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Saturday, 26 October 2013

Saints and sinners

You can't communicate the experience gained from hard years on Earth to the fresh-faced youths who come behind you. 

It's one of those frustrating facts of life you wish someone had mentioned, when you were young. Except you wouldn't have listened.

Makes you wonder what experience is for. I mean if you can't pass it on and you can't take it with you, it's pretty pointless isn't it?

God didn't think this through, if you ask me. Omniscient and omnipotent perhaps, but a pretty poor planner.

There's so much I want to share with the next generation and the one after that. My son. Rachel. Carol. Chuck and Marie. Little Sally. Even Susan sometimes, when she seems especially young and trusting.

Stuff like this. If you get dumped he wasn't the one. Alone doesn't mean lonely. Be kind to kids and animals. Don't eat yellow snow. 

And never hold post-mortems on the pub quiz you just made a complete arse of.

Especially that one. I've seen marriages and fast friendships ruined by too much analysis of who said what, and why they didn't write it down like they were told to. Let it go, guys.

"Why did you score out 'fisherman' and write 'carpenter', in answer to 'What was St Andrew's trade?' Susan asks young Chuck. "Nobody gave you the authority to do that. I told you he was a fisherman."

"He said 'carpenter'," the lad says, jerking his thumb in my direction. "And he'd answered the last five questions. I figured he was on a roll."

"You should be on a roll," she says. "You're about as smart as a slice of cheese."

"He sounded so confident," Chuck says.

"He always sounds confident. The more confident he sounds the less you should listen to him."

"Can I say a word for the defence?" I say.

"If you must," Susan says, in that tone that makes strong men quiver, before remembering they're not supposed to be scared of women.

"Fisherman is not a trade," I say. "When did anyone spend five years as a fisherman's apprentice?"

"That's true," Chuck says, taking his lead from me, the fool. "I reckon carpentering was Andrew's trade. Fishing was just his hobby."

"Sounds right," I say. "He and Jesus used to go down the canal with a can of maggots and their fishing-rods, and sit on the bank chatting about the Celtic game."

"And Andrew made boats out of balsa wood, for the disciples to play with on the Sea of Galilee," Chuck says. "That's why historians got confused and thought he was a fisherman."

"We lost the competition by one point because of you two dummies," Susan says. "And you think it's funny?"

"I don't think it's funny," I say, nudging him with my elbow.

"I don't think it's funny," he says, trying to look serious.

"Say you're sorry," I tell him.

"I'm sorry," he says. But he doesn't have the sense to leave it at that, and like I say you can't communicate experience to young people. They have to take their own lumps.
"There is no need to get cross," he tells her, looking pleased with himself. "Did you see what I did there?"

"Just as well I'm a saint," she tells him, kicking his shins under the table. "Did you feel what I did there?"


"Stick some of these under your arm, will you?" my son says, indicating a pile of bendy grey cylinders in the corner of his kitchen, each about ten feet long and made of polystyrene.

So I grab an armful and so does he and we wachle them downstairs and try to pack them into my car. It's like wrestling an octopus.

"You've done that, have you?" he says, as we stuff them in and they bounce right back out again.

"In my youth as a deep-sea diver," I say.

"Tentacles would be great for an artist," he says. "You can use them as arms or legs. I could paint a picture while having a coffee and a sandwich and hanging from the ceiling, looking cool. "

"The male octopus even has a tentacle that's a detachable penis," I tell him, as we finally get them penned up in the back and take our seats in front. "It's called a hectocotylus. Octopus sex consists of him pulling it off and presenting it to her"

"That's drastic," he says. "Does she like it?"

"She loves it. 'What a beautiful gift for a girl,' she goes. 'Was it expensive?'"

"And he goes, 'Cost me an arm and a leg.'" he says. "Have you been saving that up all your life, waiting for an octopus conversation?"

"Pretty much," I say. "You don't get many. Where is it you want me to take yours?"

"Macintosh Building," he says. "It's going to be the branches of an artistic tree for this group project I was telling you about."

"What's the topic?"

"St Enoch."

"Ah, the ancient Celtic princess," I say. "Sounds like a guy but she's not."

"Isn't she?"

"St Enoch was St Teneu," I tell him. "Raped then condemned to be thrown off Traprain Law for getting pregnant. Survived and was taken in by the abbot Serf, who cared for her and her son Kentigern, later called Mungo. He founded Glasgow."

"You know lots of useless shit, don't you?" he says.

"I do."

"Is there a tree in the story?" he says.

"There is. A hazel tree that Mungo prayed over to make its branches burst into flames, so he could relight a holy fire. The tree's now part of Glasgow's coat of arms."

"Great!" he says. "I've been telling the guys we should set ours on fire for artistic reasons."

"What artistic reasons?"

"Go right here to avoid the one-way system," he says. "It's this 'What is art?' question again. I reckon things not being what they are is part of it. Like I did a cast of the coffee cup in my bag during a workshop and got lots of coffee cups made of plaster.

"I thought they can't be art - they're coffee cups. But then I filled one with hot coffee, set it up overnight and took a series of photos. First wee beads of coffee came through, then they puddled out and the cup went all brown. So now it is art because it's no longer a coffee cup."

"That's the opposite of what we were saying earlier about architecture, beauty and function," I say, pulling into a parking space on Hill Street.

"There's a lot of art like that, though," he says. "Take away the function from something and it becomes art. Like Yoko Ono did a nice piece with a nail and a glass hammer."

"She's not an artist," I say. "She's just the chick that broke up the Beatles."

"You're wrong," he says. "Her stuff's got a light touch I really like. Then there's Tom Friedman who did a piece that's just a blank sheet of paper he stared at for a thousand hours."

"That's not art," I say. "That's bollocks."

"No, I get that stuff," he says. "It's like an idea taken to an extreme. It's the essence of something. It's hard to explain but it makes sense to me."

We get out and I give him a hand to shove St Mungo's tree under his oxters. "I'm starting to see art everywhere I look," he says. 

"I see it in buildings and discarded objects. I see it in people's faces and down deserted alleys in the dark." 

"That must be good." I say.

"It is," he says, balancing himself so he doesn't goose people with his bendy tentacles, then heading down the hill. "I even see art when I look at you," he says over his shoulder.

"Leonardo's Mona Lisa?"

"Tracy Emin's unmade bed."

Saturday, 19 October 2013


My son is wrestling with the same questions as Grayson Perry in the Reith Lectures. The difference is he's not doing it in a dress, and I must admit I'm grateful for that.

There is a time and place for being a transvestite and one in the afternoon at Sweeney's cafĂ©, Maryhill Road is neither.

"I'm not sure what Art is," he tells me, as we study the menu. 

That was Art with a capital A, wasn't it?" I say.

"It was," he says. "Take this group project I'm working on. I'm building the props for it because I'm good at woodworking. It's great fun but it's got me wondering. Where does woodwork end and art begin?

"I'm also looking at fractals and making little machines that generate patterns. But how do I know that's art and not physics or engineering? You see what I'm saying?"

We pause to take delivery of a fried egg roll for me and a macaroni cheese and chips for him, which gives me time to dredge up Marcel Duchamp's "Art is whatever an artist says is art."

"But that doesn't get me very far," he replies. "I've been asking artists around the College. They all have a different story. One claims science looks for answers while art generates questions. Another says an artist spends his time trying to understand things.

"That was Dean Hughes. He's an art lecturer who's been bought by Saatchi, so he's a recognised artist. When you look at it, his process is sound, his methods are valid and there is an integrity to his approach."

He pokes his pasta with a puzzled fork. "But the stuff he's producing is ... kinda crap," he says.

"That must be confusing," I say.

"It is," he says. "Normally confusion is good. But I would like some straight answers to this. I want it nailed down in my head so I'm not just pissing about with stuff."

"You're not," I say. "You've been an artist since you were born. Remember the time you made a model spaceship out of two dog biscuits and a postcard from Paris? Or that ice sculpture of a polar bear that gradually morphed into Marilyn Monroe's face? You even built little Mongolian yurts from rusks when you were barely out of nappies."

"I don't remember any of that," he says. "But you're right - being at Art School is helping me validate a lot of the stuff I've always done. But I still don't know what makes it art." 

"I'll try another thought," I say. "Frank Lloyd Wright. 'Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.'"

"That's fine if you're an architect," he says. "But he's saying it's about beauty and function. Plenty of modern art has neither. Grayson Perry was talking about this. He said beauty is 'a constructed thing built on shifting layers'. 

"And another thing," he says, whacking his macaroni with his fork for emphasis, in much the same way as I'd hit the guiro. "A lot of exhibition people are elitist, arty and wanky. I don't like that."

"So you aren't enjoying the course?" I say.

"I'm loving it," he says. "I just have to get this straight in my head now, because I can see a danger in the future."

"What's that?" I say.

"I go to Art School, have a great time, get my degree and emerge into the real world in four years time as an artified, wankified, unemployed joiner."

Friday, 18 October 2013

Euphemistically speaking

"You met a guy in a pub and he put his cheese-grater in your hand and asked you to play with it?" my son says, as I'm telling him about my recent trip to Yorkshire for a science lecture. 

"That's some kind of gay euphemism, right?"

"Wrong," I tell him. "I've never been gay. You're the living proof, as is your brother. I was married to your mum for years. Centuries in subjective time."

"There you are then," he says. "Sounds like an experience that could turn a guy gay."

"You can't get turned gay," I say. "Though I did hear your mum hung out with butch babes after we split. Maybe I turned her."

"So what does 'play the cheese-grater' mean then?" he says. "I like colourful euphemisms, by the way. Chastise the lizard. Ice the Mexican melon. Punish the pelican."

"Me too," I say. "What do those mean?"

"No idea," he says. "I just made them up."

"So after this lecture, we're headed back to Ian's house," I say, returning to my story. "And we stop at a little pub, perched alone among windblown trees, high up in the Yorkshire dales. The sky is black except for a few faint stars in the south."

"I don't like the sound of this," my son says. "It's one of those haunted house stories where everyone dies at the end, isn't it? That's what 'play the cheese-grater' means? I hate those stories."

"No, it's not," I say. "Don't worry."

He eyes me suspiciously. "You used to tell me stories like that when I was young."

"Not me - I sang you jolly, happy songs, like Frosty the Snowman and Busy Doing Nothing," I say, breaking into the first verse of the latter: "I have to watch the river to see that it doesn't stop. Then stick around the rosebuds, so they'll know when to pop."

"Keep it down," he says. "Go on with your story then. But if it ends with 'When the lights come on again we see that everyone in the pub has played the cheese-grater', I'm walking."

"Trust me," I say. "So we push open the heavy door and the pub is almost gloomier inside than out. A smoky smell from somewhere wrinkles my nostrils. We pick our way towards the bar, past murmuring shapes at old wooden tables, order two pints of Black Sheep beer then find a seat not far from the stage."

"Everyone is alive still?" he says.

"Course they are," I say.

"Just checking. Then what?"

"The band appears - two grizzled guys on guitars, a tall chick on keyboard and a funky-looking fella carrying a tambourine and wearing a fedora. They kick off with House of the Rising Sun and they're good, so I'm drumming the table-top along with them. After a couple of Stones numbers the guy in the hat comes over and gives me his tambourine. 

"I've never held one before but it's not hard to hit the beat with. Then he hands me this cheese-grater thing as well."

"What's it look like?" he says.

"Rough steel cylinder you scrape with the bendy tines of a big fork," I say.

"You're talking about a metal guiro," he tells me. "It's a percussion instrument used in merengue music. The fork's called a scraper."

"Is that right?" I say. "Well I get the hang of it pretty quick. First I hit it on the beat and scrape the eighths, then I reverse that and throw in some syncopation. At the end of the song the guy takes his hat off, sticks it on my head, gives me a big smile and says something that sounds like, 'Ee lad tha's a grumly fettock fergler.'

"I tell him it's a braw, bricht moonlicht nicht, then shake his hand. Suddenly it goes dark and loud screams rend the night. When the lights come on again we see that everyone in the pub has played the cheese-grater."

My son shakes his head in disgust and stands up to leave. "I'm sorry," I say to his departing back. "I couldn't help myself. Sit down again please and we'll talk about art." 

"Why don't you just go chuff your scroggy wassocks?" he says, but he sits back down.

"Nice Yorkshire euphemism," I say. "Now what's your thoughts on the Reith Lectures being delivered this year by a hairy potter in a dress?"

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Chaos attractor

Amano Tatsuya
There was a time when friends and relatives used to welcome me into their homes, enjoy my company for days on end, and seem to be sad when I left. Those days are gone. Now even my sister makes me feel I've outstayed my welcome, half an hour after I've arrived.

I suspect the signs have been there for a while. But not being particularly perceptive I hadn't twigged that the true meaning of "Will you still be here on Tuesday?" is "Can you bugger off today?"

The suspicion that my charms are waning penetrates my carapace of confidence the day after I've filled my petrol car with diesel and Helen and I are starting to tackle the full veggie breakfast she has just cooked for me.

"So what chaos are you planning to bring into our lives this morning?" she asks, and I look up in surprise from a succulent-looking mushroom I'm about to skewer.

"I didn't plan yesterday," I say. "It just happened. Thanks for your help by the way."

"It happens ... mumble, mumble, mumble," she says, turning her back to reach for the dish of tomatoes and lowering her voice at the same time.

"I didn't catch that," I say, popping the monster into my mouth and getting that lovely 'shroom-flavoured juicy squirt as I bite.

"I don't want to hurt your feelings," she says.

"You can't hurt my feelings," I say. "I'm not a big girl."

"All right then," she says and hesitates. "Things like that happen around you all the time?"

"Well that is hurtful," I say and her jaw drops.

"I'm kidding," I say. "Things like what?"

"Like the time they thought you were a terrorist at the airport," she says. "You got body-searched and we missed our plane."

"How was that my fault?" I say.

"You were wearing a T-shirt that said 'I found Jesus in the Qur'an'."

"Well I did," I say. "I thought it was an interesting fact people should know about."

"Then there was the time you went missing when you were testing a nuclear submarine in Barrow, and they thought the Soviets had got you."

"How was that my fault?" I say.

"You went for a drive, didn't tell anybody and only got back the next day," she says. "Then there was that time, wearing a green and white top, you got into Ibrox through a small side door, and nearly got lynched by the security guards."

"How was that my fault?" I say. "Oh never mind. You've made your point. I wasn't always mature and sensible."

"That is not my point," she says. "My point is you're still not mature and sensible. Isn't there something called a chaos attractor. That's you."

"No there isn't," I say, putting my fork down and reaching for my mug of coffee. She is clearly unhappy and since Helen usually bottles up bad feelings about people, it seems serious that they're all coming out now. I'm going to have to be soothing, tactful and diplomatic.

"That's a common mistake among the scientifically illiterate," I tell her. "There is something called a strange attractor, a structure in phase space often associated with chaos, which is an inordinate sensitivity to initial conditions. 

"Then there's a song called Chaos Attractor by a Japanese metalcore band with an amazing madman drummer. But I am clearly none of those."

She is shaking her head now. "You also tell people stuff they don't want to know," she says. "And you have a seriously misplaced sense of humour."

"Some folk like it," I tell her. 

"Not many," she says. "Listen to me. You remember I asked if you would still be here on Tuesday?"

"Yes. I said I didn't know."

"Well I'm going to ask you again," she says. "And this time the answer is, 'No, I'm leaving after this delicious breakfast you just cooked for me."

"Go on then," I say, putting the coffee mug down on the table and studying her expectantly.

"Go on what?" she says.

"Go on ask me," I say.

She sighs. "Will you still be here on Tuesday, Douglas?"

I suck my teeth. "I don't know," I say.

"Ahhh!" she screams and bangs her head several times on the table.

Later that day I relate the whole incident to Susan, looking for a little sympathy and wondering if I should get medical help for Helen. "She seemed very overwrought when I left," I say.

"Trust me, she'll be much better now," Susan says. "Do you think she'll have you back?"

"I'm not sure," I say. "Maybe not for a long time."

"That's bad," she says, looking concerned. She knows how much Helen means to me. "What are you going to do now?"

"I thought I'd stay with you a few days," I say.

She turns away so that I don't see how delighted she is. Then she turns back again. 

"Will you still be here on Tuesday?" she says.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Ringo's Revenge

Photo by Shona Howat
When you write about real people you need to be really sensitive sometimes.

Mention individuals only when they do or say something extraordinary and you risk not only upsetting them but also violating Kant's categorical imperative, which is always a risk for a writer.

So when Chuck tells me he wants a chat, as he sits on the sofa with little Sally - who's contemplating the world she recently entered and, by the look on her face, judging it all right so far - I take him seriously.

"What seems to be the trouble, laddie?" I say.

"I want more," he says.

"More what?" I say.

"More lines. A bigger part. The last post I was in I only got one lousy line."

"But it was the most important line in the piece," I tell him. "In fact it was the single most important thing anyone's said in all the posts I've written so far. That's impressive."

He nods, clearly realising it's a good point, so I press my advantage. "You're like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now," I tell him. "Small part but enormous impact."

"That was a good film," he says.

"Let's hear you deliver one of his lines," I say.

"Which one?" he says.

"I dunno. How about: "We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write 'fuck' on their airplanes."

"Uh, uh," he says, wagging his finger at me. "Rule Number 1."

"Sorry," I say. "'No swearing in front of little Sally.' I forgot."

"So you're telling me I'm the Marlon Brando of your blog?" he says, the scepticism audible in his tone.

"Yes," I say.

"Nah, that's ridiculous." he says. "I'm not buying it. I still want more lines."

Sally breaks wind loudly, opens startled blue eyes, gives me a huge smile and promptly falls asleep again.

"Sorry Chuck," I say. "I've lost the thread. She is gorgeous, isn't she?"

"Everyone says she looks like me," he says.

"Don't you believe them," I say. "She's gorgeous."

"So what do you think then?" he says. "Can you beef up my part?"

I shake my head. "I don't see how. You're a major character in your own life, but I only see you every few weeks."

"I have interesting opinions though," he says.

"What about?" I say.

"Life, love," he says. "Music."

"You're a good singer; I'll give you that," I say. "But you don't have musical opinions I want aired on my blog."

"Why not?" he says.

"For one thing you refuse to grasp how good Ringo is and how much influence he's had on every rock group since. Which is strange since one of the most obvious is your favourite band Oasis. They even used his son Zak on drums for years. And they still sucked."

"You're off on one again," he says. "Oasis was a great band."

"I don't think so," I say. "And neither did their leader. 'Any Tom, Dick or Harry can be in Oasis,' Noel Gallagher said. 'Just so he's got the right haircut.'"*

"Yeah, well you shouldn't listen to Noel," he says.

"But I should listen to you?" I say.

"Of course," he says and goes quiet. So I take the opportunity to study little Sal again. She's blowing bubbles in her sleep now and looks like she might be teething. But she should be too young for that.

"I've got it," he says.

"What?" I say.

"I know how you can give me a bigger part in your blog and make it appeal to people who don't have zimmers, bus passes and hair growing out their ears."

"Go on then."

"Well you said I was a good singer. How about I record something and you put it on your blog? A bit of audio would spice it up, make it more interesting to the YouTube generation."

Sally seems to be shaking her head in her sleep and I can't say the idea appeals to me either. 

"How about I make you more interesting instead," I say. "I could turn you into a closet homosexual."

"Don't you dare," he says. "I'm a happily married man."

"What about wearing pink knickers and a bra at the weekend?" I say. "Plenty of married men do that. Doesn't make them less manly."

"No!" he says, getting up to go and reaching down for little Sally, who seems amused. "Don't write anything like that. I'll let you have a recording."

"You'll need to be quick," I say. "You got me thinking now. I could make you a criminal mastermind, who fools everyone with his just-a-regular-guy routine, but ..."

"No!" he is shouting now. "I work in the sheriff court. Listen I'm off. I'll be back soon with that recording. Don't do anything."

"I just hope you can sing faster than I can write," I say.

He turns around and his mouth opens.

"Uh, uh," I say, wagging my finger at him. "Rule Number 1."

* Peter Green. Man of the World. BBC4 Documentary, 2012 (Noel Gallagher speaking at the 6 minute mark).

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

What parents can learn about technology from teachers

Welcome to the October 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Technology
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their families' policies on screen time.

Media hype around kids and technology often focuses on the dangers. Positive aspects don't get nearly as much publicity. But computers are now used in schools around the world to motivate youngsters, help them learn and give everyone access to opportunities once available only to the few.

One way for parents to get a handle on all this activity is to understand the different ways technology is used educationally. These can be grouped into four broad headings:
  • Research
  • Collaboration
  • Presentations/blogs
  • Games

Research. This is easy to understand but harder to do well. When you ask the internet a question all it often returns is a hundred people with the same question getting dumb answers: "I don't know but have you tried reading a book/asking an expert/phoning a friend?"

So-called humor abounds online. Using my smartphone I recently searched the Internet, when my car broke down, for the location of an elusive towing point at the back of my sister's small auto. The top response, in both Google and Yahoo, was, "What would you tow? A Barbie toy trailer?"

The other problem with children using the Internet for research is unsavoury websites. Schools use filters to block these and parents can set up their own filters on a family computer. Google's safe search can be password protected. But we can't constantly monitor our kids' Internet access on their mobile phones. Talking to them about the dangers and earning each other's trust is the long-term answer. 

Learn more:

Collaboration. A good classroom is no longer a quiet classroom. Teachers now know that learning can be most effective when learners discuss, question, analyse and solve problems together. A wide variety of technology tools support this modern style of learning and teaching

Most children enjoy working together, particularly if each member of a team has a particular role that plays to their strengths in a shared project. Kids with practical skills get a chance to shine not often afforded by a conventional classroom. Everyone acquires the vital adult skills of teamworking at an early age. 

But one aspect of cooperative learning that has taken time to appreciate is that a minority of children badly want to work alone. Kids on the autistic spectrum, in particular, can get stressed if forced to work collaboratively, even in the supportive atmosphere this type of learning tries to foster. If children feel strongly about working alone they should not be forced to work collaboratively.

Presentations/blogs. A key lesson educational technology has taught us is that children are intensely motivated by the prospect of a real audience for their work. Teachers new to technology constantly comment on the performance of pupils not normally expected to be high achievers.

But it is not only a matter of motivation. Creating presentations and writing blogs also promotes learning. “I use presentation software called Keynote," a 15-year-old recently told me when I visited her school.

"It’s like writing paragraphs, but you also put pictures in to show the meaning and make it colorful. I use it even when I’m just studying, because it helps me learn. The colors and pictures stick in my brain. It helps you learn much faster.”

Learn more:

Games. Maria Montessori was perhaps the first person to say that "Play Is the work of the child". But computer games nowadays are often blamed for promoting violence. There is a more positive side that gets far less publicity.

Motivated by the ideas of US teacher and writer Mark Prensky, research studies around the world have been exploring the educational value of computer games. One of the most practical of these initiatives is based in Scotland and led by teacher and lecturer Derek Robertson. "The pupils that we work with, test or interview talk enthusiastically about learning through games," he says.

"Reluctant writers talk about being inspired to write because of the worlds of the games and the images that they find themselves immersed in. Children identified as having lesser ability in math are observed to be more confident and able in mental math. Teachers talk about children buying in to learning through games because it is something from their world." 

Learn more:

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (list will be updated throughout the day on October 8):
  • Has Technology Taken Away Childhood? — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama worries that technology is intruding on the basic premise of childhood - active play in all forms! Join her as she takes a brief look at how play has changed as technology becomes more integrated into the daily lives of our children.
  • Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Technology — Jenn at Adventures Down Under describes her children's love of screen time and how her family implements their philosophy and policies on technology.
  • Kids Chores for Tech PrivilegesCrunchy Con Mommy shares how tying chore completion to iPad privileges worked in her house to limit screen time and inspire voluntary room cleaning!
  • Screens — Without the benefit of her own experience, sustainablemum explains her family's use of technology in their home.
  • Screen Time - The Battle of Ideologies — Laura from Laura's Blog explains why she is a mom who prioritizes outdoor natural play for her kids but also lets them have ample screen time.
  • The Day My iPhone Died — Revolution Momma at Raising a Revolution questions the role technology plays in her life when she is devastated after losing her phone's picture collection from her daughter's first year.
  • Finding our Technological Balance — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she finds balance between wanting her daughter to enjoy all the amazing technology available to her, without it overwhelming the natural parenting she's striving for.
  • Raising kids who love TV — Lauren at Hobo Mama sometimes fears what children who love screentime will grow up to be … until she realizes they'll be just like her.
  • No Limits on Screen Time? Is that Natural? — Susan at Together Walking shares misconceptions and benefits of having no limits on technology and screen time in their home.
  • Screen Time — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares what is currently working (and what hasn't) regarding screen time in her household.
  • Positive Use of Technology with Kids — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her family's experiences with early technology, shares helpful resources from around the blogosphere, and speculates on what she'd do as a parent with young children today.
  • why i will never quit you, TV — How Emma of Your Fonder Heart came to terms with the fact that screen time is happening, and what balance looks like between real and virtual life for both her toddler AND herself.
  • Technology Speaks — Janet at Our Little Acorn finds many uses for technology - including giving her child a voice.
  • 5 Ways to Extend Children's Screen Time into Creative Learning Opportunities — Looking for a way to balance screen time with other fun learning experiences? Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares 5 fun ways to take your child's love of favorite shows or video games and turn them into creative educational activities.
  • What parents can learn about technology from teachers — Douglas Blane at Friendly Encounters discusses how technology in schools enhances children's learning, and where to find out more.
  • 5 Tips for a Peaceful Home — Megan of the Boho Mama and author at Natural Parents Network shares her favorite 5 tips for creating a peaceful home environment.
  • Technology and Natural Learning — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling writes about the importance of technology as a tool for natural, self-directed learning.
  • Babies and TechnologyJana Falls shares how her family has coped, changed their use of, relied on, and stopped using various forms of technology since their little man arrived on the scene
  • Kids and Technology — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis talks about the benefits of using technology with her preschooler, and includes a few of their favorite resources.
  • Using Technology to Your Advantage: Helping Children Find Balance — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how technology can be used or abused and gives a few tips to help children learn balance.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Four star fuel

"You have a frugal way of feeding yourself," I tell my son, as I survey the trays of sprouting seeds laid out on his kitchen surfaces.

"Peasant food," he says. "Cheap and tasty."

"Nourishing too, I'm guessing."

"Certainly," he says. "Fast-fry the seed-sprouts, chuck an egg on top, also fried, and eat it with a bannock. Sets you up for the day."

"What's a bannock?" I say.

"One of these," he says, sliding a tray out of the oven, bulging with rough-looking, honey-coloured, domed discs, like biscuits on steroids.

"How do you make them?" I ask, picking one up and biting. It's dry and crumbly in texture, savoury and satisfying to taste.

"Oats, water, salt, bit of baking soda," he says. "Grab a few handfuls and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes. Use them like bread or rolls. Oats make you feel better than wheat."

"In what way?"

"Lighter and less bloated," he says. "They're easier to digest, I think. So what you up to these days?"

"Did something outstandingly stupid yesterday," I tell him. "It looks like the last traces of intelligence are fleeing fast, leaving just a few sparks randomly flickering between wasted neurons in the dying embers of my ageing brain."

"At least you can still talk bollocks," he says.

"One of the skills dementia only enhances," I say.

"Bleak future if it's true though," he says.

"I could become a banker," I say.

"Not if there's still some sparks," he says. "You'd be way too smart. What was it you did?"

"Filled my car with diesel instead of petrol."

"That is dumb," he says. "But diesel pumps are bigger so they can't fit a petrol tank."

"They are," I say. "I noticed it wasn't going in well. So I shoved it as far as it would go, then checked underneath that it wasn't running out. Managed to get a full tank in."

He shakes his head. "You didn't realise you'd the wrong fuel line?"

"That's the worst part," I say. "I could tell there was something wrong, but it just didn't click. I haven't done anything that stupid since I put the washing in the fridge and the beer in the tumble-dryer."

"Warm beer and cool pants?" he says. "That could work. I'm guessing your engine didn't, with a tankful of diesel?"

"Oh it did," I say. "Went for half a mile, right into the busiest part of town. Then it made a horrible noise and packed in, causing an obstruction and making me very unpopular."

"I can see why," he says. 

"Cost me £200 in the end, to get towed to a mechanic, diagnosed - since I still didn't know what I'd done - the tank drained, the system flushed and refilled, and the engine restarted. Plus a day's work lost."

"What a wally," he says.

"What a wally," I say, clearing the crumbs of bannock from my plate and getting up to leave. "I got to go earn some money now to pay for yesterday's fiasco."

"Have some more bannocks," he says, lifting four from the oven, wrapping them in greased paper and handing them to me. "Get one of those inside you every morning for a few days and you'll feel a lot better."

"You think so?" I say.

"I'm certain," he says. "Eating normal bread has the same effect as forcing diesel into a petrol engine."

"You feel stupid?" I say.

"It causes an obstruction and horrible noises," he says. "And makes you unpopular."

Friday, 4 October 2013

Relatives and relativity

"See that makes me feel stupid," I say, as I sip an iced gin and tonic, with two slices of lime, out on the patio in Susan's garden, and lose the thread of yet another story about someone's sister's husband's brother-in-law, who's been caught cheating on his wife with his young secretary, the bastard.

"It would take me three hours with a pencil and paper to work out how all those relatives are connected," I tell her. "My brain hurts just listening to it."

"It's not complicated," Susan says. "You know Gillian, the psychiatric nurse who's married to David and has a house in Livingston?"

"Yes," I say.

"Well her sister Paula has a husband Tony, who has a half-sister called Bernadette, who is married to Phil, who is shagging his secretary in the local Travelodge every Friday evening after work."

"I don't know any of those people," I say, feeling the familiar panic rise in my throat, as I desperately try to follow the long chain of convoluted connections and wonder why I have to.

"Everyone I know can figure out who's related to whom in that kind of story better than I can," I say. "My brain can't do relatives. It's defective."

"No more than most guys'," Susan says, patting me patronisingly. "Male brains get confused by relatives. Doesn't make you inferior. You, for instance, are great at changing tyres, opening jam-jars and tightening things with your forty-piece socket set."

"I am," I say, slightly reassured and trying to sip slowly. But my tall glass is almost empty already. "This is a lovely G and T," I say.

"Hendrick's gin and Fever-Tree tonic," she says. 

"Slips down easier than a greased weasel in a rabbit-hole. What makes you feel stupid then?"

She hesitates, squirming slightly. "I'd have to say science. I know it's you're specialist subject and you love it. But it doesn't interest me and I don't understand it. So it makes me feel kinda stupid."

"I could teach you to like it," I say.

"I doubt it," she says. "Could I teach you to know who your mother's sister's nephew is? Or watch a film with more than four characters, without pausing it every five minutes and going, "Who the hell is she?"

"Probably not," I say.

"Well then," she says.

"But I would like to talk to you about science," I say.

"Go on then," she says. "But make it interesting. Tell me about the people."

I take a tiny sip and wonder where to start. There's Richard Feynman, of course, who chased women, played the bongos and invented quantum electrodynamics.

Then there's Rosalind Franklin, who died young and was cheated out of the greatest scientific discovery of modern times by two young punks called Crick and Watson.
But it's no contest really. "Listen to this," I say. "All powers of mind, all force of will may lie in dust when we are dead, but love is ours, and shall be still, when earth and seas are fled."

"That's lovely," she says. "What's it got to do with science?"

"The man who wrote the poem to his wife that ends with that verse was James Clerk Maxwell," I tell her. "Scotland's greatest scientist. He also died young. But not before creating the science that Einstein used to figure out the Theory of Relativity."

"Relativity?" she says. "How long did it take them?"

"From Maxwell to Einstein, forty years," I tell her.

"They should have asked their wives," she says. "They'd have figured it out in four seconds."