Mothers and Sons

Mothers’ Day was spent sitting at the side of a swimming pool, watching one son win a well-earned bronze medal in backstroke, just reward for recent enthusiasm and hard work, whilst his younger brother swam a valiant 400m with his goggles in his mouth.  You’ll probably realise that the mouth is not the ideal location for a pair of goggles, but they dislodged when he dived in and that’s where they ended up.  He could have stopped and got out, as 400m is a lot of lengths, but he carried on almost as though nothing had happened in a creditable time, all things considered.  They collected more metalwork with their teammates after some exciting relay swims.  All in all, not a bad Mothers’ Day. 

And by coincidence – because it was a long, long day – I happened to finish my current reading matter on poolside.  Reading matter for Mothers’ Day.  “Mothers and Sons”, a collection of short stories by Colm Toibin, has been sitting by my bedside for over a year.  I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this as I always enjoy the clarity of Toibin’s writing and, sure enough, once I was into it I couldn’t put it down.  The stories were all very different but they tweaked a few emotional heartstrings and the predominantly Irish setting nudged out a childhood memory or two.  I have to say that they’re not mother and son stories to lift the spirit and gladden the heart, but a good short story most certainly needs a twist in the tail.  If you enjoy short stories, I can surely recommend this, although not necessarily for Mothers’ Day!


Boys: a miscellany

One hitherto unforeseen advantage of trundling round the house with the vacuum cleaner is that it gives you space to compose blog posts in your head.  One disadvantage is that the instant you switch the machine off, those wonderfully crafted words disappear, sucked up as far as I can tell into the Dyson. 

Anyway, there I was, mulling over the apparent impossibility of getting GP1 to even think about doing any revision for the forthcoming prelims or perhaps even making a list of what he needs to do.  I don’t ask for much.  His younger brother, on the other hand, also faced with exams, comes out with such gems as “Mum, if I do this past paper could you mark it so that I don’t cheat?”  You’d throw up wouldn’t you, if he wasn’t your own son.  So I just laugh, lavish praise,  agree and wonder why the application genes couldn’t have been divided equally.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to auction tickets for someone to accompany me to Parents’ Evening tonight.  Continue reading

The best laid plans…

asleep.jpgWouldn’t it be nice if once, just once, life was boring and everything went according to schedule?  I could happily do boring for a while.

Whizzo scheme No. 1

The Plan

An Ocean Youth Trust trip for the boys.  What a great idea!  Time off school was negotiated, forms completed, money paid.  The boat is due to leave this Sunday from Holyhead.  No problem! We’d go via Manchester on Saturday, collecting Boy Cousin en route.  And oh look! The World Short Course Swimming Championships are on in Manchester – what a bonus!  So I bought tickets a couple of days ago.  And even better – I have a meeting in Bangor on Tuesday so let’s reschedule everyone for Monday and I’ll stay over for it.

The Flaw

Have you spotted it yet?  No, I didn’t either.  Nor did a lot of other people, it seems. Continue reading


It was the Swimming Club AGM on Monday.  And yes, I’ve finally managed to get myself off the committee.  We bludgeoned and battered and locked the door.  There was no escape.  We have a new, EU-style committee.  No one wanted to be big chief – no one ever does – so they’re going to take turns, a well-oiled chair rolling around the room.  Once we’d agreed that we could manage without a President, Chairman, figurehead, whatever you want to call it, there were plenty of willing volunteers.  I think it will spread the work load much better, without everything defaulting to one individual and without any one person feeling responsible for everything.  Here’s hoping, in any case.   And enough people have stood for the committee that, even if a few fall by the wayside as their children get bored of swimming, we should get by.

There’s a frightening amount of organisation required for children’s clubs these days, much more than was ever required on my days on adult sub-aqua club committees.  The only bit most people see in swimming is Continue reading

A half way witter

writersblock.jpgIt’s been very quiet in this corner for some time now.  I have no real excuse, just a jumble of reasons.  It’s partly been a form of writer’s block – how pretentious!  But I’ve had several posts in draft for some time and don’t seem to have been able to find the words to finish, or in some cases even start them.  Perhaps it’s been more a dive in motivation.  I’ve been finding it hard to motivate myself to do anything much for the last few weeks.  And that has been partly due to hitting something of a low, a wall – or perhaps more correctly slumping against the wall.  I think a mid term low is probably quite normal – I do seem to remember it happening with my broken ankle.   I’m a real expert in these things, you see!

Some of it has been brought on by having to admit to myself that I really am a lot more tired these days.  It’s all very well trying to carry on as usual, but Continue reading

Chaos in practice

dancers“We want a disco” said the older swimmers.

“Come up with a plan and we’ll think about it” replied those of us who could see yet another thing to organise looming.  “A proper business plan” said our very sensible coach.

So huddles formed in the cafe for the next week or so – is there a word for a gaggle of teenagers? An MP3ggle perhaps? Or maybe a grunting if it’s boys, a squealing if it’s girls – and occasionally one member would peel off with a question for their elders.   The criteria for membership of the organising committee seemed to be age-related: 12 and over if you were a girl, 14 and over for boys, with the two oldest and noisiest girls as ringleaders.  We weren’t presented with a plan so much as a fait accompli.  They would organise a sponsored swim Continue reading

One of those days

porania-on-adig.jpgAnd it’s not even midday yet.  GP2 was crowing at breakfast that he was going to have his last biology lesson ever today.  His Biology teacher this year (not you Fearghal!) seems to have single-handedly killed all interest in the subject in the entire class, as only one of their number has picked biology for next year.  It is a little sad, as we’re both working biologists.  In contrast, he has been enthused by Continue reading

The nicest thing said to me this week

Last Saturday saw the swimming club championships, an annual event when our own swimmers race each other for medals and glory. swimmer.jpg It’s always a very full on day, and this year was no exception.  It was non-stop from first thing in the morning when I was melting chocolate over food for the evening do to sometime during the night when we were clearing up the last bits of rubbish after the disco.  In between we all yelled ourselves hoarse as 50+ 7 to 15 year olds raced each other up and down the pool.  Not all at once of course, although that might have been easier.  I wouldn’t have had to cope with keeping the small boys under control for quite so long if that had been the case; I always seem to end up as the grumpy old woman shouting at them.  The longest race was the little girl Continue reading

The top’s just over the next hill

It was S3 parents’ evening last week.  protantheasmall.jpgWe got there early and fully expected to whizz round and be out in time for swimming club.  Wrong again!  I eventually sent the boys to help out on poolside, OH went to a squash match and I queued for 1/2 hour for the last teacher.  Finally arrived at the pool very late to find my fellow coach totally frazzled by the demands of my beginner’s lane.  Why do 7yr old boys, as a general principle, have the attention span of a gnat?  Or do they use up all their stores of attention in class during the day and just switch off as soon as they get home?  Answers on a postage stamp to…

 But back to parents evening.  It was good to meet all the teachers and this time I was very impressed by how friendly, professional, on the case and of course human they all were, without exception.  I do have to confess that this has not always been the case – on one memorable open night, after speaking to one particular teacher I voiced the opinion that “if there is any remote chance of that person teaching you next year, you won’t be doing that subject”.  Fortunately it didn’t become an issue!  Open nights are useful and first impressions do make a difference. 

But parents’ night.  Reports were generally more favourable than the tracking report had suggested, which was reassuring – there is such a big difference between talking to people and reading the permitted 30 words.  However, a recurrent theme from all of the teachers was the pressure of taking the exams a year early.  It is a lot of pressure on the children (and presumably on the teachers), a lot of work to get through and, at least for some subjects, we can’t expect the grades that they would get if there was another year. 

Maths, for example.  They will have covered all of the Int2 course but might only be entered for the Int1 exam, to make sure that they don’t fail.  But it doesn’t matter because the work they’ll have done will put them well ahead for Higher Maths, when they should be able to get a very good grade and that’s the one that counts. Still with me?  I struggled with this.  From what I understand, Highers will be done over 2 years rather than 1, which should improve Higher results.  Not being intimately familiar with the various syllabuses, I haven’t yet entirely worked out the logic.  Seems like it will be fine for those subjects that they continue with to Higher level, but that the subjects they drop at Standard Grade might well have suffered.  And it looks like he’ll be doing Higher Maths, come what may.   More to come on this & related themes in future postings.

One very useful outcome of the parents’ evening was the explanations we got of how the different subjects are examined.   For example, I had absolutely no idea beforehand that the students need to submit 5 folio pieces for English so that everything they are now bringing home to do counts towards their final mark. 14 yr old boys do not share this sort of information with their parents.  You need to understand for this that OH and I went through the English system more years ago than we like to think.  Grammar schools were the only schools worth considering, exams were exams, homework was homework and continuous assessment was something that bearded, sandal-wearing liberals discussed in the Guardian.  On second thoughts, Shirley Williams never grew a beard. 

I have found, since the day that the child minder told me I needed to register the boys’ names at nursery on their 2nd birthday and not a second later, that the system and all who work in it assume that parents are born understanding its intimate workings.  This is not the case.  We know nothing with the first child through the system and our children tell us nothing.  So please, could someone write a nice simple guide to what is involved in each subject at Standard Grade and perhaps subsequently at Higher.  This is for distribution either at the end of first year when they are making subject choices or at the start of 2nd year.  And what is an Advanced Higher and that even more mysterious 6th Year Studies? 

The present problem confronting us is how to persuade a 14yr old boy to get his head down & get on with it for a few months, that everything he does from now on counts, and has to be the best – no short cuts.  Doing work in little bits now will pay huge dividends next year.  Ears are deaf unfortunately.  We can tell him it’s only for a short time and that once the exams are over, that’s it.  But I know it’s a lie – as soon as this lot are over there are Highers, Advanced Highers, University, job applications, work, report deadlines….  The climb starts here and the top is always over the next hill.  I just have to hope that he gets better at dealing with it.