The Gallery: Black and White


Point Helbronner

I am always a bit stumped when I’m asked to submit black and white photos for anything. and I suspect I’m not alone in resorting to a little photo editing. Luckily I have plenty of photos to play around with, but these ones, taken over a huge glacier in the Alps between France and Italy are some of my favourite. They probably work well because there isn’t much colour in the originals- just a blue sky and a a bit of red for the cable cars.

Six years ago we spent a week in the summer holidays in Chamonix, which is a popular ski resort in the winter. In the summer it’s a fantastic place to stay with families, and we were with a company who took the children for the day 4/7 days, so the parents could get out and explore on their own.

DH and I got out and about on our own, and had a few adventures, but the most thrilling thing we did was take a series of cable cars up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, then rode the Panoramic Mont Blanc Cable Car across to Point Helbronner, in Italy.

It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I’m not a fan of heights and we were a long way up. The cables seemed very loose and blew around in the wind as they traveled above the ice and snow. And when you looked straight down you could see how deep the ravines in the ice were.

I couldn’t help thinking about what would happen if we fell.

And once we’d crossed from France to Italy safely, we had to go back again. This time, I tried not to look down as often.

View from Panoramic Mont Blanc Cable Car

The scenery was fantastic. We had this car to ourselves and felt like we were the only people on earth until the carriages going in the opposite direction whirred past and we all waved to each other.

See those little dots? They are people who chose to climb up the mountains and risk life and limb while doing so. We saw plenty of them staggering through the snow, perched on ledges and climbing the jagged rocks. They did not look like they were having fun.

It looked far too much like hard work to me and I was relieved to be able to look down on them, even though we were bouncing around in a metal bauble on a bit of  steel rope. To be fair, I’d not describe our experience as fun either. But it was a ‘Once in a lifetime’ experience and I’m glad we did it.

Though I admit to breathing a sigh of relief when we made it back to Chamonix safely and I had solid ground under my feet once again.

For more black and white photos, check out this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.


On Grieving For A Dog

Grief is a bastard, isn’t it?

Ten days on from the unexpected loss of one of our family dogs, it’s still hiding in unexpected places and jumping out and slapping me around the face quite regularly.

Happy  Willow

First, let me reassure those of you who have lost humans that you care about, that I’m not complaining our loss is as big as say, the loss of a child or parent or friend. Our dogs are not child substitutes.

They are pets. But they are also family members. I feel like our family is now incomplete and will make no apologies for using the word ‘Grief’ when talking about what I am feeling at the moment. I am crying, I feel sad, it bloody hurts inside. This is what I am feeling and I will not downplay it by saying ‘She was only a dog.’

I have no doubt at all that I am grieving for our lost pet, just the same as I grieved when my father died 20-odd years ago.

For the first 24 hours I pretty much cried at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t stop, my eyes just kept leaking.

Then I teared up regularly for the next 48 hours. Mainly when talking about Willow. That was The Lurcher’s name- there is no point in not using it anymore, is there?

I keep thinking I hear  her or catch glimpses of her from the corner of my eye. I still expect her to be sleeping beside my bed when I get up in the morning.

Last Monday  was the worst. People at school knew she was having her surgery on Friday so I had people asking after her, and had to explain. Everyone was sympathetic but you could tell the dog/ pet owners. A couple of them were in tears too which I weirdly felt guilty about.

And then I took our other dog to agility where I managed not to completely fall to pieces, and everyone has dogs so they all ‘got it’.

Social media has been a great help in telling people what happened as I could tell a lot of people all at once, but just when I think I’ve finally told everyone, someone else  turns up. Today it was the gardeners, asking where ‘the grey dog’ was.

And our remaining dog breaks my heart, because you can’t explain to a dog that his friend has gone.

In the house he likes to sleep on her bed, and keeps rushing in the door each time he comes back from a walk, just in case she has come home. And on walks he is no longer running through the woods, exploring and chasing squirrels. Instead he sticks close to me and waits and watches for her to coming running over to him for a game.

waiting, watching

Every day I find myself thinking how long it’s been since I’ve seen her. Already ten days has passed, soon it will be two weeks, then a month. But life has to goes on, doesn’t it?

Soundscool Grade Five Theory Course Review

One of the much-lamented sticking points of sitting music exams is the Grade Five Theory rule. If you follow the ABRSM syllabus, then you have to pass a formal Grade Five theory exam before you can sit a Grade Six practical, no matter what instrument you play.

The reasons behind this rule are sound; in order to play and understand music in the higher grades, you really need to have a sound knowledge of how music is put together. It’s not just random, after all!

Theory  is not the most exciting subject in the music world, especially for children. And unless they have extra theory lessons, progress can seem very slow. My eldest sat and passed her Piano Grade 5 Practical in December 2013, and has just finished working through the Grade 4 Theory syllabus last month. This year she is sitting her Grade 5 practical for the Double Bass and after she can’t go any further with exams until she gets the theory equivalent under her belt.

DD1 disliked learning theory from her current piano teacher and was reluctant to devote any more of her lesson time to it. So I decided to take drastic measures.

I went online and Googled ‘Grade Five Theory Course’. I think I was looking for an online course of some sort; something that was a little bit more lively than the books she was working through with her piano teacher.

The second result down lead me to the Soundscool Website. And it sounded like it was just what I wanted.

Soundscool is a small music school not far from Reading in Berkshire. Daniel and Sandra welcome students into their lovely home and teach them piano, singing and cooking.

Soundscool Kitchen

They are a bit far away from us to use them for regular lessons, although if we lived in the vicinity I definitely would. But they also offer a two-day, Grade Five Theory course.

The course has been running for three years and during that time hundreds of people have attended. All of them have passed the Grade Five theory exam after doing the course and following up with 10 past papers afterwards, many with merits and distinctions.

We had half term coming up, and they were running a couple of course during this time. Unfortunately, both were already booked up. I send Daniel an email anyhow, and after some discussion about DD ( what instruments she played, and to what standard) he said they could fit her in to one of the half term courses. I said yes please!

Next I had to convince my 13 year old daughter that giving up two days of her half term would be a reasonable use of her precious holiday. She was not convinced, but I managed to persuade her with the promise of a night away with some one to one time with me. Luckily enough she is still fond enough of me to consider ‘mum time’ a positive thing and she eventually agreed to attend the course.

After reading the information about the course and finding it involved cooking and food, as well as theory, I was sure that DD was going to enjoy herself. But she was anxious about not knowing anyone, not being able to understand the course material and of the dreadful possibility that she might be bored.

She needn’t have worried. She thoroughly enjoyed herself over the two days and was almost in tears on the first night when I told her the next day finished an hour earlier. She made new friends, got to try out dough and pasta making, had plenty to eat and came away confident and enthusiastic about Grade Five Theory. She said that she now understands a lot of things that had confused her before and she is looking forward to sitting the exam.

Soundscool class

I honestly didn’t expect her to be so fired up about it and was thrilled to have such a positive response from her about it.

The Soundscool Grade Five Theory Course cost £200 for the two days, which included all materials, food, drink and cooking ingredients. This may sound expensive, but in London we pay £22 for a half-hour piano lesson so £200 wouldn’t even cover 5 hours worth of theory instruction. Doing this course DD got 9 hours worth of theory tuition and two hours of cooking, craft and food.

She won’t sit her exam until June, so we have plenty of time to go through the practice papers, but we are both confident that she now has the skills and knowledge to do well.

Both of us would recommend this course as a fast and fun way to prepare for a Grade 5 Music Theory exam.


RIP The Lurcher

Willow in Autumn

About a month ago, I wrote this post, about the Lurcher being hit by a car.

She went on to have surgery on her kneecap, which seemed to go well, as she was weight bearing on the leg two weeks after her surgery. Then her sutures came out and she was allowed to go for up to 4 x 10 minute walks a day.

The first day she seemed fine, but things didn’t look quite right by the morning of the second day. And by the third day after her stitches came out, she was not walking on her poorly leg at all. I took her up  to see the surgeon who had operated on her and he confirmed she would need more surgery. But it was her tendon that was a problem now, and he felt that a special implant from the States gave her the best chance of recovery.

We did discuss the possibility of amputation as this would mean a much quicker recovery time, but the Lurcher wasn’t yet five and very accident prone. We felt that if her leg could be saved, it should.

So we waited for the surgeon to find one of these implants, then for it to be allowed into the country ( this took almost a week), then yesterday we drove her up to the veterinary clinic and left her there. She was upset at being left, so I didn’t make a big deal of saying good bye, as I was sure I would be driving west to pick her up today.

But it wasn’t to be. Last night, when the Surgeon rang to say the operation had gone well, and she was recovering nicely, I managed to relax for the first time all day.

Then 10 minutes late her was back on the phone with bad news. Our beloved Lurcher had collapsed and died shortly after he had got off the phone to me. They had tried to resuscitate her, but to no avail; something had gone terribly wrong.

We could opt for a Post Mortem but it would cost more money and not necessarily answer any questions. We’ve said to leave it but will get her cremated and have her ashes returned. It may be just ‘one of those things’ but we are all devastated by the loss of our lovely girl.

This is the last photo we have of her, taken yesterday before we headed off up the M40.

lurcher on the sofa

As you can see, the sofa will now have a lot more empty space on it.

Run free Willow. We hope the rainbow bridge has plenty of comfy beds and squirrels to chase.

The Gallery: Colour

Last summer we drove around Denmark and Sweden for our summer holidays. We spent four days strolling around Copenhagen and just enjoying the sights.

It’s a great city to visit with kids and full of all sorts of hidden gems. This colourful Happy Wall was one of those things.


We fought our way through some road works , came around the corner and there it was.

2000 hinged rectangles of colour, all ready for the general public to graffiti in any way they wished.

Happy Wall 1

You can see a library-style ladder at the far end , so people can reach the higher boards without having to climb on someone’s shoulders.

The kids had a fantastic time making patterns on the Wall by opening and closing the doors , reading other people’s contributions ( not all of which were  in English or suitable for their eyes) and then scrabbling around in their backpacks for pens and crayons so they could contribute too.

Z writing on the happywall

H happywall

L Happywall

J Happywall

Adding their own bit of graffiti was definitely the highlight of the morning and they often wonder if the Happy Wall is still up and on display in the middle of Copenhagen.

This week’s Gallery Theme is Colour, so if you feel in need of brightening up over half term, then click through here onto Sticky Fingers.



The Gallery: Light

At this time of the year, I really start to miss the light that fills our garden during summer.

It’s hard to believe that in a few short months we will be able to turn the heating off and leave the doors open. As the kids get older they seem to prefer to spend time indoors, even when the sun is shining, but I don’t care as it means I get the garden all to myself.

We have all had a lot of fun in our garden in the past and of course, my camera has been well used.

My favourite photo of DD3 was taken in the May of her 4th year, in the garden. Every year we get a bunch of poppies appear and the kids have always loved watching the bees bumble along from flower to flower.

Girl and poppy

You can’t see the insect that she’s watching, but I love the way she’s obviously interested, yet cautious.

I also love that I have such a nice picture of her hair when it was blonde, and that the grass is so green and the poppy so orange.

It reminds me that I’ve had enough of winter and can’t wait for the English version of summer.

This post was written for this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.

If you’ve had enough of the winter gloom and fancy some light, then pop over and check it out.



Party Invitation Problems

A few weeks ago this story  was doing the rounds.

In case you can’t be bothered reading it, it’s the story of the wee boy who was invoiced for non attendance at his school friend’s party. There was a lot of discussion on social media and forums about it and the general consensus was that the people who sent out the invoice went  a little too far, BUT a lot of people felt some sympathy for them.

It seems that most people have a story to tell involving childrens’ birthday party invitations. Their complaints usually fit into one of five categories

1/ People don’t RSVP. At all.

This has happened to me and for one party I had 12 people not reply either way. I also had no way of contacting them so assumed they weren’t going to show up. Two of them did.

In the future, I am going to make sure I have some way of contacting parents before handing their child an invitation!

2/ People don’t RSVP in time.

One mistake people make is to not put a RSVP date on the invitation.

I have done this a few times and have always regretted it, as people reply in dribs and drabs. Someone always rplies the night before, just when you think you’ve finished with the party bags.

Again, if you want to be organised, make sure you have contact details for everyone.

3/Uninvited kids turn up.

This can be a real problem if the party you are holding limits numbers, or asks you to pay per attendee.

I’ve had families bring siblings along to the party without asking, and also had one parent say they won’t be coming but turn up anyhow. Luckily I’ve never had to say ‘No, there isn’t space for you’, but I have had to pay extra.

I’ve also heard of people writing ‘No Siblings’ on the invite.

4/ Kids who have said they are coming don’t turn up.

This is the most common party problem and happens all the time.

There are lost of different reasons; someone gets sick, there is a double booking or sometimes people just forget. It’s easy enough to do if you have a busy weekend.

It’s annoying , but mostly understandable as I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past.

5/ Guests turn up late.

I’m not talking about people who turn up 5 or 10 minutes late. In fact anything up to 30 minutes late is just ‘one of those things’.

The traffic may have been late, a previous appointment may be running late. These things can’t be helped.

But turning up for a party 90 minutes into a 2 hour event just seems a bit odd, especially when nothing has been said previously.

Have you got any suggestions about how to avoid the above scenarios?