School reports – what the hell happened?

It’s lunchtime at work. On the day our magazine goes to press so it’s all hands to the pump meeting our deadline. I munch on my sandwich, and click on an email from school – the interim reports are out.

Well, actually they’re not ‘out’ at all; they’re hidden away on the school’s password-protected portal. I should look, I think to myself, just a quick look while I eat lunch. Two minutes later, I’m ruing the day I set up my account and didn’t commit my username to memory.

Wait, what’s this? The reports are available on an app. All I have to do is download the iParent app, put in a password, and Bob’s your uncle: Son2’s report will appear on my phone.

So, because I’ve really got nothing better to do today, other than meeting all our work deadlines, I attempt to download the app. I say ‘attempt’ – it’s yet another parent fail for me. My phone screen turns as white as a sheet, and I feel the heat rising in my cheeks as this happens three times: Damn app. Why can’t they just give me a paper copy of the report, or is that just really last-century now?

By now, I’ve become determined that this won’t defeat me, and so I trawl my in-box looking for portal log-on details. Woohoo, I find them, and I’m into Fort Knox – I can download the report. That was 25 minutes of my day I won’t get back (and my whole lunch ‘hour’), but never mind – I’m super curious to see how Son2 is doing.

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-00-36-00

Give us a ‘B’! No chance – those people at the Standards & Testing Agency have lost their minds

Let’s just say, this is the moment I’m reminded how infuriating school reports have become. While this one isn’t a full-length report, with pages of tables, targets and almost impenetrable numbers and letters, it still leaves me utterly baffled. Even after I read the two-page e-mail (longer than the report) explaining the UK’s new marking system.

“Can you make any sense of this?”  I ask DH when I get home. “It needs decoding.”

He reads it, scratching his head. “Hmmm. Well, ‘secure +’ in reading sounds good, doesn’t it? But what’s the number 2?” He shrugs.

“No idea,” I say, and re-read the blurb about attainment being presented in a series of steps within age-related year bands. Wtf? It’s a linguistic minefield: ‘working within’; ‘ideally pupils will make six steps progress’; ‘a standardised assessment’; and on consulting Google, ‘a scaled score based on their raw score’.

DH and I are thinking exactly the same thing: Why can’t they just tell us if he’s an A, B, C or D? We could understand that. And even talk to him about it.

 I peer again at the bar chart, but my eyes are tired. Son2, meanwhile, is lounging on the sofa, getting away with all this completely scot-free as his parents try to puzzle it out.

“Well, I’m taking ‘secure +’ to be good,” says DH.

“But the number 2?” I say.

“What about it?

“Well if that’s the year band, it doesn’t make sense or he’s really behind … he’s year 3.”

Oh how I miss the days of teachers writing a few scrawled, occasionally acerbic lines about their pupils.

Posted in Dubai schools, Parenting, School | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Budapest, communism and airline crew hotels

There’s something I’ve learnt about the children of pilots (and I’m talking about youngsters here – please tell me teenagers are different?). A pilot’s offspring might fly before they take their first teetering steps; their school friends might hail from all over the world; and the class photo might resemble a Benetton advert. But when it comes to the countries they’re lucky enough to visit, the hotel we stay in seems to shape their opinion of the entire nation.

Son2’s favourite place is Birmingham. Why? Something he really liked about the hotel when we stayed there a couple of Christmasses ago (he’ll say it was the carpet, but I’m sure there must have been more to it than that). Italy. The best bit, according to Son2: the airport Sheraton hotel in Milan (which, incidentally, was designed to be a car park). South Africa. The crew hotel, the name of which I can’t remember but Son2 liked the sweets at reception.

So this year, we spent Christmas in Budapest.  

It’s the most amazing city, blessed with beautiful architecture on every corner, romantic bridges, good food and an abundance of hot springs. In December, the city’s golden, twinkly lights take on an extra-special meaning against a (freezing cold) seasonal backdrop of brightly lit Christmas markets selling steaming mulled wine, ice skating at Vajdahunyad Castle, and festive decorations all over the city.

Fabulously festive

Fabulously festive but the hotel held all the appeal

At the market, I didn’t for one minute expect my sons to be into the craft stalls offering artisanal items, but I thought the food might interest them. And it did momentarily (while they were hungry). The goulash served in a huge, hollowed-out bread roll, the potato dumplings, the sausages and the fresh flat bread covered with grated cheese – it was all heartening fare on a night so cold your breath came out like a dragon’s puff. The best bit, for Son2, was the bubblegum marzipan. But once their appetites were sated, the calls began: “CAN WE GO BACK TO THE HOTEL NOW?”

On a visit to Buda Castle for a crisp winter walk with views of the city: “Can we go home?”

“Home?” I asked. “Really?”

“I mean the hotel,” replied Son2.

“We haven’t brought you to Hungary just to sit in the hotel room all day, you know … No really, we haven’t.”

At church on Christmas morning (okay so it was all in Hungarian, a beautiful but impenetrable language): “After this, are we going back to the hotel?”

At Heroes’ Square: “I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE HOTEL!” At this point, Son2 bunched his expression up into a question mark and clasped his hands together under his chin. “I want to play with my presents from Santa,” he pleaded. (Santa brought small stockings – because wherever you are, he’ll find you. PHEW!)

The bullet holes and shrapnel pockmarks on the Citadel fortress atop Gellért Hill took their mind off the hotel for a bit (their attention was actually fully engaged), and as we walked on in the footsteps of communism and the cold war and gazed up at the stark Statue of Liberty, the boys were still with us, absorbing DH’s history lesson about the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary during WW2. But it wasn’t long before we heard: “Let’s go back to the hotel! [Imagine a chant, like a woodpecker in your brain.]

“And can we get room service?” At which I rolled my eyes, not just out of their sockets but out of my actual head.

Posted in Children, Holiday, Parenting, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ho, ho, ho! The modern Twelve Days of Christmas

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-00-09-43Who knew before having kids that the month of December would leave you feeling like you’re crawling to Christmas?

Even though I swore this year would be different, I found myself yet again facing 12 days of Christmasgeddon in the final weeks of school.

There were no piping pipers, French hens or milking maids – and the only rings were the ones run around me by my children, school and work.

Here’s how it went:

On the first day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the second day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Two hundred dirhams
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the third day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
The school gave to me
A reminder for costumes for the school concert (“and volunteers please to pin stars on 400 t-shirts”); instructions for festive fun-wear; and a shift at the bake sale.

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Seven new midnight leaping-Elf moves,
Six different outfits,
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
My true loves gave to me
A coughing virus that’s been going round and apparently is more contagious than the plague.

On the ninth day of Christmas
Work gave to me
Ninety pages of Yearbook to edit

On the tenth day of Christmas
I gave to myself
A severe reprimand for buying not 10 but ZERO presents

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Eleven packs of crisps,
Ten yet-to-be-bought pressies,
Nine kids to tea,
Eight hours of shopping,
Seven midnight leaping Elf moves
Six different outfits
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My son’s baseball team gave to me
Twelve dirty jerseys, all needing washing…

Then the end of term arrived. We limped over the finish line, and suddenly it’s beginning to feel a lot like the Christmas holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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On finally getting a chic tree (after 11 years)

Christmas pasts in our household have always looked something like this: Haul the dusty box containing our fake tree from the storeroom. Assemble tree, by slotting twenty branches of bashed-up greenery into the right holes. Arrange fronds in a symmetrical fashion, with no help whatsoever from the children (the same children who 30 minutes previously were desperate to put the tree up).

Next, I’d attempt to sort out the spaghetti junction of tangled lights, while stopping the boys from jumping on the tiny bulbs and attempting to create a fuzzy, homely, festive atmosphere with jingles in the background and the sweet, gelatinous smell of mince pies in the oven.

Then (and don’t tell me you haven’t done this too!?) indulge my secret habit of rearranging haphazardly placed baubles later.

Ha! It was all … so stressful!

Now I just have to keep the dog away

Now I just have to keep the dog away

Not only because of the general chaos and mess that ensued, but because Christmas decorating with two small boys involved such terrible colour schemes, and so many bald spots on the tree, smashed decorations and tinsel-tastic explosions.

What on earth’s happened to the lights?” I asked one year, after DH strung up new gaudy, electric bulbs with the boys. “They’re all blue, and flashing … kind of like a police car rushing to a traffic accident.”

“You’ll get used to the neon-blue glow,” DH had laughed, and I’d stared, mesmerised, half expecting to hear the wail of a siren, eventually agreeing that the boys’ handiwork was indeed lovely. And colourful.

This year, thanks to the boys being that much older, it all went a lot more smoothly than usual – and a bigger kitchen in our new house meant there was room for a second white tree, decorated only by moi!

I have to say I’m rather pleased. So it’s not quite the same as when my dad used to take my brother and I to a farm that sold firs in all shapes and sizes, and we’d come back in high spirits with a freshly cut tree smelling of pine resin and the outdoors. But my chic white tree winks away rather cheerfully and casts a lovely warm hue over the kitchen.

Season’s greetings to all!

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Over the moon to run into an astronaut!

They say things happen for a reason – although I couldn’t really see the truth in this as our bags were offloaded from the flight we were scheduled to be taking to Cape Town.

Boarding was underway and we trooped up to the counter, clutching our boarding passes and passports. We’d already checked we didn’t need visas.

“And you have the birth certificates?” asked the gate agent matter-of-factly.

That was all it took – the curveball that brought our travel plans to a screeching, shuddering halt. My throat tightened as a sinking feeling in my chest took hold. DH and I stared blankly at the man behind the desk, then at each other, as we processed the news that South African immigration required original birth certificates for all children under the age of 18, even when travelling with parents and even when said kids were clearly far too noisy and troublesome to have been kidnapped.

Somewhere in the back of my hearing I heard a last-call boarding announcement.

“We’ll try to find a solution,” said the gate agent, who – kudos to him – did try, and let us down gently, before sending us home with a regretful shrug.

Getting out of the airport, without having left, then proved a whole challenge in itself – as did finding our suitcases. We eventually climbed into a taxi without our luggage. Disappointed, but determined to try again the next day.

Things went a lot more smoothly the following morning, and as we boarded the Boeing 777 we were greeted with the news that there was a special guest on board. “Who is it? Who is it?” clamoured the kids. I think they hoped it was a famous YouTuber – Dan TDM or the other one, whose name completely escapes me.

Apollo 11 shot Buzz Aldrin to (excuse the pun) stardom in 1969

Apollo 11 shot Buzz Aldrin to (excuse the pun) stardom in 1969

But the VIP passenger was far, far better than that – in a league of his own, in fact. It was astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, and he was sitting right behind me.

I knew immediately that I wanted to talk to him, I wanted to talk to him so much that my mind began whirring with possibilities. I could show him my supermoon photos to get him on the topic. Tell him I’ve always wanted to go to the moon, ever since my mum sat me down in front of a black-and-white TV as a baby to watch the moon landings in the early 70s. Failing that, I could wait until he needed the bathroom, and queue up outside (Saddo, I know!).

DH shook his hand. “Mr Aldrin? It’s a pleasure to have you on board,” he said as Buzz made his way to the cockpit to meet the operating pilots. On his way back, I smiled at him, noticing his t-shirt promoting manned missions to Mars. Buzz smiled back!

Buzz is a tireless advocate for the future of space exploration

Buzz is a tireless advocate for the future of space exploration

His hair is winter-white now, his face timeworn and wrinkled (must be about 86). His eyes were ever so slightly milky with age but there was an unmistakable twinkle in them – a sparkle that suggested he wasn’t about to stop exploring the planet (indeed, he was on his way to Antarctica to visit the South Pole!). Wearing blue jeans with a low-slung belt, he kept a low profile and none of the other passengers realised who he was, until the end of the flight when the captain said over the tannoy that he was honoured to be flying Buzz Aldrin.

So did I get to talk to him? Well, no. Not exactly. He’d flown from the States, and slept most of the way. But I spoke to his travel companion, who was lovely and said she’d take a photo with my younger son. “Go on,” I urged Son2, nudging him to cooperate, pleading with him in his ear to “just.do.it” – to no avail. Son2 was struck with shyness, and the opportunity passed. Still, I’ll never forget the moment I sort-of met a hero of mine.

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Circles in the Sand – the BOOK is here!

Super excited to announce Circles in the Sand – the BOOK is now available on Amazon!

Have you ever just popped into IKEA?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]In this collection of short stories, you’ll meet all sorts of characters straight out of daily life in Dubai. Helicopter Mum. The Atlantis Tooth Fairy. Shopaholic Katie, who disappears down the Karama rabbit hole while buying handbags.

There’s also school teacher Hilary (will she get to keep the Range Rover gifted to her by the royal family?); little Amir, a historical character who wants nothing more than to do his first, dangerous pearl dive; and overworked Marcie, whose husband gets overexcited at the Expo 2020 and swaps their housemaid for a robot.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]The book also includes Cupcakes & Heels, the story of workaholic mum Julie Wainscote, who becomes an overnight Twitter sensation when her live TV gaffe goes viral. Fired from her job, she takes up the challenge of becoming a stay-at-home mum to her son. But when she realises the school run is a catwalk, the coffee mornings involve competitive catering and the class bear has been to Lapland, she has to admit the adjustment required may be beyond her.

PRAISE FOR CUPCAKES & HEELS: “An uplifting and candid story about one of the most difficult decisions any mother has to make. A truly funny, insightful and beautifully written slice of parenting life.”

DOWNLOAD LINKS:

In the UK: Click here

US, UAE and worldwide: Click here

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Son2’s Trump card

It was an interesting day in the Middle East yesterday. The kids came home from school totally spooked. Son1 burst through the door, wailing “Nooooooooo! He won!” His face looked strained, worried. I wondered how much he knew about the election, and it turned out a lot more than I thought.

Son2, only eight, was jittery and hyped up– much of this rubbing off from the adults around him, of course, but he had so many questions about what had happened, his mind racing with frightening images of walls and Muslims being banned.

Eyes to the sky: Pondering a seismic political event with global implications

Eyes to the sky: Pondering a seismic political event with global implications

Kudos to the teachers, for sorting the fact from the fiction and for dealing with all the questions: But why does he want to ban Muslims? (some of the young Muslim kids were crying after an awful rumour went round that I’m not going to repeat). Why does he want to build a wall? Who voted for him? Will he ban Halloween too? (!!!)

Son1 was worried for his friend Ali, Son2 for his little friend Ibrahim. Growing up in the multicultural melting pot that is Dubai, they know people are different and that different is good.

After it all calmed down, I sat for a while and watched the big sky over our desert bubble, hoping, just hoping, that it will all work out okay, somehow. And if it doesn’t, well Son2 has the answer: “I’m going to put Donald Trump in my squashing machine!”

Posted in Children, Dubai, Parenting | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments