Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Bad Book Club

My reading, although providing  food for thought, has been on the serious side lately.  Think  back to the truly excellent Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning and Clive Stafford Smith's heartbreaking  Justice.  I needed to lighten up.    A man's quest to take me on a tour of all the books that I didn't know that I didn't need to read sounded just what I needed. Although I had read some of the stuff discussed.  Anyone who has perused Nancy Friday's Secret Garden will know how that dirty dream involving a donkey sticks in one's mind.  In complete contrast a couple of Cliff Richard biographies made my way into my library pile in the olden days. No-one could ever accuse me of being uneclectic.

We're going on a train journey today and it's a good job that I've finished the Bad Book Club.  For, with its mixture of sharp wit, filth and silliness it made me laugh out loud.  Not timid titters but great big guffaws. I've probably snorted a bit as well, a habit that I'm sure finishing school would have knocked out of me if I'd been.  Then again you probably don't get many council house girls from Essex knocking about in those place.

Here's a quote right from the end of the book, the last laugh as it were. Read on and see if this book might be one that brightens your life as well.  It's a commentary a piece Margaret Knox's self help book 'How to Marry the Man of Your Choice' on what to wear to meet men.

'Chapter Two deals with this but not before Margaret first reminds you that being clean is important.  After all, perhaps you've never found your man because you stinkl like an old canal during high summer.  On sartorial advice, little is left out - from the colour of clothes to fabric, which should be silky.  Do not wear things that are 'metallic, corduroy or nubby wool' - so that's your folk singing robot costume out of the window.'

Monday, 30 March 2015

Daffs and Disco Dress

It's a good job that someone else at my party took some photographs, albeit slightly grainy ones. Thanks girlies!  Here's me in that birthday dress that I bought for a fiver last month in Teignmouth.  I didn't need to get my mates to body wrap me to get into it this time.   There was another shot of me getting slightly frisky with a fully consenting adult blow up dolphin.   Nothing too risque I have to say but for the sake of the most sensitive souls out there I've decided not to share that one.

My entire  retro outfit  including new tights cost less than £20. Proof that you don't have to spend a fortune on a party frock.  People are there to see you and not the clothes you're in.  Here's the breakdown:

Dress £5
Scarf  £6.50 (Peacocks)
Hat    £3.50 (Rowcroft Hospice Shop on the Barbican)
Tights - I think they  might have been £3.50 too.

And what have we got to show for a night of revelry.  A vanful of wine and chocolate that's what!  It can't be bad.  There's also these flowers picked from her garden by Nellie.  She must have known that seeing the daffodils come out at this time of year makes me smile.  It's the sign that, even though it may be chilly, spring has well and truly sprung.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

An Eggcellent Evening

It's the morning after the night before...or more correctly the afternoon.  I'm late blogging today after the massive clean up that is the consequence of a good party.  None of my own photos to show as I was too busy dancing and socialising.

Anyway there's an assignment deadline due on Thursday so there's not much time to write a post.   I just thought that I'd share a couple of photos from a piece covering a school's egg decorating contest in the Herald that we spotted whilst waiting for our breakfast at Captain Jaspers .  Can you guess who this is?  It's Egg Sheeran of course....

....and of course this Egg Miliband could be leading the country in just over a month's time.  These are lovely.  I'm just a little bit disappointed that there wasn't an Eggy Izzard!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

What's the Difference Between a Pollock and a Cod?

Can you guess what this one is?
It was bound to happen sooner or later to someone who likes to store an awful lot of useless knowledge in her bonce and then share it with all and sundry at a moment's notice.  This week I've joined a pub quiz team.   Actually I received an invite on account of 'my superior scientific knowledge'!  A slight exaggeration perhaps but with that sort of accolade coming my way I wasn't about to put anyone right!

So how did we do?  Well, I'm pleased to say that the team were dead chuffed with my contribution.  Apparently I've transformed them from no-hopers to definite contenders.  We made it to the tie-break and then I flunked a question on paper size.  A poor show from a printmaker.

I'd hoped to find you a link to the 'Name That Fish'  round that was our nemesis as we scored a pitiful 2/16.  After all don't all quizmasters use the Internet as their main resource?  Some of the problem was scale.  What we though might be a barracuda turned out to be the much smaller pike.  Our funniest incorrect guess?  What sport pairs red/yellow and blue/black?  We quite reasonably plumped for Tag Wrestling.  After all wasn't Big Daddy hanging about  in the red corner on those misspent '70s afternoons in front of the telly?  The answer was the much more civilised sport of croquet.  Maybe we need someone a posh, mallet wielding angler on our team next time round!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Red Sky in the Morning

This sight in the East has  greeted me after hauling myself down from my bed in the sky this morning. Isn't it beautiful?  It begs a question though.  Just what is it those good shepherds are trying to warn me about?

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Niggles Resolved

When you're living somewhere that's smaller than the average dwelling, and have the type of personality where an untidy house equates to an untidy mind, it's absolutely essential that everything  remains just so.  As space is a very valuable commodity indeed and is often multi-functional it's extreme hard to ignore pockets of untidiness or indeed a way of storing something that just doesn't really work. I've been making some changes to my motorhome, Klaus the Knaus,  that have rectified some of the niggles that using him as a full-time dwelling have brought to the fore.  These pretty cushions were not  just bought as they were a perfect match for my swanky retro upholstery and make my van look even more homely.  They also give me something to sit on when eating.  Before I felt like a toddler when eating and I wasn't quite high enough to reach the table comfortable. Now the table:bench ratio can be made perfect.

Adding a simple but very chunky hook to the storage area near the main entrance to the living space means that my broom doesn't fall over every time I go out and bar my way as I come in. Grrr!  Hopefully it'll be man enough to withstand braking and corner turns when I'm driving too.  That's the plan anyway.  It's due to be tested out at the weekend when we leave our normal campsite for a birthday adventure.

I was also getting mightily pee-ed off whenever I tripped over Crocs, trainers and the like that we wear often and never seem to make it back to the Thule shoe organiser.    More of those inexpensive  black bungees that I use to keep my books secure  have provided a ready storage solution.  Simply wrapped around the passenger seat adjacent to the main entrance door they provide a place where footwear can been 'hung' next to the coats.

So my sanity has been restored.   Just a few simple measures have meant that those things that were driving me a little bit mad on a daily basis have been magicked away!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Muff with Buttons!

When I was shown these knitting instructions for a Twiddle Muff  yesterday I had to giggle.  There's too many double-entendre laden phrases in there for a puerile 'Carry On' inspired mind to ignore.  The concept is excellent though and thankfully  it's not about bejazzling with wool. People with advancing dementia can get a bit fidgetty. Snuggly muffs decorated inside and out(!) are thought to be a wonderful resource for providing tactile stimulation.

Staff at Exeter's Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital are asking people to knit Twiddle Muffs so that they can gift them to patients.  I can't knit for toffee so this blog post is my contribution to the project.  I'm asking anyone who can help to go ahead and use your imagination to decorate a Twiddle Muff that will help keep someone with dementia a bit more comfortable in hospital.  They often have a hard time in  such an alien setting.  Or knit one for a loved one or start a project to provide them for a hospital or care home locally.   I hope I've started something here.  Please show me the results if you take up my challenge.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Caravan Ahoy!

Salty Dog is hankering after a vintage caravan to do up.  I'm not a tow-er myself so have tried to put her off. But each to their own.  As she rightly points out a motorhome comes with the increased costs associated with running a vehicle; tax, insurances, servicing and she doesn't want all that.

On her behalf I went and had a look on Ebay to see if I could find something suitable and came across this caraboat in need of much TLC.  In spite of this it sold for impressive £499. Given Salty Dog's nautical bent I think it would have been just fine for her.
Photo: British Pathe

I wondered what a pristine example of this mad British intervention might have looked like. Help was at hand from Pathe news. You'll have to follow this link to see a short movie clip from the '60s demonstrating just how this dual-purpose piece of kit operated. Launching it, after attaching an outboard motor and some buffers certainly alarmed a few swans and old ladies.

Photo: British Pathe
I have to say that I'm dubious about its practicality.  The couple 'sailing' the vessel look distinctly worried.  It looks pretty rocky on even the flat, calm waters of the Thames and they look like they're trying to stay as still as possible to avoid capsize.  Even so the concept is pretty good.  And if Salty Dog manages to get her own caraboat I'm game to try it.  I'll be wearing my swimming cozzie though and will be ready to jump out of the window just in case!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Stretching Squash

It's been a weekend of studying interspersed revelry with Salty Dog both evenings to stop my head exploding from all that academic effort. Follow this link to check out the incredibly talented Land of the Giants, a Plymouth band that we caught in Newton Abbot on Friday. Their lead singer is unfeasibly cute. There, I thought I'd better get that in before I'm 50 next week and pass the point where it becomes totally unacceptable to  leer at men half my age!  Perhaps I'll take up crochet or some other wholesome hobby to wean me off the habit.  Oh, by the way thanks to all those that have expressed real or feigned surprise at my advanced age.  It's been appreciated by the woman who, in her deluded little head, still believes that she's about 21.

In order to devote as much time as possible to working on my assignment I cooked ahead. A butternut squash  was roasted very successfully in the halogen oven on Thursday night and I did a variation on the double recipe that I posted way back.  Half of the most  gorgeous variety of veg  known to man was eaten on the day simply adorned with grated parmesan and  lardons of bacon.  A tortilla sandwich filling was made with the rest.  I fried onion, carrrot, pepper, halved baby cherry tomatoes, chopped spring greens and a half a packet of cubed feta.  This was simply seasoned with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.  That did for tea for me and Salty Dog, who doesn't eat meat, on Friday night. More of the mix went into a tortilla parcel with the addition of some chopped chorizo for Saturday lunch..  And here was last night's supper.  The puree mix made a rather delicious side dish for some more chorizo and fried slices of halloumi.  As I might have said before I'm firmly in the camp with those who believe that vegetarian food can only be enhanced by the addition of pork products.  There's still enough other for a butternut breakfast.  I reckon it'll be great adorned with an egg.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Cat Man Do

Late blogging today. After a rather annoying computer glitch which meant I couldn't access the university computer system this morning, I'm studying at full force.  And it's a day that's rather too gorgeous to be sitting at my laptop. Bah!  If I do anything else it'll be something outside and not screen based.  So, I'll be quick.  Here's a little cartoon that made me and Louis laugh the other day.  If I remember past feline friends correctly I think it captures cat behaviour perfectly.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Flamingo Mk.1

I'm a bit premature in showing off the results of my printmaking course but too excited by the results to keep them to myself. After I've come out of my last two classes the chemicals flowing through my brain and body are akin to those that flow whilst in love.  Pah! Who needs a man when you've got a pile of art materials!  When I confided in the people at work that this had happened they said that I was mad.  Maybe I knew that already.

Anyway, I started to cut this flamingo last spring when I was recovering from knee surgery.  The pose on one leg was supposed to be a very simplistic metaphor for my own situation.  I was pleased with the bird but couldn't get the background, cut on a second piece of lino, right. So, like many other of my craft projects this particular picture was put on the back burner.

Now Simon, my tutor at Exeter's Double Elephant Print Workshop is excellent and enthusiastic.   And patient for I am one of the messiest buggers on earth whilst in the throes of working.  With his help the other students have made some amazing pieces using a wide range of wacky techniques that have included using photographic bits and pieces and magic black dust.  After a brief foray with monoprinting in the first session, I've stuck fast to my linocutting for that was what I wished to develop. With Simon's help with design and technique I've come up with a print I'm proud of.  This isn't the final version though.  The beak isn't quite right.

Friday, 20 March 2015


Ages back when I showed off my internal motorhome makeover Frances asked for a picture of the outside, just to make sure that it wasn't a Tardis. Well, it's late in coming.  I had to clean before I did that, a tortuous job I'd put off for a long time.  It involved a major argument with Louis who was supposed to be helping.  Instead he sloped off halfway through and hid in the toilet to play on his Kindle leaving  me sitting on the roof cold, grubby and wet  whilst  waiting for fresh hot water.  Words were said some of which might have been swearier than you'd expect a mother to use in the presence of an eleven year old.  However we made up and the job got done. So, today I've come up with a goods, a tour of the outside of the very gorgeous Klaus the Knaus.  The exterior features may not be quite as pretty as his gorgeous interior but there's lots to see. Here's the cab - very useful when I want to up sticks!  If this hasn't happened in some time and the main battery is as dead as that skeletal dodo that we saw in Brighton, I trickle charge by running a wire from the leisure battery which usually powers bits and pieces inside.  That does the trick and within twelve hours we can be off.
Lots of my fulltiming counterparts erect awnings and then pack them full of stuff.  As this was an exercise in living with less AND I want to be able to move when I want to with ease I've decided not to do that.  Here's the sum of my outside storage.  My bike is under its special cover made for the job.  Underneath the green tarp is a spare European gas bottle, a bike rack and my Lafuma lounger, that will earn its place with me through through warmer months.

Here's the storage compartment that runs under the back seat that can be accessed from inside too.  It holds all sorts of gubbins; hoses, camping table and chairs, a barbecue, the windy thing for my awning, buckets and bowls for cleaning.  As you can see it can get messy quite quickly.

There's a folding bike rack on the back and a ladder so that I can climb onto the roof to argue with my son.

And here's what's up there.  A solar panel that allows me to wildcamp without a hookup and not have to worry about having no lighting.  The thing on the far left is a satellite dish that I've discovered needs some TLC.  Maybe it's why the TV doesn't work at the moment.  I need to get a man onto that.

There's a little cupboard where my toilet cassette fits snugly.  I'm going to have to empty it in a minute.  I push the big yellow button at the front and it then slides out.  The tube on the right shows how much flushing liquid I've got left.  That's filled by pulling out the arm thingy attached to that white box at the top and unscrewing the lid.  The disinfectant stuff I add to the liquid is the same blue stuff that I use in the main toilet.

A humble washing up bowl that collects waste grey water, not anything that goes down the toilet I hasten to add.  It's just the stuff that goes down the plug hole after washing up and from bathroom ablutions.  Nothing really yucky.

I connect to mains electricity when I'm on sites here.  There thing on the right is a vent from my gas boiler.  On a cold morning like today atmospheric steam emits from it.

And here's a second outside locker but this one cannot be accessed from inside the van.  It contains my propane supply used to cook, for the central heating and hot water system and to run the fridge when I'm not on a hook up.  As Klaus is German there's an adaptor for UK bottle connections. They can be a sod to change. The green thing at the top is where I top up my clean water daily with a watering can.

So there you have it, a further look around the tiny versatile space that I call home!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Origami with a (Small) Price

Photo: Won Park

Ever wondered what to do with that leftover holiday spending money that you didn't remember to convert back into the legal tender of your own country?  Well here's a clever idea. Instead of popping those notes in a drawer and forgetting them when you next go away why not get folding?  The dexterous among you could create a memory of your holiday and display it for the world to see.  Let the very clever work of Hawaiian origami artist Won Park be your inspiration.

If I were not quite so butterfingered here's one I could make with two of those dollar bills that we'll inevitably bring back from the US later in the year.  Let's hope the bears that we see in Yellowstone National Park won't get quite as snappy with us.

Photo: Won Park

Or maybe in a few spare minutes I could knock up this crab.  It might serve as a reminder of a creature found on a beach on the Pacific North West coast that we lovingly put back into a rock pool.  Or one we'll encounter in a restaurant that will make its way into our tummies!  Crustacean is one of Louis' favourite foods after all.

Photo: Won Park

This is my favourite of Won Park's design although I'm not clear where a koi carp fits into my own travel plans.   I'm sure that I don't have to point out how blooming clever it is to get the markings on the bill to corresponded to the fish's eye.  Genius!   For those intrepid crafters out there, blessed with more patience and nimbler fingers than my own, here's a link to the instructions to make one.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Cheapest Half Term Ski Ever?

Ah  a freshly groomed piste!  It's not something that I clapped eyes on myself this year.  I just had to listen to Mr Metrosexual and Salty Dog regale me with stories of their snowy trips to the Pyrenees.  The poorly ankle that gave way back in October took an age to heal.  That in turn had a knock on effect on recovery after my cruciate repair.  I still have muscle wastage in my thigh and one leg that's thinner than the other.  My surgeon was philosophical and put slow and set back recovery due to my age. It's going to take more time. Unless I fancied a trip back to the operating table, a jaunt down the slopes wouldn't have been sensible in 2015. Alas Lou and I had to forego our annual ski trip.

But we're already nearly a quarter of the way through the year and 2016 beckons.  Insomnia can be useful.  In the middle of the night I got to wondering if, by booking really, really early, I could create my own little ski package at spring half term, traditionally one of the most expensive weeks, that was even cheaper than our January break in 2014 when I took Louis out of school.  This is quite a challenge but I'm up for it.

Since becoming a single mum Soldeu in Andorra has been our destination of choice.  I fancy a change but can't afford Alpine prices.  So we're changing resort in the same country and heading for the Massana ski area.  It's smaller than we're used to but still gives us sufficient runs to keep us happy for a five day break.

So, did my cunning ploy work?  Well we aren't lapping up  luxury this time around. That's out of the question.  But for around £280 I've found a perfectly adequate room in a  two star ski apartment with buffet breakfasts and dinner thrown in.  Reading between the lines it looks as if meals are taken in the four star hotel over the road where there's a pool and jacuzzi that we can use.  Result!  What's even more remarkable is that by using the Hotels.com website to book we don't have to pay a penny until we get to the resort in nearly a year's time.  That's accommodation sorted without any upfront cost.
Flights into Barcelona look as if they're going to be £300. This will be booked as soon as they become available.  I'm a bit too early to catch the worm yet.  That leaves just over £900 for a night's stay in my favourite city and all those transfer and ski costs before the budget of £1,500 that I've got in my head is blown.  Eminently do-able.  In the meantime I'll use the next eleven months to get my knee and ankle nice and stable again.  It'll have knock-on benefits for the rest of my life too!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Look Inside

Too much emphasis these days is placed on achieving the 21st century world's definition of physical perfection.  So much time and energy is wasted in aspiring to an impossible ideal.  It seems that many think that it's perfectly okay to outwardly criticise those who don't meet the mark.  Many others are full of self-loathing of how they perceive themselves.   My own refusal to dye my hair and wear make-up has become a statement against buying into these myths.  Sure, sometimes I look a bit tired but I'm willing to trade illusion for authenticity.  And I'd rather spent my time pursuing meaningful goals such as being the best parent that I can be, creating stuff and trying in a small way to make the world a better place rather than using those precious minutes to cover a few lumps, bumps and wrinkles.

This is Lizzie Velasquez.  She has been described as the world's ugliest woman and a monster by some extremely rude so and so s out there.  Watch this video and decide who is the most repulsive, Lizzie or those who feel that it's their right to make these cruel judgements . It's pretty easy to come to a decision.

Monday, 16 March 2015

What I Do, Why I Do It

I am dead proud of my second career as an occupational therapist but few know what the job  entails.  'So what do you actually do?' I'm often asked.  Sometimes people have an idea that I might be involved with doling out equipment to compensate for disability, designing accessible shower rooms or weaving baskets.  Yes, I did have a little go at this much maligned craft at university but as I've mentioned before, I was monumentally bad at it and don't inflict dodgy wicker working on others.

Meaningful activity or occupation, forms the core of what I do.  I work out what people need and want to do and then see how that can be achieved.  Often my intervention will be based around doing rather than talking.   It's a really practical and common sense approach to therapy.  Most people get it when its explained to them in these terms.  It's a philosophy that has come to underpin my own life too.  I mostly have my occupational thinking cap on to sort out my own problems.

Now those who know me will confirm that I'm a bit of a maverick.  My first profession, taxation, didn't suit though it equipped me with some valuable transferable skills as it forced me to operate in a very procedural way.  I'd felt imprisoned by a career path that I didn't want to follow.  Occupational therapy's wide remit allows me to go off on tangents and explore pretty much whatever takes my fancy as there's always an argument that whatever has caught the fancy of my busy little mind is relevant to occupation.  Could taking the  wrong  medication for them affect a person's ability to  carry on with their everyday life? Absolutely but no-one had really acknowledged this properly so I wrote a paper explaining why that might be. Would being incontinent have a detrimental effect on what you were able to do?  Of course!  It's not rocket science that fear of weeing or pooing yourself might present a bit of a barrier. I organised a conference to help fellow occupational therapists come up with solutions. Is the diagnosis of dementia  a death sentence? Well, we've all got to pop off at sometime.  I'm passionate about encouraging everyone, especially those with impaired brain function, to think about what they still want to do with their lives and go ahead and do it.   One forgetful yet party loving lady went on an awful lot of cruises because I encouraged her to do so.  After all aren't those super liners full of lost elderly people anyway?  My latest project involves exploring how to improve quality of life for those people with dementia who exhibit distressed and agitated behaviours that are symptomatic of unmet need. It's a biggie but there's a plan in place!

So that's a bit about what I do but the work of my colleagues is so different.  It sometimes doesn't look as if we doing the same job.  This lovely little video produced by some students in the US explains what binds us all together.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Smaller Than Mine!

Photo: Wonderful Engineering
Notwithstanding copious  nagging about even minimal amounts of untidiness, Louis and I rub along very comfortably indeed in living space that's around thirteen metres square.  According to the Mail, so it must be true, that is about one-sixth of the floor area of the average UK family home.  Yet students at Chongqing University have designed a gorgeous prototype house that has a floor area that's just over half the size of my motorhome. This seems unfeasibly tiny but by Jove, thanks to clever use of storage space and a rising/falling table that converts a study area into a chillout zone, it works.  Like my own home it has a mezzanine that provides generous bed space.

Ph111oto: Wonderful Engineering
The appliance count is way higher than in my own pad.  There's an built in oven so there's no need to rummage around in the built in storage under the benches when there's a hankering for a hot Pieminster pie, if indeed they have those in China. Whilst I have to traipse over to a amenities block to do my laundry the lucky inhabitant of this home doesn't have to set foot outside.  Apparently there's also a dishwasher hidden away somewhere in that compact kitchen.

Photo: Wonderful Engineering

I'm very taken by this compact bathroom that may well be the design inspiration for an ensuite shower room that I want to create for Louis in the attic hideaway in our Brixham home. I didn't think that there was room for one in the restricted roof space but this proves that it's eminently possible.

Photo: Wonderful Engineering

This experimental home doesn't have sides and doors.  It's an exhibition piece so it needs to allow lots of people the chance to peep in all at once. In converting this prototype into reality the challenge will be to retain that quality of light and spaciousness when providing privacy and security.  That will take a bit of extra thought. but I'm sure that it can be done.  And surely there's potential to add a roof terrace to so that this perfectly feasible teeny tiny home can have some outside space?

Saturday, 14 March 2015

"Ah! Family Entertainment.....With Nazis"

Like me,  the film version of 'The Sound of Music' is 50 this year.  It's probably the reason that there's so many Julies about.  We all seem to have been born  around this time.  I told one of my printmaking buddies that I was taking Louis to see the school's version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein piece that was chosen to mark this anniversary. Today's title is how he described this iconic piece of kitsch theatre. It made me giggle rather a lot.

My main motive for buying those last minute tickets was to see just how a boys' school manages to cast a play where the main character is a woman and there's an awful lot of nuns.  After all Shakespeare was said to have managed without having to tempting any Tudor women onto the stage.   The director here did not follow the Bard's example. Female cast members had been rustled up from the sixth form and the girl's school over the road. Sadly, there was a complete absence of  schoolboys in ecclesiastical drag.  However a male history teacher couldn't resist donning a habit during the interval. There's always one!

Now school performances seem to have come a long way since my childhood.  No ham acting, warbly singing or flappy backdrops.  The quality of the show was excellent, really not far at all from professional standards.  An absolute bargain night out.  Twelve pounds for tickets for me and the boy who was so impressed he's tempted to audition next year.  Here's some of my photos - complete with the heads of audience members just to prove that it was a live performance.

Some of those nuns - just about to burst into a rendition of 'How do you solve a problem like Maria?'

Awwww!  The moment that Maria and Baron von Trapp reveal their love for each other.  Never let it be said that I am not a soppy blighter under that hard exterior!

And yes, there were swastikas but thankfully my recollection was correct. The school hadn't fallen into a trap of politically incorrect madness. The von Trapps weren't Nazis themselves.  It's why they had to escape over the mountains. Duh!

To end here's a song from that film that came out all those years ago. We sang along to this all the way home.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Sleep Denied and Given

Here's me asleep.  Actually I'm not really.  I'd have to be blooming clever to take a selfie whilst in the Land of Nod. This was taken on the ferry to France in November, part of the pictorial reminder of my solitary getaway.  I had an inkling that it might come in handy sometime when I talked yet again about that hoary old chestnut that is insomnia.  Yawn!

Yep, I'm going through another bout, the probable consequence of a mind filled with too many pervasive thoughts about the bits work and studying that I haven't done and need to do. Aaaaargh!  There's so much going round and round and round........

Before the age of technology I would have been left to my own devices to fret and fidget.  These days help is at hand.  On a smartphone niftily tucked under my pillow I play sleep meditations to guide me back to a sweet dream state.  More often than not they do the trick.  The Honest Guys  who've produced a wide range of useful free guided meditations have some of my favourites.  Here's a link to their Guided Sleep Talkdown with Gentle Rain.  The pitter patter of those soft raindrops in the background augmented the ferocious ones landing on my van roof in the early hours of this morning that probably roused me in the first place. Somehow the guys wove their magic and, in spite of the wild windy weather outside I was able to drop off again.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

More Fulltiming? The Plan

Photo:Helge Øverås
Should I stay or should I go?", a jolly fine tune from The Clash, guaranteed to get me up and do some of that embarrassing mum dancing that I mentioned yesterday.   I have a bit of a pogo at the end.  You need a good supportive bra for that to avoid eye injuries!  The song title poses a question that I've been asking myself lately.  My own particular conundrum isn't centred on relationship angst but rather where and how we should live.

Lou and I  now well into month five of motorhome living and the time has flown, rather enjoyably I have to say.  The winter was mild but even so, needed to be weathered.   A comfortable day to day existence has depended on relishing a cocoon of indoor cosiness rather than recreating camping holiday experiences where much of the day is spent outside.  Things are changing though.  On my first quiet weekend for yonks I spent time outdoors reading in a lounger and enjoying the sun on my face.  Okay I was shrouded in a fluffy blanket but it was a start.  Effortless outdoor eating, evening walks, wild swims, impromptu gatherings and kid camps where Louis  invites his mates for sleepovers in a tent all beckon.  Should I stay to enjoy little micro holidays each  evening or go back to conventional living and enjoy that beautiful seaside home?

People are definitely in two camps. Those who think that I was totally bonkers when I moved into Klaus the Knaus haven't wavered.  For many others I'm living their dream and they're egging me on to continue through the summer months.   There hasn't been much arm twisting involved.  We're staying on  until next autumn.  Unless my tenants give notice.  If that happens we might revisit our decision and head off to live at the seaside.

There's still a decision of the 'staying or going' kind to be made.  Should we remain here on the site that has served us well over the winter or move on up the road to another with easy access to work and the school bus  that is only open for the summer months?  After all we have wheels and a change of scenary is oh so easy to achieve. I'm stilling mulling that one over and will let you all know when I've decided.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

What's Normal?

Get this!  According to Louis I am not a normal Mum.  He has amassed evidence and this is what he's come up with.

  • I live in a van.  I knew that my mode of living might be right up at the top.  
  • I'm mad.  I've asked him to clarify this and he doesn't mean this in an axe wielding murderer kind of way.  It seems that I'm just kind of kooky.
  • I sing and dance in public for goodness sakes.
  • Then there's the dowsing pendulum, those angel cards and reiki. 'Nuff said.
  • I appreciate rude humour.  Apparently regular bog-standard parents don't have a heightened appreciation of fart, bottom and willy jokes. 
  • Rather than endlessly fretting over my son's misdemeanours, I spend parents' evening rating male teachers according to their hotness. Having checked this out with my female friends this is apparently pretty standard behaviour.  My rankings are super secret.  Even I know that disclosing them in the public domain is a step too far.
  • I have a big phone.  With eyesight deteriorating to mole-like status I've got a super-sized Galaxy Note 3. Yes, I can see the screen again! That seemed to me to be pretty sensible and not off any kilter at all.  But what do I know?
  • I often give him a lift to the school bus in pyjamas.  As these are akin to yoga attire,  grey baggy bottoms and a vest or sweat top I didn't see a problem here.  Apparently there is one.
I've asked Louis if any changes are required.  Maybe as he approaches teenage years I should aspire to be super-normal and less embarrassing.  The good news is  that I need not go down this path.  In spite of my oddities,  I've been pronounced the perfect Mum....for him.    I'm super happy with that!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Everyday Made Beautiful

Photo: MoMA
New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art looks like it has a wonderful collection.  But we can't all go gallivanting off to the States whenever we want to.  Some of us have jobs and kids who have to go to school you know. Some nice curator must of realised this and they've put the museum's collection online so everyone can have a peep wherever they are in the world.  It's a wonderful resource when you're seeking that little spark of inspiration.

I'm struggling with the composition of my latest multi-coloured linocut.  So off I went to seek inspiration. This one caught my eye.  Art depicting people going about their everyday business often appeals to me.  I'm thinking back to the work of Caillebotte, Anthony and  Forbes that I've blogged about in the past.   It's not surprising then that this beautifully executed serene print by Herman Bacharach took my fancy.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Need to Talk, Need to Listen

Life for me and my boy is good.  There is tasty, nutritious food on the table, our quirky living accommodation is comfortable, clean, warm and dry and we have clothes to wear and shoes on our feet. We feel very blessed for there is cash in the pot to socialise, travel and try new things.  Louis has a good education and enjoys an idyllic childhood in  a safe and beautiful part of the world. As a white, middle class, intelligent male the global odds are stacked in his favour.  He should be alright.

Yet across the Atlantic it is certainly not okay for other eleven year olds.  Until  yesterday I didn't know that there are little boys of the same age who've been tried in the US as adults and  sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in jail.  Children who are denied the opportunity to learn, mess around and have a snuggle from their favourite grown up when it's needed.   Maybe the lack of a favourite and trusted grown up is what got them into this mess in the first place. Most of them are poor and black. What's more 1 in 3 black boys who are born in the 21st century, in what is widely regarded as the most advanced society in the world, will spend time incarcerated during their lifetime.

Yesterday's Desert Island Discs stopped me in my tracks and blew me away.   Bryan Stevenson is another one of those pesky human rights lawyers who, like Clive Stafford-Smith, are intent on shaking up a woefully flawed US justice system.  He works with people on death row and those incarcerated children where things have gone horribly wrong right at the start of their lives.  Please listen to the programme or take twenty to listen to his TED talk.  Every considered word that he speaks is full of wisdom and compassion.  And he is so right.  We have to marry our visions of technology, design, entertainment and creativity, those things that are markers of an advanced society with visions of humanity, compassion and justice.  We are nothing unless we do.

I was talking with friends about how much evil is about, ingrained at every level from individual to societal. We agreed that we protect ourselves by surrounding ourselves with good people who love us.  By taking care of each other we  cut ourselves off from the horrors that others in the world have to suffer.   It's  important for our sanity that we do this.   We are reminded here though that we must contemplate the darker things that go on and act for humanity's sake.  There is a need to be informed so that we may act.

So what can be done?  Well, there's something to be said for speaking out, having meaningful employment, learning and teaching and using some of our time and money to better life for those where accident of birth means that they lack love and are disadvantaged from day one. My additional role as a parent is to pass this mindset on to my privileged son. He needs to know how horrible human beings can be to each other and the role he can play in righting wrongs.   My hope is that he will use his brains, not to accumulate wealth for himself, but in service to others.   As his teacher again pointed out at parent's evening last week, he has a kind heart so its not a tall order.  My mission in life is to do my utmost so that this happens.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

My New Boyfriend

I'm not a motorsport fan but am dead impressed when, during a Formula One race, a poorly car gets revitalised in a pitstop in about five seconds.  How do they do it? My own mechanical skills are sadly lacking and anything that I do is at a much slower pace and somewhere along the line  inevitably involves mayhem.

Remember a few months back when I was in France and my bike tyre got a puncture? Well, I tried to mend it without success.   Be blowed if  I could find where the hole was.  I pumped the tyre back up and it was as flat as a pancake again within minutes.  A leaky valve perhaps. Who knows?   I decided to treat myself to a new inner tube to see if that would rectify the problem. So off I popped down to Halfords and it was a revelation.  A whole wall of inner tubes including some rather expensive ones that repair themselves.  How do they do that?  Perhaps there's a flat elf embedded in them who  pops up and comes to life to fix the hole when it happens.  Who knows.  As Louis would say 'Is it magic?'  Anyway I was suitably impressed and bought a matching pair and a repair thingy that goes on a keyring for emergencies that might happen when I'm out and about.  For after all I was a guide and our motto was 'Be Prepared' even if you don't know what to do with the equipment that you've brought for emergency use.

Yesterday was gorgeous.  Just the weather for  working outside on the bike.   I'd replace those inner tubes and solve some squeaking.  Who needs a bloke to do these things for you?  I soon found out that having one around might have been very handy indeed.  I managed to get my chain in knots and things went pear-shaped with the brakes.  A pad fell off and the back ones firmly stuck themselves on permanently.   I managed to cover myself and a favourite creamy coloured T-shirt in grease and there was oil everywhere.  Where's a man when you want one!!!!!!!!

And  what do you know?  I found one.  Not some campsite lothario. They're extremely thin on the ground. No, here's  the very cute and unfeasibly young Jacob who I soon two-timed as Jesse came along,  At some time during the afternoon I also flirted heavily with a nice Irishman who was nearer my age.   Thank you boys.  You've taught me skills for life.  Even though I get into a bit of a tangle I can now remove wheels, insert inner tubes correctly and adjust brakes so that they don't squeak anymore.  So now you're all chucked.  I have no further need for you!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Swapping Our Small Space

I'm spreading the cost of our special 2015 holiday to make the outlay bearable About a month ago I forked out for flights.  For the last couple of days I've been hunting down accommodation in Vancouver for the first part of our trip.

At the risk of making Louis sound like Little Lord Faunteroy, he doesn't like roughing it.  Give him a posh pad and he's as happy as a pig in muck.   'Can we stay in a five star hotel one day?' he asked as we were passing one near Fenchurch Street station.  'In your dreams, mate.' I replied.  Watch this space though for what his savvy mum has come up with for a birthday treat.

A brief trawl of Booking.com suggests that hostel and conventional hotel accommodation can be had in Vancouver for a very reasonable price indeed. A budget double room above a microbrewery and pub would have set us back just £185 for our five night stay.  The YWCA hotel at £268  looked tempting although bathrooms were shared. As a single traveller I'd be perfectly happy with either of these solutions. For a boy who expects a swimming pool as standard that would never do!

I've just mentioned the properties above for comparison purpose as my first and final point of call for booking a holiday getaway was AirBnB again after our lovely experience in the Hove flat.  And I've found a gem, this centrally located studio with views over a marina that, like Klaus the Knaus, uses space ever so cleverly.  See that big cupboard?  Well that's where our bed disappears in the daytime.  The tables and dining chairs fold away to make more room and the coffee table converts into a desk.  There's a separate well equipped kitchen and a bathroom with that all-important tub that's missing from my full-time motorhoming lifestyle. I relish a soak as a special treat.  What's more the complex has a pool, gym, jacuzzi and lounge area with pool table.  It'll keep Master Fussy Pants very happy indeed.  The price?  Just a smidgeon over £300.  When compared with the cheapest hotel with an indoor pool that costs £482 that represents an absolute bargain.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Six Foot Under

Photo: Rypley
It is good to think about death. 'You miserable bugger LG' you might be thinking.  But that it not the case.  For I am, in the main, a joyful, perky human being and think that I'm pretty good at spreading that happiness. Mr Grumpy doesn't visit too often and when he does he gets short shrift.

Focusing on our mortality makes us aware of how precious time is.  It can spur us towards achievement, discovery and making amends when we've done wrong.  The Buddhists know that and ponder death. To illustrate, here's a link to a meditation that I found on Youtube.

A couple of years ago I found myself a snuggly shroud that I though I'd like to have to mark my departure from this earth.  Not that I'm planning on going anytime soon I hasten to add.  There's people to meet, places to see, things to get done.  But you never know.  If I do pop off I might like one of these biodegradable burial pods by Capsula Mundi instead.  They're planted in the earth with the tree of your choice for your surviving friends and family to tend.  What would mine be?  Well that's easy.  It's got to be a silver birch!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Bare-ish Necessities

Hair shirted:  There's a phrase beloved of my friend and fellow blogger Aril from Gnat Bottomed Towers.  It doesn't describe us though for although we like to be careful with our pennies, we like our creature comforts.  The music video is for you, Aril.  I think you'll like it.

Now Mad Dog Mcrea are a much loved local band that I've seen many times, and  written about  before.  They do a cracking version of 'The Bare Necessities' but alas, the sound quality on the You Tube videos that I found were lacking.  Insteead I've substituted this one to reflect my gypsy ancestry which may account for my wanderlust.  It also goes with my current living status that's still giving rise to rather a lot of lucky heather and peg quips!

Life on the Appalachian trail  demonstrated that I can cope perfectly well in the wilderness although a recent Facebook quiz  suggested my knowledge is rusty.  There is a high likelihood that I might be eaten by a wolf within a week.   Some people who take to this wheeled way of life are way more hardcore that me. Even though I have a smattering of survival skills, I'm not the type to park the van in the middle of nowhere and live off-grid, though I read the website with interest.  Rather I try  to replicate modern day living as far as possible, albeit in a smaller space.  I've chosen my campsite and motorhome model carefully to do this.  Here's my list of essentials:

  • An on-site launderette:  I don't want to relive my student days lugging a load of dirty laundry for miles and watching my socks go round in a drier for hours.  Nor do I feel it's right to take up the offers of friends and use their machines.  Because I use the driers here I don't need to iron. The task actually takes less time that it used to when I lived in a brick built house.
  • No bar or on-site entertainment:  Sure I like to party as hard, nay harder, than the next person but there are limits.  I have to work after all.  The site is quiet and allows me to sleep and relax in peace. I'm not woken up at all hours by holiday-making revellers.
  • A decent phone and data signal that allows us to tether two devices at once.  Most of us are heavily reliant on our phones these day and I'm even more so than most.  Using all those apps instead of having stand-alone gadgets saves tons of precious space.
  • Proximity of pitch to water and waste disposal.  Not too far so emptying the toilet and filling the tank with my watering can seems like an Iron Man challenge yet far enough away so that I don't have to listen to others tipping their own Porta Potti contents down the cistern throughout the day.
  • Hook up:  On the aires of France I can live without mains electricity as I have a solar panel and a leisure battery.  Appliances that can be run off the 12V supply are limited though.  Charging phones and tablets involves fighting for the cigarette lighter socket and razor outlet in the bathroom.  Mains power allows us to plug in stuff as normal and means that I can heat the van and run the fridge without using the more expensive  bottled gas supply.  That's now only used to cook with and to heat the water.  An 11kg bottle lasts for about six weeks.
  • Hot running water: No further explanation needed.  Boiling kettles is a pain.
  • Sure cooking with two rings and a barbie is fine when you're on holiday.  In the longer term a keen amateur chef needs to expand her repertoire.  The halogen and slow cookers have allowed me to do this.
  • A fixed main bed:  Having to re-organise furniture and make up a bed each night would be wearing.
  • Living space that is well defined allows for privacy:  Our living space is multi-functional and areas can be curtained off for those Greta Garbo moments when I want to be alone yet there's a small boy hanging around.
  • A decent sized bathroom:  Bumping knees on a wall everytime I 'powder my nose' would have peed me off by now.  That ginger cat that I see outside would be annoyed but he could be swung in there.
Well, this must be working.  We're now in month five of motorhome living and still loving it!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Fifth of an Aardvark

For the first time in ages I'm having an arty spell. Not that I've really got time for it being wrapped up in work, study, child guidance, cycle maintenance and  planning for a party and transatlantic trip.  But sometimes it's right and proper to make time to do something that you really love.  I should know that. After all I'm an occupational therapist and the idea of activity as therapeutic is a belief that runs through my being like a pencil lead.  It's so important to live by what you preach.

I've kept that early New Year's resolution back in December to return to do a course at the Double Elephant Print Workshop in Exeter.  Its name is derived from an old system for sizing paper. Isn't it lovely? Wouldn't it be wonderful to expand on this and redefine all those boring A4 and B5 sheets in terms of the similarity of their dimensions to  animal volume.  Half a Squirrel perhaps or Triple Weasel.  The possibilities, as I heard a slightly pissed person tell his mate  once at a Pizza Hut salad bar, are endless.

My first weeks offerings are not up to showing in public. The half decent monoprint that I produced didn't photograph well.  The other?  Well, that came out like a particularly nasty 1980s wallpaper sample, its ugliness further enhanced as it looked as if it were covered in Shreddies!  I'm hoping to be able to show off something that I'm way more proud of later down the line.

In the meantime let me show you someone else's art.  No printmaking as I am way too random to keep to subject but papercutting.  Louis and I are blown away by the work of the Maude White.  Here's a link to her website and she can also has an Etsy shop.  We  found her by chance as we were looking for examples of laser cut work for a design and technology project.  A happy accident really as her paper carvings are all produced by hand, an amazing feat given their complexity and fragility.  It's hard to pick a favourite but I've come up with a couple that we both like, including one with an elephant, albeit a single one.  There you go.  I haven't gone so far off theme!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

A Special Hymn Sheet

Here's Louis devouring his weight and mine in poppadoms again. He'd stayed late at school last Tuesday for a chess tournament. Rather than his usual trip home on the school bus, Mum's taxi was out in force.  I momentarily considered aloud whether we should eat out  on the way home.  The scheduled ETA back at the van was mighty late and I didn't know if I had the energy to muster up something in a Nigella-like  domestic goddess way. Well that was it.  For the next twenty minutes I listened to a homage to curry and naan bread.  By the time we were in Newton Abbot my tummy was rumbling like a super volcano. It was a good move to pull in and stop The kind staff in  his new favourite restaurant The Eastern Eye treat him like a king.  So great to find places that welcome children with open arms.

We'll probably eat out somewhere again tonight as it's parent's evening and another late end to the school day. Gulp!  Now if things were progressing like they did in Lou's first term at senior school I'd be very anxious indeed. But it's all settling down nicely.  Sure there's the occasional blip but wouldn't there be with most eleven year old boys?  My  bright, friendly, happy son is now on the Special Education Needs Register and it seems to be paying dividends.

Louis was diagnosed with dyslexia and hypermobility syndrome, which is like dyspraxia, back in 2012.   His difficulties are  at the mild end of the Specific Learning Differences (SpLD) spectrum. We see it as a difference rather than a disability that has not been stigmatising at all.  In fact Louis is overjoyed to meet people who think in a similar way to him.

What is surprising to many people is that Louis' reading is well above average for his age and he's often to be found with his nose in a book.  His biggest struggles are with paying attention and organising himself.  His writing is spidery and his clumsiness means that most sport is difficult.  I'm able to empathise as I have many of  the same difficulties.  I've worked out how to compensate for these over the years myself.  There wasn't chance in cat's hell of being diagnosed when I was a kid.

Armed with the evidence that the behaviours that really peeved his teachers weren't entirely down to my bad parenting I took the assessment reports into his primary school thinking that we'd get a bit of help.  Instead I was told by the headmaster that there wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't a middle class. mummy.  Really!   That was as far as I got.   Three years on,  the written plan  that has been drawn up Lou's school means a lot to us. It's a statement of what  we all need to do for Louis  to learn effectively. It's not rocket science or desperately expensive.  There's no equipment for the school to buy.  The extra cost involved is currently just  a fifteen minute weekly meeting with the special needs coordinator at his school.  Most importantly there's a hymn sheet that we can all sing from.  Slowly, it's working wonders.