Monthly Archives: March 2007

On the High Seas

The delight of yesterday? Believe it or not, a school trip.

We woke bright and early, despite the pleasure of not needing to leave the house quite as early as usual. We were to meet with the other teachers and all of Year Six at the wet end of Ryde Pier at nine o’clock to catch the 9.15 catamaran to England. I say we because, contravening all the school attendance regulations, I had arranged to take Smudgelet with us on our adventure, partly because I wasn’t sure what time I’d get home, partly because it was such a worthwhile and educational trip, and partly because I relished the prospect of spending the day with him. It was a cold cold day, and drizzly to boot, which made the walk from the car park to the end of the pier a bit of an ordeal, but we concentrated more on discussing how interesting it was that we usually felt quite safe driving along the pier but it was quite scary walking along it, even though we were far safer on foot than in a car. Interesting that the boy who was nervous of the pier floorboards breaking beneath his feet was equally eager for me to arrange for him to go up the Spinnaker Tower so he could stand on the glass platform hundreds of metres above the ground. (God bless Honorary Auntie M!)

The trip was fantastic. Never mind the kids, I learnt a lot. And I was really proud of all our kidlets too. We were visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to see the remains of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s ship which sank in the Solent over 400 years ago. First part of the trip was a chance to take part in some workshops. One was teaching the children what it was like to be part of a gun crew on board a Tudor warship. I think the most surprising thing was how little space there was and how much it would have smelled of gunpowder. Sadly I can’t show you a picture as it includes members of the class as well as Smudgelet, but suffice to say they loved dressing up and going through the motions of loading and firing a portpiece (not a cannon – do you know the difference?). Then in the second workshop they got to be archaeologists, working out what various artefacts were and to whom they might have belonged.

Now what precisely is that?

Doing this was amazing, finding out that sailors weren’t the dirty shabby individuals that we imagine but kept themselves clean and healthy (viz the large number of nit combs that they found). The best bit, though, was when we had the chance to handle rope and wood from the actual deck and gun mount of the ship itself. Mind blowing to think that Henry VIII himself could have walked on the very piece of wood we were holding, and an indescribable feeling when we sniffed at the piece of the gun mount and discovered that, in spite of having been underwater for 400 years, we could still smell the strong acrid smell of gunpowder ingrained in the tar-soaked wood from all those years ago.

From the classrooms we went on into the museum to see the thousands of artifacts brought up from under the water. There was so much to see and marvel at, so much preserved from this great disaster. The ship had landed in silt which had preserved an amazing quantity of all sorts of things, including two gigantic brick-mounted cauldrons, longbows, tankards, signs of Catholics and Protestants working alongside one another (quite telling, considering the year), and an amazing range of musical instruments and games.

BANG

Then, after lunch, we got to see the great ship herself. Now that truly is an amazing sight. She seems so small, considering she held 400 crew and 300 soldiers (all but around 40 perished when she sank as they were trapped on board behind netting designed to prevent her being boarded by the enemy). About half of the ship was buried in the sand and preserved, the rest was eaten away by (what a wonderful name) the gribble whose favourite delicacy is, apparently, English Oak. She is constantly sprayed with wax – a process that will take until about 2009 as it banishes the water and preserves the wood, protecting it against the ravages of the air – and is kept in semi-darkness as the light too could damage the timber. But it does something strange to the heart to be near something so steeped in history.

Sadly my photos of the ship herself didn’t come out because of the lighting and the glass partition but it’s certainly worth looking on the Mary Rose website to see the photos of the ship and how it was raised from its watery grave. Instead you’ll have to make do with a photo of another ship that’s high on the agenda for Smudgelet and me to visit in the very near future – Nelson’s huge and beautiful flagship, Victory.

Victory is ours

Fun fun fun

Aha… I think the third of the third three may have happened. Celebration time 😉 Would you believe that Smudgelet was using the laptop this afternoon and discovered that Tiddles has been messing with it. Whether it is down to the latter or not, the thing locked, refused to give the new encyclopaedia CD-ROM back that I’d bought for Smudgelet to use, refused to close down refused to cooperate in any way, shape or form whatsoever. Still, it gave Smudgelet an unexpected treat in that I took the risk of letting him borrow my work laptop, a really swish and up-to-date model which he really rather enjoyed using. The other one is getting on in years, it has to be said, and was a hand-me-down from my brother when he upgraded, but it’s a bit of a pain to be without it. But it focuses you in a bit on what classes as a need and what classes as a luxury, and we managed many a year without a laptop without any needless suffering.

Enough of the moaning, though. Today has been fun, and so was yesterday 😀

Smudgelet had an interesting time with Honorary Auntie M this morning. For some strange reason they went to Thorntons. Goodness knows why. 😉 Then he went with her to order flowers for the Easter Garden and to help build it too. He had a great time and she commented on what good company he was. On their return we noticed that it was about lunchtime and, seeing as I had money that was soon to be gone, I thought we ought to celebrate the fact and go out for lunch to the nearby cafe that had just re-opened for the season. And so we did. It was a rather long lunch – amazing how long an omelette and a tub of icecream can last when there’s housework waiting for everyone at home!!!! We bumped into another old friend there too, and Smudgelet was sent on numerous research errands into the neighbouring garden centre, ostensibly to assess the various prices of tomato seeds and to purchase some for Honorary Auntie M, but also partly to buy us a bit of gossipping time without the draught caused by a pair of waggling earlobes! To his delight we also invested in some sunflower seeds and, thanks to a generous Honorary Aunt who provided a bucketload of potting compost, Smudgelet was able to plant them up in pots and put them in the greenhouse. Goodness, a greenhouse at Smudgie Towers actually used for growing things rather than just for storing them in! Wonders never cease. We have full expectations of them growing to be extraordinarily high, of course.

This afternoon I did some housework. Yes, housework. Not an excessive amount, you’ll appreciate – well, I don’t want to run the risk of becoming tooooooooo houseproud, do I? And I was rather engrossed in reading Smudgelet’s school report which arrived through the post. Oooooooooh…. the delight of torturing the small boy by repeated sharp intakes of breath and occasional shaking of the head…. mwahahahaha. The general tenor of the reading? “He does really quite well in school… shame he’s a bit too busy talking to do as well as he might!” What? Smudgelet? Surely not! 😉

He, meanwhile, spent the afternoon glued to the laptop, doing a self-motivated project on powerpoint of the trip we did yesterday. But let me take another blog space to bore you with tales of our adventures…

Free and not so easy

The hard part.

I am struggling to keep Tiddles as part of the family.

At the moment it’s easier – a week and a half ago I took a day off work, bundled him to Southampton Airport and sent him flying off to my brother in Scotland. He’s staying there a month, all bar five days over Easter when the two of them are coming down here. But truth to tell, it was that or foster care.

The sense of relief at him being away is a mind-blowing indication of how stressful life has become with him living at home. The knock-on effect on Smudgelet is also more than noticeable. Were it just for me, then I could muddle through the next four years somehow, but I cannot let this effect Smudgelet’s childhood so intensely. On several occasions in the last week Smudgelet has quite innocently uttered the words “I’m just so happy – it’s been a lovely day today” and has not quite made the connection – whether it’s the influence of his older brother that he’s better without or whether it’s me being so less stressed.. probably a combination of the two.

A friend gave me a good talking to about letting go of guilt and about drawing a line in the sand and letting him know that he crosses it at his peril. She said something which struck me: “You’ve become empty”. She then tried to backtrack because it sounded so negative, but she was right – she echoed a word that I’d used to him. “Your behaviour at the moment is draining me so much that I feel totally empty, as if the joy has been sucked out of me”. Harsh, perhaps, but honest. The mind knows that it is mostly a throwback to his early life experiences and a genetic pre-disposition to a certain outlook on life, but how does one stop the heart feeling guilty? How does one come to terms with “What if I had handled that differently?” “What if I had done this instead of that?” “How can I be his mother and not want him here?” “How can I, who took all this on knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, who promised to love and cherish him for better or worse, how can I turn round and tell him his home is no longer with me?” and even, I have to admit it, the thought of “How will I explain this to people who won’t be able to begin to understand?” I think the hardest bit is the nagging voice that “all teenagers are like this – you’re just overreacting”… even though I have met with loads of adoptive parents in the same situation, have heard of numerous adoptions breaking down at this point, have even heard Adoption UK were thinking of running a course entitled “But all teenagers are like that….”

So here we are with three options. One is that we try him going frequently to stay with my brother. I never knew, when reading about angels, that my brother was in that specific catagory of people!!! One is that we move to shared care with social services – a decision I want desperately to avoid. And in two weeks time, unbeknown to him, we go to visit the one boarding school which would be suitable for him and see whether he’d like to give that a try and whether they’re willing to take him. But I have to do that delicate balancing act – invest everything I can in keeping him part of the family (though not to Smudgelet’s detriment) and prepare myself for the fact that he’s now old enough to make choices about how he behaves and that the consequences may be beyond my control, I may have to prepare myself to lose my lovely boy, at least for a while.

As my friend said “One day, you’ll be standing up in the witness box in court and you’ll still be telling them what a lovely boy he is” and that’s the very saddest part of it.

Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Yes, it’s the first day of the Easter holidays. I use the term “free” in its loosest possible sense, seeing as I have a houseful of housework to do, the annual Everest of ironing, school reports to improvise (well, let’s face it, I’ve only been teaching these kids for five weeks – though it seems like a lifetime), a service to compile for tomorrow, and some serious fun-having to fit in – but at least it’s up to me which I do when.

And this morning I have an hour slightly freer seeing as wonderful Honorary Auntie M has taken the Smudgelet into town this morning. He is on an important mission. He asked me if I would draw £15 from his bank account for this mission, I declined but was most relieved when Honorary Auntie M said that £3 should be sufficient. I think it may be to do with an enquiry he made a few days ago about whether the Easter Bunny actually visits grown-ups or whether it’s just children who find a nest full of goodies in their room on Easter morning….

Free is also the description of the only things we’re going to be able to do this Easter, apart from the Wightmeet. Yesterday my wages went in. Today they’ve sort of evaporated. Honorary Auntie M said that if things happen in threes, then I’m part way into my third set of three and should only have one more disaster to go. I dread to think…! Let’s see what needs sorting this month: (1:1)I have a stove which is dangerous to use and must be replaced as an urgent matter (1:2) The video part of my television has died a death and we are currently forced to watch our meagre supply of DVDs again and again (1:3) My car has a puncture -we’ve swapped it for the spare wheel, but it needs to be done this week (2:1) The door which I purchased from B&Q last May STILL hasn’t been replaced with one that actually shuts properly – the man was supposed to come yesterday and didn’t AGAIN (2:2) The new central heating boiler which I had installed last October hasn’t been working since December and I am STILL waiting for the manufacturer’s rep and my plumber to arrange a mutually convenient date to come and sort it (My brother said I’d be surprised how soon my lower heating bills paid for the cost of the boiler – I didn’t think he meant because I wouldn’t be using any heat at all!) (2:3) The roof of my porch has started leaking – fortunately not disasterous because it will be pulled down anyway when the extension is built (3:1) My computer is playing silly games and shutting down without warning (3:2) My washing machine has now given up the ghost. I keep looking at the music centre and the fridge-freezer with huge misgivings….

Spring has sprung!

This morning Charlie announced the arrival of spring.
.
.
.
.
.
.
As I came from my bedroom (in the semi darkness, of course, without any lighting in the house) I discovered..

the remains of a sparrow in the hallway
the remains of a teeny tiny mouse by the kitchen door
the remains of a blackbird by the milk bottles outside
and
under the kitchen table
laid out
the remains
of one
rather huge
and very dead
rat.

Thanks Charlie!

On the plus side….

I love the spring time 🙂 The sun is far more sunny, the Island is incredibly beautiful in the spring.

I have just booked for my troublesome teen to spend two weeks in Scotland with his uncle so I can have some time to myself and to concentrate on my troublesome-ten-to-be 🙂

I have found a fun science project to do with my troublesome teen.

I have a plan for May weekend that looks fun.

The Wightmeet is going to be amazing this year.

I have a wonderful family.

France is a shining beacon on the horizon and I’m getting really quite excited at the prospect.

For the first time ever, my Smudgelets are organised for Mother’s Day without my intervention and are making me a special tea in honour of the occasion on Sunday.

Against all odds, I won the second prize in the raffle at Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s coffee morning to raise money for the Macmillan nurses – a huge hamper of various edible goodies (mmmmmmmm) and… delight of delights… a £10 voucher. I have decided to spend it on “something that I would have bought if it had been £10 cheaper” – i.e. a real treat – rather than look for something around £10 to get for free.

God is good and loves me lots. And I got some really affirming feedback from the clergy and lay preachers of the circuit about my preaching when I said that I feared I would have to give up the study because of pressures of life – they’re not letting me!

My social worker thinks she might be able to get me some babysitting free of charge once a month so I can have an evening to myself here and there (I’ve had to give up the dancing 🙁 )

And
.
.
best of all
.
.
Smudgelet is learning the tuba!!!!!!! 😀 😀 😀

Another gloomy post, I’m afraid

I still haven't killed him… not yet, anyway.

Note to self: this joke is probably best not shared with Educational Welfare Officers who, when they say “We have to check up periodically, as otherwise he might be buried under the patio for all we know”, do not find their own joke quite so amusing when you reply “Oooh, that's tempting!”

It's a bit of a nightmare, to be honest, but today I have written the letter which formally removes him from the school roll and invites the EWO to come and chat about how I intend to provide for him. What I have not yet devised is how precisely I am going to persuade a disillusioned and very young fourteen-year-old that he actually does have to knuckle down and work without me standing over him and uttering dire threats. To say nothing of his continued (though far reduced) untrustworthiness which is driving both him and me to distraction. Oh, and have I mentioned the rather desperate state of his little brother who feels utterly neglected (needless to say, he isn't…. I'm making such an effort to spend both quality and quantity time with him that I'm almost exploding in the attempt… but nobody said feelings/perceptions have to match reality, did they?)

I feel a bit under attack at the moment. Now let's see: in addition to the situation with my boys, I have… an unsettled work environment with interviews for headship taking place yesterday and today (I wonder which one got the job… hope it was the one I chose!) and deputy appointments to follow… a new classroom that I don't particularly like, and all my resources still in the old room awaiting relocation in a “spare moment”…. A central heating boiler which hasn't worked properly since December and keeps cutting out… a new front door which needs replacing as it doesn't actually shut properly (been battling with B&Q since May over that one!)… a stove which has become dangerous to use… a computer which keeps cutting out and needs properly sorting out… toothache (yes, again)… a video recorder that's suddenly decided to eat the tapes… a puncture in a tyre…. And here I sit in darkness because the fuse has blown for the lights and the fuse box is obsolete so I have to drive to an obscure little electricians five miles away to get a replacement and I haven't had chance yet.

Oh, and I miss my dad.

An explanation

How odd that two of Dave’s cartoons should hit the spot in completely opposite ways this week. I thought I should tell you a little story to explain why, despite being equally up in arms about the plans to de-post-office people as Dave is, my comment on his cartoon was less than supportive, in a not-very-less-than-supportive way.

While sorting out my father’s estate, we have had nothing but support and sympathy and help and cooperation from all the different businesses etc we’ve had dealings with, with just one exception. You’ve guessed it… the Post Office. If Esther Rantzen were still going strong I’d be writing to her to recommend them for a jobsworth award.

Dad had his attendance allowance paid into the post office and I used to collect it for him every few weeks, using the card system. When he died, I went in to report the death and close the account, but was told I could not withdraw the money that was still in there in case there’d been an overpayment (which there had been, as it turned out). We had to fill in a form.

We had made a mistake with Dad’s Will in that he’d made my brother and sister executors and, although politically it was the right decision (and I was totally in agreement), we discovered to our cost that it’d have been so much better if I had been an executor because there were some occasions when I was the only one here. This was one such occasion. I had to fill in the form as “The person who notified the post office of the death”, but the rest of the form had to be filled in by the executor who had to take the completed form, together with two forms of ID, to the Post Office. So I phoned my brother to warn him to bring the ID with him when he came to the funeral so he could go in the next day.

My brother lives in Scotland. It’s rather a long way away from the Isle of Wight.

He was coming down for five weeks, during which we hoped to get all the paperwork finished. And we did. We now have nothing more to do… except get the £300 from the post office! My brother went straight in as soon as he could, taking all his ID and the completed form. Were they happy? They were not. He had to take in one form of personal ID and one proof of address. Working in the navy for the last forty years, he does not have a passport as such, he has a superior document issued by the government (Can’t think what it’s called, but it looks like a passport and has his photo in etc, just doesn’t say “passport” on the front”). Will they accept it? They will not. He hasn’t a birth certificate handy to show, so he’s left using his driving license as proof of ID, even though the signature on it is so old as to be illegible and there’s no photo attached.

Now he has a problem. He’s used his proof of address as his proof of ID. Fortunately he has also brought a utilities bill. They use these as proof of address, so this should be OK. Were they happy? They were not. They were, in fact, quite the opposite. The address on the utility bill did not match the address on the form which he’d put as the address at which he should be contacted – which was, of course, my Dad’s address. Apparently no, it was not possible to have the paperwork sent to Dad’s address (the form we’d filled in was only the form to inform them of the death and request the paperwork to claim the money), it had to be sent to his home address in Scotland, even though he was not there to collect it and needed it here so that we could apply for probate. We were kicking ourselves as he could so easily have lied and taken one of Dad’s old utility bills, seeing as both their names were the same! But no, they were adamant …. even though my brother actually owns half of Dad’s bungalow. And was there at any point any compassion for the fact that my brother was so recently bereaved? There was not.

We came home and rang the helpline who were a real contrast – extremely supportive and helpful, just as a helpline should be. They still maintained, however, that it was not possible for the paperwork to be sent here, it HAD TO go to Scotland. We could not enclose a letter to explain the situation or anything. The address on the form HAD to be my brother’s home address, proven, and HAD to be the address where he was located at the time. The bank were happy to send everything to Dad’s address, where they were dealing with thousands rather than hundreds… the probate office was happy to send everything to Dad’s address….. only the Post Office refused. So we pointed out that my brother owned half the property and that his name and Scottish address were on the deeds confirming that fact. The helpline person said that would be fine – we should proceed with that as proof of address and could quote him at the local branch. Perfect. So off my brother goes, produces the deeds of the bungalow, and explains that he’s checked with the helpline. Were they happy? They were not. They grumbled and moaned and reluctantly agreed to accept it. This was on January 10th.

Two weeks ago, not having heard anything at all from the Post Office, and with all the probate and bank stuff sorted, I rang the helpline to ask if we had to send a grant of probate in order to release the money (£100 of which I had already had to refund to social services who informed me in a very polite and apologetic letter that Dad’s account had actually been overpaid and they’d have to ask me to give them that money back), and the helpline said that I should get in touch with the office by letter and enquire on the progress of the matter. This I did.

Then, on the day that Dave’s cartoon went up, I got a letter from the Post Office. And I quote:

Thank you for your letter dated 19th February 2007 regarding the closure of the card account at the Post Office held in the name of your late father. Unfortunately we are unable to complete this request for you because the documentation you submitted was incomplete, we apologise for any distress caused by this rejection, but for security reasons we need to receive correct and accurate documentation with your application.
I can confirm that we are in receipt of a completed Deceased ACcount Form, a copy of the Death certificate and details of your driving licence.
However we need sight of a second form of identification before we can close the account as we cannot accept the details of the land registry reference number as evidence of identity.
Please submit a copy of one form of identification from the list below to verify indemnifier identity:
Passport, Benefit Book, Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Naturalisation Certificate, Recent Utility Bill, Rent Book, Mortgage Statement, Electoral Register, Current Council Tax Bill, Card Account Card.
As soon as we receive the copy of acceptable evidence, we can close the account and release the balance owing to the indemnifier.

Please remember to send a blood sample, retinal scan, fingerprints and a signed letter from your mother to ensure that you did not pull a fast one in convincing the probate office that you’re who you say you are.

Thank you for doing business with the Post Office. Please remember to contact the government and tell them how incredibly helpful we have been.”

OK, so I made that last bit up.

But you have to admit that on sensitivity they score rather low, on jobsworthness they score incredibly high, and one has to question how long they’d have left it before contacting us if we hadn’t queried how far they’d got with closing the account. My brother is now, of course, back in Scotland and away working on the ferries. His birth certificate is here, he’s not married and so the only proofs of ID on the list that he has are utility bills, and they won’t accept those as evidence as it’s NOT THE ADDRESS WE PUT ON THE ORIGINAL FORM!!!!

In Service Training

Today I have been on a course.
It was the best type of course.
It was teaching me something I already knew.
In fact, it was teaching me an innovative new teaching style which really works wonders.
Strange.
It’s the method I already use.
I went with two colleagues I love working with, and another colleague (I leave you to finish the sentence) and met some nice colleagues from other schools.
We had fun, doing nice things.
And best of all
it was in a lovely hotel – you should have tasted the lunch!!!!

I felt only ever so slightly guilty leaving my eldest son at home alone all afternoon with a list of chores to do and a cupasoup for his lunch. 😉