Saturday, 22 December 2012

Thoughts on the 22nd December 2012.

Well, it turns out the world didn't end yesterday.

As it happens, I still don't understand why people thought it might end.  If I've understood it right, and I can't say I've ever given much thought to the Mayan calendar before, it was just the end of a period of time for them, like a bigger week, or month, or century.  So if they were still around, they would, I think, have been looking at people stockpiling tins of beans and thought they were rather odd, while looking forward to what the fourteenth baktun might bring.

But anyway, the world didn't end.  Which is nice, because it's my birthday today, and it'd be a shame to have missed that.

And it's three days before Christmas, the wrapping is done, the cake is iced, B has taken the children off to Sainsbury's to do the brussels sprouts and double cream shop (one of the perks of having a birthday so close to Christmas) and, to top it all, M, nineteen months on New Years' Eve, has finally taken to his feet and walked.

So I am feeling blessed.  Or lucky.  Or both.   And not unlike Lucy Mangan in today's Guardian (even down to the motor skills). 

So go and have a read, and after that have a wonderful Christmas, and a very happy New Year.


Friday, 14 December 2012

The hardest thing about Christmas

Is not, in my opinion, the cooking.

It's not the maintaining of an innocent appearance in the face of ruthless interrogation on the reality or otherwise of you know who.

It's not even dealing with the fact that my twins (see left), my mother, my brother and myself all have birthdays in the two weeks before Christmas (and admittedly that means it's worse for my sister who has to buy (and think) for all of us - so does my dad, technically, but honestly any involvement he has in the thinking of, shopping for or wrapping of presents is purely coincidental).

No. It's men's presents in general, and B's present in particular.

It needs to be thoughtful and personal: chosen with real care to reflect how much I love him and how central he is to mine and the children's everything.

I've just ordered it. It is safe to say it is none of the above.

He reads this blog so I can't be specific (think of this as management of expectations) but suffice to say it's something we need and  so because I can't think of anything else I'm buying it now, essentially to save having to spend money on it later.

How rubbish is that?

It's his fault, obviously.  I'm pretty good at presents mostly, but my effort and imagination do, I admit, tend to prioritse birthdays over Christmas.  B turned forty earlier this year, and if he hadn't selfishly done so I wouldn't have used up my store of fabulously well thought out presents already.

I did well then, with no false modesty: he got a pretty spectacular party, a weekend away with various bits to go with it, and two maps from

Now, this isn't a sponsored post (I paid for the maps ages ago), and the lovely people who made them don't even know I'm writing it but the maps are just brilliant.

The pictures on here aren't actually of our ones because B has very gently pointed out that if I stick a whole bunch of personal information (as I did briefly this afternoon) including all our names and significant places online, it might not do much for what remains of my anonymity, but these are very like ours and I hope that Tracy, whose business it is, will forgive me for lifting them off her website.  And that everyone else won't mind that I've changed this post slightly from the original version.

I designed them in conjunction with Tracy and they make me smile every time I see them. B loves maps, and we have maps dotted all round the house, but these are different: the one on the left not a map at all, it's a family tree, and the other, the one which looks, counter-intuitively like a tree (and which is what gave me the idea of the family tree above), is all of his favourite things interconnecting, from me and the children to bacon and egg muffins, from our first house to fine wine (it's more specific than that), and from sudoku to the Proclaimers.
They reflect him and us, and his family and friends and everything that is important in his life in two fabulously simple, information packed graphics and he, and I, are delighted with them.  The children love them too, of course, because they're on both of them.

If I say it myself, I did well.  Then.  For now though, I'm just going to have to hope they're good enough to compensate for the new Christmas Hoover...

Ps: As I say, I've not been asked to write this (and it wasn't really the post I intended to write when I started out) but if you're struggling for a present idea, and can't find a good place for a weekend away (we went to the Lake District, it was fab) have a look at the site. I can promise you won't regret it.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Scots, wha hae wi Wallace read...*

Great excitement at school on Friday:  the P1 bookbug bags arrived.

It was the end of Scottish Book Week, and here, where we still get free books given to every child every year from birth to five, they dished out three crackers to L and her classmates, whose front covers you can see in this post.  I honestly can't tell you which I like best. They're all awesome.  If you're looking for a book to give a five year old this Christmas, you won't go wrong with any of these.

But they also gave us Jordan's new Jaiket.

First line: Jordan wis in his bed sleepin.  He wis in the middle o a braw dream.

And I have removed it from L and told her she's not allowed to read it.

It's not a Scottish literature thing, obviously.  The three fantastic books which illustrate this post are all written by Scottish (or Scottish based) authors and I couldn't be more delighted with them. 

But it is a Scots thing. 

For a start, I don't happen to think Scots is a language.  Now, technically, there's no fixed definition of what's a language, what's an accent and what's a dialect. But if we assume that a dialect is somewhere between a language and an accent, I reckon Scots is a dialect.  Or, indeed, a vast number of different dialects which are markedly different if you live in Stornoway, Stranraer or Selkirk.  Indeed, people (or indeed folk) from Selkirk, a grand 20 miles away from where I sit, speak a completely different version of Scots from those in Hawick, or Galashiels, or Duns, each of which is less than 20 miles from the others.  

So if L reads, or has read to her (although not by me, because I'd mangle it), Jordan's new Jaiket she's not hearing anything that really resembles the words, accents and turns of phrase she hears out and about. 

The introduction to Jordan's new Jaiket, written, obviously, not in Scots, says:

Learning about Scotland helps children to develop a sense of who they are and their place in the world[...].  Exploring Scots language is an iimportant part of this learning.

Of course it is. I couldn't be more delighted for my children, and all other children wherever they are raised, to be given an real sense of the local culture: the literature, art and music, the dialects, architecture and landscape.  I want my children to appreciate the works of Robert Burns, John Buchan, James Kelman or Irvine Welsh (but not Walter Scott, because (whisper it) it's incredibly dull).

But not yet.  Not now.

L is five.  She is just on the cusp of learning to read and write, an explosion of literacy that is going to open up to her worlds of imagining and information.  She, and I, are so excited by this.  She can't get through her bedtime story at the moment without stopping me to read out words or sentences she has recognised, or to point to a punctuation mark and ask what it is and what it's doing.

So when she picks up Jordan's new Jaiket, and reads, in her voice which still has more than an echo of three formative years spent in southern England, "Jordan was in his bed sleeping",  she is undoing all the hard work her teacher has put in, teaching her to recognise that was is spelt with an a and ing makes the sound, and has the grammatical function, it does (although obviously she wouldn't express it like that), in whatever accent you choose to say it.

Wherever you stand on the importance (or indeed existence) of the Scots language, at this stage, L, and all the other P1 children who were given this book, are being taught to read and write English, and it is in English that they will go on to read the vast majority of books, textbooks, exam papers, magazines, newspapers or advertisements.  Tacitly, the writer and publisher of Jordan's new Jaiket (which is, incidentally, a rubbish story - Jordan can't find his new jacket because his sister has put it on her snowman) know this, else why write the blurb in English?

L's school has a Burns competition. Each year around Burns night, the older children are encouraged to learn a Burns poem and to recite it in front of their classmates and the school.  I dearly hope she will take part and I'd love her to be able to do so with a swagger and a swing of Scots conviction.  But by that stage she will be older.  She will be reading and writing fluently in English, and regularly hearing the local dialect of Scots. She will have the knowledge and sophistication to recognise and understand the differences and to know that what is correct in one is not in the other.

But now, at five, she's not.  And to confuse her, or her classmates, is jist wrang.  

*With apologies to the shade of Robert Burns.