Month: January 2012

Passing the book

Family Matters by Vicki McLeod

When I was a little girl I loved to read. I read voraciously. I read anything I could lay my hands on. At the breakfast table I would read and then re-read the back of the cereal packets because I wasn’t supposed to read my book at the table. I was never seen without a book. I loved books about ponies and schoolgirls and adventures, about things that happened years ago, and things that may happen in the future. I was a book geek. I had every single Flambards book, plenty of Enid Blyton, all of the Narnia stories, along with lots of other classics and I would dive back into them time and again.

My books have been with me throughout my life. I did consider giving them to a charity shop about fifteen years ago. I gazed at them thinking ‘Why am I keeping these?’ And out of somewhere in the back of my mind came the answer ‘You’re keeping us for your daughter’. Ahh… well at the time I didn’t have a child or even particularly think I would ever have one, so this was a turn up for the books, but nevertheless I thought, okay then, I will hang on to you.

Now La Gidg is in her first year at our local primary school, and her reading in both Catalan and Castillano is coming along very nicely. But my husband and I had noticed that she wasn’t so keen to try to read in English at home, she was happy to have stories read to her but wasn’t so confident about reading to us. We’d tried encouraging her: putting on silly voices, trying out new books, bribery even . . . but nothing had really inspired her until she started to go to the Kip McGrath centre in Son Quint. They specialise in tutoring kids in English and maths and their methods have really helped Gidg to turn the corner from bookshy to bookworm (which makes her geeky mother very proud).

Gidg has been going every Saturday morning for an eighty minute session with teachers Julie Staley and Jay Hirons to get her on the right track with her reading in English. You’d think (well I thought anyway) that it would be pretty simple to get a kid to read in English, but it turns out when they’re also dealing with two other languages then possibly they don’t really want to bother. But the pronunciation of certain letters is entirely different so it is important to get off on the right foot. So with a great reward system (we’re now the proud owners of a completed star chart and some very swish new colouring pencils) the Kip method (including playing specially designed computer games, drawing and reading aloud) over the last ten weeks has worked like a charm. Last weekend without any prompting I found Gidg holed up in her bedroom pouring over a book (she’s into mermaids and animals) rather than watching the Evil Tiny Pops on the TV so that’s a 100% result as far as I am concerned.

So, after all these years, my childhood books will be getting their airing after all, I think it’s going to have been worth their wait.

You can find out more here: http://spain.kipmcgrath.com

Calm down dear!

The behaviour of people continues to astound me. I know that we regulate each other´s acts, we wouldn´t do things in front of another that we knew were wrong or a bit unsavoury, but that doesn´t stop us from picking our noses from time to time in the comfort of the privacy of our bathroom does it? But nose picking, or spot squeezing or whatever is nothing, it´s just something that we don´t really want to watch. Try out and out harassment and intimidation of other people, you wouldn´t normally see that in public either, would you?

I´ve witnessed a rash of cyber harassment online recently. If you don´t know what that is then the definition of it is when a person is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another person using digital technologies. What people wouldn´t say or do in front of each other seems to have become quite acceptable behaviour when they are in they´re in front of their computer and at liberty. Like digital road rage there have been furious outbursts unleashed in Facebook groups based inMallorcathis week. What´s happened to make everyone so angry?

For one thing, in my opinion, some people who use online social network sites are not adept at expressing themselves in word form. There is an element of clumsiness, sometimes people don´t intend to cause the offence that they cause with their words, and it can just be a question of writing what you want to say and reading and re-reading to make sure that you have said it clearly without being rude or leaving room for other possible interpretations. You can write, read and then publish  and if you realise you´ve said the wrong thing you can still have the possibility to delete. Perhaps it also had something to do with “Blue Monday” which was this week: it´s said to be the saddest day of the year, when we are all back to work and staring down the barrel of a credit card bill, or tax demand and looking at a very long eleven months until Christmas comes round again. So perhaps we´re just feeling a bit low. Or perhaps everyone needs to get out more and mix with actual people. The intimidating and unecessary public exchanges I have seen this week between people who don´t even know each other in real life has made my mind reel.

If grown ups are behaving like this to each other: firing insults and making public statements and accusations, then how can we expect children to be kind to each other?  So, if you see it happening online to other people, or you´re tempted to have a go at someone yourself then stop. The cyber bullying sites for children recommend that you take five minutes before responding to something you might encounter online. Drop the mouse and step away from the computer and no one will get hurt! Kids are encouraged to find a way to calm down, perhaps through some deep breathing or getting outside and playing a game, talking to a parent or friend or giving a teddy bear a hug. All of this could be transferred without exception to be used by adults too. Or, hey, why not suggest to your Facebook buddies that you meet up for a coffee, and really get to know each other properly? Just a thought.

A new broom

After recovering from the evil lurgy which seems to have struck down plenty of the good people of Mallorca, I have now been struck by another bug. Symptoms of this particular bug include ruthlessly removing my child’s old toys from her bedroom, volunteering to hoover up underneath the wardrobes and alphabetizing books and separating them into different categories: fiction, non fiction, travel, etc. Don’t worry I am not pregnant (although someone did suggest that to me recently: it sparked off an emergency diet), I am merely going through my annual January control crisis.

I wish it were true that if you have your environment in check then the rest of your life will follow, but it definately isn’t the case for me. However I valiantly strive to colour code La Gidg’s wardrobe, ‘disappear’ my husband’s oldest and most threadbare t-shirts, and reduce the paper mountain of old newspapers and magazines back to a manageable level (thank goodness it’s winter and we need fire lighters everyday). I do this in the misguided hope that if my ducks are in a row that everything else will be too. I do this despite sharing my living space with two other people who don’t seem to either notice or care about things having a place ‘to be’. I DO care. More than is probably healthy.

Luckily for me there has recently been a rapid and impressive growth in the use of the social media platform Facebook as a marketplace to buy and sell items locally here on the island. There are plenty of groups in there but the one I tend to use is called ‘Secondhand Mallorca’. It’s like crack for the housebound shopper. I have found myself making some rather unruly, some (my husband) might say, even rash purchases. For example, I fell in love with and bought a bed which then wouldn’t fit up our stairs, and now have to sell it to get it out of our living room where it is stored with plenty of other stuff, most of it having come out of my daughter’s bedroom. (In order to persuade La Gidg that clearing out her room was a brilliant idea that would benefit her I needed to give her an incentive. What’s in it for her? New stuff mainly or at least the promise of new stuff. ‘Let’s clear this out and then we can sell it and use the money to get something nice for your bedroom’. Gidg is contemplating fairy lights and twinkly, glittery things that hang from the ceiling whilst her dad and I are secretly pricing up plasterers and figuring out if we can afford to start to get the walls in our house plastered. It’s all part of the plan).

So, my living room looks like Steptoe’s yard. This is a good thing as the rest of my house now doesn’t look like Steptoe or his son have ever set foot, or toe, in it. All of the detritus and extra stuff from around the house has slowly been shuffled into one room, and now with the help of online social media and ‘Secondhand Mallorca’ it is bit by bit steadily leaving the house. There are, of course, also the charity shops, it has felt a bit strange to be selling stuff which I would normally take to the Sally Army, but that plasterer isn’t going to do it for free you know. Not unless he is Paying It Forward which is the new big thing going on online as well. My friend Annie Verinder, who is an acupuncturist and massage therapist announced this week that she would be doing a day of free treatments each month with the understanding that the people who benefitted from the freebies would be ‘paying it forward’ with their skills for someone else. Hmm, perhaps I should ask her if she’s got any builders booked in for an appointment…

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

The Clan of the Cave Bear

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The family McLeod have become the Clan of the Cave Bear. We have been holed up in our house for almost two weeks now, with only brief forays outside to gather nuts and berries. Hibernation has been fun, but it would have been a lot more enjoyable without the inevitable sickness that seems to accompany any relaxation time in our lives. All three of us have been ill which seems to us to be an awful waste of time, although it has helped me to see into the future.

For the last week thanks to an evil ear infection, I have been completely deaf in one ear. It has really surprised me at how much an ear problem can sting, I’ve not had one before and I am quite keen to never ever have another. I woke up with it one morning and following some mutterings of doom from my husband (an old hand with ear problems apparently) I made my way to our local doctor to get some medication before the prophesied explosion of my ear drum (nice, happy Christmas to you too sweetheart!). Antibiotic ear drops duly prescribed I expected to be shot of the pain and the deafness in a trice. Not so unfortunately. I have had to drag myself through a week of ‘grumpy ear’ which featured plenty of shouting and ‘Pardon?!’s. And on New Year’s Eve instead of being at the local hoo hah with the neighbours I was asleep hours before the chimes. Goodness me, is this what I have in store as I get older? Deafness and accompanied anti-social behaviours?

It also left me with plenty of time for my own thoughts, given that that was pretty much all I could hear anyway. For one long, lonely morning I did wonder about mastering lip reading rather than the more uncouth yelling of ‘what?’ at my husband every time he tried to say something to me. There are some useful aspects to temporary hearing loss, such as getting away with some judicious ‘selective hearing’ i.e. choosing to ignore things which you can hear but don’t want to know about. Heh, heh, heh….

A week later and I went back to the medical centre, this time talking to a different doctor, and explaining to him that I was fed up with being ill and could he please fix it pronto. ‘You were given drops, yes?’ ‘Pardon? Oh, yes’. ‘Those drops never work, take this prescription for proper antibiotics and be on your way grumpy cave woman’.  So very soon it will be time for us to emerge from our cave after our Christmas hibernation, blinking into the sun, grunting and pointing at cars. Resolutions have been made, the usual boring ones about being healthier, and a couple of more exciting ones, which I think are important to balance up the duller more sensible ones. My husband wants to take photos of the Vuelta de Mallorca from the back of a ‘chase bike’, I am going to do some travelling in Europe and La Gidg has decided she wants to hike up mountains.  There, they’re in print now so no going back. Next Sunday we start with the mountains. Happy New Year to you.

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com 

Whoosh, there goes another year

The last few days in Casa McLeod have been close to perfect. We’ve spent a lot of time together, messing around, cooking, making things, eating too much, sleeping, and just relaxing. It has been lovely for all of us. So lovely in fact that there have been a few occasions where the sweetness and poignancy of the moment has brought me to tears. My little girl is growing up too fast: I want to preserve her in pickling vinegar so that she will remain as gorgeous as she is right now. Her innocent excitement at being visited by Father Christmas, and the sweet, funny things that she says quite literally made me cry with a confused mixture of happiness and sorrow. Yet again we’ve rushed through a year that we won’t get back, hardly stopping to enjoy the precious moments in our life, so these last few days have been really special in our house.

I have also become obsessed with my Christmas present from my husband which was a Kindle from Amazon. Twenty years ago my boyfriend at the time, who was studying Computer Science and idolised Apple Macintosh computers, told me that I would have to prepare myself for the day when I would read books without paper, and I remember to this day laughing heartily at him. . . well, it turns out that the Kindle, which can hold over a thousand novels and receives my favourite daily paper from the UK every morning, is rather good and has little buttons which are very satisfying to press. I’ve written an email to my old boyfriend to apologise.

We’ve not made any promises about 2012 and what we will do differently or any new year’s resolutions as yet, although I am a total sucker for all of those things, so expect a list at some point soon. In the meantime, I came across these lines from Walt Whitman today, and they’re a good enough point to start as any.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches,
give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem
and have the richest fluency not only in its words
but in the silent lines of its lips and face
and between the lashes of your eyes
and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Happy New Year!

The ‘nice’ list

I have come to terms with Christmas. Like a runaway train, I can’t stop it from happening so I made a decision last week to get onboard before I got left at the station.

My little girl,La Gidg, could carry around a whole family’s worth of Christmas spirit on her own. She’s certainly got the taste for it: she is super happy with her two chocolate advent calendars (one from us and one from her grandparents). Bless her she asks me for my permission before she opens them and wolfs down the chocs. I confused her the other day by asking her if she was going to share with anyone. To her credit she did proffer a chocolate, but I doubt she’s keen to make it a daily occurrence. She’s also got the ‘Peace and Goodwill’ part covered as so far this festive season she has raised 140€ for little Charley Ray Myers with her kid triathalon – she walked five kilometres, swam ten lengths then scooted five kilometres. She’s also written a letter to the Three Kings where she asked them to make sure that all the poor children in the world had families that loved them (I got a bit choked up at that one). Then there is the traditional ‘end of term activities’: she has performed in her synchro team show, and aced her reading test at Kip McGrath. Sometimes I wonder if they didn’t give me the wrong baby in the hospital she’s such a good kid. So, she’s definately on the Santa’s ‘nice’ list. To that end we organised a video message from Father Christmas, I can highly recommend this: go and visit www.portablenorthpole.tv  to get your own personalised message for your child direct from Santa. It’s free and fun, but priceless to watch your child’s face as they watch Father Christmas actually speaking to them.

We’re trying to establish some family Christmas traditions, so we’re all off into Palma on Christmas Eve to take a tour around the nativity scenes and then we’ll come back home, eat supper and exchange a gift each, just to take the edge off the anticipation of the big day. Christmas Day will be spent with my Mallorca family. And then Boxing Day will hopefully feature a walk, nothing too strenuous you understand, just long enough to burn off a mince pie or two. My main idea is: walk around a bit, find a bar.

There’s the last minute craziness to come I guess, the bit where you have to lose your temper and have a melt down when you’re just fed up of queuing and shopping, or that could just be me I suppose, other people do keep insisting that they enjoy this stuff. So I might just mutter a small ‘Bah humbug’ to keep me happy.

Whatever you are doing, and wherever you are, I sincerely hope that you enjoy the holidays. We’ve certainly earned some time off to recuperate from this arduous year before the big push into 2012.

Merry Christmas, lots of love from v, o and g xxx

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

Technology bytes

This column is being brought to you by ibuprofen, voltaren and deep heat. I am in pain. Lots of it. Years of using a laptop computer have finally taken their toll: I have a working injury. It’s not like I fell off a ladder and broke my leg whilst painting the house, or got my fingers trapped in wrapping machine whilst working on the factory line. No, I know, I have no cause to complain, apart from the constant nagging agony of neck, arm and shoulder pain… poor me.  I couldn’t type at all a couple of days ago; I was close to resorting to taping a stick to my forehead and head banging my way through 500 words.

So, this week’s column is a public health announcement: ‘How to sit at a computer’. Did you know that regular computer users perform between 50,000 to 200,000 keystrokes every day? That’s a lot of fingertip mileage.  If your computer use includes frequent awkward postures, repetition, then you can develop nerve, muscle, tendon, and ligament damage. So if you use a computer a lot then you should be looking at your posture. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your knees should be at right angles, whilst your elbows and forearms should be supported and the actual screen should be in your eye line when your head is being held ‘neutrally’. So, not on the sofa with the pc on your lap and head bent down, or many other variations on a theme.

I knew all this stuff, but I just ignored it and carried on. My trusty laptop has been my constant companion for the last two years. I think I actually spend more time with it than I do my family. And it being a laptop means that you can work pretty much anywhere with it, which of course, I did. So bit by bit, not that you would notice, my neck and shoulder have been seizing up over the past year, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t turn my head around.

The pain in my shoulder got to the point where it was waking me up at night, and I was boring people by such a whinge bag about it, and that’s when I decided I’d better go to seek some help. Cue Tracey Evans, physiotherapist who has her clinic in Marivent. She’s been a physio for 26 years, so she knows what she is doing and what a difference! One session of interferential, ultra sound and the deepest deep tissue massage ever and I literally could feel more blood travelling around my head. Bliss. ‘How are you feeling?’ asked the lovely Tracey, ‘Fabulous’ I replied, and I truly felt amazing. It’s incredible how tiring it is to be in pain, and being relieved of that feeling was wonderful.

So I am determined to make sure I don’t allow myself to get into this sorry state again. I’ve been googling about what to do. The workstation has now been done – correct height of table, arm supports etc. There are trickier things though which will be more difficult for me to remember, i.e. to take frequent rest breaks, it’s easy to forget to do that: stand up and stretch, simple. But here’s one which I could have done with knowing about when I was at school, ‘Rest your eyes occasionally by focusing on distant objects (i.e., look out a window).’ ‘What are you doing Victoria?’ ‘Just having an RSI stress break miss…’

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

The value of dreams

When I was a kid not one Christmas went past without me begging my parents to be given a pony. I envisaged keeping it in the shed in the back garden and riding it to school every day, lashing the reins around the school gates, cowboy style. I was obsessed. When we would go on those boring family car journeys I would sit in the back seat and gaze out of the window, imagining that my pony was galloping alongside the car, keeping up with us on the M1..

I first started to ride when I was four; the first pony I ever rode was called Robin. From that day forward I was hooked. I would go to my local riding school every weekend and just hand around all day, helping out and trying to spend as much time as possible on or near a pony. I was lucky that I would get also get a weekly riding lesson, and I learnt to ride quite well. All the time I didn’t forget my dream of having my own pony: I just kept hoping, and learning and turning up to volunteer. When I wasn’t at the stables I was thinking about the stables and reading Enid Blyton and K.M. Peyton books about ponies under the blankets in bed with a torch as a reading light.

It was when I was eleven that I learnt that if you dream about something so much then it can happen. I can remember the moment as if it were yesterday: we took on the ‘loan’ of a pony, Frosty. That meant that we contributed to his keep and that I would look after him every weekend. I was literally in heaven; it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Looking after Frosty meant I had responsibilities. He needed to be fed twice a day, he had to be exercised and groomed, and his stable needed cleaning. I loved it. And I made friends who I still have to this day. Of course this also meant the cessation of any sort of pocket money so in order to have money I also had to have a job, so I began to work as a papergirl: up at 5.30am, off to the paper shop for 6am, deliver the papers, go to the stables, muck out and feed, go to school, return to the stables, groom, exercise, muck out, feed, go home, do homework, eat dinner, sleep and repeat. There wasn’t much time for me to get into any sort of trouble with that timetable!

So it’s interesting to see how La Gidg will develop: will she be pony mad, or will she favour something else entirely (currently mermaids and synchronised swimming are her bag)? Oliver took her along to the Santa Ponsa Riding Club last weekend to check it out. They were having an open day which turned out to be extremely popular: it was full of excited children and their parents. Well, a word of advice to the parents: spending time with horses is a wonderful way for a child to grow up, it teaches you about patience, sensitivity, responsibility and teamwork. I highly recommend it.

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

So this is Christmas, nearly …

Christmas confuses me these days. When I was a kid it was pretty simple: the grown-ups were kind of a by-product of Christmas. My Great Aunty would appear, and would graciously receive her packet of American Tan tights and her box of jellied and sugared orange and lemon segments whilst handing out Christmas cards to her adoring relatives. The actual experience of Christmas for the young McLeod was thus: wake up early, get extremely excited, get a present, give a present, eat a big lunch, watch the grown-ups fall asleep in front of the afternoon movie, go to bed. Simples.

These days, given my adult status as a wife and mother, the expectations seem to have changed. We get petitions from July onwards asking us about what we might be planning to do for December. The answer is normally a fudge: we don’t know, we’re too busy to tell, can we tell you in October?  I don’t really understand why it’s such an important thing. When I was a child we always spent Christmas at our house, why are we expected to travel anywhere else to celebrate it?

If Christmas stands for family, for love, for being peaceful, for being generous, then why do we only recognise this on one day of the year? Why can’t we do this every single day of the year? In the words of Wizard, I wish it could be Christmas every day. Then the pressure would be off. Well, it would be off of me, at least. What I really want to do is bring my own ideas and traditions to the winter festival. I would like to make memories for my daughter that are for her and for my husband and for me, the way that I remember my Christmasses then. Special things. I want to make something special, and something private that is only for the three of us. I struggle with that because at the same time I don’t want to disappoint others who hope to relive the Christmasses of their pasts through us. I just don’t know how to combine the two.

So picture the scene: yesterday morning, La Gidg, in between demanding yoghurt and watching Tiny Pops, came across a photo of Charley Crooks. She knows about Charley as I took off last week and took some portraits of him and his mum to highlight his medical situation and try to enlist some extra support to get him over to GOSH in London. ‘Mummy’, yes baby, ‘I want to raise money for this little boy’, really baby? (she’s never met Charley, he’s three years old, and she is six, they’re not really contemporaries). ‘Yes mummy, how can I do that?’ My heart was breaking as my amazing little girl let these pearls drop, and at the same time, my mind was reeling: how could we make it happen? Sponsored silences and sponsored karaokes were discounted as impractical, and then we fell upon a solution: a kid triathalon. So look out for a blonde bombshell walking from Andratx to Port Andratx, swimming ten lengths of the Olympic pool and then scootering back to the Port. She’s on the hunt for your money, and she’s on a mission. So there was the generous, wholehearted spirit of Christmas: the childlike, beautiful, innocent, hopeful spirit that I’d been missing, And, she was there, in front of me, all along. Really, in the heart of a child it is Christmas every day.

If you want to support Charley then please visit www.supportcharley.com and get involved. Thanks.

www.familymattersmallorca.com

Life means life

by guest blogger, Oliver Neilson (thank you for doing my homework). 

A ‘bag for life’ is a pretty bold statement on the longevity of their bags by the supermarkets, or a pretty gloomy outlook on the longevity of their customers by the same.

A quick audit of the Mcleod household haul tallys at: 4 Eroski, 3 Carrefour, 2 Cidon, 2 Ikea, 6 assorted, 4 Mueller and 10 Lidl. Twenty nine in total. This isn’t because we are enormous fans of bags for life, we just keep forgetting to take them with us to the supermarket and then can’t bear to buy a normal plastic bag and end up with yet another ugly reusable one which will outlive us!
Psalm 90 in the good book states. ‘The days of our years are threescore years and ten’, …do a little simple maths, and by my reckoning we have enough bags to last for the next two thousand and thirty years…or put another way, the bag  I picked up yesterday will be, possibly my only bequest, to my great, great, great (great times 27) grandchild. Clearly I’m not doing this right.

The modern disposable plastic carrier is a nasty piece of work. Spewed out of a production line in nano seconds, it will take a millennium to breakdown. In the process it will contribute noxious chemicals into the soil and the atmosphere, utilise significant chunks or the World’s dwindling resource of petrochemicals and kill approximately 100,000 turtles, per year. There are not a great many of these most cutesy of marine reptiles around. We have a few left in Mallorca, but a bag that may have held your packed lunch for a few seconds, even carefully discarded may make its way into the sea, where, to the poor uneducated turtle it looks a lot like a jellyfish, which to a turtle looks a lot like lunch. I guess I don’t need to tell you where this ends.

But it need not be so complex. To my Granny it was a no brainer to take your own bag to the shop, or to reuse a milk bottle. Lemonade bottles could be returned to the shops for a 5p discount on the next purchase. What did we forget?, Why do we find it so hard to replicate what was so routine only a few decades ago?.

We kid ourselves that the pace of modern life doesn´t allow us time to consider such frivolities as recycling, we are far too busy to remember our bags for life. Too busy to recycle our Marmite jars, but just pause for a second. My Granny lived in a time of austerity in the rationing during, and just after WWII, and she managed just fine. As we seem to be heading into austere times once more, a time where shaving a few pennies or cents here and there has increasing importance we can make a difference to our purses, the environment, and perhaps a turtle or two by one simple action.

Take your bag out of the car and into the supermarket…that’s it.

It´s so simple, my Granny could do it. I’m working on it.