Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Favourite Children's Books

In a post about children's books a friend asked "what children's books would you recommend?". I can't resist that question! (She also asked about pet hates and views on Enid Blyton, but I'll leave those questions for separate posts.) (Oh, and do check out her nice new blog at Like Sunshine in the Home.) (And yes, I am a shameless overuser of parentheses.)

Back in my early blogging days I posted a list of 100 favourite children's books from baby board books on up. This time I'm going to stick to chapter books suitable for reading aloud, split into two categories - younger children (roughly 4 to 7, the stage Cherub is just entering), and middling children (roughly 7 to 10). Our favourites, not surprisingly, are very girl oriented.

Read Alouds for 4 to 7 Year Olds

My Naughty Little Sister books (Dorothy Edwards) - these have been a hit with all three girls, and are a good transition to story books rather than picture books as each story is complete in itself. Written in the 1950s, the naughty little sister is very naughty in an old-fashioned way (eats all the trifle at a birthday party, throws her sister's doll out of the window, cuts up things she shouldn't, tries to sweep her own chimney, and even bites Father Christmas). The stories are told in the voice of her scandalised older sister, and have a warm, gentle tone. The naughty little sister isn't always naughty - one title is When My Naughty Little Sister Was Good. Wonderful small girl books.

Milly-Molly-Mandy books (Joyce Lankester Brisley) - written in the 1920s, these stories of a little girl growing up in an English village with her mother, father, grandparents, aunt and uncle are period pieces with a timeless appeal to small girls. I love this illustrated collection of some of the best stories.

Ramona books (Beverley Cleary) - American classics about a funny, cheeky, curious little girl called Ramona. I think Ramona is four in the first book, and maybe ten at the end of the series? Just to prove our reading isn't completely Anglo-centric! 

Sophie books (Dick King-Smith) - yes, yet more books about a small girl. Sophie is a little girl who loves animals and wants to be a farmer when she grows up. Star particularly loved Sophie.

Little Mrs Pepperpot stories (Alf Proysen) - books I remembered from my childhood, about a little old lady who shrinks to the size of a pepperpot at unpredictable times, leading to all sorts of adventures.

Charlotte's Web (E.B.White) - classic about a little girl, a pig and a spider. 

Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren) - another classic, about - yes! another little girl. Pippi isn't just any little girl, though. She is an orphan, with red hair, freckles, oversized shoes, throwing herself into life with an anarchic joie-de-vivre all her own. If you want to know how to go turnupstuffing, you need to read Pippi.

Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner (A.A.Milne) - hard to know what age to recommend for Winnie-the-Pooh. Children probably need to be around 6 to 8 to really "get" Winnie-the-Pooh, but some love listening the stories at two (like Angel and Bella).

Read Alouds for 7 to 10 Year Olds

Narnia books (C.S.Lewis) - Angel and I adored them; Star wasn't interested, proving that the unmissable (to me) isn't always unmissable. I have high hopes that Cherub will be another Narnia fan, as she fixated on the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The Borrowers series (Mary Norton) - set in a house that is now a local middle school, the borrowers are tiny people who live by "borrowing" from the "human beans" who live in the house, and whose safety depends on never being seen. Once borrower child Arietty is spotted, they are catapulted into a series of adventures.

Five Children and It  (and anything else by E.Nesbit) - classic fantasy in which a family of Victorian children meet a psammead, or sand fairy, which can grant wishes. Unfortunately, working out what to wish for is not as simple as it sounds, as ill-considered wishes have a habit of going wrong. Sequels are The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet. Not all her books are fantasies -  The Railway Children is another of her unmissable classics.

Ballet Shoes (and anything else by Noel Streatfeild) - almost all Streatfeild's books have some sort of talent theme. In Ballet Shoes three orphan children are adopted by an eccentric explorer who leaves them with his great-niece and disappears off on his travels again. When the money runs out, they find they can help make ends meet by developing their own talents (and yes, one of the girls is a ballet dancer).

Emil and the Detectives (Erich Kastner) - this was Tevye's all time favourite children's book, and he read it more than once to both Angel and Star. An adventure story set in Berlin, in which Emil is robbed while travelling by train, and his friends help him to track the thief. Erich Kastner also wrote Lottie and Lisa, the story on which the film The Parent Trap was based (and yes, we enjoyed that book too).

The Secret Garden and A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett) - beautiful, gorgeous, unmissable classics. 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (J.K.Rowling) - yes, we are Harry Potter fans. I read the first book to Angel when she was six, and she loved it. Age is an issue with HP ... the first three books are both simpler and younger than the later books, which are darker and more mature (as well as being very long to read aloud! Best left for older children and teens to read to themselves, IMO). The early ones have a touch of Enid Blyton about them, and are rollicking good stories.

Oh dear, there are many, many more, but I am out of time and this post could get far too long. For more book recommendations (many / mostly children's books), check out Lissa's list of "truly, Maudly, deeply" books, the ones she loves with a passion (be sure to read the comments too). Actually, check out her whole blog and you will never be stuck for something to read, for adults or children.

Hmmm ... I feel a "truly, Maudly, deeply" post of my own coming on.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Flowers: Reprise

Out of the mouths of babes ... "Mummy, the flowers in the garden look desperate for some water."

At least her vocabulary skills are better than my horticultural skills.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 28th June 2010

Outside My Window ... blue skies. Looks like another hot sunny day - we have had temperatures in the high 20s (80s farenheit) for the last few days.

I am thinking ... it is ten to seven in the morning. I don't do thinking this early. Writing, yes. Thinking, no.

From the learning rooms ... during Cherub's school visit last week they gave the parents a short talk on what will come home in the children's book bags during their reception year. For the first half term she will get a story sack each week; during the second half term it will be a wordless book, to encourage her to tell a story from pictures and to follow the pages from front to back and left to right. After Christmas she will get a reading book each week, with very simple text. Reading at that stage is supposed to be a team effort with the parent helping the child to follow text from left to right, recognise sight words, and (when they are ready) spell out simple words. She will also bring home a story book of her own choice each week for us to read aloud.

I am thankful ... yet again for good neighbours. On Saturday I tried to set up a new hosepipe to fill Cherub's new paddling pool, only to find it came with 1 inch, 3/4 inch and 1/2 inch connectors, and our tap needs a 5/8 inch connector. After a fruitless visit to the DIY store, the girls ended up filling the pool using buckets. On Sunday D-from-next-door-but-one produced a 5/8 inch connector from the depths of his garage. Joy! (Aside: Beware 4 year old girls with hosepipes!)

From the kitchen ... clueless. I'll have to hunt through the freezer for ideas. 

I am wearing ... pink pyjamas

I am creating ... socks. I ran out of steam with Cherub's cardigan.

I am going ... having the house to myself for a while this morning.

I am reading ... The Africa House by Christina Lamb. Haven't got beyond the introduction yet, though.

I am hoping ... that all goes well with Mum's knee replacement op on Wednesday, and for a good recovery.

I am hearing ... Little Princess on TV.

Around the house ... summery stuff. Towels, swimming costumes, sunscreen, sunglasses.

One of my favorite things ... digital cameras. Remember the bad old days of 35mm film? When you didn't realise just how bad your photos were until you had paid a fortune to have them developed?

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... busy, busy, busy. Hospital visits (nearly an hour's drive each way); extra dance classes for Star; Cherub's last school taster visit; orchestra concert on Saturday, plus afternoon rehearsal; brass band playing at a village fete on Sunday.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... Cherub on a beach (holding a spade, I think)

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Sunday, June 27, 2010

July Plans

Inspired by Jenn at As Cozy as Spring I thought I'd list a few plans for July ... I seem to be going through a drifting stage, where too little gets done. I know July is going to be a difficult month. My mother is having her knee replacement surgery on Wednesday, which will mean hospital visiting and then caring for her until she is fit enough to go home on her own. Even so, listing some things I would like to do makes it more likely that I will actually do them:

  • Knit something and finish it - even my knitting is drifting (socks? I feel a sock-knitting urge coming on)
  • Take Cherub to the butterfly farm
  • Visit the pick-your-own farm to pick strawberries
  • Spend more time outdoors
  • Read (and finish!) at least four books
  • Bake chocolate caramel shortbread
  • Keep my flowers alive
Not much, but a few gentle targets to aim for.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Flowers

In my annual fit of gardening enthusiasm - which, I confess, sometimes only lasts as long as it takes to make a trip to the garden centre and peters out before actually planting the luckless plants - I bought some petunias and impatiens at the beginning of the month. Spurred on by an enthusiastic Cherub and the idea that it would look nice to have something flowering in the garden for Cherub's birthday party we managed to put them into pots and tubs. There was a slight hiccup as I randomly grabbed a bag of multipurpose compost rather than proper potting compost - but hey! Compost is compost, yes? Or at least, the wrong compost is surely better than being abandoned to die slowly (or quickly) in a tray. I hope.

Some of the petunias are a beautiful deep pink - deeper than it looks in this picture - and seem to be surviving my inadequacies (three warm, sunny and waterless summer days, despite several mental notes along the lines of "must water flowers"):

In the interests of full disclosure, the purple petunias are drooping sadly:

And these poor sunflowers, grown from seeds Cherub planted at playgroup, are barely hanging in:

Fortunately the impatiens get a little more shade, and are not doing so badly:

I'm sure you will be glad to hear I watered them before writing this post, although writing first and forgetting to water them later would be more typical of my approach to gardening.

Friday, June 25, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 25th June 2010

Arghh!!!!! I just accidentally deleted my quick takes three words from the end of take seven. How? How????

Briefly, as best I can remember ...

1. Sporting highlight of the week: England beating Slovenia and qualifying for the next round of the World Cup. Lowlight: England's dire performance against Algeria. Just awful! I had mixed feelings over the USA. On the one hand I wanted to see them qualify, but on the other, I didn't want to see England stuck with a match against Germany. (Thanks guys! Not!). England vs. Germany is our match of doom. They have met four times in the World Cup, and every match has been tied after 90 minutes. The usual format is 120 minutes of agonising frustration followed by defeat for England on penalties (which the Germans always score, and England always miss). The only time England won was in 1966 when they beat Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final.

2. More sport ... did anyone see the world's longest ever tennis match at Wimbledon this week. I didn't watch, but kept up with the score on the news. American John Isner beat Frenchman Nicholas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68. Yes, that was a 138 game last set. Absolutely mind boggling.

3. Cherub is in a phase where it is impossible to have a conversation with her that doesn't involve the word "why". Example:
Cherub: Can I watch TV please?
Me: Yes
Cherub: Why?
Let's just say the novelty of seeing her curiosity emerge has worn off.

4. I thought that as Cherub's name (Naomi) is relatively unusual, she would be sure to be the only Naomi in her school year, if not the entire school. Wrong. There is another one the same age. It could be worse, though. In her school class there are two boys named Jack, with almost identical surnames (7 and 8 letter names with 2 letters different). Imagine the confusion that is going to cause, potentially for the next fourteen years.

5. On the subject of names ... Cherub's school group seems a good one for girls' names, with lots of rather pretty ones. So far I have noticed Olivia, Isabel, Sophie, Megan, Millie, Zoe, Zara, Rose, Ruby, Keira, Aimee, Holly and Grace ... and no "ewww" names. My definition of "ewww" names would be those obviously copied from a fashionable popstar, names spelled in bizarre ways, or names that are cute on little girls but seriously odd for anyone over thirty.

6. I have forgotten number six.

7. What I should be doing instead of retyping this is cooking for tonight's international meal. I struggled to find something Turkish that (a) I could cook, (b) I could easily find ingredients for, and (c) everyone will eat. The final plan for the main course is Middle Eastern Baked Kufta (which I'm going to prepare in advance), Turkish Pilaf with Tomato, and Shepherd's Salad.

Sorry, no time to proof read!

Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How Do You Read?

I just picked up a new book - The Africa House, by Christina Lamb - and realised I have a very specific routine when I start a book:

  • Read blurb on the back cover
  • Read blurb about the author
  • Read acknowledgements
  • Look through illustrations
  • Read introduction
  • (Often) Read postscript
  • Start main body of the book
I'm thinking of non-fiction here, which is what I read most of these days - though my approach to fiction is not so very different, even down to a tendency to read the beginning, the end, and then the middle. I like to have a sense of where the book is going, where the author is coming from, and - where possible - a visual guide to the people and places. I just started and abandoned Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets by Stephen Smith, at least in part because it had no illustrations.

Does anyone else have their own particular way of tackling a book?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 21st June 2010

Outside My Window ... a perfect summer day.

I am thinking ...what to cook for our international meal with neighbours on Friday evening. I have to come up with a Turkish main course. I would have gone for kebabs, but we had an Icelandic version of kebabs at the last meal. It can't be spicy, or be too complicated!

From the learning rooms ... Angel's last GCSE exam for this year on Tuesday (though she still has some internal school exams next week).

I am thankful ... for summer. A season you can never take for granted in England!

From the kitchen ... orange chicken and rice

I am wearing ... black linen trousers, black and white flowery tunic top

I am creating ... Cherub's cardigan. I probably did about six rows last week.

I am going ... shopping this afternoon. Cherub has some birthday money to spend.  I also need to buy gifts for the two birthday parties she has been invited to next weekend, a new school bag for Angel, and tights for Star (who wore a pair of mine to school this morning!).

I am reading ...oops! Another non-reading week. Wonder why I get these reading doldrums?

I am hoping ... that I can resolve yet another problem with my iMac (which I think may simply be worn out from overuse!)

I am hearing ... birds and faint traffic noise through the open patio door.

Around the house ... yet more of Cherub's drawings; birthday cards; Father's Day cards; laundry; shoes that overflow the shoe rack and walk around the house, seemingly under their own steam.

One of my favorite things ... quiet Monday mornings, especially after a busy weekend.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... shopping this afternoon; looking after Little Friend N before and after school tomorrow; another school visit and a playdate for Cherub on Wednesday; international meal on Friday (we are the hosts this time); two parties for Cherub at the weekend. Yikes! Cherub has suddenly acquired a social life! Another logistical challenge to add into the mix.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing

A Kiss for Rachel

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Friday, June 18, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 18th June 2010

1. Success of the week: Little Cherub worked out how to pedal her bike (with stabilisers). The bike was a lucky find - someone was having a garage clearout and put out old bikes and scooters for sale  just as we walked past the house. Cherub fell in love with the larger of the two bikes, which is really a bit too big for her - it is meant for age four and up, and Cherub is not four year old sized, but it has a dolly seat on the back, a pink bag on the front, and glittery tassels on the handlebars, which all made it irresistible. She has been trying very hard to pedal, but couldn't quite make her short legs reach until a few days ago when she cracked it. She can still only manage if there is a slight downward slope, which means I have to push her up the road so she can cycle down. She is very proud of herself!

2. I enjoyed this post on risk at MacBeth's Opinion (there is also a follow-up post here). It was interesting that both MacBeth and a number of commenters were more inclined than their husbands to allow children to take risks. Tevye is definitely more risk averse and more inclined to worry than I am, so the same applies here. I am rather more in the mould of the father in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons: "Better drowned than duffers; if not duffers, won't drown".

3. Another successful school visit for Cherub on Wednesday. This time she was particularly taken with an "office" area, with old keyboards, phones and calculaters, filing trays, paper and pencils, and with an ice cream stall set up in the seaside area. She actually spoke to one of the teachers this week, and accepted staying on her own quite happily when the parents went into the school hall for a while to listen to a talk.

4. Angel has been just given her coursework task for her Design and Technology Graphic Products GCSE. She has to choose one of these assignments:
(a) An international Board Game manufacturer needs you to design and make a new prototype board game using the "race and chase" format. It is important that the game is presented ready for sale.
(b) A well-established local Italian fast food delivery service called "Milano" requires a new menu, a card counter dispenser for the menus and a box for their new 250mm pizza. The pizza box needs to have some form of smart indication of the temperature of the pizza on delivery. Design and make the required products.
My guess is she will choose the second option as it takes less imagination and more technique (cut-and-fold boxes are a geometric challenge).

5. We have been testing out a range of World Cup flavours produced by the major crisp (potato chip) manufacturer over here has launched a range of World Cup flavours. My favourites so far are Japanese Teriyaki Chicken, and South African Sweet Chutney. Angel and Star like Australian BBQ Kangaroo and English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. I've yet to find a crisp Cherub doesn't like (which is useful as she eats up all the cheese and onion ones from multipacks than nobody else wants). Anyone else in the UK have any favourites?

6. More brass banding this week ... we'll be playing in the bandstand in the park on Sunday afternoon, with a programme including this piece of music that has become something of a theme tune for the England football team (the recording quality isn't good, but this was the best played version of the setting we use I could find on YouTube):

7. Found on the kitchen side this morning ... a note from Tevye reading "Urgent: No tea bags", to which had been added "Urgent: No make-up wipes, no hairspray".

Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Random Half Dozen: 3rd Edition

Six cars I have owned
(As a bonus, the first car I drove was a 1950s Austin Cambridge that once belonged to my grandfather. I learned to drive it round the fields on my dad's farm when I was a young teenager. Does anyone else remember driving cars that had a choke?)

  • Vauxhall Viva Estate
  • Austin Maxi
  • Fiat Panda (with leaking sunroof)
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Renault Megane
  • Vauxhall Zafira

Six birthday presents Cherub is enjoying
  • Swingboat
  • Littlest Pet Shop spider
  • Playmobil paddling pool
  • My Naughty Little Sister books
  • Charlie and Lola DVDs
  • Playmobil princess's birthday party set
Six toys I loved as a child
  • My teddy, named Elizabeth
  • A rocking horse on springs  
  • Lego (in the days before kits, when it was just bricks)
  • My brother's matchbox cars (we spent hours racing them)
  • Space hopper  
  • Tin spinning top with a handle you pulled up and down to make it spin

Six favourite hymns
(I play modern hymns with our Church music group, but my preference is for the good old-fashioned traditional type.)
  • Soul of my Saviour
  • Guide me, O thou great Redeemer
  • Tell out my soul
  • Thine be the glory
  • Dear Lord and Father of mankind
  • Faith of our fathers

Six favourite flavours
  • Chocolate
  • Caramel
  • Lemon
  • Vanilla
  • Coffee
  • Raspberry

Six Winston Churchill quotes
  • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
  • If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time - a tremendous whack.
  • My wife and I tried two or three times in the last 40 years to have breakfast together, but it was so disagreeable we had to stop.
  • Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.
  • Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
  • To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Birthday Party

This year Cherub badly wanted to have a "real" birthday party. She wanted a fairy theme ... 

Birthday Fairy

... and a bouncy castle (inflatable) in the garden. This is always a bit risky with British weather, but we took the gamble and it paid off. Not a spot of rain all afternoon, then it poured down in the evening after everyone had gone home.

Bouncy Castle

At this age it makes for a very easy party that the children love - this time seven little people and four big girls (Angel and Star and their friends) all had fun bouncing. So did a couple of adults, but mercifully nobody took pictures!

Bouncing Girls

Wasn't she a cute bouncing fairy? (Easier with no wings!)

Bouncing 2

Sliding was good too, and so was playing in the swingboat, which you can just see at the edge of the picture (I forgot to take a proper photo).

Down the Slide

Star and her friend L appointed themselves official party organisers and did a great job, preparing all the food, baking gorgeous pink decorated fairy cakes, organising games and generally looking after the little ones.

Tea Time 4

Cherub wanted the same chocolate caterpillar cake as last year (bought, not made!).

Caterpillar Cake

Monday, June 14, 2010

Outside My Window ... so far this morning blue skies with a little fluffy white cloud, threatening dark grey clouds, and back to sun peeking through hazy light grey. Just checked the BBC 24 hour weather forecast: light rain, sunny intervals, light rain shower, white cloud, and partly cloudy, all in quick succession. That's British weather for you.

I am thinking ... I must remember to phone the orthodontist. One of the plates on Rachel's braces came off her tooth.

From the learning rooms ... three GCSE exams for Angel this week, and another taster session at school for Cherub.

I am thankful ... it stayed dry yesterday afternoon and Cherub was able to have the bouncy castle birthday party we had planned. Seven little kids and four big kids (not to mention a couple of adults!) had a lot of fun bouncing.

From the kitchen ... something based on minced beef, but I'm not sure what yet.

I am wearing ... jeans, top with purple and blue flowers on a black background, navy cardigan, black socks.

I am creating ... still slowly knitting Cherub's cardigan. The back and one sleeve are done and I have started one of the front pieces.

I am going ... to get back into my groove this week. I floundered through last week thanks to a combination of no playgroup on Monday, Cherub's birthday, and a summer cold.

I am reading ... about to start a history of underground London. Looks interesting.

I am hoping ... England do better in their next two group matches. The theme of yesterday's Mass was forgiveness; Father John suggested we could start by forgiving the England goalkeeper.

I am hearing ... music from a World Cup themed playlist I set up on iTunes.

Around the house ... birthday party debris - balloons, a birthday banner, leftovers.

One of my favorite things ... four year old girls :)

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a meal with the other First Communion catechists on Tuesday; schedule clash on Wednesday between dance classes and band practice (it usually works out OK, but this week Tevye has to go to London for the evening); extra dance class for Star on Friday; First Communion Mass on Saturday; playing at the bandstand in the town centre park on Sunday afternoon.
A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... 
Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Brass Bands

As brass banding is taking over my life a bit at the moment - June and July are busy months for playing at fetes and bandstands, not to mention world cup matches - I thought I would write a brief (or maybe not!) introduction to brass bands.

Brass bands are a peculiarly British musical institution, with links back to the "waits" of the middle ages. While brass bands are found elsewhere, their roots are in the UK and they are most popular here. Early 19th century bands included both brass and woodwind, until in the 1830s the brass band format emerged. Bands were - and are - community based, often linked to works organisations like factories or mines. In the 1880s there were over 40,000 brass bands in the UK. Since the 1850s taking part in competitive leagues - "contesting" - has been a big part of the band movement (the band I play in used to take part in contests, but currently does not). Brass bands are amateur, usually self-funded and typically have training or junior bands to teach new players. They provide instruments and charge nominal fees to members, meaning they are open to anyone, regardless of financial circumstances.

Bands are made up of a specific collection of instruments and parts:

  • Solo cornet - plays lots of solo bits
  • First cornets - usually 4 or 5, the equivalent of the first violins in an orchestra, they often play the tune
  • Second cornets - 2, usually playing a lower harmony under the first cornets
  • Third cornets - 2, playing below the second cornets
  • Repiano cornet - plays more "frilly", tuneful harmonies
  • Soprano cornet - a smaller, higher pitched cornet, that plays (logically enough!) the high bits
  • Flugelhorn - slightly larger than a cornet, with a mellow sound. Often gets solos, and sometimes doubles with the repiano cornet
  • Tenor horns - 3, playing solo, first and second horn parts. Smallest of the "upright" instruments, it plays a few tones lower than a cornet
  • Baritones - 2, playing first and second baritone parts. Larger than the tenor horn, it plays in the same pitch as a euphonium. The first baritone gets some solos, sometimes harmonising with tenor horn and euphonium. Second baritone is a "fill-in" instrument, either playing a lower harmony under the first baritone, or doubling euphonium, trombone or tuba
  • Euphoniums - 2, mostly playing the same part, though occasionally it splits into two. An important brass band instrument, with lots of solos and twiddly bits.
  • Trombones - 3, playing first, second and bass trombone parts. The first trombone often gets solos, the second sometimes doubles the first trombone and sometimes harmonises with it. The bass trombone sometimes does its own thing, playing along under everyone else, or forms a third with or underneath the other two trombones. 
  • Tubas (known in brass bands as "basses") - 2 "E flat" basses and 2 "B flat" basses. These last are the biggest, deepest instruments in the band. The basses play - surprise, surprise - the bass part, often setting the rhythm for the band.
  • Percussion - 2 percussionists, playing a drum kit and or any other percussion, and sometimes also timpani.
A band with a full complement should have 28 players. To give an idea of what a top brass band sounds like, here is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band playing MacArthur Park (begins about 40 seconds in):

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Little Bit of Sunshine

Clare at Battlements of Rubies has kindly passed on to me a Sunshine Award:

Given the weather we have had this week - rain, cloud, heavy rain, cloud, more rain - I couldn't be more grateful for a ray of sunshine to cheer my Friday afternoon. Thank you Clare!

Now to pass on the sunshine to 12 other bloggers who brighten my day. The rules are at the bottom of this post, but rules are (sometimes!) made to be broken, so if you don't want to tag others, just enjoy a little sunny warmth.

    The Rules
    1. Post the logo on your blog and/or within the post.
    2. Pass it on to 12 other bloggers.
    3. Add links to these 12 bloggers within your blog.
    4. Let them know they are receiving the award
    5. Share the link of the person from whom you received the award.

    7 Quick Takes: 11th June 2010

    1. Over half term J-next-door (age 15) spent nine days in Bulgaria with a group of older teens from her church youth group, working with gypsy families and street children. Two things in particular that she told us have stuck in my mind. They were able to give meals to the children, which were badly needed - many of them had not eaten for two or three days because wet weather meant they were unable to rummage through the garbage for scraps as they usually do. They also took some of the girls to buy sweets - the children would pick one small sweet, because they simply couldn't believe anyone would buy them a whole bag. A lot of the children are sent by their families to beg on the streets, and are not allowed to return until they have a certain amount of money (which is then often used for drink or drugs, not to feed the kids). Please pray for these children who have so very little, and also for the youngsters who were prepared to give up their time and money to travel across Europe and do what they could to help.

    2. On a lighter note, the World Cup starts tonight. I rarely watch football these days, but I'll be following it for the next few weeks. And I'm excited that South Africa is the host country ... who would have predicted that when Nelson Mandela was released 20 years ago? Tevye visited family in Cape Town many years ago and says it is the most beautiful place he has ever been.

    3. My World Cup prediction? Brazil to win, England to be knocked out in the quarter-finals. We got off to our usual luckless start with captain Rio Ferdinand injured in the first training session and out of the tournament. I expect this tournament to be another in which the English team demonstrates its usual capacity for misfortune. But please, please ... not another defeat on penalties.

    4. More World Cup ... I'm sorry USA, but much as I love my American friends, tomorrow night you are toast! I hope. I'll be watching the England-USA match at a village pub, where the brass band have been roped in to play before the match and during half time. I'm kind of bemused that what began with Angel wanting to learn the trumpet, has led to me playing the trombone in a pub car park in return for free beer and pies.

    5. Something that becomes more apparent every time a big international sporting event like the World Cup comes round is how patriotism here is now focused on England rather than the United Kingdom. As a child I never saw the English flag of St George (red cross on a white background), only the Union Jack. Now red and white is everywhere. The same applies to any other flag-waving event - more and more English flags, less and less Union Jacks. While the Scots and Welsh have always flown their own flag, the English didn't. I'm not sure whether the change is down to a more specifically English patriotism, or whether it has happened because the Union Jack has been tarnished by the way it is used by unsavoury, racist political parties.

    6. Cherub loved her introduction to school on Wednesday. The current theme for the four to five year olds is pirates and mermaids, so there were lots of pirate and sea related toys. She spent quite a time playing with pirate boats and figures, did a sea painting and a beach picture (glue and sand for the beach), played in the "seaside shop", tried out one of the computers, and complained when it was time to go home. She wasn't ready to speak to the teachers yet, though. When Miss L spoke to her she hid behind me. There are three more taster sessions to come, so that should give her time to overcome her shyness.

    7. One of Cherub's favourite birthday presents is a Playmobil circus band that plays music (ironically one of the reasons I like Playmobil is that it doesn't make electronic noises!). She has decided it is the right sort of music for what she calls "Eilish" dancing, and is practicing kicking her way across the room while trying to keep her arms by her sides. Her face as she tries to concentrate on both feet and arms simultaneously is a picture.

    Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Beauty in the Home

    I often read blog posts and marvel at the beauty the authors have created in their homes. There are different styles of beauty - like Lucy's crochet and colour at Attic 24, or Mary's simple spaces at Evlogia - but the end result is the same: an inviting, attractive and beautiful home.

    I can't do it. Or, at least, maybe I could do it if I tried hard enough, but I don't. Why, I wonder? Partly, I think, because I don't have a style. Now I don't mean that it is essential to have a particular style to make a beautiful home, but I think if you do then it becomes easier to put things together, to get ideas for those little nooks and corners, to see immediately what would give a lift to an uninspiring area.

    Also, I don't have the creative imagination it takes to highlight the beauty in everyday things. It would never occur to me to put a bunch of buttercups in a jamjar like this, for instance. I don't have that gift for putting things together on a whim. It takes thought and effort.

    And there I run up against laziness ... or perhaps inertia is a better word. I start well, then run out of steam. Take fresh flowers, for example. I love them, but I rarely think to buy them. When I do, I can never achieve more than a stuffed-in-vase effect. I admire them for a day or so, then forget them until they are so far past dead they are half way to mummified. Even then it often takes a couple of days after noticing they are dead to get round to throwing them out. And let's face it, dead flowers are not a good look. 

    A quick glance round the sitting room and I can see three examples of my inertia problem. Behind me on the wall is a sun handprint craft I made with Cherub a year ago. Seasonal again now, but it was up there through autumn, Christmas and Easter. The rest of the walls are bare, missing the pictures that got taken down when we decorated and never replaced. Then to my left is a small liturgical year display, still stuck firmly in Mary's month of May with pictures, statues and a rosary (though as I didn't put it there until the middle of May, perhaps it is only fair to keep it there longer?). Lots of good intentions, poorly implemented. On the bright side, I did get rid of two vases of dead flowers yesterday.

    I would like to do better. But how?

    I think I'll have to ponder that for awhile.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2010

    Random Half Dozen, 2nd Edition

    I enjoyed doing my random half dozen last week, so I think I'll carry it on through June. Feel free to play along and do one of your own - if you would like to,  pick any six random topics of your own.

    Six favourite items in my wardrobe
    Long 3/4 sleeved top with assymetric hem, navy blue with large pink and blue flowers
    Short sleeved black top with blue and purple flowers (I'm in an untypically floral phase)
    Black linen trousers
    Lightweight casual purple summer jacket (I'm also in a purple patch)
    A pair of dark blue jeans that fit just right
    Rocket Dog thick soled beaded flipflops - can walk in these for hours without aching feet

    Six things I need to do today
    Tidy the shoe rack disaster zone in the hall
    Reorganise the toys we keep out in the sitting room
    Return a form to the volunteer coordinator at the record office
    Buy toilet paper
    Cook something using minced beef for dinner
    Enter a large pile of receipts into ClearCheckbook

    Six of the most beautiful places I have visited
    Mont St Michel, France
    Yorkshire Dales, England
    Venice, Italy
    Assisi, Italy
    Kynance Cove, Cornwall
    Carcassonne, France

    Six tracks from my "Happy Music" playlist
    (I use this one to brighten up housework)
    Jai Ho (from Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack)
    Floral Dance (Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band - not Terry Wogan!)
    Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson)
    Don't Stop Me Now (Queen)
    Pirates of the Caribbean theme
    Sun is Shining (Bob Marley, techno remix)

    Six memorable train journeys (I love trains!)
    London to Penzance (Cornwall) - the line runs within yards of the Devon coast in what has to be one of the most scenic stretches of railway anywhere
    Appleby (Cumbria) to Settle (Yorkshire) - part of the Settle-Carlisle railway, with more stunning scenery.
    North Yorkshire Moors Railway - operated by full size steam engines and feels like travelling back 70 years (I'll gloss over the fact that I think Angel and Star caught chicken pox on this railway!)
    Milan to Rome - the only time I have spent the night on a train, in a couchette
    Ryde to Shanklin (Isle of Wight) - operated by old electric London Underground trains, the Island Line starts at the seaward end of a mile long pier
    London to Aviemore (Scotland) - travels over the Drumochter Pass, the highest railway pass in the UK

    Six things you may not know about me
    I have a knack for spilling my food and drinks down my front
    I once knit a chiquita banana
    My first job was a holiday job assembling TV aerial sockets
    I have flown in an hot air balloon
    According to my mother, my first word was "violin"
    I once drove an Austin Maxi at over 100mph (it was a very empty motorway, in the days before speed cameras)

    Happy 4th Birthday Cherub

    Our Little Cherub is four! And very proud of it she is too. So far as she is concerned, she is now officially BIG, although the reality is that she is still wearing age 2-3 clothes with room to spare. She may be little, but that doesn't stop her being a determined, feisty little person. We love her to bits!

    PS. I just showed these pictures to Cherub:

    Me: Here you are when you were a baby ... 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4.

    Cherub: You missed out three and a half!

    Tuesday, June 08, 2010

    The Handwriting Project

    I was tagged by Melanie at The Wine Dark Sea for this meme:

    Here's how the project works:

    Write down the following, snap a picture (or scan the document), post it, and tag others.

    1. Name/Blog Name
    2. Right handed, left handed or both
    3. Favorite letters to write
    4. Least favorite letters to write
    5. Write: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
    6. Write in caps:
    7. Favorite song lyrics
    8. Tag 7 people
    9. Any special note or drawing
    Handwriting is not my strong point, but I'm giving it a go anyway. I used plain printer paper, which was what I had to hand, and a black Pentel EnerGel pen, which was the only halfway decent writing implement around. If I'm doing a lot of writing - taking lecture notes, for example, or writing in a journal or notebook I prefer to use a proper fountain pen. I haven't used one for a while, which means I can't have been doing much handwriting.

    Here are my answers ... it should be possible to enlarge the picture by clicking on it. Not the best photo I'm afraid, with a spot on the left blurred by the flash.

    Monday, June 07, 2010

    Simple Woman's Daybook: 7th June

    Outside My Window ... cloudy, could-do-anything sort of weather.

    I am thinking ... about everything I need to do today. Catch up time after half term last week.

    From the learning rooms ... back to school for the big girls today. Cherub doesn't start back at playgroup until tomorrow - then on Wednesday we go for her first one hour taster session at school.

    I am thankful ... for family holidays.

    From the kitchen ... oh my goodness! You mean I have to think about food? Brain is not into gear yet.

    I am wearing ... pink pyjamas, which clash terribly with my turquoise and green bedroom colour scheme.

    I am creating ... slowly knitting Cherub's cardigan. I can never get motivated to knit during the summer.

    I am going ... to Tescos (supermarket) and Homebase (d-i-y and garden store). I need food and a hosepipe.

    I am reading ... all I read last week was newspapers and a magazine, but yesterday I picked up  A Circle of Sisters again.

    I am hoping ... my Mum's knee replacement surgery goes well. She has an official date now - June 30th.

    I am hearing ... early morning kids' TV

    Around the house ... end-of-holiday clutter and laundry.

    One of my favorite things ... unlimited help-yourself breakfasts in hotels.

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... Cherub's fourth birthday tomorrow, followed up with her first proper birthday party on Sunday; a biology GCSE exam for Angel; band jobs on Saturday (playing at a village fete in the afternoon, then at a local pub in the evening before England's first World Cup game and again during half time)

    A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... 

    Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

    Sunday, June 06, 2010


    Back from a happy three days enjoying the sun at the seaside.

    We strolled along the pier.

    Angel and Star swung out from the end of the pier on this ...

    They survived, and said they enjoyed it.

    What began well ...

    ... ended badly (Star had to be prised out!)

    We saw the Royal Pavilion (only from the outside - we didn't go in).

    We ate ice creams.

    Cherub rode on a carousel, though it took her two days to pluck up the courage.

    She was very pleased with this toy whale her sister won for her by racing a mechanical dolphin.

    And Star brought home some Brighton rock.

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    Random Half Dozen

    Linda of 2nd Cup of Coffee is taking a break from her random dozen for June, so I'm throwing in an utterly random half dozen of my own ...

    Six things I can reach from where I'm sitting
    TV remote
    Hair grips (they get everywhere in this house!)
    Folder full of genealogy notes
    Empty chocolate mousse carton

    Six songs on my current (rather eclectic) iTunes play list
    Viva la Vida (Coldplay)
    Love is Strange (Buddy Holly)
    MacArthur Park (Grimethorpe Colliery Band)
    You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (Bachman Turner Overdrive)
    Theme from Mahogany (Diana Ross)
    Dvorak's 6th Symphony (does that count as a song?)

    Six TV series I have been watching
    Doctor Who
    Ashes to Ashes
    BBC Young Musician of the Year
    Lewis (follow up to Inspector Morse)
    Britain's Got Talent

    Six things I have eaten in the last 24 hours
    Home made lamb hotpot 
    Strawberries and cream
    Prawn sandwich
    Oreo McFlurry
    American cheeseburger flavour crisps
    Oat and raisin cereal

    Six things that have made me laugh recently
    Watching Cherub trying to pedal her bike (she can almost do it, but her legs are about half an inch too short).
    A cocktail renamed "frog in a blender" due its interesting but unappetising appearance (moral: read instructions before throwing things into a cocktail shaker).
    Star and her cousin's attempts to climb a giant model dinosaur (they succeeded)
    Listening to Cherub's conversations with her toys.
    Failed attempts to get the first notes of the trombone part for the Floral Dance in the right place at band practice (it gets worse once you start laughing!).

    Six things I have bought this week
    Coffee (three times in the last three days)
    A chocolate fudge bar for Cherub
    A crop top for Star to dance in (dance studios have no air conditioning)
    Convertible ballet tights

    Tuesday, June 01, 2010

    Everything Flows, Nothing Stands Still

    Everything flows, nothing stands still. (Heraclitus)
    I have been thinking about change and came across this quote. It sums up for me one aspect of life with children: life is in a constant state of flux. There are the obvious big changes - a new baby, a child reaching school age, homeschooling, school-schooling, a child finishing school and leaving home. Then there are the continual little changes, as one or other child in the family grows into a new phase. Here, for example, Cherub is very noticeably more "four" than she was a month ago. Although technically she is not four until next week, she is suddenly doing things that are more four than three: she is doing a ton of drawing, she has started dressing herself, and has jumped on a notch in confidence. When we were homeschooling, I learned that whenever I thought I had it sorted, within a few months someone would move on a stage and things that were going well suddenly wouldn't work any more. Even without homeschooling or any major changes, our life now looks quite different to how it looked two years ago, just because we have a 15 year old, an 11 year old and an (almost) 4 year old, instead of a 13 year old, a 9 year old and a 2 year old.

    Now we are heading up to another of the major changes, with Cherub starting school. Initially it won't make much difference as she will only go for half days. At the moment she goes to playgroup for two and a half hours four mornings a week; in September she will be at school for three hours every weekday afternoon; after Christmas she will switch to mornings; then after Easter she will start staying at school for full days. And that will be a huge change - for me, more than for her. For the first time in sixteen years, I will not have one or more children home for most of the day. Which means ... what? Work? Leisure? Volunteering?

    I have been tentatively exploring a few ideas, and it seems as though doors are opening in one particular direction. I tried applying for tutoring work with the Open University that I could do from home. That got nowhere. I considered training as primary school teacher. That looked practical - I could do most of the training in local schools, and school holidays would make it easy to fit alongside our family life - but certain aspects worried me and there was something indefinable that didn't feel right. Then I started thinking about archive work, and within a week I had voluntary work experience arranged with a local record office. To train as an archivist in the UK you have to have prior work experience, either paid or as a volunteer. It is feasible to volunteer for two half days a week while Cherub is at part time school, and it will mean I can apply to study for the diploma of the Society of Archivists (the professional qualification here).

    Last week I did a bit of digging around on the internet, looking in more detail than I had before at the various archives and record management courses. Three universities provide courses by distance learning. For one paid employment in an archive is a prerequisite; another has inflexible starting dates, takes a minimum of two and a half years, and sounds uninspiring. The third is provided by a Scottish university and sounds ideal. The course has three entry points a year, in January, May and September, is taught online, and can (at least in theory) be completed in less than two years to diploma level, with the option of adding a dissertation to gain a masters degree. Thinking it through, I realised I could start this course next January once I have some work experience under my belt, and with time to study while Cherub is at school, would have a realistic chance of being a qualified archivist by the autumn of 2012. I emailed the course administrator, who confirmed that one day a week of voluntary work before and during the course would meet their experience criteria and encouraged me to apply. I would have to go to Scotland for two short study courses in January and October, but that would be manageable.

    Tevye and I had a long discussion about the idea, and the more we talked about the pros and cons, the more positive we felt about the pros and the less worried by the cons. The ease with which doors are opening looks distinctly providential to us. The more I look into it, the more enthusiastic I feel about the actual work, and Tevye is convinced I would enjoy it a great deal. Archivists' jobs are thin on the ground at the moment, but this is at least partly due to funding being diverted into the 2012 Olympics (sports and culture both get a lot of funding from the National Lottery) which means that from 2012 the number of jobs should increase again. Also, although even part time work would mean working at least some of the time during school holidays, we could see ways in which it could work surprisingly well for our family, with a number of possibilities opening up as we talked it through. A couple of months ago the idea hadn't even entered my head, yet now it seems very much the right direction to head in. Where this road will take me I have no idea - there could be u-turns and crossroads ahead - but at least I now know where my new journey is going to start.