Saturday, 25 September 2010

Kiss your librarian and say goodbye.

Cambridgeshire: seat of learning, county of libraries. If you attend the university. Otherwise, sod you. Cambridgeshire: home of the library on its' last legs. If you love your local library, visit it now, it may be gone by morning.

Before I begin my rant, let me say I am partisan. I was a university, then a secondary school librarian before I became a teacher. I have seen first hand what a good library can do. Go back 15 years and see me in an Inner London school, surrounded by kids unpacking books they had chosen themselves for the shelves from a chaotic trip to Borders (now also gone). Hear the excitement as they shout "I chose this one! Miss, can I have it out first?" Every lunchtime there is a semi-chaotic rush to the cosy corner, where year 7 boys gape at the Guiness Book of Record man with the long fingernails, and I and my assistant rush round answering late homework queries and showing kids that Miss can find it quicker than Google. There is a thriving book club, a comic appreciation society and a team of willing library helpers. Boys read, not just girls. I've taught them about plagarism, they've had sessions of library learning. I run GCSE and AS/A2 revision and coursework sessions. Childrens authors and a beat poet come to visit. The library is not just for swots, it is for everyone, but it seems, sometimes, especially for those bookish, quiet kids who are shy and nervous, as I once was. When I eventually leave to train to be a teacher, my helpers hand me a video they have made, showing kids explaining what the library has meant to them. I cry.

Now fastforward to 2010. Cambridgeshire has no School Library Service. Schools can opt out of having a library.Use the public library then? Only if it's open. Hours are reduced. Speak to a librarian to help you find that book? Nope, they've all been laid off, instead it's a self service issue terminal, which confuses the older users who always used to get served by Cath, who is now redundant. You don't even get a stamp in your book, just a ticket. It's hard for some people to read, so the books goes oeverdue. The fines have gone up. Finding a book is even harder in the first place, as with no librarians, the shelving is done by volunteers. It's all over the place, Dewey is not their strong point and there isn't anyone to train them. The mobile service is non-existant, there is a charge for large print books. Volunteers are relied on to deliver books to the elderly. This is what the Cambridgeshire Council are doing. This is what "Big Society" means. It means my kids won't have a Rhyme Time with Joan, or a Reading scheme over the Summer. It means they won't get a cheery "Hello Stella" from Cath who recognises them. Seth and Stella won't get to discuss books with a librarian who cares. I won't get the books she puts aside for me because she knows I will like them. The library will be a building, with books in. I will cry. Then I will root out my heaviest encyclopaedia and march to Downing Street, where I will use is heavily against the side of Cleggs head for being such a sodding little twerp and abandoning ANY liberal tendencies he once had, before finishing off Cameron and stamping on him, with the last remaining library stamp, "withdrawn".

For further info on the horrors of cuts round the country on library services, see this blog by childrens' author and library activist, Alan Gibbons , and here at the Bookseller. You can protest by answering the questionnaire in local libraries about the proposed cuts, and write to your local, unfortunately Conservative, MP Steve Barclay. There is also a group of people protesting on "Cambridgeshire against the cuts" here.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Did no broadband make a difference?

I am back online after a time without a link to the broadband world. Did it make a difference to my everyday life?Ideally, i'd like to be able to say that either I was bereft and wept at the emptiness without an on-line world, or, that I didn't notice at all and my internal life was profoundly improved by not being able to access YouTube. In fact, it was really rather nothingy. I didn't really miss it after a few days and some positive things came out of it.

Here's what I did miss. I missed the Met Office, which I refer to every morning, and went out foolishly sans raincover and mac and got very, very wet. I missed a couple of websites, mainly poultry pages as we (finally!) got our hens (right, BooBoo, Lou-Lou, and Maddy). I missed writing my blog. I missed having my fingers tapping of an evening. I missed mailing relatives who live abroad. I missed managing my thyroid group,and they missed me. The kids didn't miss it at all since I am an ogre about it, limiting them to 30 mins PC and 1.5 hours tv a day (evil laugh). They didn't really notice we didn't have it, since I try to not use it during the day, only when they are having their daily Tom and Jerry fix. I missed Facebook though.

But, although Facebook is great for an isolated mum who rarely sees her friends, actually, it's far nicer, I discovered, to ring them up. I know it's awkward when the kids are tantrumming, and want feeding, but really, I have enjoyed actually talking to friends, rather than mailing or facebooking this past 10 days. And I solved the poultry queries by talking to a friend who keeps chooks (thanks Nancy). Of an evening, instead of wandering the information highway aimlessly, I watched movies with the husband and read. I finally finished piecing son's quilt top (by hand, GAH!, get that machine!). I talked to the chickens, and on occaision, my children. I discovered that the chickens eat everything the kids do not. Instead of browsing info on the web about my charming early menopause, I went to the library and asked them to order me some books (and inadvertantly got a lot of info, some of it unwelcome, from the clutch of menopausal librarians. I'd never really noticed her beard before, but by God i'm aware now, and keep looking at my chin). And mostly, I discovered, that with a little planning, I could live without the broadband at home. I'd simply have to plan my blogs and queries, and go to the library even more than I do now. (And there's the rub: I will post later on this week about the positively gruesome plans Cambridgeshire has for its' library services...)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A terrible choice for a mother, a straightforward one for the Government.

This news article made me cry. Mother Rachel Edwards, 6 months pregnant, with her son, aged sixteen, and daughter aged 2, had to make the hideous decision which of her children to help this August, as she plunged into a water filled dyke in Boston, Lincs. She chose to help her daughter, and her son drowned. I cannot even begin to contemplate her pain and anger, at herself, the world, everything. I wish her a healthy and happy new son or daughter. What I can contemplate is how very unique, and dangerous the Fen roads are.

Imagine, not knowing the area. You think it's all straight roads and a 50mph speed limit. Must be ok to drive at that, right? Wrong. Maybe you DO know the area, grew up round here. Ok to drive at 50mph for you. Maybe even faster. Right? Wrong. The drove roads are straight, for miles, but with 90 degree turns that you can't see. The camber is shot to pieces because of heavy farm and haulage vehicles. There are new potholes every day during the harvest season, due to the combines. The water in the dykes and drains is deep, and they flow fast. They're freezing. It's raining along the forty-foot, it's slippy. You skid, you're in. You're in, you need to get out. If you think you can do this easily, you're wrong. The death toll along one road this year tells its' own story.

The Fens have the highest teen death rate of any area on the road. This August, my own village/ town lost 3 boys in one weekend, two of them from the same family. Has it stopped the lads screeching their revved up cars down the drove roads? No, it has not. What would? Well, forgive me if you think that 50mph is a safe limit. It is not. Drove roads kill. The limit needs to be 40mph, less alongside drains, and there need to be cameras regularly along the roads. Fines need to be made, lives will be saved. This is not popular with motorists, and certainly not with the Conservatives,or indeed, the last government, who have enabled councils to remove cameras to save money. Not lives, though. If I were a 17 year old petrol head, and I lost a weeks wages to speeding, i'd think again. But the laws are not made on sense, car pressure groups and manufacturers have more sway than a death rate.

And why not a regional driving test? Why not make the lads (and ladies) learn how to get out of a vehicle under water, and provide them with window hammers? Make them learn how to cope with unsteady camber, right angles, left angles, sudden stops, the optical illusions of straightness the Fens produces. Make them learn how to overtake farm vehicles safely, and drive in pitch dark conditions alongside water. Make them, in short, pass a harder test. They might moan, but as a parent, I would back the idea. I'd welcome it. Before I climb into a car again after a period of not driving, I will voluntarily retake a test,locally. I'm sick of seeing roadside shrines where I live. I never want to see another family have to make the choice Mrs Edwards had to.
You can read more about the specific problems of safety on Fenland roads on the Fenland Road Safety Campaign site on facebook, here.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

I'm the only one they bite.

I have been bitten a lot lately, in many different ways.

Firstly, the darn mosquitos. I live in the Fens. the Fens are full of water. Dank, standing water. Mosquitos love this. It is their very Heaven. It is no surprise to discover that hereabouts the airbourne devils were the cause of a high death rate from Malaria, then often referred to as "ague" or "shivering ague", in the 17th and 18th centuries, the rather well known Oliver Cromwell being a malarial sufferer and local Ely boy. They love the ditches and culverts, and they love me. This is a relatively recent occurance. Until 3 years ago, mosquitos eschewed me in favour of the then-fiancee. I could lay naked and laughing as they went for him, not me. Then, my thyroid packed up post baby. And then post baby 2, with the thyroid still packed up, I started the menopause, way, way early (IMO) at 38. What has this to do with mosquitos bites? Well, the little blighters love the scent of a high Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and they alos love the way cholesterol sits in the skin (a lovely side effect of autoimmune thyroid disease). and then, they really, really love the smell of estrogen. For me, as with many early menopause ladies, the perimenopause is NOT a slow decline of estrogen as the GP's would have you believe. It is often a massive "last blast" of estrogen, leaving you with weeks of sky high levels and rapid cycling cycles. So, I am REALLY tasty. Plus, I am blood group O, the most popular mozzie snack. Research shows they land more frequently on O's, and stay longer. Oh, and if you have a drink....but i'm saying nothing there.

So, dealing with the mozzie bites today, I spent a good twenty minutes in the bathroom applying ungents. Naturally, this is out of order as far as DD and DS are concerned. They have strict rules. If I am out of the room for longer than 5 minutes, they will turn into Fight Club. Or, courtesy of DD, 2, Bite Club. Naughty DD. We have a biter in the house. Cue much consoling of DS. "She BIT me!"(wail, wail). No skin broken. Sooth DS. Search out culprit. Culprit is hiding under her bed because she knew she done bad. Automatically blames DS. "He hit my head which is my BRAIN". As I was out of the room, I cannot deal with it as well as I would like. but I know, like a dog, she has tasted the scent of victory in that bite, and she knows it works. I'll be watching her.

And the final bite? Me, biting the bullet. Potty traing dd. She was 2 in June. She's so articulate, but lazy, and I want to do it now, while i've got an outside chance of still drying pants on the line. I tried earlier, but she wasn't ready. Now, she's taking her nappy off and wanting the "princess pants". I was blessed with ds, dry day and night after only 2 accidents, at 26 months. She, however, is a different case. I've bitten, there's no going back. 3 wees on the carpet, 1 on the chair, 3 on the loo. It starts here. Grit teeth, prep washing machine.

Thyroid, thyroid, thyroid

I'm going to rant. Post son, I was finally diagnosed with Hashimotos Autoimmune thyroid disease. This affects 1 in 50 women in the UK. I have probably had it since my 20's. Throughout my 20's, I would go through periods of being very hyperactive, lose weight, and be frantic, then plummet downhill and put on lots of weight. GP's fobbed me off. "You don't need your thyroid tested" they said, despite a 4 generation history of maternal thyroid disease. Fast forward to post son. I was 5 stone heavier, balding, with skin so dry it bled, and barely able to form a sentence, having palpitations if I walked anywhere. My milk was low, son wasn't feeding well and I was desperate. "PND" the GP said. "Take some anti-depressants". After a terrible night with me up having palpitations and son screaming, I went to A and E and demanded help.My TSh was 450 and my T4 nil. A healthy person has TSH of between 0.5 - 5 and T4 of about 18-24. If I could have gotten out of bed, i'd have sued someone.
Addenbrookes took me on under an endocrinologist. I hated the first one, saw another one. She told me i'd had this since my twenties and if i'd been tested for thyroid antibodies then, none of this would ever had happened. I cried. Then got cross. She told me about the problems it can cause with fertility if we wanted another child (it leads to a much higher incidence of miscarriage and it is harder to concieve. Many women have 10+ MC before falling). Unbeknowst to me, I was already pregnant. Routine testing on my hormones showed pregnancy hormones in there. I was 6 months gone! Panic. High TSH can cause developmental problems with babies, so cue a lot of scans. Luckily for me, daughter is perfect (apart from a wonky ear), and she is truly a miracle baby. Following her birth, I got my angry pants on. Since then, my thyroid has never been under control. And it makes me angry that there is so much wrong with our health system that this diesease goes undetected and is badly treated.

The first problem is the 99% of the people with thyroid disease are women. It is too, too easy to say "PND" or "mental" to them. My sister got told to "go get some exercise". 1 in 50 women get this, it runs down familial lines. In the USA, and Australia, thyroid tests are done routinely post-partum, as the condition commonly asserts itself then. The Oz research has shown that 25% of PND cases were actually thyroid related. A simple blood test would do wonders. So why don't we do it here? Cost. A thyroid patient is on thyroxine for life, and do not pay for it. In the USA, to get diagnosed your TSH has to be above 3. Here, it is above 10. If I had a TSH of 10 i'd be bedridden, but apparently it's "normal". It's "normal" because the chaps (note that) at the British Thryoid Association have decided that for us. And what they say is the law. My old GP was adamant that at TSH 0.02 I was hyperactive, despite my clearly not being so. I took myself up the hospital with my angry pants on and luckily for me, my endo agreed. "It's all individual" she said. But not according to the GP and BTA, whose rulings on this blight the lives of thousands of women every year.

Treat the PATIENT not the number. My great gran's mum was pre-thyroxine. She ate a pig thyroid every so often to keep herself pepped up. She self medicated. Why can't we? Because of the BTA. And why only one medication, and that a generic? If I have a disease of another type, I can choose between many types of medicine. Not here. In the USA, and Europe, I can take Natural dessicated pig thyroid, which not only replaces T4, but T1, 2, and 3. I could take a T4/T3 combination pill, or T3 only. Here, I am stuck with T4 only. And in a generic (for which read cheap) format, which varies widely in potentcy.
Where is the patient choice there? And why don't we get a choice? Money. And attitude. Imagine a disease that affects 1 in 50 men. How much money would be poured in? How well publicised would it be? How many drug companies would be clamouring to help? But not for us. No, this a womens disease.
I'm ranting because i'm cross. I'm due a return visit to the endo this month to sort me out again. I'm going prepared. I've got lists of what I eat (bugger all), so they can see it's thyroid, not fat. I've got a diary of symptoms. I'm ready to hear, again, that this is "as well as they can get me". Well? I'm knackered! I can't think! I want a libido! I want energy again! I want my joint pain to go and hair to grow! It's not "well enough", it sucks! I've got my angry pants on. And it isn't just me. Click here to see the support board I run for thyroid ladies on Netmums, and see how busy it is and how distraught the women are. How they're not listened to. Told they're "not ill enough" for medication yet. Fobbed off with anti-depressants. And check out your family history too, particularly if you are post-partum or menopausal, as these are trigger points. Thyroid Uk have a fab symptom list. They do great work as patient advocates for thyroid sufferers. I bet they wouldn't need to exist if this was a man's disease.

Tightness of clothes and reading.

I have promised that 2010 will be the year of no clothes buying. I will mend, I will make do, I will only buy secondhand from the Sally Army for under 2 quid. Thus far I have done well, but preparing for Autumn and Winter, shuffling through my boxes of clothes, a horrible thought dawned on me. Last Winter, I had just stopped breastfeeding daughter. I was still in the feeding tops (for which read horrid baggy things) that i'd worn with son. I was still breastfeeding her the previous Winter, and him the Winter before that. In short, all my clothes are stretched, baggy, and past it, not unlike myself. My pre-baby clothes are weeny, tiny things that I laugh at, sadly. I was a size 6 pre baby. Then 3 years of breastfeeding and thyroid problems put paid to that and I am now a 10. Which doesn't sound much, but I am only 5 foot tall. I'm fine with it, I will never be a 6 again, and I will never wear those black drainpipes again. So what to do?

Clothes swapsie! My friend Alison has doen the opposite to me, she's shrunk. She has bigger clothes, I have smaller. Cue parcels flying between Wales and the Fens, and two new wardrobes for the cost of postage, all without the hassle of shopping, and nice and thrifty too. New skirts, shirts, joy! Not knowing what you are getting in a parcel is a joy. Plus a nice chat with a friend and that nice feeling you get when you're waiting for a parcel. And the follow up call. All good, and certainly more humanising than normal shopping. This, along with my extra thrifty allowance of a huge £2.50 per week at the sally army shop, has bagged me two pairs of trousers (one Monsoon!), a M& S jumper, and a selection of 50p jumpers for the kids over the past few weeks. But my sticking point is this: shoes. I have , for the Winter, one pair of wellies and a pair of trainers. The amount of wet the Fens gets, this is NO GOOD unless I want to be wearing wellies from Spetember to April. I have excluded the kids from the new shoes ban, as they have wee little delicate feet, not shocking parmesan heeled chunks of size 3 like me. Size 3? Yes, 3. I can buy KIDS SHOES. Or boots. I'm foraging the charity shops, none. Because kids wear through shoes, none left to gift, and nobody else has such freaky wee feet. So it's going to have to be new. I'm enviously glancing at the kids snow boots i've ordered from Next. My kids will have toasty feet this Winter, mine will be in my Tesco kids wellies, toes encased in ice. It's not fair! I'M pushing THEM! I want new shoes! WAAAAAGH!
I think I may have found my sticking point there. I don't mind dressing in second hand. I don't mind wearing my wonky sewing. But I just want new, new, shoes. Pre kids, I wore 4 inch heels to teach all day. Marched around in them. Owned 20 plus pairs (my feet were then size 2. Get that! They were crushed and flattened into 3, one foot 3.5, by 2 pregnancies). Now I own plentiful pretty shoes I can't wear. I am an Ugly Sister. I want a pretty shoe. I want a boot that fits.
And herein lies the rub. Having a size 3 boot, I must be pretty weeny all over, right? Wrong. These calves have done some walking and biking. They have levered a double buggy over footpaths. They have biked the length of Portugal in 5 weeks. They have bourne down. They are not the calves of a pre-pubescent girl. So they don't fit any boots, except wellies. Feeling freakish, I googled wide calf fitting boots, already having abandoned my "no new" promise with regard to boots. 150 quid, at least, for the privilige of having weeny feet and slightly non pre-pubescent calves. This is the ONLY site found. Oh, no, hang on, this one has boots for only 80 odd quid (sob) Sisters of the non wee calf unite! Demand reasonably fitting boots! No longer will you have to rummage, asking for lace ups only! No longer will you have to remortgage your house for boots! No? What? An industry conspiracy??? Wellies it is, then. Nobody notices what I wear anyway, and now I have an excuse to be a weird mum with chicken poo on her boot on the playgroup run. The other, nicer, boots, were just too spenny.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

When is a playing field not a playing field?

When it is a "brownfield site". Over 5,000 school playing fields have been sold to developers in the last 10 years, and now my towns' primary schools is to be added to that list. (See picture, right, courtesy of Cambs Times. See article here) 4 out of 10 playing fields vanished between 1992-2005. Under Labour, the loss was slowed and more community fields manintained, but this looks set to stop and reverse under the new government, with its' more "open" attitude to development, especially in my area, the East of England. There are apparently stringent regulations that require the school to maintain, after sale, "adequate" sports facilities, but what is adequate? Councils have to show they have looked into other possibilities, but who checks?

My own school will lose a large swathe of land, which includes a nature trail and pond which my son routinely uses with his pre-school. They pond dipped there this Summer. The play area of the school will be severly curtailed, and the school will now be oeverlooked by 67 houses, and have to contend with vastly increased traffic and all the noise and thunder of the construction. In my own case, the council have opposed the planning application. But because of the opposistion, the yay or nay moved to the Secretary of State, a jolly Tory Lady name of Caroline Spelman, (right) worth 1.8 million, who probably has no idea, given her rarified background, of the importance of these spaces to her rural and poorer citizens. No, she's too busy passing off her Nanny's wages as expenses and getting away with it. Needs £40,000 to clean her home, apparently. Must be quite big. Grrr! Apparently, it's fine to sell off the land, and the school will be just dandy without it. And neither will we need section 106 money (designed to compensate for loss, by giving money to replace the need, build like for like or help out with education),because apparently, the extra homes won't impact on our already oversubscribed schools. Tell that to parents who drive their kids to neighbouring schools 15 miles off, Department for Education.

Now, at the same time as telling us all that our children are fat and unhealthy, where is the sense in restricting the area they can play in? We can't all be hoiked away to fancy gyms in our 4X4's. There are no footpaths, save a few, round here. There are no cycle lanes. The roads are given over to tractors. There is no gym in town, no leisure centre, 2 crappy parks taken over by teenagers. No community centre with a play area, no all-weather pitch, nothing. Nada. Now not even a primary school field. What will the Secretary of State for Health think, when the kids are fatter? What will the chappie in charge of crime think, when, not having had the opportunity to learn a sport and run in their early years, the kids are hanging about in a gang being bored?

The Fens are the poorest, least funded area in the East of England. We have the highest teen pregnancy rates, high youth unemployment, and low achievment all round. And yet the parents I meet daily want the best for their kids, they want them to do well. Who is it, do you suppose, that doesn't? Could it possibly be the (whisper it) Government? Who want to hit a target of Eastern England Development very quickly? With sod all thought ot infrastructure? And what is this I see? 1,000 new homes on the flood plain at the end of my garden. And they'll be giving us (not promised, not in a contract, just offered to shut us up and never delivered), a swimming pool. How about a bigger Secondary? No? A pool you say? Well, we won't need it. The run off from the school playing field and the 1,000 new homes will turn the whole of town into one. Then we won't need to worry. Silly me.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

foraging with kids

It is one of the great pleasures of Summer and Autumn to pack up the buggy with drinks and snacks, and plenty of tupperware boxes, and go off on a food hunt. You get exercise, the kids are occupied with spying out food, and you get to teach them a little about how food works: where it comes from, what sustainability is, and what will kill you if you eat it. Always useful to know.

(Right is the common mallow. You've got one in your garden, I bet).

Now we are in the grip of Fenland, I've discovered that many of the species I used to get hold of quite easily (like Sweet Woodruff) are not Fen friendly, they don't like the ground or water. However, some species, like sloes, seem more abundant. And, I am told, if you go further east, there is samphire to be had. When foraging with the kids however, I stick to easy to spot species, and ones that cannot be easily confused with other things. There are a few rules to foraging with kids. Before you even read the rules, you should buy a decent foraging guide. I have this one, "The Forager handbook" but a new River Cottage one is due out now too. It's on my xmas list.

Rules: or how to forage with kids with no-one dying.
1: Explain the difference between poisonous plants, plants that are safe once cooked, but NOT raw, and safe plants. Make them repeat it back to you before you go.
2:Dress them in thick trousers, long sleeves, and sturdy shoes. This helps with stinging nettles and biting things, and stops those annoying goosegogs of the bedstraw family from getting in their socks.
3: Take savlon, antihistamine if needed, and the usual suncream. Make sure you know what a dock leaf looks like!
4: Choose only plants that are abundant at the time of year. No kid wants to walk looking for something for ages and not find anything. Go for plentiful, they are kept occupied, and you know you'll come home with something.
5: Go for obvious: stick to the easy to find, and easily safe species. AVOID THE CARROT FAMILY ALTOGETHER and the NIGHTSHADE, when foraging with kids. These family includes a large amount of poisonous plants that look remarkably like the non poisonous ones. Also, stick to berries, nuts and leaves, leave the roots and seeds for later. they're too fiddly, and again, too easy to mistake. With leaves, berries and fruit/ nuts, you are firmly in season, when the plant is at its' most identifiable. My top kid forage hits are: the blackberry, hazel and beech nuts, rosehips, mallow, fat hen, chickweed, elderflower/berry, borage, yarrow, nettles, everlasting pea tops and leaves, crabapples, damsons, ramsons, and of course, dandelions. There's a lot of them, they're all safe as houses, and they're easy to get to. Most of them can be spotted along any rural roadside or footpath.
6: I'm going to be controversial here and say that your kids won't die if they eat some blackberries without washing them, worst thing is they'll munch a bit of protein in there too. There has been some concern about heavy metals in berries from heavily used roadsides, so avoid picking along motorways, but otherwise I think you're fine! But a general rule of thumb is wash it first and wait if you're worried. Don't pick things where dogs walk and wee, or cattle poo.
7. No fungi except puffballs.
8: Don't pick all of everything. Leave at least 2/3 of every plant and plenty of berries. Once Spetember is here, an old wives tale reminds people to lay off the blackberries, as the Devil enters them. A nice way of saying leave some for the birds, I think.

What do you do with the stuff you've got? Eat it! Mallow is a surprisingly tasty plant and was once used widely. It is still grown commercially in turkey,where it is a staple. In Greece it makes up part of the "horta" of wild greens. Here; it's a weed. It is somewhat akin to okra when cooked for very long, but swiftly cooked in an omelette or added to salad it's yummy. (Left is blackthorn, with sloes just starting to emerge in August. They need to be left till Oct/Nov to really ripen. )