Friday, 18 November 2016

Book Review - All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

Nancy is four, nearly five. She talks all the time: in the car, on the way to nursery, to her brother, to her collection of bears. And then one day everything changes. Nancy's mum and dad split up, her father moves across the country, and Nancy stops talking.

Eva is forty-four, nearly forty-five. She always knew marrying a much older man meant compromises, but she was sure it was worth it – until Mickey dies suddenly, leaving Eva with only his diaries and a voice in the back of her mind telling her that perhaps she's sacrificed more than she meant to.
The family are trying to negotiate their way around the parents breaking up and having to invade on Aunty Eva for Patrick's bi-weekend visits.  Nancy has stopped talking and can only manage the odd whisper in a safe place whilst Joel is desperate for attention.

From the moment I saw the cover and read the description I knew I wanted to read this book.  I wasn't disappointed.  As soon as I started I was hooked on the characters, 10 year old Joel who can't sit still and has a penchant for musicals, chatterbox 4 year old Nancy and her parents; kooky Caitlin and up tight Patrick. Throw in Eva, Patrick's widowed sister and two adorable pugs Bumble and Bee and you have the recipe for a heart breaking but uplifting story.

The story sensitively deals with a number of issues including selective mutism, bereavement and divorce.  It gently guides the family through the situations with the reader developing a real ache to want to reach out and help.  To be honest by the end of the book I was an emotional wreck.

If you want a book to snuggle onto the sofa with whilst hibernating from the cold, then choose this one, you wont regret it.  Just don't forget to have the tissues ready!

All I Ever Wanted is released on 1st December 2016 and is published by Hodder & Stoughton 

I was kindly provided a free copy from Hodder & Stoughten via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Book Review: The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam

Evan is a nurse, he is also an assistant.  He works for a sponsored Euthanasia project assisting the terminally ill to achieve an end they feel comfortable with.  Evan doesn't tell his friends and lovers what he does, and his Mother; who has a degenerative disease seems more than comfortable with his job and his role in her future.  As time goes by Evan finds the lines blurred and considers his situation. Who has the choice to live or die?

The main character; Evan, has few friends and this is explained by way of his upbringing with his Mother and their seemingly chaotic life.  At times he seems detached and others too involved. He has a relationship with two men which he can't fully commit to. He comes across as a man who struggles with emotions. 

Although not what I would term a page turner, it's interesting and thought provoking. This book covers a highly sensitive subject remarkably well  and I believe would help give an understanding of the thoughts and processes of both the patient and the assistant to the reader . 

Whatever your thoughts on it, Steven Amsterdam has managed to broach the subject with a beautifully careful understanding and an insight into the world of Assisted Suicide through his own work as a palliative care nurse.

This book was provided free of charge by Riverrun & Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Release date is 3rd November 2016 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A Little Light Reading

It's been "revealed" the age at which parents stop reading to their children is:   11

I have one of them and I've stopped reading to him.  I love books, I love reading and getting lost in a story with characters I care about and want to join on whatever part of their journey.  But I don't want to do it reading out loud to someone who's not really that interested, wishing they were playing on their X-box or watching YouTube and keeps asking me inane questions to waste time.

By the time the 11 year old is going to bed it's 9pm. I'm tired and have usually lost patience and the will to live by then.  I've been up since 6am, made packed lunches, done one school run, commuted on trains to work and back and done an 8 hour stint in the office. Meals are made and questions are raised about the homework that should or shouldn't be done.  I've argued with both children about showers and hair washing and wrangled the 6 year old into bed bemoaning the fact the 11 year old has a later bedtime.  

I still read to the 6 year old.  She's too little for me to stop but I bet I wont be by the time she's 11. 

Do you still read to your 11 year old?  

Sunday, 11 September 2016

All Aboard The Gaming Bus

I never in a million years expected to find myself at a gaming event, yet that is what happened this weekend.  The 11 year old and I went off to Alexandra Palace in North London and spent a whole day at Legends of Gaming 2016.

I'm not a gamer in any shape or form.  Apart from my recent interest in Pokemon Go. The 11 year old is. From the age of 5 he loved his DS, playing Mario Kart and mini games. He moved onto the Wii where Mr.M and the boy played Mario Kart tournaments, they ski-ed, played tennis, darts, danced and beat up Bowser.  Then 11 year old begged for an X-box.  That was the game changer for him and us. Gone were the family fun games and in came games where he wanted to be on a headset to his friends and shoot people.

So when I saw an advert for Legends Of Gaming, I thought to myself. Aha, I know a young man who might enjoy this event and promptly booked general day tickets for £15 each.

When we arrived the queue was huge although moving quite quickly. Luckily we spotted 11 year old's friend with his Dad and we nipped in with them.
Slightly soggy in the queue.

As soon as we got in, the boys wanted to be off and running everywhere, looking at everything. Within half an hour one of the 11 year old's favourite You Tubers, Ali-A. was taking part in a tournament. The boys took their place in front of the main stage whilst the Dad and I waited off to one side. 

The boys were off the scale excited. Ali-A was competing in a Minecraft tournament against Dan-TDM. Neither of them play Minecraft much anymore but to actually see their favourites in "real life" was the equivalent of me seeing Gary Barlow.

The event obviously had lots of stalls from many, many gaming companies, There were banks of screens all over the place for kids (and many adults) to try out new and old games. There was the gaming bus and the gaming van. (available for parties).
By 3pm the Dad and I were shattered, in need of tea and a sit down. We managed to find a quiet corner, where we could re-charge our batteries. (not literally.)

The boys had walked, played, bought expensive Japanese & American candy and overall had a great day. By 4pm we managed to get them out the door.  They had a great time and really enjoyed it.

If you have a young gamer, I'd certainly recommend this event for 2017.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Bloody SATS! Part 2....

I previously posted about the amount of practice SATs tests my 10yo is currently having to endure  Bloody SATS!

The end of this current term he was sent home with 12 papers to complete.

Obviously, I was horrified at the thought of A) The tears, tantrums and pleading I'd have to go through to get him to complete them B) The tears, tantrums and pleading from him begging not to do them.

So I made an executive decision.  He's not done them.

Here's my letter to his teacher explaining my choice.

Dear Teacher,

As 10 year old's parents we decided he didn't have to complete the 12 sets of SATS practice papers he was sent home with at the start of the Easter Holidays.  We felt due to the amount of practice papers they have already completed in school time and the undue amount of pressure the school has put on the pupils to pass these tests, he deserved a break which we believe the school holidays are meant to do.

As we spoke at our Parents Evening meeting, I said I felt the SATs hold no meaning or worth to the children.  You pointed out they will not be fazed by the exams when they happen as they will know what to expect and yes, to a certain extent I agree.  However they have been doing test papers since January. They know what to expect by now.  They have been told if they fail they will have to re-take them in year 7. That is as maybe, however, it's not constructive to put this pressure on children to pass a test that will have no bearing on their future.

The 10 year old  has attended four sessions at Explore Learning so has had four hours of education throughout the break.  I will return the blank papers for you to use.

We have explained to the 10 year old that although it is our choice he didn't complete the work he will probably get a code for this.

Yours sincerely

Am I right to give him a break during school holidays? What are your thoughts on how your school deals with the SATs?

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Eagle Has Landed. Film Review: Eddie The Eagle

If like me you were a child of the 1970's and 80's and grew up in Great Britain, you would know who Eddie The Eagle was.  He was the odd looking man who was our sole representative at Ski Jumping in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Now, almost 30 years on; Dexter Fletcher -
previously of Press Gang fame (another child of the 80's reference there.) and my secret crush, has made Eddie the Eagle's story into a film.

Luckily I was able to get two preview tickets from ShowFilmFirst so of course I took along the 10 year old.  He was oblivious to Eddie The Eagle and his fight for flight in 1988.

Obviously the film has used some poetic license and it is "based" on a true story.  Hugh Jackman's character is fictitious - but who cares? He's lovely.  Taron Egerton played the part of Michael "Eddie" Edwards brilliantly and it was a far cry from his character in The Kingsman.

I spent a large proportion of watching time egging Eddie on, wanting him to compete and win. This film is real inspirational feel-good family movie. It doesn't matter if your children have never heard of Eddie the Eagle. It's about determination to make your dreams come true.  A reminder that it's the taking part, the Olympics are for amateurs (not that you'd know it now) and self belief can get you anywhere.

The 10 year old and I give it 5 stars and recommend you go and see it.

Eddie The Eagle is on at cinemas from April 1st.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Bloody SATS!

Those of you who have had or currently have a child in year 6 at school have either thought or are thinking this at the moment.

Bloody SATS!

There, I've said it and I feel better. Just a little.

Actually it's not the actual SATS I have an issue with. I understand the Government need a way to mean test the schools and see how they perform with actually educating our children.  What I have a massive problem with is the schools cramming so many practice tests on our children from January to May that they become utterly demoralised, un-interested and can't wait to leave the place and head off to their next adventure of bigger school.

I have a 10 year old in year 6 currently. He is tested on maths and literacy every day. It's too much. Sadly, it means the actual SATS are worthless, It's a result not based on what your child has achieved to learn over the past few years but what they can remember that has been crammed into their minds in the past four - five months.  It's too little, too late and ultimately not a true representation of the schools education system.

This year we have been told they are harder than ever. Some of the literacy they are expected to know is of GCSE standard.  I can construct a sentence but I'm buggered if I know what a modal verb or a subjunctive clause is.  Do you?

This year they are tested more aggressively on spelling, punctuation and grammar.  Oh and handwriting.  Now you may have seen my previous post about handwriting The Writing Rant  and the fact schools are told to teach children cursive writing when it's about as much use as a chocolate tea-pot.  As long as it's neat and readable and they know when to use lower or upper case.  When they get to Secondary school, they can write how they want.

I also disagree with the schools boosting. They take the high achievers and boost them to get their marks up. They take the low achievers to try and scrape them through.. then the plodders are left bobbling along.

Today is the day many of us find out what secondary school our child is going to.  As far as I can tell, most secondary schools don't even use the SATS to group the children when they start, preferring to place the children themselves.

Maybe it's time the government changed this outdated system and actually used teacher reports to grade the schools for their league tables?

What are your thoughts on the SATS?

Friday, 29 January 2016

My Thoughts On.... Names

This week, Wayne and Colleen Rooney welcomed their third son into the world.  Whilst the birth of a child is a wonderful thing, it's a serious undertaking. So is naming your child.  Their three sons are Kai, Klay and Kit.  From here on in known as KKK..  as one twitter user succinctly put it:

In the summer of 2013, Katie Hopkins caused absolute uproar because she candidly said she judged parents and children alike because of their names.  She went too far saying she wouldn't let her children play with others whose names she disliked.  But, whether we all like it or not, we judge on looks and names. As adults, if we went to school with someone who wasn't always so nice, we are pre-dispositioned not to necessarily warm to another person of that name immediately.

Choosing a name for your bundle of joy can be a tough experience. If you don't know what gender to expect you have two lots to get it down to.  MrM and I spent hours on names.  With the 10 year old we didn't know gender. We had a book of baby names. Night after night I called out names and we both wrote separate lists of what we liked. then we compared lists and only kept it to names we had on both lists.  That whittled it down to about four. Then it was haggling with our favourites.  I'm pleased to say 10 years on and I'm still happy with it and he seems to quite like it too.

The 6 year old was a lot easier. We started with the list we'd made four years previously. Did we still like those names? Was there any we wanted to add? Did it fit with the rest of the family?  You see; I think that's fairly important. You can't have two children called Bert & Ernie and then another called Hendrix.

Some countries have baby naming laws.  Germany, Sweden & Denmark to name just a few.  Often it's to ensure you can recognise a child's gender by it's name,  that traditional names are kept and that your child is not going to grow up embarrassed having been named after a piece of pottery or fruit.

There's also the question of being able to spell your name.. or can anyone else spell your child's name?

It's Marc with a "c"

I have a coffee shop name.  It makes life easy. I don't have a particularly difficult name but people struggle to say it or spell it right.  I blame it on three vowels in a five letter name.

The top 5 baby names of 2015 in the UK were these:

Are there any surprises in there?  How did you choose your children's names?

Monday, 25 January 2016

Go Green - It's Shrek The Musical. A Review

For some reason the Shrek films kind of bypassed us in our house. I had definitely seen the first two and I'd seen Puss In Boots.  The 10 year old had seen the first one but couldn't remember it.  In the run-up to Christmas, they were showing on BBC so I recorded them. We were going to visit Shrek's Adventure in London so I wanted the children to have an idea of what they were going to see.

Whilst flicking through the "What's On" at Wimbledon Theatre, I saw Shrek The Musical was coming to town.  I love a musical.

The New Wimbledon Theatre is a beautiful Edwardian building built in 1910. This does mean small seats, creaky toilets and a heating system possibly set to boil.  But don't let this put you off visiting; the transport links are great and there is plenty of parking available.

The musical follows the film accurately. The show opens with a little back story on Shrek and Fiona that you don't get from the Dreamworks film. They are both made to leave home at the age of seven and fend for themselves. Shrek in his swamp and Fiona banished to the tower to wait for her Knight in shining armour.

The costumes are fabulous, the acting is magnificent.  I won't give away how Lord Farquaad is on stage but Gerard Carey the actor playing him certainly stole the show and was a triumphant baddie in my opinion.  The 6 year old was either in peals of laughter, (especially when Fiona and Shrek were belching and trumping). or she was dancing in her seat. She was on the edge of her seat constantly. Although she was so hot by the interval she was actually topless!  Shrek is not just for the younger ones though.  There's plenty of adult jokes delicately positioned without taking any shine from the children's enjoyment.

If you are looking for somewhere to take your children and maybe introduce them to theatre then I can't recommend this highly enough.  We had an amazing evening and I think my children will be talking about this night out for a long time to come.