Monday, 27 September 2010

Boarding school updated

We were visited at the weekend by Youngest’s friend who has just started at boarding school. Her parents had moved to yet another foreign posting and the international school she was attending there for the last year was proving unsuitable. She is happy to be at the boarding school, settling in well and loving being with her big sister who’s been there a couple of years – to do GCSEs and now A levels. The food is only OK, the work stimulating, the children friendly and the pace pretty relentless… while they’re there. They work longer days than my girls in their comprehensive school, Monday to Saturday lunchtime, but have much longer holidays.

We enjoyed a lively discussion driving home on Friday evening about how much boarding had changed, and how much had stayed the same. Although hers is a mixed school the boys and girls live in separate houses. They sleep 3 to a room in bunk-style with their own colourful sheets and duvets, use the washing machines and tumble dryers in house, choose from a buffet style selection of food in a whole school dining-room and do oodles of sport. They can be full boarders or part-time, and they can be away from school every weekend – assuming they have somewhere to go. (Last weekend her Mum was still here so she was out with her, this weekend to us, next one to Granny, the one after on a French trip and then half-term when she and her sister will fly home for a fortnight.) Eldersister has only visited us once in three years, she prefers to stay in school with the other children who live abroad. I wonder if this is her way of coping? 
At my boarding school we slept in dormitories on iron beds with hospital-cornered, crisp, white sheets and blankets. Our laundry went to a laundrette once a week in a little box tied with string: mending and sewing on nametapes were an important Saturday morning activity if you wanted to see your stuff again.  School meals were not chosen but served at the table and we ate what we were given. I learnt to drink tea and eat pretty much anything because otherwise you went hungry (and famously got into trouble for not eating cold pilchards and coleslaw, a Sunday night delight.) It was largely traditional fare, but curry in the early 1970s was a revelation, and kippers a shock! (Apparently I had to eat all the bones; I like kippers now, but as an 11 year-old...) We had the half-term break plus two weekends, one in each half term, and a couple of days. When my parents were in the UK I went to them, if not to my Granny, usually taking a friend who lived abroad.

I rescued Friendabroad, and mother of Youngest’s friend, last Monday. She rang in bits having said good-bye to her girls the night before. Together we finished the tasks she needed to complete before she flew home, and then I cosseted her here and took her to the airport on Tuesday. She and her daughter had a long phone call yesterday. They text one another too. And e-mail, and skype. Mother and I wrote once a week without fail.

They are a demonstrative family: emotion is expressed in word and hug. With them we do the same. And we have other friends with whom likewise. But not with them all! Schoolfriend and I have to make a real decision to hug: it just wasn’t what we did when we were 14. Ditto with Mother. She and I developed, from the word go, the walk-away-and-get-on-with-it mode of parting. (I tease her to this day about the promised cream tea in town with her on my first evening in boarding school that turned into beans on bread and margarine with the other girls!)
It is lovely to show you care, but there are times when it is much easier to cope if you don’t.

Friday, 17 September 2010

A little something for the weekend

I’ve had a very quiet week. I have idled away the time on my own. I have tootled around the blogosphere thinking how much more erudite and focused other people’s blogs are than mine, and generally wondered why I bother. But as you can see I am back anyway!

I have vacuumed the house. I have swept the floors. I have picked raspberries, blackberries, runner beans, purple French beans and courgettes at the allotment. I have bottled apricots.
And I have baked a banana and walnut loaf using a combination of recipes to produce a very pleasing result that Eldest has been taking to school in her lunchbox, and Husband and I have indulged with a cup of tea. (Youngest has been eating the wedding cake we brought home from that occasion which is much more to her taste.) So I thought I'd share it:

Banana and walnut loaf
4 ounces softened butter
8 ounces plain flour
6 ounces soft brown sugar
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
6 ounces toasted walnuts
2 mashed ripe bananas

Mix together all the ingredients except the banana and nuts which should be folded in once you have a smooth mixture. Turn into a 2lb loaf tin (I line mine with Lakeland loaf tin liner) and bake in the oven at 180°C until risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool and eat slices spread with butter.

I'm afraid recipes still come naturally in ounces...

Monday, 13 September 2010

What's in a name?

There were oodles of children at my cousin’s wedding, around 200 guests. The groom has a sister and the bride 3 siblings: all are married with children. So the exclusion of the cousins’ children was simply about numbers. No offence taken!

Noisy church service with lots of guitars and songs; Mother, Favourite Aunt and I enjoyed a good sing; our husbands were resigned to silent horror or surreptitious eye-rolling. The service was a great deal shorter than the previous wedding ceremony in this part of the family (I’m afraid they were taking bets).
My cousin is training for the church (following his father and our mutual grandfather and great grandfather), so every other person we met seemed to be church of some sort.
We were given tea and tiny sandwiches while the photographs were taken outside church which we all thought was a great idea - and Pimms while we stood waiting to meet the bridal party at the bride’s home. The garden had been cut down over the previous year to allow the erection of a marquee for the occasion, so there were (small) fruit trees inside it and a considerable slope to the ‘room’. It was imaginatively decorated with bunting and place settings made from a mismatched collection of tea cups and saucers, a sale style label with our names and a little muslin bag of sweeties. The bride and her mother had made the chocolate coloured bridesmaid dresses with royal blue sashes, co-ordinated male accessories and the similarly co-ordinating bunting. The dress was an off the shoulder scoop-necked, drop-waisted and trained fitted frock in lovely cream lace: very pretty!
Supper was extremely good, and generously wined. The speeches were generally good with plenty of laughter in amongst the obligatory thank-yous. We were clearly too old for the disco’s music and decided to call it a day at around ten.

My Church Uncle and Aunt are unhappy with the groom and bride’s decision to opt for a hyphenated combination of their surnames. We are a largely female line of the family and there are only two ‘boys’ with the necessary surname left. One is so far unmarried and nearly didn’t attend for fear that everyone would say “Your turn next”, and the other has this weekend ‘abandoned’ the name. My Family-Historian Uncle was understanding, but provided a list of example family names where this had happened before (some with hyphens, some with as many as 4 names strung together). It may be conventional to take your husbands name, and it is certainly the simplest solution, but it is definitely not the fashion… I expect, as I type, a spray of spluttering about female identity, independence and general disagreement!

Monday, 6 September 2010


My brother says he won’t come to our cousin’s wedding because his children aren’t invited: isn’t part of the marriage service about the procreation of children, so why would you exclude them? (He was in full grumpy old man mode.)

Of course, they’re not excluded. Cousin’s nephew and niece are certainly attending, and there may well be others, but can he really be expected to include his six first cousins their 5 spouses and their 10 children? By not inviting the children, but inviting his uncles and aunts he has also removed the obvious child carers, Granny, and reduced at a stroke the number of guests needing entertaining. I am torn between the waste of an occasion when we can’t get the next generation together and my understanding of the need to keep the numbers down.
When we got married there were few children around (and some of them were my first cousins!) so they came, or didn’t, according to their parents. But I’m as guilty as the next woman of thinking hard who to invite to occasions… 'though I tend to include the children and restrict the invitations accordingly. More children mean fewer adults! I’d have been disappointed not to be asked at all, but when your parent is one of 4, and their mother was one of 5 you will understand that there is a large extended family out there!
So no outfits needed for my girls, and I’ve remodelled the dress I wore to the last wedding we went to (a very intimate affair that included the children of the people who attended), don’t know what to do about a hat. Now I like a hat but haven’t one to go with this outfit. Do I shop or go without? If it’s going to rain I’m better off without, and the high heels in a marquee may be a mistake.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Catching up

The birthdays were both deemed successful; the camping, fun.

Eurostar and the TGV to Lyon were brilliant. We had a busy trip, eating too well and all managing to speak a little French: it’s amazing what you can manage if everyone has to order their own food or go without.

Eldest got nine A* and an A.
My trainee teacher has started work.
My girls have gone back to school.


I may take the day off; eat chocolate with a good book; think in the sewing room; play in the garden… or perhaps just take delivery from Sainsbury, do the washing, tidy the sitting-room and catch up on what’s been going on on the blogosphere, all while listening to Radio 4 with no chance of anyone turning it off.