Wednesday, June 20, 2007


We got back from Crete yesterday – here’s the edited highlights.


We flew out on a hideously timed plane – 5am departure. This meant we had to be at the airport at 3am to do all the waiting in queues stuff. Not having been on a plane for eleven years, D and I had no experience of the new level of security checks.

The kids had not really slept at all during the night and so, by the time we were nearing the end of the flight, L was either crying or asleep – in ten minute chunks. Not fun! He took against seat belts and I was somewhat concerned that we would find ourselves being restrained in an air-rage incident. Poor P had come out with a cold and her ears got very painful - though this cleared up in a day or so. Once we landed, in Chania, we were straight on a coach to our apartment in Georgopoulis.

Predictably, when we were safely there, and could sleep, both the kids perked up and immediately wanted to swim! But, at the end of the day, P did this – while we all drank tea and cocoa around her. I honestly think this is a first – P is usually last asleep.


Dani and Pearlie went to the ‘welcome meeting’ to find out about the trips being offered by the holiday company, while Leo and I stayed by the pool. We weren’t impressed and found better deals with a local tour operator – more later.

Not sure what else we did with that day – mostly buying food and wandering around getting our bearings. We did have quick trip to the beach and bought snorkel gear, which turned out to be a great buy.

This is the church in Georgopoulis


We managed to negotiate local buses to Rethymno – about a half hour ride away.

We ate a picnic lunch in a local park, where the kids enjoyed the sort of fun play equipment that has long ago disappeared from our parks. D and I talked a lot about notions of danger and risk on this holiday – as we saw lots of things that made us gasp – little kids on the backs of mopeds with no helmets, in traffic, and so on.

Leo bought a rather beautiful new dragon in a toy shop – basically blowing all his holiday money in one go! We then went to the old ruined fort and the archaeological museum. The museum had beautiful stuff from Minoan times and Roman times - very quietly presented with no bells and whistles. The history of Crete is very complicated – different invasions and so on – and we saw this old Mosque at the fort.

I have come back determined to get a better organised chronology in my head! I know that there was an ancient Minoan culture, an Arab time, Venetian times, a long Turkish occupation and then brief independence and German occupation during the second world war – but I will seek out something to organise the timeline for me.

It got too hot then and we went to the bus station to look for a bus home. This was somewhat chaotic – no timetables and confusing announcements – but eventually we were ushered aboard a bus and it took us back to Georgopoulis.


Friday was a very early start for a trip to Knossos. This was a long way, picking up lots of people as we went along. The tour company seemed popular with German tourists, and I enjoyed listening to the German commentary and seeing how much I could follow with my twenty year old ‘O’ level language skills!

The palace was well worth the journey.

We had a lovely guided tour, in English, from a Cretan woman whose daughter had studied dance in London. She told us much more than we would have got from a guide book. Leo and I dipped out just before the end, as he was flagging. So we missed her telling, and interpreting, the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. I had a re-telling from Dani and it was fascinating.

This is a wooden copy of the throne of Minos (the king) - the original stone one was there but it was too dark to get a good shot.

We were then free in Heraklion for a couple of hours, where we bought gifts and wandered about. I had to get a photo of this bit of the Cretan approach to town planning.

I'm not being snooty. I rather liked the way things were just evolving and there was not a tendency to 'tidy everything up'.


Saturday was another early start for a trip to the Samaria Gorge. Having been warned off attempting the whole walk, by a friend, we found a tour called ‘Samaria Gorge – lazy way’ and did that.

First we went up into the mountains, by coach, in the region of Sfakia. We stopped for coffee at this place with incredible views.

Then across the plane and down the other side of the mountains to a ferry. This took us to the end of the Samaria Gorge. The ‘easy way’ was, in fact, 8km of tricky walking in the hottest part of the day. But it was amazing scenery. The kids did very well – not ever having walked in such conditions before. Leo insisted on taking off his shirt and we were worried he would burn – but loads of sun cream did the trick.

The beautiful crystal water of the stream was clean enough to drink. The kids spotted some of the KriKri – the wild goats that only live in the gorge.

Back at the ferry we snatched a quick swim – strange stone beach and cold sea – the Libyan sea on that side of the island.

Home again for a dip in the pool and relaxing.


On Sunday we took a little tourist road train from Georgopoulis to the Kournas Lake. Something mad happened to us and we took the children out on a pedalo. Neither D nor I are good with vehicles (except bicycles) but we managed. The Cretan relaxed attitude had overtaken us and we refused a life-jacket for Leo, rather than have him moaning about it all the time. The lake is actually deep, cold and big, but I reckoned both the kids could have made it to another pedalo – luckily we didn’t have to find out.

The lake was clearly a place where Cretan families like to spend a Sunday afternoon. We stopped for a swim and Dani tried out her Greek in a Taverna where the guy spoke no English. She was disappointed that he didn’t seem to understand a word! Most of the time we were embarrassed by the fluent English and obliging attitude of all the Cretan people we met. D and I talked a lot about tourism, culture and ethics. We’ve avoided holidays abroad since the kids came along and neither of us had ever been on a package before. We didn’t come to any clear conclusions about it all!

We all had a swim in the lake but P, in particular, was a bit put off by the muddy, insecty, environment – and the big, assertive geese!

Back in Georgiopoulis we went to the beach. In the evening we had a lovely meal out. P only really liked the chips (they were very good!), but Leo enjoyed baked Feta and fried courgette. D and I were given free Raki, but it was like rocket fuel and we couldn’t drink it! Vegetarian eating is easy on Crete - lots of yummy options.


Our last day was a pool and beach fest! One of the best things about this holiday was the opportunity for the kids to swim every day – and usually several times a day. They both got the hang of snorkelling – P braved the sea and saw fish. Leo confined his snorkelling to the pool – but loved it. I snorkelled for the first time too – my prescription goggles and a nose clip in place of the mask. My goggles mean that I can really see the fish, and so on – without them everything is a blur.

I am sitting here typing with a hacking cough (came back on the plane!), and horrible great red lumps, where I have reacted badly to mosquito bites! The mozzies were voracious. The kids didn’t react badly at all – they haven’t had enough bites in their lives, apparently. Dani wasn’t too bad (anti-histamine brought her bites down) but nothing is touching mine and they are huge – a couple are two inches in diameter and burning/itching. Ah well, I reckon that’s the price you pay for flying abroad and damaging the planet.

Overall, we were very glad we went on this holiday. Crete is a beautiful and fascinating place. I don’t think we’d do a holiday abroad every year (even if we could afford it) but it was lovely to get up every morning and know you could swim.

D and I both read ‘Weight’ by Jeanette Winterson and ‘Instances of the Number Three’ by Salley Vickers. Leo polished off one and half Humphrey books and wrote a lot in his diary and book of Moley stories. P did LOADS of kakuro and enjoyed working out the Greek signs everywhere. Dani knitted too.

So, that's it. Now we have to start planning for Hesfes…

Sunday, June 10, 2007


We’re off on holiday in the early hours of Tuesday morning, so probably won’t get a chance to post tomorrow.

In the last couple of days we have been:
  • Doing a bit of algebra, and thinking about prime factors
  • Reading a book about ancient Crete
  • Not learning any more Greek, even though we kept meaning to
  • Having a lovely time at a friend’s 11th birthday party
  • Scared witless by Doctor Who
  • Enjoying the Springwatch event at Stanmer Park (this was just Pearlie, who went with her aunt and cousins and had a great time).
  • Playing a very long Doctor Who/daleks/Sylvanians game with friend J (this was just Leo!)
  • Packing
  • Stuffing ivy into the compost bags that eventually arrived
  • Shopping for last minute holiday things
  • Swimming with cousins
  • Tidying and cleaning the house, so it’s not such a terrible tip when we get back
… and no doubt lots of other things that I have now forgotten.

See you all in a week or so!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Eight things

I’ve been tagged for this meme by Jules at Wise Little Acorn, and by Qalballah at the Islamic Homeschool.

The rules are simple…Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. Therules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits arelisted. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts theirnames, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them knowthat they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Eight things…

I have worn specs since I was ten. My glasses are part of my face and I hate to be without them.

I have a desire to be re-incarnated as Lord Peter Wimsey, from the Dorothy Sayers’ books. I covet the wardrobe, the exciting lifestyle, the faithful servant to bring me breakfast in bed and the feisty woman novelist to pursue.

I wanted to be an actress until puberty – at which point I took to wearing baggy cardigans and hoping that no-one would look at me.

I have bathed a guinea pig today.

I love rabbits.

I don’t drink much, but my tipple of choice is Sol Mexican beer.

One of my many favourite books is ‘The Passion’ by Jeanette Winterson.

It took me six years to complete my MA in Information Management, with both the children arriving during my studies.

Ali at ‘Where the Days Go’
Helen at ‘Petits Haricots’
Nic at ‘Monster and Teeny’
Sharon at ‘The Voyage’
Pearlie at ‘Lime’
Beth at ‘Woman of the Tiger Moon’
Lucy at ‘By Other Means’
Peri at ‘Knit and Natter’

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rights and wrongs

Hmmm. I’m struggling a bit at the moment with a question of difference and conflict – in my real life. Also, I read something on someone else’s blog that got me thinking about the question of judging other people’s choices and actions. So, I’m burbling – please feel free to ignore. Also, know that nothing I’m writing is meant to cause offence. Of course, it might do that – and if it does then I’m sorry.

I write from an atheist position, so I have no belief in a ‘one true way’ for people to behave. I am a situation ethicist – what is right in one place and time will not be right in all circumstances or for all people. Of course, I do have passionately held beliefs about choices and actions in this place and at this time – both my own, and those of other people. There are some central beliefs at the heart of my overall philosophy. I try to keep these beliefs in mind as I meet difficult situations. They are especially important when I am about to ‘take offence’ or ‘have my feelings hurt’ – or otherwise withdraw.

The first is that people are fallible – they always do, and always will, make mistakes. In all our beliefs and choices we are foolish if we don’t leave ourselves room to change our minds in the face of evidence that we are wrong. Equally, we will have a very limited understanding of other people’s actions if we don’t remember that they could be making a mistake too – and they may be about to recognize and correct it.

Secondly, our freedoms to be who we choose are ethical only in so far as they do not restrict the choices of others.

This second belief is especially important to me when it comes to dealing with conflict between children. I think that children need to be given time, and lots of positive example, to develop the art of truly respecting other people’s freedoms. They can often do this wonderfully well, but generally not consistently, when they are young. Actually, I think we all have trouble doing it consistently!

So, the learning of empathy is a challenge for humans, but, then again, it is a pretty amazing thing when we get it right. I think we need a constant, low level, empathy to operate happily in communities - of all sorts. Some people find empathy much harder than others – and that is part of human diversity.

It is hard for some children to remember that the desire to feel the squish of chubby flesh between your teeth will be paid for in extreme pain for someone else. (I speak as a person who once bit her kind brother very hard on the back, when he was giving me a piggy back!) It takes time for children to understand that everyone’s freedom to hear the film will be restricted by their choice to talk in a loud voice.

So, how about my child’s choice to shout an insult at someone else, or whack them on the head? What if it is done in retaliation? What if it is done out of revenge – over something that happened half an hour ago, or last week, or last month? Well, I think that those moments are the ones to step in and help the children develop empathy. You don’t have to be best buddies with someone to understand that their head will hurt if you lob a car at it. You don’t have to be someone’s friend to know that your aggressive words will make them scared and defensive. ‘They feel things just like you do’ is a simple message but something I think we do need to re-iterate with children – and remind ourselves of. And from there you can realise that no good will be served by increasing the amount of unhappiness.

This is not simple – it is hideously thorny and there are grey areas. Like, should you restrict someone’s choices ‘for their own good’? I think that most of us do that with children to some degree. Some people fetishise it and glory in the distress they can cause for a ‘good reason’. I try to make sure I am watchful and intervene only when my extra years of life can give an insight that the child just can’t see, and damage is about to be done. This has to be done with a constant awareness of your own fallibility and from a place of respect. It can get distorted very easily – like burning people to death to save their souls. You know the kind of scenario… I guess I would say that if people are adult then they make their own choices and any action you take to restrict their choices, for their perceived good, should be done only in extreme circumstances – like they are unconscious or seriously divorced from reality.

Another key belief of mine is that people who make different choices, who have very different beliefs about people and the world, should talk – often. I think that hope lies in a few, a very few, places. (Not hugely optimistic about the fate of our planet with us as this swarm species!) But I am hugely inspired by the dialogue between Jo Berry and Patrick Magee. A great effort has been made by people who could have chosen to stay in their own understanding. In spite of the massive challenge of a deadly and destructive act they have found the ability to talk – and that inspires me.

I don’t really know why I think talk is so important. I suspect because I believe that it is harder to harm, or even kill, someone with whom you have conversed. If we don’t communicate there is always the danger of ‘extreme otherness’ creeping into our views of each other. Then terrible wrongs are easily done – and the challenge of communication is harder still – and the whole thing descends in a spiral of hate and violence. It is easy to think people deluded, or dangerous, or just plain evil – if you never talk to them. And then they are so frightening, so very frightening. Most of us in this privileged little part of the world aren’t having to operate in conditions of such terror – most of the time. So, if we can’t manage to talk, then who can?

Of course, you are on much shakier ground if you are attempting communication with people who already believe you to be ‘the extreme other’. If people believe that to talk to you would be corrupting in itself then there’s not a lot you can do. In that moment you just have to hope that someone else’s voice will be heard and the fear decreased by someone else. If people are shoving you into the gutter, raining glass bottles down around you then that is not the moment to try to talk. But up to that point I am a talker – I have some hope.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bits from the scraps box

Here are some random things that have happened recently and never made it to the blog.

The kids made homes for solitary bees out of tin cans and rolled up strips of newspaper.

The huge tangle of ivy got pulled off the back wall of our garden by the wind, and brought our washing line down. Allie and I then spent several happy hours balanced on ladders with a hacksaw, and later with some fearsome long-handled secateurs trying to cut it down. Now our garden is full of ivy branches and we are being ignored by the community compost scheme who promised to bring us bags to put it all in.

We went swimming.

Leo has been doing some beautiful pictures.

I ran a session at Leo’s Woodcraft Folk, where we made soda bread and butter to eat with it.

I printed the latest edition of HEdline News, and put it up on HEdline’s new website.

Here’s a picture of our teapot, by popular request.

Pearlie has been helping out around the house – washing up, putting clothes on the line, clearing the table, etc.

I am enjoying knitting my Penrose Tiles blanket. Here it is so far. I was going to stop there, but it’s not big enough to be a blanket, so I’ve revised my design and am carrying on until I run out of wool.

Allie got stylish new glasses.

We all watched a lovely DVD of the Minotaur story.

My new bike trailer arrived. Our tickets for Crete didn’t. We are supposed to be flying next Tuesday and are feeling quite anxious.

Doctor Who was great – the best this series, I reckon.

Leo is becoming quite speedy on his scooter.

Allie and Pearlie finished Granny Reardun and are now on Barnaby Grimes: The Curse of the Nightwolf. Leo and I are still working our way through Eldest. I read Miss Garnet’s Angel and Mr Golightly’s Holiday.

We set up Pearlie’s webcam and she had a brief video conversation with her cousins in Leicestershire. It didn’t work very well, but they were all excited to be able to see each other.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Freedom and safety

I have been thinking a lot today about my childhood experiences of unsupervised play – after seeing this news story on the BBC.

This is well timed for us as P is now ten and we’re trying to let her have the independence she needs while taking sensible precautions. But I am very much aware of the shift in culture since my own childhood. It makes me sad. Here are a few of the experiences I’d never have had if I hadn’t been allowed to play unsupervised until I was fourteen.

Sitting on the pavement singing, with Sarah, when we were eleven.

Making our base camp in the forbidden area of the park, beyond the big slide and over the fence. This was called (inexplicably!) ‘Cool for Cats’ and all we ever did was sit there and enjoy the thrill of being in the forbidden zone. This was all the rage when I was ten.

Combining all my money with all of Alison’s and going down to KFC together. We were 1/2p short of what we needed and the guy let us have our drinks and chips anyway. I think we were twelve.

Playing on the site of the demolished house – with a whole gang of kids. This was probably dangerous as there were holes and a fantastic set of stone steps that went nowhere. We found bits of broken china and glass and I hoped we’d find a machine gun or hole in time. We didn’t. I think we were somewhere between ten and twelve.

Lobbing rocks into the big muddy puddle and wading in to get them back – feeling the icy water filling up my wellies. This was with Hannah, and I think I was about nine. We were ‘up the cricket pitch’ – maybe three minutes from her house, but still ‘unsupervised’.

Riding round and round the block one long summer evening, as the sun set and the air chilled. I was alone and loving it. I think I was probably eight or nine.

I don’t know what has changed. There are more cars, of course, but in this town it is actually easier to be a pedestrian than it was when I was a child. Most of the major roads have several safe crossing points and many areas have traffic calming. There is more fear of accidents (not road, just in general) involving children, than when I was a child. But we had much more hazardous play equipment! There is a lot of fear of predatory adults. I’m not dismissive of that but there is no evidence that there is a greater threat than ever there was.

So, why? Why are we all so scared? I had bad experiences as a child – I don’t deny it. But probably the most dangerous situation I was ever in was with a teacher in a school, not playing out with my friends. So, how do we decide what is safe? And how do we make sure our children don’t feel watched all the time? I’d be really interested to hear what other people think about this issue.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Squeezebox Rocks!

Saturday night was the gig – Squeezebox Rocks – a mammoth four and half hour night of kids’ bands. The whole evening is hosted by J (the teacher at Squeezebox) and is really impressive.

Pearlie and Leo’s band – Duckrock – was on in the first hour. They were fantastic and we were very proud. It was Pearlie’s second gig and Leo’s first. Their whole band - Pearlie on drums, Leo on keyboard, B on guitar and M on bass - were excellent, and really seemed to be having fun.

Here are the kids up on stage.

We all got home at 11.30pm and got up very late this morning!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Place - home

Two things have converged in my mind today and got me thinking about place – and home. At work, I had some dealings with a group of students who are refugees. Then, yesterday was the anniversary of my sister’s death and I thought a little about how I hold her here – in our home town.

Every year, on the anniversary of her death, I stop and let myself wander through some memories of my sister. Yesterday wasn’t a day that lent itself to happy reminiscing though. It was raining. I kept missing buses and had one of those journeys where you sit in the only vacant seat and then realise it is vacant because the man beside you smells too bad to be near. Work was busy (exam time) and I was cold. But, as I waited a few minutes for a bus to bring me up the hill at the end of the day, I let a little wave of pure sad go over me. It isn’t a painful emotion in the sense of turmoil, or confusion. There’s no bitterness, no anger, no guilt, no fear - not any more. Just the kind of sadness that brings calm tears up in your eyes before you can stop them.

I looked across the road and there was a car pulling up. For a second I allowed myself to imagine that the woman darting out of the car into the takeaway would be my sister – not as she was, but as the woman she would now be. That person waiting in the car would be waiting for her – a hug or a laugh and rushing home with a curry. Or maybe that woman jogging along with the buggy and raincovers would turn her head and smile at me and that would be her toddler kicking welly boots.

I don’t believe in an afterlife. What I do believe, and observe, is that people live on in the minds of those who loved them. Over the lives of a generation or two the memories become more distant, less intense, and eventually the person is forgotten. I like that idea – a real physical presence fading out slowly, a gradual forgetting.

Part of my remembering is to bring my sister along with me as I age. Of course, I know that she never got beyond twenty but I can allow myself some moments when I imagine her as a woman in her forties, maybe with kids, maybe not. And I imagine her here – in our town.

My brothers both live within a few minutes walk of my house – my mum across town. I was born here, as was my mum. There are parks where I’ve played, cried, kissed. The sea and the Downs keep me safe on each side. Nothing soothes me like the drag of the pebbles in the waves. When I look out from work at the sun sinking behind the trees of the Great Wood at Stanmer, I could rip apart with love for those trees. And part of that love is the sense of personal history – of belonging here, with the people I still have and the people I have lost.

Today I realised that so much, so very much, is lost to refugees. Even if they have escaped with loved ones they have lost their home – the place where they have history – where maybe they can remember their lost mum, or brother, or child. Maybe their home had become intolerable, a place of fear and oppression. But it was their home, and I realised today that to lose mine would be a loss that I would struggle to bear.