A not so spooky weekend

The half-term holiday has put an end to my navel gazing and thrust me into the role of referee. The girls may fight like cat and dog at home, but take them out for the day and they behave like little angels. Not surprisingly, I have been looking for lots of activities to keep them entertained for the coming week. When I saw a Michaelmas Fayre and Spooky Halloween Walk at a local manor house advertised, it seemed perfect. A chance to enjoy the beautiful, autumnal East Yorkshire countryside with a dollop of tradition and a helping of Halloween seemed too good to miss.

It was a cold day due to a very unseasonal flurry of snow during the night. There was the usual collection of craft, artisan and up-market food stalls, and we had a great time slurping and munching our way around the Fayre. When we had eaten our fill, we headed off to the Spooky Halloween Walk.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Halloween has not reached the dizzying heights of celebration that it has in the U.S.A. That said, our celebrations have improved over the years. There are many more parties, and kids go Trick or Treating. Our shops are full of Halloween related stuff to buy and, I believe, it is one of the biggest money-making holidays for them in the U.K. This has changed a lot from when I was a child.

Whilst our greengrocers’ are now full of pumpkins, when I was a kid you just didn’t see them. I’m sure they must have sold them somewhere, but goodness knows where or how much they cost. However, this didn’t stop us making Jack-O-Lanterns. In a war-time, make do and mend spirit we used turnips. I kid you not. Can you imagine how long it used to take to hollow out a rock hard turnip? Well, I’ll tell you, all afternoon. Just in time to go Trick or Treating or Halloweening as we called it. We never got given sweets either, but money which we would then go and spend on sweets. Better really as we could then buy what we wanted. And we didn’t wear fancy dress. Looking back, I’m actually glad that things have moved on and got a bit more colourful.

As I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Spooky Halloween Walk. I wasn’t expecting a Disneyesque creation, but I did think they would have gone to more trouble. The manor house has an established woodland walk, which they lovingly and imaginatively dressed-up to create a spooky, scary and frightening experience. The kids were given a five question quiz to complete. They then had to find five Jack-O-Lanterns, which had the quiz questions attached to them. That was it. Five Jack-O-Lanterns. This does not a Spooky Halloween Walk make.

To be honest, I’m not sure what they could have done differently. Anything too garish would not have sat well in the rural, stately setting, and the girls enjoyed it anyway. The real problem was in naming the walk. They should have been more honest and called it the Slightly Vexing Walk. This would have prevented expectations being raised too much. I’m pleased to say that they did, however, use pumpkins for the Jack-O-Lanterns!

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A lesson in obtaining the full facts before ranting

I went on the school trip, yesterday, and it was quite enjoyable. It seems that I had misunderstood the purpose of the trip. It was to choose and make a bear for the class; not to create an unhealthy longing to revisit Build-A-Bear during next week’s half-term holiday. That, it seems, is just an unfortunate by-product.

It was great to see 30 Reception kids deciding democratically which bear/animal they wanted (a rabbit), its name (Rosie), and an outfit (school uniform). This was all done good-naturedly and with great enthusiasm. It was a joy to watch and I am glad to say that my predictions of a riot failed to be realised. That is, all but one child entered happily into the process. There was one little girl who sobbed and sulked profusely as she only wanted a pink teddy. This was, of course, one of my daughters.

It seems that Rosie Rabbit’s purpose is not to languish the rest of her days sitting in the classroom. No, Rosie is set to have a much more exciting existence than that. Lucky old Rosie gets to spend each weekend with one child and his/her family. Lucky parents then get to fill in a diary of what Rosie got up to, complete with photos or drawings. I’m not knocking this idea in principle, I think it’s quite sweet. However, we all know ideas and reality can be two very different things.

I’m not sure that my kids’ schoolfriends want to know about how we slob around in our PJs until about lunchtime, the countless bickering and fighting that goes on between my girls or the incredibly obscene amount of TV we watch. Actually, it might be a good thing having Rosie to stay as it could encourage better behaviour from us all! I just hope that this doesn’t turn into a vehicle for competitive parents. I could imagine that happening with some. We all know the ones. Those whose diary entry will be entitled ‘Look at the amazingly, fantastic time Rosie had when she was with us!’ In fact, I hope Rosie doesn’t come to stay when we do have plans because it will seem a little bit like we’re showing off. Unless she comes next weekend. I’m off to see Jack White and think a photo of Rosie moshing would be dead cool. Beat that Mr & Mrs Jones!

A lesson in consumerism

On further investigation, it would appear that Warhol did indeed have a thing about feet so, perhaps, he wouldn’t mind me associating him with them. Given that consumerism also featured in Warhol’s work, I wonder what he would have made of my kids’ first school trip.

My first school trip was to Hornsea Pottery. I don’t remember too much about it, other than my mum came along and I got very jealous of her talking to any other children. However, I’m guessing it was chosen as it provided a range of activities for 4 and 5 year olds, and it wasn’t too far away. It seems that, in the 21st century, school trips have changed somewhat. My girls have been doing topic work on Bears this term, and so the school is taking them on a trip to Build-A-Bear. Nowhere else, just to Build-A-Bear.

If you haven’t been or don’t know what Build-A-Bear is, congratulations! If you do, you have my deepest commiserations. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. It is a great example of taking a simple idea (that of a child’s love for a teddy bear) and exploiting it to make as much money as humanly possible. As the name implies, kids get to build their own bear by taking an empty bear carcass and stuffing it themselves. They also get to put a toy heart in, after giving it a rub (to fill it with love) and make a wish. On the face of it, this sounds very lovely and magical and, to be honest, I would have loved it as a child. But when you stop and think about it, what they are getting you to do is pay over the odds for a half-finished bear and then get you to complete the job. If this wasn’t enough they then stock a myriad of crap (sorry, accessories) to go with it. Genius! I’m envious that I didn’t think of the blooming idea myself.

If the children were learning about how to create a successful business using a capitalist model that relies on consumerism then – Bingo! – this trip would make perfect sense. But really, couldn’t the school have thought of something less commerical. The next topic is Autumn so why couldn’t they have had a nature trip to the park? Surely, it is much more healthy to be communing with nature outdoors than stuck in a shop.

This is not really my real concern though. My real concern is that I have volunteered to go along as a parent helper. I have visions of 30 four and five year olds having a major meltdown at not being able to buy anything whilst visiting the shop. To quote the Kaiser Chiefs ‘I predict a riot’. Actually, this is not my real concern. My real concern is that one of my daughters will be the one having a screaming, hissy fit. My children are well aware of Build-A-Bear as I was stupid enough to take them in about a year ago. When I told them that they weren’t able to buy anything on this trip, one of my girls looked at me in utter disbelief and announced, ‘Nonsense’. God, help me!

The man with bare feet

After reading my previous couple of posts, I feel that I have somehow gotten away from the reason I started this blog in the first place. It is supposed to be about me making sense of the world, life, work – all very big themes. It is not supposed to be about me shopping and making a (let’s face it) feeble effort to get fit. Duly chastised, I decided to remedy this by visiting the Andy Warhol exhibition at the local art gallery. Now, I really like art and could spend many an hour in art galleries. In fact, I have done so over the years. However, I know absolutely nothing about art at all. As far as I’m concerned, I either like it or I don’t. I place the blame on my love of art galleries, and also museums, squarely with my mum who regularly took me to them as a child. For the record, she also knows zilch about art but likes to wander around galleries too.

I have very strong recollections of a particular picture in my local art gallery of a large, sixteenth century painting of St Sebastian; an early Christian martyr who is depicted in this image as being shot by arrows. When I spoke to my mum about this, she said she was not surprised as I had quite an obsession with this painting as a small child. Apparently. I used to stand and stare at it for ages. My mum used to drag me off to look at something else, but I would sneak back to it and stare some more. She says it used to unnerve her slightly. I think my mum is being kind. If one of my children did that it would more than unnerve me. As an adult, I can see why I was drawn to this picture. It is quite gruesome. St Sebs skin is incredibly white, which contrasts greatly with the blood-red arrow wounds. There are also a couple of attractive young ladies (if I remember rightly) who are pulling out the arrows and tending to his injuries – ouch! I think this would be a great idea for a horror film: small child obsessed with gruesome paintings, commits various bloody murders in adulthood to emulate great works of art. Thinking about it, this has probably already been done. I also seem to have digressed away from my point – the man with bare feet.

So I’m in the gallery, looking at one of Warhol’s prints, when I notice a smartly dressed man standing beside me looking at the same image. This man is in his 30s and is wearing a suit jacket, chinos and is carrying a man-bag. It is not this that immediately catches my attention though. What does catch my attention is the fact that he has no socks or shoes on. He is walking around the gallery in his bare feet. Now, I can’t concentrate on Warhol’s work anymore. All I can think about is this guy and what the hell he is doing. Did he take his shoes off in a homage to Andy Warhol? Did Warhol himself walk around in bare feet (must do an internet search on this)? When did he take off his shoes and socks? Are they in his man-bag? Surely, he hasn’t walked around the city centre like this? And so my mind went on. My husband asked me later what I thought to the exhibition. ‘I don’t know, I can’t remember anything about it,’ I said. ‘All I can remember is the bare footed man.’ I now have a feeling that everytime Warhol’s name or work is mentioned in the future, I’m just going to see a pair of bare feet. I’m not sure this is how Andy Warhol would have liked to have been remembered, but it seems he will be synonymous with feet to me.

Maybe a Health Check Wasn’t the Answer

I didn’t drink copious amounts of wine at the weekend (that will be this weekend as the kids are staying at my parents). I was going to and then realised that this was not really the point of the health check. The point is to make you responsible for your own health and frighten you into making the changes you need to become fitter. I guess this can back-fire when they tell you that you are pretty healthy without doing any exercise at all. It kind of gives you carte blanche to carry on regardless. However, I have decided not to fall into this trap. With this in mind, I arranged to meet a friend for a coffee today. Now I know this doesn’t sound much like whipping myself into shape, but it is a 15 min brisk walk to the coffee shop and 15 min back. Not much, but it is a start. I also didn’t drink my usual cream-loaded deluxe hot chocolate, but opted for a much healthier glass of fresh orange juice. You have to learn to walk before you can run, right? As we were chatting, my friend said ‘Have you been to the posh charity shop yet?’ I confessed I knew nothing about said shop. ‘Oh, it’s opened as a vintage, retro thing. It’s quite popular, I believe,’ he said. Well, that was it. I had to go and see for myself. My friend came with me but left after 5 mins saying, ‘I can see you are going to be some time’. I already had an armful of garments to try on by this point. I must admit I have never been one for charity shops or vintage clothes, but I had a whale of a time. I even made a couple of purchases. When my husband got home from work later that day, he said ‘have you been buying again?’ I pointed out that he couldn’t complain as: the clothes were cheap, it was for charity and I was recycling. He conceded the argument and said, ‘you can spend as much as you like in there. In reason.’ Not sure why he felt the need to add the last bit. However, I now have the bargain-hunting, charity/vintage/retro bug and feel a monthly trip maybe in order to check out any new stock they have. It will also complement my get fit campaign as I can briskly walk there and back!

Fitness Campaign Part 2

I had my healthy heart check today, at the pharmacists, and I am pleased to announce that I am healthy – hooray! Quite amazing really as I do sod all exercise. The thing I was worrying about was my cholesterol level as lots of people seem to have a problem with this as they get older.  When it got to discussing this part of the test, the pharmacist rolled her eyes and started to give me ‘the lecture’ about why high levels were a problem, and what I needed to do about it. She then bothered to look at my level (it was 2.4) and said ‘Oh, oh, I’ve never seen anyone with a level as low as that before.’ I thought ha, that’ll teach you to assume everyone you meet has a problem, There is a lesson to be learnt there, missus. She did, however, give me a telling-off for my distinct lack of physical activity. But this matters not, as I am planning to launch my fitness programme shortly and will soon have a body like Beyonce! This is of course, when I decide what I will do, Will ponder this over the weekend, whilst drinking copious amounts of wine. After all, I do have a low cholesterol level!

I am literate!

I got my assessment test results back, from my English course, and I am pleased to say that I came out as a level 2, which is equivalent to a GCSE. Thank god for that. I would have been absolutely mortified if I hadn’t. My kids are starting to ‘blend’ their phonics words together to begin reading, which is quite exciting. However, I am slightly worried what words they are teaching them at school. One of my girls made a card for my niece. She wrote a message to her cousin using the letters (sorry, phonemes – bad parent) she had learnt at school. Somehow or other she has managed to randomly write the word ‘sexy’ in the card! At least, I hope it’s bloomin’ random. Will be keeping a close eye on any other writing they both do in the future.

Fitness Campaign

I have decided that, after deriding celebrities and their lifestyles, I really need to get myself into shape. I have a healthy BMI but am very, very inactive and this is no good. I was sporty at school, and did every sport going. I remember one teacher telling the class that many people gave up exercising once they had left school. I became quite indignant and was absolutely adamant that this would not be me. How wrong I was. Now, I have had the fitness bug at various times in adulthood. I have periodically been: regularly to the gym, swimming, horse-riding, walking, cycling, and attended aerobic/dance classes. I also did T’ai Chi for a while. I particularly liked T’ai Chi as its philosphy seemed to be not to push yourself too hard. If something was too strenuous, you just tried it another way! Obviously, none of these lasted and I need to find something that is right for me. It’s a real shame that sitting down isn’t a sport. Before I rush into anything, I have decided to have a ‘Healthy Heart’ check-up at my pharmacist. I’m not quite sure what this involves but, I think it is really important to check their is nothing wrong with the old ticker before I leap head first into whatever the latest fitness craze is. (It is probably Zumba, but I may be way behind on this). Also,it gives me time to put off anything too physical until next week; which is when my appointment is. I shall make the most of the next few days sitting, reclining, relaxing, and generally lazing around as a prelude to a new hardcore fitness regime.

And another thing…

Gosh, this blog was supposed to be about me exploring my confused feelings about my place in the world. Somehow, it seems to have turned into a rant at celebrity culture and irresponsible gossip mags. Not sure how that happened! Anyway, I got part of my problem of my chest with gossip mags and their reporting of celebrities’ supposed weights in my last post. However, I haven’t finished my rant yet. I have noticed that, sometimes, gossip mags print celebrities heights and weights. If you look at these heights and weights, and calculate the celebrity’s BMI you will find that many of them are underweight; if not seriously underweight. The magazines don’t print this information. I’m not sure what they want to achieve by this, but what I can say is that it is (once again) sending out misleading messages to their readers. Stop it, right now. Please give us images of healthy people or, at the very least, stress how many of the celebrities the media are obsessed with are at unhealthy weights.