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Friday phrases: happy as kings

I don’t generally post on Fridays.

I could, of course. I have, too, back at the stage of writing a post every day.

But I mostly post in the evenings. It’s down time; when I read blogs, look on Facebook.
It makes it easy to post something, stick a link to it on Facebook, and off it goes.

I don’t post on Fridays. Because I’m into enjoying the delights of retirement right now, learning to have more fun (even if I’m starting a bit late) – and Friday night is about time off. Even if I’m only thinking about a glass of wine with the evening meal, and maybe some late night TV.

If you read a few blogs, you start to see that there are patterns to posting. Not everyone does them, of course, but quite a few do.

It’s partly to do with when people have time – and their attention span. That’s partly why I usually put up my Lit Kid post of the week on a Monday.

You’ve had the weekend, you’re a bit fresher maybe. OR you’ve had the weekend that feels the same as the weekdays, and you’d like some time off now, please. (Parents tend to be in the latter camp.)

Anyway, I tend to presume that you don’t want to read my attempts at literary criticism on a Friday night. You have your own fun to attend to – even if it’s just choosing not to set the alarm clock for the next morning.

So I post the last piece for the week on a Thursday night, and run off on a Friday, scattering peanuts in my wake (or whatever my idea of decadent living might be on a given weekend).

But there are some rather lovely Friday posts out there too. They are all about being short and sweet – and they work.

They are good for a quick look on a Friday, when you want something to lift your head and get you through the supermarket shop, or the sports class you’re waiting to finish so the weekend can begin.

So I found myself thinking what I might offer in this department.

Not to go back to the daily blogging (having too much fun with the maybe-novel, want to keep some time for that). But still: something cheerful; something that allows you a moment’s pause at the end of a long week; an agreement inside.

Fairly unsurprisingly, I hold that a lot of wisdom is found in children’s books. So I’m setting myself the task of finding some good encouraging (or just downright silly) quotations from children’s books, and doling them out like pocket money, only a day in advance.

If you like them, let me know. If I’m being too frivolous, and you would rather more serious critical discussion, also let me know.

(I’m equally partial to two Lit Kid posts a week, but, you know, I do like children’s books. But I appreciate you might not want to hear about them all the time.)

Wishing you all un bon weekend, and starting you off with one of my favourites:

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Happy Thought

“The world is so full of a number of things

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

Event management: parents wanted

Once upon a time, many moons ago it seems, I would do a spot of event management.

Not ‘big corporate event, 600 delegates’ kind of events, but still, arrangements to make, people to look after.

Maybe it’s the current school holidays that brings it to mind, but I’d like to think that my event management skills have come on apace since becoming a parent.

If you rate your event management skills, either of senior or junior delegates, cast your experienced eye over the suggestions below and let me know if I’m missing any.

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Weather: senior delegates can be relied on to bring raincoats, umbrellas and so on.
(Do bear in mind, though, that not all possess wellies or the ability to cope with windy conditions.)

Weather considerations are particularly important when event planning for junior delegates. Some events for junior delegates may be highly weather dependent: picnics, trips to the park, use of paddling pools.

Should sufficient wellies etc. become available, all-weather puddle jumping activities are often highly rated by junior delegates.

Those wishing to hone their weather-awareness event planning skills should consider joining ‘Scottish summer’ training courses, where event planners include wellies, suncream, midge repellant and swimming costumes among their ‘must-have’ kit.

Transport: this is made much easier by things like bus passes and family railcards. But when booking travel for your junior delegates, have you packed an activity bag for them?

Many senior delegates are able to amuse themselves on train journeys; junior ones need entertainment, snacks, regulated bathroom breaks and robust answers to the questions of when you might arrive.

Seasoned event planners will know the appropriate ratio of activity items to weight of bag that they themselves will be carrying, and prepare accordingly.

Entertainment: senior delegates may just need to add caffeine, alcohol or both. Choose an environment where everyone has to stand, noise levels that mean you can’t often hear the conversation next to you, and you’re away.

Jaded senior delegates may need more help in relaxing. You may wish to add in themed events related to the country of your gathering; dancing; after-dinner comic turns, or other such forms of entertainment.

Junior delegates’ entertainment needs may be tackled in various ways. You can lay on all kinds of excitements for them, including museum trips and days out.

It may be though that their attention is elsewhere (e.g. the marine wildlife outing where the junior delegate’s attention is firmly on the machinery in the venue. I speak from experience.)

You can pursue the ‘this is all new’ entertainment policy. This allows for bracing walks along canal paths, opportunities to admire former industrial machinery while in transit, and so on.

Junior delegates however may come with their own extensive supplies of Ingenuity, Imagination and/or Novelty.

In this case, the event managers may consider skipping down the street with junior delegates, holding hands; inviting junior delegates’ views on spotting dragons in clouds, and other cost-effective entertainments.

Accommodation: Senior delegates are likely to demand a higher standard of accommodation. Rooms with en-suite bath, complementary toiletries, mini-bar etc are all likely to be welcomed, as is free wi-fi.

It is an under-acknowledged fact that junior delegates are likely to be similarly pleased by such accommodation, although the mini-bar may be used more for holding tomorrow’s lunch supplies and event managers’ chocolate rations.

Junior delegates will also appreciate: being able to use keycards to open hotel doors; being able to operate lifts by themselves; being able to eat baked beans at breakfast (aka access to hotel buffets).

Event managers’ essentials: senior delegates are likely to be troubled by an absence of badges, folders, and name tags on lanyards that are instantly discarded after the event.

Pencil cases, clipboards, mobile phones and other similar equipment are expected.

Events managers for junior delegates may need more personalised awareness of the delegates’ wishes.

They may wish to include items such as: favoured cuddly toy; new book or magazine (to be produced, suddenly, for rapid mood improvement); games with not too many pieces for use on train tables.

Other essentials may include: plasters for cut knees and other ailments; snacks and back-up snacks for sudden unassailable hunger; and chargers for mobile devices for when it All Gets Too Much.

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Happy half-term!

When we moved in

We got on with some painting at the weekend. Not the filling a blank canvas type – instead, creating the blank canvas itself.

When we moved in, we were desperate to put our stamp on a place of our own. Five years of marriage: renting, saving, waiting for enough job stability to start a mortgage.

So we painted the place ourselves. We soon learned we weren’t that great at DIY; that where it mattered, it was better (for us) to pay someone who could do a decent paint job.

But this room doesn’t need a fancy finish. In fact, it’s the only room that’s not been redone since we moved in. Time to freshen it up.

When we moved in, every room was a different colour. There were stencils all the way up the stairs; small stencils above the handrail.

I knew they had probably taken a long time to do. I also knew, very quickly, that they would likely not last the first weekend we were in the place.

They didn’t.

Both of us were in on the painting, this last weekend. Dan on the rollering – broad brush stroke type stuff. Me on the taping up the woodwork; painting the edges by skirting boards, and so on.

(Pretty much our usual styles of operating: big picture vs details. Good team work for painting; for living, too.)

We stuck on a whole range of music to help us through the day. A proper painter would have their radio; a preferred radio station, and would get on with it a whole lot faster too.

We jumped around, in terms of choosing music. If it was reasonably high energy, that was enough. We took newspaper reading breaks, too, when we’d had enough of one circuit of the room.

(Sugar soaping: tick. Remembering that you then need to wash off the sugar soap: not so much. A further circuit of the room for that.)

When we moved in, we pulled in some painting favours. We’d helped other friends paint their places, at least a bit; we figured we could ask for some help.

It speeded up turning the yellow room white. The big mauve room: that took at least three coats to get it to white. (I know why our downstairs neighbour sighs when it’s time to paint their ‘big room’ again. It takes a long time.)

We had begged a different set of favours this time round: grandparent favours so that it was just the two of us to get on with the painting. We stepped back in time, just a little bit: just the two of us, back painting this room.

We got faster as we went on. By the time we’d finished the second coat of paint, we’d got it down to an hour to go round the whole room. (The gloss work is still to do. We took the decision to leave the ceiling as is.)

When we moved in, I remember us hosting our first meal with friends. A big pot of chilli, picnic style, sitting on the laminate floor of the attic (the one room that didn’t need painting, and so wasn’t in upheaval).

This time round, we went for calorie distribution between the two of us. Cooked lunch; takeaway meal for later, once we were tired and unlikely to want to cook. (We were.
We didn’t. We still wanted to eat though. Good move.)

When we moved in, we were both 30. There are some ways of going back in time, and repeating an earlier experience is one of them.

We can’t go back to 30. But actually, we don’t need to.

Free the information

I promised a post about information – how we store it, what we do with it. (I am married to Mr Web Company. I appreciate the irony.)

Quick answer: why keep information? It’s All Out There Anyway. (The end.)

Is it really as simple as that? Yes, with more and more information online, one way or another, there is less need for me to keep some of the things I’ve kept in the past.

University notes. Recipes. Addresses and phone numbers of companies.

The reason I’m grappling with this is that I am an inveterate keeper of cuttings. (My mother will tell you this started way back.)

From what I can think back to, it may have begun with recipes from women’s magazines. (I don’t even remember where the magazines came from. Maybe they were passed on to us.)

I would read them, as I would read pretty much anything that stayed around long enough for me to do so. And as we’d been told they didn’t have to be returned, I would take cuttings out of them. To keep. In case they came in useful.

It went on to other things. TV listings for programmes I’d really enjoyed and wanted to remember. (No catch-up TV in those days; if you’d not videoed it, that was that.)

I had scrapbooks for these. I like scrapbooks in the first place. Every now and then, I might go through them, take out things I was no longer interested in, paste some more in over the top.

And so it went on. For a long time. Saturday Times magazine articles that had been particularly good. Sometimes profiles of people I admired: actors, writers, and so on.

Later on, other things were added into the mix. Health tips. Travel recommendations. Places offering children’s parties. You name it, I would see ‘usefulness’ in it, and file it away.

Except, often, it was putting it in a folder and hanging on to it. I didn’t know what I had, necessarily. I was forging ahead, out to find the next useful piece of paper.

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I’d like to blame some kind of hunter gatherer tendency for this. That would help. It might mean I can cite genetics, rather than label myself as a hoarder.

And yet. (You knew there was one coming, didn’t you?)

When you study, when you research, you do need to keep an eye out for things: not just what you think you’re looking for but what you come across as well. You hang on to it. You have a hunch about it.

Being a parent can be much the same. It’s not just what you need now, it’s what activity might appeal to your child in the future; that present idea for the great-aunt; the suggestion for something new to do with mince. (It can be more exciting than just mince recipes, too.)

And so I kept them. But as part of my grand sort-out, I am finally reviewing what I have kept – and realising how little I refer back to it.

Why keep several centimetres thick of photocopies – when I could buy the book if I want to keep reading about that topic? (Bye bye, some of my social sciences notes.)

Why keep some of the health or nutrition information when I’ve researched beyond that now? (You sure end up doing lots of online reading if you start cooking gluten- and dairy-free.)

Why keep the clipping about that summer camp when I can make a note of the details, and recycle the paper?

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So far, it’s going well. Lots of recycling, yet more paper to add to the scrap paper collection.

Old habits die hard, though. I still love researching, one way or another. These days, I am trying to keep it what I find out in Evernote instead. Easier to record; easier to search and find again.

I’m trying something new: a file that tells me what I’m keeping in the flat, and where. (So if I do need to find my TEFL notes again, I know for certain which box I’ve put them in.)

The bigger change is one where I ask myself: do I really need that? Will I go back and look that up again – or will I just research it anew? And which one will take less time (quite apart from storage considerations)?

I don’t want to throw away useful things for the sake of it. That doesn’t sit right with the reuse-recycle part of me.

But as with other areas of last year’s eco sweep: it’s reducing that’s the hardest bit. Accepting that life is short; that we won’t need to reuse everything; that what we need now may not necessarily meet the challenges of the future.

There is a growing line of argument to suggest that education should move away from accumulation of knowledge – because so much ‘general knowledge’ information is easily accessible online.

What we need instead is synergy – making connections between different, seemingly unrelated areas. Turning them into something new.

Maybe it’s OK to keep some stuff then. Or at least to know where to find it.

So I can put it together with the new things I learn along the way – and make something that reflects who I’ve been, as well as where I’m going.

Lit Kid: recurring phrases

I began with openings, and now I’m going onto recurring phrases in children’s books.

It’s not my intention to get overly stylistic about it. I have a notebook where I am starting to record ideas for writing about children’s books, and there are (unsurprisingly) many others that could clamour for attention.

But a certain amount of time this week spent with audio books, to calm and occupy the invalid, has made me more aware of the power of such phrases in books – even when we hear them inside our heads, or with our eyes.

Just as we may know what is coming with words such as “Once upon a time”, recurring phrases belong to the atmosphere that is built as a tale starts to take shape before our eyes.

Whether read aloud, or viewed on the page, the phrases are there for us to notice. They tie us to that particular author, or series of books.

Sometimes it is a form of address to the reader that beguiles us – particularly with Kipling’s ‘Best Beloved’, of the Just So Stories. (In fact, try doing a ‘find’ of ‘Best Beloved’ on the Project Gutenberg version, and see just how many there are.)

It may be like a favourite uncle having a pet name for us – a phrase of affection, like ‘Silly old bear!’, which may even make its way into regular language usage.

It may equally be a suggestion that we, as readers, understand more than others, and so will be entrusted with secrets by the author.

Recurring phrases don’t always have to be the same words – but they need to occur in the same kind of place each time, and follow a particular function.

They may be the equivalent of an in-joke – which they often are, in the Harry and the Dinosaurs series.

Book by book, Harry’s older sister Sam makes some kind of comment which gets Harry’s goat, and leads to some form of retaliation:

‘Sam said “You can’t take dinosaurs to school, stupid!”
That’s why her toast fell on the floor.’ (Harry and the Dinosaurs go to School)

We know it is coming – we also know that (usually) Harry’s Gran will take him off and calm things down.

What we don’t know is what format the offence will take – or what Harry’s response will be. So we need to go on to the next book to find out.

Equally, in the Horrid Henry series, there are regular descriptions of the anti-hero Henry attacking his brother Peter, all worked out in character – a bit like Calvin as Spaceman Spiff, dealing with the latest impertinence by his class teacher.

The pay-off, really, is that someone will have to say “Stop being horrid, Henry!”, and reconfirm his nature and character.

For younger children, often the main beneficiaries of reading aloud, regular phrases are markers in a world they are still trying to understand. These phrases or set pieces help set up expectations; they show the way that we are expected to react.

On occasions, the phrases also help build a world for the characters: one that, we feel, we could step into, and know how to interact with others.

Sometimes, it’s done through recurring minor characters. The Harry Potter series, for example, has Moaning Myrtle, a ghost first encountered in the girls’ toilets.

Myrtle moves through water, it seems, so it’s not so surprising when she turns up in a later book when Harry is forced to take a longer bath for reasons of solving a mystery.

The expectation is that we will recognise Myrtle, that we will know why she is here, but also why she is well-placed to give Harry a clue.

It’s a useful short-cut for us – and for Harry – and it helps confirm that sense of the wider Potter universe that J.K. Rowling carefully built up.

Recurring phrases, or characters, are probably one of the ways we are drawn into continuing reading through series of books – the promise of a series of comic turns, that improve in impact the more you read.

But illustrators can use them too, when drawing a new book but including recognisable details from another one.

One example of this would be the recurring cat characters in Satoshi Kitamura‘s picture books. (See how many cats you can spot in the link article’s pictures.)

Equally, scroll through the link article’s Sendak illustrations to the one for The Nutcracker (third one down), and see who else you recognise (on the left hand side).

There are equally visual protocols that illustrators enjoy – like Herge drawing himself into Tintin stories (a bit like Hitchcock’s brief walk-on parts in his own films).

For those (like me) who are fond of a catchphrase, and the opportunities to repeat it, recurrence in books is the best kind of deja vu.

It is an invitation to guess the punchline – and to take a step closer to the author (or illustrator) setting up the joke.

And with your liking for them and their books building through each recurrence, who would refuse?