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Fewer or Less?

So here is my dilemma, or should I say was my dilemma. When to use ‘fewer’ instead of ‘less’. I feel shame at my lack of linguistic skills when English is my first language. But up until about 14 years ago I didn’t know I was using the wrong words. A friend corrected me one day, and all these years later I am still finding it hard to get the right usage to come naturally to me.

The worse thing is that as it doesn’t come naturally to me I now correct myself after the fact. And to be honest I have been told in my research of this rather tedious subject that a lot of other people make the same mistake, and I am therefore highlighting my inadequate grasp of the English language by doing this.

Here is my theory on how I believe it doesn’t really matter and what to blame for this oddity. I blame mathematics. There you go, i said it, maths is to blame. Not just for those miserable years studying it at school but how it has rendered me unable to grasp, apparently the simplest, of ‘meanings’.

So let us begin…

less-than

Image courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/maths/algebra/inequalitiesrev1.shtml

I walked into a room where I was expecting there to be the usual 25 chairs, there were only 20 chairs. According to the table above 20 chairs is less than 25 chairs. So why would I not say there are less chairs rather than there are fewer chairs? Tell me that! It says clearly that the smaller number is less than the bigger number, in fact it goes as far as to say it is a true statement. So less chairs could easily be a true statement!

Interestingly (to somebody I’m sure) even though armed with the knowledge of the correct word to choose I haven’t been able to retrain my brain to use it. But what I have managed to retrain my brain to do is not use either word. I have discovered a life where there “aren’t as many” of anything. There aren’t as many people in the pub some days, there aren’t as many chairs available and there aren’t as many crisps in a packet anymore! So there!

P.S There aren’t as many words in this blog post as I usually write, there is only a certain amount of time you can devote to such things and keep people’s interest.

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The Big Issue – Hard Sell

For a couple of months now there has been a young woman selling the big Issue magazine outside my local supermarket. Small shop on the High Street, you know the kind of thing. During these months my feelings towards her have spun out of control, from rational to downright, certifiably crazy. And I ask myself why?

My first objection was the manner in which the seller approached me, I found her aggressive, and her evil looks at my failure to purchase did not go unnoticed. As if this wasn’t bad enough I would get asked again when I left the shop, twice, the same thing, every time.

Due to the ‘hard sell’ it was impossible to scuttle past deliberately blanking, or pretending to be looking for something in my bag so I wouldn’t have to meet her eye. I was forced to respond with a , “No thank you”. I had to be polite in case she followed me home to punish me and my comfortable life for ignoring her and her needs, which were clearly greater than mine. At this point I became aware that I am angry at her for making me feel guilty, guilty for not buying the magazine. But angry because her manner is forcing me to address my selfishness and guilt on a daily basis. I started complaining about her manner in the local shops,

“cor she don’t half give you evils if you don’t buy the magazine”.

“Isn’t she aggressive?”.

Then I feel like an even more horrible person. I clearly think that with the more people I tell, one day one of them will tell someone else who has the power to make her and her guilt tripping go away! I want to be able to go from home or work to the shop without this burdening guilt. I also want to shout at her,

“NO! I still don’t want one, same as 90 seconds ago when I didn’t want one!”

Today on the approach to the shop my heart sinks, I say to myself, “Oh God, there she is”, out loud I say, “No thank you”. I leave the shop and she isn’t looking my way. “Ha!” I say in my head as I feel as though I have won some kind of battle. Then I question whether I am a grey person. It is not possible for me to be a grey person. I either wear a bright red coat or a bright pink mac with pink scarf. And I scream in my head,

“are you stupid? You MUST notice that I am the same person you asked 90 seconds ago. Look at me! I’m not grey, I am colourful, you must remember me for my colourfulness!”

You could be forgiven reading this for thinking I am completely insane. Or you may suggest I buy one of the magazines and it will all stop. I doubt that, I could buy the magazine and still be asked 90 seconds later if I want “BIG ISSUE”. I could stop and talk to her, and be honest.

Here is my open letter to the lady who sells the Big Issue.

Dear lady,

I feel very bad when I walk past and don’t buy one of your magazines. I feel guilty. I feel you will judge me. Hate me even. But the truth is I can’t afford to buy it, the cost of that paper is more than a third of my daily budget for food. I might not look poor, I wear nice clothes and carry a designer bag. But all my clothes and my bag come from charity shops and car boot sales. I don’t want you to think I don’t care about where you came from and where you are now, because I do. But I can only afford to help people with my time and not with money. Please don’t judge me because of how I look, in the same way I won’t ever judge you or anyone else by how they look. Maybe you appear aggressive because you are desperate, I’m sorry that I don’t know your story. Maybe one day I will stop and ask you.

With Kind Regards,
The Lady in Red (and Pink)

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The Empty Nest Part 2 – He’s Gone

The day finally arrived a week ago Sunday, my son armed with his suitcases and mini-fridge made the journey on to the next stage of his life. I was wondering if the mini-fridge (his request) was a little over the top, but it seems now, he would have been the odd one out without one. His room was not left the way we had discussed, and he did have the entire summer to vacuum and polish (mentioned once or twice by me) but as his stress levels rose on leaving day I caved and said he could leave the rest to me.

I was so brave, I can hardly believe how brave I was, I’m still walking about with a smug look on my face at how BRAVE I really was when he hugged me goodbye. But that’s when parenting strength really comes into play, I didn’t want him to see me upset and get upset himself, that is after all why he didn’t even let me go with him!

I spent the next few hours after his departure cleaning my empty nest, revelling in the opportunity to have the house free of teenage clutter and body hair. His bedroom had never looked so welcoming. A good job really as that same evening, my first night of freedom, my Father was coming to stay. And is still here. I have yet to experience the highs and lows of my empty nest. I’m still cooking dinner every night, I’m still having to let someone know if I will be home straight from work. But not for long, another week and my nest will be empty again.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy the first couple of days until the deafening silence kicks in, and the novelty of watching whatever crap I like on the telly has worn off. And then I’ll probably end up longing for an excuse to make a tasty dinner, that requires effort, for someone again. But isn’t that why I started writing in the first place, amongst other things, to fill this void.

Yesterday I sent the first package to my son (he finally gave me his address). Contained within was one tin opener, a packet of sweets and a handwritten letter (which I announced with way too much fervour at the post office counter when asked the contents of my jiffy bag). My son had tried to convince me to think of his departure as being away at boarding school, not that he had left home. So I was very excited to be fulfilling my role and sending him tuck (food eaten by children at school as a snack). I was also proud at how light-hearted and funny my letter was as I pictured his beautiful face creasing up with laughter. I am now of course waiting for him to let me know if he has received it yet, and for him to tell me what a great mum I am and how much he laughed, and that it was all so funny he passed my letter around his friends so that they could laugh as well and say, “Your mum is so cool, my mum would never write me a letter like that”.

You can’t fill the VOID of your one and only, funny, huggy, smart, kind, loving, child leaving you, you can only fill the time.

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Homework – Yes or No?

I was just reading “Is Homework Worth the Hassle?” on the BBC news website and it reminded me how much I hate the concept of homework, as directed by schools. As a home schooling mum you could be forgiven for thinking I am anti establishment. But I’m not. Each case for attending/not attending school should be considered on an individual basis, and that is why when given the opportunity to try out a brand, spanking new secondary school in our local area we gave it a shot. One form entry, nice and small and a good gentle introduction back into the mainstream.

As much as we loved being at home together and enjoyed the outdoor life and freedom to set our own course, there is always that element of doubt about the end goal, can I do what needs to be done to ensure my son achieves his potential. So I handed him over to people I trusted to undertake that task.

The alarm bells first started ringing when we attended a meeting of parents as an introduction to the school. The freedom of expression in the way I dressed that I had come to love in my role as a home ed mum was the first thing that came under the spotlight. Apparently, having been taken aside by another parent, Union Jack Doctor Martens immediately labelled me as a racist. I had quite a collection of DM’s back then and thought myself, in my other life, to be on point in my choice of footwear. They went on Ebay the next day and I stuck to the Lime, pink and floral selection from then on.

During this meeting the deputy head (who I grew to dislike with a passion I didn’t know I was capable of) was driving home the inclusion policy, ‘Inclusion, Inclusion, Inclusion’ he chanted over and over. And then when asked what the school’s policy was, and what they would do about any children who were very, very ‘naughty’ he said they would be out on their ear….’exclusion’… he bellowed. Hmmm?

And so we began. From Monday to Wednesday the children had compulsory extra curricula activities which meant the school day ended anytime between 5-6pm, we were told that they wouldn’t have homework on those evenings. They lied. It became clear that the teachers didn’t know the school’s policy on homework. I found myself reminding them from time to time. They also had a policy about not having ‘whole class’ detentions, again this was something I had to remind them about. My son had detention 3 times in his first 2 weeks because other people were ‘playing up’.

We spent a term at this school and during that time my son who enjoyed reading and had a passion for History did very little to follow his own interests and hobbies. He was tired, pale, and had more coughs and colds than he’d had in about 5 years. There was no time for family life in the evenings, it became a never ending round of eat, homework and bed.

If you follow social media you may have seen the message that went viral from a Texan teacher, who wrote to parents saying:

<em> “After much research this summer, I am trying something new. I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your children to bed early.”</em>

I whole heartedly agree with this teacher. You need time as a family to talk, because learning to talk to each other is what can save you great heartache during those teenage years. In a society that appears to be breeding a new generation of anti-socialism through excessive engagement with multimedia (another blog here) communication of the verbal kind is getting little enough practice as it is.

My son was given the opportunity to spend time pursuing and actively engaging in his own interests; fair enough he had the time as he didn’t attend school for most of his educational career, but give the other kids a chance to do the same outside of school hours. Goodness only knows what they might discover about themselves or for themselves.

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I Am Bridget Jones – N0! I’m Bridget Jones

As we (some of us) eagerly await the release of Bridget Jones’s Baby on Friday I am compelled to put pen to paper as I recall that day in 1996 when I picked up a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary in a hospital shop.

Miss Jones conforms to that chick lit appeal of the ditsy female protagonist that thankfully (I for one am happy about this) hasn’t been ousted in this wonderful new age of political correctness that may have slightly lost its head. I hit my 30’s and unlike Bridget I had my first baby in 1996. I was proclaiming that I HAD been Bridget Jones, rather than I AM Bridget Jones. And here began my lifelong love affair with chick lit.

I think the appeal was that so many of us could relate to that single time in our lives, the painful, obligatory, dating. Climbing the career ladder whilst still trying to work out what we were any good at. And of course, a blog post about Bridget wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the BIG knickers! She really put BIG knickers on the map. No longer ‘in the closet’ but out in the open where we could at last talk freely about what was sucking it all in. No more hiding in the loo to whip them off before our new beau got a glimpse of our unsightly pants. I have had feedback on this new liberty, and unsurprisingly some male friends have been less than enthusiastic, as an aside apparently not many of them like leggings either.

For me, what I would like to see next for Bridget is the being a mum part of her life. I’m not sure how far the new film goes with the baby bit. But I would love to see some of what Sophie Kinsella gives us in Shopaholic and Baby (2007).  have read all of the Shopaholic books and there is a book for every stage of your life. I’m not setting Rebecca Bloomwood (The star of the Shopaholic series) up as any kind of role model, but the laughs you have along the way are bountiful, and you will recognise something of yourself in there somewhere.

As a mum of a 20 year old I’m still proud to be able to say I STILL have it, whatever IT might be. If when feeding a hungry brood of his mates chips, and the ketchup has run out, you can produce as many condiments as needed from your handbag you are up there with the best of the chick lit leading ladies.

Would the real Bridget Jones please stand up.

 

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Travelling With Anxiety

I often open my mouth without really thinking things through. I thought it would be a great idea to have a little trip away with my boy before he heads off to Uni. Yes, let’s go to Belgium, what fun we will have. Oh. I forgot that over the last couple of years I’ve developed a deep hatred for travel, motorways, cars, anything that involves me being too far away from the emergency services should I need to call upon them. I also have developed deep anxiety in general over the last few months, which I believe has something to do with being perimenopausal. Whoops.

Seeing how enthusiastic my son was about the trip and without the threat of Operation stack following through, potentially putting an end to our trip, off we went. My boyfriend R at the wheel, my son T and his mate J and me. I am the original back seat driver and if R refuses to drive me anywhere again I wouldn’t blame him. Even with 4 drops of rescue remedy in my morning tea I began to hate myself on the drive to Dover.

My behaviour was pretty appalling, and we had even gone the long way to Dover so I didn’t have to endure the anxiety of motorway travel. But it appears I imagine that R develops some form of instantaneous blindness on taking his position behind the wheel. I helpfully point out that the vehicles in front are now breaking (to be fair I do feel he takes his eyes off the road for too long at times). I always alert him to the potential hazards as I think a pedestrian may be considering crossing the road and frequently question him as to “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??”

I’ve always enjoyed the Ferry part of the journey, but on this occasion the thought of being in the middle of the sea with no access to the aforementioned emergency services got me a bit jittery. I did reassure myself a little by realising we were never too far from land for an air ambulance to be deployed. Fortunately a nice pint of beer (once we hit french waters and gained an hour making it a respectable time for an alcoholic beverage) laced with another 4 drops of rescue remedy got me through the two hours to Dunkirk.

It was once we started back off in the car that I had to question what has happened to me? We have done this trip so many times, but suddenly I am so afraid of being driven on the right hand side of the road.

Our time spent in Veurne was lovely, there are some fabulous old buildings, my favourite being St. Walburga Church. On all of our visits I had hoped that one time we would happen upon a service in the church. To hear the organ with those vast pipes being played would be a real treat. And I had my treat at last.

In another church there was a timetable of services in St. Walburga, and even though it was written in Flemish we managed to work out that there would be a wedding there that afternoon. So we positioned ourselves in the pub next door and I waited to get a glimpse of the bride. After they’d gone in I noted that tourists could still walk into the church without realising there was a wedding taking place. So, with T’s mate in tow, we snuck round to the entrance at the back of the church and plonked ourselves on the back row. My first Belgian wedding, and I didn’t even have to buy a gift. I was even cheeky enough to stand in the hub of things when the bride and groom came out and took photos.

When we left our hotel and headed back to Dunkirk we were somehow driving on a different road to the one we came in on. It was a motorway. I had read an article on controlling panic attacks recently where it said to try and get excited about your anxiety to change the feelings you are experiencing. So in my head I was trying to get excited. Isn’t it exciting how fast all these cars can go without crashing. Isn’t it exciting how little time the cars leave to swap lanes. Isn’t exciting how close that lorry is to the back of that car. That kind of thing. When I thought it might be working I noticed something. There wasn’t a hard shoulder!! I’m screaming in my head, “where is the f*****g hard shoulder?!” What are you supposed to do if something goes wrong with the car? I spent the next 20 minutes in a state of extreme fear, I could hardly walk by the time we next got out of the car.

I’m glad I waited until the journey was over to discuss this lack of hard shoulder situation with my boyfriend. His reply to my question of what happens in an emergency situation was, “You put your head in your lap and kiss your @rse goodbye!”.

Writing this has enabled me to realise I cannot manage this new level of anxiety with rescue remedy alone. I’m off to get help. If I don’t I’ll never go anywhere again.