Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Observations on living in close quarters

# 1

The morning after last week's post, when I asked for wine to be sent to mitigate the 'Husband wfh* situation', I asked my beloved what his plans were for the day.

'I'm going to the wine shop.  I will be buying all the wine.'

Reader, I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or offended - especially since he doesn't read this blog and so must have decided without prompting from me that this would be a wise course of action...


I walked the dog this morning and when I got back home went to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, only to find Husband had commandeered it to make a Very Important Phone Call.

He ssshhh'd me as I entered the room.

I raised my eyebrows as I thought; if only there were other places he could make that call.  Somewhere low-traffic, out of the way.  Somewhere without the fridge, and the kettle, and the mugs and teabags.  Somewhere like, oh I don't know - a home office.  Or a sitting room.  Or a bedroom.

Oh - wait...

* wfh - working from home

Friday, 13 March 2020


As a result of Covid 19 my husband, the inveterate traveller, is being forced to work from home (wfh) for at least the next three weeks.

Send wine.

We've been here before, for longer than that. One of the best things about writing a blog is that you can search up a word on your old posts and be transported back in time - my own personal Tardis.  (Boy #2 and I are currently working our way through the back catalogue of 'Dr Who'.  Matt Smith is the current doctor - a personal high point for me).  Anyway, I managed to find a post I wrote back in 2008 when my husband was made redundant from the bank he worked for.  He was wfh home for around 4 months - on and off - and it prompted this observation:  

We've already had the arguments over my incorrect stacking of the dishwasher. I am ineffecient, apparantly. Are the plates clean? I ask. That's not the point, I'm told. I bite my tongue. (I am doing a lot of that recently). We reach a compromise: I won't mention the un-emptied gym bag or the coffee cups left around the place, he mustn't criticise the way I stack the blasted dishwasher.

That was two weeks into his 2008 wfh experience.  Only two weeks.

Like I said; send wine.  Send ALL the wine.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

A Different Kind of Bank

The fact that 14,000,000 people across the UK are living in poverty, and that of that number 4,500,000 are children, is an uncomfortable truth that many of us choose not to dwell on for long.  It's hard to imagine; a fifth of the UK's population fall into that bracket.  One in five.

Juggling the responsibilities of every day life and it's resultant costs - utilities, rent, phone bills, clothing - mean that many of these families are unable to get by without the help of food banks.  Put food in the fridge and on the table, or put something towards the long overdue bills?  It's a balancing act, and without the food banks' support, many people would not have enough to feed their families.  In some case, even with their support, there is not enough.  The prospect of the forthcoming school holidays is not a welcome one; without breakfast clubs and school lunches children often go hungry.

In the current environment food banks need our support more than ever - and yet donations have decreased substantially since Covid 19 started to make an impact.

If you can afford it, however - and it's doesn't have to cost a lot - it's not hard to help out.  The next time you go to the supermarket stick a few extra items in your basket and drop them off at the trolley on the other side of the checkouts.  Ideally, check in with your local foodbank before you go to see what they need (click here to find the one nearest to you).  Interestingly, the list doesn't seem to change that much from one week to the next, so if you forget to check before you can just go with what you've bought before.  For example, here's a shopping list from my local food bank.  It's remained more or less the same for the last few weeks.

You don't have to spend a fortune; even a few items will make a difference, especially now when food banks are running perilously low on stocks (click for a link to a Guardian article giving more details).  Unsurprisingly perhaps, many people are so distracted by world events that buying a couple of extra tins of sweetcorn or tomatoes is the last thing on their minds, but if you can find the time and the impetus to do so, you could make all the difference.

Here are couple of useful links if you would like to know more about how to help:

Monday, 3 February 2020

Conversations with my children cont'd...

Oh, how times have changed.

Me: 'I got a text from Grandad this morning.  He said you left your earphones there when you stayed with them this weekend.'

Boy #2:  'Oh...'

Me:  'But don't worry - he said he'll post them up.'

Boy #2, confused:  'But why would he put them on the internet?'

Me:  Sigh.  'I mean, he'll send them to you.'  (Continued confusion on my son's face).  'By post.'  (Still no understanding).  'Oh, for pete's sake... Using the ROYAL MAIL.  In an envelope.'

I am a dinosaur.

Friday, 10 January 2020

'Mom jeans'. Really?

My blogging mate Toni Hargis posted the following comment this morning on fb:

'Mom jeans, M&S???
What fresh hell is this?'

Well, quite.

Has the world gone mad?  There's so much wrong with this concept I don't quite know where to start.  But let's begin with the fact that obviously, Mom's DON'T WEAR JEANS.

Of course we don't - we're far too staid, frumpy and downright out of touch with current fashion to want to clothe our aging bodies in denim.  I mean, what are M&S thinking?  There are perfectly suitable floral print mid-calf length skirts readily available in most supermarkets to clad the lower parts of our bodies (I would say 'legs' but obviously we don't mention those.  Far too vulgar).  And if we want to change it up a bit for high days and holidays, we can always venture into Laura Ashley, surely, and pick up a lovely patterned skirt with a matching pie-crust collared blouse to go with it.

Of course, I do appreciate the sentiment.  It's good to know that if some poor deluded mother should decide to go beyond the pale and consider a foray into the world of - shudder - denim, that M&S are there to help her make the correct purchase decision.  It would be awful for her to inadvertently buy something that is clearly only meant for those without children - straight fit, slim fit, god-forbid-skinny fit and so on.

No, much better to be able to walk straight to the 'mom jean' section of the store, where we're meant to shop.  I imagine that we'll probably be able to find wincyette nighties, big pants and housecoats in the same place.

Thanks, M&S.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Thanks for the memories

Ten years and one day ago today I arrived, with my family, in Moscow.  What an adventure that was.  The people we met, the places we visited, the experiences we had; I would not change one thing.  It was a five and a half year rollercoaster, one that in many ways we didn't want to get off. 

There were dark times, of course there were - nothing worthwhile comes without effort - but they helped to make me who I am today; a fifty two year old woman recovering from the flu who's using that as an excuse to sit down, do very little and revisit some old posts. 

Some of them are funny, some sad, some lost, some astonished at Moscow.  Not all of them are worth looking at second time.  I'd like to think that some are, however, and here's one  I wrote about travelling on the Moscow Metro.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Eyesight & Tracking; what it is, why it matters.

This is going to be a long one - but it's worth a read because if you have a child like mine, it could change your life.

(No pressure there, then).

My son (I am purposefully not identifying which of the two it is) is bright, clever, engaging, enthusiastic and charming.  He has wide and varied interests, a great sense of humour, a fantastic singing voice, and is a sensitve soul.

My son also has learning difficulties.  You probably wouldn't realise this if you met him away from the school environment, but they have impacted significantly on his life to-date.  From the age of approximately four until now there have been periods when our family has struggled to manage the anxiety he's suffered as a result of his challenges.  I won't go into detail here - it's his story to tell, not mine  - but it's been a steep learning curve for all of us.

As a result he periodically sees an educational psychologist to help him - and us - identify the best ways to support him, educationally and at home.  In the last report we received from them, there was a footnote that read something along the lines of:

'Children with X's learning profile often have problems with scanning and tracking, so it is recommended that you take him to a developmental optometrist and get this checked.'

OK.  Scanning and what?  Developmental what?  My son's eyesight had been checked - more than once - and despite a period aged around 5 or 6 when we noticed that he blinked a lot, the opticians always reported that he had 20:20 vision.  Surely this was going to be an expensive waste of time?

Nevertheless I found a developmental optometrist, and at the end of October he had his first appointment when we learned - after a session that at certain moments seemed like so much snake oil -  that he does have a tracking problem with his eyesight.

Until then, I didn't know what tracking - as a function of eyesight  - was.  Turns out, neither do some opticians, and those that do don't necessarily know how to check it, but in brief, a tracking problem is when a person does not have perfect binocular vision.  Essentially this means that when they look at an object their eyes are not focusing on the same point on that object.  This is not a problem if the object is more than around a metre away, but the impact on close work (reading, writing, sums and so on) can be enormous.

The best way to explain that is to ask you to think about how you read lines of text.  Maybe even these lines of text.  You think you're reading them in a gradual smooth motion from left to right, yes?  I did, anyway.  But that's not what's going on, not at all.  Our eyes and brains are complex and miraculous organs - you know that, I'm sure - and when most of us read, we are using a technique (which we are not even aware of) called 'hop and stop'.  We develop this naturally once we are proficient readers and have learned how to recognise entire words rather than decoding them letter by letter.  Instead, when our eyes see a line of text they break it into blocks of words, and then hop from one block to the next, stopping to read (i.e. recognise) each entire word in that block simultaneously before moving onto the next block.  For example, here are nine words as our eyes and brains might process them;

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog

Subconsciously we look at each block, recognise the words, and then move on.  (The size of the block will vary with reading age, but it could be 3, it could be 5 or 6.  Isn't the brain amazing?).  But what does this have to do with perfect binocular vision or the lack of it?

Let's imagine you are a person with tracking problems reading a line of text.  You read well; you've moved on from decoding words one letter at a time and instead recognise words when you see them on the page.  Your brain groups them together into blocks and unconsciously you 'hop and stop' across the page.  The only problem is that since your tracking is off your two eyes are not working as a team and looking at the same blocks of text.  It's hard to explain what that means in writing, but let's give it a go.  Below is line of textual numbers:

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen

You're not aware of it, but it's likely that you read it in blocks, as shown in different colours below:

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen

That's because your eyes, whilst working independantly of each other, still focus on the same groups of words, sending similar visual messages to your brain which then recognises and instantly understands the words.  This is perfect binocular vision.  Like I said, the brain; incredible.

Children and adults with tracking problems, however, don't see text in that way.  Their eyes over or under converge, which means the messages they send independantly to the brain don't match up.  My son, for example, has eyes that over-converge.  Let's imagine he's trying to read the words highlighted in red:

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen

It should be simple, but when he tries to read the words in red, the over-convergence of his eyes means that the message his brain gets (in red) is:

one two three four five                eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen

Unconsciously he knows something's not right.  There are two words missing, and on a subliminal level  his brain recognises that.   All humans fill in the spaces in situations like that - it's why we're able to make sense of those memes which on first sight are nonsense because of mis-spelt or missing letters - but supposing what we fill the gaps with is wrong?   My son's brain knows that's a possibility, so how to manage it, how to make sure the eyes haven't missed something important?

So it does the obvious thing; it sends an instruction to the eyes to read the block again.  But guess what?  Those eyes haven't miraculously cured themselves in the last nanosecond.  So it might take a person with tracking problems 3 or even 4 tries to read a line of text completely - and all without ever consciously knowing that this is going on (remember, they don't know any different).  Consequently, it takes that person 3 or 4 times as much effort to read each and every line of text.  Or numbers.  Or sums. Or really any kind of close work, including music, symbols and so on.

Just think about how exhausting that would be.

And whilst this is going on, the brain of this person with tracking problems is distracted from various other executive functions it should be managing.  Listening.  Focusing on what's going on around them.  Moving information from short to long term memory.  Filtering out white noise.  Working out the sense of what they are reading.  I could go on, but I'm sure you get it.

In my sons' case this diagnosis explained a great deal whilst still leaving me wondering what to do next. Would it mean surgery, or lengthy sessions of special exercises?  How was I going to persuade him to buy into it all? But no.  This situation - this condition that has impacted on my son's entire learning process until now - can be (mostly) fixed, and not with invasive medical procedures or exhausting daily sessions of eye exercises, but with a special pair of glasses (available on the NHS), and regular checks to ensure the prescription is correct.  And there are no special exercises; for the glasses to help correct the problem all he has to do is wear them for close work (reading, writing, sums etc) as a matter of course for the next eighteen months to three years.  Whilst they will always be helpful, he will - after that time - not need them as a matter of course.

I've been sitting staring at the screen trying to find the right words to sum up what has happened since my son got his glasses.  From the first day, it was as if I was picking up another child from school.  A boy who told me about his day.  Who had the energy to converse.  Who will sit and do his homework without real complaint, without panicking he won't be able to do it, without running away in a tantrum when things didn't go to plan, without hiding (literally) from the fear of failure.  A boy who goes to school so much more happily in the morning.

It's been a game changer.   He still has learning difficulties, but now he has more energy to deal with them, and as a consequence so do we.

This is not a sponsored post.  But here's a link in case you're interested in finding out more about scanning and tracking and possible treatments for it.