Sunday, 23 April 2017

Get ready for National Stationery Week #WritingMatters

Next week is National Stationery Week - seven whole days to celebrate the best things in your pencil case and on your notepad, as well as championing the fact that handwriting is vitally important throughout the world with the campaign theme 'Writing matters.'

As a teacher, I definitely agree with that sentiment and unfortunately, it seems that writing matters less and less in the modern world. Some of the 11-15 year old pupils I teach have such atrocious handwriting that it takes me ages to try to decipher their work and, in the end, if I really can't manage, I have to mark it wrong, meaning that they lose points when they possibly had the right answer. On a recent work trip to Norway, we visited several primary schools (their school system is a bit different and they stay in the same school from age 6-12) and they are having a big push on equipping all the kids in a class with an ipad or chrome book. They use it throughout their entire school life and at the end, it's theirs to keep. We saw them creating some great graphic content, watching educational videos and taking part in group quizzes, which was all really motivating, but the teachers mentioned that the downside is that they have great problems writing neatly and getting hands on with things like scissors, compasses and rulers. While technology is undoubtedly a great tool for teachers, the powers that be have to understand that being able to write properly still has to take top priority !

If you want to encourage your children - or yourselves ! - to take part in National Stationery Week, the Seven Days of Stationery is a great place to start. These daily themes form the spine of National Stationery Week and are designed to give people something to celebrate and support each day.

Monday is Pen and Pencil Day

Go through your pencil case and pen pot and throw away all those half chewed pencils and leaky pens and treat yourself to some brand new ones. Go for glittery and fluffy or sleek and minimalist - whatever you fancy. When we came back from Norway, we brought back a pen for the school secretary with a boxing reindeer on the top that flashes every time you write - we didn't think she'd really use it but she loves it ! Make sure you get one that you feel comfortable using too - there are even pens specifically designed for left-handed people these days and Write Size pencils that come in various sizes so that they are adapted to your child's hand, whatever their age. For once, size does matter !

Tuesday is Get Crafty

 Once of my favourite activities when I was a child was collecting up souvenirs - birthday cards, ticket stubs, pressed flowers, sweet wrappers from foreign holidays, ... and sticking them all in a scrapbook, along with little texts to remind me of what was so special about them. When the Madhouse kids were babies, I got into the modern version of scrapbooking, decorating photo albums with ribbons, stickers, shaped hole punchers and embossers, metallic pens, ...I still have a whole box of pretty papers, pens and embellishments that I'm sure the kids would love to help me use in various little projects, from making bookmarks and picture frames to greetings cards and secret journals. Maybe stressbusting colouring is your thing, in which case you could treat yourself to some posh new pencils and a new colouring book.

Wednesday is World Stationery Day

 You can interpret this in many ways - you could buy some new supplies that evoke a foreign country, such as these cactus-themed page markers or a new pen featuring the Eiffel Tower. You could raid the stationery cupboard at work and try to recreate an iconic landmark like the Chrysler Building or the London Eye out of paperclips and rubber bands ! With a little help from an online translator, you could use your funkiest coloured pens and your best handwriting to create cute messages on Post It notes in different languages and place them around the office and your house.

Thursday is Thank You Thursday

 Do you remember sitting down after Christmas and writing thank you notes to all your relatives for the gifts they sent you when you were a child ? Do you make your kids do it these days or do they just make vaguely appreciative noises on the phone? Writing thank you notes has become pretty much a lost art and it's a real shame, especially as it creates lasting reminders that relatives can look back on. Receiving gifts isn't the only thing to be grateful for though - if you buy some pretty little credit-card sized note pads or post-its, you can get creative with sparkly pens and stickers and create some little messages for your kids and spouse, telling them all the things you appreciate about them, to slip in their lunchbox or under their pillow at unexpected moments.

Friday is Fountain Pen Friday

 I distinctly remember my last year of primary school, when those who had successfully mastered writing neatly with a pencil were allowed to progress on to an italic fountain pen. We were allowed to go along to the secretary's office proudly gripping our pennies (I think it was only about 5p !) to buy replacement cartridges, and the whole process of writing, blotting with a piece of pink blotting paper, holding the nib at the correct 45° angle to get the thick and thin lines, using a corrector pen to make ink splashes and mistakes disappear like invisible ink, made us all feel special and grown up. Writing with a fountain pen totally changes your writing, as you have to slow down and concentrate on forming each letter and waiting for the ink to dry before you turn the page. 

Saturday is Signature Saturday

 I remember when I was tween and a teen, hanging out with my best mate in our bedrooms, we'd spend ages practising our signatures for when we were married, to the school heart throbs or the popstars and actors that we were in love with at the time. I seem to remember that I was practising being Mrs Kershaw (wife of Nik), Mrs Johnson (wife of Don, because I loved Miami Vice) and Mrs Willis (wife of Bruce, with hair, circa Moonlighting !). This is a great activity to get your kids involved in, because they'll be having so much fun, they won't even realise they're practising their writing skills !

Sunday is Write A Letter Day

 When I launched a penpals project a few years ago, I asked if the pupils in my classes had a penpal in a foreign country. Many of them put up their hands and said that they spoke with people on Facebook or in video games who lived abroad, but none of them had ever put pen to paper. Once I'd actually managed to convince them that three lines might be OK for an email but not a letter and got some decently sized letters to send off, they were really enthusiastic, especially when they started receiving things - letters but also little gifts like sweets, postcards and stickers - through the post. Maybe you live far from your family and keep in touch by email and phone - put in a bit of extra effort and write a letter instead. I always find that I go into much greater detail about how I am feeling, rather than just what we have done, in a letter, and I always hang up the phone or hit "send" and think, oh, I know what I forgot to tell them ... if you're writing a letter, you can just add a PS ! How about getting the kids to write a fan letter to their favourite celeb ? - who knows? They might even be lucky enough to get a reply !

If you're looking for more ideas of ways to get the kids involved, head over to the Parents' section of the National Stationery Week website. Keep an eye open on twitter and facebook throughout the week too, as there will be lots of promotions and giveaways from all the brands sponsoring the event.

Disclosure : We received a lovely selection of stationery to help celebrate during the week.

Madhouse diaries : Walking along the beach at Zuydcoote

After geocaching in the dunes around the maritime hospital, Juliette wanted to finish off with a walk along the beach. It was a lovely sunny day but a bit breezy on the beach. Nevertheless, she took her shoes off and started walking in the deep sand so that she could feel it squish between her toes !

It may have been a Sunday afternoon but this part of the beach was deserted. Quite a contrast to the promenade closer to town which is always packed at the weekends when the sun's out.

We'd already walked quite some way by now - my FitBit had just started buzzing to say we'd covered 10k steps - but Juliette found an extra burst of energy, running up and down the dunes like a loony !

We were intrigued by the "steps" carved out of the sand by the wind, then wondered if there was an old world war II bunker buried under this dune.

A few hundred metres on, we started coming across the first vestiges of the war.

However many times we see them, it still seems strange to have such ugly reminders of a horrific part of our past in such beautiful surroundings.

They were certainly built to last - despite tumbling down the dunes as they eroded, they are still in pretty good condition.

After successfully taking some action shots of Pierre jumping off a log earlier in the week, Juliette wanted a picture of her mid-jump. You can tell I'd been practising - this was my first attempt !

There were some tourists looking at the unsightly concrete blocks with a puzzled expression on their faces - I suppose this one does look more like public toilets than part of the war defences !

Seeing the people standing next to the biggest bunker gives you a real sense of scale - it's enormous !

Local kids, including the Madhouse kids, take them for granted as part of the scenery and enjoy exploring them, without ever really thinking about the horrors that they have witnessed.

Give it a few more decades and I think Mother Nature will have overtaken them and restored the natural beauty of the beaches.

Operation Dynamo took place in late May and early June 1940 and imagining all those thousands of men desperately trying to escape and lining up on the beaches to face their fate in such a beautiful area under bright blue skies seems even more shocking.

No doubt the soldiers had no time to admire the views though, even before the evacuation kicked off.

There's something very sinister about the big bunker (or blockhaus, as they are called in French, from the German). It always reminds me of a Dalek !

Despite its bulk and resistance, it has come to a rather inglorious end nose-down in the sand !

There's something irresistible about climbing over the ruins, whatever your age. Just out of shot here was a dad who was just as excited, if not more so, than his young sons !

I could spend hours taking photos down here - I love the contrast of the natural and the man-made !

Time to put our shoes on because we had to head back up into the dunes to get around the stretch of beach that is inaccessible at high tide.

The sky was starting to look menacing - time to speed up to avoid a downpour by the looks of it ! 

The moody skies do fit in with the backdrop of the bunkers though.

Time for a quick rest at the top of the dune before heading back down to the beach for the final slog.

The bunkers in this area are more easily accessible so they have been covered in lots of graffiti.

As well as some very impressive street art.

Look out Juliette, it's behind you !!

This colourful addition sprayed on this one actually fits in quite well with the war theme ...

It features tanks and Daffy Duck in a tin hat !

The frivolity of the artwork contrasts with the impacts along the top of the bunker, presumably from the war. I'm sure these concrete monsters have some tales to tell.

The final bunker is my favourite - the one that has been completely covered in fragments of broken mirrors so it looks like a giant disco ball !

It's not weathering very well though - lots of pieces have fallen off leaving just the silver backing on the walls and lots of broken glass in the sand, which is quite dangerous as they are very sharp shards.

They throw up lots of interesting reflections, of the beach and the people taking pictures.

It's an interesting artistic statement, to make something pretty out of something so ugly and with such negative connotations.

This area of the beach was cordonned off later in the week with bomb experts coming in to remove a series of concrete blocks that may or may not contain explosives. The whole area was evacuated, with homeowners told that they could stay inside their houses all day long or leave the area from 8am-5pm, with shutters closed and windows left open. Big diggers retrieved the blocks from the sea/sand and brought them up to be cracked open. Four of them were boobytrapped with shells, so it's a bit worrying to think of the number of times we've walked so close to them, but then again, they have been there for about 70 years !

After our long walk, Juliette had earned a sweet treat from the ice cream shop next to the bus stop - she chose a waffle on a stick smothered in Nutella. I'm sure this is the main reason she likes coming out geocaching with me !

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 23/4/17

WW2 bunker on the beach

(New blog post coming up later on this afternoon but you can see our previous walk along this section of the beach looking at all the bunkers here)

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book review : Blame - Paul Read

When Lucas loses his father to a suspected heart attack, he expects to be wracked with grief. However, having been estranged for over a decade, and having gone through his own private hell, he doesn't feel anything much, except for a confusing mix of emotions that he can't (or doesn't want to) understand or deal with. Instead, he hops on a plane to New York with the lovely Mariana, but a dark secret threatens to put a spanner in the works and destroy the burgeoning relationship before it has even begun. As Shakespeare said, the truth will out and when the death is deemed suspicious, Lucas has to try to understand who may have wanted to harm his father. Looking for clues, he uncovers his childhood journal that retraces the traumatic family dramas and his interpretation of events that led to his rift with his father, forcing him (and the reader) to reassess his view not only of his father but also himself.

The book has an unusual structure, starting with a prologue ten years in the future which throws out lots of questions to pique the reader's interest. The rest of the book is a journey of discovery, revealing who Lucas is and how he came to be the man he is today. He hasn't had an easy life and while it is easy to empathise with him, I didn't find him particularly likeable, although he is wholly believable. The clumsy, innocent, childish diary entries of his 11-year-old self add a touch of lightness that contrast with the gloomy, angry and hate-filled young man that he has become. As Lucas unlocks the secrets of his past and the family dramas that were hiding behind the happy public exterior, he has to accept that he is not as different as he would like to think from the man he loves to hate. 

The novel is fast-paced and gripping and I couldn't wait to find out what deep dark secrets were lurking in Lucas's diary entries and his subconscious. It's an interesting look at how our adult personas are shaped by events from our past and, despite the poignant subject matter, there are moments of humour to lighten the tone.

The author, Paul Read, has worked as an Art, English and supply teacher at several inner-city schools in both England and Italy. A few years ago, Paul was involved in a hit-and run incident which put him in a wheelchair for several months, which is where he wrote the first draft of his debut novel, The Art Teacher, which I have also reviewed. (Click through to read that review.)

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 April 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785079212
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785079214
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 2.7 x 13.1 cm

The Blame blog tour is stopping off at Madhouse Family Reviews today - make sure you call in on the other bloggers taking part !