Sunday, 31 January 2010

Treasure hunts in the wood

For seven years now, we have been lucky enough to have a weekend long camping 'party' in our friend's twenty two acre wood near Bury St Edmunds. The event is simply wonderful - see post 14th Jan! We always started preparing and planning for the party a long while in advance and my favourite of all the preparations each year has always been the treasure hunt.

With only a wood to play with (!) we have produced a variety of clues that each lead to a letter - about eight or nine each year. A map guided people to the site of each clue. The letters people collected could then be un-jumbled to make a word. The word then had to be whispered to me before a prize was issued. Simple as that.

Only it never was simple, because we usually put in hours of preparation! I cannot remember all the clues, but here are some of my favourites:

The letter you want is in a wallet. We made a road called ‘Wallet Way’ cut into the grass and scattered lots of wallets from charity shops along the ‘road’. In one pocket of one wallet was a laminated letter.
The next clue is behind a door. We made a little door in the side of a tree and a space behind it that housed a papier mache letter.
Look through the telescope – the start letter of what you see is the letter you want. We firmly positioned a bit of drain pipe at one edge of the wood. When you looked through it you saw a church.
On a shelf you will find a scent – its start letter is the clue. We positioned a small bottle of lavender oil on a high shelf on a tree.
The letter you want will buzz. We used the inside from the game of Operation and some simple circuitry with a wire under the leaves to make one of the letters (in a circle of them) buzz when touched.
Follow the arrows and walk around this circle – always looking straight ahead. Use the ‘viewfinder’. When the view you see straight ahead of you matches that in the frame of the viewfinder – the letter you want will be to your left. We made a marked circular path of about 20 m in diameter and placed different letters inside it at various points. We took a photo of the view you would see when you looked ahead from one point in the circle and fixed it into a frame. People had to match the frame and the view and at the point where both were the same, the letter was to their left.
You can see the next letter from the path in the next 100 metres. We made and varnished a huge papier mache letter and hung it high in the trees.
Follow the fairies to the next letter. We garrotted (!) about 40 little fairies to trees. People followed them along a route into the wood that eventually took them to a letter (positioned very close to the point where they had entered the wood from the path)

The rope lands on the letter you want. We positioned a pole with a rope attached in the centre of many more poles with different letters on. The rope stretched exactly to only one of the lettered poles.
The letter that is found in the name of all the objects in this cabinet is the one you want. We had eight keys to eight lockers hanging in the trees. They had to find the right key for the right locker and insider were hidden things like fish, shoe, hedgehog, (h)!
The clue is the typo in this sign. We made a sign and put a typo in it!!
The letter is hiding, camouflaged in this marked area. We hid a camouflaged letter in a marked area
Answer the questions to get your next letter. We put questions with one true and one false answer. String would take you from both answers to the next questions (so you had to get the question right) to eventually end up at the correct letter.
The clue is in a gnome’s sock. We made a washing line with lots of socks on it and a gnome house and hid the letter in one sock.
Lift the flap. We positioned a two wooden squares that were hinged, high up in a tree. You had to use a stick to lift the unfixed 'flap' to reveal the letter.
At the point where these three ropes meet, you will find the letter under your foot. We tied three ropes to trees and painted letters onto wood discs and scattered them on the ground.
In the meadow, find someone who is wearing a purple star. Stick out your tongue and hop and then ask (in a whisper) what letter that person has for you.• The clue is under a trap door in this area – we disguised a box with a lift top that was buried in the ground.
Only by matching the half of the riddle on the tree with the other half on the back of the treasure hunt sheet, will you get the complete riddle. Solve the riddle to get the letter you need. The clue was,'I am the beginning of eternity' only seeable when you put the sheet and the tree together
There were many more but these were the ones that came readily to mind.

The word answers I remember were, CHOCOLATE, BUTTERFLY. Often Chris would want to choose something really bizarre like TUPPAWARE!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

A little culture shock

Wow what a busy week, culminating in the training session on difference, diversity and inclusion for social workers (mentioned in last Sunday's post) that turned out to be in the upstairs room of the pub closest to my house. (I didn't receive directions for the training venue until an hour before it was to occur - all very 'treasure hunt'.)

One thing I have noticed about social workers: they do casual very well. They made me look over-dressed and that really is a rarity. I liked this because I personally struggle to look 'polished' every work day - physically and mentally. Yesterday, I was a social misfit from the opposite direction.

To set the scene a bit - my background is in education and therefore when I am talking to teachers, I have a shared understanding that is so 'there' I am not really even aware of it. I have worked with youth workers, school nurses, people from youth offending teams, people from the voluntary sector and various other agencies but not often in a capacity where I am training them. So there was a bit of a 'culture' shock and it was a new and therefore learning experience for me. The learning was not so much about what I was delivering (I am pretty sure there are good messages in there and it evaluated very well) but about how the training is 'received' from a different field of professionals and therefore a slightly different perspective.

We spoke about stereotyping, challenged personal prejudices, considered different reactions to different minorities, briefly looked at law, explored different types of 'anti-diversity' (from blatant discrimination to more subtle forms), looked at media attitudes, considered their organisation's current approach towards addressing diversity and inclusion issues and explored how hard it is to imagine being an 'outsider' when you are part of the majority 'institution' (One person gave a great example about going to Appleby Horse Fair - the largest Traveller horse fair in the UK and how she felt, strongly like an outsider - like she had never experienced before in her life) etc etc. Lots of good stuff...

However, the message I had been asked specifically to deliver, (if you remember/read Sunday's post) was that sexism towards men was just as unacceptable as sexism towards women. The chap who had made the complaint about his colleagues' behaviour was not present. I am still not sure whether that was a good thing (save his embarrassement) or a bad thing (he could see it was being addressed). I managed to deliver this message at a point in the training where I believe I had 'won them over' and there was some nodding in the room and several what-I-call, penny dropping expressions. One person even enhanced my message by reiterating it in terms of the difference in attitude they felt towards the man and woman in a physically abusive relationship. They always assume the woman needs protecting more than the man when clearly, in some cases, this had not turned out to be true. Teachers don't tend to say things like that.

Then we spoke about language. Courteous and respectful language towards any 'group' is important and language can unfortunately be a very powerful tool in denigrating and disrespecting others. However, my message is also that language is dynamic (words can develop negative connotations with time) and if a 'group' needs a label at all (in most cases they don't) ask them which 'label' they would be happy to be described with. Simple advice - for teachers. To which a social worker said (and completely earnestly),
'Yes I know, I never know what to write on the records - is it paedoph*le or person that s*xually abuses children?'

I have definitely never heard a teacher say that. It's a different world.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Prince Anir

Now I apologise if any of you have followed the link at the edge of my blog to my bit that was on Mike Fleetham's website because the following can be found there and you would have already seen it. However, I am hedging my bets that nobody has and so I bring it here, because I love it as an activity (even if I do say so myself *blush*).....

Are you sitting comfortably?

Prince Anir
Once upon a time their lived a prince who had everything anyone could possibly want; that is anything that could be bought with money. He lived in a big castle, drove a fast car, had a tonne of toys, televisions and computers and he slept in a beautifully designed bedroom with matching duvet cover, carpet and curtains. He also had servants that did all the boring, messy and nasty jobs for him.

However, despite all these things, Anir was not a happy person. He was also not a very kind person. He often threw his things across the room in a fit of rage, shouted at the servants and insisted that he only do exactly what he wanted to do at all times. He also claimed that he was always bored. Nothing and nobody interested him.

One day, Anir was lying on his bed pulling the legs off ladybirds, when a strange noise startled him. It appeared to be coming from outside, so he rushed across to the window. Just as he reached the edge of his designer curtains, a bright flash of white and silver light filled the room. As Anir stood with his mouth wide open, seven elves appeared in front of him – one for each colour of the rainbow.

‘Hello Anir, ‘Do-Good-and-Right-Rainbow-Elves’ at your service. We’ve come to sort you out young man,’ said the orange elf with a look of determination on its face. Anir stood with his mouth still wide open.

‘We can each give you a gift – just one each, but you have to decide what you want. We would suggest that you put some thought into it as some of these gifts will last you for life,’ explained the green elf with a kindly smile on its face.

Anir looked puzzled, but for the first time in his life, he did as he was told. He sat down to decide on the seven gifts that he wanted. Can you help him to make a good decision?

Which seven things do you think Anir should choose from the following things?:
• To be the best looking person in the world
• An adventurous life
• To become famous
• To be really clever
• A flying carpet
• To be helpful
• To be generous
• To be brave
• To be easily pleased
• To have lots of friends
• To have a friend that fits in your pocket
• To be determined to get things done
• To be the richest person in the world
• To be able to forgive people easily
• To be a good listener
• To be interested in things
• To be confident
• To go on a great holiday
• To be calm
• To be really fit and sporty
• To be patient
• To be able to make yourself invisible
• Good health
• To have people who love you
• To treat people with respect
• To have a good imagination
• To never be lazy
• To have a good sense of humour
• To be friendly
• To be honest
• To be tidy
• To always see the good in things
• To be sensible
• To be a bit different from other people
• To be gentle
• To be easy going
• To be able to empathise

My choices would be:
* good health (when people choose this one - it usualy indicates that they are over 25!)
* a flying carpet
* to be generous (to others, you are what you give)
* to be interested in things
* to have a good sense of humour
* an adventurous life (although my idea of adventure does not necessarily involve white water rafting)
* to have people who love you

When I use this as a (quick and fun) training activity, some people's choices are things a person already has and values and other choices are things they aspire to have. It's also surprising how much this activity makes people expose about themselves! Some people choose very 'giving' choices (e.g. to be a good listener, to be helpful), others choose things with an adventure bias, others with a relationship or social bias....etc.. Also, very few people complete it on behalf of Prince Anir - they usually forget about him - and of course it becomes a personal values exercise.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

House fire number 2

Despite my two and a half house fires and my little forest fire, the fact I gained not even the tiniest bit of pleasure in any of them proves that I am not actually a pyromaniac. O.K. that has been established.

My second house fire, like my first, started after a night filled up by drinking capability-altering-liquid. Now before you suggest that there is a pattern forming, I was entirely sober during my forest fire. I was 12 after all.

I had spent a lovely evening with several dear friends. Food, red wine and much hilarity. Upon my return I didn't feel like going to sleep straightaway so I put on some music and lit a candle - so that I could lose myself in ponderous ponderings. I often find alcohol can make things seem more profound and candlelight seems to enhance this delusion further. The candle I lit stood in a very wobbly candle holder that I had bought from QD stores for 40p. One could just about make it stand upright by fiddling around with it for a while - so it wasn't completely useless.

Eventually, I went to bed. I had absolutely no recollection of any bedtime procedures being attended to. That meant I took to my bed without cleaning my teeth, getting out of day clothes, getting into night-wear, toileting, turning out the light or putting out any unattended flames.

I was actually lucky to have survived this fire (one of my nine lives definitely). A noise woke me I think. I was still under the influence but not so much as to not realise that my room didn't usually have a crackling sound coming from the corner, a nasty burning plastic smokey smell or a greeny-yellow fog. What I describe next, happened in about two minutes, two and a half at most.

I shuffled over to the fire and saw that several of my CD cases were alight. I was pretty blase at this point (I was after all an old hand at house fires) and casually opened my window and started to throw the burning CDs out of it. I looked out of the window to see there were now flames in the back yard and my not-thinking-overly-logically concern turned to the idea that the flames might burn my lodger's bike tyres (I had thrown the CDs somewhat carelessly). I rushed downstairs to the back door but could not find a key to unlock it. At this point in my life, I nearly always wore my house key tied to some string round my neck - even to my day job (yes, it does give some insight into how I was back then) but for some reason it wasn't there. I do remember stroking my front repeatedly in disbelief that my key wasn't there. The key-round-my-neck was probably the most reliable thing in my life throughout my twenties - but this night, of all nights - it let me down.

I ran back upstairs to see the plastic fire was still spitting. I decided I would smother it. I had a choice of tool: a manky old synthetic duvet or a deluxe Russian goose feather one. I think I chose wrong as the result was a lot of feathers floating about the room and the end of the ownership of a rather lovely bed cover. The fire appeared unaffected by the attept to remove oxygen from the fuel+air+heat=fire equation. At this point I acknowledged that I had inaccurately estimated my firefighting capabilities and I started to panic. Fire in the house..... fire that might burn lodger's tyres...ahhh...clear thinking failed me and I burst into my lodger's room and shouted ......well what would most people shout at this point do you think?

'Keys,' was the expletive I chose. My lodger (Irish Mike) had been asleep and was now muttering little Irish curses. He wasn't quick to rise. Retrospective analysis has taught me that when there is a fire, 'fire' is undoubtedly the best thing to shout. It conveys a more to-the-point message. I am a great believer in learning from experience and can notch that up as certainly an improvement in my approach to dealing with fire.

I returned to my room to find the fire still burning and then went back downstairs again. I really did not have a plan other than running around a lot torn between the room and the bike tyres like a person with absolutely no higher level thinking capacity. Luckily Mike had not only got up, he had found some keys and was unlocking the back door. We opened it to discover our Welsh neighbour, Tony, with a salad bowl filled with water (no salad bowl in the forest fire - so again - no pattern). He appeared like the Welsh firefighting salad bowl bearing fairy I would have wished for, had I had a plan.

We all ran upstairs. Someone said,
'turn on the light,' someone else said,
'it is on.'
the room was extremely smokey and feathery at this point and the light was obscured. I have a sink in my room and with a salad bowl as his tool, Tony put the fire out. Hurray for Tony. I don't recall if or how Mike and I helped. We might have waved our arms about a bit.

End of two, possibly, two and a half minutes of fast motion.

I slept in the neighbour's spare room that night and for about five weeks afterwards (kind neighbours). The next day, still not properly adult, I figured I needed to tidy up so the evidence of a fire didn't notice any more. It was after a few hours of smearing walls covered in smoke dust that someone suggested that my insurance company might help out. It did and I had my first ever lesson in why insurance is a great thing (when it works - which it did). They tidied up, redecorated, I got new stuff and I didn't even get told off.

But the best bit about this story is this. Not having a room to shut myself in after a day's teaching unsettled me slightly. So much so, I went to the pub on the Monday evening after the fire. I bumped into my brother and his new musical partner: Mr Andy Kirkham and it was on that night that I enticed him back to mine with the immortal words,
'Would you like to come back to mine and see my fire damage?' and he's still here.

He would know not to fall for it now though.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

A post that's really a comment on yesterday's post....!


I do have many thoughts about the issue of religion. My original post was deliberately quite light-hearted. You all appear to have had the heavy debate about it for me. However, I have become sucked in to a point where I have to say more……….

I see religion a personal choice in the same way as drinking alcohol/or not or eating meat/or not. People with different viewpoints (as long as these viewpoints do not impact on the rights of others) should be able to co-exist without feeling a need to convert or feel anger towards each other. So if someone does not respect another’s’ right to hold a particular viewpoint, however strange that viewpoint might seem to them personally (and tries endlessly to convert the opposite viewee), that’s when it all goes wrong. That just seems to end up in angry polarisation.

I will always challenge a person that tries to convert me to religion - quite forcefully - and defend my right not to believe (or even see the point of religion) but I would never try and tell them what they should believe. If a person tells me they are religious, I do experience a degree of prejudice but I have ceased the ‘writing off’ of that person that I did in my youth. I have friends that hold a variety of beliefs that seem strange to me (needing to appear affluent for example) but in the most part I tend to find like-minds in life to hang out with – probably for an easier life!

To elaborate further, there are people that believe in ghosts, there are those that don’t, there are people that believe in reincarnation, there are those that don’t, there are people that can believe without solid proof and there are those that can’t, (probably down to personality types!) etc etc. Some people like to think for themselves, question, challenge etc more than others – and that’s fine too! We all find our own individual moral frameworks, opinions, attitudes, beliefs – through our experiences and education and that’s wonderful. It really would be a boring world if we all thought the same.

When organised and institutionalised religion (as opposed to personal belief) causes bad things to happen, that’s probably down to the corruption of power and far too much self-righteousness/interest/belief. Hopefully the church is not quite so powerful these days and does experience a greater degree of challenge. Terrible things have been done in the name of organised religion – but I would never assume that every individual within that organisation held the same beliefs or condoned the actions of an extreme minority within that religion. Within any religion, there is always a spectrum of views and different levels of orthodoxy.

I see my personal dislike of religion mostly aimed at its power through its prevalence and strangely protected status (an anachronism), the fact dogma alone is automatically taught in some schools, the judgement it sometimes delivers (that aims to take individual’s rights away e.g. stating same-sex couples are wrong) and through any dogma that tells every individual exactly what they should believe and how they should behave (e.g. not using contraception). So for me personally, I would rather make up my own mind without the input (or guidance) from any religion.

I like what Heronster said…..none of us really know/can prove/have the ultimate scientific answer about existence….so a few colourful mythical type stories do it for some and are shunned by others and that’s fine.


Well I did try very hard to stay advert free....but the temptation is just too great....

If you place your order with me - I'll only take a little commission.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Did they convert him?

Religion is not for me and almost definitely never will be. I say almost definitely because I might go senile. If others need it, want it, socialise through it, have it in their very core, cherish it, are guided by it, are comforted with blind faith in it, depend on it, live it, respect my personal choice not to partake in it, don't spend time telling me my life would be so much better with it, don't legitimise judging others with it, don't start wars in the name of it, then it's fine but it's not for me in the same way as horoscopes aren't.

Anyway when I got home last night I found a leaflet asking me, 'would I like to know the truth?' The leaflet then prophetically asked my next question - so obvious, I said it aloud as I read it,

'the truth about what?'

Well, in fact, some pretty heavy duty questions like:
*Does God care about us?
*Will war and suffering end?
*What happens to us when we die?
*Is there any hope for the dead?
*How can I pray and be heard by God?
*How can I find happiness in life?

(It turns out all the answers are in the bible and you don't need to go to the library, the internet or a bookshop.)

And then it dawned on me. Andy's let the Jehovah Witness' in again.

He explained that he was cleaning the front room, all curtains open, when he became aware of a man and a woman peering in through the front door and being the sweet not-wanting-to-offend man that he is, he opened it. He gave them five minutes too. Apparently the devil is running amok on earth and God isn't paying any attention.

I asked, 'is that it?' How is that meant to convert, help or come to that inform anyone? I pried further. He explained that the two of them had become a little tongue-tied and didn't really put their message across very clearly. Perhaps Andy was the first person to listen - ever - and they therefore had not ever got as far as thinking about what they might actually say.

It reminded me of the time my sister and I let the Mormons in. It was 1987. We were only young and oh-so-whacky and we giggled a lot. There was certainly wasn't any conversion happening.

I know their religion binds these people to go forth and convert - but are they doing so with absolutely no expectation of any success?

I wonder what the door-knocking conversion rate is. Have they got a good sales department that researches this stuff? Better conversion from terraces than semi-detached, better in a clean house than a messy one - that kind of thing. And what would the conversion scenario be? The Mormon/Jehovah/? knocks on the atheist's (or perhaps agnostic's - give him/her some outside odds) door and says,
'the devil has taken over, you need to convert if we are to stop him.'
'Ah you have a point, I had never thought of it like that, count me in.' And what happens then exactly? I bet they don't have a welcome and initiation speech prepared (if their recent performance is anything to go by). What would happen if everyone said yes? Have they got adequate gathering accommodation for mass chatting about these important questions? Is the aim really to convert everyone - even the Archbishop of Canterbury and Paul Merton say? Are the Mormons racing with the JWs (perhaps a tally chart exists somewhere)? Would they ever reconcile with half each? What would they do with the time they formerly spent converting? Sit in over-crowded buildings wistfully pining for the good old days when they had space?

I don't think they have thought this through.

So less time trying to work out the truth and a little more on practicalities and realistic marketing I'd say.

Monday, 25 January 2010

I love this photo...

I have always loved this photo as a little window into my ancestry. The chap on the right, back row, is my grandad (George Potter born 1892). He looks a fair bit like my dad did and my sister. He was born in Plaistow and by all accounts was quite a character. I have a couple of poems that he wrote and they are very humorous. He died when I was four and my only memory of him is of him handing me some chalk to scribble on the end of his sideboard. He died shortly after the last of his thirteen grand-children (my brother) was born. My father took my baby brother into hospital to show him his new grandchild but apparently my dad was ushered out by a nurse saying, 'this is no place for babies.'

I don't know much about my grandad. I do know he fought in the Battle of the Somme. A couple of times my dad descrbed how he had a hole in his leg. There was always speculation about whether or not it was a Blighty wound. How sensible of him if it was. He married my grandmother long after she had had all of their five children (circa 1959). It is rumoured (and I really cannot remember where this came from) that he had a German wife that he married during his time in the army of occupation in Cologne after the first world war and was scared of committing bigamy. I have no more information on this but do wonder if he somehow caught wind of his first wife's death or he just figured that he was likely to get away with a little bigamy after so many years had passed.

From the family tree I have drawn, I would guess this photo was taken about 1905. The chap on the left in the black suit is my great uncle Charlie (whom my father was named after). He died in the Battle of the Somme. The eldest child: Arthur (born 1889), I know nothing about. The youngest child sitting on his mother's lap is Harold (born 16.12.04). He went on to work for MI5 (no kidding). I learnt in recent years that he made it into the 21st century and died at a very old age. His fellow dress wearer is Frank.

The father (my great-grandfather): Arthur Potter (born Deptford 1867) was a soldier at first and then a postman in later life. He was absent from the 1891 census - so possibly off fighting somewhere. My dad remembered him but would only share with me that 'he got old and died'. The mother: Anita Louisa Pearce (born 1868 in Spondon, Derby - child of a temperance lecturer born in Swanton Morley, Norfolk - George Harvey Pearce and a Canadian from Quebec - Harriet Louise Fielders). I have gone much further back in this family tree and even made contact with a distant cousin by doing so - but that's well and truly beyond this photo.

The saddest part of the story behind this photo was that it was taken after the only daughter (Cissy or Catherine C) in the family had died at the age of four. I don't yet know what she died of.

A jigsaw with enough pieces to make a picture but several missing bits that cause intrigue. That's history for you.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sexism - an anachronism in the workplace?

This Friday I have been asked to deliver some diversity training to a group of social workers to deal with a very specific issue: sexism. When I was first asked, I explained that my training is mostly pitched at considering, reflecting on and addressing racism (I'd like to think racism is an anachronism in public sector - but I'm not so sure!), culturalism, disabledism, homophobia, ageism, transgenderism, opinionism...etc and that I could deliver the training as it is and the group never actually receive the message they were meant to receive - the message that would change their behaviour. I have of course adapted my training.

The 'situation' I have been asked to address was first registered when one male in an office of many females complained to his boss that he was being made to feel incredibly uncomfortable because of the images, language, attitudes and anti-male e mails (etc) flying around the office. This man does not want it made known to his colleagues that he has made this complaint - probably for fear of taunting repercussions. Sadly this doesn't sound far off bullying - the only difference being that the women are probably unaware of the impact they are having i.e. they are not consciously wanting this chap to feel uncomfortable.

First and foremost, this situation should really be dealt with by the line manager of all of these people. It's simple - these images are offensive - we stop using them. The women would soon understand if this chap were to stoop to their level and fill the office up with 'nudey calendars' and make snide comments about how crap all women are. There can't be one rule for one sex and another for the opposite sex - that's the whole point of sexual equality yes?

But this office's backward attitude is one that I suspect often goes unchallenged. I know I get 'let's laugh at men's incompetence' e mails now and then in my workplace, I hear thoughtless jibes at 'domesticated' men and I still see the odd six pack posters in offices. It doesn't help with healthy gender PR!

Several decades ago when women started to be released from years of second class citizenship there was an almost understandable backlash. Women began to feel empowered and sadly probably needed to get some stuff 'out of their system' by de-masculinating men and having a dig at them. However, here we are in the 21st century - decades later. Surely we should have grown out of this by now? Is it not time to put down the generalisations and attacks and step away from them?

Perhaps sexually predatory behaviour is perceived to be more threatening when it's from male to female than vice versa. Does that justify the lingering backlash though? No.

Perhaps I am being naively idealistic again and maybe there will always be an underlying tension/difficulties/misunderstandings/desire to 'get at' the opposite sex on some level. I don't feel it though and I certainly don't think it should be apparent in the workplace. I will concede that some generalisations can be made about the different sexes but there will always be exceptions and I fail to see where these generalisations (which can become assumptions) can be useful - in the same way as generalisations and assumptions made about any group of people are rarely beneficial. They are usually detrimental.

I will also add, quite importantly that I don't feel we have 'arrived' completely in terms of sexual equality. This is illustrated clearly by the fact that if you google 'sexism' it's nearly all about sexism towards women!

But the last word is - surely sexist comments about either sex or blatantly sexual images of either gender don't really have a place in the workplace? And why do I feel like I have travelled back in a 'time and gender swapping' machine?

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The box

If the box is the metaphor for convention, all thing with the grain, everything mainstream, conforming...etc...etc....which of these represents your relationship with it? Or do you need a whole new representation?

(You can click on each row to enlarge if need be)

Please e mail further suggestions for me to add to the box bank if a) none of these pinpoint your exactly relationships with it and/or b) you just feel like drawing some more boxes.

Friday, 22 January 2010


Since I returned to work after maternity leave for my daughter, back in the days when you got five minutes off for the whole bloat - pop - be awake non-stop procedure, my chap and I have in effect reversed traditional roles. In other words, I work full time and he (Andy) runs the home and is the main carer of our children. This is not to say he does not work outside the home. He is a musician and plays amazing classical/world/folk guitar
( )
but his work at weddings, in restaurants and at private parties happens in the evenings or at weekends. I'd say 99.9% of the time the fact we are gender-muddled (!) does not put a single related thought into our heads.

To be honest, between the pair of us we could just about, possibly, if we looked really hard, lay claim to some kind of organised system somewhere in our household. Let me see……we eat every day. That’s ‘system’ enough. But since Andy has adopted the home-running role, he has become the relative expert in working out what needs to go where, why, how, when and has most ‘what ifs’ covered. I would be so bold as to say, he does a much better job than I would have done. Truth is, I am capable of returning from the park with no memory of the child I escorted there.

The times when a mummy-dad and daddy-mum in the family does cause a stir nearly always happens in the presence of those in our parents’ generation. More specifically our parents. Many times I have tried to help my mum understand by explaining that I am like her husband was and Andy has the same role as she had but there’s still a point she refuses to get. She tells me over and over that Andy is a man in a million because he cooks. I won’t depute he’s a man in a million but not because he cooks! She used to cook but she would never have described herself as a woman in a million. I guess it's because she doesn't believe you can really properly reverse roles.

And in keeping with how our parents always saw greater fault in their own children than others, to Andy’s parents, he’s simply a freak of nature. He is still regularly asked when he will get a proper job.

One thing I do miss out on though is the camaraderie felt through female martyrdom. When asked by a neighbour with a knowing and sympathetic look if I was ‘ready for Christmas’ (eye roll, sigh, puff, shake of head, look of despair) a few days before blast off, I was tempted to reply, ‘I don’t know, I’d have to ask Andy.’ I cannot share this distress because I don’t have it. When females congregate at a social gathering around the washing up and have a little moan about their lot, I feel phony and want to send Andy in to replace me. He’s busy in the living room trying to work out the offside rule. Again my mother revels in my lack of 'lot'. In the presence of my sister – who is the main carer for her children – I am often told that ‘I wouldn’t understand’ when Claire is having a well-earned break from looking after the children.

I do also wonder if there will be any lasting impact on our kids. Will my daughter want to find a man to look after her children and will my son think it strange if he finds himself in the world of work? Our set-up is actually still relatively rare but for us it has worked really well. Actually I should not be so hasty - I had better check Andy agrees with that statement - after he's sorted the laundry, hoovered, written his shopping list and mopped the floor. However, I will admit I do sometimes wish I was at home full time with my kids. With Andy too of course, as I certainly would still need some main caring. Here’s to the windfall that will realise this!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Social comment on the noughties.....

I know there have been a lot of TV programmes recently summing up the noughties in many and varied ways but I caught a bit of one the other night that gave me some food for thought....

The main things that jumped out at me were:

1) The financial generation gap
I have always realised that the over 50s and under 30s financial gap was pretty huge and I even remember hearing that 80% of finance is owned by the over 50s but this programme worded it in a way that hit hard. In fact the one question, 'why aren't young people making more of a fuss?' jolted me!

While the over 50s are cashing in on property that they own outright (as it probably cost them just a four or five figure sum) and receiving pensions that have actually worked to fund relatively deluxe lifestyles, the younger generations are not only having to get seriously in debt for a university education (a great lesson in being used to debt so early on in life!!!), they are having to couple up and both work to manage their huge mortgages on tiny houses and are delaying having kids to ensure career progression and financial capability to be able to fund childcare and said mortgages.

This is a social inequality trend that people appear to have just accepted. It's having quite significant impact on the lifestyles of young people. For example, very few young parents can afford to stay at home full time. I can hear my mother moaning about the damage done to kids by not having a parent at home with the children when in reality it's simply a luxury few young people can afford. It also makes sense that because of the fraction of finance young people have to dedicate to education and house buying, that they will never make the progression to the lifestyle of the current over 50s.

Those young people lucky enough to have parents that can 'help them out' might be OK but the vast majority are living a lifestyle and budget the over 50s would really struggle with. Can this ever be redressed?

2) The mosquito - the machine that makes a high pitched noise that the over 20s cannot hear but the under 20s find incredibly irritating.

I had heard of this but thought it was an urban myth! About 4000 were sold. Wow - how come this was not understood to be an infringement of human rights? Is it because we don't let our young people have much of a voice?

How have young people become quite so demonised - to the point where some people want to irritate them away with a terrible noise - like vermin? Surely the vast majority are wonderful, vibrant, things with far more sense than I had at their age (or even now come to that). What an injustice and ill treatment of human beings.

3) Age segregation in the UK
London has become younger.
Former traditional retirement places are now for the over 70s and 80s
People are retiring to different places now e.g. Lincolnshire, Wales, Cheltenham
With different areas tending to having predominant age groups what social change will this cause? The generations don't tend to mix too well in the UK as it is.

4) Re-marketing alcohol to young people
In the 90s, young people were our raving: popping pills and not drinking enough - according to the alcohol companies. Thus the production of alcopops and marketing that tapped into the rave scene e.g. we have added caffeine to our alcohol so you can buzz all night. Now alcohol is well and truly back in vogue with young people. I saw that happen - I was there. But it's only when it's summed up like that that you see what really happened!

Every decade in the 20th century appeared to have had a distinct 'flavour' and perhaps this is only ever seen retrospectively. I do wonder how we will grow to see the noughties. Perhaps it will become seen as the decade when technology took us away from real life and generations to come will have pictures in texts books of us sitting at computers and oh how they will laugh at us!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The BIG 5

When it comes to psychology, my interest is aroused very quickly. Some of you might have noticed this.

I read a book about the big five personality traits this year and I was grabbed because it explained each of the traits in terms of evolutionary psychology – in other words, why it would be beneficial to (those living in a primitive society) to have people with greater and lesser amounts of each of these personality traits. For me, that made this particular model more substantial and valid and less like a wafty science! Personally I can cope with waft, but when I am persuading others, I am always aware that a dollop of logic goes a long way.

O.C.E.A.N. – is how the five traits are remembered. Unlike Myers Briggs, these traits do not have ‘opposites,’ you just have a greater or lesser amount of each one.

Openness to experience – to me this has strong links with creativity and hyper-connectivity of the brain. Those that score high on openness are more receptive to unusual ideas, creative, appreciate art and are curious. Those with low levels are more likely to be conventional, conformist and down-to-earth. In the book I read, it linked extremely high levels of openness to psychosis! It stated that while many extremely creative people in history have not themselves suffered from psychosis (or they would not have been able to achieve what they did) you could frequently find close family members that did suffer. In the book I read, the evolutionary justification for high levels appeared to be linked to the fact that with intelligence, humans have potentially become ‘attractive to mates’ through higher level brain functions e.g. skilled use of language, ability to create art etc. Low levels are beneficial to those that maintain day-to-day necessities – like growing crops!

Conscientiousness – Those with high levels of conscientiousness like to make plans and stick to them. Those with low levels are more spontaneous and easily distracted. In other words it’s whether we are someone who controls our impulses or not. Those with high levels of conscientiousness are needed in a ‘society’ to ensure that daily maintenance jobs are fulfilled. But if you imagine the farming settlement that is under threat, it is those low in conscientiousness that are more readily going to adapt to the changes needed to survive. Really low levels of conscientiousness makes a person a non-finisher. Really high levels have been linked to OCPD – obsessive compulsive personality disorder (not to be confused with OCD - which is the one where people have to check the gas hob is off several times before bedtime!). OCPD renders people unable to change their plans and needing to be completely in control such that they become completely agitated if something unexpected happens.

Extraversion – This has some overlaps with the extraversion described by Myers Briggs in terms of how it describes behavioural tendencies. However, research revealed that high scorers in extraversion received a bigger ‘reward sensation’ from going out and doing stuff –whether that stuff was socialising, travelling, sky diving etc. Lower scorers could do the same things but would not get the same ‘buzz’ as high scorers. This ultimately makes low scorers not overly bothered about getting out there! In evolutionary terms, high and low levels are needed again for maintenance but also ability to go off and hunt out new things to increase the chances of survival.

Agreeableness – this is fundamentally about the ability to empathise. High scorers are usually ‘pleasers’ and tune in to others and their needs. Low scorers are less competent at reading other people, are more self interested and are likely to be suspicious of or feel contempt towards others. Psychopaths are extremely low scorers in agreeableness (and conscientiousness and neuroticism)! They can inflict harm on others without any ability to tune into the pain they are causing. There are undoubtedly gender generalisations with this one - with women tending to score higher than men. In evolutionary terms it seems odd for a species to be able to put others first (what with survival of the fittest etc). However, to not be able to maintain harmonious relationships with others in your ‘tribe’ can cause ostracism. Ostracism from your 'tribe' could significantly harm your chances of survival.

Neuroticism – high scorers in neuroticism are wired up to worry and generally experience more negative emotions than low scorers. In evolutionary terms it is explained as needing to have some people that are permanently worrying – even if 99% of the time the worries are completely unfounded - because they will be the people that will be permanently 'on guard' and spot that single real danger. Those with low levels tend to climb mountains and jump out of planes. It is hard to imagine why having a high neuroticism score could be a positive thing but research has shown that high scorers are slightly more likely to be high achievers because of a need for things to be good – so they are not worried about whatever they have done! High scorers, however are more likely to suffer from mental illness.

Of course after I read this book, I assessed myself. (There are free online tests)
 I am definitely very high on openness – occasionally psychotic as well! My poor six year old son has clearly got this going on too as he regularly complains that there are parts of his brain he just cannot control and these parts fill his head up with far too many thoughts.
 Conscientiousness - medium low – I am a finisher but I have to push myself and distraction is my middle name – but that might also be linked to the high levels of openness.
 Extraversion – high – I like to go exploring, but sometimes that exploring is in the made-up land inside my head!
 Agreeableness – Medium but low for a female!?? I can empathise with emotions readily but don’t automatically put myself in other’s shoes to anticipate their needs!!! People know to make their own tea when they visit.
 Neuroticism – low – I can get stressed but most times I am pretty laid back – possibly because I haven’t noticed the lion that is about to eat me.

So psychotic and not neurotic...that makes sense.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Tiny stories from my dad's youth

My dad shared very few memories with me of his younger days so I could hardly write a biography. What he did share, however, was usually very funny, tragic or interesting...


My dad was the fourth child of five. His older brother, George (first-born) was nearly nine years older than him - old enough to have fought in the second world war and have a uniform so he only looked up to him with admiration. His younger sister he also adored. However sisters number two and three gave him a lifetime's scar. The story goes that my dad was about four when he was trying to get into his sister's bedroom. They were not going to let their irritating little brother in so they slammed the door on his face - so hard, his nose was completely broken. This left him with a 'nose' that in effect was completely flat until you came to the nostrils. He had this 'deformity' until at the age of twenty one, when he had his nose reconstructed using a piece of bone from his elbow. It always looked a little wonky!


My dad never had an easy relationship with singing! (The irony was that his son grew up to make a living through singing and playing music). His adverse reaction was simply a result of an unfortunate event in his middle childhood. When he was at school, the boys in his class were lined up and asked to sing. The teacher kept stopping the song because 'someone was singing horribly out of tune'. The boys were then asked to sing alone, one by one so that the perpetrator of disharmony could be discovered. It did, of course turn out to be my dad and he received a ruler over the knuckles for his incompetence but the public humiliation was clearly more damaging. When I was a child, highly aware of his inability to find a tune, he would sing loudly and laugh a lot - probably only took him four decades to comfortably own his 'shame'.


Another school story my father told me ended up with him being frog-marched to the headteacher's office to be greeted by the headteacher, a boy and the boy's two parents. Apparently my dad had been bullying the boy. The parents and the headteacher, up until that point were unaware of who 'Charlie Potter' was exactly so when this tiny boy walked through the door and stood next to his victim that towered over him, there was considerable awkwardness in the room! I believe there was laughter and words to the effect of 'don't be ridiculous' but we know more about bullying now don't we!?


My dad lived in Wimbledon as a child. He was not evacuated during the war and once described it as 'a really exciting time'. Being eight years old at the start meant he had little sense its terror and as far as he was concerned, there were overhead planes to look at, bombs to collect and crashed aircraft to forage (one particular one on Wimbledon Common kept him fascinated for some time). When his dad discovered his incendiary bomb collection under the stairs, he wasn't too pleased.

My dad's parents ran businesses. In a place called Pott's Corner, there was a cinema, a cafe, a fish and chips shop and a dance hall (I am a bit vague here). Before the war, the 'main' Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) frequented the dance hall. Just before and during the early war, the hall was used to build a prototype aeroplane. My dad had tales of how the engineers put him on the payroll for fishing out bolts and anything their relatively large hands could not retrieve. Very early on in the war, four bombs were dropped very close to Pott's Corner: three in a straight line and had the plane not veered off, the fourth would have landed directly on the dance hall. Speculation at the time was of course that this was something to do with Lord Haw Haw and his shifted loyalties.


My dad was a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF from about 1950 - 1958. He spent one of those years stationed in RAF Coltishall which is only about ten miles from where I live. On one of his visits to Norwich, we went to visit the cemetery at the 'end of the runway' (he remembered flying over it to land). I was surprised to find he knew a couple of the people buried there. Then he explained. In the fifties the RAF was nothing like the professional organisation it became from about 1960 onwards. What became the 'cold war', was perceived as a real and immediate threat and having had little time to reflect since the last war, the mentality was: even if a plane isn't working properly, you still flew it. My dad witnessed several people die including a man burning to death after crashing in an orchard near Coltishall. He also escorted the body of a friend to hand over to his widow at the train station. He said he would never forget the look on her face. There was a general feeling of 'it could well be me next but we just have to get on with it'. Most men went down the mess and drank their trauma away but not my dad, he never really was a drinker.

And I think, that's all I have before my mum came along. Sad huh?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Ordinary, Extraordinary and Extra-Extraordinary

This idea comes from an activity in one of my books due out soon (Even More Outside the Box). I like that title. It's a sequel to Outside the Box so I am guessing if I write more, they might be called 'Viewing the box from space.'

It starts by defining:

*Ordinary - as nothing out of the ordinary!
*Extraordinary as unusual but possible and
*Extra-Extraordinary - as extremely unlikely or impossible.
(for the purpose of this activity)

For example: take these three teachers' journeys to school.

Mr Jones
Mr Jones leaves his house every morning at 7.30 a.m, exactly. He gets into his blue car, puts on his seat belt and pulls out of his drive. He drives along the High Street,turns left into School Road and right into the school car park. He puts on the hand brake and climbs out of his car. He enters the school by the main entrance.

Ms Teapot
Ms Teapot leaves her house by a small window in the downstairs bathroom. She untangles her bicycle from the gooey clutter that is always in her shed, hammers the wheels into a round shape and paints the saddle purple. She gets onto her bike and freewheels it backwards to Riddle Street because she forgets - every morning - that the school is not there. She then puts her bike in a tree and walks in slow motion to Bucket Road where she enters the school via a tunnel she built out of cereal boxes in a technology lesson the week before.

Mrs Yaraloompa
Mrs Yaraloompa falls from the cloud that she slept on, to the top of Mount Everest. She takes a huge leap from the top of the mountain and lands in the Atlantic Ocean. She quickly builds a hovercraft from the contents of her handbag and takes it to the south coast of Britain. Once ashore she gathers up five cars, steals the best bits from each of them and makes a stripy green and pink, supersonic helicopter with marshmallow stuffed seats for comfort. She flies to the school gates which she turns to strawberry jelly and eats before entering. She bounces into the school on an invisible pogo stick.

The idea is you could apply this extraordinary and extra-extraordinary makeover to any description of an ordinary occurrence - say a trip to the shops, writing a comment about a blog post or making a sandwich.

Off you go then.....or not.....

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The E Party results

Did I have you on tenterhooks?

Absolutely brilliant party with host and hostess attending to every detail. Rabbit curry, salmon and goose on the menu, lots of things labelled with 'E' adjectives...a blue punch called exhilarating elixir....etc

I won second prize for my outfit although marching in and telling the hostess that not winning a prize would render me devastated (just after she had given out first prize) might have swayed the result a little. I won an egg timer.

There was an Einstein, two Egyptians, two 'Eighties' - one looked like Adam Ant the other Madonna, an enchantress, an Essex girl, an estate agent, two Elvises, some elves, an Easter bunny, an e mail, an envelope, Eddy Edwards, Edwina from Absolutely Fabulous, an executioner, the Eastern Daily Press, an explorer, Emma from Jane Austin, a few Emos, an elephant, Elton John, a big E, Edith Piaf, an Everton supporter, an eclipse...and some others I have forgotten.

And now I need to rest.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The E Party

We have some great socialite friends that often throw great parties and gatherings. In recent years they have thrown parties of a 'letter' theme. The very first party I attended was an F party and I was part of the hired help: our band played. I claimed I had come as a frump, which of course needed very little planning. I did also tie huge papier mache flowers to the microphone stands, so I had made a little effort.

To their D party the following year, I went as a decoy (or distraction) - simply stuck a sign that said 'they went that way' to my front and my fella spent all day turning himself into a domino to arrive, arms stuck out at right angles from his side, to discover he was one of a set that provided a joke about lining up and toppling them over all evening.

This time the invite has declared it is an E party. I am assuming it is not a reference to mind altering pills or I am putting unnecessary effort in.

The first port of call is a brainstorm, followed by the dictionary, then an encyclopedia as it includes some famous people and events and then you need to consider fictional characters. Makes me sound almost methodical.

My thinking has included:

• Extravert – no preparation needed
• An egg - wouldn't have been very practical to party as
• Exaggeration – either go with an exaggeration written on my front or attend with large ears, a large nose and large feet.
• Etc…stick lists of things all over me e.g. a banana, an apple, an orange…
• Emily from work. I'd have to be taller, pregnant and elegant and no one would recognise me, but then again, nobody at the party knows it was, quite frankly, a ridiculous idea.
• Edward de Bono – make six coloured hats and stick them on my head
•Exception - go dressed as a fish'll just have to wait for my post tomorrow. But in the meantime, guesses and late suggestions are welcome.

Friday, 15 January 2010

House fire Number 1

I am not a pyromaniac. Perhaps I say that in the same spirit as an alcoholic denies their alcoholism. Let me see.......

Evidence for pyromania:
*Two and a half house fires
*A forest fire
*An exceptionally good understanding of what burns well
*Never getting past the sugar volcano experiment in my chemistry set
*A father that would get instantly angry at the sight of me with a naked flame (of any kind and I tried a few out for size)
*The only song my brother wrote about me was called 'Closet Pyromaniac' (it was a statement about how I always had a fire when I felt my life needed to completely change in direction...but this all happened on an unconscious level of course)

Evidence against pyromania
*I can never find a light when I need one
*You can grow out of things right?

****fuzziness to denote back in time*******

It was the very last night I was to spend in our very mouldy student shared house that had been home for the second academic year of my degree. My eccentric friend Louise had recently brought me back a HUGE joss-stick from Japan. I wasn't sure I wanted to cart it all the way back to my dad's house for the summer holidays, so I decided to burn it before I left. It took a few minute's full flame on the gas hob to light it. Once lit, I faced the unplanned-for problem of where to put it. Now, in my defence, I am naturally 'dancing with the dream clouds' while doing anything in the physical world in front of me, so my decision to stick it into a bin full of screwed up bits of paper - burning end up (more defence)- that my already-vacated housemate had left - wasn't a fully conscious one. The bin held it perfectly and I might have even felt a bit pleased with myself for finding such a practical solution.

Being the last night before the summer holidays warranted some of the more usualler than usual: a celebration - involving a little drink to help us let our hair down a little and a dance in a nightclub (the Jacquard) until 2 a.m.

My father had come to Norwich to pick me up and take me home but he was sleeping in a van on a campsite. I don't think our house could be stomached by anyone whose nose had not been on the three term acclimatisation scheme. (Also the sick that had been hovered up off the carpet a few days before was adding an aroma even our noses were somewhat challenged by). It's a shame as my dad didn't really drink and he was the most sensible man in the universe. In hindsight I believe he probably would have done things a bit differently on this particular evening - the one I am about to describe. However, my brother was staying with us as he had travelled up with dad and our dog was with us too. The dog never settled while in the house - he had too much sniffing to do.

We returned from our night out - a little wobbly. Every now and then someone queried, 'what's that burning smell?' but by this point, frankly, we did well to put ourselves the right way up in our beds. Sometime later, I awoke suddenly to hear my brother having a little hissy fit. I rolled my eyes and said to my boyfriend at the time something like, 'what is he up to?' Upon opening the door, my question was answered by a blast of smoke.

Now get this. I got fully dressed and calmly said to my chap, 'you get all my (packed) stuff out of the house and I'll put the fire out,' Proof that I am very good in a crisis.

I went to the burning room to see the curtains gone, a chair smouldering and the mattress on the floor half eaten by flames. My brother had woken up with his head surrounded by fire. (Both my brother and I have only used about six of our nine lives up - so we should be OK for a while yet). I instructed my brother to go to the phone box at the end of the street and ring the fire brigade. He did as told except when asked by the operator where the fire was, he answered, 'in the house.' Apparently he had to run down to the end of the street to find out its name.

In the meantime, my fellar and I were running backwards and forwards from full on taps with a mop bucket and a salad bowl frantically chucking water at the flames. I remember having a naughty child's mindset: that if we put it out quickly enough, maybe nobody would notice. We did eventually extinguish it but the huge black hole at the front of the house showed a little. Having put it out, I then surmised that the fire brigade were probably unnecessary. I asked my brother if he had managed to call them. His answer was, 'listen,' ......three fire engines and a police car turned up. It was at this point, as we stood outside the front of the house surveying the damage and collectively reassuring each other that it 'wasn't that bad' that my boyfriend realised he was completely naked. He wasn't that quick to react either, because I remember a policewoman saying to him jokingly, 'I ought to do you for indecent exposure.' The fire brigade threw all the burnt materials into the front garden and pushed any of the shattered glass that had not fallen, on top of the black deformed pile. I remember thinking, 'well they've made it look much worse'.

I was surprised not to have been breathalysed. Clearly drunk in charge of a burning house isn't a prosecutable offence.

Concerned by our dad's potential panic about what would greet him when he came to the house the next morning, we put up many signs covering the front of the house, the gates and the back door saying, 'the dog is OK.' I'm not sure what that says about any of us - my dad, my brother, myself, my boyfriend or the dog.

And eventually the adrenaline subsided and we returned to our beds to let the alcohol knock us out.

I was awoken the next morning by the incoming-calls-only phone. It was the landlady ringing to ask us to leave the house tidy.

By the way. I am not an alcoholic either.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


I'm going to tell you about a significant memory creator in my life......

My mate Chris lives in a 22 acre wood with a meadow in the middle of it near Bury St Edmunds and for seven years since the year 2000 (we had a couple of years off for recuperation) we have thrown a weekend party in it. Over the years it has produced some of the most bizarre and wonderful happenings. Chris, Andy (my chap) and I enjoy putting weeks of preparation into the event.

No two years have been the same (however one thing we could always sadly guarantee was rain. In fact in one of the years we had off, a friend of mine rang us up to ask, 'If you had had Christock this year, which weekend would it have been? I need to know because I will avoid a holiday in the UK then.')

The weekends have mostly been about a bunch of like-minded people coming together, to camp, play music round a camp fire, eat food we prepare and laugh to the point of pain. To give you a flavour here is a list of some of the things we have laid on and some of the things that have just spontaneously happened:

• Treasure hunt – so much has gone into the treasure hunt each year that I will probably blog about it separately but it’s the result of Chris and my creative inner brain wiring – and that says something to those that know us!
• A majorette twirl off – Higham Hilos versus Witney Whirlers. It got ugly.
• Decorate a dad/dude – I find many men need little excuse to dress up

•Things hidden for the kids to find – home made top trump cards, trolls
• A wish tree

• I decorate the wood with potty road signs and huge papier mache bees, flowers, butterflies etc
• Secret missions - an admin nightmare - I set secret missions for everyone to 'do' on a named person - someone they did or did not know. e.g. Find **** and casually drop into the conversation the fact you know David and Victoria Beckham, get *** to hold one end of a piece of string while you run off into the wood without them commenting, make a posy of flowers and lay it on ***'s pillow etc (I did about 80 different missions repeated once)
• An afternoon of tea and cake. Chris served tea and cake from fancy plates and doilies on Saturday afternoon. People always queued up nicely.
• A wizard tree - Chris and my chap held kids captivated while they concocted magical potions dressed as wizards - top notch improvised theatre
• A sculpture trail – that some people added to over the course of the weekend
• A boudoir – where people could go to ‘do themselves up’
• Fire twirling – a couple of show offs on stilts nearly killed us all
• An aerial runway, a rope bridge, fire balloons curtesy of Dr. Bob's endless energy.
• Puppet shows
• A fairy procession - with a unicorn!
• A huge tarpaulin laid out and covered with water and soap suds for the kids to skid across
• Den building
• A tree house

Upon arrival everyone is issued with a 'brochure' telling them what's on. I really enjoy putting this together although, truth be known, very little of it is actually informative. The following snippets were what I received when I asked people to send me their memories of Chris -stock for a page in the next brochure...

Clearly people engage with Chris-stock at their own level. Here are some fond memories of Chris-stock people have shared – only just hinting at the wonderful, secure, safe, sane and relaxing experience Chris-stock truly is.

DaynaThe Twirl-Off between the Higham Hilos and the Witney Whirlers.. I am the Higham Hi-Los' biggest fan. What about haircuts in the flood? Toilet repair? Travelling puppet shows? Various fire activities Ollie's vote is the bass player / peripatetic vet. Where's me jumper?

Pyromania, in all its wonderful forms? Filling potholes in the rain? Molly, on Sunday morning (well, it was Sunday morning to some of us, but Molly was in another time-dimension by then........Morgi trying to build a geodesic dome whilst suffering extreme sleep deprivation. Ha - just remembered that one!!! Me helping to push a car out of the mud whilst standing directly behind the rear wheel. Duh! Guess what happened next, folks......?

Learning how a sugar refinery works.

And trying to keep up with Molly and co long after bedtime, drenched in whisky and wine. Oh - and digging a s**thole with Andy.

Sliding on a wet tarpaulin, (would be better bear or dipped in honey if we dare). Relishing over Chris's special tea and cakes being so civilised on sofas in the sun. Trepidation with excitement before someone sang. Falling over with laughter over the decorating a Dad session and admiring the kids creativity and freedom. Watching men work, with chopping and carrying wood and being manly (prize giving and forfeits should be on the agenda for that). Sharing stories while cooking together. Grinning over the kids hunting for Molly's special cards. Admiring creativity on a sculpture trail. Having a whale of a time on a treasure hunt, (bonding occasion).Warming up around the fire together.

HenryThe creation of the first lagerphone!

many excellent photos of the event can be accessed if you are on Facebook:

Did any of that make sense? To be honest, it's all a bit of a blur now.