Tuesday, 25 November 2014

You'd better watch out!

A press release has just arrived from a company well known to teachers and parents alike. School Stickers was launched in October 2000 (by a teacher) producing a huge selection of personalised stickers, postcards and certificates used to reward good behaviour and achievement.

It saves us (the teachers) writing endlessly and hand-achingly on pupils' work. It gives the children some instant and attractive feedback on what they've done. And as many of the stickers come pre-printed with names (well done Kevin, good work Tarquin or even try a little harder Tabitha)... it allows the company to calculate (for Santa?) the naughtiest and nicest girls and boys names. Or rather, the names of the nicest and naughtiest boys and girls. 

Yes! By dint no doubt of some stock-control system or ordering algorithm the company has just announced that Jacob, Daniel, Thomas, James and Adam are the names of the best behaved boys in 2014, whilst Joseph, Cameron, William, Jake and Joshua have a month to improve their behaviour.

Amy, Georgia, Emma, Charlotte and Grace are the names of the best behaved girls but Ella, Bethany, Eleanor, Olivia and Laura all need to be especially good in December.

It is, however, only the ‘draft’ list.

Kids, you still have a month to improve your behaviour!

I wonder where Charlie's name appears..? 

Nicest Girls
Naughtiest Girls
Nicest Boys
Naughtiest Boys

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

On yer bike!

It's Road Safety Week. Timely. I've just this minute come back from the school run and this morning counted three separate occasions when we (on our bicycle made for three) were in danger of being unseated. (And we're not the only ones. Two in five children report a near-miss or worse on roads according to a survey by road-safety charity, Brake. Shocking!)

Our first encounter was a car, desperate to get to school before us, cutting so close as it passed on the corner we could smell the driver's breakfast (or at least, hear the belch!). I apologise if you're still eating yours.

Next - and the one after that and the most commonly dangerous element of our journey - a driver not checking before opening his (or her) door. I leave plenty of clearance, believe me, when passing parked cars. But driver's doors seem to be growing.

As if that wasn't enough, once we arrive there's the dreaded school-gate parking. I'm sure most people must think those pretty yellow zig-zags are there for them to park all over. Well, I say 'park' but that's to distinguish what more often looks like the random abandonment of vehicles.

And I hope no members of staff were later than usual for work this morning. Because this parent was certainly making it difficult for them to get into the staff car park.

And it's not just an occasional occurrence. Every morning we seem to be confronted with parking like you wouldn't think possible, driving that would be more appropriate to a racing circuit and the dreaded game of guess if the car door's opening.

But the pièce de résistance last week was a driver exiting the school car park ...whilst texting. Yes, texting. As we were waiting on the pavement for him to pull out onto the road we had a perfect view. His phone was in his hand. There were kids everywhere, cars kamikaze parking (see above) and he was texting.

Quite honestly it'll take more than a Road Safety week or a Be Bright campaign to remedy matters. We non-drivers: pedestrians, cyclists, scooter-riders, dog walkers or whatever ought to be fitted with sirens and a flashing light.

Except, no. On second thoughts, that'd probably just make things worse. Because then the burden would be placed even more firmly on the innocent non-motorist to make those behind the wheel do what they should be doing anyway - driving carefully.

So come on folks. Do the decent thing. Don't text, don't park on those zig zag lines. Don't open your door without looking and don't speed up as you pass us - slow down.

Better still, get on your bikes. Because - thanks to scenes like this - we still get there before you!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Properly Addressed

Moving house isn't to be taken lightly. After all, it's reckoned to be among the most stressful life events. But once the mortgage is arranged, the removals van's gone, the kettle has been found and the beds have been made your trouble's only just beginning.

Because then, dear reader, you've got to notify people of your change of address.

I thought that'd be easy. My dream scenario involved logging on, entering my password, maybe answering an obscure security question or three and then, down to business.

But no.

I logged in. I entered my password. I answered security question after security question. I phoned the helpline. I waited, stood on one leg, drew the entrails of a frog and donated virgin's blood but STILL they couldn't 'compete my request at this time...' Perhaps there's an 'r' in the month or the moon's on the wane or the blood isn't pure enough.

Dear God!

Here, in no particular order, and so that you may be duly prepared should you ever be fool enough to relocate, is a catalogue of just some - some - of our woes.

First, the bank. On the face of it, this was simple. My wife went into the branch, spoke face-to-face to the cashier, and all was (apparently) well. Until a week or so later when I went in to the branch on a different matter and found MY details were unchanged.

'Your wife can't change your details for you sir,' the cashier said. 'You have to do that for yourself.'

'But it's a joint account,' I said. 'Look - here's my name on the statement you've just sent to us.'

'I'm afraid each account holder has to request the change in person...'

Well, I suppose you can never be too careful.

In the meantime, our change of address notification was grinding it's way through the labyrinthine world of... the M&S storecard.

We thought we'd got that sorted. Phone call, change of details, Bob's your uncle and the credit card statement arrives on the mat. But the vouchers don't. They go to the old address and are re-directed.

'Hello? You clearly have our new address as we've got our statement...'

'Yes, sorry. But the voucher mailing is prepared three months in advance.'

Deep breath.

I decide to shop on Amazon instead. What can possibly go wrong? I log in to Amazon. Click mouse. Click order... then realise, of course, I need to update the delivery address. No problem. Click 'pay'. Hit problem.

The address on your chosen billing method does not match the delivery address.

Ok, update everything. Click.

Your order has been placed.


Except it hasn't. Because in spite of updating everything from the colour of my socks to the state of my sex life Amazon subsequently cancels the order on the grounds that the 'chosen payment method is invalid'. It helpfully supplies me with a button I can click to change the payment method but that just takes me to a customer helpline which takes me to a recorded message which tells me to click the button I've just clicked to be told to ring the helpline.

Hair is now at the point of being ripped from head. 

Calm... calm.

Surely the good ol' Post Office can sort it out. After all that's what they do isn't it, addresses?

We have a Post Office credit card simply to use abroad as it charges no fee. I might as well have moved abroad - and to some ISIS-ridden war-torn hotspot - for all the trouble it has taken appraising the privatised Post Office of our new address.

'You need your magic number,' we were told. 'No magic number? We can send you a new one - to the old address.'

Ok, ok... just Do it!

Magic number letter comes, is redirected. Isn't magic number letter. No magic number, no reference to magic number. Just a letter telling us how to update our address.

Goes into garden and SCREAMS!

Phone number on non-magic-number letter. 'Have you got your magic number?'



'Ok, you don't need it anyway. But I'm afraid we'll have to send the form you've got to fill in with your new address to your old address for security reasons...'

JUST... DO.... IT.

'Ok, that's sent. Is there anything else I can help you with today?'

At this point, dear reader, I exercise the utmost, the uttermost, the ultimate self-restraint and refrain from telling the girl on the phone in what other myriad ways she might indeed be able to help me. It takes hereculean effort. But I manage.

And then the next day, the promised letter is delivered.

To our new address.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Out to Lunch

Packed lunches, by which I mean school packed lunches, by which I mean the ones lovingly prepared  hastily thrown together whilst simultaneously munching a bowl of breakfast cereal, answering the phone, signing for some post, getting the kids dressed, getting them fed, getting them fed without rendering it necessary to get them dressed all over again and all while frantically watching the clock and desperately trying to keep to the morning schedule that would have been so much more relaxed but for that extra five minutes you spent in bed with the alarm on snooze...

It'll probably never be a pleasure - a relaxed, unalloyed joy - but making the kids' school lunches can be a whole lot easier. We've been asked this month to try out new brac Cherry Tree Farm's range of cooked meats, available nationwide at Co-op stores. The range includes stalwarts like wafer-thin ham and roast chicken breast, but adds some American-inspired flavours like hickory-smoked turkey and fried chicken too.

Created for busy mums and dads who want quick and easy meals, the Cherry Tree Farm range is 100% British low-fat, ready-to-eat cooked meats and is perfect for sandwich fillings or just for snacking.

All you need then is a cool lunch box to put 'em in, like this Lego movie lunch box (with water bottle) courtesy of storage and organisational retailer STORE:

And when the kids come home from school and you can't be bothered cooking? (Let's face it, inspiration as well as energy can be lacking!). How about something from this - the Little Dish for Bigger Kids range?

This newly-launched range is perfectly nutritionally balanced for 3 to 6 year olds, with bigger portions and chunkier textures.  There are 4 delicious new recipes – Chunky Chicken Pot Roast, Mild Beef Chilli and Rice, Mediterranean Cod & Tomato Casserole and Seven Veg Lasagne - all available in Waitrose but soon to be launched in other major retailers.

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