Tuesday, 30 April 2013


I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.   I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 16 – Submit no more to the machine, Use your hands – USE A SCYTHE
The great dream of machines doing all the dirty work, leaving us to pursue pleasure has never materialised.  Machines still need tending, but tending a machine is more boring than the original job!  Plus, owning and maintaining them costs more money, which means that we have to work harder.  Not only do modern machines in the workplace make people look bad (they never arrive late or call in sick), but they now invade our personal and rest time as well.  The dreaded Blackberry and i-phone mean that you are now expected to be available to work all the time, even when you are on holiday or in the pub.  So machines have made life more lonely and more boring, and harder work.  Go back in time a little.  Instead of thinking about what you want, think about what you can do without.  Enjoy the use of tools rather than machines, and take back control of your life.

How does this match up to the Ink-Spots-and-Grass-Stains Life?
I’ve been hankering after an i-phone just lately.  Everybody else seems to have one, and I quite like the idea of checking my e-mails on the move, and even using twitter.  I still don’t really know what appeal that has though.  Tom’s right – it takes away the opportunity to sit and stare, to people watch, or even to be aware of your surroundings.  Heaven forbid the phone becomes a permanent extension of your right hand, and you sit surrounded by loved ones but still tapping away on the phone and focused only on that.  Perhaps I’ll leave the i-phone after all!

Monday, 29 April 2013

My crafting - knitting setback

Last time I posted about what crafting I was up to, I was aiming to finish the back of my jumper by the end of that week.
Didn't happen.
I wasn't concentrating while I was reducing stitches to shape the arm holes, and ended up with an uneven and completely wrong number of stitches on my rows.  I tried to salvage the situation, but couldn't manage it, so sadly had to unravel nearly one hundred rows of knitting.
So I started again.  On a positive note, it's neater this time, and I'm concentrating, and I'm back up to thirty rows again.  The cross-stitch is taking a break until I've finished the back of this jumper!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Aspiring Writer

I like to think of myself as a writer.  In that, well, I like to write.  I think I'm not too bad.  Ideally I'd like to write for a living.  

It's the "ideally" that's holding me up at the moment.  I don't write enough.  Actually, I do write an awful lot, but none of it is what I would describe yet as publishable quality, or, in many cases, finished.  I have a head full of ideas.  I have folders full of projects begun.  I've sent a few articles off to editors, but none have been published.  

I know I can do it, because in the past I have been paid for my writing.  I used to write a lot for Scouting Magazine (and they paid me), and I've written programme resources, a book of games, and re-written a large manual on policies of Voluntary Youth Organisations.  The problem is that these things dried up when I had my babies, and now I want them to reappear.  I want to get back to writing for money, to commissions and deadlines.  

I know that to do this I have to "get out there".  I have to make time to write properly, I have to make myself finish some of my projects and make myself send them off.  I have to network and make people know that I am a writer and I am available (desperate) to work.

So now it's over to me, and I'll be posting on here to let you know how it goes.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

HOW TO BE FREE - Banish Loneliness

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.   I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

 Chapter 15 – Banish Loneliness  – FLING OPEN YOUR DOORS

In the old days there was a collective approach to life. There was an emphasis on charity and hospitality.  The ideas of collective ownership and the common good now seem revolutionary.  We’ve gone from “love thy neighbour” to “keeping up with the Joneses” and “you’re on your own”.  In some societies you still see evidence of group fun – sitting together chatting outside your shop, playing in large groups, travelling in one big group, not the isolated tube journey that so many suffer today, shrinking even from a friendly “hello” in case they get drawn into conversation… heaven forbid!

Isolation is a relatively new (a few hundred years) phenomenon, and not a welcome one.  We stay in our own houses, with our burglar alarms, we don’t even know our neighbours, much less share with them.  Where is our camaraderie?  Life is easier when it is shared.

Embrace community, get together with neighbours and friends, put on parties and start clubs.

 How does this match up to the "ink spots and grass stains life"?

Sometimes this is hard to put into practice whatever your intentions.  You can invite people to “pop round any time”, but they don’t, and you feel a little awkward doing it to them, just in case you are intruding and they don’t really want you there, or they are busy or just unsociable.  I want to have a home where the children are in and out, sharing toys with other children, playing out.  Where my friends pop around for a cup of tea and I do the same.  Not so easy sometimes, as it involves having the trust that this is welcome.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Model railway progress

Grandad is coming to visit this weekend.  I'm looking forward to them coming, but am worrying what he'll think of our model railway.  His is enormous - it goes around his entire attic and has an incredible bridge, and lots of engines, two stations and....and...
I guess I should also remember that he's been working on model railways for more than fifty years, and we've had ours only four months, and that my companion in modelling is not yet four.  Still, here's where we've got to with our scenery:

Still very much a work in progress - papier mache and then paint is done, now we need to add some scatter materials to get the grassy look, I need to make my water more realistic, we need some fencing and some trees, I'm going to make a picnic bench and a bridge, we've got some people on the way, and C needs some sheep.  But they are far enough along that I've put them next to the railway, and C can see what they are for now.  Don't they look great with Thomas passing by?  (The playmobil people in the trucks are Bug's additions, she just can't resist!)

Monday, 15 April 2013

My Makes - What am I crafting just now?

I've got two projects on the go at the moment.  The first is a knitting journey.  I started knitting when C was a bump, working up from squares to make a blanket, to a soft toy, and then on to other soft toys and a jumper so far.  I've never made anything adult sized.  So here we are.  This is "Wendy Aran Classics Book 312", and the sleeveless variety of Design 9, shown below.
I chose this heathery purple colour of Wendy Aran (£9.99 for 400g).
 I'm hoping to finish the back this week.  I'm pretty proud of it so far, and can't wait to wear it.  That's right - It's for me!
 The other project I've made a start on is this cross stitch.  I think I've had it for about 15 years just cluttered away in a drawer, so it was about time I started.  It's Candamar Designs, Mary Baxter St. Clair, Garden of Dreams - 50917.  It includes sparkly threads, metallic gold and beads.  It's the first time I've used a printed background for cross-stitch, and the pattern design is not in the grid format, but a vague wobble, so you have to use your intuition and the background colours to guide you on where to place your stitch.  It's a little odd.  I've nearly finished her hair, but am going to leave it for a week now to concentrate on the knitting.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Wigtown - you disappoint me.

It's true.  Scotland's "book town" has disappointed a true bibliophile.
bookshop window in Wigtown, Scotland's National Book Town 

According to the website "new businesses and restored buildings all add to the vibrancy of the literary town" - erm, I must have missed that vibrancy, there certainly wasn't any when we were there!

"Wigtown has some twenty book-related businesses".  Yes, some of them are bookshops, others are bric-a-brac shops that have a shelf of books and have managed to get "books" on to their signage so that they can cash in on the book town status.

I'll admit, it was March, it was freezing, and there was a bitter East wind blowing, but really... overpriced food, signs for a playpark when no playpark could be found, signs for the old harbour with no distance on so that you walk and walk and have no idea how far it is, a "visitor centre" which is actually an RSPB centre (very good, friendly, interactive and welcoming in there by the way).  Only one or two of the bookshops were any good.  The welcome was missing.  The vibrancy was certainly missing.

I've been to Hay-on-Wye for a browse in the bookshops and was far more taken with the relaxing friendliness.  Wigtown appears to still be in hibernation, I certainly won't be bothering to make the journey there again.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Bug Maths

I first got this idea from a brilliant post here on the wonderful Imagination Tree blog.  I stored the idea away for future use and here we are.

I googled for a "ladybird template" and a "bee template" and found these ones, which I've linked to their sources below.

I printed out the templates and laminated them and then gave them to the children with a lump of playdough.  I gave each child a number.  For the ladybird they had to divide up their playdough to the appropriate number of spots, and for the bee they had to make the right number of stripes.  We tried different numbers, and also swapped over the sheets.

Lots was going on here.  C can count for himself and is now getting the hang of starting top left and counting systematically to make sure that he doesn't miss any.  He was concentrating on the motor skills involved in rolling out bee stripes, and in dividing up the playdough so that all the spots or stripes were consistent sizes.  He was also beginning to understand that the ladybird should have the same number of spots on both sides.  Bug can count to ten, but hasn't quite got number/object correspondence yet, so as she made the stripes or spots, I would count with her to see if she had enough yet.  She quite enjoyed covering the whole insect with bits of playdough!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Madly modelling

No, I'm not going down the route of becoming a model, that would be hilarious.  

For Christmas C. got a model railway from Santa.  Hubby made a table for it and got it all set up, Grandad gave a couple more engines and trucks, a colleague of Hubby gave some more truck and another engine and carriages and C adores it.  He shunts trucks and hauls coaches and will happily play with it all afternoon.  Rewards for getting 20 stars on the chart have included some people, a signal and a level crossing... so now all we need is some model to go with the railway.

This is where I confess that I got quite excited by the old copies of "Railway Modeller" magazine that Grandad passes on to C.  I love making things, and the idea of making scenery thrilled me.  Who cares about the railway!  What I want to make are market stalls, hillsides, gates, trees, waterfalls and the like.  So the scenery is my department.

To start with I thought that we'd do two corners to fit outside the oval track.  Who knows how long the layout will stay as it is, or how well we manage at our first attempt, so I decided to make them on their own bases, so that they will sit on the railway baseboard, but we can model them well away from the railway, take our time, add to them and so on, and then if we decide a year down the line that we can do a better job, we'll be able to remove them and start again.

I bought some thin plywood and squarish sticks (I don't think that's a technical term) and carefully measured and drew on my plans.  Then I needed Hubby to supervise me using his Jigsaw - apparently I'm too much of a liability to trust with a dangerous power-tool by myself.  Once I'd cut all the pieces came the job of gluing them together.  

Then it was time for C to get involved.  At the moment I don't think he really gets the modelling potential of his railway, so this is the bit that needs to inspire him.  He has a corner, and I have a corner.  I tried to explain to him that scenery is lumpy and bumpy, not flat like plywood, and then we got going with papier mache to create some rolling hills.  I know exactly what I want my corner to look like, but I think C's image is still evolving - it definitely is going to involve sheep, and may now include a fox, but he also mentioned a swimming pool in the process of doing the papier mache!

Here's what they look like at the moment:  

From this point on, I'll do my bit first, to try out the process, and then I'll be able to guide C and work with him on his the next day, when he'll be able to see from mine what it should look like.  Watch this space to see how we get on.

Monday, 8 April 2013


Goodness, it’s been a while since I’ve posted in this thread – way back in October!

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.   I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 14 – No more housework, or the Power of the Candle – LIGHT A CANDLE
Nobody likes housework.  Most of us think of it as a chore, and those who can afford it, pay somebody else to do it.  But paying a cleaner, or running a machine such as a dishwasher takes more money and therefore more work.  Surely we could do the job ourselves, and just change the way we think about it.  Yes, for sure, loading laundry and hanging washing is a lonely bore, but take pleasure in the activity, and even better, do it with somebody else, and it gets done faster and is more fun.

How about, instead of striving for your house to look just like everybody else’s (on the TV or in the magazines), why don’t you just arrange your home and garden in your own individual way that suits you, regardless of whether it is considered clean and tidy.  You don’t need crisp white sheets, white clothes and white surfaces – embrace dark colours, wood, wool and candlelight, which are a bit more forgiving of a bit of dirt!

How does this match up to the "ink spots and grass stains life"?

I confess that I spend a lot of time on housework, and gardening, and while I try to take pleasure in it, I often forget, and view it as a task to be got through as fast as possible.  I’ll endeavour to make it more enjoyable, and to involve the children more, so that as they grow up they see the “Housecare” as more of a game than a chore.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Magical Moments

We've been away to Dumfries and Galloway in the caravan this week.  We delayed by a few days to give the snow a chance to clear, and then decided to go for it.

We had a chilly but lovely time.  Rockcliffe is a beautiful spot on the Solway Firth, and Castle Point caravan site was extremely well maintained and friendly.  Each morning we woke, broke the ice on the Waggy-tailed-one's water bowl, and started our adventures.  We walked along the beach, explored rock pools, had an ice cream, went to a castle on a boat (Threave Castle), looked at an Osprey, visited a "book town" (Wigtown didn't impress, more on that in another post), went to pretty villages and towns and all in all had a relaxing time away from our computers.  

Our pitch on the campsite was right next to the playing field, and our little ones loved being able to just go out and play on the scooter and bike, and make friends with the other children, though the cold meant that they never stayed out there very long.

I don't want to write too much about the trip, a few photos will say plenty.