Two Days

Two days. That’s all that’s left of my Summer holiday. It’s hard to believe that those seemingly endless weeks that stretched ahead of me at the end of June have mostly passed and that I now find myself contemplating returning to work. Summer holidays from school are wonderful. They are the highlight of the year. But it isn’t all positive. There are downsides too. So, here is my list of the good and the bad of Summer holidays.

The Good
1. Two months off of work. What’s not to like about that one? My time is my own, I can get up when I want and my life isn’t dictated by the clock. I have two months of total freedom to start new ventures and to do all those things I’ve been trying to find time to do all year. Now is my time!
2. It’s Summer! Everyone is happy, there’s positivity in the air, it’s beach time, it’s pool time! It’s Summer! Yay!
3. The weather. Fabulous weather is pretty much guaranteed. There is no rain, no coldness, no greyness. Every day is a sunny day, every day is a hot day! How lucky am I?
4. Lots of time with my family. Time away from work means there is nothing to keep my children and I apart. We can spend all day, every day together! For two whole months!
5. I can have late nights. There’s no pressure to go to bed early. I can stay up and watch films, listen to music, watch TV, read my book, drink wine, drink LOTS of wine, do whatever I want until whenever I want because I don’t have to be up in the morning!

The Bad
1. Two months off of work. The first week is always very productive. Unfortunately this is where the productivity ends. Over the Summer my brain turns to jelly. It doesn’t work so well for two months without the stimulation of work. All the ventures that I was going to do? Not done. All of the things that I was going to do that I’ve not had time to do all year? Erm…also not done. So much for good intentions. And it’s the same every year.
2. It’s Summer! Yes, I’m on holiday but millions of other people around the world are on holiday too and they all seem to have come on holiday here. The shops are packed with tourists who are guaranteed to have forgotten to weigh the fruit and vegetables before getting to the checkout, the roads are at a standstill and you have to add an hour on to your journey and the beaches are jammed.
3. The weather. It’s SO hot! SO VERY HOT! All day, every day, night time too! It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s relentless, it’s unbearable, I can’t sleep, I have no energy or inclination to do anything. When is Autumn going to arrive?
4. Lots of time with my family. OMG! Was I really looking forward to spending all day every day with my family? For two whole months?! Was I mad or simply high on Summer holiday anticipation? Children are so demanding. They want entertaining, feeding, dressing, smothering in sun cream, they want to go out for the day, they want to do things and it’s never ending! Don’t they realise that I have no energy or inclination to do anything? Apparently not. If I didn’t work as a teacher I would be praying for the start of the school year.
5. I can have late nights. Every night is a late night. A very late night actually. Sometimes ridiculously late. Unfortunately my children don’t care what time I went to bed. Don’t they understand that I have only had three hours sleep? There they go again, demanding to be fed, entertained… Late nights are fun but they come at a price. A high one. Two months of late nights and early mornings and I think I may be more tired now than I was at the end of the last school year and I have to go back to work!

So you see, the Summer holiday really is a mixed blessing. Having said that I would do anything for it to be the end of June again, to not be facing the very immediate prospect of returning to work. Yes, anything. I would even spend the two months with my demanding, energetic, crazy children all over again! Or would I?…

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This is NOT a drill!

Despite the hiccups experienced while practising putting up the tent we were not put off of camping and set off on Wednesday for our first ever two nights of actual, real, not-a-practice camping at a campsite! Admittedly we didn’t plan to venture too far from home, just 15 minutes away to be precise but despite being relatively local we really felt as though we were setting off on an exciting adventure. Our two night stay wasn’t completely incident free but for me a holiday without incident is hardly a holiday at all! (I have to tell myself this otherwise I would never go on holiday with my family again.)

Departure day was a bit fraught as time was quite tight. I had an appointment with the physiotherapist in the morning which was due to finish at 11.30am and then I had to cycle back home as fast as I could against a very strong wind that threatened to blow me back to where I had come from should I be bold enough to stop pedalling for even a moment. I eventually arrived home at midday in a particularly unattractive state of redness, sweatiness and breathlessness, had to clean myself up, have breakfast, finish packing, make a picnic and audit our ‘camping essentials’ boxes to ensure we had everything we needed. This all had to be done before 12.45pm as that was the very latest time that we could leave home in order to drop the dog off at the kennels which were due to close at 1pm. At 12.43pm our house was ringing with increasingly desperate shouts of “Put your shoes on!”, “Can you please go to the toilet before we go?”, “Put your shoes on!”, “No, you can’t take that with you!”, “Put your shoes on!”, “Who has done a wee on the floor?”, “PUT YOUR SHOES ON!” The boys, the dog and I raced down to the garage and squeezed ourselves into the car that has rarely been stuffed so full and all of this for a mere two nights away from home. We caught our breath, sat and waited and waited and waited until eventually daddy joined us at 12.53pm. We had 7 minutes. We did manage to drop the dog off (at exactly 1pm) but our rushing turned out to be for nothing as we had to go back home anyway because I had forgotten to pack the iPad charger.

Our second departure was less frantic and we arrived at the campsite soon after where we checked in and located our site. It was finally time to put up the tent! The boys were momentarily distracted by the picnic I had made earlier with this very same intention but they soon became more interested in asking a variety of never ending questions and in trying to ‘help’, neither of which is particularly helpful. Nevertheless we worked together and got the tent up quickly. Our practise run had definitely been beneficial! We put out the deck chairs and sat down for a moment to experience the joy of sitting outside our very own tent.

Having set up and sat down for almost one minute we jumped back up as we had one last thing to do before we could go and have a swim in the pool in order to cool down and reward ourselves for our good work, we had to move the car out of the road and onto our pitch. Ahh, one slight problem. The car wouldn’t start. How embarrassing and in front of all our new camping neighbours too! They looked on from their comfortable deck chairs, drinking from their cool beers and enjoying the unexpected entertainment we were providing. It turned out that our new electric cool box had run down the car battery very quickly, especially as the car engine hadn’t been running. So our cooling swim was delayed by some considerable time as we located the owner of the campsite who had jump leads and a big four wheel drive and got the car started which actually took quite a long time.
Lesson learned – don’t run the cool box off the car when it’s not running.

Having overcome that little mishap the next two days passed very pleasantly indeed. We swam in the pool, we walked along the beach, we played games, we cooked on our camping stove, we washed up under the stars and because we were so close to home we had the added excitement of visitors! We had so many visitors in fact, we could have done with a doorbell for our tent! It really was a very lovely and almost relaxing time. I say almost because the boys experienced acute ‘first time sleeping in a tent’ excitement and were up until very late that first night. Sam went to sleep at about midnight and Henry didn’t go to sleep until 1.25am yet they both still woke up at 8am. This was where the relaxation became a bit thin on the ground because both boys were very tired that day. Tired and tetchy and irritable and grumpy and uncooperative and intolerant and… in fact you could choose just about any negative emotion and it would apply. The only redeeming feature of this over tiredness was that they both fell asleep very quickly the second night!

By the time Friday morning came around we didn’t want to leave. We had enjoyed our short but fun filled stay and we were definitely camping converts! Despite our shaky start we felt that we had found our feet and had become competent campers. We even managed to get the tent down and back into the bag easily. We were packed up and ready to leave with 15 minutes to go before our check out time! Where would all this competence and fabulousness end? Well, it ended quite promptly in fact.

Having double checked we had everything packed up and having got the children in the car we were ready to go. Ahh, one slight problem. The car wouldn’t start. I may be paranoid but I’m sure I noticed our camping neighbours quickly grabbing beers and settling into their deck chairs ready to be entertained once more by the amateur campers. Unfortunately the campsite owner wasn’t on site and we didn’t like to disturb our neighbours from their entertainment by asking them for help and so we called our breakdown service. Eventually we were rescued by the tow truck man with his car battery reviving equipment and then, only 45 minutes past our official check out time we were ready to depart.
Lessons learned –
1. Run the car for at least 30 minutes after a jump start!
2. We LOVE camping!

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How To Put Up A Tent For The First Time

We have decided to throw ourselves into the world of camping. Yesterday we went to our local camping shop and bought a family tent along with the many other bits and pieces that are necessary for a few nights living under canvas. Today we practised putting up our new tent for the first time. From our experience I have compiled a handy guide for anybody else foolish enough to do as we have done.

Firstly, in order to help you get off to the best possible start, please ensure that you have favourable conditions for your first attempt and make sure that you are mentally and physically ready for some pretty hard work.
Or, instead, do as we did and attempt to put up your tent –
*on the windiest day of the year
and
*on a day when I had rolled in at at 4.30am the night before and had enjoyed just 3 hours of fitful sleep.

Remember, putting up a tent for the first time can be quite challenging so it’s good to have somebody available who knows what they are doing to offer you a bit of guidance should you need it.
Or you could do as we did and have –
*one person who has never camped.
*one person who hasn’t put up a tent in about 15 years
*two young children who casually assured us they knew exactly how to do it and that it was really very easy actually.

Ok, now you are ready to begin! The first step is to unpack the tent bag. It can be initially disconcerting when, having unpacked the bag you are presented with a floor carpeted in a wide expanse of nylon, tarpaulin and plastic but fear not! These things are your tent, ground sheets, bedroom compartments and unassembled tent poles. Yes, it might take you a while to work out which bit is which and where the various bits go but keep at it! You’ll get there eventually!
Alternatively, like us, you could be stood for an hour on the terrace, looking at the various bits, moving them around, trying to match them to the pictures from the (minimal) instructional diagrams, moving them around again and finally getting a closer match just as the gusting wind blows them around and renders them unrecognisable again. Meanwhile, you gradually lose your patience and your temper gets frayed. You scrabble around for as many heavy objects as you can find to weigh down the fluttering edges while your children pop their head through the door every five minutes or so and gaze upon you, looking bewildered and lost in a sea of billowing, tangled nylon and on the brink of tears and ask, “Is the tent up yet, mummy?”

Don’t forget, your family sized tent will eventually be quite large so do make sure you have enough room to construct it before you start.
Or you could do as we did –
*begin in your woefully small living room, desperately pushing furniture back against the wall in an effort to make a bit more space and attempting to thread one end of an exceedingly long tent pole through the correctly coloured spaces while the wildly swinging other end of the tent pole sweeps random things off of shelves and threatens to dismantle the light fittings.
*realise that the living room is too small and so relocate to the terrace where you attempt to do the same thing in the howling wind, all the time holding on to the tent for dear life so that it doesn’t launch itself off of the terrace and fly away, giving the neighbours some jolly viewing entertainment.
*realise that it’s far too windy to set up the tent outside and decide to relocate back inside this time moving some of the indoor furniture outside and standing sofas precariously up on their edges against the wall in order to accommodate the alarmingly large tent.
*do all of this while trying not to shout at the children who continue to appear every five minutes to ask if you’ve finished.

The tent needs to be pegged securely to the ground in order to keep it upright.
Unless of course you are, like us, attempting to put it up indoors in which case you obviously can’t peg it to the floor. We found it extremely inadvisable to tie the cords to various household objects but did it anyway. The resulting hazardous labyrinth of criss crossed ropes going from the (still shaky) tent to door handles, terrace door gates, dining room chairs and tables was not only precarious and like some kind of fiendish maze but it turned out that we had attached each rope with some (as we later discovered) impossible to untie knots. It would certainly have made for interesting viewing as we negotiated this labyrinth while carrying the bedroom compartments inside and later, and much more challengingly, two inflated double mattresses.

Once you have successfully put up your tent you will undoubtedly feel a great sense of achievement. You’ve managed to turn that earlier tangle of nylon and tarpaulin into an actual, habitable tent!
If you are anything like me you will also feel –
*overwhelming exhaustion
*astonishment that 3 hours have passed while you have been tent wrestling
(swiftly followed by)
*a sense of foreboding at the prospect of dismantling the tent.

But don’t despair, for you will soon discover that taking down the tent wasn’t such a formidable prospect after all.
No, not at all. The real test will come when you’re faced with that huge tangle of nylon and tarpaulin again and you have to try and fit it back into the suddenly very small looking bag.

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Role Models

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When I was growing up I knew I wanted to be a teacher just like my mum but I harboured a secret ambition, to be a presenter on Blue Peter. I looked forward to watching Blue Peter after school and I loved all of the presenters. I dreamed of making things on camera that children at home would copy, I wanted to look after the Blue Peter pets and I wanted to travel the world. I had some inspirational role models when I was growing up, both close to home and also those further afield that I saw on TV and I know that my own children are discovering role models of their own to look up to. But the celebrities that modern society gives air time too have changed in many ways from those when I was a girl and the programmes and personalities that we see on television and in popular music these days aren’t necessarily as wholesome in their appearance as they used to be.

Take for example, Kanye West. He is frequently in the public eye and following his high profile performance at Glastonbury festival there has been much comment in the media. Kanye West, the modestly self proclaimed ‘greatest living rock star on the planet’ is, as far as I can make out, mainly famous for making outlandish statements such as, “I am God’s vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.” I couldn’t name one of his songs and I don’t know much about him but it seems that any musical talent that he does have has is being over shadowed by his narcissism. The egocentric, puffed up attitude that he exudes makes me cringe but it is this that increases his appeal to many and guarantees him public exposure.

And in the news another topic of conversation, the launch of yet another reality TV show. This one is called ‘Life On Marbs’ and it is about the lives of a selected few people who live in Marbella. In the article there is a synopsis of this much copied show formula as well as an introduction to the cast which is mainly made up of the vaunting proclamations of these people that will undoubtedly become overnight media sensations. There is a man who boasts of washing his watches with champagne that costs £20,000 a bottle and who subsequently posts videos of himself doing this on Instagram, another man who boasts about running up £85,000 bar bills and of once spending £450,000 in a week on two cars and then another who proudly professes to have lost count of the number of women he has slept with. There is a woman who is a self confessed plastic surgery addict, another who spends three hours getting ready for the school run in the morning and then another who believes in having plastic surgery in order to keep her millionaire husband interested. As I read I can’t quite believe the vulgar, vacuous ways that these people have found to live their privileged lives and I wonder why we are so obsessed with following the exploits of these pompous people and promoting their dubious values. Why must we glorify those who have no idea how to live their fortunate lives in a worthy manner but who instead flaunt their self indulgent existences in such a crass manner?

My children are still young and they won’t be watching any such television programmes for many years to come but nevertheless it is an undeniable fact that from as young as two years old children are influenced by the people and characters they see around them, both in their daily life and on television. Modelling behaviour starts early with children copying the actions of mummy or daddy or wanting to dress up and act like favourite fictional characters. This was demonstrated vividly by the recent ‘Frozen’ frenzy which had young girls everywhere pretending to be Anna or Elsa. Working with young children has further highlighted to me the role models that young children admire and they aren’t all the innocent, wholesome characters that we would hope for them to be. The children in my class this last school year were just 5 and 6 years old but already they were talking about and imitating public figures such as Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. In the playground they would recreate the over sexualised dance moves from music videos and they would sing the lyrics of popular songs which often contained words which out of context we would surely not want them to use. “Hey, sexy lady…” and “I’m sexy and I know it…” could be frequently heard and were usually accompanied by much giggling from the other children.

It is of course the role of a parent to protect children from unsuitable material and also to keep them grounded in reality but when children are exposed to ostentatious, exaggerated and often inappropriate personalities through television or music this can create a distorted view of the world. There can be a very real disconnect between how life is portrayed in the media to how life really is. This endless fascination that we have with celebrity and ‘reality’ TV can present a very unrealistic view of the world as well as glorifying certain values, morals and vocabulary which are anything but desirable.

But for how long should I shield my children from this and at what point should I use it as a springboard for discussion, as an opportunity to talk about inappropriate vocabulary, to consider traits that we should ideally value and those undesirable ones that we shouldn’t? At what point should I overlook any innocently used ‘bad’ words that my young children use in innocence, with no understanding of their meaning but that they have heard on TV, in songs or from other children so as not to bring attention or importance to them? At which point should I stop discouraging the use of such words with a ‘That’s not a nice word, we don’t use words like that’ type statement and instead plunge into a deeper, more worldly discussion?

Undoubtedly tomorrow there will be new stories in the media, new TV shows being touted and new celebrities being created and of course not all of these will offer an ideal that we would want our own children to aspire to. As we all know in parenting there is no instruction book, no manual to tell us how and when we must do things. Ultimately we must follow our instincts and do what we feel is right. It can be a difficult task.