Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

“I have children.” #motherhood

Okay, so she said it with an arguably patronizing tone, but she was stating a fact. It didn’t go down well. That’s for sure.

 (“Don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”)

Society, the media and the echo chambers of social media are fickle. That’s also for sure.

Recently there was a rash of schmaltzy memes asking people to “Share five pics that make you proud to be a mum”. Then on mothers’/mother’s day there was any amount of near-idolatry going on online. While some (including me) may think, “well, this is awkward on a variety of levels”, most people seem to hit “like” and move on, or indeed share the “proud to be a mum” pics.

Pride and motherhood, in my opinion, should not be related. (Although I am reminded of a teacher-friend who, when faced with parents’ night appointments, found that the best strategy in any given meeting was to begin by saying, “You must be VERY proud.” Always a winner.)

But then, I probably have a problem with pride, as a concept and especially when people are proud parents.

From my theistic perspective, the fact that anyone is a parent in the first place is an undeserved blessing. I can see why, when people take God out of the equation, they might think, “We did this”, “We made this person” and feel proud of it – but I see motherhood as part of God’s grace – pride doesn’t fit in.

Similarly, when the child achieves a thing or displays a positive characteristic – pride is again inappropriate for me. I can feel pleased when something turns out well for them or happy that my advice or hopes worked out – but pride still is jarring. Again God is gracious. My children are not a sub-set of me. They are them. Any pride I may feel is wrongly attributed.

But “I have children.” I do.

And I know that many people don’t – whether that is by lifestyle, choice, singleness, infertility or fear, or whether there have been miscarriages, stillbirths or deaths. And it’s private. And people should be aware – as they are in British politics today – that any comment about another person’s personal status is none of their business and therefore shouldn’t be made.

When I had my son, the Robert Frost poem was on my mind, the closing lines are:

 Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

As I lay there recovering from the birth, I thought about the fact that two roads diverged, and I was on my way down the one called ‘motherhood’ – no matter what happened from that point onwards. And I thought about the parallel life that shot off, unlived down the other path – a different life – “all the difference”.

Motherhood does change a person. But I am sure the experiences down the other path change a person too. I value the lessons I have learned through motherhood – but who is to say what I would have learned or how I would have grown, had my life been different? Am I better at my job because I am a mother? Yes, my perspective changed and I think my new perspective helped me change for the better. Am I better at my job than my colleagues without children? Absolutely not. (They happen to all be amazing – with or without children. Not a single duffer amongst them!)

I don’t know whether to round off with a quote from Holden Caulfield or the Apostle Paul. Why not both?

Holden observes, “All mothers are slightly insane.”

As a single man, Paul writes, “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

And that has made all the difference.

#Prayer Patterns #psalm23

The Lord’s Prayer was recorded in the gospels a few centuries after David wrote Psalm 23, but in Psalm 23, the writer sounds as if he has prayed the Lord’s prayer and it has been answered.

What do you think of the links between these familiar prayers?

David prays: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing”, demonstrating an answer to the request, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

He continues: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths”. Such restoration and peace are the hope of the heart that prays: “Thy kingdom come”.

This guidance and refreshing is all: “for his name’s sake”, foreshadowing the Lord’s prayer saying “Hallowed by thy name.”

David continues: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The psalmist has found the leading of the Lord as Shepherd comforting: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

He states, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows”. This is less easy to map onto the Lord’s prayer – but the relationship between the person praying and their “enemies” is addressed. In both images, the person and their “enemies” are being brought back into relationship with one another, and that relationship is put into context in the relationship of both parties to God. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Psalm 23 ends: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” which could be seen to point to God as “Our Father, who art in Heaven”.

The Lord’s Prayer is given as a pattern as to how we should pray and David in the Psalms seems to have captured the pattern before it was given.

What is the pattern? – earthly sustenance, restoration of relationships with God and others, peace and hope and heaven.

THE LORD’S PRAYER:

Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

PSALM 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,  for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

Hoovering Dust Bunnies

It has been a weird week. It really has. Not only did everything that could happen in British politics happen in British politics, but nothing happened here at home: the eye of the storm has been the calm found in the cyclone action of my Dyson.

I have been on holiday at home for a week, with the rolling news functioning as kind of info-muzak as I have wound down from the usual commitments.

Between the government melting down and there being no necessity to set an alarm, it has been an odd week of inertia and stasis.

So, what did I do?

Monday’s task was culling dust-bunnies. They had been tormenting me for months – not that I could see them: I knew they were there. Nature may well abhor vacuums, and indeed, the dust had done its best to create a dust-galaxy ex nihilo. But the dust bunnies are now gone, abhorring vacuums from inside of one.

Tuesday’s task? I’ve forgotten already. (I ask my son for clarification. He said, “I don’t keep track of days.”)

Wednesday we did shopping-for-things-we-actually-need and I cleaned my towel-rail-radiator. Rock and roll.

Thursday I fell asleep with my face in a book at Lollipop Land softplay. All good.

Today involved a lot of watching of tennis, watching of football and eating of pizza. And moving things around.

If my brain hadn’t slipped so readily into holiday mode, I figure I might have had some interesting things to think about the state of the nation/nations and various political unions and things – but things are so fluxional, I can’t get a handle on it.

It’s at this point that I need to turn the vacuum/dust bunny thing into a metaphor for Brexit.

But I’m on holiday.

😎

Domino Day #brexit #remain

Well, that was unexpected – and almost exactly what I didn’t want.

On the first of this month I wrote:

 “What I don’t want is ‘EnglandandWales’ dragging us out of the European Union and for Salmond and Co to reach for their smackeroonies to invest in another campaign for Indyref 2.0.. I couldn’t take a sudden onset/relapse of referendum fatigue.”

And it looks as if that is where we are.

And fair enough. The results map, while predominantly blue for Brexit across ‘EnglandandWales’ had an unbroken yellow beacon of Remain in the form of Scotland.

While I figured that Scotland would be largely Remain, I didn’t think it would be quite as of-one-mind as it was and I didn’t think that Scotland would be quite so on its own in that.

I really didn’t think there’d be a Brexit – especially with the Remain swing that seemed to happen in the aftermath of the murder/assassination.

So, here we are, with dominoes of consequence toppling all over the place, with London looking a bit politically isolated from the country of which it is capital and Scotland looking evermore like a stray Scandanavian country attached to EnglandandWales.

It has been a very odd day.

Teacher Presents?

Not long to go, and all of a sudden the kids are asking if they can buy their teacher a present. Gah! Not only that, the facebook – awash with helpful suggestions as to how to vote tomorrow – is peppered with teacher-gift anxiety.

Teachers themselves may be preemptively clearing out the boot of their car to fit in the 30 bottles of ASDA wine winging their way towards them.

But should it be this way?

Eh… Teachers get paid. It is their job to teach your child. They teach your child. Why do they need a present?

Remember, they are getting on a plane to Mallorca for the next fortnight while you have to sit and construct a patchwork of childcare to get through the next six weeks.

Can they even accept presents? Does it in fact cause them a conflict of interest with their employer’s Code of Conduct? Have you checked?

Man, I am so grumpy.

But let’s think about the other people that have worked in that school with your child. The kitchen staff, the PSAs, the Support for Learning teachers and assistants, the Behaviour assistants, the music, art and PE specialists, the janitorial staff, the managerial staff with less class contact – why is the class teacher singled out for a present? All of these people have worked. All of these people get paid. Very few of these people get a present.

Not that I am bitter.

How do secondary teachers fare? Pretty badly in comparison to their primary colleagues. Younger pupils in secondary may have about thirteen different teachers in a year, so, understandably, the presents for teachers are fewer and further between. But that’s okay. The teachers have been paid for their efforts. A card with thanks for specific over-and-above service is probably the way to go, if some acknowledgement is felt necessary. Senior pupils will do as they see fit and don’t involve their parents which is as it should be.

But if you feel you “have” to get your child’s teacher a present, what should you get?

Ask a teacher and they will say “wine”. But is that even appropriate? For a child to hand over? For a teacher to accept from a child? In a culture where teachers are advised not to have photos of themselves holding a wineglass in the public domain, when Big Brother is watching you – is this something that should be encouraged? Your child’s young, blonde, twenty-five year old teacher is about to be on holiday for six weeks. Is it responsible to be a part of a culture that gives her a bottle of wine every week night for her whole holiday?

If you balk at the wine thing, there are gifty teacher gifts from the teacher gift aisle: plastic decorations, wall hangings, shopping bags, magnets, pens, notebooks, nail files, comedy novelties. Feel free. Knock yourself out. But would you give it house-room if thirty of them came your way?

Although, it has to be said, most teachers love stationery. Unnaturally. At least stationery is consumable in some respects and functional.

Safe options are shareable consumables that will last over the summer. Biscuits, in fact.

Middle-class-nightmare gifts are gift vouchers that have been collected by a committee of loudmouthed women at the school gate who have made skint folk feel awkward and the recipient feel conflicted with the Code of Conduct.

I sound grumpier than I actually am in this post.

Sure, it is lovely to make someone feel appreciated for their efforts. I probably only find this one tricky as I am not a ‘gift’ type of person. It is not my “love language”. I suspect that the giving of a gift in this context is partly to do with avoiding feeling awkward when everyone else is handing over a present. If your kid happened to be absent on the last day, would you still feel the need to give the teacher a present, or is just it part of a last-day ritual?

So, my advice is biscuits for sharing in school and a hand written card from the child thanking the teacher (or another educationalist) who has helped them with something specific and meaningful.

Here’s the hypocrisy: my daughters are off school for the election tomorrow and want to go shopping for teacher presents. So they will likely choose something ornamental.

Hopefully they will have something meaningful to write in a card or on a gift tag.

All the best with your shopping.

 

 

Get Packing!

So, most of Scotland is heading off to the airport this weekend. Not us, though. So, I’ll just sit here, and you’d all better get packed.
Have you got a no-go-zone in your house where the holiday-packing has been ironed within an inch of its life and set apart? Do you have children moping around in embarrassing half-mast joggies and unseasonal mis-matched separates? Well, if you will iron…

Maybe you are still subconsciously adhering to the suggestions laid down in the Brownie Guide handbook.There was this very inspirational picture, back in the day. They had “borrowed some x-ray equipment so that you can see right into a well packed suitcase”:

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Brilliant. I used to look at this picture a lot. It is seared onto my subconscious.

(There was also another picture I used to like, with a girl cleaning a vase with “elbow grease”. It took me a LONG number of years to figure out what elbow grease was. I haven’t found that picture again yet. When you search the words “brownie” and “grease” you only get recipes!)

When we are holidaying in Scotland, I have a great packing strategy. I fill our laundry basket with everything that’s big and annoying: hiking boots, swimming stuff, waterproofs etc while clothes are in more conventional bags. Then, on the way back, the laundry basket is full of stuff to be washed and any clean stuff is identifiable by being in a bag. This is progress, though. I used to just allocate each person a large Sainsbury’s bag. Now we use actual luggage. Mostly.

Holidaying abroad is different. The good thing is you don’t need to take EVERYTHING you own, because the weather will be something more specific that the four-seasons-in-one-hour that Scotland can do to you.

If it’s a new place you are going to and you feel you are hedging your bets between conflicting items – just stop! Take neither. Buy the relevant thing when you get there. They’ll have millions of the very dab in every SPAR/SPAR equivalent.

Here are my top tips:

  • The further you are going, the less you should take.
  • Don’t iron. Crush.
  • Be prepared to buy stuff in situ rather than take stuff that might be utterly irrelevant.

But most importantly, always remember to think about Julie Andrews when you head off, wearing those stretchy slacks and socially unacceptable comfy sketcher-style loafers:

“And these travel clothes that you’re all wearing?”

Our costumes, naturally.”

#Jelly

‘Jelly’ is what I believe ‘Jell-O’ is across the pond. Here, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich wouldn’t really work out. And ‘jelly’ across the pond is pretty much what the Scots would have down as ‘jeely’. I think jam falls somewhere beyond the jelly of the Americas and the jeely of the Scots and has seeds in. I think.

Jelly in my childhood was generally lime, eaten on a Sunday after going to the Baptist church and coming home to make the gravy.

(My contribution to the production of the Sunday Lunch was to shake the gravy powder into the water in my mother’s Tupperware gravy shaker. Not sure the gravy shaker was entirely necessary. But the Tupperware ladies were great salespeople, if my childhood memories of stored food are anything to go by.)

The lime green jelly was served with cream, to take the edge off the synthetic flavour.

Jelly also appeared on the menu for school dinners. It was dark red and very … gelatinous? Thick? Dense? Whatever the right word is for it, it made a very satisfying suction-based noise when you took a spoonful of it. It tasted like nothing you can imagine, but, very occasionally, some vile cheap confection will bring the memory right back.

Making jelly is very satisfying. Pulling the chunks apart before melting them is good. Watching the cubes melt to blobs compelling viewing also. Eating a cube neat? Always a temptation.

Nowadays I don’t make jelly. Occasionally the children make it, for a thing to do. The nearest I get to it is when I chug back an energy jel during a long race or run, when it’s like jelly cubes that are all melted. Always vile and warm as they’ve been carried along in a pocket near my jelly belly.

Wibble wobble.

Cake, a poem

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Cake

A yellow mixing,
A butter batter.
I crack the golden eggs
Scrunching sweet and gritty
With my wooden spoon.

Bake the cake.
An aroma emanating
Indicating transformation –
Thick pale paste
Rises,
Surprises.
We peer with hope,
With oven glove
and oven love.

Skewered.
Knifed in the back,
Dropped on the rack.
Left to cool.

Then to ice.

Create.
Layer upon layer,
make moments
occasions.

Display the cake;
Take the photograph;
Record the art

before
delicious demolition
leaves
us
crumbs
and the knowledge that there was cake.

The #Apostrophes of Giffnock

For a prompter who wanted me to write on “Apostrophe Abuse’s”, thus sending me into an apostrophe spin, I set off for a stroll through Giffnock to have a look at the uses and abuses of the apostrophe in the cold light of day.

First up, we have “Domino’s”: the pizzas belonging to Domino, as opposed to dominoes. Granted, the logo is a single domino, so I was happy with that.

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Sad to say, the Bookie had it all wrong. At least, they had this one wrong. “Lucky 31’s & 63’s”. Ew. Skin crawling. Why? Is there a letter missing? Is there possession going on? No. Does this just bolster one’s prejudices against Bookies? Eh, maybe. I was just glad there wasn’t an apostrophe in “Bookmaker’s”. That would have finished me off.

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A charity shop then restored my faith. “Volunteers’ Week”. Ahh…! Oh, the pleasure of knowing that someone knew that the Week was for more than one Volunteer! Excellent.

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Next we have a more controversial one. I have expressed my unease with the Mother’s Day/Mothers’ Day apostrophe problem before. Clearly this event is intended to prompt the celebration of more than one Father, so should it not be “Fathers’ Day”? But everyone celebrating it is usually only celebrating one father, so then, arguably, this singular apostrophe is okay. But then, if one is fully engaged with the bandwagon of equality and political correctness and apostrophe obsession, should we not allow for the fact that people might want to honour their fathers in the plural?

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The high point of my wander through Giffnock was MAN’S WORLD. Brilliant. The apostrophe saves us from thinking that it’s a worse plural-gaffe mistake. We know it shouldn’t be MEN WORLD. We know it’s MAN’S WORLD. (Although, if one is again operating under the banner of all things equal, the name of the shop in itself might cause one some issues. Cue Cher.) And then, under the name of the shop, joy of joys, are the words: “Boys’ & Girls’ Schoolwear”. Very satisfying.

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The same attention to detail was missing from this special offer board – but the “GIRLS CUT & BLOW DRY” sounds like a good deal. Although why you would want to cut your girls  before you got a blow dry is beyond me. (Sorry.)img_9840

In another charity shop was a final sign that made me very happy with its confident use of punctuation in general: the “URGENT!” with a well placed exclamation mark for emphasis; a colon setting us up to hear what they need, then a correctly used apostrophe. One could, I suppose, quibble with the inconsistent use of capitals in “Men’s Casual wear”. Why not “Men’s Casual Wear”? Or perhaps even “Men’s Casualwear”? And with the colon and the exclamation mark, I feel a little forlorn, bereft of a full stop to round off a potentially great poster.

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All in all though, that ten minutes in Giffnock served to demonstrate a wide range of apostrophe use and, in general, I feel that is was a lot better than I feared it might be.

(I now await criticism of the punctuation of this post.)

A Curriculum for Mediocrity #CfE #sqa #educationscotland #nationaltests @johnswinney

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Scotland’s curriculum, “A Curriculum for Excellence” has a lot of strengths. Individuals can be catered for and pupils’ interests and achievements are acknowledged. As the first batch of CfE pupils drop off the end, there are a few glaring black holes that I hope will be dealt with over the next few sessions.

I am glad that John Swinney has taken over Scottish Education. Hopefully he will be able to begin to nudge the juggernaut of A Curriculum for Excellence into some kind of a useful harbour/positive destination. I do hope so. The current cohort are not being particularly  well served, in ‘general’.

That’s one of the problems. The “Broad General Education”, the “BGE” is, by its very ‘general’ nature, shallow. It is broad; it is general; it is not focused; it is not deep; it is not excellent. The low bar of equality smashes itself into the face of any approaching rigour or sophistication.

The good news is that the generality produced as a result of the farcical number of Experiences and Outcomes should be somewhat lessened by the introduction of the Significant Aspects of Learning. Hopefully this will give a fairer and more useful weighting between the various elements of a child’s education.

Another failing is the chasm between Level 4 and National 4. The senior phase does not dovetail with the end of the BGE. National 4 qualifications are challenging to achieve, but worthless. There is no exam to calibrate and therefore celebrate the achievements of these pupils.

In the subject area of English, for example, there is the sneaking suspicion that a National 4 candidate who struggles with basic literacy (which generally, National 4 candidates do) might be better off sitting National 5 where, ironically, one does not have to be terribly literate. If my child was sitting Nat 4 English, I would rather they sat and failed National 5, rather than fritter away a year comparing leaflets about Aberdeen, listening to random clips from the internet and producing the most arbitrary of all assessments ever: the “Added Value Unit”…

At National 5, there are problems with equality. There is the hope that pupils from all backgrounds will be able to have a level playing field. The inclusion of “assignments” and “portfolios” mean that there is no chance of equality for those pupils who are not supported at home.

For example, many subjects have work to submit to the SQA worth a significant percentage of the grade. If you are a literate, on-the-ball, aspirational parent, you will burst a gut to make sure that what your child submits is 100% correct. Even if you have to write the thing yourself…

No matter how robust a school’s processes are, it is impossible to ensure that such essays and projects are free from interference from parents and tutors. Surely it is fairer to have exam elements that allow a fair opportunity for everyone to show what they can actually do, rather then type up a mish-mash of what their family and friends can cobble together over the course of a year? If a child has 30% of the course in the bag before the exam – all they have to do on the day is get 20/70! How is that fair for the children who produced their own work under their own steam?

I am in two minds about the reintroduction of national tests. What annoys me is when people say “it is not a return to the high-stakes national testing of the past”. The old National Tests were not “high-stakes”. They were, well, really quite “CfE”. When a teacher was sure a child had reached a level, the child was given a test to confirm the teacher judgement. Now the teacher just has to come up with a teacher judgement based on everything-that’s-happened-up-til-now. A return to old-style National Tests would be fine, I think.

The new style, I believe will be Standardised, blanket tests? In this way you might get a poor wee soul being given a test that they have no hope of accessing. You may also get high-flyers who can’t show what they can do as it is too easy. Again, the old style tests may be worth dusting off. But I reckon they are well past the shredder by now.

So, all the best with it, Mr Swinney. Please let councils generate tax so we can get school librarians back again. Please get the SQA to assess pupils’ abilities on the day rather than have them polish mince for a year then hand it in. Please give N4 pupils an exam so that they can get a grade.

That would be great.

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