Saturday, 18 October 2014

School Days

I'm sure it wasn't like this when I was in school. It feels like there's a "day" for everything, and of course, every "day" demands a donation. They're all good and worthy causes, but how many contributions is it reasonable to expect?  That's in addition to the cost of putting together a costume for most events, and the other payments that seem to be inextricably linked to so-called free education.

It was Roald Dahl day last week. (Aside from the fact I could have sworn it was actually a couple of weeks earlier), dress up as a character from a Roald Dahl book, pay £1 to do so, and then pay more to buy chocolate at inflated prices in school.  Because of course, I have so many Roald Dahl costumes just knocking around the house!

Veruca Salt, with her Golden Ticket
Then in a couple of weeks, there's a "monster ball". Pay £1 for a ticket, dress up, oh and can you donate all your old dress up costumes to school so we can rent them out. (Alternatively, why not buy a job lot the first week in November, like I did last year?)  And then the Christmas show, with costumes and tickets to buy. And the Christmas party, with another contribution. And the class trip to see Santa somewhere cold and expensive. Children in Need will be coming up soon, and a million others.  Fruit money at the start of term, photos for this, that and the other...

Where does it all end though?  It's not so bad for a household like ours where both parents are working.  OK it's not easy for anyone these days, but a pound or so, a quick costume grab from the local supermarket doesn't add too much strain to the weekly budget.  But what about those families who aren't so well off?  We live in an area with higher than average unemployment levels, lower than average wages, and a lot of people struggling just to make ends meet from one week to the next.  All these little contributions here and there soon add up.  Children, especially of Squeaky's age, don't understand why they can't take part alongside their friends.

The payments are of course "contributions" according to the letters.  But they don't seem quite so voluntary by the nagging texts that come via the secretary's office to my phone and that of all the other parents, whether we've paid or not.  I spend my working days with families struggling to put food on the table and having to go without basics because their money simply won't stretch that far, so to see them being pushed further still is very hard to watch.

Does your school want to get involved with everything? Should there be a line?  Let me know.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Gender Stereotypes

I'm not a member of the Pink Stinks brigade (just take a look in my wardrobe).  I couldn't be, even if I tried, because Ms Squeaky is a girly girl who loves pink, sparkles, Barbie (much to my horror), princesses, dresses and fairies.  She also loves playing out in the rain with the boy next door, picking up bugs, pulling weeds out of the garden, climbing trees and forgetting to flush the toilet.  She's a pretty well rounded kid, if you ask me.

At the moment, she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.  I'm glad her teacher is a good role model, and one I'm happy for her to choose to emulate, though secretly I'm hoping her dreams don't stop at teaching, right now she could go far further.  That said, her previous ambitions have been to be a princess and a mummy.  Both noble, I'm sure you'll agree, but really quite gender specific.  Why not an astronaut, an explorer, a vet, a bus driver?  PirateGirl wants to be a doctor, inspired in part at least by Doc McStuffins.  A career to be proud of, no matter what's inside your pants.  Doc McStuffins being a show I particularly like for it's challenging of traditional gender roles, without making a big "thing" of it.  People just do what they do.

Much as I'm tempted, I'm not going to break Squeaky's pink phase, or at least not until she's ready to move on to other things.  But can I at least limit its impact?  Do girls have to have special pink versions of everyday items, just because they're girls?  Really?

I'm sure most people are aware of the Amazon reviews of the pink For Her biros, so after that debacle I had kind of thought that major brands would avoid using the same type of clunky and damaging gender stereotyping.  And then I saw this.  Just For Girls pink sellotape dispenser.  (The tape itself is standard clear stuff, I checked.)  Is sticky tape use now a gender specific task?  Do people lacking a Y chromosome somehow find it harder to join two pieces of paper, or wrap a gift?  Does a pink dispenser work differently to another colour?  Honestly, it made me want to scream.

I want my daughter to celebrate being female, to be proud of it, not to feel that concessions have to be made to compensate for her lack of testicles.  After all, as Beyonce asks, "Who runs the world? Girls"

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Real Effect - Adding a little sparkle to your day

Nothing makes my eyes light up quite as much as the chance to open up one of those magical little boxes, to find something beautiful, shiny, sparkly, and oh so perfect inside.  Trouble is, that's usually just a little bit expensive.  Or a lot expensive if you know what I mean.  That's where The Real Effect come in.  With over 20 years experience, they team sterling silver (my favourite) with cubic zirconia gemstones to make jewellery that looks every bit as stunning as diamonds and precious stones, but at a price to make your pocket smile too!  Even my bank manager would be happy with that.

I hope right now you're reaching for your credit card, scratching your head and wondering to yourself, "What should I buy for my favourite blogger for Christmas?"  Well, look no further, because I've put together a mini wishlist, and I'll be happy to accept these tokens of your appreciation for my time, effort and assaults on the English language.

First up, this gorgeous channel set ring.  My engagement ring is a trilogy ring, and I love the sentiment that the three stones represent the past, the present & the future.  This ring is kind of a triple trilogy with three sets of three stones, which would symbolise me, Daddy and Squeaky, and our past, present & future together.   Sentimental old fool I am some days, I know, but that's just me.  The simplicity of this ring means that I could wear it every day without worrying about catching the stones on something, but it's an unusual style, which would stand out amongst the solitaire crowd at the school gates.  And with purple hair, I'm never going to blend in with them, am I?  £43.70 to make sure I don't fade into a background of peroxide and designer labels (and that's just the kids)

My second choice is this curved sterling silver pendant.  To me, it's a chilli pepper.  It is, isn't it?  Now, don't panic, I'm not going to get all oversharey about the state of my relationship, but I do love a bit of spicy food every now & then, who doesn't?  And one of my friends goes by the nickname Chilli, so it would remind me of her every time I wore it, which would fix a smile on my face as I thought of all sorts of bad behaviour and good times!  No, I'm not telling you what, statute of limitations and all that, I can't be held responsible any more, or at least not without a certain, shiny gift.  £33.50 is a bargain price for an insight into my psyche and misspent youth.

OK. So now you know what to buy me, I want you to think very hard about how you're going to wrap these lovely shinies.  I'd suggest a red gift bag, with the boxes inside, slipped under the Christmas tree around about midnight.  I'll leave a glass of sherry out for Santa, and a carrot for Rudolph, you do your bit and I'll do mine.  Bonus points for humming "Have yourself a merry little Christmas", or leaving me a bacon sarnie & glass of bucks fizz, because no-one else will remember.

For my part, I will make sure my eyes light up like the Blackpool illuminations, and do my best surprised look when you've given me exactly what I asked for!  You love me, don't you?

My eyes. From the top deck of a number 1 bus.

Disclosure: This post is my entry to a competition hosted by Diary of a Jewellery Lover, where I have the chance of winning vouchers to spend on items from The Real Effect. I have not been paid for my post, and there is no guarantee I will receive a prize.  Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use. My competition entry is not judged on the number of clicks to the above links.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Curriculum Envy

I posted a link on my personal Facebook page a couple of weeks ago to a news story about the re-emergence of the Manx language, and how there is now a Manx primary school, which contained what I thought to be a very pertinent point. The writer said that all the professionals they had spoken to put the success down to one thing - children were not forced to learn the language, and as a result they were approaching it with enthusiasm and interest, because they *wanted* to learn it.

This got some interesting replies, especially as we live in Wales, where Welsh language is compulsory throughout education. People who had been through the system themselves said they had hated it, people whose children had been through it said if they could do it all again they wouldn't, and others said they felt it was a real gift, but not appreciated at the time.  I can't really give further comment on Welsh as I was brought up in England, and I was good at languages at school so I may well have got on with it OK, we'll never know I guess.

It did get me to thinking though. Do politically motivated curriculums (ok, curricula if you want to be correct about it) do children any favours at all, or are they merely pandering to the preferences of adults?  While I didn't go to school in Wales, I did go to a church school, and as a result, I was forced to study RE throughout school. At GCSE level we had the choice of the GCSE class, or a non-GCSE class, no option for "actually I'm not that interested". This meant that out of the 9 subjects we could take, we had one less option, one less chance to study something that interested us, or that would prove useful in employment and later life. I can tell you plenty about the Synoptic Gospels, but do you want to know it? I didn't, and I'm still not sure I want to now.  Schools in Wales are much the same, by making Welsh compulsory, they are taking away the chance for children to study the things they are good at, and are interested in.  If that's Welsh, great, if not, give them a choice.

I remember watching with envy my friends in other schools, who had the opportunity to choose to study psychology, sociology, media studies, things that interested me and would have proved far more helpful in my university days and later in my career.  Instead I took RE and History which bored me senseless (I still managed to pass, despite my best attempts otherwise).  No teen really knows what they're going to do with the rest of their lives at the age of 13 or 14 choosing their options, but I knew for certain I wasn't going to be a religious historian.

I'm not taking away from schools being particularly good at teaching one subject, or group of subjects, as long as there is choice involved. I'm not in England now, I can't comment on the Academy concept which came along long after I left school, and I know that some schools have always been known for the quality of their X department. I remember one boy in my year was especially good at drama, and his parents moved home to enable him to attend a different secondary school with a great drama department (he went on to a few bit parts in Casualty), but again drama, as with art, music, languages, these subjects are a choice not compulsory, even in these specialist schools.

What do you think? Did your school, or your children's school have compulsory subjects outside of the English, Maths & Science that we all expect? How did you approach it?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Dear Spammers

Hello, you crazy spammers with your very loose grip on the English language. Welcome to my little corner of the blogosphere. I'm glad you're so interested in what I have to say, especially those hundreds of you that have taken the time to comment today.

Seriously though. Enough is enough. You aren't even trying to be relevant, and I'm fed up of my email beeping every 30 seconds to tell me you've commented again. You're not going yo get published you know.

So please, listen to Robbie and Bobbie, Squeaky's bee friends, and buzz off. (This is a family blog, I was thinking something much less polite.)

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Cake Angels

Before I start with this review, I need to give a mammoth apology.  This post has been bubbling under forever.  Seriously, I mean like ages.  And just when I didn't think I could feel any more guilty, I used some more of their lovely stuff and realised I still hadn't written a post.  So I am officially a Bad Blogger today, slap my wrist and send me to bed without supper.

Right. Now that's out of they way, let me introduce you to my newest lovely friends, Cake Angels.  They are responsible for a percentage of my ever-increasing waistline, as well as some gorgeous treats, which I'd love to share with you in person - except for the fact that we ate them - so pictures will have to do instead! Many pictures. You know me.

 Well, first off, way back in the mists of time, I received a parcel from the angels, with a load of cake decorating items,  Perfect timing, as it was just before PirateGirl's birthday, and she was having a tea party at home, including decorating their own cakes.

As you can see, this was a major hit - small girls, cake and sprinkles.  All we needed was a unicorn or a special guest appearance from Sophia The First, and they would have actually exploded.  There were marshmallows, many many chocolate sprinkles, a load of royal icing designs, all piled on top of the most delicious vanilla frosting I've ever eaten straight from the tub.  Ooops.  It was leftovers, that doesn't count.

I'm not sure I'd've paid for one of their cupcakes, but they were pretty pleased with themselves.  (please ignore the look on my face, I am not the most photogenic of cooks)

Then came summer. And I still hadn't written this post, when through my door came some more goodies, including the most inspired Ice Cream Cone cupcakes I've ever seen.  I used to work for a bakery, a long long time ago, and they sold ice cream cone cakes, but they were nowhere near as impressive as these.

We took to the garden, see, that's how you can tell it was summer.  And Squeaky got on with the important task of cleaning out the bowl, while keeping a close eye on the kitchen timer.  They really were so easy to make, I was demoted to reading instructions and dealing with hot ovens, while Chef Squeaky took over.

But even having lost my place in the cake-making pecking order of our house couldn't stop me trying to be arty with the finished product.  The packet made six, but we'd slightly already eaten two when I realised it would be a good idea to take some photos.  It was a hot day, ok?

I am a real blogger, see!
And finally, if that wasn't enough cake for you already.  Just to prove it's not all for children, and grown-ups can get the benefit of the Cake Angels' wisdom and sprinkles too, here's the cake I made for our office's Macmillan World's Biggest Coffee Morning.

Cake Angels Chocolate Fudge frosting, and milk and white chocolate hearts, sprinkled on top of a very chocolatey cake, held together with choc fingers.  The purple glitter was edible too, but came from the back of my cupboard and had lost its label.

Cake Angels have a huge range of kits and decorating products to make your baking a little bit of heaven.  Their website also has a load of recipes, so if you need more inspiration, or want to torment yourself if you're on a diet, there's something for everyone.

You can buy Cake Angels online, and I've also seen them in most supermarkets.

Disclosure: I was provided with the above items free of charge for the purposes of writing a review. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.