Day 2 of our ‘Northcoast 500 in Scotland trip has started fairly well. We’ve waved off MrytleBank Guest House in FortWilliam. The staff were very friendly, with their ‘wee this’ and ‘wee that’; the view from our room was stunning; and the facilities were excellent (just as well as we were all obliged to stay inside yesterday afternoon and channel hop between the cricket and the tennis.) The tyre swing was a hit with my kids (yes, I know they are allegedly grown up), so all is well in our world. The locals keep telling us to enjoy the beautiful weather, but I did nip into the town this morning to buy a new, very reasonably priced fleece, just in case the breeze picks up. We are in Scotland after all.
My plan had been to wear my landrover t-shirt (a gift for Mick that was too small!) for a departure shot each morning in front of Lazarus, but I’ve realised that this will create a whiffy rather than cool vibe so I’m having to rethink that idea. I’m feeling a little nostalgic as I love this time with just the four of us, but wondering how much of this ‘same same’ we can have with the kids before the ‘different’ starts. I’m starting to wonder if we are quirky ‘holiday makers’ or if all families are like ours. What do you think?
Photos on this post all taken by the Flint Smith family.
Same Same - Family
The Boss - Although Googlemaps can give Jane on the TomTom a run for her money, Mick stays loyal to Jane and resents any intrusion from Googlemaps (even though it is better!). In charge of driving and directions it is his task to find fun things to do, stop at viewpoints and point out landmarks and points of interest. All of which instead of being grateful for, we mock. As fount of all knowledge he knows what places are known for and why they are important. I seldom listen. This morning for example he explained to Betsy the intricate engineering of the locks at Neptune’s Stairs. Betsy listened politely, and I dare say even with a modicum of interest, but me and Annie wandered off! Let’s be honest, that was a reasonable thing to do.
The Food – I am in charge of car snacks, though I seem to have relegated this task to Annie. I have her in the back seat preparing, cutting, and making sandwiches, (or this morning, buttering my mum’s marvellous plum bread) for everyone. It has been noted that I perhaps eat the lion’s share. The others have actually just left the car to enjoy the view at one of the aforementioned beauty stops, and I have been specifically told not to eat the whole pack of the bite size twirls we’ve just opened.
The Photos – Family photos have always featured a lot on our trips, but what with all the family having their phones to hand and Mick having not just a phone but also a camera the size of a small fort, (phone for people, camera for views!) the photo taking is never ending. ‘Annie’ on her own, ‘Betsy’ on her own, ‘Annie and Betsy’ together, ‘Mum, Annie and Betsy’ together, ‘Dad, Annie and Betsy’ together and the occasional dodgy selfie, means we outstay our welcome at all beauty spots!
The Young at Heart: Harry Potter – We’ve based many of our trips around the kids’ and our love of Harry Potter, visiting the theme park in Florida and Warner Bros Studio just outside London. A highlight of our drive this morning was a deviation to Glenfinnen Viaduct which features in the Chamber of Secrets film. It is the moment where Ron and Harry find themselves driving to school and losing control of Arthur Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia. Mick and I were overcome with excitement (I nearly wrote nearly wetting ourselves, but decided it was too coarse) and the girls enjoyed it too.
The Irreverence – Part of lots of our trips has been museums, galleries, castles, forts and so on. Mostly they are fun, but sometimes to be honest, you can have too much of a good thing. Today I was heartened by our whole families’ irreverence to the important historical monument in Glenfinnen. A look from afar was sufficient. Does it matter if you go to a POI (Place of Interest) for its original reason or because of a Potter association? It looks like I’m going to have to amend yesterday’s post and add being a Grade B tourist to it. Though, perhaps I can just claim that I’m being authentic!
Music – The same dodgy collection of The Sound of Music, 80s hits, and Mamma Mia (replaced Abba) songs are belting out as sing-a-longs. I love this part of road trips. Betsy has introduced Elton John after her and Mick recently enjoyed the film Rocketman at Mega Bangna in Bangkok.
Different - Family
The Environment – So nothing much changes on our holidays. But this trip I’ve noticed that we are a bit more aware of the environment (yes the irony that we are travelling in a fuel guzzling vehicle is not lost on me.) We have been filling our reusable bamboo-made cups, (I’ve noticed they are for sale in all gift shops too and motorway service stations), refusing straws and suggesting to guesthouses that they relinquish their use of individually wrapped butter sachets and condiments.
The Swearing – It has come to my attention that Betsy swears like a trooper and even Annie has started to slip the odd word into the conversation. This never happened when they were small. Their father is unimpressed, but in my attempt to be down with the kids I’m just joining in -or setting the example!
The Better Tempered 50 Year old Mum - I have to admit when the kids were little I might have occasionally got a little bit grouchy-only a bit honest! Mick’s bossiness (I mean great organisation) used to irritate me, whereas now I really am grateful that he cares enough to plan us fab holidays. It is also hard work looking after two little kids, whereas now they look after me! What’s not to like?
Times ticks on, circumstances change, but just for now as we drive along a very windy and quite bumpy road to Loch Carron I’m going to focus more on the ‘Same Same’ and not think too far ahead to the ‘Different.’
School Grades At school if I’d self-assessed and averaged out my grades I am pretty sure I’d have been a stock standard Grade ‘B’ student. I’d maybe reach an ‘A’ for the odd English piece; in French and Geography I was more ‘C’, but overall ‘B’ would be my forte. Better than fine or satisfactory – we all know what they mean – but not reaching the excellence of an ‘A’. Nothing has really changed, a 2.1 in my first degree at Essex, (though I’m sure firsts were scarcer in those days), and good solid merits in my later Masters’ degrees at the University of East Anglia and Nottingham and librarian diploma.
I think I know exactly why this is the case. Once I am sure that something is ‘good’ i.e a ‘B’, I can’t be bothered to do anymore work on it. I am a settler at good enough. In my life there hasn’t been any writing twice the word count allowed, enabling pruning and editing until the assignment is perfect. For me, once I’ve got enough words and it makes something like sense then that will do!
Image taken from Sheba Leung Lifehack article.
Transferring School Grades to Life
I’ve realised I apply the same attitude and approach to many parts of my life, especially things I have to do. Take housework, for example. In England I do keep things tidy and reasonably dust free, but I definitely wouldn’t achieve an ‘A’ grade for anything household related. With all house-y, and D.I.Y stuff I know what an ‘A’ looks like (my mum’s house) and an A* (my brother’s house!) but I just can’t be bothered to achieve such excellence myself. To be honest I’d only get a ‘B’ if the examiner was feeling generous! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have sunk so low that I have been known to use socks to dust the skirting boards. You might think that’s not so bad but I’ve been wearing them at the time!
Now I’ve started thinking about it there are loads of examples of my Grade ‘B’ approach to life. In fact it feels like I can’t escape it. This blog, is full of glitches, broken links and the like, preventing Google from even hardly recognising it, yet I just can’t seem to muster up enough umph to get it fixed up. We are back on the road to Scotland, this time heading to Fort William, (the first stop on our North Coast 500’ road trip in Lazarus the Landrover), though my holiday preparation has only reached ‘B-‘ grade. I bought the snacks, cooled the freezer cube thingies, but couldn’t be bothered to actually make sandwiches for the journey ahead of time. I decided we could make them en route whilst driving – which, to my detriment, I’m learning is actually easier said than done.
Even my beloved swimming – my way of maintaining a good enough level of fitness fits a grade ‘B’ rubric. I’ve made the effort to progress beyond, what I call, chinny swimmer, and I’m told I’m not too bad at all at freestyle now, but I can’t put the effort in to really master a decent breaststroke kick. Must do better!
When I was in the library I put ‘A’ effort into making it a fun environment and encouraging kids to love books. I was an ‘A-’ in creating a great collection for the whole school and parent community, (I like to think I know my books reasonably well), but I was only a C- in really embracing digital technology - and as for truly getting to grips with Dewey… I just couldn’t be bothered. I hope I was ‘A’ in developing a strong team, but in learning how to catalogue and classify books I was ‘D-’. So overall I guess at work I came out a ‘B’. No surprise eh!
Video courtesy of Bangkok Patana School Library. a great display we put together in January 2018 around an 'Under the Sea' theme, when promoting the enviornmental books of visiting author Gail Clarke.
Family It is interesting to see what I have invested an ‘A grade’ level of effort into. My family of course is top of the list, but I’m not sure I am mentally prepared enough to start grading my input into developing these complex relationships One thing I do know is they would probably give me an ‘A’ for worrying and nagging, but I’m not sure that is such a good thing!
The reality is that it seems that outside the personal stuff of family and friends there really isn’t much else that I seem to think is worth accomplishing beyond a ‘B’ in. Perhaps if I view my Grade ‘B’ achievement sympathetically I can justify it with the claim that I know what really matters or that I’m impatient to fit in as an infinite amount of stuff into a finite amount of time so don’t have time to be a perfectionist. I think, though, on both counts that’s probably me just letting myself off the hook!
Inspiring Others One thing that I think I am quite good at is inspiring others to aim to achieve higher and being better than I am myself. I kind of expect it and it brings me pleasure that it is often the case. My kids have a better work ethic than me and are both kinder and more forgiving than me. When I was in the library, members of my team were phenomenally good at what they did, always striving for excellence. Perhaps I sewed some of the seeds but they followed through and paid attention to detail in getting things done properly. My housekeeper in Bangkok might smile ruefully at my self-analysis, at recognising excellence and desiring it in others. I certainly exact high standards from her in cleaning, washing and cooking-she doesn’t let me down!
I guess it’s good that at least I’ve recognised a lifelong Grade ‘B’ accomplishment pattern. It’s too late to change what’s been so I will have to be content to have been ‘good’ enough. Perhaps what I have been grade ‘A’ in is at cajoling, persuading and motivating others. The issue is though, that these days, the only person l have to cajole, persuade and motivate is myself. It would be great though to have a passion to be a grade ‘A’ in something and really go for it. Just right now, I’m just not quite sure what that something might be. I can't spend my whole life touring Scotland in the landrover - any other ideas?
Driving by Loch Lomond on the way up to Fort William. Photo taken by Betsy Flint Smith
I’ve tried to be patient. I’ve tried to be fair. I’ve spoken positively of my local pool. I've tried not to make negative comparisons between it and Thana City’s multiple swimming areas - all bathed in a warm, balmy, sunny 35 degrees glow, edged in 5 star comfort sun loungers, with waiters and waitresses who know me by name serving me poolside delights.
Similarly, I’ve not commented on the inevitable foot-print clad dirty floors of the local leisure centre, or minded its limited (non-existent) showering facilities. Instead, I’ve focused on the friendly welcoming staff - they're brilliant - and the diverse populace who are able to access this facility at different times. I've not minded the 'hour only' slots where the final fifteen minutes is spent lapping the waves with 60 pairs of beady, six year olds' eyes willing me to leave the pool early so that their fun lesson can begin.
I've tried, I really have, but I'm not finding swimming in the UK too much fun. Who is to blame? Well, it’s hard to say, but check what kind of swimmer you are and decide if it could be you.
The Walking Catfish is to be commended on its effort levels.
The Walking Catfish The Walking Catfish tends to wiggle rather than swim. S/he can be found towards the steps side of the pool slowly moving the length of it whilst chatting to a fellow Walking Catfish. S/he is likely to leave the pool along with other Catfish and head for a cuppa and a slice of cake. The Walking Catfish is a friendly breed of swimmer, but can be problematic to other fish, when the social aspect of walking with friends means that several lanes of pool are taken up and unavailable for actual swimming. Walking Catfish often leave zero room for overtaking by other species, but because they are so nice tend to get away with this.
The Neon Tetra sticks to the middle path and is often with a friend or two.
The Neon Tetra The Neon Tetra is a friendly fish, always quick with a smile and willing to share its lane with you. It clings to the centre lane and takes its time to travel the length of the pool. It rarely submerses its whole self into the water, preferring to keep its head above the surface so that it can welcome new fish to the water. It likes to squish up against other fish it is familiar with, sometimes without their consent. Outside of the pool it can be found chatting to the reception staff and is always quick with a joke. The Neon Tetra's only fault is its tendency to hover on one spot, thus making it difficult for other species to touch the poolside edge.
The BristleNose is not short of confidence.
The BristleNose Fish The BristleNose Fish is the master of disguise and one of the most annoying fish in the pool. It is often quite ripped in appearance and approaches the water as if engaging in fast and furious activity is its sole purpose. Hogging the roped off lanes, whilst chatting to other Bristlenoses or poolside attendants, often of the opposite gender, is its actual purpose. One disdainful look from a BristleNose and other species, move out of the roped lane area pronto. Although the BristleNose may often feature on leisure centre promotional flyers and leaflets, looks can be deceiving and after claiming the prime swimming area, it tends to lounge at the peripheries of the lane, thus making it impossible for less high profile swimmers to use this space.
The Southern Cave Fish dives right in, whoever else might be around.
Southern Cave Fish The Southern Cave Fish enters the pool with aplomb taking a headlong dive into the depths of the water, regardless of any activity occuring at surface level. With no sight, and minimum hearing the Southern Cave Fish is largely unaware of surrounding water users. It only senses their presence through the vibration of shoving up against them with wide flailing arm and legs. The Southern Cave Fish is often an older, very localised male fish who is unaware of any negative impact of claiming the majority of the pool as its own. In truth, the Southern Cave Fish is disliked by all. The BristleNose is disdainful of the Southern Cave's less than perfect exterior, the Neon Tetra dislikes being separated from its 'tribe' and The Walking Catfish is frequently irritated from having the ground taken from beneath its feet as the Southern Cave dives in.
Sea Urchins can be prickly customers, when crossed.
Sea Urchins Sea Urchins emit a predatory and spikey aura that makes other fish wary of engaging with them. They often swim alongside the roped area, in an attempt to avoid the Neon Tetra Tribe and as an act of passive aggression towards the Bristlenose, whom they resent for lounging in the prime swimming spots. Most Sea Urchins swim fairly slowly, alternating freestyle and breast stroke, without ever getting their hair wet. but regularly meeting their daily exercise target. Sea Urchins are known for their longevity and secretly aspire to show Bristlenoses how it's done.
I think I probably fit the Sea Urchin type, though I do get my hair wet when I swim. That's another thing, why do UK swimming pools dry out my hair so much? Actually, perhaps I'm a new breed of swimmer completely, deserving of the Grumpyoldfart tag!
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If you are a fish lover, (or concerned about copyright) I've linked the images used so please take a look at the original sites I have borrowed them from.
So the results are in. Our drive to Edinburgh (on results day) for a weekend break was tinged with nerves and trepidation. We are lucky. Betsy did well so will be heading off to York University in September! I say lucky, but I don’t want to detract from how blooming hard she worked. Well done Bets!
(Just before I go on - if your child hasn’t received the grades they hoped for, take a look at my earlier blog post for helpful hints about what to do. I know it is easily said, but it really isn’t the end of the world so keep positive. I say that from some experience - I didn’t do marvellously well in my A Levels and ended up at Essex University rather than my first choice of Reading. Looking back I wouldn’t change that for a second. During my time at Essex I made great friendships, did lots of travelling and fine-tuned a life-long passion for reading. In addition, I met my future husband. Don’t get the vomit bucket out as I’m not going to gush about meeting the love of my life. Rather, I’ll draw attention to the fact that without him working in the recruitment department of British Telecommunications in Colchester I’d have never got an excellent temping job in the Pensions' Department of B.T. Consequently I wouldn’t have saved enough money to complete two round the world back-packing trips, giving me a thirst for life overseas!)
Betsy spent the final part of the journey to Edinburgh on the phone to her friends sharing exam news. I was impressed with how gracious the kids were to each other in their discussion of results. Once that was done her next self-assigned task was to share her news with her teachers and Math’s tutor. I think that her eagnerness to do this is testament to what a great educational experience she’s had. Thanks Bangkok Patana School and Mr T.
Annie's made a video of her trip. It took her all of 5 minutes! You'll easily spot the bits I'd edit out, but it's nice to have as a keepsake.
My first reaction to Betsy having acquired what she needed for university was relief rather than jubilation. Mick did better than me at feeling unadulterated joy and pride, whereas my emotions were more mixed - kind of nostalgia, pride and a sense of loss all mixed up together. I had the craziest of dreams on Wednesday night. It was something to with stars being turned off and me rushing to turn them back on. (That was along with a load of other stuff, but ‘they’ say that other people’s dreams are boring so I won’t bother sharing.) I dream a lot but they are never very subtle. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that this dream was all stuff tied up with anxiety that my baby girl is leaving home! I can imagine Saint Mick eye-rolling now – at least enjoy the results for a couple of days before fretting about next steps!
I suppose if I think about it I’m being a bit (a lot) selfish. Never mind about worrying whether Betsy will be homesick and enjoy her course, let’s make it all about me! Did I really sit in a restaurant with the family last night and insist that they help me plan out what I might do to starve off the sense of loss and make a new life for myself next year sans kids, sans job sans all… ? Yes I did.
Empty Nest Syndrome
I didn’t really come up with any answers but here are a few ideas to starve off ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’. Travel. If you are lucky enough to afford to do this then take weekends away with your spouse and reconnect. Don’t feel guilty about this but enjoy the ‘couple time’.
More Travel. Again, if you are lucky enough to afford to do this then take weekends away with your mates. Set the world to rights, share your news and moan about your spouses to your hearts content. (I don’t mean that last bit - not really!)
Treats. To be honest I haven’t let having kids at home prevent me from lots of treats, but if you haven’t found time for massages, shopping trips, walks in the parks and curling up with a good book, now is the time.
Write down your Goals. When I was working I always wrote down my days ‘must do’ tasks and after quitting work and feeling a bit list for a while I started it again. Once both girls have left home I think to keep my sense of equilibrium this is going to be even more necessary.
Keep Perspective. The kids are going to Uni not the moon. You can text, phone, face-time, send postcards and letters (when Annie left I sent her a postcard twice a week for the first year.) During the second year I didn’t send any. Is it very bad to admit I couldn’t quite be bothered!
Hobbies. Personally I find this a little bit wishy-washy and twee. It’s going to take more than Betsy leaving home for me to hone my knitting skills sufficiently to make myself an arran jumper (you can tell I’ve just been in Edinburgh), but I think a hobby, along with a personal goal can be effective. For me I’m going to not let my swimming slip and I’m even thinking of doing that zero to five km running challenge. I need to research it more first – haha!)
Read. Best escapism in the world. Use goodreads to set a ‘reading challenge target.
Last Times. When Annie left home I thought it would be the last time we did lots of things together – last summer holiday together, last road trip, last time she ‘still belonged to me’, last picking up after her, last … Not so. Talk about blooming melodramatic! My mum said to me “Let her go and she’ll come back.” Did I tell you that my mum is a very wise lady!
Diary Writing. Even though I still had Betsy at home I really was gutted when Annie left. Specifically, my anxiety about her safety was through the roof. One way I managed these negative emotions was keeping a diary devoted specifically to exploring them. I call it my ‘Annie book’. I didn’t really come up with strategies there and then for handling the feelings, but found that writing them down helped counter the worry and enabled me to focus on what a bloody brilliant independent young woman she is. I think this time round I am more aware that it is ok to be sad.
In a similar vein, I’m feeling a little more together now I’ve thought through this. I might even give the kids and Mick a bit of attention instead of solely focusing on me! The drive home from Edinburgh is saturated in anticipation and pride at what they’ve all achieved and what is yet to come. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think I’ve, at least, made a step in that direction.
Come September, I'm going to miss this little munchkin!
The landrover is parked up for the day and now to enjoy Edinburgh!
It’s time to dump Tim. Mick picks out Sexy Serena as our new SAT Nav Guide. I object and choose the more straitlaced Jane, she has a direct, no-nonsense, trust me voice. I think she sounds reliable until I hear her lilting and teasing ‘roundabout’ inflection. Can we really count on her to get us to our destination? Our first family trip for a while and our first road trip in the UK for absolutely ages. We’re in Mick's new Landrover. No comment!
It's always difficult to pick between prawn cocktail and cheese and onion flavour!
We’re leaving Broughton in Lincolnshire and heading to 'Broughton Place' in Edinburgh for two nights. Home from home perhaps, perhaps not. Mick announces that he is unimpressed with the bed and breakfast we are going to. I agree. The reception staff’s clipped English pronunciation phone voices and ‘the computer says no’ approach to changing the date of our trip was not the Scottish welcome we were hoping for. Our stoicism, or is it stubbornness, is admirable. Fine - if we can’t change the booking we’ll bloody use it, even if it means listening to Mick’s Scottish accent all the way there.
Jane claims it is only a four and a half hour drive to Broughton from Broughton, but the AA Breakdown Insurance, prudently joined prior to departure, claims it is six. Time will tell.
It is, of course, peeing it down with rain.
From Broughton to Broughton Place!
We’re four minutes into the journey. I have eaten a bag of prawn cocktail flavoured Walkers crisps and I’m halfway through my first cheese and cucumber sandwich. Delicious, though already a little squashed. I’m not greedy, it’s just that whilst the rest of the family lingered over coffee, muesli and yoghurt, I was forced to frantically tidy the house. Everyone knows that towels need to be straightened and the toilet bleached just in case burglars pop by. We do have standards. I wish we had some wholenut chocolate to munch on. How far is it to the first ‘pit stop?’ Eight minutes into the journey. We’re greeted by a flurry of traffic cones closing off two lanes of traffic and get stuck behind a big yellow van driving in the remaining single lane. It’s driving slowly, very slowly. Time for another sandwich.
The kids are bickering: “She’s lying to you.” High-pitched squeaks and giggles.
I’m making factual observations about the new (23 years old) car.
“It’s steamed up in here.” “Well open the window.” “Surely it has a de-steamer thingy.”
Annie announces she will take music requests later but she is starting us with a ‘chill’ playlist. I’m not sure what a playlist is, but it is soothing. So far we’ve listened to Stop This Train by John Mayer, Beyond by Leon Bridges and Top of My List by Lime Cordial (I’d never even heard of them before!).
Twelve minutes into the trip and Mick asks for a can of diet coke. He has to shout above the engine noise, though he denies this. Perhaps it will settle down into a purr soon - the car, not Mick, though the idea of a purring Mick amuses me. The request for the can of coke is relayed to the back and the can is retrieved and passed forward from the big green eski-bag. It is refreshingly cold. I silently reflect that even the ’50s perfectly coiffured housewives, unlike me, probably didn’t always remember the eski-freezer packs. A fleeting sense of smugness coarses through my veins. Mick delights in having found a little spot in the dashboard to keep his can of diet coke in. And he raves, “as it is in front of the vent, my drink will stay cold as well as upright!”
He loves his car. I almost smile.
Jane tells us to take the exit and meet the motorway. Delay signs flash aggressively at us in orange text.
As a family of four we’ve had hundreds of road trips. Our first ones were also in a landrover back when we lived in Tanzania twenty odd years ago. We gave it a name – Larry. This isn’t like us, we’re not the car naming types, but in memory of Larry, it seems only right that we give our new landrover a name too. Lazarus fits.
I remember distinctly breaking down in Larry, near Morogoro National Park. I was left with my parents and a six month old baby as Mick headed off into the unknown seeking help. His final action before he left was to pass my dad an extremely large, heavy spanner, “just in case”- in case of what? Eventually, we were towed home in the dark on a busy motorway. The car lights gave up the ghost and my poor mum waved a flag out the back window of the car alerting other traffic of our presence for the duration of the journey. My parents didn’t visit Tanzania after that. This trip down memory lane makes me worry a little bit about Lazarus’ reliability, though to be fair, so far we are bombing along.
Not my photo, but a reminder of times gone by!
We have now got things ‘off to a tee’, so whether you’re travelling with a seven month old or a seventy year old, if you follow these tips you will be guaranteed a good journey, even in a landrover as old as time itself.
Snacks. Take lots of them. For the health conscious take dried fruit (very nibble-able) or if you’re like us give the kids so many ‘M&M chocolates’ that they vomit upon arrival. This happened more than once. Today it might just be me though!
Audio Books/Podcasts/Playlists. Engine noise permitting, take the chance to hone your listening skills. Taking it in turns for listening to preferred podcasts or sharing a good old-fashioned audio story makes time pass by quickly. Having worked our way through all of the Harry Potter stories narrated by Jim Dale, we then went on to listen to them all again, this time read by Stephen Fry. We’re still not sure who our favourite narrator is.
Timings. Pack the car the night before so you can leave early and ideally the passengers will sleep the first half of the journey… we never manage this!
Comfort. Make the journey as comfortable as possible and turn the back seat into a snug nest with pillows, blankets and (for the little ‘uns’) favourite teddies. Straining to look over my shoulder right now at the kids this is an area we need to improve on before our next trip. Annie’s head is bumping on the roof and Betsy is clutching the cushion I put in the car for her. Either there is nowhere for it to go or it is some kind of replacement security blanket to help her anticipatory ‘I get my exam results today’ nerves!
Treats. Either just prior to the trip, or at the first ‘pit stop’, allow your kids to choose a new treat to play with on the journey. In our case this was pretty basic stuff like a new word search or activity book for the journey or new game for their game boy, or for the oldies a new crossword book.
Play Games. You can’t beat the good old road trip games such as I-Spy, spot the number plate beginning with a particular letter’ etc.
Catch up on Jobs. My kids hate the very word ‘jobs’ and still don’t seem to have forgiven me for the constant lists that appeared on the kitchen whiteboard of things to do, but regardless I think ‘journey time’ is a good opportunity to complete tasks. Finishing a particular book, making a list of the next month’s house improvement tasks, or even updating a blog seems to me a good use of time.
Break downs. Always have plenty to drink in the car and if you are driving anything perhaps a little unreliable (such as a 23 year old landrover) join a car breakdown service, such as the A.A or R.A.C. If these don’t exist in your country of travel have a charged phone loaded with numbers of people or organisations who could help in an emergency.
Emotions. If you break down, the kids vomit down the back of your neck, or you hit a traffic jam ten miles long try to keep your sense of humour. Why not write about the experience in ‘real-time’? It might be therapeutic. Ok, if that’s not realistic at least count to ten, lots of times. You will get out of this situation and what may seem a disaster at the time is only a few hours away from being a ‘good story’!
I just asked Mick for more tips about how to make journeys smooth and enjoyable. From his sarcasm soaked driver's seat (and why does he always insist on driving anyway?) his response was to suggest that the driver requests silence from the passengers. I’m not sure if that is because of the racket the karaoke queens are now making in the back seats. He’s now trying to back track and claim he was joking! We’re an hour into the journey, so it is definitely time to stop for chocolate and to remember that we are on holiday!
The IB Results will be with us tomorrow; it’s a little bit like waiting for Christmas day only you really don’t know what Santa will bring. He won’t necessarily reward kids for being good and hard-working! I noticed that Betsy seemed a little bit out of sorts yesterday and couldn’t quite figure out why. Don’t get my wrong it was nothing that a sing-a-long in the Land Rover on the way back home from her Nanna’s didn’t set right, but I guess she is starting to feel a bit nervous!
Yesterday I had re-visited my own book to explore what to do for preparing for university if her results are pleasing. Today, I’ve just read the next couple of pages to get some tips about what to do if the results don’t quite live up to expectations.
We're going to be driving to Scotland when the results arrive. I'm hoping for good wi-fi!
Disappointing Results. If tomorrow your child is disappointed get that ‘brave face’ out of its box and have Option B at the ready. If they are just a few points short of what they hoped to achieve then get straight in touch with your school’s IB Coordinator and/or College Counsellor who will have advice to share. Have the contact details ready and act promptly. It is definitely worth calling universities to ask them to reconsider their offer.
Don’t Assume it’s in the Bag. Bets is hoping to go to the UK, but in some countries eg the USA, places are offered on an unconditional basis before results are released. There is a slim chance that universities can rescind offers so whilst I don’t want to be all doom and gloom just be aware that this could happen. In this case you might need your best negotiating skills at hand to persuade the Admissions Officers to change their mind.
Encourage Independence. This one is hard for me as I’m such a micro-manager, but I guess it makes sense to encourage your kid to be independent when sorting out university entrance problems. Ideally, they should be the one making contact with university Admissions Officers.
Self-Promotion. Encourage your child to sell themself. Have them create a list of all the things that they can say to the person at the other end of the phone about why they ought to be accepted on a course. In cases where students are close to achieving their predicted grades university places are often still awarded, especially if the applicant can make a convincing case on the phone for why they should be allowed to attend.
Stay Positive. In the UK it often takes a day or two for a university to make a decision about whether to accept a student or not. Try to stay positive and be patient. Easily said and very hard to do! I’d say keep busy.
Not Quite There. If your child narrowly misses attaining their predicted score then they will probably have enough points to automatically be offered a place at their second choice of university. In this case do all you can to make the second choice become the favourite after all! However, if they narrowly miss the points needed for this they will be entered into the University Clearing Process. This opens in August and aims to match students to unallocated university places. Most other countries don’t have such a centralised system and you are far more likely to find yourself negotiating with universities directly, so we’re in a good position from that respect.
Re-Marks. It is possible to have exam papers re-marked. If the grade is changed then this is free, if not then you will need to pay. The IB Coordinator will be able to assist you in the process for doing this. Be warned that marks may go down as well as up so take advice from school about the exam papers you wish to have remarked. It is useful to know how close your child was to the next grade before appealing.
Re-Sits. Know prior to Results Day whether re-sits are possible at your child’s school. I’m really hoping that we don’t have to do this as statistically re-sits tend not to be so successful. I think everyone has lost their mojo for doing well. Re-sits take place in November, so unless you child is going to Australia or New Zealand that means a year’s delay.
It's a funny old time waiting for results. In our house there is a lot of 'NetFlix' watching and hanging around. I'm trying not to mind, but should probably encourage something more active.
Gosh, I think my blood pressure is going up again but really that’s all I have to say about managing this situation. I’m trying to avoid being glib by suggesting that if things go badly then the IB can stuff their results up their … or anything so coarse!
Hopefully this will be the least useful post I’ve ever written and parents and students across the nations will be jumping for joy! As I said yesterday, though, it isn’t the end of the world if things go badly. I think whatever results will emerge our kids will be in need of a big hug. It might also be good to distract them from obsessing about them. We’re going to be driving to Edinburgh in a very old, noisy and uncomfy Land Rover. I’m hoping hours at the roadside waiting for the AA won’t be our form of distraction but you never know…
To all IB (and in August) A Level students and of course mums and dads. Good luck with your results.
As a family we are going up to Edinburgh at the weekend. Saturday is also the day that Betsy is due to get her IB results - yikes! We've been saying we will need to be somewhere with good internet access and phone reception, both for receiving the results and completing any follow up emailing or phoning regarding university places.
This is probably going to sound a bit daft, but I genuinely have just revisited my own book (co-written with Lorraine Illing and illustrated by NokIsMe), giving advice for parents surviving the IB. I needed to find out what to do both in the positive situation that the results are what Betsy hopes for, or in the (fingers crossed this won't happen) sticky situtation if they are not
NEXT STEPS in preparing for exam results and beyond ...
It is hard to believe that it is two years since Annie went through the IB and Betsy completed her IGCSEs, yet here we are again. Annie has already had her results for her second year at UCL, and all good there (well done Anniepops!), but I can't pretend I'm not nervous about Betsy's IB. It's a gruelling course, entailing studying six subjects along with completing Community, Action and Service based activities and doing a 4000 word Extended Essay plus some Theory of Knowledge learning too - great preparation for uni but a blooming challenge and no mistake!
Our guide is for sale on Amazon at six pounds ninety nine. Or message me or put a comment and I can send you a copy. Frustratingly, paypal have said that they have an error, their end, linking to my account, putting my store page temporarily out of action. Apologies for that.
Anyway, I've decided to focus on the positive in this post. If you've not been through the IB before, (and I'm pretty confident A levels are similar) these might be useful tips for next steps if the results your child receives are what they need to go university.
University Placements In the next few days, check out the process for accepting university places. If your child's results are available online, eg at the IBO website, make sure that they know their username and password and what time they are available. Don't panic if the site goes down, there will be massive demand on the server so you might need to wait a bit for them. Have the correct info to hand for applying to university and accessing school support. This is especially important if, like us, you are not going to be at home.
Check your Correspondence Once your offspring has accepted a uni offer make sure that they keep up with the correspondence from them. It is easy to neglect emails in the summer. Be careful not to as you can miss out on important information such as accommodation offers, health care information, activities and insurance.
With the accommodation Annie was contacted by university catering and accommodation departments to make or confirm choices about the type of room and the catering options they offer. If this doesn’t happen then don't wait too long before contacting the university accommodation department yourself. Worldwide, first year students and particularly international students are given priority for accommodation on campus or in the city near the study areas. I'd recommend finding out when registration for accommodation opens as for some universities it is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis.
Getting Involved It is likely that your child will be given loads of info about things s/he can join. I'd encourage signing up now and engaging in uni social media groups. Your child will probably be invited to join the Student Union facebook page which will have lots of information about Freshers’ Week and upcoming events.
Health Care Provision When Annie went to uni getting signed up at a Health Centre was a pain, so once you have a place it might be worth getting this done early, or at least setting the wheels in motion. It's also worth checking any vaccine requirements the university stipulates.
Scholarships If your child does super well then they might be eligible to apply for a scholarship. If you receive good news on 'exam results day' then be sure to double check for this perk, as that would be lovely.
Blimey, writing all that, has just made me nervous all over again about the results. The kids put so much pressure on themselves, these days, that probably the biggest tip of all is to make sure that whatever happens, your child is reassured that if the results aren't quite what they'd hoped for then it isn't the end of the world. Of course, we want our kids to do well, especially if they've bust a gut to do so, but at the end of the day, life will go on. There's no way, in my view, that young people should feel defined by their school exam results. Gosh that sounded quite sincere for me. Time for a reality check - looking around our living room Annie is lying on the sofa wearing Christmas pyjamas, nagging her dad to set up his new scalextric set. I'm thinking that a bike (to enable healthy living) might have been a better present and am a tad regretful of my rashness re the purchase of aforementioned scalextric! Betsy, on the other hand, is in trouble for using bad language whilst watching Love Island! The nerves have abated and normal service resumes.
Finally, once again if you are interested in buying A Parents' Survival Guide to the IB do get in touch. At 6.99 it's worth every penny. Once you've finished with it you can donate to your school's library!
No rivalry between these two girls - just enjoying each other's company in London.
(Jump to the end to evaluate the type of child you are.)
I’m out with Saint Mick, not in Thana City in Bangkok or in Broughton, Lincolnshire. I’m actually heading off to ‘ The Little Red Gallery’ in a place called Stamford, in pursuit of a piece of art by an artist called Roz Bell. Her work is bold and colourful-you might even say brash; her pictures of elephants are a bright reminder of living both in Thailand and Tanzania and the colours she uses in her flower pictures are stunningly vibrant. Take a look. We’re in the Porsche as there are no kids in tow as Betsy has gone to London for a few days to stay with her sister, so we’re practising for retirement and enjoying the day!
I just texted both of the girls actually, (note the direction of the correspondence-me to them, not them to me), to see how they were getting on. They’re fine and after a lazy morning are heading for brunch before a trip to Oxford Street (courtesy of Grandma’s pocket money!) When they are away I’ve time to notice that I react quite differently emotionally to their absence. Betsy is the younger of the two, and she would readily admit a bit of a Miranda Hart type. Consequently I’m worrying that she has got to where she needs to be without incident or drama. Annie will be looking out for her, but I’m second-guessing how she will be feeling about being in loco-parentis role. I am never quite sure what is going on in that head of hers! I’m feeling protective and proud towards them both equally, but for different reasons – back to my same/same but different notion which I was wittering on about in my last post!
I wonder if the girls perceive my different parental concerns as favouritism. I’ll have to ask them when they get back. My hunch is that Bets will think I demonstrate favouritism towards Annie by trusting her more and praising her capability. Annie, on the other hand, would be forgiven for thinking that I worry about Betsy more than I ever have done about her, so in comparison may feel she is quite neglected!
There are probably lots of reasons why kids assume that their parents favour their siblings rather than themselves. For example, parents tend to have a bottomless pit of forgiveness, which can be annoying for the sibling who hasn’t done anything that needs forgiving! I’ve got to admit I’ve got a good lot of sympathy for Joseph’s brothers, why the heck should he get the techni-coloured dream-coat. Seriously, he swans back in and is immediately back in his dad’s good books.
Kids have a huge sense of what is just or unjust and I think it is this sense of not being treated fairly that is seen as central to questions of favoritism. I guess there’s a reason why the ‘it’s not fair’ phrase never goes out of fashion. Of course, being a favourite child applies to offspring of all ages and times. Think of poor old Cordelia in King Lear - her situation really isn’t fair. Just because she won’t suck up to Lear she gets exiled from the whole kingdom. Talk about losing ‘favourite child’ status in style! I think that there is a bit of a chicken and egg concept at play when exploring whether and why favouritism exists in parental attitudes to siblings. Is it the offspring’s behaviour that determines whether they are the favourite or does the favouritism (be it real or perceived) stem from inconsistencies in parenting?
Kids (even grown up ones) can bicker and feel resentment about whether they are their parents’ favourite. Familial relationships can be so complex and messy that it isn’t easy to objectively analyse if you are indeed a ‘favourite child’ and I guess the really interesting question would be, why does it even matter? This Daily Mail article (so it must be true!) says it is the youngest child who is the favourite so I’m fine! Perhaps a more enlightening approach to exploring this is to think about what type of son or daughter you are and have been and whether you consequently deserve to be the favourite.
These are the types I can think of:
The Whirlwind - The status of the ‘whirlwind’ can only really be achieved in late middle age. The Whirlwind generally does not live close to home; their visits are sparse but enthusiastically executed. The whirlwind’s visit is a flurry of organising, tidying, cleaning, planning and treat giving. Much is achieved in a Whirlwind’s weekend visit and parents are left full of gratitude, but slightly shell-shocked. In all honesty, parents are not sorry to wave off the Whirlwind, though do enjoy sharing all that has been accomplished in a boastful manner with neighbours and friends.
The Plant Pot - The Plant pot is almost the polar opposite of the Whirlwind. When they visit they plonk down on the sofa, comment on dust on the TV stand or wherever it may be, and expect to be fed, watered, sheltered and spoken gently to for the duration of their stay. They thrive under these care conditions, but ironically the parents being visited don’t.
The Well-MeaningBut Misguided - The Well-Meaning But Misguided’s intentions are sound, but they are unlikely to achieve favourite status. The Well-Meaning is full of positive and helpful suggestions for how to do things differently and better (i.e, their own way). This ranges from how to hang the washing out, to what to buy at the supermarket, to where to position the sofa. These suggestions are usually good ideas but not always well received. The Well-Meaning’s But Miguided’s nickname, used by the parent in their absence is the ‘Knobby-Know-All’.
The Egg Sucker - The Egg Sucker is likely to be in their early twenties and be entering a new phase of financial security and independence. Their skillset includes giving advice on everything from marital relationships, to how to cook dinner, to how they themselves could have been brought up better. The irony of this is usually lost on the Egg Sucker, but not the parent. The Egg Sucker can be extremely irritating
The Sponge – the Sponge, otherwise known as the Pacifier, knows more gossip about the parent’s friends and neighbours than they themselves do, due to endless hours of being talked to. If The Sponge has a qualification in Counselling and can appropriately add questions to the conversation, such as “How does that make you feel?” their title changes to The Listener. The Sponge’s visits provide a valuable outlet enabling parents to vent. The Sponge often feels saturated and needs to wring out after visiting their parents.
The Clown - The Clown sees their role in the family to entertain their parents. They are not above performing a bit of a show, song or dance even when in their late middle-age. This causes concern amongst parents who often question post-visit, if the changeling child really belongs to them.
The Helper - The Helper has very good intentions and hovers around as parents prepare drinks and meals and offers to help. The Helper’s weakness tends to be that they think parents are incapable of doing all the every day activities that they complete all the time the Helper isn’t there. The Helper can be known to overstep the mark causing both confusion and offence when stepping unintentionally into Critic or Whirlwind mode.
The I’m Gonna Soon - The I’m Gonna Soon has a deep need to impress their parents and isn’t above a bit of exaggeration when talking about their accomplishments or achievements. For example, the I’m Gonna Soon would equate modest sales to the likelihood of becoming the next J.K Rowling. The I’m Goona Soon has been known to present themselves as The Helper and frequently offers to do tasks around their parents’ house. Sadly though, this never gets beyond the discussion stage.
Are you the whirlwind in your parents' lives?
I’m obviously joking with the above stereotypes, but now I’ve created them I’m afeared I fit some of the more negative ones. Yikes! Thank goodness that sibling rivalry doesn’t really seem a thing with my own kids and that their ‘daughter’ behaviour is exemplary (most of the time!). I should finish by saying that I DEFINITELY DO NOT have a favourite – Same/Same but different is my motto. I will check this post with a fine toothcomb to make sure that praise and possible insults have been dished out exactly equally! However, girls, if you are reading and do fancy just getting ahead on the ‘favouritism’ stakes I’d be quite happy for the odd touch of The Whirlwind added to a glug of The Listener. I definitely don’t need any of The Critic though – stay well clear of that one! (Why not subscribe to my blog to enjoy more chat and this and that.)
The last (I promise) in the ‘here’ or ‘there’ saga!
Mick took Dad out for a drive to the Humber Bridge in his new Landrover - Lazarus! Back in the day when dad was crane driving he helped build it, in fact legend has it, he built it singlehandedly!
I was driving through the village today, on the way to Scunthorpe to get Betsy a new bank account set up for university, when she asked the question, “Mum if you hadn’t gone to university do you think you would have always lived in Broughton or somewhere close by?” My answer was “I doubt it” to which Betsy asked “Why not? Hmmm… good question. When I stop to think it doesn’t really make sense to not have stayed local. It seems that I’m a bit Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!
Reasons to Live Locally
It means you can stay near your family and friends.
It is comfortable to stay close to home and easy to navigate around.
You know the good areas, the less salubrious parts when buying houses.
You have a lifelong background on schools, nearby universities, facilities such as theatres and cinemas and so on.
You know all the good places to eat.
You belong to and are part of a community.
You have knowledge of careers and jobs available to you in the region.
The Village Hall, cetnre of the community, after the library of course! The library is actually an extension of the Village Hall - win win!
When I think about my own personality these are all reasons I might have expected to have stayed close to home; they are criteria I’m happy to adhere to. If I am such a ‘localite’ and it seems, that as a lover of non-wild, steady-eddy routine, I am, I wonder why I have chosen to live 6000 miles away from home in Bangkok for 17 years and prior to that 4000 miles away from home in Tanzania for 5 years. It just doesn’t make sense!
It seems I’ve managed this by turning Bangkok into Broughton and emulating the same life I would have done if I’d stayed. For example, family is very important to me and has always been a massive pull back to Broughton. In addition, I’m not very wild and like a routine (In Bangkok, I always shop in Tops supermarket for example); we have found an area we like to live in, (the oft mentioned Thana City); and stick there. We tend to go to the same cinema (Mega Bangna Cinema complex) or Mahidol University for Saturday concerts by the Thai Philharmonic. This regularity further fulfils the ‘reasons to stay local’ criteria and also we have a maximum of four or five places we tend to eat. The school, the athletes group and my book club basically is my community and I have learned what is on offer for me work wise in Bangkok (Not a lot when flexibility is key!)
Me and dad enjoying the music on Wednesday afternoon. I blogged about it already!
I gave Betsy’s question some further thought. When I went to university my mum thought I’d only last a couple of weeks. Allegedly, and I’m not sure this is true, I would do anything to avoid speaking to shop assistants or strangers or anything of that ilk up to being about 25! (Fair enough really as typical introvert behaviour in my view!) I don’t think, though, it ever crossed my own mind to not stick uni out. I think I maybe got the occasional twinge for the familiarity of Scunthorpe’s shops and the treats it afforded, (the High Street was much better then), but nothing major happened. I wasn’t terribly homesick or anything like that. After uni and several months of temping work, I, along with Saint Mick (who was just Mick then and had mainly brown hair not grey – me too, come to that) backpacked extensively in Asia and Australasia. It was probably then that the idea of living and working abroad started to become attractive to me. Perhaps in my youth I must have been a bit more of a risk-taker than I realised.
But as a fifty something mum and wife, I’ve shown there is nothing very wild about our expat lifestyle!
Living abroad means:
You can start again and leave problems behind (though we didn’t do that #justsaying!)
You can try something completely knew and dive into a different culture. (Or in our case, probably its truer to say, paddle in the shallow end of it.)
You have to learn how to manage the everyday in a completely alien environment without speaking the language of the locals.
You are never bored as whilst you may end up living a pretty regular low key life there is always the option to explore something completely out of your comfort zone.
You are continually learning something new and experiencing how people are ‘same/same but different’. There’s always something to think about.
And eventually if you stay somewhere a while, you embrace this ‘same/same but different’ as normal. Living an expat life meets the needs of both my Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde sides!
I like a shopping trip, though probably prefer Mega Bangna to Scunthorpe nowadays!
As I worked through the conundrum posed by Betsy I realised that I am easily restless and the ‘what’s it all about’ question is never far from the surface. Perhaps it’s an expat gene that we teachers abroad all have. Those with vaguely itchy feet wondering what else is ‘on offer’ can keep searching whilst simultaneously holding down well paid jobs and bringing up regular families and turn anywhere into a place that is both ‘same/same and different to home. The desire for adventure, sits alongside routine and ordinariness, though thankfully backpacking can be replaced with nice hotels and holidays in exciting neighbouring countries. It perhaps sounds exotic to tour South East Asia, but no more so than our planned trip to Scotland later this month – same/same but different.
Lately, being back in Broughton has made me think once again about the paths that life has taken me on. I have opted to return ‘’home’ and be part of village life at the minute and it’s making me realise how I’ve never really left it. I guess it is back to the idea of it not being the place but the person that creates a sense of belonging. Right now I’m living locally, and doing the ordinary comfy stuff as regularly as I have ever done, and mid August I’ll just as easily slip back into my Bangkok routine.
Reading this back I’m not sure I’ve got to grips with Betsy’s question at all. What I’d like to claim is that although I’ve abroad for twenty plus years I’ve actually stayed local. I wonder though, is that possible? What do you think?
And I love a swim, especially when the sun is setting.
Today has been one of those days that I have felt really grateful for. The reason for this isn't becasue a new (well 23 year old) Landrover, purchased from the extremely efficient, helpful team at Landrover Centre Huddersfield - whose cars are extremely good value for money and are actually an investment - (or so Mick tells me anyway), arrived in our drive, thus putting a smile on Saint Mick of Thana's face.
Mick is very happy with his new car and just informed me, it was built just three days before we got married - It's that old!!
Neither is it because we are now proud owners of a King of all Kings Scalextric Set - opened as an early birthday present for the self-same Saint Mick (honestly, talk about it being a day of 'toys' for boys' and yes, I know that is a sexist comment!)
No, it's actually because Betsy and I had a really enjoyable afternoon with my mum and dad at our local Village Hall, enjoying the music of a popular local singer.
Terry Carey who knows a thing or two about 50s, 60s and 70s music.
This event was organised by long time Broughton resident Ann Smith, after she had enjoyed a similar event in neighbouring village Waddingham. The singer was a man called Terry Carey, who looked, I thought, somewhere between Jeremy Clarkson and Tom Jones. He had clearly enjoyed his own recent trip to Tenerife as he mentioned it more than once, (we weren't at all jealous!), but had a great voice and was quick with a joke. He sang lots of golden oldies and got everyone hand tapping, singing along, with even a bit of dancing thrown in.
I think if we're honest neither Betsy nor I were really sure if we'd enjoy the afternoon, but we really did. I was actually very proud of Bets. It's not every teenager who'd go along with their grandparents to an event, where almost everyone else in attendance was at least 50 years older than themself. She didn't just go, but she chatted, joined in and, would you believe it, even learned a bit of line-dancing. I just don't know where that 'changeling-child' of ours gets it from. I did text her sister Annie the video clip below and got the response "OMG, you'd never get me up there!" That's more how I'd respond too!
Corny but True Alert ...
The whole thing got me thinking about my question earlier in the week about which is preferable - a sleepy village or bustling city? Well the village certainly wasn't sleepy today and came out on top for several reasons:
Old friendships in a village are formed and literally last a life time. Many of the people in the centre today have known each other upwards of half a century.
There is a level of 'care' in the community and interest in one another's well-being that I haven't experienced in cities.
New friendships. Today there were people visiting from Waddingham (friendships waiting to be made) and friends of my parents whom they've known a shorter time, but are supporitve caring chums to have.
Events like this enable the village grapevine to keep everyone updated with local news and updates and find out how other villagers are getting on.
There is a real sense of community in Broughton. If you're prepared to join in then there's plenty to do. The village hall isn't just used for visiting singers, but also for a range of outher activities, such as New Age Kurling, Pensioners' Clubs, Zumba, Sensory play and much more as listed here.
Not that I'm a cheapskate - honest I'm not - but today's entertainment was great value for money. (Probably just as well considering the aforementioned Landrover and Scalextric set!) Today I devoured delicious cake, fruit loaf and lemon tarts as well as having a cup of coffee, not forgetting entertainment, all for three pounds - a bargain!
The final icing on the cake, my dad won a box of chocolates in the raffle too. It just doesn't get any better than that.
We won a raffle prize!
Going Against the Grain
A last word, anyone who knows me well, and knows what an introvert I am, will think that they are in a parallell universe. I am not known for enjoying group events. and local community get-togethers are way out of my comfort zone. My blog post on How to be an Avoider, proves this point only too well. I was in people's bad books for weeks after I'd posted it! I guess it just goes to show what a yummy slice of cake, piece of fruit loaf, lemon tart and cup of coffee and some fun entertainment can do to a person! Thank you Broughton!