Tuesday, 31 December 2019

New Year resolutions

I don't really have any New Year resolutions this year.  I already made some back in the Summer and they are "Things I want to achieve by the time I'm 42."

I'll share them here now, only because it makes me more accountable and therefore should help me along with my will power.

  1. My family.  I want to spend more time doing things outdoors with my family.  I'll put things in the diary - walks in the hills, days out on the bikes, make use of our campervan, make picnics and get out in the outdoors.  I'd like to spend time finishing jobs around the house together, and making sure the garden looks amazing so the house is a relaxing and wonderful place to spend time.
  2. Get below 65kg.  I'm aiming to do this by exercising for at least 30 mins daily.  I'm going to give myself some fitness goals along the way too, such as a 5km run, then a 10km run, and then a triathlon sometime in the Summer.  To help me out, I'll weigh more regularly, and write down what I'm eating.
  3. Write a book and sent it to a publisher, and make money from my writing.  I'm going to work on editing a book that I've already finished (it was some time ago, so it's probably going to be quite a comprehensive edit).  I'm also going to work on teaching resources to sell, work on People Per Hour etc. and also keep a track on time spent on writing projects so I can see how much I actually earn per hour.
  4. Have some control over finances - I'm going to save money I make from writing to spend on treat days and holidays.  I'm also going to make and stick to a grocery budget each week.
  5. Scouts - I'm going to create a County Induction Pack, complete all my Manager and Supporter Training, establish a wider training team for the county, develop a wider Cub Leader team at Holmer, increase the Wildcat Pack to 36 Cubs and go camping with the Cubs at least once per term.
  6. Teaching - I'm going to have a successful year.  I'd like the lessons I teach to be exemplary in terms of children being engaged and enthused, reflecting on own learning and learning behaviours, developing vocabulary and independence.  Most of all, I'd like the children in my classes to be happy, confident and kind.  I'd like to develop the Modern Foreign Language teaching in collaboration with the high schools we feed to.  I'd like the garden club at school to develop our garden to make it a place that people are proud of and want to spend time.  I'd like to be viewed as somebody that people can turn to for help or advice when they need it.
Those are my ambitions for the year ahead.  Now I just need to rediscover my energy, which seems to have escaped me lately, and my willpower, to enable me to achieve any or all of these.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Throwing out expectations

One of the reasons my blog has been so neglected is because I had this idea (from the blogosphere) that your blog should somehow be making you money.  Each post has to be carefully crafted, search engine optimised, sponsored and "monetising".  Apparently, the reason we blog should be all about stopping the day job and making money. 
I'm stepping away from that idea.  With that in mind, I've hesitated to blog, because I didn't have quite the right picture.  I wasn't sure that it would be quite such an appealing post.  I wasn't getting thousands of likes so I should save that post until I had a bigger audience.  Its actually stopped me from enjoying my blog as I did at the beginning, when I just used it as an online journal.  Right now, I just want to get back to the daily habit of writing, unburdening, scribbling my thoughts.  There may be a photo or picture to accompany my words, there may not.  I may share my post through social media channels, I may not.  I might get twenty readers, or 100, or none.  I don't care.  I just want to write regularly because it makes me feel good.  I think this might even be turning into a New Year resolution, though I absolutely won't beat myself up if I don't do it.  I have enough things on my to-do list with people relying on me and looming deadlines.  I'll beat myself up about those ones instead.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Word games to keep kids entertained

Ever been stuck in traffic with kids in tow? On a long train or plane journey, or just in a queue? What if the batteries on the kids devices run out, or, even crazier, you didn't bring a screen to plug your child into?

What can you do if boredom begins to set in and you face the prospect of actually engaging with your offspring? The sure fire solution is... word games!

Here are three that we've just played this afternoon at my parents-in-law to calm the kids down as they descended into inter-sibling violence:

1) The Cheese Game - go around the circle. Each person says a sentence of a story, but each sentence needs to contain the name of a cheese: I know how to stay safe, I'll build a roquefort. At that moment Ementalle came around the corner.

2) Alphabet story: go around the circle. Each person says a sentence to make a story. In the sentence, each word must begin with a consecutive letter of the Alphabet. E.g. a brave cat died eating fresh grapes. It really gets you thinking about what constitutes a sentence.

3) The name game. Go around the circle. Each person says a famous name. The first name must start with the same letter of the previous surname. So for example if the person before me chose Boris Johnson, then my name would need to start with a J  e.g. James Cameron. If the somebody says a name where first and surname begin with the same letter, e.g. Peppa Pig or Marilyn Monroe, then the direction around the circle is reversed.

What word games do you play to keep things fun and entertaining with the children?

Friday, 9 August 2019

Scottish Adventure Days 12 & 13
We should have realised early on in our trip, when we missed out on the ferry from Mallaig to Skye because we hadn’t booked ahead, that it would be a good idea to book the ferry to Orkney. 

We didn’t learn. We only thought of booking the ferry a couple of days before we wanted it, and there was no space for our little camper until much later in the week. We looked into taking a day trip across, so we could visit the main sites, but that would have been prohibitively expensive, so we had a change of plans. 

Yesterday we drove though rain down the coast all the way to Inverness. We pottered around in the shops for a while and then headed to a campsite on the Beauly Firth. They were hosting the “Scotland Rally”.
I may be showing my age here, but this seems to consist of a lot of young people, mostly men, driving cars covered in stickers and flags, from Brussels to Skye. At each stop it is imperative to show your masculinity by walking around with your top off, doing chin-ups on the football posts, taking very long showers, drinking lots of beer, revving your engine and tooting your novelty horns. The loud music was a very Belgian mix of classic 80s pop and techno dance, which went on until about three in the morning.  This morning theyall set off on their last leg, to disturb some other unsuspecting campers somewhere on Skye.
We decided that since we hadn’t gone to Orkney, we would make use of our extra couple of daysby going back across to the West, to places we know and love, so we’ve come back to Applecross for a couple of days.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Scottish Adventure Day 11 we went from the North West corner of Scotland to the North East. The sea haar has been in for most of the day, so apart from glimpses of loveliness, such as at Tongue, we’ve not really seen much.
Thurso we spent as little time in as a supermarket dash would allow. It’s very “functional”.
Once we’d checked in to our campsite in the fogat John O’Groats we headed down towards Wick to check out the beach at Sinclair’s Bay where the tide was in, and the stunning ruins at SinclairGurnigoe Castle. These clan chiefs were an argumentative lot, but they knew how to build a castle. This one is on a stratified rocky promontory and in the 17th Century was one of the most important buildings in this part of Scotland. Now with weather eroding the building and the sea eroding the promontory it’s near the top of the list of most endangered historic buildings in the UK.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Scottish Adventure Day 10
I’m spending a lot of time this holiday gazing outto sea. That’s not a bad thing. I think my brain and definitely my soul needed a break from ‘to do’ lists (of which I’m a huge fan!). There’s something about mountains and the sea that nourishes you in places you just don’t get nourished any other way. Right now I’m sitting in the back of the campervan with a glass of wine in my left hand, looking out to where turquoise sea meets white golden sand and rugged black cliffs with a line of white surf. To the north, pretty much no land until The Arctic.
The forecast for this afternoon wasn’t great so this morning we walked up the road to the gaping limestone Smoo Cave. We all had different expectations- to me the name was reminiscent of Smaug, so I had piles of treasure and crunched up dwarf bones in my mind. I think Isobel had a magical boat trip into a sparkling fairy grotto in her imagination. The boys weren’t giving anything away. The reality was a huge cavern. You could get to the outer cave on foot for free, and a dinghy was taking paying visitors further in. The real depths are only accessible to proper cavers. We had Blossom so stayed in the outer cavern. I was delighted to find fish swimming there and felt like a mixture of Steve Backshaw exploring caves under Mexico and Bilbo Baggins coming across Gollum fishing in his cavern.
We wandered out on to the cliffs and caught the attention of a couple of curious seals.
In the afternoon Chris and the children had a quick di in the sea and then we whiled away the time playing cards together.  I feel very relaxed today.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Scottish Adventure Day 9
I love Balnakeil Craft Village!  

After a quick escape from the midgie sat our roadside stop this morning we headed straight to Durness to secure a spot at a campsite for the night. We had a very disappointing bacon sandwich at White Heather Tea Room (the only lace open) and then checked into our campsite at Sango Sands. Our view for the next two days is above. We got settled in, then popped to the shop to buy the requisite items for our own, much more satisfying, Full Scottish (lunch). They had run out of black pudding and Chris accidentally bought thebizarre product ‘vegan black pudding’ - the mind boggles!  However, the black bean and oatmeal and barley concoction was really quite tasty.

Anyway, back to my original point. This afternoon we headed on a circular walk to Balnakiel along the road and back along the coast. The craft village grew in the 60s. An old Cold War early warning station that was never commissioned was bought by theme Council. They wanted to let out the buildings to businesses and advertised accordingly. The responses that came in were nearly all from artists and craftspeople attracted by the wilderness and light of Scotland’s most north-westerly corner. They moved in, paying low rent, and the craft village was born. Later, the council gave them the opportunity to buy their premises and there’s a mix of shops, workshops and homes. We looked in some lovely galleries, I bought a fabulous knitted headband and we enjoyed the best hot chocolate on planet Earth at Cocoa Miuntain. (That’s my claim, not theirs.). I think the idea of living and working in a place like that, surrounded by like-minded people, is very appealing. I could happily spend a long time there.

Scottish Adventure Day 8
Stac Pollaidh was outstanding. As mountains go, it only just qualifies at just 612m, but what it lacks in stature it more than makes up in attitude. It’s character, good path and easy access make ita popular mountain so we were lucky to nab the last space in the car park before people started parking on the road side.  The sun was hot and we stopped several times near streams on the way up to soak our sun hats and for Blossom to drink. The path goes around the side of the mountain, and then at the back goes very steep as thetop third of the mountain suddenly rears up. On the top is a huge jumble of pinnacles of broken rock. We stopped in the saddle and decided these would be a bit too much for Blossom. Chris took Charlie first and they climbed and clambered over the pinnacles towards the summit. When they came back we left Blossom with them and Isobel and I had our turn. I’m out of practice with scrambling so my confidence was a bit shaky with vertiginous drops and an Isobel to look after, so we backed down quite a few routes before finding our way to the top of a pinnacle. Isobel finally understood why we had been so insistent thatshe listen to instructions and take her time and she was brilliant. We headed back down the backof the mountain and completed the circuit roundthe other side.
After a late picnic lunch at Lochinver we headed into the sea at Clashnessie to cool down and wash off the sweat. Campsites here are few and farbetween and on this sunny Saturday full, so we parked up by the side of the road with a great view and enjoyed a random assortment dinner.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Scottish Adventure Day 7
Just a short one today as I’ve forgotten to take any photos.

Today we said goodbye to Gairloch. We headed around to Gruinard Bay where we thoroughly explored around rocks to secret beaches, swam in the sea and had a lovely time.
We chose a picnic spot with a view a little furtheraround the coast, stopped for a walk at the falls of Measach in Corrieshalloch gorge (Corrieshalloch meaning “ugly corrie” despite being spectacular!), and then headed into Ullapool.

Ullapool is beautifully situated and there’s nothing wrong with it, but I’ve always found it a little uninspiring.  We had a wander, filled up with fuel and groceries and continued on our way.
We passed Stac Pollaidh, which we’ll climb tomorrow, on our way onto the Coigach peninsular and then found a campsite at Altandhu. We have another stunning view and are watching sunset from the campervan while emptying a bottle of wine.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Scottish Adventure Day 6
I’m sitting in my campervan sipping a cup of coffee, above me in the roof the children quietly bicker as they settle to sleep, Chris is showering ir pottering about and Blossom is snoozing by my feet. Through the front and side windows of the van I have one of the most splendid views in the world. The sun is setting over to my right, in the foreground are dunes and beyond that Gairloch opens out to the Inner Sound. A light haze on the water’s surface and then the deep purples andblues of silhouetted mountains: Rona and Raasay, then Skye with the jagged Black Cuillin taking centre stage. Ahead to the left behind the headland the mountains of Torridon rear. While over to the right, almost hidden in the hazy distance where the sea meets the golden pink sky lie the Outer Hebrides.
Today we had a big adventure on the Orca, a fast RIB run by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Experience Company. We zoomed across towards Skye, spotting common dolphins on the way. We looked out for Minke Whale where we saw gannets feeding, and were lucky enough to see two - my first wild whale experiences! We searched unsuccessfully for a basking shark seen in the area earlier in the day and also kept our eyes peeled for a White Tailed Eagle known to have a nest nearby. On the return to harbour we saw seals and porpoise. Awesome!
After fish and chips back at the campsite we gotthe mini kites out and went for one more walk onthe beach. We’ll be moving on from here tomorrow, heading further north.

Scottish Adventure Day 5
A quiet day for pottering around today. We got a load of laundry done and then explored some shops in Gairloch before heading southwest around the bay and finding a wide empty beach to picnic on and then explore. A mass moon jellyfish death happened at the last high tide as hundreds of bodies littered the flotsam line.  Blossom licked one but decided it wasn’t to her taste thankfully.
The rest of the afternoon we whiled away reading at the campsite.

Scottish Adventure Day 5

A quiet day for pottering around today. We got a load of laundry done and then explored some shops in Gairloch before heading southwest around the bay and finding a wide empty beach to picnic on and then explore. A mass moon jellyfish death happened at the last high tide as hundreds of bodies littered the flotsam line.  Blossom licked one but decided it wasn’t to her taste thankfully.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Scottish Adventure Day 4
This morning we headed to the imaginatively named “Sand”, made famous by the TV programme “Monty Hall’s Great Escape” about a decade ago. We popped on wetsuits this time and went for another swim. I waded around to the rocks where the water was so calm and clear that I could see flat fish, lion’s mane jellyfish, sand eels, other little fish and loads of different types of crabs in the shallows. I called the others over and we spent so long exploring the fauna that a curious seal popped up behind us to see what we were doing.
On the journey from Applecross around to Gairloch we stopped at a coffee bothy for scones where the owner was expressing dissatisfaction with people using her car park as a picnic spot. Her scones were fabulous though so we didn’t mind her grumbling.
In Gairloch we visited our favourite bookshop / cafe combo in the world before setting up camp for the next few days. This is probably the biggest campsite we’ll be visiting this holiday but we know and love it. The sea breeze keeps the midges down, they have a well appointed shop, cracking views all around and a beach on the other side of the dunes.

Scottish Adventure Day 3
The path to Sandaig runs through native forest just beginning to regrow after the forestry commission cut down the pines.  Birch, alder and myrtle are growing with bracken and purple and white heathers. Butterflies, dragonflies, pondskaters and wheatears bustle busily among the flowers. Down at the Ring of Bright Water we are tempted by the warm sun and calm water and get naked for a dip.
Last night we camped at a tiny site tucked away at the top of Glenelg.  No phone reception at all, hence not posting Day 2 until this morning. At bedtime the dreaded Scottish midgie made itself familiar with our persons, so despite the fabuloussunset over Skye to the west we retreated into the campervan where we doused ourselves with Skin So Soft (Avon’s best seller in the Highlands due to its magical midge repellent properties) and smoked ourselves out with Citronella fumes.
After our luxurious dip at Sandaig and the slow walk back up to the car we got the ferry to Kylerhea where we watched a large gang of seals playing or hunting in the strong current, sometimes even breaching. Having nipped on to Skye we nipped off again over the Skye bridge and had a properly luxurious picnic overlooking the Kyle of Lochalsh.
Chris was keen to show the children one of the most photogenic castles in Scotland. The first time I saw it, at sunset one day about thirteen years ago, I was in raptures and desperate to take aphoto. On this occasion though, Chris called outto “look at the castle,” and while Charlie fumbled for his camera, Isobel merely glanced up from her book and then got straight back into it - you can’t win them all!  Coming over the Bealach an Ba to Applecross though, they were both excited by the undulations, switchbacks and breathtaking views of the road. We got booked in at Applecross campsite, had a fabulous dinner at the pub and are now enjoying a pint al fresco while thechildren potter on the shoreline.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Scottish Adventure Day 2
The silver birches crowd along the banks of Loch Linnhe, reaching out towards the light and water. We speed past along the road in our red, flowery campervan, children in the front drinking in the view while mummy peers out of the back window. On dark nights or long journeys the back seat is best, you can put your feet up and snuggle up with the dog in a nest of cushions. When driving through stunning scenery though, this seat is the equivalent of being stuck behind a pillar atthe theatre: glimpses of grandeur but you feel you’re somehow missing out.
Fort William - outdoor adventure capital of the UK. Let’s face it, it really needs razing to the ground and rebuilding. So much more could be made of the fantastic loch side, where now there’s a busy road and the scruffy backs of the concrete town centre buildings. I envisage a lovely pedestrian esplanade fronted by the shopping area, the main road passing behind, on the landward side.On fine days (they do have them), people could sit on benches overlooking the loch, or dine outside cafes. We came into town in search of knitting needles as Isobel has recently taken up the hobby, but snapped her needle on Friday. We accidentally also bought trainers, a jumper and lunch. That’s what happens in Fort William.
I love this part of the world. I get a sort of wanderlust. My eyes are drawn to ridges, gullies and woodland with an insistent pull.  You could set off up there... What would the climb be like? What would the view be like? What would that water be like to swim in? I know the reality involves bogs, scree, sharp rock, cold water and the dreaded midgie, but the pull is there nonetheless, and thedesire to row across that loch, or set out on a journey into those hills.
The plan we had in mind today was to catch the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye, then drive across to Kyleakin and catch the ferry back to Glenelg on the mainland where we would camp. Unfortunately we made a slight error by not booking the ferry, so faced with a long wait to seeif we might get aboard “on standby” we decidedto turn back from Mallaig and play Chase the Steamtrain with the Jacobite all the way back towards Fort William before taking the inland route north.