Brilliance in Blogging
- Silent Sunday
- Help deaf children learn – it just takes a signature
- Jack the Giant Slayer – are the giants too scary for kids?
- It’s not Children’s Day, Amelie
- Reading your own death notice
- Silent Sunday
- Silent Sunday
- In Memory of Sarah
- Skating with penguins
- Happy Christmas from Notting Hill
- This Moment
- Our favourite toys this Christmas
- The Wonder of Winter Wonderland
- David Attenborough’s Penguin King in 3D
- Fantasy football – choose the best legs and your favourite face and create your perfect player
- Silent Sunday
- Halloween in Notting Hill 2012
- Silent Sunday
- Silent Sunday
- Frankenweenie – will Tim Burton scare the kids?
Our daughter Amelie is partially deaf – she has 50 per cent hearing in both ears. This means there are many consonants she cannot hear and so she finds it hard to follow conversation and has to make guesses at what is being said – very often wrongly!
She is in mainstream school and because of lack of resources (and because there are many children who need far more support) the only educational support she gets is a visit from the hearing for the deaf teacher once a term to advise the school on how to improve the teaching environment so she has a better chance of hearing what the teacher is saying.
It’s not much but it is vital for schools and teachers to have this expertise – there is nothing else.
The NHS provides hearing aids for Amelie- but hearing aids amplify all sound including scraping chairs , kids shouting, paper rustling and so on – and don’t have the ability to screen out what you don’t want to hear in the way that human ears do!!
If you want to get an idea, this evening lower the lights (to make lip reading more difficult) turn the TV and radio on and have a conversation with a friend across the room where you both whisper.
Amelie would need the classroom to be totally silent for her hearing aids to be of real benefit. At her school the hearing for the deaf teacher has managed to improve the noise levels in her classroom and get squashy tennis balls fitted to the chairs so they don’t make so much noise with kids moving around. This gives
her a slightly better chance and actually improves the environment for all the children. It’s not much – it’s not that expensive but it does help and make the place far quieter. It took 3 years to get this done! But this is the kind of support that could now be cut.
The National Deaf Children’s Society is trying to get a debate in Parliament about widespread cuts to Teachers of the Deaf, Teaching Assistants, speech and language therapy, specialist equipment and lots more vital support that deaf children rely on for their education and well-being.
They need 63,000 more signatures for their petition to secure a debate about these cuts. If they hit their target, they can deliver the petition to a powerful committee of MPs. With 100,000 names they won’t be able to overlook it.
Resources for deaf children are incredibly limited as it is and really cannot afford to be cut further. To give you an example – we are trying to get a hearing loop for her so the teacher’s voice goes from a microphone straight into her hearing aids – but because of limited resources we have failed to do so in four years of trying!
All children with hearing problems should have this as it would make a huge difference to them – but instead the Government is trying to reduce the very little amount of support that is currently provided.
But this is not about my daughter – there are many children with similar and worse levels of hearing loss and many with no hearing at all whose speech is affected and whose need for help is far far greater than hers.
Please help raise the profile and get Government to take this seriously – we just need your signature! www.ndcs.org.uk/petition
If you are expecting a Fee-Fi-Foe-Fumm-chanting, slightly scary, but reasonably jovial giant whom Jack dispatches easily (and humanely) before skipping off and marrying a princess – you ( like the teddy bears on their picnic) are in for a big surprise. This new version of the fairytale - Jack the Giant slayer - from Bryan Singer is a far darker look at the imaginary world of a bedtime story- with Earth under threat of a full-scale invasion by the giants and the giants only kept at bay because they are trapped in some half way Hades between the earth and outer space. The beanstalk is the giants’ only means of escape and they are determined to take it.
The giants are frankly terrifying in their looks and brutality (eating even some of the good guys whole – and spitting out their bones!) and even the beanstalk seems to have some malevolent power. This is not the wispy kind of stalk that might sprout runner beans, that I remember from childhood picture books. No – this beanstalk erupts out of the ground at horrifying speed, its multiple trunks causing an earthquake around them and ripping Jack’s home (which he and the princess are sheltering in) out of the ground, carrying it sky high to the rocky entrance to the Giants kingdom, with the princess trapped inside.
And that’s just for starters.
Apart from the fear factor this is a brilliant film – aimed perhaps at 8 year olds and up rather than toddlers. But having said that our 6 year old was the last to leave his seat and seek shelter sitting on mummy’s lap.
Jack is played by the still baby faced Nicholas Hoult ( Skins and About a Boy with Hugh Grant) while Ewan McGregor adds some lighter interludes with his performance as the leader of the King’s guards, Elmont, charged with rescuing the Princess. The rare comic moments comes as Jack, inevitably, proves rather better at slaying giants than the seasoned guardsman and Elmont is forced – perhaps by the rules of courtly behaviour – to accept this with good humour. He also has to swallow the fact the Princess clearly prefers Jack – a farmhand – to him a noble! Ian McShane plays the King and Stanley Tucci the evil Lord Broderick who wants to enslave the giants and bring them back to earth to help install him on the throne but like all good fairytales he is of course punished for his wrong doing and does not live to tell the tale. The special effects are incredible – which is why the film rather frightening: The giants are a little too realistic. But after a long scary battle scene that appears unwinnable – unless you are a giant, there is a happy ending involving a wedding and the commoner becoming a Prince. Just like real life really.
This is definitely one for the Easter holidays.
It’s one of my favourite lines of the day – which started with the joyful sight of my grumpy nine year old scowling, because someone had made aloud banging noise waking her up. Still she got over it and came into bed for a group hug. Her 6 year old brother was already on the computer so in a sunny mood and very excited at giving me his mother’s day card. He’d made it at school.
He’s also made the rather amazing 3D flower card you can see above – for Grandma. Not that I’m churlish, but I was rather jealous that he hadn’t made it for me. Amelie however had taken the same amount of trouble on my card – rather strangely with a wedding theme depicting me and Daddy – more of an anniversary card really but also with a 3D effect – and the result of spending a mere £21 at an artshop on card, stickers and glitter pens! She’d also created a treasure hunt for me to find my “surprise” present – a necklace with my initial on it. It’s something I’ve not worn since I was about 9 myself and would under no circumstances choose to buy one as I know my name and what it starts with and should I fall and get amnesia it’s not going to be of major significance in determining my identity. Nevertheless she so wanted to buy it I said I would of course wear it if she wanted to get it.
And the joy of her putting it round my neck this morning was only slightly dampened by me wondering what grade of tin it was made of and my husband whispering loudly (yes that is possible) ” It’s not even silver and it cost £22!”
Unfortunately the same attention to detail was not given to what the point of Mother’s Day might be – to be nice to Mummy and look after her because she looks after you the rest of the year, perhaps? And so there was the usual fighting and bickering. A refusal by my daughter to change out of her trousers into a pretty dress – or indeed anything that didn’t actually have mud on – to go to Church and a not unposh Notting Hill “eaterie” with Grandmama.
I tried remonstrating with her, but got nowhere as she stomped off yelling something about how she would wear what she wanted… her brother trailing behind her and shouting piously: ”It’s Mother’s Day not Children’s Day Amelie.”
No idea where he got that phrase from – obviously I’ve never said it before. Never!
Her response was equally pious and loudly expressed: ” Your comments are really annoying me Alexander and I don’t find them at all helpful!”
Luckily the day improved with some free daffodils in church and a timely glass of Prosecco before lunch.. The rest of the day bis already a distant haze. Happy Mother’s Day to you all!
You wanted candles lit for you and they are being lit.
Over the years you joked that not many people would come to your funeral – having no idea how soon that would be.
You found it funny that I wrote this blog anonymously and I know you read it sometimes in your kitchen in Sussex to keep up with what was happening in my life.
I never thought you would feature on it in this way, but you deserve people to know about you and so I am telling them – and using your real name – Sarah.
You died on Thursday night. You were only 40 something – it’s rude to say more. You’ve left behind a husband who adored you and three lovely children. They had a chance to hold your hand and say goodbye though no-one knows whether you could hear them.
When I last saw you just three months ago you were fighting fit. We went on a long walk and played table tennis. You were proud of your children. You loved your life in the country: walking the dogs, watching your son play rugby and your daughters swim and play hockey. And you spent time finding the best school that would suit each of them, even though it gave you a school run that takes an hour twice a day dropping them at three different places.
You used your skills as a lawyer to help at the Citizens Advice Bureau – at one stage you ran the branch, but you wanted to spend more time with your family I think and so went back to volunteering a few days a week. You helped many people who were confused and desperate often at the lowest points in their lives and you gave good accurate advice.
But I met you when I was 19, when we were students. You were my closest friend at college those first few years – though I cannot believe that we danced and jumped around to Wham at full volume simply to annoy the guys who lived below you. You often disputed my choice in clothes – as many others have since – and I still can’t wear a little black dress without remembering you saying at my 22nd birthday party. “Is that a dress – it’s more like a belt – surely you are not going out in that?” As the party was at my house I wasn’t – as I pointed out. Or the time you came to my room so we could go shopping and I was still in my pink paisley pyjamas. Again I was asked ”Surely you are not going out dressed like that?” I think you knew that wasn’t my intention but I decided to call your bluff and so we walked round Oxford with me in pyjamas and a leather jacket and black boots.
Our holiday together in Italy as students was legendary. It is hard to believe how many scrapes two 20 year old girls could get into – only partly because you so genuinely wanted to practise your Italian. “If you like, we go to Positano,” and “We know your ‘ouse” as we were trailed round Sorrento by young Italian men apparently keen to practise their English, became sayings in both our families many years on. But you felt it was my determination to get a tan that was equally to blame: sunbathing in M &S knickers (I still think they looked like bikini bottoms) and wearing shorts at all opportunities. I still don’t think it was my fault that man came off his motorbike but of course I was relieved he wasn’t seriously hurt. And thank you for lending me your shawl to wear as a skirt on various occasions over what became known as my “monastery dress” – meaning I wasn’t allowed in a monastery or any other religious place as it didn’t cover my shoulders or enough of my legs.
I learned on that holiday that you didn’t think you were beautiful. I never understood it and I don’t think you believed me. But I always thought you were.
Despite three weeks in Italy, we went away together again to Portugal – a place I loved which was slightly ruined for you as you came quite quickly to be bored of fresh sardines. I have a great memory of lying on a white beach on the Atlantic coast swimming and chatting and laughing – just before I realised that sunbathing all day with very little to drink had given me sunstroke. I could hardly walk, but you got me back to the bus-stop and the hotel and all was fine by the next day.
Then we grew up. You got married and had children several years before me and for a while perhaps we had less in common.
But we’ve always kept in touch – as we have with the rest of the girls – and boys- from college. We went back sometimes most recently to a ball where we drank til dawn and danced to Scouting for Girls, even though I boycotted them after they sang something very rude about girls. She’s so Lovely now reminds me of you. We’ve spent many weekends with our families together – the night-time barbecue outside became a tradition where however many layers I started off in I always had to borrow another jumper from you or your husband. I even suggested another holiday – all nine of us – and we might perhaps have gone one day.
But three weeks ago you started to feel unwell and you took to your bed. You went to hospital a few times, but they didn’t know what was wrong. Then on Boxing Day you seemed much worse and were taken to hospital and quickly transferred to a London hospital and intensive care. Your husband telephoned to let me know we would not see you on New Year’s Day as you weren’t well and had been taken to hospital.
It seems a lifetime ago but it was only about a week. On Wednesday you had surgery as they tried to find out what was wrong. I went to Westminster Cathedral as you had asked for a candle to be lit. You never woke up. You don’t know this but you had a very rare and aggressive form of cancer. You could not have survived.
It’s very hard for us to believe you are gone, but you are wrong that there will not be many people at your funeral. We will all be there. We will support your husband and your children as best we can for the weeks, months and years to come.
And just for the record – you were always beautiful.
When I was 10 or so I had my own white leather skates ( second hand but much loved), very occasional lessons at Richmond Ice Rink and could even travel a couple of metres backwards.
As a teenager we used to go “down Richmond” for the day, smoking in the railway carriage there and back ( it was legal then !) and alternating between skating round and sitting in the cafe eating crisps and … smoking. You might think then that despite the distractions, I’d be reasonably good at skating. But the last time I went to an outdoor rink a few weeks ago, with a child pulling on me each side, I found myself clutching the side barely able to stand up let alone move. So I was delighted when I was invited to bring the children to skate at Westfield and make use of the penguins they provide for younger children.
The advantage of Westfield over an outdoor rink is you don’t get the problem of surface water (though you do lose some of the romance of the trees and night sky!) And an advantage over a larger indoor rink is it’s much warmer. The disadvantage is it’s smaller and there are far more people on the ice who can’t skate. Not a problem for most of us – though clearly not a place for professional skaters to practise their routines – something that used to go on when I skated at Richmond as a child.
The highlight for me though was the penguins! These are the skating equivalent of walker trollies which teach toddlers to walk. And they are just as brilliant an idea. Having despaired of family skating and felt I’d definitely lost my mojo, we all had a fantastic time. Admittedly I left behind my non skating OH and traded him in for a sporty German girlfriend of mine who is great on skates. That helped get the children started, but having the penguins gave them the confidence to skate independently and move away from the edge. It also gave me the chance to go round the rink a few times on my own. It’s not as big as a professional rink of course so you are never far from the children. But without the kids pulling me off balance, I discovered I could actually still stay on my feet and skate – even if with the grace of an ugly duckling rather than a swan. But it was lovely to remember that skating can be enjoyable rather than a penance.
Of course penguins don’t teach children about balance and if you want them to skate properly they are going to have to step away from their penguins quite fast.
But as a way of making sure you all have a good time and no-one falls over too often, I would say they are well worth the extra £4.50 as you will have twice as much fun as you do with them pulling you over !
For smaller children you can hire sit on seals. The kids are strapped on and you , the “groan -up”, push them around. The secret advantage of this of course is if you can’t skate very well you have your very own walker or stroller to keep you upright. It’s almost worth borrowing a toddler.
For more information on timings and prices at Westfield London’s indoor rink ( at Shepherd’s Bush). If you live out East there is an outdoor rink at Westfield Stratford City.
A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. It’s an idea I took from SJ Klemis a fellow blogger at samuelmichaels.com , she found it on Life inspired by the Wee Man and it originally came from SouleMama
Favourite toys for 5 to 12 year olds
My daughter’s favourite toy this year was without doubt the Panda Pillow pet . Despite all the toys on offer at this year’s Dreamtoys fair run by the Toy Retail Association to predict the top 12 Xmas best-sellers, she repeatedly snuck back to this stand and sank down into the crate of pillow pets clutching her favourite – the panda! The pillowpet was not in fact among them but she immediately said she wanted the giant one and is still hopeful we might move into a larger house just to accommodate her growing panda family. But she knows what she likes and her smiles said it all when she was given the mini pillow pet by a nice PR lady. It now is the toy that goes to bed with her every night alongside the panda that she’s slept with since she was a baby. And although it s very much a pet to her, she has also used it as a pillow when travelling – which is kind of the point! You can also buy very cuddly hats – as modelled by my youngest!
Something else my now 9 year old daughter fell in love with was the Tatty Teddy interactive Binky panda. Ok so she loves all kinds of pandas but this is the only one she has that talks!
You may recognise the Tatty Teddy logo as I did, as their parent company Carte Blanche has been making cute teddy bear greetings cards forever. For some reason their teddies have blue noses. This has become a feature of their new range of cuddly toys too – and in case you are thinking “ too much detail” these blue noses glow in the dark.
So back to this range of “Join in and Play Me Blue Nose Friends”. Ok the name is a little too long, but Amelie loves that if she presses the panda’s paws enough times it will say I love you. And her brother loves the fact that it says other things too, when she just wants to hear about the love ( it has 12 different phrases so you have to wait your turn) I still remember the things my walky talky doll said 30 odd years ago. “Where is my purse?” and “Can I wear my new coat?” being among them - so talking toys are powerful things!
If you have more than one interactive teddy friend, they will talk to each other if you press their tummies – nice idea if you have more than one child. There’s a sheep, monkey, rabbit, hamster and bear as well as the obvious star of the show – the Panda! They retail at around £25 which I think is fair for what they do – but you may not want to buy the whole set at once!
I still love the Novi Stars the cosmic dolls from out of space (rrp £20). There’s Mae Tallic who is, well , metallic and speaks; Ari Roma who smells of bubblegum and has a bubble helmet and glitter covered body and Una Verse who’s body is clear and filled with water and glitter – like a snow globe. But my favourite is Alie Lectric who lights up in many colours. In case you think this sounds a bit too weird , their bodies are dressed in normal girls clothes so the effect is mainly noticeable on their arms and legs. They come with a little pet, are aimed at 6 plus and have an interactive online element too. I hate to diss the original girls’ fashion doll, but I really do think for a 21st century vibe they beat a Barbie hands down.
This year my daughter ignored Baby Annabell in favour of the latest Baby born (they are actually made by the same company). The great thing about the latest version of BB is she’s interactive and doesn’t need batteries she interacts with her accessories – and this baby has started young! She has a car, a scooter, a horse – and a kitchen – forget the rules about keeping babies away from the stove as this baby is learning to cook! To be fair, the oven doesn’t heat up – although there is running water in the sink!
If you are looking for less extreme behaviour from your baby, you will be relieved to know she also moves, drinks from her bottle and if you feed her she will cry and need the potty – back to reality! Because she has no batteries, you can take her in the bath with you, but when you give her a dummy she will still close her eyes and fall asleep
If your little one is a Sylvanian Families fan then the Camper Van is a brilliant update on the caravan and it does mean you don’t have to buy the Morris Minor ( cute though it is) to pull it along, The Camper van has wheels – as well as drop down beds, pull out benches and tiny cups, plates cutlery and baskets of food. At £40 this is likely to be popular this Christmas. If you buy it for someone who doesn’t have any Sylvanian families you might also want to buy some kittens, mice or badgers – or pandas ( sorry but they do makes them – stretching the woodland theme just a little) Just find out the child’s favourite animal and they will almost certainly have it: a family of four costs an extra tenner or so.
For older girls 8 to 12 Paper FX is a way of weaving paper to make bags and boxes. You rip up old glossy mags to make the paper strips so it has a green environmentally friendly/ recycling feel to it. But it does require a bit of skill and patience, so don’t buy this for younger children unless you want to me the maker while the fashionista just chooses the colours!
Another craft option is the make your own jewellery sets which I confess I haven’t tried but I’ve seen them out of the box at another trade fair and they are extremely good quality and look like an excellent present. Or a favourite with my arty daughter is a set of Staedtler fine-liner felt-pens or Caran d’Ache crayons. Yes, they are more expensive than the average felt-pen or crayon, but once you use them and see the colour of the crayons especially you will never look back!
Something I’ve not spotted before are remote control toys for girls. Most are aimed at boys in that they are mainly cars and planes, but seeing a gap in the market perhaps, IMC toys based in York have brought out the remote controlled Minnie Scooter – which is not mini in size but ridden by Minnie Mouse. It’s appropriately pink and girly and Minnie comes off the bike so you can play with her separately. Clever idea if our daughter is at the age where it has to be pink – it sells at about £35.
So how about the boys in your life – if you hadn’t heard, Ninja turtles are making a comeback and although my son didn’t watch the original cartoons, being 6, and isn’t that into the current ones that hasn’t stopped him tying a red sash over his eyes and yomping round the room being a turtle. Or enjoying playing with the figurines that are on sale to coincide with Nickelodeon’s relaunch.
Alexander is also still enjoying his Trash pack garbage truck, which he was given earlier in the year and comes with dustbins with horrible little collectible trashie monsters inside. The latest version this Christmas is the Trashie Street Sweeper which has rotating rollers to sweep your trashies back into the waster catcher.Both vehicles come with bins and trashies and cost around £20.
A new toy which appeals to me more than the foam pellet Nerf gun idea (which is of course still extremely popular with boys) is the Attacknid. These remote control battling robots are one of the top 12 tipped to be a bestseller this Christmas. They are aimed at six year olds and up. They have six legs, a rotating head and can fire up to 30 feet ( yes OK so there is a shooting element!). They were extremely popular with all the boys at the Dreamtoys Fair and you can play with them on their own or of course battle with other robots. They are programmed so that 40 robots can take part in a fight. Again though as they cost £69 each you may want to keep the numbers down!
Football fanatics will be hard-pressed to choose between the newly re-launched Subbutteo (you get the whole kit for £30) and the Sports Stars Pitch and Play set from Character options which my son is loving |( £20 for the whole pitch in one and some players) . Here’s the review I made earlier.
Unisex toys are all about animals, collectibles – or technology. These elements are brilliantly combined when it comes to my children’s current craze for Moshi Monsters. Though he was in transports of delights when given some tiny Moshis and Moshlings at the DreamToys Fair, it was not enough for my six year old son. No, not once he had seen what he really wanted. His toy of choice was the Moshi Monster App Monster Katsuma Plush. In English this is a velvety toy resembling Katsuma the orange monster – yes Katsuma like Satsuma!- which wraps round your iphone like a large squashy case. You download the Moshi App and the face of your phone becomes the face of Katsuma which you can control. It is actually very cute. A simple but clever idea. They retail at £22 and you get two monsters in each box ( Poppet and Luvli or Katsuma and Furi since you ask). So they could be shared between two children – if they could agree on whose monster is whose that is and I have actually seen these for half that price on the internet which is true of many toys. The only downside is that it’s another excuse for the kids to take our phones. We got round this by finally getting upgrades and giving the kids our old phones – they don’t work as phones of course but you can play games on them! And in fact because these are cuddly, my little one now sleeps with his Katsuma every night and does not ask to have a grown-up’s phone inside at least not most of the time.
Bandai have a similar idea with Techpet except here there is extra technology. The similarity is you put your iphone or ipod touch into the body of the Techpet, download the free app and the phone becomes the face of the dog . The difference is that Techpet is a robot rather than a soft toy and will move on hearing your voice – or sing or even dance. As it does rather more, it costs rather more as you might expect £59.99 in fact. Again it’s a fun idea.
When it comes to traditional games you still can’t beat Tip the Ship from Ravensburger, and if you like jigsaws this is a good place to look . They have some fantastic 3D jigsaws and miniglobes as well as the more traditional large Christmas jigsaws. Bananagrams is another traditional game based on scrabble but without the board adn aimed at children. You make your own individual crossword with tiles and when you run out add to it from the bunch of tiles left. You can dump an awkward letter but have to pick up three tiles instead. The winner is the first to use up all their tiles. The game comes in a small canvas sip up banana bag which makes it really compact and easy to store – a big plus point in my book!
I will be constantly updating this with more toys and pictures but with only two weeks to Christmas I wanted to get some ideas out there from some kids who are exposed to more than their fair share of toys ( though they don’t get to take them all home!)