National Maritime Museum

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but I had a great time with my two favourite boys. Here’s my attempt at a three-picture story, as suggested in this week’s WordPress photo challenge:

Those photos are just a glimpse of what you can get up to at the Maritime Museum, without paying for any of the special galleries or exhibitions. There’s a giant map which you can walk (or crawl) on and they provide some large model ships (and a submarine) for kids to push around as they explore. In the Children’s Gallery you can practise  Morse code with flashes or clicks, fire a cannon – the cannon is real but the firing is virtual – or take control of the cargo loading. Just outside there’s a phone to communicate with the captain from the engine room (or vice-versa) and a ship simulator where you can attempt to navigate into port. (In term-time these parts of the museum are sometimes closed for pre-booked school visits, so check availability if they’re the main attraction.) The are also a lot of non-interactive exhibits, which  the Jam quite liked but are more suitable for older children and adults.


Getting there – If you’re visiting on a weekday, there is a car park almost immediately across the road from the museum on the corner of Park Row. Another option would be to park at the Blackheath end of Greenwich Park and take a stroll down the hill through the park. Both car parks get very busy at the weekend but Greenwich is easily accessible by train or DLR and the stations are within 10 minutes walk of the museum.

Other facilities – The museum has good access for a pushchair and there are various buggy parks dotted around neat the interactive exhibits. The toilets have baby-changing facilities and there is a large cafe and a coffee bar onsite as well as the very nice Brasserie (which also has a children’s menu).

(For more of our adventures, click on ‘The London List’ at the top of the page.)

Fast Forward to February

Image from this site
Image from this site

I haven’t done a WordPress Daily Prompt for ages, but this one seems so apt this week: If you could fast forward to a specific date in the future, when would it be?

I have two, though I don’t know the exact date of either. With the Jam’s operation looming over us I just want to get through next Friday. The first day I’m looking forward to after that is the day we move from PICU to the main ward – that short journey is the first step towards going home, and it will mean he’s well enough not to need his own nurse 24/7. The other unknown date is the day we go home – the day we put these operations behind us and get on with the rest of our lives. The Evelina is a wonderful hospital, but I’ll be glad to leave. It’s likely to be several weeks away so, appropriately, we’ll be moving into spring; I can’t wait….

DIY – The Good Life…

While I was on my working-for-a-living induced blogging hiatus, ‘Prompts For The Promptless’ moved – it can now be found here. Since finishing the exam marking (which left me with insufficient mental energy for reading or writing anything else) most of my posts have been focussed on images rather than text as my brain recovers from wading through 700+ poetry essays written by 16 year olds. However, the prompt for this week fits perfectly with our activities over the weekend, so it seems like a good time to rejoin the cast.

The prompt is simply DIY (building, modifying or repairing something without the aid of experts of professionals). While I always think of screwdrivers and trips to B&Q when anyone mentions DIY, it really means doing something (anything?) for yourself rather than paying somebody else to do it or buying a ready-made version. In this sense. I’ve been trying to integrate more DIY into our lives for a while now.

apple pieThis weekend the Jam and I made our own pizzas (admittedly, the bread-maker made the dough but we shaped it, proved it and topped it ourselves.) I don’t have any photos because it disappeared too quickly, which I think makes it a success. I also made a honey and sunflower loaf (also in the bread-maker), which was lovely. My dad made an apple pie with the mystery apples from the two trees in the garden. We are now 95% sure we have Bramleys (cooking apples) and Granny Smiths. He also made custard from scratch.


I found time to finish knitting and sew together my first ‘proper’ adult garment, which I’ve been working on recently. I’ve made scarves, hats, blankets and baby clothes in the past but completing a top for myself has been a personal goal for a while. It’s a summer top and not only is it done before the end of summer, it also looks nice and I will actually wear it!


My Alter-Egos

Another great prompt from Rarasaur got me thinking about all the different roles I play in life, both for others and for myself. One of my biggest challenges since the Jam was born has been learning to balance them. In any given day I can be any or all of the following, sometimes simultaneously, and they all have sub-categories:

  • Mummy – playmate, chef, waitress, taskmaster, teacher and slave
  • Wife – friend, antagonist, lover, confidant, sounding board, partner-in-crime and cheerleader
  • Daughter – financial burden, friend and advisor
  • Friend – playmate, confidant, advisor, companion and drinking partner
  • Teacher – educator, disciplinarian, confidence booster and (occasionally) surrogate mother

However, these are not so much alter-egos as facets of my personality in different situations. My alter-egos are the ones that fight for dominance of my precious free-time. One tends to take control for a week or two while the others mutter away just under the surface, waiting for a chance to emerge and seize power. Pleasingly, they all have fabulous superhero names (in my head at least!) and can occasionally team up.

The first is Book Girl, who buries herself quietly in a novel, surfacing occasionally to eat, sleep or speak to her family. She has recently acquired a new device (known as Kindle), which amplifies her powers. Having finished a book, she is consumed by the desire to share her thoughts on it and is replaced by…

Blogarella, aka kirkykoo79 who tends to post regularly on this blog until she realises that she’s spent so much time blogging that she hasn’t done anything interesting about which to blog. At this point, anything can happen, but browsing through her Reader, she often come across a food blog which prompts the transformation into…

Wooly Woman's latest creation!
Wooly Woman’s latest creation!

The Queen of Cakes (and other baked goods). Usually found in the kitchen, often with her sidekick (the Jam), her mission is to fatten up her family, friends and passers-by, as well as keeping Lakeland in business. These days she has to share her allocation of time with the recently resurrected…

Wooly Woman! Trained as a child in the basics of the secret art of knitting, she hibernated through the teenage years and into the twenties. Now free, she is increasing her range of skills on a variety of small projects (some top-secret) while working towards her ultimate aim: to finish an adult-sized jumper!


According to Rarasaur’s latest prompt, Saudade is “a Portuguese word that describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something/someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.” It can also be described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone and is an combination of happiness and sadness.

Initially I thought I was going to write about my Mum and I even considered simply reposting this old post, which I think sums up the concept pretty well. Then I thought about another absent family member (who I miss more than most people realise) so this one’s for you little brother…

Unlike rather too many of my friends, I haven’t lost my brother, but I sometimes feel like he’s been misplaced. BLB moved to Australia almost ten years ago (as always in these stories, there was a girl, but that’s a tale for another day). At first he couldn’t really afford to come back but we managed to scrape together enough cash and air-miles to get out to see him a couple of times. Later, he came home for my wedding and as often as he could while Mum was ill, using up all his accrued holiday and then some in the process. The last time was just a few days before she died (summoned by that phone call) and I remember how desperate I was for him to arrive and how grateful we were to friends who met planes and trains to help get him back to us.

Since then it’s been harder. The Jam can’t fly until after the next operation and I can’t leave him for long enough to make a solo trip to Oz worthwhile. BLB comes back when he can, but for some reason a return flight bought in Australia is almost twice the price, plus it wipes out his holiday for most of the year. When we do see each other we usually manage about 36 hours under the same roof before the squabbling starts, but that’s part of what I miss.

My BLB - Pseudo-Aussie does Christmas in the UK...
My BLB – Pseudo-Aussie does Christmas in the UK…

I miss him more these days. Perhaps it’s getting older and realising that I’m not immortal (and neither are those I love); perhaps it’s because the Jam looks more and more like “Uncle Dar-daf”; perhaps it’s simply because how well we get on is inversely proportional to the physical distance between us (different continents works well). We don’t talk every day, and we wouldn’t if he lived around the corner, and as a result we don’t know the minutiae of each others’ lives – that feels wrong somehow. I’ve even got as far as convincing DH that I should go to New York for five days and meet him there – split the cost, split the jet-leg and minimise the time away from the Jam while maximising the time with BLB. DH thinks I should do it, but life (in the form of MRIs, work on the house and paid employment) always seems to get in the way. Anyway he’s coming home for Christmas this year…

I am lucky – my brother is still in the world, even if he is on the wrong side of it. Life in Australia suits him and I don’t think he’ll ever move back; he’s happy and I’m happy for him. I hope BLB already knows this, but I decided to take this opportunity to declare what is usually left unsaid: I love my brother and I miss him.

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The Litmus Test: BtVS edition

You watched this scene through your tears...
You watched this scene through your tears…

You know you’re a true Buffy fan when:

  1. You’re a Spike girl, or an Angel girl (or even a Riley girl – the point is you’ve picked a side).
  2. You can’t work out why Buffy didn’t just slay that thing in The Grudge.
  3. You own the Tru Calling and Dollhouse box sets, just because Faith is in them.
  4. You use Angel to exemplify the Byronic hero. (Bonus points if you sulk when a student suggests that Batman is a better example.)
  5. You then set an essay on feminist rewritings of mythology, comparing Joss Whedon to Angela Carter.
  6. You know the words to all the songs in ‘Once More With Feeling’, even the parking ticket one.
  7. You’re still scared of the Gentlemen.
  8. You need to know the plural of apocolypse.
  9. You laugh at sparkly vampires and their submissive girlfriends.
  10. You almost wish Shakespeare had written “We band of buggered” in the St Crispin’s Day speech.

However, the real litmus test is whether or not you’re “bored now…”

No doubt this has been done before, but it’s my list and as it fits both the Daily Prompt from WordPress and Rarasaur’s prompt for this week, I couldn’t resist.

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I struggled with Rarasaur‘s last prompt – Wu Wei – as it’s not something I find easily in my life. This one however, suggested a plethora of possibilities topics. The concept this week is Meraki: “This is a word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you put “something of yourself” into what you’re doing, whatever it may be.”

Interestingly some of the activities I do with Meraki also ended up being mentioned in my Wu Wei post. I guess loving to do something and doing it instinctively go hand in hand (though this does not apply to running). Here’s my top 5 (in no particular order):

  1. Baking – rather than cooking, as cake represents celebration to me and I try to make beautiful and/or delicious ones for my family and friends. I don’t always succeed, but one ingredient I never forget is love.
  2. Knitting – Mum shared a hobby she loved with me and I love making things for those I love.
  3. Blogging – little bits of my heart and soul are scattered throughout this blog.
  4. Reading – if the actual reading doesn’t count, passionate discussion of books must!
  5. Teaching – not the paperwork (or the marking) but being in the classroom. I love inspiring students to see the world a little bit differently or seeing it in new ways through their eyes. The look on a child’s face when a new idea clicks into place makes all the hard work worthwhile. I miss it.
Made with love; raised with love - a little piece of me, heart and soul!
Made with love; raised with love – a little piece of me, heart and soul!

However, there’s one thing that beats all of those:

No Wu Wei!

This week’s Prompts for the Promptless challenge from Rarasaur is a concept completely alien to me: “Wu wei, or non-doing, is a Taoist practice involving letting one’s action follow the simple and spontaneous course of nature rather than interfering with the harmonious working of universal law by imposing arbitrary and artificial forms. In other words, it is the action of non-action.”

As I understand it, this means doing without thinking, switching off my brain and letting nature, or instinct or habit take over. Sounds easy, but I find it almost impossible to do for more than a few minutes at a time. Aware that it would probably be good for me, I started thinking (see, thinking again, always thinking) about things I do that might encourage wu wei in my life.


Running – Before the Jam was born there was a period of about three years during which I ran fairly frequently. At first I hated it, but I got fit enough to run for about 40 minutes without wanting to die and found some routes that were beautiful enough to make it seem worthwhile. (I also liked the way it made my thighs look.) A lot of people say they lose themselves in exercise, particularly running or cycling but I always used the time to think. As well as wondering which track would be next on my iPod, if I should speed up or try to go a bit further, I would plan lessons and shopping lists for the coming week. Wu Wei rating: 0/5

Knitting – This won’t mean much to non-knitters, but I can just about wu wei garter stitch. I get to the end of a row of knit stitches without really thinking about what my hands are doing. On a good day, I can even manage a nonchalant purl row. Obviously anything with a pattern, colour or shaping requires concentration. Also, I like thinking about knitting. When I’m rattling through those easy rows, I’m often thinking about what to knit next, or which yarn I’d like to use. Wu wei rating: 2/5

book hangoverReading – This is probably the closest I get to wu wei, and I’m not even sure it counts. Reading depends on the “arbitrary” marks on a page which represent words, creating an “artificial” (in that it’s constructed) world. Having said that, I have been known to emerge from my latest book disorientated and surprised at how much time has passed. Sometimes when I read I stop thinking; after I read I think, deconstructing, interpreting and connecting what I have read. Wu wei rating: either 0/5 or 4/5

I know I think too much, but even when I try not to (e.g. a meditation session during a recent spa visit) I end up thinking about not thinking, then trying to think about things that are vague enough to not really count as thinking. I think (!) that I’m a lost cause… Time to stop writing and sleep – dreaming is the closest my brain gets to ‘off’.

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“Nah, you can still see your face.”

(Image from flixster)
(Image from flixster)

Frenchy: Hey, Marty, are those new glasses?

Marty: Oh yeah, I just got them for school. Don’t you think they make me look smarter?

Rizzo: Nah, you can still see your face.

Grease (1978)

Dad shaved off his beard this morning – he’s had it for a couple of months and I’ve been campaigning against it on the grounds that it makes him look old. Reactions to the reemergence of his face have been mixed…

The Jam took one look at him and burst into tears while I was pleased to have my Dad back instead of the old bearded man. However, my aunt (Dad’s sister who is in her 80s) takes the prize for the best response.

Dad: (Several hours after shaving off his beard.) So what do you think then?

Aunt: What?

Dad: I’ve shaved off the beard that you said you didn’t like. Didn’t you notice?

Aunt: Oh yes, (pause) I didn’t notice because the beard made you so ugly that I’d stopped looking at your face.

(The WordPress Daily Prompt today involved using a quotation from your favourite movie as the title of the post. Although Grease isn’t my all time favourite, it is in my top ten and I couldn’t resist sharing this little exchange.)

Literary Schadenfreude

Episode 3 of Rarasaur’s Prompts for the Promptless challenges us to write about Schadenfreude, which basically means “pleasure derived from the misfortune of others”.

*Served him right...
*Served him right…
*Got what he deserved...
*Got what he deserved…

It’s a challenge because it’s an emotion that few us like to admit we feel; enjoying someone else’s bad luck or suffering just isn’t very nice. There are obvious exceptions – I can’t find a shred of sympathy for lonely old Robert Mugabe – and seeing a villain (real or fictional) get their comeuppance is very satisfying.

I’m also willing to admit that I’m always delighted when somebody else spills a drink or breaks a glass (even if it’s my drink or my glass). This is because I’m terribly clumsy so I’m always pleased that it wasn’t me!

On reflection, I realised that I experience Schadenfreude all the time, almost every day, through the act of reading. There’s what I’d describe as the ‘overt Schadenfreude’ when the baddie is killed / caught / punished but there’s also a more subtle form (‘covert Schadenfreude’?) that occurs as we enjoy reading about the protagonist’s trials and tribulations. The difference is best illustrated with an example, and my favourite novel illustrates both varieties perfectly.

*Not Mary Shelley's Frankenstein...
*Not Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein…

SPOILER WARNING: If you don’t know (and don’t want to know) what happens in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, skip the rest of this paragraph. As a result of creating his “hideous progeny”, Victor Frankenstein loses his little brother, father, wife, health and sanity. He whinges expresses his misery eloquently and at length, but all I can think is that it serves him right for playing God, neglecting those who love him and abandoning his creation. Many readers would disagree, and the author herself intended Victor as the hero of this novel, but I revel in the chapters where he suffers the consequences of his actions – overt Schadenfreude. However, my favourite part of the novel; the part I reread even though I cry every time (even in front of my Year 12 students); the part I see as the heart of the book, is the creature’s narrative. I sympathise with his plight and through Shelley’s carefully constructed first person narrative I even empathise with his anguish, but I still enjoy reading about it. I derive pleasure from his misfortune even as I cry for him – covert Schadenfreude.

As I’ve argued before, very few good novels have happy endings so I guess that makes us booklovers a bunch of sadistic voyeurs who “derive pleasure from the misfortune of others”. Fine in literature, but perhaps this is why I find the whole misery memoir genre so disconcerting – a little too much Schadenfreude for my taste…

(*Images from Wikipedia)