Archive for the ‘Random ramblings’ Category


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Here’s something you won’t hear me (or any other liberal, leftwing feminist) say very often: I read an article that I liked and agreed with in the Daily Mail. The article, ‘Not now, Darling, Mummy’s Tweeting‘, unsurprisingly stirred up a lot of discussion amongst the mothers I follow on Twitter. Understandably, people felt defensive. The article has a strong headline and some of the tone is harsh. ‘Neglect’ is a very strong term and nobody wants to be accused of neglecting their children. But look beyond the moments of harsh rhetoric and I think that Liz Fraser makes an important point.

Since I acquired my iPhone around 2 years ago, my craving for constant information has become increasingly persistent. First thing I do when I wake up is check my email. Then I check Twitter. I look at the Guardian iPhone app, my RSS reader, and most recently, Instagram. Whenever I get a spare five minutes I repeat the whole process, checking all of these for updates repeatedly through the day. While I eat my breakfast I scroll through Twitter; sometimes I tweet, but often I’m just reading what everyone else is up to. The thought that there are people out there, conversing with each other, and that I might be missing out on the latest must-read blog post or bit of juicy gossip makes me a little nervous. As I potter through the day, my internal monologue converts my thoughts into concise, faintly amusing tweets.

All of this didn’t worry me too much. There are a lot of positives to being online: before I had my iPhone I just wouldn’t have had time to read the news (with a toddler who wants to be involved in everything I do and baby who likes to get up to mischief, using a laptop or desktop through the day with my kids is a near-impossibility). Twitter has connected me with some fantastic people: creative, funny, interesting and supportive. Blogging has given me a new layer of purpose and fortified my sense of self.

But recently there have been times when I’ve been sucked into Twitter too much. When my two-year-old is saying “Mummy, put your telephone down. Mummy, don’t send a message”, it’s a big reminder where my priorities should lie.

Coincidentally, just two days ago, I imposed a new rule in our house: no TV between 10.00 and 4.30. I’d been giving in to requests for Cbeebies too often and our TV time had crept up and up. It’s actually worked surprisingly well – giving a firm rule seems to have removed a lot of the “I want Cbeebies”, “No”, “I want Cbeebies”, “No”, “I want Cbeebies”, “No”… [repeat ad infinitum] that had previously plagued our days at home. But a side-effect of this has been that I can’t spend the time I used to hanging out on Twitter, or otherwise absorbed online. We’ve spent more time keeping each other entertained, and today has been surprisingly peaceful.

Dealing with demands for attention from your kids can become a vicious circle. Sometimes I find that the more they demand attention, the more desperate I get for five minutes to myself, but of course they sense this and their demands become more persistent. Sometimes trying to get that online fix causes more of the stress I’m trying to avoid. Snatching five minutes to catch up on Twitter while the TV blared in the background was supposed to give me a chance for peace and quiet, but the results are often more chaotic.

Some of the points in the article seemed exaggerated. The image of “playgrounds and toddler groups suddenly being full of parents not playing with their children, but texting friends, or chatting on the phone” doesn’t ring true to me – I was at toddler group this morning and can’t recall seeing one person on their phone; we all talked to each other and talked to our kids. The sort of ‘neglect’ and ‘damaged children’ that the psychologists talked about represent rare and extreme cases.

However, I really agree with the overall point of the article. It is important to spend time with your kids, and give them the respect and attention they deserve. Some of the conversation I saw on Twitter today seemed to interpret the article as “if you’re on Twitter, you’re a crap mother”, but that isn’t what I got from it at all. Liz Fraser admitted that she’s just as bad as the rest of us, and worries that she spends too much time online herself. I thought her tone was thoughtful and supportive.

It seems that spending time online is just one more aspect of the constant motherly conflict and guilt – balancing working with caring for your children, defining yourself as a person and fulfilling your role as a mother. Personally, I really appreciated the reminder to appreciate my time with my children and balance my priorities.

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Even the most casual readers of this blog will have guessed that I’m a teeny bit obsessed with iPhone photography, or to use the correct terminology, iPhoneography. Having a phone with a decent camera has allowed me to document my life in a way that I’d never have considered before. I’m now more convinced than ever that good photography is much more about capturing an interesting image than about using high-tech equipment and getting everything just so.

I started out taking pictures with the basic iPhone camera, but was quickly seduced by the charms of Hipstamatic. This iPhone app looks like an old plastic camera, and takes photos with a beautiful retro feel.

The basic app price includes (I think) three lenses, with the option to buy more to achieve different effects. Be warned, this can get addictive – I have just about every lens going and get excited when I new one becomes available to purchase. I loved Hipstamatic dearly, and used it faithfully up until Christmas, capturing some lovely images.

That is, until I discovered Instagram. Ok, so it doesn’t have the fancy interface of Hipstamatic. It doesn’t have the flexibility to be as creative: in Hipstamatic you can combine any lens with any film, plus one of several flashes, whereas Instagram has a fixed set of filters. But Instagram has two big plusses.

1. You can ‘Instagram-ise’ existing images. So you can take a photo with your iPhone’s regular camera

then play around with it afterwards, zooming in and choosing the right filter.

You don’t even have to take the original image with your iPhone camera; you can use any image stored on your phone.

2. Instagram is social. At first I didn’t get it. I was a bit sceptical about the idea of signing up to another social network. I wasn’t sure if I wanted people to see my photos, or what the point was. But I started seeing more and more people posting photos on Twitter, with these instagr.am links, and I decided to give it a go.

I linked Instagram up with my Twitter account straight away, which meant that I could see which of the people I follow were using the app. Following them on Instagram means that I see their photos in my feed. I absolutely love it – I see little works of art each day. Because the app is on your phone, people are taking photos all the time, of their day-to-day lives. My feed is full of witty, beautiful snippets of motherhood, of hectic, fascinating lives and of the world around us.

I follow a lot of brilliant people on Instagram, and I’m taking this opportunity to recommend a couple of my favourites. @tiddlyompompom takes consistently excellent images, sometimes funny and sometimes beautiful. @cosmicgirlie, as you’d expect from the talented photographer who started Silent Sunday, is always entertaining and impressive. @youngmummyuk takes some classic images of motherhood, as well as the rest of life, and @softthistle always makes me smile.

The only downside of Instagram is that once you’re public, you can’t Instagram an image without sharing it with your followers. So if I want to take something and not share it, perhaps if I’m shooting something particular for my blog, or if I want to take a lot of pictures of the same place or thing, I go back to Hipstamatic.

I’m sure there’ll be another big thing along eventually to grab my photography attention, but my love of retro iPhone photography will endure for a while yet. Oh, and I forgot to mention, a big plus for stingy iPhone-users like myself – Instagram is free. (And nobody is sponsoring me for this post, I’m just wittering about apps that I love).

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Dear ‘Love to Play Puppy’,

Look, mister, I know your game. I know that lurking at the end of the bed in the dark, perfectly placed to find my feet as I crept away from a freshly-settled baby, was no accident. I saw you smirking as your jaunty Alphabet Song shattered the silence.

Maybe you’re jealous of Baby’s new Christmas toys; I know he’s abandoned you for the delights of large, noisy, flashing lumps of plastic. Perhaps it’s revenge for the times that I’ve stacked toys on top of you in the toybox at bedtime, ignoring your plaintive appeals to “hug me”?

Whatever it is, I’ve got you sussed. Pull a trick like that again and you might just find yourself in the cupboard with the shape sorter and Bumbo seat, waiting for the next NCT sale.

With kind regards, Kirsty


Dear ELC mini kitchen,

I love that you’re encouraging my son to play imaginatively. Since you arrived not only has he started ‘cooking’ plastic sweetcorn and hot dogs, but he’s asked to join in with real cooking and helped me chop, add things to the pan and stir them up. His requests to share his imaginary drinks with me are an endless delight (no, really!).

I’d just like to raise one minor issue with you: could you please try harder to keep your oven door shut when the baby’s around? As I’m sure you’re aware, he loves to ping it open and remove your entire contents. I’m getting somewhat tired of finding brocolli and fried eggs under the sofa, stepping on tiny forks and hunting for the missing pan lid late into the evening. When you see him crawling over, just, y’know, try harder to keep all your bits together.

Aside from that, I’m loving your good work. Keep it up.

With best wishes, Kirsty


Dear Buzz Lightyear jigsaw

Thank you for thoughtfully reminding me, as I stare in confusion at your unevenly shaped pieces and frankly crazy edges, and then in amazement at my toddler son fitting said pieces together at speed, that my spatial awareness is inferior to that of a two year old boy.

Yours gratefully, Kirsty


Dear Nursery Rhyme ‘CD Player’,

Seriously? Are you kidding me? Maybe your country/rock take on the traditional nursery rhyme format went down well at the auditions for American Idol, but not here. Sort it out, ok?

With barely-disguised disgust, Kirsty


This is my first post for the often hilarious, sometimes surprising and always entertaining Dear So and So at 3 Bedroom Bungalow. Do head over there to see the rest of this week’s letters.


Dear So and So...

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Have you ever been totally stressed out by an essay? Confused by the topic, but your tutor’s no help? We’ve all been there, whether at school, college or uni. And you struggle on, do the best you can and cross your fingers, right? But did you know that, for a fee, there are people out there who’ll do the work for you? I used to be one of those people.

I worked for an agency, and I’ve also written essays for a private client‘s MA studies. It started as a proofreading job, but when she learned about my academic background she asked if I could offer ‘other services’. I ended up rewriting and adding to her first piece of work, and producing other pieces of coursework from scratch. Of course, the work was all original, so there’s no way it would show up in the university’s plagiarism-checking software. The essays were blind-marked, so there was no opportunity for the tutor to think “hang on, this doesn’t read like so-and-so’s usual style”.

But to be honest, the tutors had engaged so little with my client that they probably wouldn’t notice the change of style anyway. She was a non-UK national and was struggling to understand the requirements of academic essay writing. Her attempts were very repetitious, labouring the same few points over and over, meaning she found it impossible to meet the word limit. She didn’t get the concept of answering the question; she tried to cram in everything that had been covered on the module and lacked the confidence to discriminate, think critically and preset an opinion. She was ambitious and had good experience in the subject, but wasn’t offered the support to tackle academic essays at the required level. Given that she was paying over ÂŁ10k for her one-year course, a few hundred pounds to ensure a few decent grades seemed a reasonable investment.

I didn’t give much thought to the morals of the situation. I was offering a service; it’s the students who decide to cheat, and who’ll face graduation day with the knowledge that they haven’t really earned their place. I think that for most students who use these services, it’ll all unravel at some point. The degree they bought might help them get a job, but if they’re not really up to the demands of the role then at some point the cracks will start to show.

I wasn’t prepared for other people’s reaction when I told them about the type of work I was doing. Some were ok with it, taking the same view as me, that I’m not the one making the moral choice. But I realised that not everybody takes that view.

I was meeting with an ex-colleague of mine, a lecturer who was interested in my proofreading services for one of his PhD students. The meeting went well: we had a chat about the thesis, I had a quick flick through it and said yes, I’d be happy to work on it. Then, as the conversation was ending, I happened to mention the custom essay work I’d been doing. I thought he’d be interested and maybe find it funny. Imagine my surprise when his expression changed from bafflement to incredulity, to horrified disgust. He was outraged, both that a student would do such a thing, and that a writer would help them. He was “very disappointed in me”, thought that what I was doing was deplorable and assured me that every other ‘real academic’ would feel the same. Not the best way to end a business meeting.

I’m not sure if I’ll do any more custom essays. Working with private clients can be difficult to manage, as understandably students get very anxious about the work you’re writing and there comes to be a level of emotional involvement that isn’t ideal for a business relationship. Agencies act as a middle-man, so as a writer I don’t have to interact with the client. But the agency takes such a massive cut of the fee that the work involved is hardly worth it. I do like the rigorous thought that essay-writing requires, and I it’s all good practice for the time when I can afford to return to studying myself. If the right client or project came along then I probably would give it another go.

So, over to you. What do you think of the students who use essay writing services, and of the writers who offer them? Would you ever consider using such a service yourself? (I’m not expecting anybody to admit to that one!) Those of you with older kids, how do you feel knowing that their classmates could be getting all sorts of ‘help’ with their coursework? Did I make a bad decision, helping a student to pass her MA when by rights she ought to have failed? I love comments. 🙂

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I never really thought of myself as a creative person. Maths was the subject I really excelled in at school, and my brain is built for logic and argument. Even back in primary school I knew I wasn’t an artist. In reception I was the tallest girl in class, then a new girl moved from a different town. She was taller than me, and she could draw people with their arms by their sides; the people in my drawings had arms sticking out at right angles, like chunky scarecrows. The teacher told me off for drawing a line of sky with the sun below it. I never regained confidence in my artwork and got used to the idea that drawing was something I wasn’t good at.

I wasn’t musical either. I took piano lessons aged 12 or so. There’s a section in music exams where the examiner will play a selection of notes on the piano, and you have to sing the notes back to them. My piano teacher advised me that we should work on the assumption that I’d get 0 points in this section of the exam – if I could ace the other sections, hopefully I’d still be able to pass. She said she thought I might be a genuine  case of tone deafness.

As well as maths, I loved reading. I could write too, imitating styles I’d read and sticking to the rules. Still I never saw myself as creative; I wrote assignments for school, but didn’t write for pleasure. I think one of the things putting me off was my perfectionism: the more I learned about, say, the rules of poetry, the rhyming scheme of a sonnet or the rhythm of iambic pentameter, the vast tradition and history that influences a new piece of work… the more I felt that I could never produce something right, something good enough that fit all the rules and was worthy of note.

When I met my husband, I thought we were a perfect balance of opposites. He’s an artist: a painter, a songwriter and musician, a photographer and a filmmaker. I was the philosopher, the analyser.

Given all that, why did I start blogging? Honestly, I didn’t really know what blogging would be like. I thought it would be a bit of writing about life, a bit of reviewing free stuff, maybe a way to get some writing work. I had absolutely no idea that I’d become part of this community of fabulously creative individuals. I’ve come across so many amazing photographers, writers, poets and thinkers – normal people living their lives, but living creatively and making a little mark on their little bit of the world. Penny at Alexander Residence has been writing a radio play.

The Headhuntress in Hampshire is working on a novel. I’m inspired. All over the blogosphere, people are taking photos for Tara’s Gallery and Jay’s Silent Sunday. Maybe I’m a photographer too. I’ve found people who are like me, whose ideas I agree with, who also happen to be wonderfully creative. I’m starting to think maybe I am a creative person after all.

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Yesterday my Mum and I took my kids to the Great North Museum, or as I used to know it, the Hancock Museum in Newcastle. We had such a brilliant time that I wanted to tell you all about it.

I used to visit this museum as a child myself. I remember going with my grandparents, probably in the school holidays while my parents were at work. The images I have are of a large, dark building, filled with dusty cases of animals. The butterflies were pinned in orderly rows in glass cases all along the upstairs balcony. There was a ‘Noah’s Ark’ feature, with stuffed animals in jaunty poses around a painted ark, again all behind glass. There were some interactive elements 20 years ago: I remember being very taken with the brass rubbing plates, and I think we built some sort of Egyptian pyramid or casket. But there was nothing like the displays and facilities they have now.

The museum underwent a massive refurbishment starting in 2006 and finishing two years later, changing from the Hancock Museum to the Great North Museum as it incorporated collections from three other local galleries. The change is extraordinary.

Upon entering the first main hall, you’re faced with a huge display of animals from floor to ceiling. Birds are suspended from the roof as if flying through the air. Some of the animals are still behind glass, but many are out in the open. Squirrels scamper across the roof of display areas and a wolf prowls through the trees as if they’ve sneaked out of their cases. The staid and stuffy museum has really come to life and the clever arrangement does justice to the collected animals.

This shot shows some butterflies suspended haphazardly in the window of a house-like display area, as if they were fluttering by. Anyone studying the collection could see them just as clearly as if they were mounted neatly in a case, but for the casual viewer or for children, the innovative arrangement brings a sense of life and of the outdoors, putting the artefacts into context.

My two-year-old absolutely loved it. He was delighted by all the animals. His favourite exhibit, though, was a journey into the afterlife, Egyptian-style. In a darkened room, a ceiling projector cast images of snakes, feathers and fire on to the floor, depicting the various stages of an ancient Egyptian descent into hell. The voiceover went quite literally over his head, but he would happily have spent hours dancing around trying to avoid the snakes or catch the feathers on the floor.

He was also pretty impressed with the dinosaur.

One of my favourite parts of the museum was a little gallery tucked away at the side of the ground floor. It was a gallery about museums: about how and why we collect things, categorise them and preserve them. The objects in this gallery were really varied, from a selection of skulls arranged neatly on a shelf to a drawer of My Little Ponies. This gallery captured, for me, the spookiness and oddity of the original museum. Amazing as the ‘animated’ collections are, there’s something special about the sense of past, the sense of wonder at this world full of diverse stuff, that a formal, ‘scientific’ museum collection evokes.

I took lots more photos yesterday and there are a few more of them on my Flick page. Unfortunately they aren’t as good as I’d like; my excuse is that most were taken whilst wearing a large and wriggly baby on my front. I’d love to go back to the Hancock Museum myself and take some proper photos with a real camera – perhaps I should add that to my plans for 2011!

This post is linked up to Something for the Weekend at Thinly Spread, a weekly link-up with loads of ideas for things to do with the kids at the weekend. Take a look for a variety of posts from some great blogs.

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