Saturday, June 30, 2007

The end of an era

I thought I would add a quick post to mark the end of an era. Torvy has finally (aged not quite 14) ousted most of his stuffed toys. They have been languishing in the bottom of his wardrobe for some time, but tonight the axe finally fell for all but a select few, including Nala, his first ever stuffed toy. Should the day ever come that she gets the chop, I shall secrete her in my wardrobe until his own children come along. After all, Björn still has Tender Bear, and the same rule applies to him. Not to mention the fact that we still have John's 46 year old Scruffy Bear!

I confess to a lump in my throat at the sight of the toys piled up in the passage. They made a sizeable pile and it was a slightly pathetic sight. He has loved stuffed animals with such disregard for popular opinion that I recognise it as a milestone that he now feels he has outgrown them

Friday, June 15, 2007

A converted stable!

After John's tankdriving experience, we spent the night with some people we know in Winchester. I met the husband at work - he has a contract with my current client - and we hit it off straight away. So we invited them to join us for a braai a few weeks back. Since they live in Winchester, when they heard about our forthcoming jaunt there, they immediately insisted that we spend the night with them. It's a long time since we've encountered that kind of hospitality, but the wife is from a small town Afrikaans family, and it comes as second nature to her.

They have a lovely home, part of which was a 16th century stable, and we spent a very pleasant evening with them.

Playing soldiers

For his birthday this year, I gave John one of those Experience Voucher things. This one was for a half day of driving tanks and things. When he was in the army, he was a transport officer, so he got to drive just about everything with wheels. But he neither drove nor travelled in anything with tracks, and he regreeted that fact. So this was his chance.

He booked his session for a time of year when he could hope for decent weater, which was thins Saturday past.

So bright and early on Saturday morning, we tootled down to Winchester. John spent the morning bucketing about on a quadbike:

A tank:

An armoured personnel carrier:

And an Abbot:

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Looking for new schools

Things aren't looking good for Torvy at school. The bullying continues sporadically and his academic performance is slipping. We have had a run-in with one teacher and look set to have one with another teacher. He has simply given up on maths.

In despair, we have started looking around at other schools. Yesterday we went on a tour of a grammar school outside of the MK local authority (MK doesn't have grammar schools). We were quite impressed with the school, and it quickly became clear that Beej would excel there. This exactly what happened before when we looked at a private school because Torvy was struggling - it looked good for Björn but not for Torvy.

Grammar schools have a selection process, unlike the kids' current school which take kids who live in their catchment. Normally, kids write an optional exam called the 11+ in Year 6, and they get selected or rejected by grammar schools on the basis of their scores. We didn't bother with these because there are no grammar schools in MK. The school we looked at yesterday is the only one within a reasonable distance. It has the highest criteria in the county, and is enormously oversubscribed. When kids apply to go there after Year 7, obviously it's too late for the 11+, so the school runs separate tests. They can choose to test a child or not, and they base this decision on academic performance.

In Björn's case this is not a problem, because he has done a set of high school exams last year, and aced them. Torvy hasn't done any yet, so decisions in respect of him would have to be based on his CAT predictors (predictions made at the beginning of Year 8 of how well they are expected to do when they write their GCSEs 4 years later). He didn't do very well on those, so the chances are slim that the school will even agree to test him. (Note: Björn's CATs weren't great either, because he was sick when he took them, but he is totally outperforming the predictions)

We desperately want to get Torvy out of Stantonbury Campus, but all the options seem only to be available to Björn, who will do well wherever he goes - including staying at Stantonbury. So we have aching hearts and a quandary to deal with. Bearing in mind that kids from grammar schools get a better look from the top universities, do we split them up, and give Björn the opportunity of going to an elite school? Do we deny Björn this opportunity because Torvy can't get in anywhere else? Torvy's academic potential might not be as great as his brother's but he's still a bright kid and he's being allowed to slip through the cracks. We can't stand by and watch that happen, but there seem to be no courses of action open to us.

What to do, what to do....

Monday, May 21, 2007

Innovations in learning conference

I recently asked my boss if I could go to the Brandon Hall Innovations in Learning conference. It costs no more than any other conference I might attend - half the price of some. The problem is that it takes place in Santa Clara, California. The cost of travel and accommodation add up to a lot more than the conference.

So my bosses said no.

I was bummed, but not astonished. I had an idea that the conference organisers could have made a plan to include those of us outside of the US with things like simulcast and I posted on my professional blog to say so.

Imagine my astonishment when one of the leading lights in the world of informal learning (in fact, the inventor of the term) offers to try and get me a complimentary ticket! It seems he is doing the closing keynote for the conference and expects to be able to pull some strings. Why me? No idea. It seems I am making some pretty influential friends in my field.

So John is trying to make the numbers work on the airfare and the hotels. I don't know what I did to deserve the man, but I'm glad I did it. I'm almost completely certain that (with already two other conferences, and a quarter of my MA to pay for this year), there is no way we can do it, but I'm flattered beyond reckoning at the offer of the comp from Jay, and touched to the bottom of my heart at John's attitude. I was and still am keen as mustard to go, but you know, even if I don't make it, the conference has already impacted my life!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gutted! No conference for Karyn

I have just learned from my boss that my request to attend the Innovations in Learning conference in California in September has been turned down. I was almost ready to sell a body part to go, but sadly my zeal was not matched by that of the higher ups in my organisation. :-(

John is urging me to tot up the total cost and see if we can't make it happen without their help, but I can't see it, myself. In corporate terms it's a small amount of money, but for an inividual, the seminar costs, plus the travel, plus the airfare... well it all adds up.

Whenever I broach the subject of a conference or seminar, I am always reminded how my company already pays for my MA. Well, just to get it off my chest, I would like to mention that they only pay half. So far, the cost to them has been about £50/month, which they probably write off against tax anyway. Plus they aren't doing this as a gift to me out of the goodness of their hearts. They fully expect to benefit from every scrap of learning that I undertake, whether they have paid for it or not. And, of course, they will. I can't exactly keep newly learned ideas and approaches in a separate compartment from my daily practice. They benefit from all the learning and experience I had before I joined the company. They will benefit from all the learning and experience I have while I am with the company. They will only stop benefitting from all of this the day I leave, and, in fact, if that happens to be before or less than 12 months after the completion of my MA, I have to reimburse them anyway, so they're in a win-win situation.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Just because...

Having published a recent picture that showcases Torvy's hair, I thought I should do the same for Björn. I'm quite proud of this - I did it for him! Sadly, the (permanent) black washed out in sections quite quickly. Fortunately, the resultant 3-tone look is just as good as the two-tone, but I don't have a picture... sorry.

Poor Torvy!

I thought I'd publish a cheerful photo to prove he isn't always downhearted! This was taking while clowning around on holiday recently in Mallorca.

Torvy has been taking a great deal of strain lately. He has been the victim of a sustained campaign of bullying unlrelated to the many that have gone before.

It started on his paper round. A kid who lived along his route started threatening to do him harm if he showed his face in that area again. We phoned the police, but they told us that they could only intervene if the child actually did him physical harm. Well excuse me for not wanting to hold out for an actionable offence! Torvy switched rounds and the kid who took over from him got punched in the face by the kid on his first time out.

Then the kid identified Torvy at school and started making his life a misery there. Threatening him with beatings and shoving him around. The new paper round is still within sight of the old one, and Torvy reached the point of being in stark terror of going out to do his round in case the child saw him and decided to follow him home. He was too afraid to report it through the appropriate channels at school for fear of reprisals.

Today he finally went and reported it, and I backed it up with a call from home. He was able to identify the child from the school's photo database. Let's hope there is some success as a consequence.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Two stories about cars

Recently I had to travel through to London for meeting with my boss. The meeting didn't go as well as I had hoped, so when I got back to my car at the station and found that it had been "keyed" all along the rear door and fender on the passenger side, I felt sick and hollow. I have reported the matter to the police, but I didn't see any CCTV cameras in the parking lot, so I don't expect much. Whoever did it had obviously had a field day, because several other cars in the parking lot had been done as well. Charming.

On the flip side, later that day, the car hire company delivered the car I was to use for a business trip down to Reading the next day. I always use a hire car for these trips (a) because it's the cheapest option for the company - we have such a good deal with the car hire company that it's cheaper than paying me 40p per mile for the use of my car, and (b) because I don't like racking up that kind of mileage on my car - you see, I take good care of it, which is why the vandalism bothered me so much. But I digress...

Usually, the hire car is a Nissan Micra, or a Ford Ka, Vauxhall Corsa or some other roller skate. The previous time, I had been given a Vauxhall Astra, and had been pretty pleased with that. This time, they only rolled in in a Renault Megane convertible! I kid you not. I had to be shown how to use the roof and the weird credit-card-instead-of-a-key thing.

The next day the weather didn't look too great to start with, and I thought, "Great, the one time in my life I get to drive a convertible and I can't put the top down." But half way to Reading, the sun was out. The route I take includes a tree-lined lane, where the branches meet overhead. As it is, I usually wind up with an idiotic grin on my face as I drive along that section of the route, but picture this: There I was swanning along like a poser, with the top down, the music up and the smell of the trees everywhere. Too cool. Too cool.

I spent 6 hours in Reading, waiting for a meeting that didn't happen, and left the office in a foul mood. But then I got into that car and hit the buttons for the roof and the radio, and all was suddenly right with my world. I made the two hour trip back home in the sunshine, singing at the top of my voice, much to the amusement of several other motorists.

Sometimes it doesn't take much. I certainly recommend that everyone, at least once in their life, should drive a convertible in the sun with the top down. If the wind bothers you, close the windows - it works.