Friday, 30 June 2017

How I miss those farm visit days

Today, I accompanied Year 5 on a school trip to a wartime farm for their WW2 topic. How I love my job. We got to be bossed around by a strict teacher in an authentic school room, writing with chalk; participate in rag-rugging (I want to do some at home!); weigh out how much cheese and butter you were allowed for our rations and walk around the farm visiting the animals. We had some free time in the afternoon before our coach took us home, so the children voted to go back to the park so they could - wait for it - play on the little tractors! Yes, there was a racetrack there with some toddlers pedalling around in tiny John Deeres. Nine- and ten-year olds playing in the toddler park. It was so lovely to see them just being children again!

As I lead them across the farmyard and past the barns to the park, I felt a sudden pang in my heart. I realised it was the effect the farm was having on me. How long ago it was that we used to take Ben out to these types of places, where you'd be totally in control of what they were playing on. Not for about seven years have I had to think that red is a Massey Ferguson and green is a John Deere tractor. I haven't had an excuse to pet a small animal that wasn't in my garden. I haven't milked a cow or a goat since then. 

There is a country park near us which we ALL went to when they were tiny. I can't quite remember when we started going, but even after my maternity leave, we used to meet up - prams at the ready, buying our animal feed and using our annual season tickets that we'd been bought as alternative Christmas presents. We would hurry the children through the gift shop on the way in (yes who would put a shop in the Entrance?!) and start on the circuit we all knew so well. At first, we would tour the whole place, stopping off to feed them along the way (the animals and the kids), then we graduated to a shorter route, with a possible hot drink stop on the way - how racy! In the end, in the months before they started school, we'd scoot really quickly round to the gated field, pitch up on our rugs and let them loose. Our picnics became second nature to make on a mummy-morning (as opposed to a work-morning, whereby I couldn't possibly have made my own lunch!). I suppose I didn't realise that the last time I went there was, in fact, the last time. Like all of those last times that you don't realise. They just don't happen again. 

Fast-forward to 11 years old - before I leave work, if it's not a sports-club night, I check whether he's in or out on his bike. I then get another call later asking if he can stay out until 7pm (no!) and then on a Friday, another one asking if a mate can stay over. 

Don't get me wrong, I love the time this gives me, but today I realised I missed holding his hand and helping him into the little trikes, watching with pride when he managed to negotiate the bends in the tracks. Watching him ditch the trike and run to the next activity, without a care in the world, happy in these activity farms. But I wouldn't have time to write things like this if he wasn't playing out this evening!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Personal shopper experience for my birthday

Mr Humdrum is usually extremely good at presents. Whether it's clothes (apart from THAT orange cardigan that I tried to wear for weeks, then admitted it was horrid), make-up (he can even ask for Touche Eclat) or anything else, he's usually spot on. This year, for my 46th, he surprised me a couple of days before with a gift voucher for Debenhams. Yes, you may say, what's so great about that? Well if you buy a voucher for £100, you get a free personal shopper, tasty treat from the restaurant, a glass of wine and an hour makeover from a beauty brand. I was to attend after school on a Friday with my mum in attendance. My mum is usually my personal shopper; I actually think she buys things with me in mind, knowing I wouldn't usually try them, and they says, "It doesn't really fit me, do you want to try it?" Or I just try her clothes on and buy the same. She has just hit the big Ahem-O, but looks fabulous in my opinion. So, how was I to cope taking my personal shopper to My Personal Shopper?

We were ushered into the suite and this is the only complaint I have to make about the whole event (spoiler - it was fab), it was hot. There is NO aircon! Not nice if you're a little nervous and trying on lots of clothes - please listen, Debenhams! Jordan got us settled with a glass of bubbly and a hot drink for my mum. He asked me what I was looking for. I had to admit I didn't really know, though I'd seen some nice orange dresses I maybe would like to wear to my friend's wedding party the next week. Jordan did agree that as this had been "sprung" on me, it wasn't like I had an outfit in mind!

The first thing was to get my bust measured. The last time this happened, I was in another branch and the lady tactlessly said that as I was a larger size, I had to shop from the back of the store. Nice! The bras she fitted me for, well the cup actually fitted around my head! Way out. This time, there was no obligation to buy, but obviously it made sense if you're trying on dresses, a good fit would make all the difference. I'm afraid I can't remember the name of the lady who fitted me, but she had my size immediately. Never these days do I wear padded bras, but she explained it would give me a better shape - it did! No more Fat Back either, perfect fit.

Jordan arrived back with a couple of dresses - the bottom left in the picture, nicer on the hangover than on me. He showed me the pink one - never would I have chosen it, but I loved it. Wallis, and a great size to boost my ego. The frills covered any lumps and bumps and the colours really did suit me. Tick! Continuing the theme, the black dress (similar layered dress again from Wallis) would do me perfectly for a 50th birthday coming up. The skirt was divine on it, beautifully smooth from the bum down. A pair of cropped black trousers, like Audrey Hepburn, I asked Jordan. Yes, these are perfect thank you, with perhaps the top of the orange dress I liked originally! That's the top I wore out that night for my birthday. I had in mind a jacket, tried to describe what I wanted; he came back with the exact ones I already had and one that my own personal shopper/mother had given me! There was only one dress (not pictured) that I didn't like - a turquoise affair - lovely colour but not a flattering style we decided. Jordan had brought in a couple of pairs of shoes to help with the look too, as well as filling up my glass! He knows his stuff, knew exactly what to get me to try on. I know he was good as my mum was impressed! We did giggle during the whole thing, it was a very funny experience. Payment time at the till - I received a discount on the bras (I couldn't resist - hadn't had them so high for years!), opened a Debenhams card too and ended up with them giving me money (well it felt like that). I still had my tasty treat from the restaurant and the makeover to go. Jordan made me feel extremely relaxed and provided such a good service, I can't recommend him enough. I would certainly return if I had to purchase a particular outfit. There is no pressure to buy at all, they are not commission-based.

Two weeks later, I booked in for my makeover. I had confided in Jordan that the last time I was made up in that store, I ended up looking, well like a lady of the night! He looked at me knowingly, saying that we didn't want that, and that he would book me in with Fiona at Bare Minerals. I pitched up on a Saturday afternoon as I was going out that night. Fiona instantly put me at ease; sitting near that Mac thing they have in Debenhams did make me feel a little out of touch! Facialists have in the past been horrified and hidden behind their hands almost when I admit that I have no real beauty regime. I hardly wear make up anymore and when I do, I never wash it off. I just like a nice glossy lipstick. Fiona showed me how to apply the Bare Minerals powder, which I remember having a few years back, and how to achieve the glow I now know I was missing. She let me have a go at the bronzer and the blush, taking my hand when I was going wrong, like a driving instructor pressing the brake pedal! The eyes are more tricky and I let her do them, with an idea to book in for a future free lesson on how to do them. A slick of gloss and wow, I was done. There was again no pressure to buy, but I came away with the powder. I think you'll agree that my photo is an improvement! In fact, I wore the powder and bronzer to school on the Monday, and two children said I looked pretty that day! Result! I can't recommend Fiona enough either; she listened to what I had to say and then used her own experience to guide me. I didn't, I think, look like a lady of the night this time! Thank you Mr Humdrum.

The Cureheads at Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea 24.6.17

Having seen this Cure tribute band at the Butlins Shiiine On Weekend last year, I decided to give them another go in my home town. Admittedly, I'd not given them a good rating last time. Well, that's not entirely true. Musically, the music was great. In fact, more than great. But "Robert" was a bit odd - he rambled on about his grandad and Armistice Day. I think he thought we should be interested in him, rather than Robert Smith himself. With hindsight, after this second gig, I think the problem was that the first set was on near midnight and possibly he'd had too many lemonades? I decided that I was going to have too many lemonades this time, in order to truly enjoy the tribute experience, and it was my birthday celebration. I did know, however, that he was probably more "Robert Smith" than "Robert Smith" these days, in terms of voice, having heard a few YouTube videos of concerts. And his guitar - well, you can tell he learned these tunes from a young age. He knows them! He can play them! And yes he's awesome!

Listening to the support act, I bumped into "Robert" himself and had a photo taken - we pouted, as you can see. I actually was excited! The audience was sparser than I'd imagined, going by crowds The Smyths usually pull in. But I realised that they were nicer. More goth-like than lad-like. You could actually dance in the second row without having your drink spilled over you by Bigmouth-singing lager-louts. There was certainly a lot of love in the audience.

I always like to set up my reviews by specifying which period of the band's musical history I prefer. For The Cure, it's anything up to Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, released in 1987 when I was revising for my O-Levels. Anything after that is a bit "new" to me.

Stage atmosphere, they do it well. All dark and gothic-esque. I know it's EMO these days, but it's goth to me. Gary Clarke is certainly in character as Bob himself, all lippie, hair and mood. It just takes me back to The Head on the Door days, which I had on cassette in 1986.

I'm struggling to find a set list online, and I am having trouble remembering exactly what they did play! However, the first half of the set mostly consisted of songs I'd consider "newer", except perhaps Charlotte Sometimes, and A Night Like This. The second half of the set was more my stuff. In no particular order, mainly because I've forgotten, they played 10.15 Saturday Night, A Forest (my favourite), In Between Days, Lovecats (which apparently he said he doesn't like, nor do I that much - overplayed), Boys Don't Cry (I think), and Friday I'm in Love, at which point I went to the loo as I can't bear that song. I also have a memory of Let's Go To Bed and/or The Walk, but I can't confirm it was on the set list!

All in all, it was a fantastic evening - I'm definitely going to see them again, without as many lemonades, so I can remember all that they played!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Should I let my son go on his school trip to London?

My son's end of Year 6 trip was to see The Lion King in London's West End. Going up to London is always a treat from our south coast city. However, we agreed for him to go before the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London! Over half-term, indeed after last Saturday's London Bridge attacks, our school Facebook group flooded with posts entitled "What do people think about the school trip to London?" and "Should I let my child go?" I read that a school that my friend's children attend in Cornwall had posted a Facebook update saying they were having emergency meetings about their own school trip this week with the Local Authority and governors. We heard nothing from our school.

I had a text from the mum of Ben's school bestie. She wasn't keen on him going, I don't think, but wanted to know if Ben was going. I replied that he was. We'd talked about it, he wanted to go. However when I mentioned his bestie possibly wasn't, he changed his mind. He then said he was scared of the terrorists. What could I do? This was two days before the trip. Annoyingly, as I hadn't yet paid for it, I went into the school office and paid for it knowing he probably wouldn't go! But I was stuck - I couldn't force him. I was pretty sure it was because of his mate, but he would just say it was because he was scared. What to do? A school dad said to make him go. I couldn't do that! Imagine if anything had happened, how would I feel? My own dad said he wanted him to go, and that he should, but we were stuck. I came up with the plan of asking him to pay half of the amount, just to see how that made him feel. I only felt worse reading of the possible terror attack in Paris last night.

He came home from school on the first Monday back, saying they'd had a chat in class. His teacher told the class her brother worked behind the scenes in London with the police when attacks happen, and that in his opinion, it was one of the safest places to go at this time. This was reassuring to hear, not that he felt it was safe, but that it almost put a human person in a helping role that is unknown to most of us. I think the children felt reassured. Ben came home from school, heard I'd paid, and said that he wanted to go. In fact, after their chat, he had told the teacher, "Screw ISIS" - to which she replied, "Exactly that, but with better language"! Job done. We were extremely happy with his decision, and it was his decision after all.

The sad thing was that many children who had decided not to go, or whose parents didn't want them to go, were being made to feel bad for this. Some mothers reported on Facebook that they were told they'd have to do loads of work at school, or that London was safe and there wouldn't be an attack! How can you say this? In no way can you say this! No one should be made to feel bad because of a decision they take. They have their children's best interests at heart, and no one could blame anyone for doing what they feel is right.

So I dropped him off near school today. He wanted to go to the shop to buy sweets for the journey with the pound I'd given him. He kissed me goodbye and sauntered off down the road. I watched him for longer than I normally do, all sorts of thoughts rushing through my mind.

At school while I was teaching, his school phoned - I jumped out of my skin! It was just the receptionist asking a question. I told my class I was keeping my phone on just in case they wanted to contact me. They did - we had a nice text when the school coaches left. And another when they reached the theatre. I'm currently waiting for one saying they are leaving London.

I know we did the right thing for us as a family. I know that every parent did the right thing for their family, whatever their decision. I just never thought I'd have to face this. I can't imagine how the parents and families of those who have died in attacks must feel. They too waved their children off before what was supposed to be a fun, exciting thing to do. We all say, "We can't let them win," but when it comes down to it, how would we feel if it happened to us. This was, without a doubt, the hardest decision I've ever had to make as a mum.

Added just now - after a Facebook comment from a friend who said she's more worried about her children's safety than her own. I went up to London this past weekend to see Depeche Mode and when we left the London Stadium after the event, as word got round the 80,000 of us walking out, about the attacks, we were full of it - We won't let them win, Screw them etc. Gallows humour, we are British etc. It wasn't just the copious pints of Pimms I'd imbibed, I really felt invincible leaving the gig. I too am more worried about my son's safety than my own. I know exactly what she means.