Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Somebody's daughter, somebody's son.

I've hesitated about writing this blog post, and even now I'm still undecided about publishing it but we'll see. It's been prompted by the untimely death of Amy Winehouse who died after a long, and well publicised, struggle with drink and drugs. It seemed to me that some people had forgotten that she was - above all else -somebody's daughter and sister. 

I used to have four brothers.

I used to have a brother who was just 20 months older than me. I always looked up to him and we looked very alike too, more so than our other 4 siblings. I have a photo of the two of us when we were 2 and 4 and we look like two peas in a pod.

When we were little he was always getting into trouble for one thing or another - nothing serious but he just seemed to attract trouble. He was a rascal, a bit like Dennis the Menace - nothing malicious, just always getting into scrapes and up to no good. But he never got away with anything, he always got caught.

As an adult he was the life and soul of every party, any get together wasn't complete without him. He liked a drink and would sing, tell jokes and flirt with the women.  He was a very, very funny man, a would-be Elvis impersonator and a real live wire. The rascal had grown into a rough diamond and he was everybody's friend. But as I said, he liked a drink and unfortunately the drink liked him.

He had probably been drinking quite heavily for years, but in our circles - and even in our own family - people drank a lot. Going to the pub was a man's thing. Real northern men went to the pub and drank, and most of his social life revolved around the pub. He didn't stand out as having a drink problem as such, but somewhere along the way he crossed the line that divides heavy drinkers from alcoholics.

My brother was an alcoholic. It's very hard to write that, it seems almost disrespectful to him and also to my parents who both felt some shame of having an alcoholic son. I don't think they ever recovered from his death, after all burying your child has to be the worst thing imaginable for a parent.

But it wasn't just his death that broke them, there was a real sense of failure about it all. How could he come from a respectable family, a family that cared about him and yet be seduced by drink? But perhaps it offered him something we couldn't. What was it? An escape? An easy passage to a less painful world? I don't know.

He got into some desperate situations in the his final year, and some of the things that happened to him only came to light after his death but it must have been when he reached those depths that he realised he needed help. He asked my parents to help him and they tried their best. He had some help from his GP and I know he went to at least a few AA meetings because when he died we found some of their paperwork in his meagre belongings.

The last time I saw him alive was when he came to visit me and my new baby. He said he'd given up drink on the advice of his doctor who warned him he wouldn't live much longer if he didn't. I could see he was doing his best to keep away from the people and the places where he knew he would succumb once again, and so he was filling his time with other things. He was trying to be healthy, he'd got himself a bike and was getting some exercise and had taken up a new hobby after being given a camera. He told me he'd been doing a lot of walking, getting some fresh air and was taking photos of the countryside where he lived.  But the years of abuse had taken their toll and he looked frail and much older than his years.

Less than a month later he was dead. He died alone in his sleep. He was 39.

His death certificate said he died from alcohol induced heart disease. It didn't mention the fact that he had sought help, that he had made efforts to turn things around and that he was finally trying to look after himself, or about the guilt we all felt at not being able to save him. It didn't say anything about him being a much loved son, brother and uncle.

And now, 14 years on I still miss him every single day.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

This has been a week of....

Celebrating the end of term, the end of the school year and the beginning of a 6 week summer break.

Reflecting on the passing of time. It was also the last week of Tall Daughter's time at primary school and in September she'll go to the same secondary school as her big sister. I can't believe my baby girl is going to be in secondary school - it's seems like only a few months since she started at pre-school. I know the next 12 months are going to signal a huge change for her as she starts to become more independent and forges new friendships, as well as some adjustment for me too no doubt.

Welcoming my youngest brother home from sea. He stays with us when he's home on leave and this time he's going to be here for 3 weeks. There's always a small amount of adjustment to be made when he comes back (Tall Daughter always gets unsettled for a couple of days when he first arrives back, as does Tess our dog) but we enjoy his company.

Enjoying a night out with my colleagues! I actually went out and had a great time. We ate at a fab Asian-fusion restaurant (no, we didn't know what it meant either, but the food was good); we drank champagne - bought for us by our lovely headteacher - and we laughed and laughed. Real belly laughs too.

Planning how we're going to spend the summer break. Six weeks goes so quickly and I want to make sure I get some jobs done around the house, but also that we get out and about and have some fun. We go on our annual cottage holiday in Wales in August and we also have a little bit of travelling planned and visitors coming to stay. It's going to be a busy few weeks!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Classroom Secrets

There was a very interesting show of BBC1 last night. Classroom Secrets was a sort of primary school version of Big Brother where hidden cameras were put in a classroom in order to show parents how their children behaved in class.

The programme followed a week in Class 4FF, a class in an ordinary primary school in Leicester. This was not a nightmare inner city school we usually see featured on documentaries, with aggressive pupils and embattled teachers. No this was much more shocking because this issue is happening in every school in the country. Low level disruption is losing our children 3 whole weeks of lesson time each year, and to be honest it'll come as no surprise to anyone who actually works in a primary school.

The problem with low level disruption is that it usually involves children. So, where you have a group of children you will have this sort of disruption. Short of refusing to allow children into the classroom it's going to be hard to eradicate.

Of course, some children are past masters at wasting time. These delaying tactics include asking to go to the toilet several times per lesson; feigning illness (the boy who cried wolf syndrome); asking for a drink; and - my personal  bête noire - taking ages to find and then sharpen a pencil.

However, the main sources of the disruption are usually the same children. I can go into a class and there will usually be a handful of children who will use these distraction techniques everyday. And there are often genuine reasons for their behaviour - a desperate need for attention, any attention being better than none; a need for help because they can't cope with the lessons; tiredness - many children go to bed far too late; lack of boundaries at home - some children are allowed to rule the roost at home and they bring the same attitude into school; and hunger - some children come to school without breakfast and lose concentration early on in the school day and perhaps never  manage to 'catch up'.

Of course there are other children who just can't help themselves from chatting, fidgeting and and fiddling with their shoes/hair/pencil case

In the documentary 9 year old Maisie was always getting into trouble in school for swearing, something she denied when challenged by her parents. So her parents were open-mouthed when they were able to witness their darling daughter's fluency in expletives during a lesson. When the seemingly sensible parents were asked by the Headteacher where Maisie might have picked it up from, they seemed to think that perhaps it was because she stayed up late at weekends (10-11pm) and watched 'inappropriate' things on TV. You don't say?

Another problem with this sort of thing is that unfortunately some parents don't see it as a problem. And of course some parents don't actually care what their child does at school, and I'm sure that in itself feeds the problem.

There is a whole other side to the story of course which was only touched on briefly by the documentary, and that is one of interesting lessons, good teachers and engaged children. If children get bored in school it leads to more disruption, and they're also finely tuned to each teacher's expectations and behaviour management. But as an exercise, Classroom Secrets was an interesting one and it can still be viewed on BBC iPlayer for the next 6 days.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Bill Gates and the eleven rules of life

There's an email doing the rounds at the moment called '11 Lessons Kids won't learn at school' and I think I probably receive it every six months or so from various friends. The email reports that the eleven rules were outlined in a speech given by Bill Gates at some high school or another. They weren't, and he didn't. The list is actually a shortened version of an article by a educational writer, Charles J Sykes but regardless of its origins I think the list is a good one and makes a lot of sense.  See what you think.


Unfortunately, there are some things that children should be learning in school, but don't. Not all of them have to do with academics. As a modest back-to-school offering, here are some basic rules that may not have found their way into the standard curriculum.

Rule 1 : Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2 : The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss

Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: They called it opportunity.

Rule 6 : If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7 : Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were: So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room..

Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer.
*This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF.
*Do that on your own time.

Rule 10 : Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials.

Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one..
Would you add any rules of your own? Or do you think these rules are out of touch with today's teenagers?
I'll admit to using rule No. 1 a lot - and I'd be happy if my own Teenager took note of rule number 7.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Can you help with this friendship dilemma?

I have a bit of a dilemma and I'd really appreciate some advice.

I have a very dear male friend, lets call him Gerry. We've been friends since secondary school and have remained platonic friends throughout three marriages (two of his, one of mine) and numerous other relationships. We've only ever been platonic friends, there has never been any romance between us and never will be. He's The Teenager's godfather and has always been a very positive male figure in my girls' lives. He was also a great support to me when my marriage broke up, and after my parents' deaths.

About 3 years ago he met his latest partner - let's call her Gina. Gerry and I remained friends as normal, and he introduced me to her pretty early on. She's very nice and they seem very well suited. I've met her a few times but recently I began to sense that she didn't quite 'get' the friendship between Gerry and me.  I'm not sure what it was that gave me that impression, just a sixth sense I suppose.

In April it was Gerry's 50th birthday and Gina sent me an email to say she was planning a surprise birthday meal at a restaurant and would I like to come. I replied saying that yes, I'd love to come and could she send me the time and date and I'd be there. I didn't hear anything else from her.

I didn't have her phone number or address so I couldn't contact her that way, but the birthday came and went and she didn't get in touch. I'm not sure why. I don't have his address either so I couldn't even send him a card.

I'll be honest, I'm not the best at keeping in touch with people so I wasn't too worried when I didn't hear from Gerry for a while. A month or so before his birthday he moved in with Gina, they now live about 30 minutes away so I knew there would be some changes to our friendship. We used to see him once or twice a week when he called in on his way home from work, or at weekends when he would call and stay for an hour or so. He doesn't live that far away but it was inevitable that those casual drop-ins would come to an end.

But now it's July and I still haven't heard from him. I've texted his work phone, but no reply. I haven't tried to ring him because I don't know what to say. How do I explain why I didn't go to his birthday meal? Do I mention that his partner didn't give me the details, or do I make some other excuse?

I want to call him, but not sure what to say.  I don't think I've handled the situation very well and I admit that I'm a bit rubbish like that. What do you think I should do?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

My six degrees of separation from George Clooney and President Obama

A few years ago there was a lot of hoo-haa about a play called Six Degrees of Separation. It was later made into a film starring Kevin Bacon.

The idea of the six degrees is that everyone on the planet is only separated from everyone else by six steps or less.

For example I can prove that I am less than 6 steps away from George Clooney. Oh yes I can!

Step 1: a very good friend of mine used to work in the film industry
Step 2: she once worked on a film starring Ben Affleck and was responsible for looking after him
Step 3: at the time he was dating Gwyneth Paltrow
Step 4: Gwyneth has also been in a relationship with Brad Pitt
Step 5: Brad Pitt has starred in several films with his good friend, George Clooney!

So near but so far!

Not only that, but how about my tenuous close links to President Obama...

I have met Gary Barlow's mum.....Gary Barlow is now a judge on X-factor.....his colleague on the show is Kelly Rowland a former member of Destiny's Child......Beyoncè was also in Destiny's Child.....and she sang at President Obama's inauguration party. Voila!

I could go on to list my links to the Pope, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lopez but I'm far too modest, and anyway I never talk about close friends *ahem*

So...who are you connected to? Go on, I'm dying to hear about it.

Weekend giveaway: win a copy of Your Shape Fitness Evolved for Xbox Kinect

A little something for the weekend for you - a chance to win a copy of the Xbox Kinect game - Your Shape Fitness Evolved courtesy of those nice people at Xbox.

If you're thinking of getting fit and don't have the time or inclination to go to a fitness class, then this is the game for you.

Well, it's called a game but don't be misled into thinking it's something you can do sitting down or whilst taking it easy. This is a very good substitute for having a personal trainer in the room with you as you are taken through your paces by a virtual trainer.
And you can now download extra content to suit your needs via Xbox Live.

Anyway enough from me, here's the official blurb:

With Kinect for Xbox 360 and Your Shape™ Fitness Evolved, you can experience the most advanced fitness technology your way. It will help you work up a sweat with the most advanced fitness technology available. You'll be able to personalize your workout, challenge your friends, and share your progress online while achieving real results. And they're all designed by fitness experts to provide precise and effective real-time feedback

If you like the sound of it, just leave a comment saying why you'd like to win along with your twitter id or email address. For an additional chance to win just copy and paste this text and tweet it:

I've entered @notSupermum's draw for a copy of Xbox Your Shape Fitness Evolved! #win

But hurry, the giveway is only open until 10pm on Sunday 3rd July. Good luck!

The winner will be chosen at random and announced on Monday 4th July. The winner must supply a full name and address within 48 hours or it will be redrawn. UK entrants only. There is no cash alternative.

UPDATE: the winner of the game is Claire - @clairejustineo - congratulations, I'll be in touch!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Dear So and So.....the Cybermummy edition

Dear Kellogg's,
thank you so much for sponsoring my Cybermummy trip. I had a fab time and loved meeting lots of bloggers I'd only ever met online. And can I just say how lovely your Kellogg's Team is? Really, genuinely nice people.
thanks again
a very grateful notSupermum
p.s. love your Cornflakes!

Dear other bloggers,
Just wanted to say how fantastic it was to meet so many of you at Cybermummy, especially the people I've become 'friends' with online over the past 3 years. And I met so many new people too, all of whom were absolutely lovely. Bloggers are so bloody nice!

Dear Sian, Susanna and Jennifer,
Wow! Cybermummy11 - that must have taken a helluva lot of organisation. Bravo!

Dear Me,
if you go to Cybermummy next year DO NOT take any freebies from those persuasive PR peeps. Even though you were being very selective ("No thanks, I don't have babies, only teenagers") you still managed to cart 3 packs of baby wipes, 2lbs of promotional material (yep, I weighed it when I got home) and several bottles of toiletries across London. Next year, just say no.

Dear Caroline Smailes,
Thank you so much for looking after Tall Daughter while I was gallivanting in that London. She had a great time, and I was able to relax knowing she was in safe hands. You're such a fab friend.
nSM xx

Dear Teenager,
You know I love how enterprising you are, but calling me at 8pm on the Friday evening before Cybermummy (while I was already in London) and suggesting that you and a group of your "sensible friends" could stay in our house over the weekend was not your best move. Thank you for staying put at your friend's parents house.
love you sweetie
Mum xxx

Dear Javier Bardem,
After seeing you in the film Eat Pray Love, I have decided to offer my services to you. Should you ever decide to leave the luscious Penelope Cruz I would be only too happy to comfort you. Oh yes.
a fan.

Dear So and So...