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Sunday, 26 January 2020

Malvern Hills - what a view!

I cannot believe I've lived in Herefordshire for five and a half years, call myself a walker, and yet have never walked in the Malverns!  Not to worry, this oversight has now been corrected.  The plan had been to get up early and get up there to watch the sunrise from the top.  Unfortunately, we had a late night so decided to have a relaxed get up and then go.  It would have been better to go early because the car-park was packed when we eventually arrived!
 We parked opposite the Malvern Hills Hotel.  It's £4.40 for all day parking but you don't mind that when you know the money is going towards upkeep of the paths.
It's a short but steep walk from there up to Herefordshire Beacon (sometimes also called British Camp) where you can enjoy 360 degree views of Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and on a crisp morning like last Sunday it was absolutely gorgeous.

From there we walked around the west side of Hangman's Hill, through the Silurian Pass and along the east side of Swinyard Hill before the steep ascent up the south side.  Here we stopped for lunch.

 In theory we would walk down the north side of Swinyard, back to Silurian Pass, past the cave and then around the east side of Herefordshire Beacon.  However, as we descended Swinyard, Little Miss Busy realised that she had lost her camera somewhere on the route.  With much ranting (me - this is the second camera in a year), we emptied out the bags (dropping and leaving the dog lead in the process) and retraced our steps.  Eventually we made it back to the bottom of the Beacon, where I was so busy trying to drag a penitent child along, that I accidentally misplaced the dog!  More steps retraced until we found her and celebrated with joyous cuddles.
Unbelievably, as we eventually returned to the car-park, a lady approached with a broad smile and Little Miss' camera in her hand - she had recognised Blossom from the many photos on the camera.

Despite our mishaps and the general busy-ness of the Malverns, this was a genuinely fabulous walk and I can't wait to walk more of the Malverns.  This little range of hills that separate The Shire from the rest of the world are a treasure that I'm sorry to have overlooked thus far.  Only 35 minutes drive away from home, with the world laid out at your feet.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Helpful little hands

I know that I'm not the only one who gets frustrated about this.

My children, lovely though they are, are content to allow me to wait on them hand and foot.  If I want them to do something, even something which to me is obvious and which I know they are perfectly capable of completing, then I need to specifically ask:
e.g. 
It's dinner time.  They know its dinner time.  We got in from school and, while they dropped their bags in the hall and slumped with their tablets, I got straight on with making the dinner.  Now I have to ask them to please lay the table.  At the end of dinner, they go off immediately and play, or watch TV.  I guess they assume that the fairies will clear the table and carry everything back through to the kitchen.  So I have to ask them to carry some things through.  It always seems to come as a surprise!

Don't get me wrong, they are willing to do it.  It just doesn't occur to them that they should, unless I ask.

I decided that the best way to clarify our expectations of them, was to write them down.  Our children are aged nearly nine, and ten and a half.  Here's what I expect them to do:

I'm printing and laminating this list.  One copy in the kitchen and one in each of their bedrooms.

I'm doing this for two reasons really.  One is that I think children who feel useful are happier.  The other is that I will feel more supported.  And I don't like nagging, so making the expectations clear will hopefully lead to less of that!

How much do your children help out around the house?

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

On Blossom

Today I'm going to write in praise of Blossom.
Our Tara, a somewhat grumpy Collie Cross rescue dog, was an enormous part of our family from 2008 until 2017.  She was so special that we didn't think that we could ever love another dog the way we loved Tara.  
After 6 months without a dog we were also talking about how being a dog owner can restrict you a bit on holidays.  We go away in the camper van and that meant that things like shopping trips or trips to the cinema, theme parks or museums are often out of the question because you can't leave the dog in the vehicle on a hot day.  We thought we would leave getting another dog for a while.  
Three months further on, we realised that we had a dog-shaped hole in our family, and that we needed to fill it.  We could live with the restrictions and make it work.  I started searching for the new family member.
There were a few criteria: 
  1. It needed to be camper-van sized.  Tara had been quite a large dog.  When all five of us were in the camper van on our holidays it began to get a little crowded.  Once the bed was down in the van, there wasn't all that much space for her (she was too wet/muddy/sandy to be allowed on the bed).  As she got older it was increasingly noticeable that when she got out of the van in the morning she was a bit creaky and needed a good long time to stretch.  Our new dog had to be a smaller breed to fit with the camper van lifestyle.
  2. It needed to be active.  We are an active, outdoorsy family.  We need a dog that can cope with a long day walking cliff-paths, roaming in the woods or climbing a mountain.  A lap dog would not be suitable.
  3. We wanted to choose another rescue dog.  We knew that we had made a wonderful new life for Tara.  On searching, however, I was confronted with the fact that many rescue dogs come with the tag, "not suitable for a family with young children".  Because of their uncertain backgrounds, many dogs can have attachment issues, or are nervous or uncertain or have unknown temperaments.  Tara had been one of these but a lot of hard work and training had paid off, and while she was still grumpy with other dogs and with men with deep voices, she was fine and affectionate with everybody else.  I had a full year of pretty intensive work with her before the children came along.  I wouldn't have the luxury of all that time to work with a rescue dog this time.  We realised that we were going to need to get a puppy.  We could then be certain of its background and would be able to train it from the beginning to fit in with our family.
  4. Timing - I'm a teacher so am lucky enough to get six weeks off in the Summer.  It would be ideal to get the dog towards the beginning of the holiday so that we would have several weeks to work with it before going back to school and passing pup on to a dog-walker on the days when I was at work.


I set about searching the Internet.  We researched different breeds and decided that we would like a Cocker or Springer Spaniel or similar.  I learnt what questions to ask breeders and how to check whether they seemed reputable.  At about the right time so that the puppy would be ready to collect in the holiday, I started looking.  I used www.pets4homes.co.uk.  The first breeder I contacted didn't answer any of the questions I asked in my e-mail.  The second breeder had already answered them all in their advert!  They were not "breeders" in that they didn't breed for their living.  They were a family with dogs, and they tended to allow their female dogs to have two litters before they spayed them.  This meant that while they were experienced with dealing with puppies, they weren't doing it all the time.  These puppies were gorgeous, and clearly had a lot of handling as their daughter and her friends played with them every day after school.  We went to visit and Isobel and I instantly fell in love with the female of the litter.  We said that we wanted her right away, and named her Blossom.


In the year and a half since then, Blossom has made herself very much one of the family.  She is good-natured, extremely soppy and demanding of love, very sociable and energetic.  She's also absolutely beautiful and knows it.  Everybody who meets Blossom loves her.  Her little bottom almost wags itself right off when she is pleased to see you.  On the weekend she is sent to "wake mummy up" and I hear her feet as she scampers at top speed up the stairs and launches herself on top of me and proceeds to lick me until I am well and truly awake.  She is responsive to training, patient and usually well behaved, though she does still have a tendency to steal any shoes that have been left lying around.  She is very tolerant of Isobel's demands and commands.  I'm so glad we've got Blossom.  It wouldn't be possible not to love such a loving little creature but she has wiggled her way very firmly into our hearts.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Family mini-adventure - The Gower

Today we took a family mini-adventure to Rhossili, on the South-western tip of the Gower peninsula in South Wales.  This peninsula sticks out below Swansea and Rhossili Bay faces west towards the Pembrokeshire coast.  To the South across the Bristol Channel is Ilfracombe in North Devon, though that was lost in the haze today.

We started with a sausage bap from The Causeway cafe.  The staff were great and it's dog friendly too so Blossom was well catered for. 


Once we'd filled our stomachs we headed down the path to the beach.  It's a long expanse.  I think when the tide is in it's mostly covered, but we had a good two or three hours before high-tide so we strolled along, picking up shells and playing with the dog in the fresh air.  We were curious about a timber ship skeleton not far from where we got onto the beach - I've now discovered it's the Helvetia, and was wrecked all the way back in 1887!
  











We didn't go all the way to the end of the beach, though we'd gone a good distance, and headed up and into the dunes near Hillend caravan park.  We played in the dunes, sliding and climbing (and eating chocolate) as we headed back South along the coast path.



Back at the car-park we made use of our Tiffin set and sat for a picnic of hot chilli, warm home-made chapatis and flasks of hot coffee and hot chocolate.  Mmmm.  



We're resolved to stop being so busy and to take many more mini-adventures of this sort this year.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Writing Circle Exercise - The Coop

The exercises (or workshops) we do at our Writing Circle are always entertaining.  You get a title, nothing more, and then you have about ten to fifteen minutes to come up with something.  After that, we all take it in turns to read out what we've written.  They are never the same, we all come at things from different angles, with different experiences and different writing styles.  This one was no exception.  It was the homework exercise from the last meeting.  As I hadn't been at the last session and didn't know the homework title, I wrote mine in the first five minutes of the session, while waiting for others to arrive.  Rob had written a play on words between chicken coop, co-operative and military coup.  Sheila wrote about a holiday home on the beach in Australia, called the Coop.
Here was my effort:

Henrietta de Lacey-Bonnington looked around narrowly.  These newcomers needed to understand the pecking order around here.  They were asleep just now, feathers puffed up and eyelids relaxed.  If she had anything to do with it that wouldn't last long.  Henrietta cast her eye along the perch, remembering all the names: Carla Orpington, Delilah Tracey, she couldn't recall the next two, they weren't much of anything.  Finally she got to Celia and clucked angrily to herself.  There was no denying she was a spring chicken.  Her white fluffy feathers moved gently in the air from the ventilation.  Her feet were clean and smart, her comb erect and bright pink.  Henrietta's mind whirred.  There was no way she could allow the great and handsome Sir Gordon Bantham-Jones to meet this young upstart.  There would have to be some feathers ruffled.  Some good solid hen-pecking should knock her down a peg or two.  Henrietta sniffed, she must remain top of the coop.
Image result for snooty chicken in coop
photo from raising-happy-chickens.com 

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Writing exercise - Create your own celebration day

As you know, there are celebration days for pretty much anything these days, from National Talk Like a Pirate Day - 19th September this year if you need to know, the US has a National Fossil Day on October 13th and June 4th this year is UK National Cheese Day.  So surely we can invent our own National Day?
How about National Eat Jelly on the Beach Day?
Or The International Day of Hygge?

For the first exercise today I'm going to focus on the International Day of Hygge.

If your day had a website, what would be on the home page?

  1. An explanation of the word Hygge - for the uninitiated.
  2. Pictures such as hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows on top (preferably the person drinking the hot chocolate should be curled up on a very comfortable sofa with sheepskins, blankets and cushions, should be wearing comfortable clothes and fluffy socks and should have some whipped cream from the hot choc on their nose.  They should be smiling and laughing with a friend or three and there should be a log burner lit and snow falling outside the window.
  3. A list of things you might do to achieve Hygge.
I've just looked this up actually, and found that I'm not the first to have this wonderful idea.  There is an International Hygge Day on 28th February, and a UK Hygge Day on 1st March.

What personal story could you contribute to your Celebration Day website?

I would describe a Hygge Day I had spent:  




I was a teenager, living with my family.  On this particular day I went out with a group of friends.  We drove to a pebble beach in a nearby town.  We were all wrapped up warm for the wintry weather.  We walked and chatted.  We sat on the pebbles, threw some into the sea and just enjoyed one another's company.  The sea was grey and serious looking as it crashed up the steep bank of pebbles.  Once our hands were thoroughly chilly we headed back to the car.  On the way home we stopped in a traditional tea-shop.  It was all tablecloths and doilies, proper pots of steaming tea and wonderfully huge slabs of creamy cakes.  The windows were steamed up and it was beginning to get dark outside.  We chatted and laughed and ate and drank and it was a wonderful day.

What would you do to celebrate your next Hygge Day?

I would want to spend it with friends and our children.  I'd like to have the fire lit, fresh bread in the oven, a stew in the slow cooker.  The children would be playing outdoors or upstairs with the Lego.  We'd have our crochet hooks and wool and could crochet and natter and eat all day long while the children play.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Today's accomplishments

Instead of a "to do" list, this is what is known as a "ta dah" list - as in, a little fanfare of jubilation for the things I've managed to do.

  • Had a lie in - until 9am - go me!
  • Then relaxed in front of "100 best walks", because... why not?  It's New Year's Day, I don't have a hangover because I didn't drink anything last night.  I was just relaxed!
  • Started the medium term plan for Year 3 French for this term.
  • Basket full of ironing.  And then two more loads of laundry.
  • Read a chapter of my new book "The Body" by Bill Bryson.  Got pretty excited about all the microbes actually.
  • made lunch and made the dough for this evening's pizza.
  • sat down and completed the 1st draft of our new Induction Pack for County Appointments for Scouts Hereford and Worcester, and e-mailed it to the County Commissioner for his thoughts.
  • e-mailed the 1st Holmer Scout Group leader team to ask for content for the Spring newsletter.
  • started printing off Cubs personal details record cards so I can send them home to be checked for any contact info updates / accuracy at the beginning of the year.
  • updated our finance records and responded to a bunch of e-mails.
  • Got in touch with the Headteacher of a local primary school to arrange an assembly about what Scouts can offer.
  • Finished making the dinner and then relaxed and watched Jurassic World with the family.
  • Took the dog out for a run (mostly walking actually, but I'm out of practice so that's okay).
  • wrote a blog post.
Considering how unhurried and relaxed I've felt today, I'm pretty pleased with how much I've accomplished.  I have a warm feeling of smugitude which is not very becoming but will help me go to sleep with a smile, after I've read another chapter of my book.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants

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?