Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sixth Form

First a note for anyone outside the UK who isn't familiar with the English school system (I say English rather than British because I think the Scottish system is somewhat different). In September Angel starts Sixth Form, which covers Years 12 and 13, the equivalent of Grades 11 and 12 in the US (ages 16 to 18). Sixth forms can be part of a secondary or upper school which takes students from ages 11 and 13 respectively (our local school area has upper schools, but this is unusual), or they can be a separate Sixth Form College with just 16 to 18 year olds or part of a further education college which also teaches vocational courses and takes students of any age - similar to community college in the US I think. The name Sixth Form is a hangover from an old system in which school classes ran from First Form through to Sixth - Charlotte Mason structured her courses this way and it was still used when I was at school. Under this system Star, who is in Year 8, would currently be in Lower Fourth or 4b. Logical, huh?

At 16 English school students sit a set of GCSE (General Certificate of Education) exams, usually in around ten subjects. From then onwards education takes a different tack to the US, concentrating on depth rather than breadth. After GCSEs some teens go on to jobs, apprenticeships or vocational courses (J-next-door will be starting a hairdressing apprenticeship, for example), others stay on at school to take AS (Advanced Subsidiary) and A (Advanced) Level exams. These are known as Advancecd because they used to be taken after O (Ordinary) Levels, which have been superseded by GCSEs. Confused yet? (If you are a Harry Potter fan this explains OWLS - Ordinary Wizarding Levels. Get it?). Typically those who stay on for Sixth Form take 4 AS Levels in Year 11, then drop one subject and do a second A Level year in the other three. The subjects they choose can be focused in one area (sciences, arts, languages), or can be a mixture; they can also be traditionally academic, or more vocationally orientated.

Angel is most definitely a doer rather than a thinker and has ignored the traditional academic courses and picked four subjects to study at AS Level that are practical and business oriented. Good choices for her, I think, as they use her strengths - the GCSEs for which she is predicted an A are English language, English literature, graphic products (sort of graphic design-ish) and ICT (information and communication technology). Looking ahead to careers, possibilities are things like art editing, web design or something techie-media related, and she would prefer to go straight into work after A levels rather than go to university. The four courses she has picked are:

Business Studies - the AS level course covers planning, financing and managing a business.

Media Studies - a mix of analysing media content (TV, radio, web sites, magazines, newspapers) and production. In the first year there is a project which requires producing linked pieces in two media chosen from video, audio, print or website.

Product Design - covers everything from resistant materials (wood, metal, plastic) to fashion and graphic design. For the AS students put together a portfolio of four different practical projects - the three I can remember are a sales leaflet, an art deco style mirror, and a child's chair reflecting the style of a chosen designer (they had some of these on display in the product design studio, and they varied from a mock-Lego chair, to a Rennie Mackintosh inspired one. I suspect Cherub may benefit from this project!). For the second A level year the student has to design and make a project in consultation with a client. After speaking to the teacher and her enthusiastic students, Angel was sold on this course - I think she will love it.

Photography - covers both traditional and digital photography, ranging from developing black and white film in the darkroom, to Photoshopping digital images. The course explores many different areas of photography - portraiture, documentary, photojournalism, environmental photography, still life, and experimental imagery. They get taken on trips to galleries and museums, and are given a lot of freedom to experiment. Again, I think Angel will have a ball. She is already saving for her own camera, and has started taking pictures to make a mini-portfolio to get a place on the course - they want evidence that would-be students are serious about studying photography and have at least some creative ability.

Assuming that the timetable can accommodate this combination of courses, I think she is going to have a busy but interesting couple of years, and will come out with a set of useful skills that will help her get a job in anything involving media production - or if she changes her plans, to get a place on some sort of media-techie related university course.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 29th November

Outside My Window ... winter. Deep frost this morning, and the car was showing minus 5 (low 20s farenheit). There was a light dusting of snow on Saturday, but the real stuff is due tonight.

I am thinking ... about Christmas shopping. I had hoped to be finished with it by now, but this month conspired against me.

From the learning rooms ... Angel has settled on her sixth form choices (more about that in another post); Star's school has changed its homework policy, and is now issuing a single major task over a three week period rather than small, separate pieces of homework for each subject.

I am thankful ... Mum is out of hospital and recovering. She was discharged last Tuesday and will be staying with us for another week or so, by which time she should be ready to go home an manage independently.

From the kitchen ... 
Today: Chicken stir fry
Tomorrow: Fish and chips
Wednesday: Orange chicken and rice
Thursday: Salmon and mashed potatoes
Friday: Steak pie?
Saturday: Burgers
Sunday: Roast chicken
I am wearing ... dark grey trousers (this pair from Marks and Spencer - so comfortable and so wearable I went back and bought another pair in black), black sweater, black and white handknitted socks

I am creating ... super chunky wrist warmers (one done); blue socks for Mum; long chunky cardigan for myself (knitted the body last winter, just the sleeves to go; soft merino / mohair aran scarf for Angel for Christmas.

I am going ... to be starting a masters degree in Archives and Records Management in January. Both the interview and the train journey went well.

I am reading ... Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Loved the TV series, loving the book.

I am hoping ... that Cherub is not going down with something. She seemed a bit warm this evening.

I am hearing ... Star having an attack of hiccups.

Around the house ... a makeshift button for flushing the toilet made out of an old screw and duck tape. Angel somehow managed to flush the proper button down the pan. It was loose and wobbly and apparently "jumped" as she pushed it.

One of my favorite things ... preparing for Christmas.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a nice quiet week. Only extras on the calendar are Cherub's school Christmas fair on Saturday and carol playing with the brass band on Sunday.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... our Playmobil nativity set

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Snippets

Cherub greeted the news that we would get the the Nativity set out today with bouncing and squeals of excitement. "The Nativity set! The Nativity Set! We can have it today! ... [pause] ... What is a Nativity set?"

We have the Playmobil Nativity. Since last year Joseph has gone missing. A shepherd is now wearing Joseph's clothes, and a friar is masquerading as a shepherd. Every time I see him the anachronism makes me wince.

Cherub is learning songs for the school Christmas concert. Talking about shepherds and kings jogged her memory: "That was in my song! A king bought gold for a present, and a shepherd bought something called myrhh". Close.

I was hugely impressed that I not only had four brand new purple candles for the Advent wreath stashed away in the Advent / Christmas box, but also two full boxes of Hannukah candles I had forgotten about.

Less impressively, I do not yet have Advent calendars.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Advent Books

I have had the idea of wrapping up a book for each day of Advent filed away in my head for a while now, and I have finally taken the plunge and decided that this year I would put it into action for Cherub. I now have a neat pile of books wrapped and waiting (apart from two still to come from the library). Some are religious, some secular and there are three Hannukah books thrown in for good measure. Whether Cherub will let me read them all to her, I don't know. She is more open to new books than she was last year - then she knew what she liked and liked what she knew - but she is still likely to take against things for reasons I can't fathom, so we will go with the flow. Some of the books are short and sweet toddler board books, getting what I guess will be their last run out before Cherub outgrows them.

This is what I have lined up for her:

  • Nov 28th - The Christmas Story (Brian Wildsmith)
  • Nov 29th - Merry Christmas, Blue Kangaroo
  • Nov 30th - Jesus is Born (pop-up book)
  • Dec 1st - My First Hannukah (DK board book)
  • Dec 2nd - Light the Lights: Celebrating Hannukah and Christmas
  • Dec 3rd- Hannukah (board book)
  • Dec 4th - The First Christmas (Lois Rock)
  • Dec 5th - The Innkeeper (board book)
  • Dec 6th - Saint Nicholas (Mary Joslin)
  • Dec 7th - Christmas Trolls (Jan Brett)
  • Dec 8th - Mog's Christmas (Judith Kerr)
  • Dec 9th - Angelina's Christmas (Katherine Holabird)
  • Dec 10th - The Story of Old Befana (Tomie de Paola)
  • Dec 11th - The Nutcracker (Usborne Books)
  • Dec 12th - The Shepherds (board book)
  • Dec 13th - Lucia, Saint of Light
  • Dec 14th - The Twelve Days of Christmas (Jan Brett)
  • Dec 15th - Country Angel Christmas (Tomie de Paola)
  • Dec 16th - Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas (Alison Uttley)
  • Dec 17th - The Nutcracker (pop-up book)
  • Dec 18th - Jesus is Born (Little Fish book)
  • Dec 19th - The Wise Men (board book)
  • Dec 20th - Jesus is Born (Treasure Chest book)
  • Dec 21st - The Wild Christmas Reindeer (Jan Brett)
  • Dec 22nd - Jingle the Christmas Clown ( Tomie de Paola)
  • Dec 23rd - The Legend of the Poinsettia (Tomie de Paola)
  • Dec 24th - The Story of Christmas (Jane Ray)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 22nd November

Outside My Window ... a dull damp morning. Heading into a cold snap later this week, with snow forecast.

I am thinking ... whether there is anything I have forgotten to tell Tevye, who is in charge at home for the next couple of days.

From the learning rooms ... another sixth form open evening for Angel on Thursday.  

I am thankful ... Mum is doing very well. After recovering slowly but steadily last week she is now zooming ahead, doing lots more walking. She just has to master stairs and then she will be able to come home. She had been put on the waiting list for a rehab hospital, but looks as though she will not be needing it.

From the kitchen ... 
Today: Oven chips and chicken fingers
Tomorrow: Chicken pie and mash
Wednesday: Cottage pie (didn't get made last week as I had run out of potatoes)
Thursday: Baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese
Friday: International meal with neighbours (I have to make a starter); girls will probably have pizza or pasta
Saturday: ??
Sunday: Roast beef or lamb (can't remember what is in the freezer)

I am wearing ... dark grey cord trousers, pink sweater, pink socks

I am creating ... super chunky wrist warmers (one done); long chunky cardigan for myself (knitted the body last winter, just the sleeves to go; soft merino / mohair aran scarf for Angel for Christmas. Finished my brother's socks yesterday, which were driving me nuts as the yarn was too splitty and tangly. Planning to start a pair of bedsocks for Mum on the train today.

I am going ... to Scotland! I have an interview tomorrow morning for the distance learning archives course I am hoping to start in January. I know they are unsure I have enough prior experience and want to discuss that with me to see what gaps there are and how to fill them before starting the course. I'm hoping the gaps don't turn out to be huge gaping holes! The journey takes seven hours with three changes of trains. I love trains, though, so I'm happy. And I have loads of stuff set up on my iPad to play with (a film, two episodes of Lost, books on iBooks and Kindle, a free sample National Georgraphic magazine, music, games, and my knitting pattern). Have iPad, will travel.

I am reading ... ready and waiting on the iPad - The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (one of Susan Wittig Albert's Beatrix Potter mysteries), G. K. Chesterton autobiography, Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell), Emma (Jane Austen). That should keep me going for a while.

I am hoping ... the interview goes well, and that Mum masters those stairs quickle.

I am hearing ... Come Outside on TV. Auntie Mabel and Pippin are investigating apples.

Around the house ... somewhere between order and disorder. Could be better, could be worse.

One of my favorite things ... train journeys. I am a train and boat person. So much more fun than cars and planes.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... another manic week, but I'm hoping that after this things will calm down. Today: travelling up to Scotland; Tomorrow: interview and travelling back again; Wednesday: visit Mum, meeting in the evening to organise First Communion classes' nativity play; Thursday: record office (or hospital?), sixth form open evening; Friday: meal with neighbours; Saturday: taking Star to Ipswich for gym competition (unless the weather turns nasty. I am not driving there in snow!). Hoping I haven't forgotten anything.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... Star, aged 8, at the launch party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (we saw the film last night - apparently it has broken a ton of box office records in the UK).

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Friday, November 19, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 19th November

The quickest of quick takes today, for reasons that will be apparent.

Seven things added in to our usual busy routine between now and next Saturday:

1. A volunteers' training day at the archive, learning to read sixteenth and seventeenth century documents.

2. An orchestra concert with extra afternoon rehearsal.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

4. Visits to mum in hospital (one hour drive each way).

5. A trip to Dundee in Scotland for an interview for an archive course (seven hour train journey with three changes each way and an overnight stay).

6. Sixth form open evening with Angel.

7. Gymnastics competition for Star in Ipswich (two and a half hour drive each way to perform one minute floor routine. 

Breathe ...

Visit Conversion Diary for more quick takes 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 15th November

Outside My Window ...
Frosted November.
Monday morning dawns foggy
and unappealing.
(And I have an inexplicable urge to write haiku!)

I am thinking ... or perhaps it is the subliminal effect of watching a documentary about the poet Wilfrid Owen and ordering a set of Japanese knitting needles yesterday (poetry + Japan = haiku)

From the learning rooms ... "wedding day" for Cherub on Thursday, and "spotty day" to raise money for Children in Need on Friday; a sixth form open evening (at her current school) for Angel on Wednesday; safari animals in Cherub's story sack. 

I am thankful ... Mum's operation went to plan. She is recovering slowly (only to be expected at her age), but turned a corner yesterday when she was able to walk to the bathroom and back and was in much less pain.

From the kitchen ... Today: Cottage pie
Tuesday: Crockpot bbq chicken and rice
Wednesday: Turkey steaks and potato wedges?
Thursday: Toad in the hole
Friday: Fish and chips
Saturday: Baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese
Sunday: Roast chicken

I am wearing ... dark grey cord trousers, grey long sleeved t-shirt, stripey grey cardigan, thick hiking socks.

I am creating ... birthday socks for my brother (one sock done, the second started); super chunky wrist warmers (one done); long chunky cardigan for myself (knitted the body last winter, just the sleeves to go; soft merino / mohair aran scarf for Angel for Christmas. Finished Mr Greyjeans cardigan (it's sort of OK, but not great) and knit a soft chunky snood for Star over the weekend. Loads more projects in the pipeline.

I am going ... to have another crazy busy week.

I am reading ... between books again.

I am hoping ... Mum continues to improve and is out of hospital before the end of the week.

I am hearing ... Cherub rootling around in a box of play food.

Around the house ... an ironing mountain that I need to tackle NOW.

One of my favorite things ... the smell of homemade bread.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... Today: work (freelance for Michael's office), visit Mum; Tuesday: work, visit Mum, first aid course for Angel at gym; Wednesday: work, sixth form open evening for Angel, band practice; Thursday: hospital visit again, orchestra rehearsal; Friday: training day for volunteers at Aylesbury museum, learning to read 16th and 17th deeds (looking forward to this!); Saturday: Orchestra rehearsal and concert; Sunday: Harry Potter movie (looking forward to this too!). Not sure what will happen about hospital visits at the back end of the week as no idea yet how long Mum will be there.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... Cherub, baby and iPad!

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Saturday, November 13, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 12th November

1. First, an update on my Mum ... she had her op - finally! - and seems to me to be doing pretty well. Despite post-operative pain and some nausea (painkiller induced?) she looks much better than she did following her hip replacement four years ago. She is well enough to grumble, which I take as a good sign! (In fairness I must add that she is not by nature a grumbler, but after all the messing about she has endured over the past few months she has reached a point of irritation with all things medical).

2. I think a commenter on my Bonfire Night takes last week hit the nail on the head - as she put it, "we just secretly like to burn stuff". The opportunity to burn stuff and to let off fireworks is what keeps Bonfire Night popular. Unfortunately fires and fireworks come with risks attached. There was a nasty accident at a local bonfire night event on Monday when a rogue firework flew into the watching crowd. Three girls from Star's year at school and their families were in the line of fire - from what I have heard the injuries were relatively minor burns, but it could have been an awful lot worse.

3. We are being doorstepped by a cat. We think he lives further up the road in a house that was sold recently, but he seems to think he should live with us. He is a beautiful and very affectionate cat, and it is getting harder and harder to leave him sitting mournfully on the step when he decides to pay us a visit, especially when it is cold and wet outside.

4. Interesting article of the week: Twinkie Diet Helps Nutrition Professor Lose 27 Pounds. Twinkies aren't within my cultural frame of reference, but I'm sure I can guess some British substitutes. What the professor really proved was that the essential for losing weight is number of calories consumed, whether on not those calories are empty, sugary ones. To his surprise, he not only lost weight, but various health markers improved - presumably because eating too much is far worse for health than eating badly but modestly.

5. Archive word of the week: Slipe. I have come across lots of fields named "The Slipe", but can't find a definition in the dictionary. My guess is that it is a narrow "slip" of land. Also the best statement of the obvious in the tithe apportionments I am transcribing ... Place name: Part of River Thames; State of Cultivation: Water.

6. Both Angel and Star are happy bunnies as they have acquired new phones in the last week. Angel had reached the end of her previous contract (which she pays for herself out of her allowance) and upgraded to an HTC Wildfire - touchscreen with Wifi and Android, so lots to play with. Star's old phone was rickety and kept losing signal so she spent some birthday money on a ZTE Touch from Argos. I have to say that at the price - almost half the price of buying the same phone direct from Three - this seems a bargain. Very cute, pink, does more than I would expect for the price, and - so far - does it well.

7. Why is it that my daughters are so very good at switching lights on, but apparently incapable of ever turning them off?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday Thirteen: Martinmas

November 11th is the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours (it is also Armistice Day, but that is another story), so here are thirteen bits of random information about Martinmas:

1. Read about the life of St. Martin of Tours here, or if you want more detail, head over to Wikipedia.

2. In England a number of the the old feast days were known by names ending in -mas, so St. Martin's Day = Martin's Mass = Martinmas. Others include Michaelmas (feast of St.Michael), Candlemas (feast of the Purification on February 2nd, when it is traditional to bless candles) and - of course - Christmas.

3. Some weather lore ... "Ice before Martinmas enough to bear a duck, the rest of the winter is sure to be muck" - in other words, and early cold snap means a wet and muddy winter. We have had a couple of frosts already this year, but not duck-bearing levels of ice. Another variation is "If ducks do slide at Martinmas, by Christmas they will swim."

4. A warm, sunny spell in autumn is known as St. Martin's summer, as it is supposed to end around November 11th. Unfortunately this year our St. Martin's summer is long gone!

5. Cattle were slaughtered and preserved for the winter around St. Martin's Day, so in England beef was eaten at Martinmas. Scroll down this article to find a recipe for Pot Roasted Martinmas Beef with Spiced Gravy.

6. Elsewhere in Europe, the traditional food for St. Martin's Day is goose.

7. Martinmas used to mark the beginning of Quadragesima Sancti Martini, or the Forty Days Fast of St.Martin, which ended at Christmas.

8. In northern England, Martinmas was the traditional date for hiring fairs where farm workers found jobs for the next year.

9. St. Martin gave the cloak from his back to a beggar. A good modern idea is to clear out old clothes on November 11th and give them to charity

10. In Germany children take part in processions carrying paper lanterns to celebrate St. Martin's Day.

11. You can find a temple for simple St. Martin's Day lanterns here,  a colouring page here, another lantern craft and lots of Martinmas ideas here.

12. Among other things, St. Martin is the patron of horse riders, soldiers, innkeepers, wine growers, tailors and geese.

13. Another tradition for St. Martin's Day is to drink some of the year's new wine ... so why not enjoy some wine tonight and raise your glass to St. Martin!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cherub School Update

Two months in and I am still very happy with Cherub's school experience ... and more importantly, she is happy too. I love the set up in the early years unit, with special themed play areas that are kept for the whole half term, and other toys and activities rotating daily. Currently the themed sections are a Halloween party (table setting and play food), a creche (Cherub heaven! She loves dolls), and a workshop. The workshop amazes me, as it includes real tools. I can't imagine many schools allow four year olds access to saws and hammers, but there are pictures on the school website to prove it - and using them very carefully they are too, with fingers well out of the way! And of course they are closely supervised.

We are still loving the story sacks. This week's is an owl sack, with Owl Babies, a book about owls, three owl toys to act out the story, and a set of bird cards for playing various games. Last week was beans, with a bean and a flower pot to plant it in, a book about how baked beans get from plant to table, a CD with fairy tales including Jack and the Beanstalk, and a beanstalk shape matching game. I'm looking forward to seeing what new sack comes home tomorrow.

Cherub's teachers are pleased with the way she has settled in. From refusing to speak to the teachers when she went for her taster sessions, her confidence in them has grown to the point where she made one poor teacher jump out of her skin by sneaking up on her and shouting "Boo!" Fortunately the teacher saw the funny side! She is also beginning to get a bit more confident with the other children and is interacting and playing with them more, having started off very much in her own little self-contained world.

All in all, so far so good.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 8th November

Outside My Window ... disgusting weather. Six degrees (45 deg F), dark grey skies, wet and windy. Forecast to stay this way all day. Autumn at its worst.

I am thinking ... about my Mum, who is having her knee replacement op tomorrow. Praying all goes well.

From the learning rooms ... the theme for Cherub's class at school this half term is celebrations. Next week they are having a pretend wedding where they all dress up as brides, grooms, bridesmaids, pages, or guests. Cherub is looking forward to wearing a new party dress. 

I am thankful ... for a warm, comfortable house.

From the kitchen ... Today: baked potatoes and chili tonight
Tuesday: Pasta with tomato pesto and creme fraiche
Wednesday: Beef stew and dumplings
Thursday: Fish and chips
Friday: Lazy chicken
Saturday: Soup
Sunday: Roast beef

I am wearing ... black jeans, grey long sleeved t-shirt, black and white stripy socks (not hand knitted).

I am creating ... my cardigan (first sleeve almost done); my brother's socks (one sock done, the second started); super chunky wrist warmers (one done). Star's neon pink socks are done.

I am going ... to have a busy week, adding in a couple of trips to visit Mum in hospital (an hour away) in addition to the normal routine.

I am reading ... nearly finished Gunpowder Plots (various authors)

I am hoping ... that my Mum's operation goes to plan, and she recovers well. Usually she is slow to heal and ends up having to stay in hospital longer than expected.

I am hearing ... Cherub playing an I Can Cook game on the CBeebies website.

Around the house ... kitchen and bathrooms need a good clean. Tevye and I are going to tackle them this morning (he isn't working today as he is driving my Mum to hospital this afternoon), then the house will be more or less back in order. 

One of my favorite things ... hot chocolate on a cold day.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... Tuesday: record office; Wednesday: hospital visit, band practice; Thursday: record office, hospital visit, orchestra rehearsal (not sure this is logistically possible!); Friday: hoping to go to see the new Harry Potter movie with Angel; Sunday: band commitments for Remembrance Sunday (any maybe another hospital visit depending on Mum's progress).

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Fairytale Castle

Towards the end of our second day in Budapest we stumbled across this fairytale castle in the City Park:

Vajdahunyad Castle was originally built in wood and cardboard for an exhibition in 1896, but was so popular it was reconstructed in permanent form over the next few years. It is an amazing mishmash of  elements from different architectural periods. The chapel was Romanesque:

This Gothic section, a copy of a Transylvanian castle, still needs some restoration:

The Baroque wing houses the museum of agriculture (it had just started to rain, so I'm afraid the pictures are dark and gloomy like the weather):

In the grounds is this statue of Anonymus, a twelfth century royal notary and historian. Touching his pen is supposed to bring good luck (I didn't find this out until after we got back to England!):

Coming upon Vajdahunyad unexpectedly was like discovering a Disney castle for real!

Friday, November 05, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 5th November

Please to remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot.
We know no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

As today is November 5th and I have been reading Gunpowder Plots: a Celebration of 400 Years of Bonfire Night (various authors) this week, I'm going to make this seven quick Bonfire Night takes:

1. Bonfire Night commemorates the failure in 1605 of a plot by Catholic conspirators to blow up the House of Lords during the opening of parliament, when the King and Queen, their oldest son, and the entire membership of parliament (lords and commons) would have been present.

2. The conspirators hid 36 barrels of gunpowder in a cellar underneath the House of Lords. Estimates of the amount of gunpowder range from 2,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds, but as Antonia Fraser puts it: "no one has ever disputed that this was more than enough to blow the House of Lords and its wretched denizens sky-high". This was would-be terrorism on a grand scale, which would have killed hundreds (or thousands if the fire spread) and would have wiped out the entire English government in one stroke.

3. Guy Fawkes (or Guido, as he was known after living in Spain for many years) was caught in the act of laying a slow fuse which would have allowed him to time to escape between lighting the fuse and the subsequent explosion. His capture earned him a fame (or infamy?) that has lasted to the present day, and made him one of the best known names in English history. The custom of burning an effigy of "the Guy" on bonfires appeared in the eighteenth century and still continues.

4. The plot was discovered after Lord Monteagle, who had Catholic connections, showed the king's chief minister Robert Cecil a letter he had been sent warning him not to attend the opening of parliament. Conspiracy theorists have suggested that Cecil was aware of the plot from early on, but there is no good historical evidence for this. It is considered likely, however, that Lord Monteagle had been told about the plot, and actually wrote the letter himself as a way of winning favour at court.

5. Perhaps the most unfortunate figure of the whole sorry episode was Henry Garnet, a Catholic priest and leader of the Jesuits in England. Father Garnet became aware of the plot when he was consulted by a priest who heard the confession of one of the conspirators. Horrified by what he heard, he tried to make clear his disapproval of the treason that was being planned, but bound by the seal of confession he could not disclose the plot to the authorities. In the aftermath he was arrested and sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering.

6. Dramatic as the events were at the time, it is odd on the face of it that "Gunpowder Treason Day" has survived so long as a public celebration, when other equally dramatic events did not (why no Armada Day celebrations, for instance?). In the book David Cressy argues that it has survived because it has adapted to changing political and cultural needs. At various times it has been a celebration of the survival of the Stuart monarchy, a justification of the Church of England, an outlet for anti-Catholicism, a worthy communal celebration, an opportunity to vent political feeling, an excuse for a riot, and an opportunity for boys to play with fireworks.

7. The Yeoman of the Guard (the Queen's ceremonial bodyguard) still carry out a search of the cellars of the Palace of Westminster before the State Opening of Parliament, a duty dating back to the late seventeenth century when there were rumours of a second gunpowder plot.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Thursday Thirteen: Autumn

Thirteen favourite autumn things (ignoring the bits I don't like about the season. Dark evenings, I will not let you get me down!):

1. Autumn leaves

2. Conkers

3. Blustery days

4. Bonfire night

5. Misty mornings

6. Apples

7. Pumpkins

8. Busy squirrels

9. Warm scarves

10. Handwarmers

11. Cosy duvets

12. Christmas planning

13. My birthday

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Communist Budapest

Twenty years after the fall of communism the old regime is still visible in parts of Budapest. Some areas are immaculate and very western looking, but there is still a lot of construction and restoration work going on. There is also a lot of graffiti, which Tevye says was also very noticeable when he visited Gdansk in Poland three years ago. Maybe that is an eastern bloc thing? (Not that there isn't graffiti here, but not on anything like the same scale, and it is more likely to be cleaned up).

We passed the headquarters of the communist secret police in Andrassy Avenue, now the Museum of Terror. No time to go inside - and in any case I'm not sure I could have faced it.

Along the walls were memorials to those who died after the failed revolution of 1956:

Outside was this Iron Curtain monument:

The text written on the end (in English) was:
"... Shall we live as slaves or free men?" (Sandor Petofi)

It isolated the East from the West.

It split Europe and the world in two.

It took away our freedom.

It held us in captivity and fear.

It tormented and humiliated us.

And finally we tore it down.

We spent some time exploring Margrit Island, in the middle of the Danube. The island is mostly a park, with some restaurants and this very soviet looking "Strand" (swimming pool complex). Note the muscular statue to the left, presumably put there to inspire citizens to build up their physical strength!

I would have liked to visit the Budapest Statue Park where the Hungarians have preserved giant statues and other mementos of the communist era. Tevye wasn't so keen, and in any case we wouldn't have had the time. Maybe on a future visit?

Finally, some typical Budapest graffiti, on part of the Buda embankment of the Danube which is still undergoing restoration.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

My iPad

When we went to the Apple store to buy the iPad I was asked what I wanted it for; my answer was that I wanted to use it for all the things I did on my iPod Touch, but with the benefit of a decent sized screen. I have had the Touch almost since they were first released - mine is a 1st generation Touch, which is now becoming a bit frustrating as it is too old to run Apple's new operating system updates (no iOs4, no iBooks). It may be getting old and clunky, but I used it pretty much daily, for everything from playing music to reading my Google Reader and playing games. It could be slow, and looking at web pages in Safari was like reading with a magnifying glass, one section at a time, but often I preferred using a compact, hand-held device to the laptop. I was expecting the iPad to give me everything the Touch does, but quicker, bigger and better. It does.

So far I am mainly using the iPad for:
- Facebook (using the Friendly app - there isn't a native Facebook app for iPad yet or if there is, I haven't found it).
- Reading blogs (I access Google Reader though an app called Feeddler)
- Watching BBC iPlayer
- playing games
- catching up on the news with the BBC News app
- net surfing. Using Safari on the iPad is a great way to potter around online. The screen is big enough to make it comfortable, and the touchscreen makes it so very easy.
- playing games
- entertaining children (so intuitive even a 4 year old can use it without instruction).

There are lots of other possibilities I haven't made any real use of yet, particularly using the iPad as an eReader and for writing. I have experimented a bit with iBooks and the Kindle app and think Kindle is likely to be better if only because there are more books available to download.

Things I particularly like about the iPad are the speed and ease of use. No booting up time, and quick switching between applications. This is because is has solid state storage rather than a disc drive (I think!), and it makes a huge difference. Everything is so much more immediate than on a traditional computer. It is also much more intimate. The touchscreen makes everything more up close and pesonal. This is true of the iPod Touch and iPhone, but more so of the iPad where you are interacting with a larger screen. I love the huge variety of apps available, many free and most for only a small cost. Screen quality is great, and it is a comfortable size for watching TV snd movies. I like how comfortable it is to hold, though using it in a case loses some of the nice ergonomic feel - not enough of a problem to make me want to take it out of the case though.

The not so good bits ... No multitasking yet. The new version of the operating system that allows it is due to be released this month That will be a big plus. The iPad feels enough like a "real" computer that not having multitasking seems odd. I miss it here, while it didn't bother me on the Touch. No Flash - Flash and Apple are at odds and Apple simply omitted it from the iPad, which means some web pages and applications are not usable. The other two main UK TV catchup services - ITV Player and Channel 4 Catchup - can't be used on the iPad because they use Flash, which is a minor irritation. The iPad also allows only very limited use of Google Docs, which is a pain as I normally use Google Docs documents and spreadsheets so that I can access them from any computer.

The online keyboard is quite good, though I haven't typed on it enough to be very accurate yet. It takes a while to get used to the slightly different layout and the feel of typing on a touchscreen. If I find I want to do a lot of typing on the iPad I will probably buy either a bluetooth keyboard or a case with a build in keyboard (these look a great solution, but so far I am not typing enough to justify it).

Overall, so far so good. I'm a happy iPad user, and as Apple tweak the operating system and more web sites accommodate the iPad I will only get happier.

Written on my iPad using Blogpress.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 1st November

Outside My Window ... dark. The clocks went back at the weekend, and today it was dark by five in the afternoon. I hate the long nights.

I am thinking ... about friends who are going through difficult times.

From the learning rooms ... Cherub's first parent-teacher meeting is tomorrow.

I am thankful ...for beautiful autumn leaves. Some consolation for the dark evenings, at least for a while.

From the kitchen ... orange chicken and rice tomorrow, crockpot beef and mushrooms on Wednesday, and salmon on Thursday. I haven't thought further than that yet.

I am wearing ... dark grey trousers, purple long sleeved t-shirt, purple cardigan, hand-knitted socks.

I am creating ... my cardigan (half way down the first sleeve); my brother's socks (one sock done, the second started); neon pink socks for Star (first sock two-thirds done); super chunky wrist warmers (with leftover yarn from Angel's hooded scarf, which I knitted in a day last week). Projects are proliferating. And I just received some fun pink yarn sent by a kind friend for more scarf knitting.

I am going have been ... to Alton Towers for the day. Angel and Star had the day off school, so we went on a trip to ride roller coasters.

I am reading ... I am nearly reading a pile of books that is stacking up.

I am hoping ... to get an application in this week for a distance learning course in archive and record management, to start in January (the deadline is the end of November, so I haven't quite taken it to the wire!)

I am hearing ... Tevye watching Spooks on TV.

Around the house ... sitting room and hall decluttered and tidy, and the house thoroughly dusted and hoovered. Tevye and I spend Saturday afternoon restoring some sort of order to the chaos.

One of my favorite things ... Cherub's ingenuity in coming up with excuses for not doing things she thinks are scary, without admitting she is afraid. Angel suggested yesterday that she might like to go trick-or-treating to a couple of neighbours: "No, I don't think so ... I'm a bit too sweaty."

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... Tuesday - meeting with Cherub's teacher; Saturday - taking Angel shopping, then going out for a meal with Tevye, his sister and brother-in-law; usual record office, band and orchestra.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ... Cherry, particularly sour cherry, is a popular Hungarian flavour. This was Black Forest cappuccino - think Black Forest gateau meets coffee. In Hungary cherry and chocolate with coffee makes sense. (And it was good. Shame it isn't available here.)

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman