frankly. But I am sorry, and sad. I actually feel, for a little while anyway, that I will be bereft.

Don’t misunderstand me – I am full of pride, along with the usual parental fears about safety and concerns that they both have enough money (because to be honest we haven’t enough to help them much and it is SO expensive). But not only is it a real rite of passage for Evie, it is a significant one for Peter and I too. We are now on our own for the first time in more than 22 years. We can do as we please; we can swing from the chandelier (if our old bones would let us and we had one); we needn’t buy Oreos and Coco Pops any more or smell endless pepperoni pizza on the go. James isn’t here to play World of Warcraft and Evie won’t have ‘Sex and the City’ DVDs on repeat. Neither will now be here to leave towels all over the floor of the bathroom or underwear festering under their beds, at least not in our home. Oh dear….

Winchester student accommodation
Winchester student accommodation

We have never sought to influence either child in their decision, but we are really pleased Evie is following her brother to higher education. I don’t think it is for everyone and I loathe the idea that anyone would value a degree ‘for the sake of it’ over a valuable vocational course. But when you have a son for whom Philosophy is an obsession and a daughter who can jump higher than the top of her mother’s head, the life skills they will learn and opportunities they will have away from home will be invaluable. Winchester Uni has great athletics facilities and a good Law faculty (who would have thought Evie would ever follow my example in anything...)  We have visited the city with her and although I knew it of old, as one of those places forever associated with the poet John Keats and ‘Ode to Autumn’, (there is a wonderful ‘Keats Walk you can do now) I saw it through new eyes – imagining what it would be like to be a student there. Put it this way – I was green with envy and I continue to be so. How different the experience is from ‘my day’. The Polytechnic of Central London was great (it is now the University of Westminster and maybe not so great) but there was no central campus and no ‘student village’.

Lots of parents are packing their offspring off for the first time at the moment. The lists of what to take are so long we know we will forget something. At least we know Evie can cook and do her own washing and is ok-ish with money, but it must be a huge step to take for any young person. The accommodation seems to be lockable rooms in small flats with a shared kitchen – at Winchester all very new and very nice (and apparently compared to Manhattan…) – but surely a challenge if you are shy, have concerns about privacy and personal space or an aversion to washing up. Evie is very gregarious, but is already worried she won’t be ‘clever enough’. She will be, but the workload will be unlike any study she has done before and to be certain you come out with a degree worth its name you can’t just do ‘enough’ any more. You have to stand out. It truly is a stress-filled time, but hugely exciting and full of promise and opportunity. No wonder so many parents ask if they can enrol when they turn up with their offspring to Open Days.

James 2013
James 2013
Evie 2013
Evie 2013

So Saturday will be a day of mixed emotions for us, as for so many other parents this autumn. We have gone through all those ‘first days at nursery’,  ‘first days at primary school’, ‘first days at secondary school’ and would like to encourage all those parents in the blogging community to cling on to those memories and have a thought for those of us who have no more ‘back to school’ shopping trips to negotiate, or assemblies to attend. It will be graduation next – and then they really will be on their way,

Bless them.

Dandelions & Bad Hair Days – how mental health & motherhood woke up the writer in me

In a few months time a book will be published; an anthology of prose and poetry on the experience of mental health issues. It will have my name on the cover and I will have written some of the pieces the book includes. It will be called ‘Dandelions and Bad Hair Days’, inspired by one of the posts written by writer Viv Tuffnell and all royalties will go to nominated mental health charities. The picture at the top of this post is the original artwork painted and donated as the cover by Ingrid Smejkal. However nervous I might feel, there is much to be proud of in bringing it to publication.

But as I do so, and especially as I have been drafting the acknowledgements, I have been thinking about how it all started. And it started with ‘mummyblogging’.

In fact, this is a great moment to celebrate that fact. This post is written for Jo Middleton over at Slummysinglemummy, the funniest blog about the joys (or otherwise) of single parenting you are likely to find. I am lucky enough to count Jo as a friend and ex-work colleague and it was as we were procrastinating over some fundraising project or other that she explained to me about how her blog was gathering readers, and how it was helping hone her writing skills. I was intrigued. Newly redundant with a lifelong ambition to spend my time tapping away at a keyboard being creative, this seemed an avenue I needed to explore.

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What’s in a name? Warnings from our family history…..

Prompted by a short discussion on Twitter with the fabulous @oldpostcards and @CountryBook about the first names our ancestors were given (‘saddled with’ in many cases) I went back through my tree to find patterns or traditional names handed  down through generations. It is something most sensible family historians do early on in their research I expect, but I hadn’t previously done more than note the obvious (there are so many Georges, Ediths, Alfreds and Mays in my family that it causes me endless confusion when explaining relationships.)

Now this blog has the potential to cause offence, for which I have to apologise in advance. It was just too tempting to take this one step further and think about those names common 100 years ago that are coming back into fashion, and those that I hope to goodness will be preserved in aspic never to be resurrected and loaded upon any small person born in the 21st century.

Continue reading “What’s in a name? Warnings from our family history…..”

The mystery of the missing grandmother – or ‘O Bessie. Where Art Thou?’

Bessie Addison nee Hardiman at my parent’s wedding 1960

I wrote this post last year and although I have recently discovered a little more about the strange dynamic of the Hardiman family I still cannot trace my Grandma. There are hints that as ‘Bessie’ she might be the daughter of her much older half-sister Jessie who was only about 21 in 1897 and who remained unmarried for at least another 15 years. But it is all conjecture and as I seek to write up and publish the family story I wanted to send this out there one more time in the hope that someone might have another line of enquiry to suggest….

I have been inspired to write this post by Debra, a great person to chat to on twitter and the author of a new blog at A Pocket Full of Family Memories. She has dedicated her first blog posts to her grandmothers, bringing them to life through biographical detail and, movingly, by listing memories that spark emotions often pushed to the back of our minds as we move from our initial grieving at the loss of someone close. It got me thinking about the only grandmother I knew (my father’s mother had died long before I was born) – a woman who was not only the keeper of family secrets, but something of a mystery herself.

My mother is alive and well, aged 82. She has all her proverbial marbles and enjoys chatting through the history of her family. As I am a very amateur genealogist and a social historian in training I was initially just a willing listener, fascinated by what she could tell me of her mother, Bessie Addison, née Hardiman and the Hardiman clan in general. If you have read my family history and mental health blog posts before, you will know that from listener I became detective and uncovered some family secrets that in turn my mother listened to with astonishment and not a little disbelief.

Continue reading “The mystery of the missing grandmother – or ‘O Bessie. Where Art Thou?’”

A postcard from Liechtenstein

How many people can name the capital of Liechtenstein? Or tell me where it is in relation to other European countries? What languages are spoken? What are its major exports and its unit of currency? And how is it faring as economies all over Europe struggle?

I am spending two weeks in this lovely country as the guest of my son’s godmother. At eighteen she came to stay with me, and my new husband Peter, in Brighton & Hove for nearly 5 months. She came to improve her English and having stayed in touch ever since (my son is very proud to be one of the few British children with a godparent in such a glamorous sounding place) I am now here helping her children learn it too.

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The Grand National: or When is it time to end a family tradition?

This is an unplanned post, one of those I am prone to put out in response to an event that causes me to think deeply about an issue of importance to me.

As I write, the BBC are once again reporting on the result of the Grand National. ‘A glorious day’ apparently. Hot and sunny certainly, but glorious? Two horses died and most, including the winner, were so dehydrated and exhausted at the end of the race that they couldn’t even make an appearance in the winners enclosure. A recap of the race, explaining why two fences had to be avoided second time round, referred to the dead animals as ‘obstacles’. Twitter is filling up with comments showing various degrees of disgust at the BBC, which is accused of supporting the animal cruelty on display. Suddenly I feel a little sick. Continue reading “The Grand National: or When is it time to end a family tradition?”

She wore an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny… on feminism and being mum

If you are walking around Exeter City Centre today, you may spot a slim 16-year-old girl, 5ft 9 with legs up to her armpits. She is very gorgeous. She is also wearing a very short pair of turquoise shorts with hearts on them, with tights, pumps and legwarmers. I would like to say that as her mum my shock at her outfit related to the rather leaden October skies and the possibility of hypothermia, but if I were honest my first concern was that the young men of Devon would be hard pushed to keep their hands off her.

Now, I am a great believer that a woman should wear what she feels comfortable in without fear of molestation. Imposing yourself on a woman cannot be excused because she is wearing something a man might find irresistible, or which shows a little more than usual. There are, in my opinion, just two exceptions to the ‘wear what you want to’ rule:

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Everything changes but you…

I am sorry to disappoint anybody coming to this post hoping for a tribute to the rather wonderful Gary Barlow and his backing singers, *hears hisses and ducks missiles from Take That fans everywhere*, but this is actually a post I decided to write rather late in the day for the Sleep is for the Weak writing workshop. The topic this week is ‘change’, and we are encouraged to write to raise awareness of the ‘Press for Change’ campaign, which seeks a commitment from Nick Clegg and the coalition government to work to reduce levels of child mortality in developing countries.

So, I have decided to write on a subject close to my heart and express my feelings on the changes our family is experiencing September 2010. They are all natural, positive developments in the calendar of child-rearing but for me they are highlighting how far one’s own life moves into the slow lane for a time as  children rush to adulthood and eventually leave you far behind.

The son I gave birth to 19 years ago has grown into a fine young man, who in two weeks time starts at Keele University. I am busy thinking about all the things he will need to sleep, eat and work comfortably in his new environment – looking in catalogues at £4 kettles and wondering whether I ought to get him new duvet covers. I should know better, he may very well fail to change his bedding all term and a £4 kettle could fuse the halls of residence but this nesting on his behalf is my way of coping with the physical distance his move will put between us and the knowledge I have that if things go wrong it is not me he will turn to for help first.

Another change took place earlier this week when my daughter, just 16, started at           6th Form College, a sort of half way house between school and university that I never experienced, having to stay in the same school for A levels. We had the same teachers and the same sense of conformity to school discipline that young people in Somerset can avoid. Lessons are now ‘optional but recommended’ and there is a Costa Coffee instead of a canteen. For fifteen years the pattern of my day was set by the need to get one or both of my children to and from school; now my daughter has a bus pass and I must find another way to establish routine into my home-working day.

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A real ‘give one to Grandma’ photo – The Gallery

This week at the Gallery the post is a ‘Photo you are proud of’.

I love this idea. Sticky Fingers comes up with some great prompts to get you thinking and encourages you to focus (literally) on the photos that really mean something to you, not necessarily as works of art but as memories, reflections and moments that you will look back on with real affection (or horror I suspect in some cases, the topics are very varied.)

My contribution this week is one that I have always loved and been proud of, not just because my children look calm (most unusual), happy to have their photo taken (ie posing as I asked them) and clean. This last point is not to be underestimated when deciding on a photo to send round at Christmas to Grandparents and all the elderly relations who kindly send a £2 coin through the post despite all the usual warnings about possibly unscrupulous Christmas temps at the Post Office.  I hate it when I show people photos I love of my children in all sorts of messy but happy situations, for them to say ‘couldn’t you have brushed their hair?’ Or ‘In my day we had to pose for an hour with a fixed smile and a metal rod down the back of our trousers for a real family photo…’

Continue reading “A real ‘give one to Grandma’ photo – The Gallery”