Marooned in the Modern World

In conjunction with my book "Swiss Family Suburban" this blog is from my diary; the diary of a wife and mum in a world where neither is valued highly. Beth Bill.

29th September 2009

Penkhull Music Festival was brilliant. In terms of general appeal Voces8 stole the show - particularly in my children's view. However, each evening had it's own appeal. We forgot that we were 'British', when Voces8 announced their 'Opera Medley' as the encore, by almost yipping! The Glendower Duo gave a premier performance of a piece written by John's clarinet choir tutor, which felt very prestigious - I've never been to a premier performance before. The final evening was a lovely performance by the string quartet, The Cavell Quartet, with some truly exceptional playing. The evenings were nicely finished off with David sketching each performance.

Poor David! After all his efforts the hens still managed to push the chicken wire and creep through to get at my broccoli! A quick amendment remedied the situation, but it was too late for at least one broccoli plant!

Disaster struck again as David did a major pruning job on our Mock Orange tree. He has always begrudged the tree it's garden space - as it so easily takes over - but it's doom is now set. Because the children have used the safety goggles at some point, from which time they have never been found, David had a branch hit him in the eye. All was well until a couple of hours later, when driving back from the tip, he was hit by a searing pain and was soon unable to see. An amazingly short wait at the walk-in centre revealed a huge scratch across his pupil. The agony (as was apparent) was unbearable, resulting in an agonisingly sleepless night and temporary blindness for about 24 hours. It was quite something to have to lead him around for a while, pass him his drinks etc. Some quite humourous moments occurred, too; he would be talking to someone - not realising that they had left the room. Thankfully, we can laugh as the damage was very short lived and he is almost back to normal - just a little blurring of vision at times. Quite worrying though, nevertheless.

23rd September 2009

The long desire for bagged and cooked game has finally been quenched. We were invited to our friend's home for a meal to find that we were to whet our appetite with fresh wood pigeon! Apparently the bird was foolish enough to kill itself by flying into a window so all that was required was the presence of mind to bag the bird and prepare it. The boys have long shared the desire to shoot their own game. Unfortunately our garden isn't large enough to provide shooting ground and it's obviously unsafe to shoot across gardens etc. so this was the only chance of trying fresh pigeon.

We discovered that wood pigeon has a very strong, rich flavour and only a small serving was required - which is a well because there really isn't much meat on the bird. (You only eat the breast.) I'm led to understand that too much pigeon is undigestable and so pigeon pie has only a small amount of pigeon in it, the rest being supplemented with bacon or similar. Presumably the pigeon infuses its flavour into the other meats.

All in all it was highly exciting!

22nd September 2009

As a belated birthday trip (my sister's birthday) I met my sister for a coffee at Trentham Gardens. As I was driving there I put Classic FM on (not my norm) and 'Agnus Dei' from Faure's Requiem was playing. Later, at choir rehearsal we sang 'In Paradism' from the same work. What nicer start or end to the day could I want? We then rehearsed the Verdi Requiem. My favourite section is the last part of 'Liberame Me' where we sing "et lux perpetua luce at eis" (and light for evermore shine down upon them). I don't normally listen to the radio and although I usually like the music which is played on Classic FM I really don't like the presentation - usually something along the lines of "The most relaxing music, EVER" which is so cheesy. I don't always like the fact that they only play bits of a piece - though I think they might now do "The full works" some evenings. They always seem to play the same stuff, too. Though if it's Faure, I guess that's ok.

Looking forward to some yummy music at the Penkhull Music Festival later this week. The children (and the parents) are especially looking forward to hearing 'Voces8' that do some really quirky a cappella arrangements on pieces ranging from The Miss Marple TV theme tune, Elvis and Opera medleys. Well worth a listen!

21st September 2009

As prophesied, David spent a long day in the Garden this Sunday - wrestling with chicken wire. He fenced off the herb/kitchen garden and the raised veg plots so that the hens can't get at my winter veg collection. This will also make the chives out of bounds. I was really surprised that the hens liked them so much. I've just planted some garlic next to the herbs and I don't want garlic tasting eggs - yuk!

We've had to sacrifice aesthetics for practicality. We may be able to 'pretty it up' at some point in the future, but needs must. I just hope the veg grows after all this fuss. It is lovely to have the hens roaming about the garden again, though. When David let them out they shot out with great enthusiasm. They did head straight for the areas that are now out of bounds, but soon found compensation elsewhere. I hope they leave Charity alone now, though I don't suppose it will make much difference as they weren't really short on space before. We can but hope - I don't like having a sad hen (if that's at all possible). She mustn't be very happy, otherwise she'd be laying (I think).

18th September 2009

Em spent the day working Biology Lab reports, though - in true home schooling fashion- we couldn't leave it at just watching DVD's and scribbling. Our friend joined us, who is studying for a Biochemistry degree, and bought her lab coat and goggles. In the end our bear, Amadeus, became the lab teacher and was main overseer of the experiments. What a hoot! It was quite surreal to see everyone taking turns in wearing the lab coat and goggles as we sat and watched the dissection of a bull frog, a star fish and a worm. It is really surprising to see just how colourful it is inside a frog - it looked like a fruit salad. We had previously done some dissection ourselves. We found a dead bee and let it dry out for a while and then had a look at various bits under the microscope. The compound eye is truly amazing, as were the wings and the pollen sacs were simply bulging with pollen. It always amazes me when people assume that home education is limiting whereas the opposite is true. Because we aren't bound by so much red tape and health and safety overdrive the kids can quite happily wield a scalpel. I'm not too good at killing a specimen (because I'm a coward - and yet I want to keep rabbits to rear my own meat!?) but it's amazing what you find lying around the place. We also collected a good number of moths and butterflies, and also a pretty cool spider exoskeleton.

It was a little out of character for Amadeus to be donning a lab coat. Generally he is more of a musical bear - he was my concert going bear. When the children were small they brought him to my choir concerts. For his 'evening dress' we made him a special padded large bow tie which is bright pink with black spots - which (now I'm back at choir) I'm sure he will model for us over the next few months. Though I don't suppose the British Legion's War Memorial Service would be appropriate - he'll have to wait until the Verdi Requiem later on in November. Perhaps we'll even paint his nose for the occasion, he is getting quite worn.

It's exam entry time again. We've only just about got the results for the last batch and then it's time to enter again. The start of this new academic year has had me ranting a bit: A pupil of mine, who has just started his A' level music, tells me that he is the only student who has any grades in music. As a result he is sitting around idle in class while the others try and learn a bit of basic music theory. How is this possible? For A level I had to memorise pages of musical quotations and couldn't pass my final exam without submitting my Grade 8 piano and Grade 8 theory certificates. If these students don't know anything (what were they doing at GCSE I wonder?) they'll never even get to Grade 5 in two years, so how they'll cope with harmonic analysis I don't know - though I'm told that they just copy notes from a book into their score (rather than analyse and deduce for themselves) and then take the score into the exam. Even so, it's not possible that they will understand what they are doing. It's not really fair on the students - let alone the teachers. Also, it's not fair on those students who are more able to embark on musical studies as they are sitting around wasting time..... Aaargh!

By the way, I'm not too keen on the ABRSM's new logo. I much preferred the old crest with "Dieu et mon droit" on a banner underneath. The new certificate seems a bit deflating, too. I appreciate that it is more modern in it's design (and it's non PC to mention God now) but I do think that a bit of 'flourish' seems in order when you've worked hard for an exam.

Perhaps all of these rants just prove that I'm getting old, nevertheless the points still stand.

15th September 2009

Em and Matt ended their choir residential with a concert at St. John's, Keele on Sunday morning. They sang some lovely works - Non nobis dominum - Byrd, Sing for joy - Handel and a composition of their own, which began with a fragmented and dissonant "Oranges and Lemons" which worked really well. I was glad I had re-joined Ceramic City Choir, so I could enjoy the CityYouth Choir (part of City Music and Performing Arts Service) without feeling left out.

Had a good choir rehearsal tonight, even though the conductor was unwell and not able to take the rehearsal. The deputy conductor really is good - I don't know how she does it. She only had 4 minutes notice before taking the rehearsal. Oliver had left a list of what needed to be covered and we really did work hard (hope he's satisfied next week!) We rehearsed 'In Paradisum' from Faure's Requiem - mmm! It's really open and bare - hard work for us soprano's (I'm 2nd soprano - I give up at top G). We also rehearsed 'Agnus Dei' and the last part of 'Liberame Me' ("Requiem aeternam ...") from Verdi's Requiem - we're performing all of this at the Victoria Hall. Oliver also asked us to 'honk' our way through Parry's I Was Glad - which was great to have a blast through. There was a bit of confusion over the pronunciation of the word "Jerusalem" which we were told to pronounce "Yerusalem" which is fine for the Latin Requiems, but I don't think correct for the Parry which we sing in English and so, I think, should be with a 'J'. Hopefully that should be clarified next week. Unfortunately the rehearsal hall has just been decorated, which - although it looks very nice and clean - meant that the paint fumes really hit the back of your throat. Not a good combination - hope it's subsided by next week.

14th September 2009

After the choir residential Matt is exhausted - he stayed up into the small hours chatting with the 'big boys' (which is what it's all about really). He fell asleep on Em's lap last night and is really tired today. Nevertheless, it's 'up and at it' with a full day's bookwork. There's lots to get done and the timetable will really fall apart as Christmas draws nearer - crazy concert season! So, best get as much as possible done now. Jonti and Em finish their GCSE equivalent (ICCE)this academic year and Matt is registering to start his course this week (a year early) - so it's time to get stuck in again.

We've discovered a 'new' loaf - David was creative director for this one: It's a Walrus and Monkey nut loaf - high in fibre!

13th September 2009

images We had a real 'WI' inspired Sunday afternoon learning to crochet. Although I know the basic stitches I've forgotten a lot. Years ago my Great Aunt taught me to crochet a blanket, but I've forgotten how to turn corners. We looked up a basic pattern on the internet but it didn't work (typical!) I rediscovered how to double and treble, but still can't create a square from a circle of chain stitches. We are doing a bit of research and then will have another bash. It troubles me that we are losing so many skills: I don't suppose many want a Quaker style patchwork cover with a crochet blanket but I can't quite cope with the fact that we may soon be unable to make them. I'm on a mission to make a granny blanket square somehow! If we don't succeed I might need to ask Great Aunt Hilda, but she may feel unequal to it now. I guess I might have to resort to a different pattern.

7th September 2009

Yipee, the winter veg plants arrived today. Em helped me plant them out before I started teaching. We planted 20 cabbage, 20 Chinese cabbage (which can be used as salad leaves or fried with a stir fry), 10 broccoli and 10 cauliflower. I'm hoping that the colder weather will reduce the chance of slugs etc. ruining the crop - we can but try!

Of course this means that the hens are confined to their enclosure again. The chives are only just recovering and there's no way they're getting at the brassicas. Another Saturday shredding fingers on chicken wire is on the cards for David before the hens can have the run of the garden. I'm so glad that they've got a decent amount of space as Charity really is at the bottom of the pecking order at the moment. I recently found blood on the water feeder and all but two of her tail feathers are missing. She isn't laying either - I don't suppose she feels like - with all that bullying. When they're outside they leave her alone for the most part, it's just when they are in the shed in a morning before being let out, or while they are settling down to roost in an evening. There's not really anything I can do about it. I suppose that you just have to let them sort it out. Nevertheless, it's quite upsetting.

Term officially starts today but the children are spending this week filing and finishing off essays etc.. Em and Matt are off to a choir residential weekend on Friday too, so we'll start of with the heavy bookwork next week. Unfortunately, although term has started, most of my pupils didn't turn up for their music lesson either. I don't mind having an extra cup of tea here and there, but it's tricky waiting around wondering if they are coming, or not. As there are no choir or brass band rehearsals tonight David and the children went to visit Grandad instead. A nice quiet evening for me, but not very productive. I lost the plot a bit, really; heading off to get a job in a school instead of sitting at home waiting around. However, that would have been a real disaster - home would fall apart and so would the kids education. The whole point of home schooling was because it seemed all wrong to be teaching other people's children and not my own. I really think that it's important to keep the home fires burning - the whole point of Swiss Family Suburban! The overwhelming pressure to 'succeed' in executive and monetary terms is, at times, overwhelming. You think you're on track and out jumps another curve ball. Oops - my 'wobble' is over now though, and my compass is pointing north again!

3rd September 2009

I've started reading The Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley; it's really weird. The main story line is very strange (a chimney sweep becoming a water baby by means of quite a trauma) and I'm finding it a little spooky, especially when you consider it's a children's book. What makes its even more strange is the pontificating narrative which the author intersperses in between the plot, to theorise or give a moral lecture. For example:

"His mother was a Dutchwoman, and therefore he was born at Curacao (of course you have learned your geography, and therefore know why); and his father was a Pole, and therefore he was brought up at Petropaulowski (of course you have learnt your modern politics, and therefore know why): but for all that he was as thorough an Englishman as ever coveted his neighbour's goods. And his name, as I said, was Professor Pttmllnsprts, which is a very ancient and noble and Polish name."
(The Water Babies, p. 86)


"The subanhypaposupernal anastomoses of piretomic diacellurite in the encephalo digital region of the distinguished individual of whose symptomatic phaenomena we had the melancholy honour (subsequently to a preliminary diganostic inspection) of making an inspectorial diagnosis, presenting the interexclusively quadrilateral and antinomian diathesis known as Bumpsterhausen's blue follicles,"
(The Water Babies, p.94)
The Water Babies, Egmont Books Ltd (2001)

- quite hilarious, but surreal!

I read the above while Em had her flute lesson. The rest of the day, however, was spent doing more mundane things; filing in an attempt to get organised for the start of the new academic year next week. I spent the day marking tests and filing results (which should have been done over the holidays). The main satisfaction was spent in adding up 216 Spanish test results to divide and find an average - twice! (Twins, eh!) It feels good to be getting back to it and getting life back under control. I've enjoyed the summer, but I think we are all ready to get our teeth into something more substantial (though I doubt the children would necessarily admit it).

As the academic year begins the main growing season ends. We harvested the last of the green beans and then gave the remaining foliage over to the hens - oh, what happy chucks they were! They have a short window of absolute free reign before the Brassicas arrive (hope they turn up soon) and then we'll have to net off sections, otherwise the crop will be very short lived.