Archive for March, 2009

brass bands, big bangs, many hands…

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

After a fab science week the RI lecture “As if by magic” just seemed too good and too opportune to miss, especially once we knew that the Porticos, Monsterteenies and Manorborns were going to be there. Alison offered to keep A busy for me, which was a bonus – I know she can sit through such things without being loud or distracting to others, but it is still distracting to me and selfishly I wanted to enjoy the lecture too.

Gina works on a Monday so I knew they wouldn’t be able to make it, but offered to take J and Em with us; they’re so nearly a part of the family anyway that it’s hardly any more trouble to have them than not :) Em had things on, but J was at a loose end so we decided a sleepover on Sunday was the best plan (and a treat for J’s birthday) and then we could catch the 9:00 train (earliest one we’re allowed with railcard) and fit something in before meeting the others for lunch. Bob took us to the station to save having to worry about parking and we arrived with what should have been plenty of time, only to find a huge queue at the ticket office because half of the automatic booths were out of order. The queue at the booth outside was much faster than that for the clerk, mostly thanks to a lady buying huge numbers of tickets for a group, so I got there first, Bob abandoned his place in the other queue and came out to join us and that was when we discovered that the machine didn’t offer tickets with Railcard discount. Frustrating, given that by now we really didn’t have much time left and I’ve bought tickets from there before with no problems. Back to the other queue, with just a few minutes to go… At last someone came and stood next to the queue with a handheld machine, so things went much faster from then on and the annoyed mutterings from those in the queue who now knew they were going to miss their train subsided somewhat. Sadly he was just not fast enough and the machine was still spitting out our tickets as the train pulled out of the station :( Bob mentioned the trouble we’d had with the automatic booth to the station master and his theory was that the machines won’t print tickets before the earliest they can be used. We tried the machine again, as it was now 9:03 and lo and behold our ticket option came up this time – not much use though, to only be able to buy a ticket at the same time as your train leaves!

Bob dashed off to work and we sat and played I spy for the half an hour until the next train, which was of course late :roll: On the train we started on lunch (of course; it must have been nearly 2 hours since breakfast!) and did some Maths Ad Libs, which turned out to be so engrossing that we very nearly missed our change and had to grab things together and scramble off the train while a helpful fellow passenger held the door for us :oops: While we were collecting ourselves again K managed to drop his ticket, which was instantly whipped away by the wind and carried across the platform, elusively just out of reach, and then whisked onto the tracks. L decided she could cope with being 4 again and nobly gave K her ticket :)
Finally made it to Finsbury Park, bought an Oyster card, negotiated the Tube and got to Green Park, where the children decided they would rather spend an hour or so playing in the park than go to the RI museum before the lecture. While they were running around we heard a band playing and saw crowds of people heading to the other end of the park so we followed suit, hoping to find out what was going on. It turned out that we were just in time to see both the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and the procession of the Queen’s Life Guard (mounted). According to the official website that means we saw the Blues and Royals, the 23 Engineer Regiment and the band of the Irish Guards – and very good they were too :) By chance we ended up scrunched up against the railings right by the main entrance, which meant we couldn’t see much of the parade but had a fantastic view of everything once they were inside the grounds. The band were fab and really made the children’s day when they played the Thunderbirds theme tune :lol: Then just as we were about to head back to the park the horse guards appeared, in stunning red and gold, so we watched them too :)
changing guard
guard
horse guards

Got back to the park just in time to meet up with Nic and co, established ourselves on a bench and got as much food into children as we could before they could contain themselves no longer and just had to charge round the park waving sticks and daffodils :lol: Other J was inclined to sit with his nose buried in a book, so I chivvied him off to play too ;) Meeting up with Porticos was accomplished smoothly, then Manorborns joined us too, with another family I didn’t know, and we had a nice congenial lunch (L said today that she really missed her new friend, the big girl with the boots who was Buttercup’s big sister and had given her a hug when she went to have her lunch :) ) and then made our way to the RI for the lecture. A fell asleep in the MT en route and I managed to transfer her to Alison still asleep, although I’m not sure how tied on she was – hopefully comfortable enough, as apparently she stayed asleep for a fair while longer and I wouldn’t want to have caused Alison any shoulder or back ache by my poor sling tying :?

We got stuck behind a large school party on the way in, but as we reached the doors to the lecture theatre they were being sent up to the gallery, while we were given seats in the main hall. The lecturer was very enthusiastic, very French and great fun. He bounced in and launched immediately into his first experiment, telling it as part of a story of how he got interested in chemistry in the first place. Apparently he used to watch a quack who sold remedies and would turn people off traditional medicines because they are all based on acids and could cause a fire inside your tummy. This claim was backed up by a metal lid with a powder on it to which said quack would add an aspirin tablet and some cough medicine, finally sprinkling it all with water. Whilst describing this the lecturer was also doing it, and lo and behold the damp mixture began to smoke and then burst into flames! Intrigued, our hero took himself off to the library to find out what could possibly have caused such a reaction and how he could make it himself. He found a book called “The Magic of Chemistry” (this one?) and the rest, as they say, is history…

The magic of chemistry was further demonstrated by setting fire to some “volcanic powder” and then by pouring clear liquids from one flask to another, turning them first pink, then clear, then pink, then clear.
lecture 1
A second set of beakers with clear liquids gave a variety of bright and deep colours when mixed, including one which did not change at all when the contents of a large beaker were poured into a small one, only to change instantly from clear to coloured when poured back into the same beaker! He showed us changes which happened just with mixing, only with the addition of water and only when heated. The most incredible one, though, must have been the change which only happened when two clear liquids were mixed and then exposed to the key of D major (or minor – I wasn’t taking notes!) by having the violin played at the beaker. Clear liquid instantly turned dark!

Describing himself as something of a pyromaniac, our lecturer then took us on a headlong rush through a number of experiments to do with fire, showing for example how the discovery that oxygen helps things to burn better led to the development of nitrocellulose, which burns so much faster and more completely than cotton wool – yes he burned both just to show us ;) – and how you can then use nitrocellulose strips to power a paper rocket… and then he got a bit carried away :lol:

Another very simple experiment showed the difference between petrol burned as a liquid and as vapour; a very simple version of the combustion engine using a tin with a lid and a hole in the bottom – drizzle the petrol around the inside of the tin, put the lid on tightly, warm the tin by holding it for a few seconds, then light the petrol vapour thus created by putting a splint to the hole and whooomph! :D As the audience began to clap they were rapidly halted, with the exclamation “No! No! Your car does this thousands of times a second – do you clap every time?!” Oh, and we were told we must remember Boyle ;)

Then we got onto a series of experiments using liquid nitrogen :) He poured liquid nitrogen over water in a beaker to show the change of state of the water (and was rather disappointed, I think, when the ice and the beaker creaked and crackled, but nothing broke; he poured on a bit more but to no avail!) and put a bendy rubber tube into liquid nitrogen to show that it became hard and brittle – with the fantastic bonus effect of creating a chimney which vented boiling nitrogen, warmed by the air in the tube and released as a great cloud of steam puffing out through the tube liquid nitrogen

Attention turned then to the amazing properties of air, in being able to be compressed. Liquid nitrogen was poured over a large balloon, filled just with air, and we watched as it shrivelled away almost to nothing. cold balloon shrivelled and then marvelled as the lecturer picked it up and bounced it gently around between his hands and into the air, warming the air molecules up again until he was once again holding a fully inflated balloon! A quick bit of drama, enacting the part of a very cold, very slow air molecule cold air molecules and we were off again, onto the next thing, which proved to be a balloon helicopter (that compressible air again!) and then a swift solo on the bugle (other J beside me was muttering “French horns are better!” :lol: ) Another name to remember: Lavoisier :)

By now, he was starting to look a little tired and to cough theatrically from time to time. As he began the next experiment, which involved burning something else – my mind blanks as to what – he asked plaintively for a cup of tea (“one milk, one sugar” – I knew it was fishy then, as no Frenchman I know drinks tea that way!) and a teapot and cup appeared in short order, but without milk. Feigning great distress he poured himself a cup, raised it to his lips and protested that it was far too hot. Brainwave! Liquid nitrogen would cool it down ;) tea

Back to the experiment in hand – wish I could remember what he was burning, but whatever it was, it burned better with oxygen added :)
Then it was a quick romp through clear gases – oxygen, nitrogen or air? Use a lighted splint to find out :) – a reminder (using large glass jars with molecule-beads in them) that air is a mixture rather than a pure substance and a look at the apparatus used to extract carbon dioxide, which was then used to extinguish a row of candles CO2

I’m sure you’ve noticed the balloon floating up from the bench… Oh yes! That one was hydrogen and it gave a moderate pop, some heat and a fairly bright light. Then he produced a rather larger one with hydrogen and oxygen, just to make sure we remembered the effect oxygen has on things…

After we had rescued Alison from A, or possibly the other way round, we did the usual toilet trips etc, filled in our lecture evaluation thingies – since they had gone to the trouble of doing special HE ones, we thought it was the least we could do ;) – and looked at the weather, which was really not promising for the proposed trip to The Monument. Instead we opted to make our way to South Kensington, walk towards the museums and see which one we fancied when we got there. Natural History won, mostly by virtue of being slightly nearer than the other close contender, the Science Museum. We arrived at the hands-on part in the basement after all the school parties had left but with an hour or so before it closed, so had time for the children to wander and find plenty of things to do, from food web puzzles on the computer to measuring skulls and from weighing starfish to stroking a snakeskin. There’s still loads we didn’t even see, so plenty of scope for a return trip or ten :) When we were thrown out of there the rest of the museum was still open so we travelled through fossils to volcanoes and then back to bugs – all very bright and appealing, with lots to see and do; I think each child (and adult!) picked up on different things.

Leaving there at about 6, we all walked to the tube station together, then said goodbye to Nic and co and got on a train with Manorborns. It was very busy so lots of head counting going on and no seats. When one did become free Michelle did a lovely job of loudly telling me I had to sit down, since I was carrying my baby, but the man behind her shoved past and took it anyway. Two nice young ladies stood up instead and offered us their seats, then a couple more were vacated at the next stop, until eventually we were all sitting :) We said goodbye to Michelle and C at Holborn and then counted stations to Finsbury Park, where we found a chip shop whose large portions really were (we got three between the six of us and had to throw some away!) and made it to the platform with a few minutes to spare for the 18:58. Sadly no seats to be found, so we parked ourselves in the corridor, spread out a newspaper as a tablecloth and had a feast of chips, red pepper slices and smoothie – is that balanced? At the next stop enough people got off for us to bag 4 seats round a table, but I made what later proved to be the mistake of putting my coat up into the luggage rack out of the way, a thing I never normally do because I am paranoid I will forget it. It turns out I was right to be paranoid :(
J and J DSed (My French Coach) while K, L and A (kinda) coloured and I read an abandoned paper (1p a month mortgage anyone?) until we got to our station, where I safely got children and bags off the train but forgot my coat until just a split second too late. We were home and children on the way to bed just a few minutes later; we said they could read for 5 minutes, but I don’t think many of them lasted that long :)

Science old and new

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

I’ve just been playing A some of the ThruYou videos (see the mother of all funk chords post) and after the jungle-ish one ended she said “Turn it off. Bit loud.” Last night I got my first “I wuv oo Daddy” from her, which was very nice indeed. She’s also developed the handy phrase “Where’s-a Mummy doin’?”.

I’ll leave Katy to fill in the weekday stuff as it largely didn’t involve me, but I’ll try to catch up last weekend and today. Tadcu (my father-in-law i.e. the children’s grandfather who lives in Wales – hence the name) came over last weekend. He’s going to be doing Kentwell (hurray!) and so had to go to an open day, and stayed with us on the way. While he was doing that on the Saturday we hit the Science Festival, which pretty much ends this weekend. As I was walking back to get the car today I thought “This is all free, lots of fun and educational too – we really ought to get more organised next year and have far-away home ed. friends over for one or other of the weekends so they could do it too.”

Back to last weekend. J nearly didn’t do any as his behaviour had been so bad. He managed to bring it back to missing some of the things that we’d booked for him (L went in his place.) In the morning we saw Lucy Hawking (Stephen’s daughter) give a talk about their forthcoming book about space and the solar system, went to a lecture on ice-cream, and learned a bit about the physics of bicycles and then made our own out of construction straws, pipe cleaners and plasticene. The ice-cream lecture had a polished, corporate presentation by a bloke from Unilever about making Vienettas and so on, then some students made some ice cream using liquid nitrogen, cocoa and other things which largely ended up on the floor! There were free samples (made by Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry – yum!).

Anglia Ruskin University (the former poly in Cambridge) had their own stuff going on in the Guildhall which was near the main science site. It was great for both universities to get involved, and to use non-lab buildings too. J got to play with a theremin and an oscilloscope hooked up to a couple of signal generators, and they all got to play hula hoop on Wii Fit courtesy of the Sports Science people.

We’d managed to get tickets to the big experiment place – usually we’re not that organised. On the way in there was a fantastic simple demonstration to show the shape of air bubbles in water. They’re not balls or tear-drops, they’re jelly-fish shaped. After doing the main experiments place we found that the only thing still open was material science, which I’d never been into before despite having had my lectures very near when I was a student. This was probably the most fun of the day.

There was a ferro-magnetic liquid in a beaker – it looks like thin motor oil until you put a magnet underneath, which made it stick up like an oily hedgehog. There was a big tray of iron filings with an enormous magnet underneath, and you could put on gloves and then have a play – literally hands-on with magnetism. I saw what looked like a standard issue mad scientist bubbling cauldron, but there was no chemistry involved – a bowl of water with an ultrasonic loudspeaker in the bottom. The vibrations from the speaker shook droplets of water away from the surface of the water to form a cloud just above it.

Back home tired, but having had fun and learned a thing or two. On Sunday Katy was preaching in the morning. Tadcu took K and L off to West Stow as it was doing Anglo-Saxon technology as part of the science festival. A, J, Katy and I went to the church which is just round the corner from where we used to live. The thought of going there doesn’t usually fill us with joy, partly because it’s in a relatively rough part of town, and partly because it’s pretty much run by one family, the patriarch of which is a my-way-or-the-high-way kind of man with theology to match. In the end it wasn’t as bad I feared, because he seems to be taking a back seat and his son’s taking over, who is more laid back. We then zoomed off to West Stow to join the others.

There wasn’t as much going on as we thought there’d be, and also not as many visitors as we were expecting. We looked around the reconstructed buildings, admired the pole lathe, Tadcu whittled sticks a bit and had a go at archery. K and L had had a go before we arrived, so I queued with J – it seemed unusual for an adult to be doing it, but I wasn’t going to miss it in a hurry as I have long wanted to have a go. The man doing it had lots of different bows for children and adults. J used a modern bow with pulleys and a strange shape, and then a baby longbow – he did quite well. I had a go with a longbow with a 35lb pull (how hard you have to pull on the string to get the bow to bend – proper battle ones had a 90lb pull and these days could put an arrow through a car door). It was fantastic! The closest thing to how it felt was maybe a John McEnroe style serve in tennis – you wind yourself up to store energy and then release it in one go and watch something fly smoothly (you hope). There’s a very good playground in the car park, and the kids all had fun (until L got tired and then got sand in her eye => wailing).

At the risk of making this War and Peace, I’ll fast forward to today. We stared in a gentle lie-ins kind of way, and then Science Festival part 2 (or 3, depending on how you’re counting). The Maths Centre out to the west is another place I’d not been to before – mostly because it hadn’t been built when I was a student. I must confess I wasn’t expecting it to be loads of fun for young children, but then I hadn’t realised that much of it was in the applied maths department which means fluids, which means water, sand, golden syrup and air (and traffic flows, muesli, blood and other interesting things).

The most fun bit was the high speed cameras usually used for worthy research, but this time used to catch the dying moments of water balloons as children dropped them! They all had a go, got more or less wet and saw amazing images of the balloons deforming before they burst – K’s started off normal and ended up looking like a cottage loaf. There was a swirling vortex thing, so I asked the research student what the best way was to stir a cup of tea to mix the milk in – should it be round and round, or more random to jumble it all up? He wasn’t sure as there were several effects going on at once, but fortunately one of the professors knew that it was round and round (I forget the details of the explanation). But it depends on the thickness of what you’re stirring, so paint and treacle should be more random, and maybe tea if you put loooooads of sugar in it.

J and K had a sit in front of the thermal imaging cameras, that showed the heat from your hand warming up the air above it, and also the warm air coming out of your nose and mouth – we have two dragons in the family. We learned that the stickiness of air keeps you alive – it means that when you breathe out it forms a jet and travels far away, so that when you breathe in (from all around) you’re breathing largely fresh air. If the jet didn’t happen when you breathed out, you’d be continually rebreathing the same air which would get less and less rich in oxygen.

We also learned the fastest way to empty a bottle of water – swirl it around to make a vortex like an emptying bath, so that the water stays around the edges to leave a gap up the middle for the air to get in. Most of this was with J, E and S and their parents, which was nice, plus half of another local home ed. family briefly. There was a golden syrup sewing machine (hard to explain, but made pretty patterns), and a thing showing avalanches in sand forming in waves, and a big tank of water for making water waves.

When we got up to the main bit I bumped into a former colleague, a friend from college, and a neighbour from our old house. The friend from college is now part of NRICH, so I told him how J had been enjoying it. J, K and L got a creme egg each from a loud mathmo with an air-zooka, and K was chief record taker for a demonstration that used a pack of cards to show how measles spreads.

The vet school is where Big Alice’s mum works, and another place I’d never been to. So we ran there to catch the last hour or so and meet Big Alice. There were some alpacas and 2 week old calves, a plastic back end of a cow for practising for those James Herriot oops-where’s-my-arm moments (that had been used as a lucky dip for sweets(!) but was empty by the time we got there), and some rather grim bugs to look at under microscopes. It was weird being on a small farm that was part of the university and right next to the maths, physics and computing departments.

Big Alice was doing snakes with her mum, and they all said hello to her and the snakes. While we chilling (parents) or going loopy (children) on the grass outside Big Alice finished her stint and then came out and presented them with some full snake skins that had been shed – made K very chuffed.

Then across the road to astronomy, to show Katy where the boys do their astronomy club. Painting of polystyrene balls to be planets, watching a demo of a computer program that’s only impressive if you know what’s going on (N body simulation) and then I headed off to get the car and left the others looking at moon rocks or something.

Photos on Flickr (with more on Monday) and tomorrow we’ll be sleeping, catching up on housework and other boring but necessary things like that.

Too much information

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Not the song by The Police, but life in general and in particular life involving computers.

Clay Shirky gave an interesting talk about this, how long it’s been going on (longer than you think) and what to do about it.

It made me think, and I don’t agree with everything, but there’s quite a lot to mull over.

Busy and good weekend just gone – most blog about it, but too little time…

The Mother of All Funk Chords

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Not a title I’m in danger of needing again, I think.

3:38 of mash-up groove genius, via 43 Folders.

Things I learned today

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

We are now back from the Kentwell open day (one of two registration-ish things you have to do if you’re going to participate). Up early, sat in the boot with J so that we could give a lift to Big Alice. I slept most of the way there and back, so I’m now not sleepy :-( . The queuing was a slight improvement on last year, which wasn’t hard. We don’t know what any of us will be doing, or which of the three weeks we’ll be doing it in. It’s complicated because of wanting to do things with other people, and when they end up doing and what…

Anyway, I learned some things today, which was excellent as I think it’s very important to keep remembering that learning isn’t just something our children do – we all do it. Given how little history I did at school, history is something I just pick up randomly at Kentwell. Unfortunately I still need to find or make a proper chronology of important things, because depending on which year we’re pretending it is, each of those will or will not have happened. For instance, which wife is Henry VIII on now? (It’ll be 1535, so Anne Boleyn.) Wikipedia and other online things are great, but I haven’t found it all laid out in a straight line yet.

The things I learned today:

  1. brawling – this originally meant a kind of dance, which you might do in the streets.
  2. crank starting a car’s engine – this is easier the more cylinders the engine has. Someone turned up in a Toad of Toad Hall type car (probably a 1905 Oldsmobile) and we had a very interesting chat in the queue about his cars. The more cylinders in the engine, the more chance at least one will fire with a given amount of turn of the handle i.e. on a V12 you’ll have tried 3 cylinders after only a quarter of a turn. The fact that you’re moving more metal than in a smaller engine is less important.
  3. Henry VIII’s armour was helpful to NASA – when NASA started sending people to the moon, they studied the fully-enclosed armour that Henry VIII had made for the Field of the Cloth of Gold. (This included behind the knees, around the backside etc.) Given how little history I know, I had to bounce around Wikipedia learning about what The Field of the Cloth of Gold was. He never wore it in the contest as Francis said it was cheating – for instance it the knuckle joints could be locked, so you could grip your sword, lock them, and then never be disarmed. It was the pinnacle of Tudor armoury, and not used.

When it came to filling in the Tudor skills section of the application form, I am usually mildly depressed by how little I can offer. But this year I noticed the Pike Drill section, and for the first time could rate myself as competent! (I know which end to stick into the spaniard / frenchman / etc.) Huzzah!

When I grow up Daddy I want to be…

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Interesting video on an interesting site.

Ten minutes…

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Monday – last of the Monday CHEF sports, at least for us. It may re-emerge in a slightly different form, but for now Monday is the only day we don’t have something on and I need that free time! All the children overslept, so we were late. L was very waily and we didn’t really have time to do birthday things, but she wasn’t in the mood anyway :( We missed the younger children’s sport fairly effectively, arriving just in time for J to do some music theory with Gina and K to do some reading with me, then J and K went into their sports sessions – K had decided to have a go in the older group since it was the last session anyway. L was not very bouncy and just sat with me pretty much the whole time, while A was very clingy and determined not to let me out of her sight, so it was not the relaxed chat opportunity it sometimes is!
In view of this, we decided not to go to the park afterwards, especially as Gina ended up taking J and E home early after J got knocked over in the class. We had to go to Susan’s to collect Suma stuff anyway, and Chris very kindly suggested that he come with us to collect their share of stuff straight away rather than us having to bring it back here and sort it out, so we drove straight there after the session, sorted out Suma and then came home, eating leftover pizza in the car for lunch.
The children still had party presents unopened and L had birthday pressies from family, so we agreed to open things as long as thank you letters got written too. I must remember this plan for next time too; those are easily the most painless letters so far ;) L snuggled down under the covers and failed to summon up much enthusiasm for anything, though, gradually deteriorating throughout the afternoon :( We played Sssh, Don’t Wake Dad, to much hilarity from A and the boys, we blew bubbles, and we read some of Alice Through the Looking Glass, A’s Christmas present from her godparents (yes, it’s that long since we saw them, despite the fact that we go to the same church!) and between them the children managed to write 4 thank you letters, with a few sentences from each child – a few words from L after an initial burst of enthusiasm, but she was clearly unwell by now, with a temperature and flushed cheeks, but shivering cold. Bob got back in time to be shown various treasures and we ate leftover soup for tea, except L who had next to nothing and then a large celebratory (if that’s the word) last BF – she and I talked a long time ago about when she thought would be the time to stop and decided that 5 was a Big Girl and Big Girls don’t need Mummy milk.

Tuesday should have been swimming, but L didn’t wake up until after 10 and was clearly not at all well then, so we didn’t go. Instead we got lots of everyday work done – Maths mostly, as the boys felt, not unreasonably, that thank you letters should count as English. I feel terribly far behind on normals atm – there just aren’t enough ordinary days in our week; I fear something will have to go!

Wednesday was Latin etc, which was here, then at the Beans, then here again, but all the while uncertain anyway depending on how L was… Fortunately she felt better, although still very tired – mostly thanks to having woken up (and woken us all up) with nightmares. We managed to get the timings to work well this week, with younger Latin (Britons are best! Next time we’re going to share ancient stories from different traditions, because they all decided that Candidus’ story was better than the Roman ones we’d read so far) and Fimo dinosaurs, then older Latin (Off to town vocab, then new chapter, then silly sentences game with adverbs and verbs), middlies Music and littlies Science (looking at the bones we’ve been soaking in vinegar, then making anatomy tee-shirts), then older Science (same but more so!) and littlies French (reading shopping story and then playing Je voudrais… and adding a new item each time – Michelle did a grand job of remembering them all :) then weather phrases and pictures). Somewhere in there was snack and lunch and lots of playing and chatting too – a very productive morning :D
We made it to Baby Music on time too, then a quick trip to the park before Gymnastics (but we were late for that :oops: ) and the usual mad dash back to get J ready for Cubs – which this week meant a lift with the new Cubs leader as they were off to see a police helicopter. I might try to get *him* to blog that ;)

Today was Tots and Nots, which was nice and quiet :) We got there early enough to get going before other people got there, which always seems to work better. J did piano practice, while K did some Music Theory and L and I did a game with some keyword flashcards. When Gina and co arrived J and J did their Music Theory while E did piano and K joined in the reading game, then E also joined us – it worked well, but L clearly hasn’t yet made the leap that K and E have; luckily it doesn’t worry her yet. The reading game somehow morphed into the French weather game, while J and J were still theorying and other people were starting to arrive. SB came and joined us, taking over my place in the game, which I think then turned into English anyway, while I went and got snack ready. Susan and K came along, which was lovely, especially as they both seemed to just slot back in :D It’s so nice to have people who just get on with things :)
After snack the older children helped me to make sausage rolls while the younger ones went downstairs and did music activities with Gina and the youngest just pootled, then we did songtime while the sausage rolls cooked and all the Tots left nicely on cue, leaving just the relevant families to do recorder, lunch and older French. There was much Twister-ing too and general catching up. We got back even later than usual, but not feeling frazzled or frustrated as we sometimes do after Tots :)
L ended up going back to bed for a bit once we were home (my choice, not hers, but it seemed to help) while J and K got some maths done and I made a large vat of soup to deliver to my friend with new baby :)
And this has taken far longer than ten minutes and I should have been in bed long ago :frog:

Party weekend

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Err… I realised that we haven’t blogged last weekend’s birthday extravaganza. A has been ill and hence very demanding for nearly a month, and Katy’s also been ill for about the same length of time, so we all got behind with the everyday things. Adding a children’s party on top was interesting! In the end part of me was glad that not everyone stayed over who might have done as it would have forced us to do even more emergency tidying / room clearing, although another part of me knows it would have been very nice to see you all!

I took all the children out on Saturday while Katy did things. The boys let me drop them at Astronomy for the first time – I usually get the joys of making fiendish paper models of things with them, but this time I had to get party shopping with the girls. Keeping SB company on her first visit helped sell the boys on the idea, and they seemed fine with it in the end.

The Babs and co arrived, so the adults consumed cups of tea, chatted and sorted things out. The children disappeared off to who knows where doing who knows what, but they seemed happy. Katy had a 4 cake marathon, with bowl-cleaning help from R, The Babs and A. See Flickr for their full glory.

We were introduced to Bohnanza (the bean game) by The Babs and Chris, and we stayed up till 2.30 playing it. Dirty stop-ins, eh? It was weird and nice to be staying up that late without poorly children being involved. Very good, and I much prefer it to the world-domination type of game such as Risk.

Katy very kindly let me sleep in on Sunday, but had been up herself with A since early. Somehow she lasted the day! The Goddards arrived in time for lunch, but a slow kitchen clock meant we were late leaving for the hall – sorry to those who arrived before us. Chris very kindly dropped me off with the first stuff and then the second wave came with all the rest.

The weather was very much better than the forecast at the start of the week, for which I was most grateful. I’m also very grateful for how much everyone pitched in with food, help and games – honourable mention to tea lady The Babs and Big Alice’s multi-layer jelly.

We started with a snowball fight with scrumpled up newspapers, where you had to clear your quarter of the floor (an idea I pinched from J’s cub pack). The adults and girls tied first place. Hurrah! Then skin the snake, which had to be done but led to some dodgy-looking photos. Big Alice organised a great treasure hunt out on the field. The Ha Ha! game was abandoned as no-one got the giggles. The Goddards’ parachute got properly played with, and the Taylors’ musical islands game went well despite the lack of music.

The rush to get to the hall meant we had left behind the dice needed for the Chocolate Dressing Up Game, so Katy did elephants / monkeys / mice outside while I zoomed back. (It’s rock / paper / scissors in 2 teams, with the winning team having to run after the losing team.)

After cake, we chucked the children out to the playground next to the hall while clearing up happened – more very kind help. Some people went home, and others came back to our for leftovers and cups of tea. Barbie was liberated from her cake and relaxed in a big bowl of jelly with some friends, the children disappeared, some very nice home-made presents were handed over and eventually everyone left and we collapsed.

Unfortunately not all the leftovers were consumed, so we have been forced to eat pizza, cake and other goodies for a few days. Thank you to everyone who came and made it a very nice weekend.

Interesting quote

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Taken from from an interview with Alan Moore. You might not be a fan of any/some of his work, but this made me think:

All too often education actually acts as a form of aversion therapy, that what we’re really teaching our children is to associate learning with work and to associate work with drudgery so that the remainder of their lives they will possibly never go near a book because they associate books with learning, learning with work and work with drudgery. Whereas after a hard day’s toil, instead of relaxing with a book they’ll be much more likely to sit down in front of an undemanding soap opera because this is obviously teaching them nothing, so it is not learning, so it is not work, it is not drudgery, so it must be pleasure. And I think that that is the kind of circuitry that we tend to have imprinted on us because of the education process.

It does remind me of this rather geeky cartoon, too.

Cornwall

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Helen Haricot very kindly pointed out a Khyam Excelsior on eBay, going very cheaply. We weren’t actively looking for a new tent, but it was a bargain and ended up getting it, a bit to our surprise. I expect most of the reason why it was so cheap was that you had to collect it from St. Austell in Cornwall.

So I took a long weekend off work and we headed off to collect it. Unfortunately I forgot the camera, so filled up my phone with poor quality photos. This also gave us a chance to stop off with friends en route and have a nice time with them. They are bookworms and mathematicians, so we all enjoyed a new book and K enjoyed a new game.

The next day we headed off again, and stopped in Okehampton for lunch. It was very nice (our first visit), and had a very good bakery. Next stop St. Austell with big hiils, and we picked up the tent. Then a short hop to the camp site, which was lovely. It was just outside the splendidly-named village of London Apprentice, complete with its Primitive Methodist chapel.

The tent had both its bedrooms on, so putting it up was even trickier than it could have been. A was continuing her grotty patch, the other three didn’t help much either, and it started getting dark by the time we had it able to be slept in. It wouldn’t have won any prizes for a well-pitched Khyam, but it was good enough. We’d been inadvertantly misled by the seller about what some of the poles were, which puzzled us for a bit, but we know for next time. Katy took off one of the bedrooms so we would huddle into the remaining one for warmth. Even with just one bedroom it’s enormous. I think Khyam should name their tents after cathedrals (the Lincoln, the Durham…) as they have the size and aerodynamics of one. I have used tents smaller than one of the bedrooms. And the main bit is cavernous!

I disappeared off in search of takeaway for tea and grossly over-catered Chinese, which various people scattered all over the place when I got back, and K managed to tip about a litre of water over our bedding :( . Under enough blankets and coats we got to sleep, squeezed in, and listening to owls and other birds I can’t remember now.

The next day we just pootled about, as we’d done lots of driving the two days before and would be doing the next day. So we went to the swimming pool, the mini play barn thing, said hello to the goats and donkeys and headed off to Mevagissey for lunch as it was just down the road. (We decided against any of the big local things like the Eden Project or Heligan, as we only got ourselves organised late in the day.)

Mevagissey is lovely. We ate in a restaurant in the harbour, which was almost over-the-top in its decor (see Flickr) and had lots of simple but very nice food. Couldn’t manage a cream tea after a big first course. Then we wandered around a bit, and found a proper sweet shop. It had rows and rows of jars, a nice chap serving behind the counter who would weigh you out a quarter (or in metric), and us parents indulged in several trips down memory lane. We passed on the life-sized Cornish pasty made of chocolate!

One thing Mevagissey doesn’t have is a beach, so on the way back to the camp site we stopped at Pentewan. We couldn’t get onto the private beach for a camp site, so we stayed on the smaller public one, which is a slightly strange very fine grit rather than sand or shingle. Despite it being definitely coat weather, it was still very nice indeed. If I lived near the sea my soul would be healthier, but then I live near a river and don’t take advantage of that.

The children got black tongues from the black jacks we’d just bought, collected stones and shells, played chicken with the waves and really enjoyed themselves. We had decided to travel light in order to fit in the tent without needing the roof box, so takeaway for tea. Pizza from a kebab shop in St. Austell, followed by Angel Delight – all by torchlight back in the tent.

On Monday we packed up the tent, which I think was less stressful than putting it up, played in the playground for a bit, said goodbye to the goats and donkeys and then headed off. We planned to stop off at a random National Trust place on the way back, and tried Finch Foundry. Unfortunately it was closed till March, so we just had a mooch about for a bit, found a groovy thatched summerhouse (see Flickr) and then drove on.

Katy persuaded me to stop at Exeter as we passed although I took until the last turning to grudgingly accept her suggestion. The Cathedral was charging £5 per adult to get in, which made us a bit grumpy (or rather, me grumpier, as it seemed a lot to get into a church, but then coming here and not going in seemed silly too. Grrr…) In the end Katy took pity on me and cleared off to the shops with the children for a wander while I went in.

It is fantastic – the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England, an organ with huuuuuge pipes, a splendid pre-Copernicus clock, the most enormous carved wooden canopy over the bishop’s throne, and peace.

We met up in the Cathedral tea-room, which rivals the Houses of Parliament tea-room, with its vaulted ceiling. We finally managed to get a cream tea, and learned the difference between the Cornish way of doing it (scone, butter, jam, cream) and the Devonian way (scone, cream, jam).

Nice though the stop-off was, it did mean we were very late home, and I dragged myself into work quite tired on Tuesday.