Sunday, 17 August 2014

debating independence

Helensburgh from Greenock, Scotland
We've got just over a month to go until the referendum on Scottish Independence. Everyone aged 16 and over in Scotland can vote, and my Facebook feed has been abuzz about it for AGES.

Remember the idea that politics and religion weren't polite subjects for conversation? Well apparently it's OK to talk about the referendum.

I'm happy that people are talking politics, but the way it's being done is often pretty nasty, and divisive.

I'm going to say right now that I'm intending on voting to stay in the Union, so you know what my biases are, but I do agree with the people who complain that the Better Together Campaign is a Tory campaign, run from London.

That said, the Yes (or Aye) campaign for Scottish Independence is being run by the Scottish National Party. Of course it is.  They promised it when they were elected.

My corner of Scotland
The Better Together campaign is basically a campaign to stay as we are.  There are carrots dangled of devo-max (an option removed from the referendum, whereby Scotland stays within the Union but gets additional powers devolved to the Scottish Government), but other than that, all they really have to do is promote feelings of Britishness (research shows that Scots tend to feel Scottish first and British second, but they do feel British), and undermine the campaign for independence.

By contrast, the Yes campaign, for Scottish independence, is promoting feelings of Scottishness, and talking about all the ways Scotland would be better off without being part of the union.  All these are, have to be theoretical, because Scotland is still a part of the union.  

The Yes campaign is very strong on Social Media.  Lots of people have great big blue blobs with YES written on them, and my friends are sharing the marketing material.  Like this one, outlining some reasons why Scotland would be better off independent.

Well, let's have a look at those points shall we?

1) Scotland is part of Britain and therefore has a few representatives in Westminster - where the British parliament is based.  Most of Scottish policy is formulated by the Scottish Government, based in Edinburgh, in Scotland's central belt.  No English areas are represented in the Scottish Government.
Scotland also sends representatives to the European Government, and some policies from that also affect Scotland.  

Westminster Houses of Parliament from the London Eye
2) This is talking about the Tory led government currently in power in Westminster.  There are a few points to make here: a) This is a minority government - most of the people of Britain did not vote for them. b) The Tory led government is the Westminster Government for Britain (see 1), and can change in forthcoming general elections.  c) The Scottish Government is currently SNP led.  There are Tory members, like Annabel Goldie, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and one of the representatives for my area of Scotland. d) Did Alex Salmond claim that the Scottish people didn't elect Westminster MPs when he was one, which he was until the SNP won the election in Scotland?

3) The Treasury in London does currently cover the whole of the UK.  Scotland does rather well out of the Barnett formula at the moment.  Aberdeen has made a lot of money from oil, and it is understandable that Scotland would want to make more (and also from fracking), but couldn't Scotland aspire to moving away from fossil fuels?

4) Well, it's close to the Clyde, I'll give you that, and the world would be a better place without nuclear weapons.  But 'facility' suggests it's more than a few submarines, and personally I think it would be a shame to lose all the people who work there when they have to relocate to Portsmouth or somewhere similar.

My poor little girl has recently been testing how
awesome the Scottish NHS is.  Thank you to
the brilliant staff of Crosshouse Hospital, and to
Stuart and Steve.
5) The NHS in Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government, and health policy is decided by the Scottish Government.  If England privatises the English NHS it will be a terrible tragedy for England.  Similarly Scottish education policy and funding comes from the Scottish Government, and the Scottish education system is very different to the English system.  I'm not sure what the evidence is that English schools are being privatised, but if they're talking about private finance partnerships, then that already happens in Scotland, and provides improved facilities for students.

6) Yes! There are a lot of Scottish people in the United Kingdom armed forces.  And yes, the armed forces are directed by Westminster.  I hope they mainly serve to help make people safe, but sometimes mistakes (and misdirection) happen.  This is a big issue, worth worrying about, but I'd rather our armed troops were involved in 'foreign' wars, than Scottish ones!

7 & 8) There was a GLOBAL financial crisis.  The Royal Bank of SCOTLAND had to be bailed out.  The banking system does seem to be corrupt (still), but Scottish bankers have their fingers right inside that pie.

9) Yes! Benefits are decided UK wide, and the people of Scotland seem to be more inclined to supporting the poor and needy than the English Government (which seems to be considering reinstating workhouses).  We need to wrestle control of benefits from the English government, because bringing the poor down brings society down, and is also just plain rude.

But a word of warning, be careful who you share your views with.  I've seen some fairly odd statements cropping up on Facebook, here are some examples:

  • Apparently, if we vote against independence we will never be able to sing Flower of Scotland again with pride.  Having had to sing it THREE TIMES at a school assembly last year, that sounds good to me.
  • Some parents are angry that schools have registered pupils to vote, without the parents consent (erm, why? saves them a job doesn't it?).
  • Apparently, if you vote no, you can't claim to be Scottish.  Personally I'm not bothered.  My husband is always reminding me that as I was born in England I'm not Scottish (although his daughter can be, lol), but anyway, this is just rubbish.

I'm not sure I should ask, but what are your thoughts on the debate thus far?  And how can we all stay friends for another month of it!?

Other posts you might like:

Building a batmobile with a
broken arm?  No problem.

Update on the little girl's arm: Her cast has dried and she has a picture of Twilight Sparkle on it, her arm is a lot less sore, and the swelling seems to have gone down a lot too.  She's still got a very sore thumb, so I'm going to talk to the specialist about that tomorrow.  Not sure if it's just because of where the tendon connects on the arm or if there's another small break which hasn't yet been detected.  The main thing though is that my fiercely independent little lady is still fiercely independent, and is back to jumping off the sofa (ffs).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

going back to school

Visiting Lindisfarne castle in Northumberland
I love spending time with my kids. They're great people, and it's lovely to have a whole summer holidays worth of lazy mornings, day trips, and picnics. Oh and plenty of castles too. We've had lots of time to find out about all the fun things there are to do around here (not that we've done them all yet), and just got back from a family holiday to Northumberland.

But add to that the bickering, the whining, the refusal to get dressed or leave the house (even though they enjoy themselves once they're out), and the cry of the overtired child, not to mention having no time at all to get anything done (which might be a slight exaggeration), and you can see why I'm so very glad that they're going back to school.

I'm lucky though. The children have joined a great school here in Largs, where they've made good friends, and the teachers have been supportive of them. We've only heard good things about their teachers this year as well, so it's easy to look forward to school. Sadly, the buildings and playground are past their best, and the food since the council closed the kitchen is diabolical.

I am delighted, therefore, that the council are considering making a super school. I really hope that it goes ahead and that all the Largs schools go into it. I understand that there are some queries being raised about St Mary's, but all the schools are Christian schools (much as I wish faith was kept totally out of schools), and our children will all benefit from increased opportunities to play together.

We used to live in Moffat, which has a fabulous all through school, from nursery to 18. There is one big building which is divided into two wings – the big side is the secondary school, the small side is the primary school, and there's an extra bit on the side of that, which is the nursery.

Having everyone together in Moffat means that although the age groups rarely meet, sports facilities, some outdoor facilities, and a dedicated canteen can be shared, so PE never has to be cancelled for assembly practice and the food is great. Moffat offers childcare qualifications for older kids who can do their practice in the nursery. Also the older kids run the younger kids discos so they are a lot cooler than they might otherwise be!

Moffat Academy got a new building a few years ago, which is sleek, modern, and adaptable. It's also got a covered, sheltered (ish) waiting area for parents, which would be a welcome change to standing outside Brisbane in the 3pm rain. Moffat also built in lots of bike racks to its new building, and this assumption that kids would cycle or scoot to school bore real fruit.

Of course, there'll be some things to work out. The idea at the moment seems to be that all the schools would be contained in one area with some shared facilities. This might make sense in the short term, but I'd hope that in the long term the whole school could be called Largs Academy. As for mottoes, I am particularly partial to Brisbane Primary's: AIM HIGH.

The big kids are back to school on Monday.  The little girl will have to have a couple of weeks off with her broken arm.  Pants.

Other posts you might like:

breaking her little arm!

I don't know how it happened.

I mean, I do know how it happened, but I cannot believe that it did actually happen.

Yesterday I was happy that the in-laws were back from their holidays, the kids were going to go to them for the afternoon, and I was going to get my hair done.  I was excited about having some time to myself.

I'd got all the stuff together, and we were good to go.  I gave the little girl her bag of toys, and she went outside, put her bag down, and watched her brother running about.  I went to lock up the house, and then the screaming started.

I went to see what was wrong, and found the little girl on the floor, screaming.  Really screaming.  I picked her up and could just about see that her face didn't look right, I tried to clear the hair out of her face, and was trying to find out what had happened from the older children, while trying to get the little one to breathe and stop screaming.  

I got through to her face and it looked ok.  Except that she was very upset. I tried to look at her hands, to see if she'd grazed them, and she screamed...

And I noticed that her arm was not the right shape.

How can a roughtie toughtie little girl break her arm falling over?  Not even running or anything?

Anyway, the boy had his head screwed on and he ran to get a neighbour who's a nurse.  Meanwhile I called an ambulance, because even though part of me was thinking that I should just bundle her in the car and take her to A&E, I had no idea where the right place to take her was.  We're not close to anywhere, and HER ARM WAS NOT THE RIGHT SHAPE.

The ambulance and the nurse arrived quickly, and the paramedic and the nurse discussed the way forward and I was incredibly grateful that these men who knew what they were doing had taken over.  My son was despatched to fetch the scales from upstairs and we weighed the little girl.  The health professionals gave her paracetamol and ibuprofen which I had at home, but she was still screaming.  We agreed we'd take her in the ambulance so she could take gas and air on the way to the hospital.  

Turns out that she's a big fan of gas and air.  The screaming stopped.  Stuart the paramedic kept on talking to her, and she was so good and so brave.  The other kids were brilliant too.  They carried all the stuff, and helped me make phone calls to the in laws to fetch the kids from the hospital, and to K, at work, although we didn't manage to get through to him.

They took us to Crosshouse hospital, which is further than our local A&E, but Stuart told us that they could deal with paediatric orthopaedics there, and if we had gone to our local A&E we would have been transferred, so I'm glad I called the ambulance.

At Crosshouse we got taken straight to paediatric A&E which had a lovely, friendly, welcoming atmosphere.  We met a doctor who introduced himself as 'Lucas', and told the little girl he was a 'bone doctor'.  They X rayed her arm and saw that she'd broken both her radial and ulna bones, and one of them was displaced.  Lucas explained to her that they'd put her arm in a special plaster, but that she'd need to come back in the morning for an operation.

My baby!

She was so good the whole time we were at the hospital, and to prove it she came out bedecked in stickers.  I told her that I'd take her home, but she reminded me she was supposed to be sleeping over at her Grandparent's house.  

The little girl with her stookie, sleeping over at her
Grandparent's house.
She's a determined little sucker.

We came to an arrangement.  I would stay over too.  She was happy, and I was so glad to have my in law's help.

She slept all night.  I didn't.  My baby was going to have an operation under general anaesthetic, and people can tell me it will be fine all they like, it isn't fine.  At 4.30am I was online, trying to find out about other people's children breaking limbs, which is when I came across this great blog post from Peanut Blossom (I believe it's an American biscuit).  It made me feel like it was all going to be OK, eventually.

So I thought I'd share the little girl's story too, to hopefully provide someone else with inspiration when they unfortunately need it.

Waiting for theatre
This morning we were up at the hospital bright and early, in the lovely paediatric ward, where the nurses made the little girl feel braver, and everyone was lovely.  

The little girl got changed into a gown, and got her name tag, and a smiley face on her shoulder. 

We didn't have too long to wait until she went in to theatre to have her arm straightened.  They were not going to use pins, just pull it straight, which sounds utterly disgusting to me.  I got to go with her for her anaesthetic, which was such a horrible thing to witness, but the staff were supportive and firm, and so very professional, and I felt confident about them.

I sat and read my book while I waited for her to come back.  They told me she'd been fine in recovery, but seeing me sent her into floods of tears (she really doesn't like to cry in front of strangers).  She had had paracetamol and diclofenac, but was in a lot of pain and couldn't keep still with it.

They only look this angelic when they're not
I helped her to calm down, and the doctor decided to give her some special morphine for children.  Another family on the ward lent her some DVDs to watch, and she was soon zonked out, staring at that.

We were out of hospital by half four.  Her arm is a bit sore still, but she's cheered right up.

We'll have appointments at the hospital every couple of weeks to see how she's getting on.  She's hoping that she'll get to change casts and get a purple glittery one.  In the meantime she wants me to draw Twilight Sparkle on her stookie!

I'll keep you informed.

Monday, 11 August 2014

getting your body back after a baby

Every body is different.
Me and my little girl.  Pic from my sister,
Helen (a different Helen)

Every body is built slightly differently to start off with, and then there are layers of life laid over it.  If you're a big lass like me you can take that quite literally!

When you go into having a baby it's quite apparent that this is quite a major thing to do with your body.  

Trying to get pregnant, or falling pregnant can make you think about how you're treating yourself.  I've a friend who had bulimia, but stopped when she became pregnant.  She just couldn't see why she was doing it any more.  I gave up smoking the moment I discovered I was pregnant with my first child, knowing that what I was doing was affecting someone else made it so much easier.

But it's not all good news.  Pregnancy can have some interesting affects on your body.  Some pregnancies involve nausea, to a greater or lesser extent, which can wipe people out, and actually cause weight loss.  Some cause insomnia, which can really wear you down.  Some pregnancies go virtually unnoticed - even by people whom we might expect to know better.  People seem to get bigger faster in subsequent pregnancies.  It's as if the body says 'you're doing this again?  Fine!  I give up.'  And then there is all the fun of your joints becoming looser.

After you've had a baby, even though we know really that we don't need to look like we've never had a baby, everything in your life has changed, and to top it all, you're body is not what it was before.  It can be hard to cope with.  

All my babies were big, but my third was very big, and I was very big when I was pregnant with her.  Add to that the oedema I suffered at the end, which blew up my ankles, my fingers, and my tummy (because I needed a bigger tummy!).  I had to have a section, and after it, for a very long time, my tummy looked a mess.  

Late one night when I had caught sight of my body in a mirror, and was so tired that I just wept about it, I got a message from my friend Helen, asking how I was doing.  

I told the truth.

I cried, and I told her in detail all about the saggy skin and the painful scar, and the bits with nerve damage, and how tired I was and how I would never ever be sexy again.

And she didn't tell me everything would be fine, and that I should be happy about my baby.  She told me how sad she felt for me, and that she was sure things would improve but that surgery was bound to help if nothing else did.  She also suggested I go to see the doctor to maybe get some counselling, and when I told her I was fine she gently reminded me of the time I'd told her to see the doctor.  I was right, and so was she.

I'm still not happy with my body, but there's a lot of that about.  It has got better, things do, over time, and you can get surgery if you need to.  I still think it'll get better, when I've got more time, which is soon, right?  But the thing is, I think the biggest improvement can come from a mental shift, rather than a physical one.

Me and my big girl. Picture from my brother, Eoian
Now I have beautiful children. I can see that they are beautiful, and that they are perfect.  They have different shaped bodies, and that doesn't matter. Whether chubby or skinny, they are beautiful and they are perfect.

And if I were to look at my daughter one day when she is forty, and she is fat and saggy and tired, would she be less perfect?

With arms she hides away, but which are perfect for cuddles.  With a tummy she hates, but which has carried beautiful children.  With saggy breasts which have fed them?  She would still be beautiful, just different.  I hope I would tell her she's beautiful, tell her she's a good mum, and then do the laundry and fetch her a cuppa.  But then again, I might be tired and fraught and bitch at her, because I'm a human.  I hope I'm nice.  But meanwhile, I need to be nicer to me.

Could you do with being nicer to yourself too?

Other posts you might like:

P.S. I doesn't seem right to not be doing the book challenge any more.  I'm staying away from it for a while, but I can't get it out of my head!  So I've been listing things to do when I come back to it.  Not yet though.  Not yet.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

driving the kids around

We don't live in the city, and we're too far from the school to walk. The bus service was withdrawn before we moved here, so we're always in and out of the car.

Because we've got three children, and all were, at one point, in car seats, we had to get a great big car to fit the seats in properly. We don't need such a big car now the oldest is in a normal seat, but I'm hardly going to switch cars because of that.

I know some people would, but to be honest with you, I find cars incredibly boring, and just want one that works and that can be relied on.  We switched to this one when the last one became unreliable, and we'll switch again when we have to.  Hopefully the next one won't be so big because a great big car is a pain when you're passing on narrow roads, or parking in the teensy weensy parking spaces which seem to be the thing at the moment.

I'm not a huge fan of driving, and I don't think I'm brilliant at it. I'm overly cautious at times, and I'm not a great fan of tricky parking spaces (although I am better at them in a smaller car). But I am aware that I'm usually driving with children, and I do try to set a good example.  I avoid speeding, and I avoid swearing, and I stress how important it is to be polite.  However, I think it's alright to call people numpties, right?  And it must surely be alright to say "no, don't bother saying thank you, I enjoyed sitting here while you blocked the road and didn't let me through even though it was my right of way," right?

The Scottish Government are running an advert about driving with kids in the car at the moment.  In case you haven't seen it it's here:

To tell the truth, me being a sassanach, I can't really make out what they're all saying, but you get the gist. There's also a website, which highlights some of the things people often do, which are teaching their children bad driving habits.  I took the quiz, and came out pretty well, although I know I could do better.  Couldn't we all?

In case you're wondering how to improve your no doubt awesome driving, here's some good advice from Scottish children:

There's a competition too, but I'm not going to tell you about it, because then we might not win!

Do you manage to set a good example to the passengers in your car?

Other posts you might like:

Friday, 8 August 2014

reading urban fantasy: a guest post by Steve Cotterill

Hi, my name’s Steve Cotterill: I’m a writer, blogger, gamer and student (amongst other things). I maintain a blog over at Shores of Night and Cara suggested we engage in a spot of guest blogging.

Out of the list of 50 topics she has, I chose to revisit the issue of genre and books, because so much of what I do is based around that kind of thing.

Whilst Cara talked about Fantasy with a pretty broad brush, I’m taking a narrower view and 
addressing a subset of the genre: in the form of Urban Fantasy. 

As most of the human race now dwells in an urban environment, the city is fast becoming our natural habitat: one with its own beauty and dangers. The way we live is constantly altering and as life gets more complex, and arguably ever safer, our desire for adventure and danger grows. It seems natural to populate our world with fantasy ideas, to explore it not only in the real world but also the world of myth and story; to bring mythology and folklore to bear in an urban setting.

As a genre Urban Fantasy takes two forms, often it’s used to refer to modern day fantasy in today’s world, but it can also go the other way, featuring urban stories in other worlds. 

Both varieties are frequently based on the idea that the fantastic may be tucked around the corner; you might turn the wrong way and find adventure, or peril; or anything else. The person who serves your coffee might be something else, something more than human. Once you get backstage, as it were, you might find legends hiding behind the world you know. 

In many stories that means that vampires, werewolves and witches (oh my) dwell in the cities, engaged in their own politics, and in many cases preying on the weak and delicious. That boy didn’t get into a knife fight, he was torn apart by a loup garou, that missing girl became a vampire’s concubine... until he killed her. This idea has become something of a cliché over time and many series do suffer from what feel like overcrowded worlds. Often the supernatural seems to remain hidden despite the odds.

Whilst the stories set in other worlds are often more blatant in how they have been designed, at their heart, they still address the same ideas as their earthbound cousins. Whether it’s New Crozubon in Perdido Street Station, Mary Gentle’s City in Rats and Gargoyles or even, reaching back to the Sword and Sorcery tradition, Lankhmar in Fritz Leiber’s Ffahrd and the Grey Mouser stories, these are living breathing metropolises with their own traditions and characters. Without them the stories would be less, somehow, to the extent that the cities are characters, as the protagonists that drive the books forward.

One of the things I like about the genre is that there’s a crossover of influences. Stories in urban settings can be as much crime or horror stories as they are fantasy, even romance gets a look in through novelists like Charlaine Harris or Laurell K Hamilton; they have a relevance to human life that epic fantasy just lacks a lot of the time.

Much as I love traditional fantasy, I’ve seen few attempts to link it to ideas like feminism (Juliet McKenna being an honourable exception) or to big ideas. Urban Fantasy, under the pens of Emma Newman, China Mieville, Mary Gentle and Neil Gaiman tackles these ideas with aplomb, exploring philosophical spaces as well as urban ones. It’s also more interesting, less tied to the shadow of writers because the genre’s composite nature makes it easier to mould and shape into something new.

So, given that I’ve banged my drum quite thoroughly, what would I recommend? I’ve selected six books that mainly focus on the city aspect.
Buy this for your kindle here

Rats and Gargoyles: Mary Gentle

One of the first urban fantasy novels I read, Rats is a heady and strange creature which features alchemy, humanoid rats, and the problem of having your gods living next door. Gentle draws in historical ideas, meshing them with fantasy ones to create a compelling world and a strong story that holds the reader’s interest from start to finish. It's deep and complex, which only makes it more satisfying to read.

Find this to buy on Amazon here
Between Two Thorns: Emma Newman

Set in the UK, in a ‘present day, present time’ sort of way, this novel bridges worlds, drawing in Faerie and a peculiar area known as the ‘Nether’, where a group of squabbling families who have served the Faerie lords for centuries dwell. Taking over old buildings they live in a fashion lost to the rest of us, as lords and ladies of estates and as people who live anachronistically; their manners
and customs are more akin to the ones in Downton Abbey than the 21.

Cathy, is the odd person out in all this. She kicks against the established order and at the start of the book has run away to hide in the human world where she can read science fiction and work towards her dream of being a human rights lawyer. At a time when British society is looking back with rose tinted spectacles to a time when there was more certainty and order, Newman provides us with a clear message that going back will only be detrimental. In addition she is brave, her faeries are not romantic, but seething beds of passion and control with the morals of alley cats.

Find this on Amazon here
Greenmantle: Charles de Lint

A Canadian hitman on the run from his old boss. A deep dark forest. A mystery under the branches and an ancient god. These are the beginning points of Green Mantle, written by Charles de Lint, one of the sub genre's defining voices. 

The novel grows from the ingredients above to provide a
satisfying tale of the clash of ancient and modern, loyalty and loss. Reminiscent of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood novels Green Mantle taps into that part of us that wonders what happened to the old pieces of the world that was lost to our civilisation.

Buy it here, and there is more, so
much more by the wonderful Neil
Gaiman to be bought on Amazon
and elsewhere.  As he told Amanda
Palmer recently - people pay him
for this.
NeverWhere: Neil Gaiman

What lies under the skin of a city? That's the question Gaiman poses here, spinning something wonderful out of the idea that the tube stations are more than just places, but a strange mix of people and fief; that London is divided up into courts and factions that the normal person never sees. 

Richard Mayhew, hapless accountant, is drawn into this world by a foolhardy act of generosity, opening a world unlike the one around him, where barter is the norm, favours are taken seriously and people can talk to rats. Add in an angel in Islington, an Earl's Court on a tube train and seven deadly sisters and you get the picture that we aren't in Kansas anymore....

Written with a particular slant on homelessness, Gaiman wanted to avoid the idea that it was in anyway glamorous; Neverwhere brings the secrets of London to life in a way that serves the city not unlike the route taken in Tom Pollock's City's Son. Rather than impose into the the city he uses it, making particular reference to places like Knights Bridge, Down Street and so on.

Spreading across worlds and bringing in so much more than just fantasy, these books are clever, full of life and, perhaps most importantly, relevant to the way we live now.

reading the books

Now that I've finished the first draft of the book I'll have a chance to catch up on my to read list, 
which is a good job, because there's plenty on it. 

 More on this over at Shores of Night, here.