Thursday, 30 April 2015

Every now and then ...

... your children do something that astonishes you - usually the naughty astonishment variety - I'm thinking of the day eldest brought a bottle of green food colouring into school . You would have thought it was St Patrick's day judging by the colour of his classmates' shirts as they emerged at the end of the day. Then there was the unfathomable reason as to why youngest might have thrown his school shoes onto the roof or the day eldest broke the pane of glass in the front door because he'd
 " forgotten his keys ".

But then there's the good astonishment variety , all too rare but all the more wonderful for it. Last night was one of those. I went to see youngest in his GCSE Drama performance at school in front of the examination officer and filmed - no pressure then. He hadn't let me practise his lines with him , had barred me from going anywhere near his group's rehearsals this weekend in our kitchen, forbidden me from looking at the script he wrote unaided.

I wasn't sure what to expect . You could have knocked me down with a feather when he chose to study Drama for GCSE. He'd always thought of acting as 'showing off '  - I knew what he meant. I'm one of those squirming in my seat when I have to watch over exaggerated shouty dramatic performances. So fast forward to 7.30 pm Thursday 29th April - a moment now indelibly etched on my conscious mind and one I will never forget .

Out he walks onto the stage, confident and self assured and delivers what I can only describe as a mind-blowingly powerful performance that left me stunned and sobbing in my seat. He played the part of a man suffering from mental illness on the brink of suicide. So compellingly believable was his performance that I had to stop myself from leaping onto the stage and wrestling the sleeping pills from his clenched fist. So caught up in the moment , a single tear slid down his cheek as he delivered his final line. I could barely breathe.

Watching his classmates hug and congratulate him as he walked off stage reduced me to a blubbering wreck. On the way home he told me how proud he was that he had done something well , adding the saddest footnote ... " I'm not very good at anything but it felt good to do well tonight ".

Oh my wonderful, beautiful boy. You will never realise how talented you are.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The best thing ....

... about finishing an hour long punishing Pilates class is the certain knowledge that you won't have to do it again for another 6 days and 23 hours. Am I supposed to be enjoying it or is it really supposed to be almost impossible?  Two wonky knees and a displaced shoulder doesn't help but I had hoped I might have crawled out with a certain glow of smug satisfaction at the very least .

Well at least my boys have found a practical use for the giant inflatable Pilates ball I bought - extreme volleyball in the garden.

Monday, 27 April 2015

How to help your dyslexic child through exams - Part 1

One of these days I'll write a book about this but in the meantime, here's what I've been doing for mine. This is second time around for me although my eldest was at a Special School at the time of his GCSEs and they were fully on board so my role was merely supportive. This time though , youngest is in mainstream school so there's more to do .

This is neither a prescriptive nor exhaustive list - just my suggestions which are working for us. I realise that for some, these may not be practical. I'm in the lucky position of working freelance so , although financially punitive, I am able to stand down work over the exam period. Do what you can and as much as you're able but don't beat yourself up . Just being around, feeding and re-assuring will go a long way to helping them through this tricky time.

  • Youngest son doesn't understand fully the passage of time - dyslexic children vary in their ability to appreciate how long things take , especially , if like mine , they're also dyspraxic. So I've downloaded a freebie calendar page for May and June ( the exam period for us ) which is available here . I've then cut it into strips and re-assembled it so that it looks like a horizontal timeline. This enables him to read from left to right and actually see each day pass rather than as a rectangular grid which can be confusing. Choose their favourite colour ( orange  = happy ! ) and mark up their actual exams . Not too much information and BOLD CAPITALS . The clearer the better . Only display one month at a time - 2 months can appear daunting.  Keep it Simple. Put it above their desk. Here's mine.

  • Clear your diary of unnecessary things but keep a sensible balance. Not always achievable especially if you work and have other children to take care of , just do what you can sensibly manage. Now's not the time to be away from home - you can live it up for the rest of the summer ! I went away in the middle of May for a weekend and I came home to find my son feeling dis-heartened and dis-oriented having wasted his time trying to revise but not really having stayed on task . Nor is it the time to be doing the whole world favours - so if someone asks you to invest your time or organise something that isn't vital just decline politely with " I'm sorry , I can't help you with that at the moment. "
  • Never under-estimate the power of re-assurance but don't just offer blanket platitudes like " You're doing fine". They know whether they are or not. Make it specific , more like " Well done, now you've got the first 10 chapters read we can tackle the second half "

  • Read to them or download texts from Audible if the titles are available. That's how we've tackled his English Literature text - The Siege by Helen Dunmore - a wonderful book but a bit of a Mount Everest for a dyslexic child.

  • Buy this ! I can't recommend it highly enough . If nothing else it made me feel better just helping him fill it in. We'd already drawn up revision timetables but they were slightly woolly . This very sensibly gets you to do a time budget and also encourages you to compile a rewards list - nothing helps motivation more than the promise of a Domino's Pizza at the end of the week. It also makes you get down to the nitty gritty of prioritising revision. Available from Amazon here and if you're  a Prime member it will arrive tomorrow. I've tried many with my students over the years and this one beats them all.

  •  Build in exercise breaks - a bike ride or a walk . Oxygen in the lungs gets the brain going and so does a glass of water - but if they're dyspraxic make sure it's nowhere near their open books - I speak from experience !
  • Stock up with healthy snacks . We subscribe to Graze boxes - worth their weight in gold at only £3.99 a pop ( the price of one posh coffee ) and they can be delivered weekly or however often you need them. 
  • Don't make them do revision cards unless you really think they're going to work . For a start my son can barely read his own hand-writing and it takes all his effort just to get the mechanics of writing going let alone learn from them. I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom but sometimes you have to do what work for you , not the other 90% of the population. I have bought these for maths and they're working well. 
  • Cook their favourite dinners . They don't need to be Masterchef quality - sometimes beans on toast is just what's needed and change the subject whilst they're eating . It's not the time to girl them on Shakespeare quotes !

I hope the above helps - I'm a Specialist Teacher for children with Special Educational Needs and I'm not sponsored to endorse any of the products I've mentioned above - they just work for us. That's all for now - part 2 to follow.  

Sunday, 26 April 2015

To breakfast ...

... or not to breakfast: that was the question:
Whether 'tis sensible to go for the 1pm performance at the Globe on an empty stomach and suffer
The tummy rumbling slings and arrows of outrageous hunger
Or to grab a bacon butty before the play began.

We opted for brekkie at a brand new hotel in town called the Mondrain . I had an ulterior motive - it was where I once worked for LWT in the entertainment department . We called it the Pink Palace and I loved every minute . Otherwise known as Sea Containers House , it's now been completely remodelled into a beautiful hotel. Well worth a peek , especially as they have a Curzon Cinema in house where you can bring in your Bloody Mary from the outrageously trendy bar to sip whilst you view the latest Art House movie. Beats a luminous blue slushy any day.

Breakfast, or rather Brunch as it was billed, was a fabulous affair - everything you could possibly imagine in a lavish buffet spread, best view in town of St Paul's and a ringside seat for the London Marathon whose runners were sweating their way along the embankment on the other side of the river whilst we scoffed our way through the French pastries.

Off then to the Globe for The Merchant of Venice . This was my idea of indelibly implanting the plot, characters and key quotes on youngest son's brain in time for his Eng Lit exam in a fortnight . Hope it works, although I fear he'll remember more about the pidgeon that pooped within a codpiece's width of us . If I were a pidgeon I think I'd opt for the Globe as my residence too . Richer pickings than the pavement-trodden MacDonalds fries elsewhere in the capital.

Last highlight of the day was renting a Boris bike for the ride back to Waterloo Station. Parting was such sweet sorrow but I feel we may be back before long if only for another shot at brunch.

Thursday, 23 April 2015


Quite by chance I spotted that Pentatonix are singing at the Hammersmith Apollo . Very excited to have got tickets - standing only sadly but I think I'll manage it - there aren't many groups I'd stand for over an hour for so I hope they're flattered .

In case you haven't heard them before , here's s snapshot on You Tube - called The Evolution of Music - a very clever montage through the ages.

Enjoy !

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Hard Problem

Went to theatre last night , well not strictly the theatre itself but our local cinema, where they were screening a live broadcast from the National Theatre of Tom Stoppard's play The Hard Problem. Hadn't read the reviews in advance as I didn't want to spoil it but was keen to see what he'd written after an absence of 9 years .

 I have a bit of a hard problem myself with theatre . I never understand why actors always say they prefer the intimacy of the stage compared to films. That's obviously from their perspective but for the audience I always feel as if I'm listening to a shouting match whenever I go to the theatre.

Always a worry when the opening scene is marginally less attractive than the popcorn you've just bought . Youngest son was happy enough with the bucket sized portion and the bladder-busting sized coke to accompany it . In fact I was surprised he was prepared to come with me but pleased , especially as my ulterior motive was to motivate him in time for his drama performance next week for his GCSE . I could never understand why he chose drama as a subject, always having thought in the past that acting was just showing off.

So , there we are , munching our way through fistfuls of sweet and salty ( why is it that I trough at popcorn like a pig at the cinema ? Think it may be because I think no-one can see me ) trying to de-cipher what the hell is going on as we'd stupidly arrived a few minutes late . It was when we got to the exchange that went something like  .... " why can a chair not believe it's a chair ? Because it doesn't know how to think " ... that I realised I wasn't going to engage with this play. It's the kind of conversation you have when drunk and so I must have a lot of those sorts of conversation. It didn't help that it was delivered in a phoney American accent that seemed to lapse into pseudo Irish every now and then.

That brings me to my next problem with theatre . I applaud the fact that they cast the actors based on suitability for the role but why do they then make them speak in phoney accents ? I think they all need to pass a GCSE in how to speak American ... for the entire duration of the play. It always ruins it for me . Not wanting to speak entirely gloomily about the play I did like the brain-like lighting sculpture that hung eerily above the stage, flickering every now and then, presumably to resemble the firing of synapses.

So, by about the half way mark , when the popcorn had dwindled to the impossibly hard kernels at the bottom of the box and the question of " Do I pee now or wait until the end " had crossed my mind at least twice , I realised that it was all dragging on again . A few more implausibilities reared their ugly heads , don't want to spoil it for you in case you go see it , which made the whole plot silly . And that's my next problem with theatre , you have to condense the whole shebang into a one hit wonder that lasts long enough to warrant the price of a ticket , divides neatly into two halves but doesn't induce bum-numbing anticipation of a G&T at half time. I'm such a philistine but I can't help it .

There was a lot of shouting again at the end and then the denouement where everyone sort of did or didn't live slightly happily ever after and everyone realised that the chair couldn't be a chair because it was a toothbrush and maybe it did have a brain after all.

As we tipped onto the pavement afterwards , I realised I didn't have that lovely life-changing feeling that you get from a good film, even it it does only last for the journey home. At least they don't have to shout all the time in films to be heard and providing it isn't a sequel or a prequel or whatever they call them these days , involves no CGI and isn't made in Hollywood , then give me a well scripted film , (preferably without box office banking celebrities ) any day. There we go - my Philistine qualities rising to the surface again.

On the bonus side at least there was no singing . Don't start me on musicals . If I were ever captured by the enemy, roped to a seat in front of a musical , I would confess everything and shop my own granny if I had one. And did youngest son enjoy it ? Well, I had to explain the philosophy versus psychology debate to him but bless him , he loved the popcorn.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


My Mac has gone into meltdown and I'm lost without it . This post is going to take forever as I'm typing on a mini keyboard from my iPad . The screen keeps disappearing and hideous ads keep popping up which I can't trace or delete or even find the virus to uninstall. Mac's are supposed to be virus free ( the computers that is ... not the burgers ) but this apparently is a myth . Now they tell me.

Anyway a quickie post to report back from Version Scrap - Oh my - what a delight - would recommend anyone to go . Just returned from a weekend trip there with my scrapping buddies. Everything is so refreshingly different to the tat that sometimes goes under the banner of so-called scrapbooking shows here in the UK . Not a peel-off in sight thankfully . Beautiful design , ingenious products , every stall a delight - beautifully presented with real pride and free little gifts , loads of make and takes ... and then there's the red wine and steak frites in the evening . I'll stop there and just show the pics.

So how much stash did I bring home ? Well just this little bag .... honest.

... and here's what it had inside...

love love love the teensy dies

Wooden stamps from a French company called Craft Origine - oh so beautiful and on sale too .

You can never have enough washi tape - check out the cool cats on top

Amazing stand selling such original buttons or rather badges

Couldn't resist these stamps and met the designer of the Art Stamp sets - Zorotte - may just have to check out her retreat.

Loved these people - Simply Graphic . Fr

And my lovely scrap buddies ... and a few new friends. Remember girls ... what happened in Paris stays in Paris !