Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dumbing Down : An experiment in un-smartphoning my life!

It has come to my attention that I spend too much time with my iPhone welded to the palm of my hand, too much time gazing at the same old pointless crap on a variety of social media sites, too much time documenting events through the lens and screen of my smart phone rather than experiencing them as me!  Something had to change but, I didn't really know where to start...

My beloved iPhone 7 fell on the floor last Tuesday.... the microphone stopped working as did half of the touch screen, this meant the only way to make and receive calls was via speaker phone, and I couldn't see or read anything properly...a huge pain in the ass for a Smartphone junky like me.

Conscious of the approaching launch of the new iPhone, I was loathed to spend a few hundred on a repair and so I spent a day without my social media fix, until I remembered my old iPhone languishing at the back of my office drawer.. I found said iPhone 6, gave it a quick clean and fired it up, normal service was resumed.. Top Job!

I have been an iPhone junky from day one, having bought, used and discarded every single model since it's launch 10 years ago, eagerly awaiting each update and leap forward in the ability of this incredible, revolutionary mobile communication device, overjoyed at how I could be anywhere in the world and be in touch with everything and everyone that I did and didn't need in my life at the swipe of a touch screen. Agog at the ability to capture every detail of my daily events in hi-res video or photo and share my pointless crap with the world in an instant, the iPhone had become so seamlessly integrated into my life that many of it's functions have subconsciously become part of my everyday routine. Wake up check mail, check weather, make coffee whilst reading headlines, eat breakfast and read news, get kids off to school peruse Facebook, do some practice whilst checking Twitter and Facebook, watch crap on Youtube, check weather, make lunch, take picture of lunch, share funny video....the depressing list goes on...

In fact, it wasn't until my wife remarked how it was nice to have me "in the room" for a day when my iPhone broke, that I really thought about the amount of time I waste on the damn gadget. It was actually quite depressing to think about how this little bit of Tec had become such an important part of my life in the last 10 years.

So, this was it, my wake up call...I was going to bin the smartphone and go old skool, but how?

One of the regular things for me to gaze at on the old iPhone was a Tec magazine, I remembered reading about a re-boot of my pre-smart phone favourite, the legendary Nokia 3310, and so after doing a bit of research I decided this was to be my new "unsmart" phone.

Some further research proved that it was pretty much impossible to find any of the Swiss phone retailers stocking or even having said bit of kit available to order, mainly because they can't make any money selling their all inclusive data, TV, internet packages with such a unit.
I delved a bit further and found an electrical retailer stocking them for 60CHF . I thought that was a misprint as I'd become so used to spending several hundred on each new iPhone but, nevertheless, set off in the car to get myself un-smarted and re-acquaint myself with NOKIA!

Upon entering said store, I walked past the APPLE section with its drool worthy tec, streamlined furniture and minimalist display racks, past the rows and rows of competing Android smart phones until, at the end of the store, almost unnoticed, I found a bin of Nokia 3310's piled up like crappy CDs in a bargain bin at TESCO. I picked one up and looked over it's packaging... it looked like a toy, no fussy box and glossy print...just a plastic blister pack which displayed said phone, mounted on a half cardboard box with some jazzy colour print on the side. It looked cheap, cool and familiar yet subtly modernised from the classic model, after remembering to get a SIM card adapter to supersize my nano SIM, I headed off to pay and asked if the price was actually 60CHF...

The phone guy laughed and said "Yes of course, it doesn't do anything except phone and SMS...oh and snake, it's proper old school but it does have Bluetooth!"

That's just the job then, I handed over my cash and headed home.

In the box was an actual battery, the handset, a pair of earphones (with cable) and a micro USB charger with the plug attached, which I suddenly remembered seemed to break on an almost weekly basis with my old 3310. After breaking a fingernail and almost losing my religion, I managed to get the back off the thing, then I had to strip the iPhone of it's SIM, having lost the little tool I fashioned a paperclip to do the job and eagerly slid it into the receiving slot of the 3310,  I put in the battery, (when was the last time you did that in a phone?) and fired it up....

My experiment in Dumbing Down had started...

I was warmly greeted by the classic NOKIA tones, like welcoming back an old friend, even if the operating system coming to life, cruelly cut short the last note! After downloading the software thoughtfully supplied by my service provider so I could use it on their modern 4G network, I was asked to pair it with my old iPhone to sync contacts via Bluetooth/Slam, this came as something of a relief as I had almost foreseen having to type in the names and numbers of everyone on my contacts list. It worked flawlessly and I was ready to go...no Facebook, no WhatsApp, no you tube, no FaceTime and no bloody anything by the looks of it....At least i've got snake!

Living life with a "Dumb Phone"

So, the new 3310 has been in my life for almost a week, has anything changed and did the world stop turning? Well it's still early days, aside from being both cruelly mocked for my foolishness on Facebook (via my desktop Mac of course) and admired for my bravery in equal measure. I have, it seems, been set free..Here are my observations - 

Aside from the obvious outcomes of not checking my phone every 5 minutes, or staring at it whilst lounging on the sofa. I'm finding I have more time to do important things and practice more drums...Even my wife is happy! Although this probably has more to do with me tidying the garden for the approaching winter than my lack of smart phone but, one situation created the other...as it were.

It was a massive re-learning curve navigating the old NOKIA menu with a little button and I found myself on many occasions cursing as I couldn't just touch the screen to make it work.

I have yet to master unlocking the bloody thing, the camera is rubbish and I can't send picture messages anyway without buying a micro SD card for extra memory space.

I have struggled with sending SMS which seems to take FOREVER using the alphanumeric keypad.. Using actual keys, who'd have thought? And getting the thing to pair with my car was a mission, I have to do it manually each time I get in, where as the old iPhone paired automatically. Also being a Dumb Phone it won't display any names or phone book info via my Volvo Connect in-car system, just phone numbers, the upshot of which means I'm actually remembering numbers for the first time in a decade!

The boys have asked why I have a toy phone instead of an iPhone, they don't ask to play on it anymore.

Friends who have seen the experiment in action, have been curious and to a man, have all wanted to have a look and a go on the NOKIA...every single one has, without exception, tried to touch the screen to make it work...and every single one has had to have a go on SNAKE !

Some have even gone so far as to express an interest in getting a ""dumb phone" themselves now that they've seen it can be done.

Personally, after the initial feeling of being "Cut Off" I am enjoying the freedom of not being a slave to the smart phone, I check my emails on my desktop Mac at lunch time and I take ages to answer anyone who sends me a text..I've even read an actual paperback book (Backseat Bedroom by Nick Andrew) I have tried to use the internet on it backstage at a concert but it was so time consuming and crap that I went for a walk instead...bonus!

So far so good, will I make a month? will the new iPhone lure me back into smartphone slavery? Who knows, i'll give it a shot and see how it goes but, for now, the outlook is decidedly a positive one!

Oh yes, 6 days in and I haven't had to charge it up which means I haven't yet broken the charger!!

PS: If you've tried to call me and I haven't answered, try again..I'm still trying to unlock the damn thing!

PPS: If you're waiting for a text reply from me, be patient..it takes bloody ages!

PPPS: If you've tried to WhatsApp me...send a text please!

Monday, August 28, 2017

GARDEN FORCE: What I did this summer!

I've been a bit quiet on here for the last couple of months, I've been a bit busy you see....

We've been looking for a new home for the family for sometime, we had a nice spacious open plan flat with a large balcony and garden that was perfect for us when the kids were young and needed constant supervision. As the hooligans have grown and become more and more active the old place seemed more of a hinderance than a help, as we always had to supervise them getting into the garden, which had no direct access from the flat and involved them walking down the side of the house which was situated on a busy main road through the village. And we had very little chance to just sit and watch TV as a couple or socialise as the open plan nature of the place meant that every little noise tended to disturb the boys or lead to them getting up to ensure they weren't missing out on anything...

After viewing and putting in offers on countless places and being let down, we finally struck lucky this spring when we found a house in need of some work in a village not too far from where we were living. The old house needed a lot of work but we instantly felt at home and could see the potential in making it into a perfect family home.

The house was built in the 60s into the side of a small hill on a considerable slope, in an upside-down format with large entrance hall, 2 bedrooms, bathroom, wash room, cellar and plant room downstairs and a large living room, kitchen, 2 further bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. Topping it off was a large balcony giving panoramic views of the Bernese Alps.

Mrs S and I instantly saw the potential in making the entire downstairs area a play centre for the boys, having both their bedrooms and bathroom downstairs and converting the fairly cold, tiled entrance hall into a play room with shelving and play areas for lego etc. and a cozy corner under the stairs for TV and Playstation, leaving the upstairs clutter free and perfectly suited to a more adult orientated vibe with our bedroom, office and a family lounge/diner.

That was the easy part,  with work started in painting, refurbishing and refreshing all of the rooms, installing new parquet flooring and a a new wetroom and taking the unusual step (in Switzerland anyway) of fitting the entrance and stair way with a bright, grass green carpet, our attention turned to the all important outside space.

As mentioned, the plot is on a considerable slope and front to back the height difference was around 10 metres.. The entire garden which surrounds the house was filled with hundreds of beautiful roses and a plethora of other flowers, many of which I have still yet to learn the names of. How on earth were we to make this a great area for us and the kids to enjoy?

I had a cunning plan, let's put in 3 terraces, one at the top for our all important pool, one in the middle for some lawn and a trampoline and a lower one with some planting, leading down to a vegetable garden...

All very good on paper and in the minds eye, but involves moving a massive amount of earth and holding back the remaining slope ..... bring on the BIG BOYS TOYS!

Phase 1 was to remove and re-plant some of the very old, well established Rose bushes before clearing the unwanted flowers/shrubs and removing all of the top soil. Next was to give the basic 3 step terrace form by driving a digger and making a huge mess of everything! The groundwork guys recommended using concrete spoon stones to hold back and reenforce each terrace wall and prevent the entire garden sliding into the street during heavy rain and snow. The spoon stones are laid much like bricks, fixed with a strong mortar and then filled with earth, several hundred were used to create each retaining wall section in out terraces and also helped to form a stable base for some new steps (recycled from the old, weathered concrete ones that had been in the garden for decades.)

Once the stones were laid and filled, we formed the base of the pool terrace using some liner cloth to stop the weeds and then added several tonnes of gravel stone from the local quarry, this was all compacted to form a stable and durable base for the pool. The rear portion of remaining slope was secured with hemp rope netting and plated with some alpine succulents which will, over time, spread to create a nice green, low maintenance carpet and some of the original concrete path sections were relaid along with the steps to provide some easy access. A few alpine plants were placed in the spoon stone sections and then, after replacing and grading the top soil for the 2 lower sections I decided to lay some turf from the local farm and it very quickly started to look like a garden and a lot less like a building site.

We decided to leave the turfed / trampoline section as a slight slope as it wouldn't be used for football, opposite our house the local farmer has given up some of his land and maintains a lovely football pitch for the local kids to enjoy, therefore we could just use our grass area for laying on and enjoying the sun. I did however have to install a trampoline for the boys, quite a challenge as it turned out! After a day spent building the steel frame swimming pool (4.5 x 3m ) and it's accompanying sand filtration system, I set to work on the trampoline...

After assembling the steel frame I worked out where to dig some channels to accommodate the rear leg sections and then on the hottest afternoon of the summer, set to work with my trusty shovel and spirit level, after A LOT of messing around and a considerable amount of profanity, I managed to get the bloody thing level and stable and only had to add a couple of concrete slabs at the front to get it all true before refilling the trenches with earth and completing the build.

The final part was to add a small fence to stop the boys falling off the steps,  seeding the lawn under the trampoline, reseeding and repairing the lower lawn area and re cutting flower bed edges, organising the planting and taking some of what had been there since the house was build and adding some of the re-homed roses, some herbs and lavender and we were done...

Just add sun loungers and sun..

ready to enjoy, very, very satisfying and quite a journey... Oh yes, the view from the pool is outstanding too !!!

PS: i didn't forget about the vegetable garden, more on that another time when I try and introduce the boys to a spot of "grown your own fruit & veg"

Monday, April 24, 2017

The great spectacle of ...The Footballing Parents.

Despite being a Brit, I don't do football... 
I think it was something to do with an overbearing games teacher at school, not being very interested in sports and the huge Arsenal vs. Spurs family rivalry, that put me right off...

As a kid I tried to like it, I played a bit at school, I used to go to training for Downside, the local kids team where I grew up. I went to some matches with my Dad and Uncles at Spurs and even a couple of England matches where I met Diego Maradona  (that's me with him in the pic below.)

I just was never very good at football and was always picked last along with my mate Derek for the team, I only made the Downside team once when someone else didn't show up. My lack of playing was mainly due to the fact I could never kick the damn ball in the direction it should go. I resigned myself to not being a footballist at about age 13 and settled for watching the World Cup when it was interesting or there was nothing else on TV. I don't even follow a team, I just don't do football.

Me (left) with Diego Maradona in 1986
Now I'm a parent, football has made a surprise come back in my life through BIG, he loves the beautiful game. I'm not sure where he got it from, my wife isn't a footballist, nor any of our Swiss family. Grandad, uncles and cousins in England are all footballists so, I guess he must have picked it up in the UK family genes somewhere along the lines...

Anyway, the thought of having a "football kid" was always a bit of a fear for me, I was worried about the idea of not being able to tell my kids what to do as I didn't know the rules and had a fear of standing on a wet and windy touchline on a Sunday morning, after a few hours sleep from a concert the night before...I just couldn't see myself doing it.

The other summer, after BIG showed his absolute enthusiasm for the Football thing, I shelved my fears,  got him a goal set and put it in the garden. The idea being that BIG could happily while away time, practicing penalty shooting, free kicks and other things footbally. Unfortunately he needed someone to practice with and as Small hates football and seems to have 2 left feet (much like myself at that age) and Mrs S just doesn't, it was down to me...

Oh the pressure, I knew I would be a let down... I mean, I couldn't kick a ball in a straight line at a target when I was under 20. Now, in my 40's I was going to be an utter embarrassment to my boy. 
On a whim, I got myself some trusty "old skool" Adidas Samba and spent some time in the garden when they (and everyone else in the neighbourhood) were at school / work...and tried to learn to kick a ball...after while and the loss of numerous balls in the stream that runs through our garden,  it started to come together. I could actually get the ball in the goal from anywhere in the garden, this was a revelation for me and made the kick about with BIG, much more fun for both of us!
 Now we fast forward a bit and BIG has joined the local football team. He has relatively expensive (for the size of it) football clothing and indoor and outdoor boots. He goes to the training ground once a week on a Wednesday, they practice outdoor in the spring, summer and autumn and indoor in the winter. I drop him off and say hi to the other parents and then come home...I ask him how he got on when he comes home and ask him if he managed to score any goals and what kind of football things did they learn today. That's the very limit of my footballing knowledge, aside from when we play in the garden,  I kick footballs at him and he kicks footballs at me...it's all going OK...

Then BIG enrolles me in the Dads vs. Kids match in the training hall in February, without my knowledge I might add, My wife broke the news gently...

"You'll have to go training with BIG next week..Take your footie boots and wear some light clothes"

"Eh! Why...?"

"Because the Dads are playing the kids"

"Oh f**k, really?"

"yes, he's very excited and will be very proud that his Papa is there with him"

"Ohhhh, bugger......"

That was that, I had no excuses and the huge smile on the face of my son ensured I nervously entered the sports hall with my Adidas Samba shod feet, the very next week...

Me aged 8                                          BIG aged 8

I hadn't played a game of football for at least 30 years and now there I was,  lined up with 10 other Dads in various stages of (un) fitness about to kick off a 90 minute match against our offspring.
It was exhausting and quite a lot of fun...thankfully the dads were only allowed 5 players against the kids 11 so, we were subbed on and off the pitch as we played, I think this action from the trainer probably saved a few heart attacks!!

It came down to penalties at the end and I took to the pitch in front of my son, his team mates and all the other Dads, to take the first penalty shot...
I was utterly terrified, playing drums in front of thousands of people is a breeze compared to taking a penalty in a school sports hall in front of your son and his mates I tell you! 
I dug deep, composed myself and tried to think of all the garden practice I had done....then with a hasty "don't fucking miss" muttered under my breath, I struck the ball and it flew with a nice little curl, up into the top left corner of the net....


So that's what it's all about, I get it now....
We got beaten 6-5 and we looked like we had run a marathon, but it was actually great fun!
I could round up the story there but, that little match led me to look forward to taking BIG to his club tournaments when I am not away with the band...

It's this particular activity that brings me to the point of this blog instalment....

The Footballing Parents.

This is a phenomena of which I was unaware, it took me by complete surprise and a certain amount of fear, watching them at work is quite a spectator sport and I can't figure out if I go to matches to watch BIG and his team or to watch The Footballing Parents...

The Footballing Parents are not your ordinary supportive parents, taking a healthy interest in the hobbies of their offspring, not the parents who will take the kids to training after work or run a club unpaid, for fun. The ones i'm talking about are the parents who seem to want to live an unfulfilled ambition through their kids and take it deadly serious!!

The Footballing Parents (FBP as I shall call them) clearly invest a great deal of time and energy in developing their miniature Pele, Ardilies, Beckham or Messe. FBP would also appear to spend a huge amount of money on tiny, expensive boots and replica kit and training kit and bags and whatever the hell else a small footballist may require. FBP will ensure they are first at the match ground and will dutifully break out a miniature expensive match ball and help their miniature footballing creation to warm up, by shouting instructions as the small one runs around, kicks balls, jumps up and down and dashes from white line to white line. 

FBP will speak in hushed tones to the trainer when the team is prepared for the match and then as the kick off approaches FBP will bellow instructions and encouragement to the miniature footballist from the side lines. As the match is in progress FBP will shout and swear and jump up and down and scream and shout at other miniature footballists, referees, other parents and anyone else who it appears is not playing or spectating to professional footballing standards.

FBP is terrifying to watch yet, strangely addictive...There seem to be many, many footballing terms which are bellowed at the top of FBP's voice as play progresses.  If their miniature footballist should attempt to score and miss, you'd be forgiven for thinking that FBP had been personally kicked in the ankle. God forbid the miniature footballist is tackled or fouled..this sends FBP into an almost "Elmer Fudd" style rage and can sometimes see FBP walk onto the pitch and berate the officials and other parents! 

It's truly amazing and I have always seen at least one or two examples at most matches BUT this last weekend was off the scale in terms of FBP involvement...

BIG and his team were playing a county tournament with 6 teams from the local area, all playing 20 minute 5-a-side matches. 5 of the teams I had seen before at other matches and knew some of the parents and FBP by sight but, this time there was a new team, one I hadn't seen before...

The junior side from the local Premier league squad arrived in a sponsored team bus, resplendent in miniature versions of the very expensive pro kit, emblazoned with sponsor logos and tiny expensive gold NIKE boots..They looked great, like a tiny footballing army, and as you'd expect, every tiny footballing soldier had an independent squad of FBP in support... It was simultaneously truly comical, threatening and amazing to watch.. The Premier FBP were howling and jumping and berating all who stood in their way...This particular brand of FBP were making more noise than any of the other teams and parents in attendance..I have never seen anything like it!

As BIG and I shared a half time orange juice there was a "Premier FBP" next to us dishing out a major finger pointing bollocking to a tiny footballist for missing a penalty, the little man stood there in his tiny perfect kit and gold boots with tears in his eyes as his (I presume) father, told him he was disappointed and surprised by his sons poor performance..unable to hear any more I just said "Mate, take it easy, it's just a game" 

"Shut up asshole" was his reply...

BIG turns to me and says "It doesn't look like much fun in that team, Pa"

I'm glad that, through my son,  I found the fun in football again but, at the same time, I'm saddened that for some kids the Beautiful Game is not a game of fun anymore, because of their parents they are having their passion and fun turned into an obsession...

Yes I get it, football is big business, but for 6,7 and 8 year old kids it should all be about getting out, having fun and learning to win and loose. Or at the very least, it should be about letting them make up their own mind about football....NO?

Have I missed the point?


Monday, April 3, 2017

I don't want to be a pushy parent, but.........

Mrs S and are are very lucky to have two little hooligans that simply love going to school. We have no trouble getting them out of the house every morning at 08:00 for them to walk, by themselves I might add, the 1 kilometre or so to the village school..

When the boys reached school age (age 6, much later here than in the UK) we were able to choose the kind of system they would follow for the first few years. We had the option of the normal "years 1 / 2 / 3" system or a new style "Basis-stufe" where the last kindergarten year, plus first 3 school years are rolled into one class.

We chose the Basis-stufe style for both boys, as the building was brand new, open plan and beautifully equipped, in addition the small class size of 20 was shared by 2 teaching staff, thats one teacher for 10 kids!! And there was the added benefit of the younger kids being inspired to learn by the older kids and in turn the older kids helping to "mentor" the little ones. We thought it provided a really wonderful, inclusive and inspiring learning environment for our boys to start their schooling. We were pleased to hear that the children would be encouraged to work toward their strengths and be helped and inspired by their classmates to tackle their weaknesses, assisted by the teaching staff.

Both boys attend the Basis-Stufe in separate classes, both classes have 20 kids and 2 teachers. Small is absolutely loving his time at school and his teachers are really fantastic and supportive, he doesn't enjoy the traditional school work as such, but is allowed to really exercise his creative mind with building things from old cardboard, painting, drawing and working as part of a team. He is extremely creative and very skilled with his hands. He has struggled wth learning his numbers and letters a bit but, with our support at home and that of his tutors, he is making steady progress and his confidence is growing all the time...most heartening!

BIG however, is struggling a bit....and it's troubling us.

Even before he started school, BIG had a huge interest in numbers, letters and books. So much so that I took it upon myself to teach him to read and count before he had finished kindergarten. I bought a stack of books from the UK on the early years math syllabus and revisited the classic Peter & Jane, Ladybird KEYWORDS reading series that I enjoyed so much as a youngster. BIG absolutely loved this stuff and would happily sit with me for several afternoons a week and learn to write and read, and to add and subtract. All in English of course, as I didn't want to do the wrong thing in German..not that my knowledge of my adopted language and the mother tongue of Mrs S and the boys is my greatest strength,  I just wanted to do my bit to encourage a young mind, hungry for knowledge.

His first year in Basis-Stufe seemed to go OK but we did notice his frustration that he wasn't getting to do what he would consider "proper school work" There was lots of playing and making stuff and learning to be part of a team but, he really wanted to be learning to do the things he had done with me at home, in school...

We were able to counter his frustrations by continuing the work we'd been doing at home, and by his second year at Basis-stufe, he started to do all the things he wanted to be doing...
Fuelled by his thirst for knowledge and doing a good job, he would happily bring home his books and fly through his homework. He knew his alphabet in German and English, learnt to pronounce all of his letters in German (Very different to English) He enjoyed reading his books from school which were at a much lower level than the level he had attained on the KEYWORDS books, but most importantly he seemed very inspired. Maths was the same, he could happily count to 100 in German and English,  and he had happily mastered addition and subtraction upto 50 in German and English, by himself...

Supporting his obvious enthusiasm and thirst for this, Mrs S and I would spend time with him in the evenings working through his homework books, helping him where required and diligently filling in all of the work he had achieved in the "report" section. Then we started noticing a problem...his tutor hadn't acknowledged ANY of the work he had done...he was sent home with notes asking us NOT to do anymore work on these books with him as he was overtaking the class and they should all be learning together, his regular homework consisted of worksheets that he could complete in minutes and slowly but surely, he started to loose enthusiasm for his much loved numbers...

His teacher even told him off in front of the class for doing too much work and he became scared to sit with us at home and do things because he thought he'd get in trouble with his teacher!

The same thing started to happen in his reading.... with the head start he had from the KEYWORDS series and his ability to work out words and sentences in German or English he was devouring the weekly class reader in a single evening...The school library wouldn't let him take out extra books beyond his class level and so we had to make up the short fall ourselves with books at home.

Not really the supportive educational experience that we had been promised for him...

After speaking with his tutors and trying to air our frustrations, it became clear that they thought WE, his parents, were to blame and that we were pushing him too hard and just wanted him to be a star student!

That really could not be further from the truth, I was no star at school, in fact I hated it...I went on to do a teaching degree and lectured in music on the University and College system, but that was in my early 30s, my schooling and academic achievement was by no means a highlight. Mrs S was the studious one, having studied languages, medicine and finally attaining her Masters but again, is no academic, she just worked hard. We are not pushy parents at all, the luxury of us both being self employed and spending lots of time with our boys has really allowed us to help them indulge in the things they love to do. We were both so pleased that they enjoyed school we wanted to help and encourage them to learn whilst they had the opportunity to do so. It hurt being labelled as a pushy parent!

As it was, we left the meeting feeling like we had done something wrong with BIG, we were given no extra support or ideas to help him with his maths schooling at home, just simply told, he needs to follow the program with the class. So in an act of defiance, I photocopied the entire book and we work on that and anything else I can find "on topic" from the internet.

He has been put on a reading program "Antolin" where each time he reads a book he can go online to answer questions about the book and earn points. This has inspired him even more and in 3 months he has amassed over 380 points (the same level as kids 3 years above him) he is reading books in German and English at home and earning his points...He can't get enough of it BUT, once again, the teacher is convinced we are doing the work for him...

The weekly school reader (which he'll do in an evening) is taken off him the next day and he then has to wait 5 days before doing the online test at school without re-reading the book...

It's like the teacher is trying to catch him, or us, out!


So, I don't want to be a pushy parent, but.........

I simply wish that a tutor who has only TEN,  7-8 year old students to look after, would simply show a bit of support and enthusiasm for a hungry young mind!

Is there no such thing as differentiation in the Swiss school system?
Is it really that hard to set some slightly more advanced work based on the same topic?
Is it really OK to ask a child to not do too much work, when they really want to?

Am I being a pushy parent?

I simply don't know...

I, just as we all do, only want the best for my kids and if they are inspired, I want to help them realise their potential...isn't that the true art of teaching?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bring forth the Easter Bunnies!

As I was away this weekend I decided to do something a bit "arty" with the hooligans after school today..

It seems that after almost 5months of winter weather, spring may finally be making some headway, and with spring comes Easter. In Switzerland the shops start to fill up with chocolate Easter bunnies, they don't do the egg thing here, just solid choccy bunnies...fantastic!

So inspired by a window display of choice bunnies in out local confectioner shop, I armed my self with some coloured paper, plain paper, pritt stick, sticky tabs and kiddy scissors and set about  drawing some shapes on plain paper.

Then scanned the designs on the onto a variety of coloured paper and drew some circles on another...Once armed with a bunch of shapes on paper the hooligans set about cutting out with no real idea of what they'd be making...After some very intensive cutting out work, they had a pile of cut out blobs, funny banana shapes, white almost circles and very confused faces!

So, I put the first one together so they could see what they'd been working towards...

What a great reaction :) "Oh cool Pa, easter rabbits!!!"

Go on then lads, get sticking...

Once they'd spent time sticking their various rabbit designs together, I gave them some double sided sticky tabs and they set about putting them onto the window in little groups...

Such a simple idea and so much joy :D

Now bring on the chocolate ones please!

Monday, March 6, 2017

To Ski or not to Ski?

And so it's back to business after our half-term break, a little ski trip that didn't go entirely to plan....

This year we visited the very small, but very beautiful Bernese ski resort of Axalp. Located about a 1hour drive from us at the end of the Brienzersee, up a winding mountain road sits a small village at an altitude of 1540m above sea level. Axalp has a few great restaurants, a hotel, a ski hire shop, village store and lots of holiday villas, chalets and apartments. Unlike some of the larger resorts in the area, Axalp is never overcrowded, a sprinkling of different nationalities give it a nice feel with visitors from UK/Germany/Netherlands and Swiss and it's location allows you to make the most of some really beautiful views across the Bernese Alps and down to the lakes from the various ski runs, snow-shoe trails and sledging paths sprinkled over the mountainside.

First Evening View
We rented a small chalet which was situated right on the mountainside over looking the lake, beautifully appointed with everything a small family could need.

Chalet Interior

Best bathroom view ever?

We hired our skis, boots and poles from the very friendly and extremely reasonably priced shop and booked the hooligans into the Axalp branch of the Swiss Ski School, who's tutors are really first class and speak multiple languages including English. So impressed was I, that I booked a couple of 1-2-1 lessons as i'm not the worlds greatest skier. Infact Mrs S and the boys make me look like an imbecile when I take to the slopes, so a bit of extra "pro-coaching" was just the ticket!

Getting Better!


Now, in the week before we left for Axalp, BIG and small had been struck down with the dreaded coughing virus that has spread like wild fire in the village school, after a couple of days off they seemed to be doing well and both really looking forward to getting on their skis again..The night before we left BIG started sneezing and spluttering but aside from a runny nose we decided all was well, after all we have spent a lot of money on a wide variety of thermal underwear, ski clothes, boots, gloves, hats etc. You name it we've got it...you see, in Switzerland there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!

So, after loading the car with all of our gear and the all important sledges, we set off for Axalp, arriving mid-morning after a lovely drive up the twisting mountain roads through the snow line and up into a winter wonderland! After unpacking we decided upon a spot of sledging before lunch and duly headed up to the nursery slopes to career at high speed on some beautifully prepared snow, BIG was travelling at such a rate of knots that he was literally flying off some of the little jumps, lots of fun!!

BIG Taking Flight!
After a quick lunch back at the chalet, we kitted up and headed for the ski-school, the hooligans went off with their tutor Marilyn and I met my tutor Marcel who, after making sure I had my basic ski handling together, took me off up to the top of the mountain (2000m) on the chair lift and we started working on my (non existent) carving skills, allowing me to turn with my skis parallel using the edges for grip, rather than my usual slightly apprehensive "SnowPlough" safety first style!

As a musician I'm always so paranoid about falling and breaking something but, with Marcels patient and humorous approach I was able to take my basic ability to the next level and feel so much more confident as we headed down on the beautiful runs!

As we got down to the lower slopes I was very proud to see both BIG and small skiing really well in their group, after our lessons had ended we managed to get a few runs down the lower slopes together, mainly with the boys beating me to the bottom of the run with ease, they are utterly fearless!

Small on the Bugellift

Back to the chalet for 4:30 and a rat on the terrace in beautiful sunshine before a fondue with the family, that's the traditional swiss bowl of melted cheese on a table top burner, you eat it by dipping chunks of fresh bread on the end of long forks. delicious and very filling! Both boys were exhausted and after getting them ready for bed BIG started to develop a bit of a fever and a nasty hacking cough...

Sunshine on the terrace
After a sleepless night where we split the boys up, BIG in with me coughing all night and small with Mrs S so at least they got some sleep.. breakfast time rolled around with a huge load of fresh overnight snow and lots of coffee, BIGs fever had subsided and he was absolutely determined to go back to ski school and carry on his holiday, what a little trooper...despite my reservations over his coughing, which was not great at all, he got himself ready and both boys looned around in the snow outside whilst Mrs S and I got ready. The cold air seemed to actually help BIG and his coughing was much better by the time we headed up to the piste.

Morning View after the snow 

Looning Around
Another full on afternoon of skiing between some particularly heavy snow showers was enjoyed by all until the wind picked up and the storm clouds closed in...Mrs S took the hooligans back to the chalet after ski-school and I got some time to practice my carving on the mountains before the weather put paid to anymore fun, time to head home I tool a wrong turn and ended up way out of the village with no chance to get back up the mountain on a lift, so with a blizzard smashing in around me I took off my skis and walked 20mins back, arriving home looking like a very knackered snow man, I was greeted by a very sickly BIG and a rather worried Mrs S.

BIG had pushed himself so hard that he literally had no energy left and had a raging temperature and that nasty cough had returned worse than ever. We got him into bed and lit a fire as the storm outside raged on for the rest of the night..BIG was once again unable to sleep for his constant coughing and so without a doctor in the village we took the extremely hard decision to head home the next morning and call in at our kinderartz (Children's Doctor) on the way.

When the north wind doth blow!
In the morning BIG was so exhausted we left him in bed as I ventured into the village to inform the ski school and return out skis..much to my surprise everyone was extremely sympathetic, I was refunded all of the remaining rental money and ski school payments and even given money back for the days we would miss on our family ski pass. That certainly doesn't happen everywhere and I must really express my thanks to the Axalp ski team for their generosity and understanding!

Last Morning
BIG was so exhausted that we had to carry him to the car and he slept the journey home and also in the waiting room of the doctors...the doctor told us he just had a particularly nasty bronchitis and that we had absolutely made the right decision to bring him home, armed with inhalers and other meds we arrived back home to unload all of our gear and get BIG straight to bed.

That evening we were called by the rental chalet owners who wanted to check on BIG and also offer us to finish our remaining 3 nights whenever we liked, either sometime in the remaining season or sometime next year, whenever was good for us!

BIG has gone on to make a full recovery and was back at school this morning, we didn't get the chance to fully enjoy our trip to Axalp this time, But we are very relieved we took the decision we did. It could have been much worse if we'd have stayed longer. Despite missing out we are happy in the knowledge that thanks to the generosity and understanding of the lovely people in Axalp we can visit again and hopefully finish off what was shaping up to be a great holiday!

And what about small, how did he feel? He doesn't care..."Skiing is stupid Pa, there is no Star Wars lego in Axalp"

All's well that ends well :D

All Good!


Monday, February 20, 2017

The Great Potty Training Adventure!

I have read a lot of blogs on the  brilliant topic of getting the small ones out of nappies, and after sharing some ideas we used for both our boys with friends recently, we were delighted to hear our tips worked just as well for them. So why not share them with the readers of my Blog?

Now, I don't profess to being any kind of potty training guru in the slightest but, a few years ago (how time flies) it was time to tackle the subject head on...The huge expense of having both boys in pampers (25 CHF a pack out here) was becoming ridiculous, we seemed to spend as much on nappies as gas for the car and furthermore changing nappies was, of course, not my favourite way to spend a significant chunk of my day..

We had tried some time before during a previous hot summer with the trusty potty but, BIG absolutely hated the thing, he'd rather go on the floor than sit on the bloody pot!

Then, one day,  Nana sent over a great book from England "Pirate Pete's Potty" All about a little kid getting used to doing wees and poos on his potty and not in his nappy. (I believe there is a girls version too.) The book has a charming little story with some lovely illustrations and a little button that rewards a good result on the pot with an enthusiastic cheer! The book worked well with BIG as he loves stories and it at least made him want to have a go at the task in hand, if only just so he could get a cheer by pressing the little button. Unfortunately BIG still hated the pot and despite a few weeks of almost getting there, BIG would rather go in the nappy...  He knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing and even insisted on pressing the little cheer button each time he did something in the nappy.....Thanks to Pirate Pete we were almost there but, ultimately I had to go back to the drawing board...

Later that year I was away with the band in France for a few days, staying with the bassist and his young family one night we were sharing stories on toilet training (maximum Rock n Roll)  His wife said "Oh you must try the little toilet steps, the girls hated the potty so, we found these and they started using the toilet immediately" Off we all went upstairs to the bathroom there sat a little set of robust and colourful plastic steps that sat on the existing toilet seat, brilliantly allowing little ones to safely climb up and use the toilet, there were even a couple of handles for them to cling on to....bloody brilliant!!!

I ordered said Toilet Step from eBay and we eagerly awaited their arrival, in between times I came up with the idea of an award chart...Our boys are very competitive and love a little challenge...

The idea is the child get awarded a sticker for each wee or poo they do on the toilet / potty and after several successful attempts they get a small prize... for BIG and later on Small,  this was a ChupaChups lolly....when the ultimate goal of being nappy free was reached, the Grand Prize was a much prized Star Wars Lego set. I set a target of one month to be free of the Pampers forever....

And so the steps arrived, the Pampers were ditched and replaced with "Pull up's" and the chart was duly put into action, BIG was super keen to impress and despite a couple of small accidents, he was going great guns in the first week, there were a few times he just was so engrossed in whatever he was doing he couldn't make the bathroom in time, the Pull Up's were a bit of a godsend there...

BIG absolutely loved the steps and felt like a proper big boy by using the toilet, he also loved sticking the stickers on his chart and was able to see his own progress..the surprising side effect was that small, who at this stage was still a little too small to potty train, also wanted to sit on the toilet steps, and did so often whilst still wearing his nappy, it got him into the habit early simply by watching his older brother...

Anyway, after 17 days of stickers and prizes, BIG was out of nappies for good and 6 months later we did the same with small. The plastic steps allowing them to use the grown up toilet, coupled with the excitement of a sticker chart and the prize incentive, certainly provided our two hooligans with the required amount of enthusiasm to make a sometimes painful and thankless task, relatively simple.

Finally we were nappy free, my early morning super sensitive nose was extremely thankful, I seemed to have much more time on my hands and we had saved a significant chunk of cash to boot!

So to all parents out there doing the whole potty training thing, stick with it...there is a light at the end of the tunnel, honest.  Your nose and your bank balance will thank you in the end, just find a suitable form of inspiration for your little ones and you'll be nappy free in no time!