Shall we flit from celebration to celebration? The last post here was at Halloween and now it is nearly Christmas. Well, what have we been doing in that time? Quite a lot and not much are two equally valid answers.

What we have had a lot of recently is pre Christmas events. Firstly, eating. I went to my first work Christmas do ever. It has just struck me that I have never, ever been out for an official work Christmas event before. I can’t quite believe it now I think about it. Surely I must have been to one at some point in that ancient history that was BC (Before Children)? But no, I’m sure not. However, back to the present (or at least very recent past).

All of us from work went out last week to Cheltenham, where we ate at Monty’s Brasserie in The George Hotel. I know nothing much of Cheltenham, considering how near we live. It’s only just over half an hour away, but I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve been there, and count on my thumbs the number of times I’ve driven there myself. The one thing that did disappoint me last week was that they’ve closed the one car park I knew how to get to. Luckily, Mr PC had planned ahead, and handed me the sat-nav with postcodes of other car parks programmed in. I am so lucky having such an organised, considerate husband!

The food, though! The food! I had a crispy duck starter which was sublime, a turbot main which was delicious, and a salted caramel desert which was heavenly, but I only managed half as I was so full of duck and turbot. Mmm. So nice to eat food we would never have at home, and actually do something social. It was a lovely evening, and also nice to see a different side of everyone I work with.

I did leave a bit earlier than most, and was home by midnight. I don’t really do late nights very well, being seriously out of practise. I could have stayed out all night and crept to a hotel at 4am, but decided not to. My own bed is lovely! But you know what? I’m already looking forward to next year.

The next thing we have been doing a lot of recently is singing. But more on that later.

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Our Halloween

PumpkinSeedsCheesy Broomsticks …and about a hundred children calling at the door. Seriously, the warm weather and lack of rain brought them all out this evening. From 5:45 to 7:15 it was a constant stream of people at the door. I’ve never known anything like it!

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A month ago I had great plans. I was going to tell you all about our holiday in splendiferous detail, and carry on and the keep up with the blogging far more regularly than I have since before I started my job. Than what happened? I blinked and a month zipped past, that’s what. So, apologies for my abject failure to write even one sentence on here in over a month. Allow me to make up for it by condensing the rest of our holiday into a few short paragraphs.

The Jura was our first stop, as I have already said. It is a region that attracts a lot of French visitors, who all do lots of energetic outdoorsy type things during the day. Do you know what they do in the evenings? Stay quiet. In a park filled with hundreds of people in mobile homes there was absolute blissful silence after dark.

One of the places we visited was Les Roches de Baume. This is a cave system, with regular tours. The tours are all in French, but they handed out an English translation so I was able to read it in advance. Luckily I understand just enough French, that having read up in advance I could tell the kids things like, ‘This is the owl chamber, because those shapes up in the ceiling look like owl’s eyes,’ at just the right time. I suspect I got more from it than many of the French visitors because the group was so large that I think half the people couldn’t hear what was being said properly.

We headed down South after that, to Frejus and a more lively noisy park with multiple swimming pools and kids clubs. We had planned this based on the children’s choices, which were entirely based on the number and variety of waterslides available. As an advantage there were ‘learn to swim’ and ‘learn to ride a bike’ clubs which would have been brilliant for Mr 6. Sadly those clubs only run in June. We were very disappointed. They didn’t make that at all clear on the website. How silly, to only run clubs like that in term time.


Otherwise, the South of France was sunny and bright and warm, just as you’d expect. There was plenty of relaxing time, books read, swimming and eating in the shade of palm trees.

Having sunned ourselves sufficiently, we went to a holiday park near Chambord in the Loire Valley. Of course we visited chateaux! Chambord is the most amazing chateau. Huge, and beautiful, the rooftop is like a village in its own right. You can walk round the ground floor, thinking that it isn’t really that big – only four main rooms with a turret in each corner and a big cross shaped hallway centred on a spiral staircase between. Then you look up, and along, and realise that your whole house would fit in there twice, quite comfortably. In just the one room.


We also went to Disneyland. We were only a two hour drive away, so we couldn’t not go, could we? The kids enjoyed it. To me it seemed (whisper this) … small. The environment, the setting, the design are all fantastic. The rides themselves seemed a bit limited. The girls did every ride they wanted to, even with the queues. I hadn’t really thought about it in advance, but tally up all the ‘big’ rides and the total number isn’t huge.

The food was also horrendously expensive and quite unimpressive. At lunchtime, we paid 55 Euros for our burger meals, and to make us even less impressed they forgot one of the burgers. By the time we had all our food the only thing warm was the ice lolly. There were other restaurants, but a lot of the prices were out of our range (and our children too fussy to appreciate it). We could have eaten at The Stagg for less, and The Stagg has a Michelin Star. I am glad we went, just so the kids can say they went, but I have no desire to ever return.

Of all the holiday parks we stayed at this last one in the Loire was my favourite. It was the smallest and quietest, but it still had the big old house there. It felt more like staying in the grounds of someone’s house rather than on a big commercial undertaking.


Overall we had a lovely time, seeing three, perhaps four, completely different aspects of France. We all had a bit of the type of holiday we love, despite our hugely differing tastes, which all makes for a fantastic time.

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Les Cascades du Herisson

If you like waterfalls, you’ll love the Cascades du Herisson. Jura is a region that is particularly well endowed with natural beauty, but before getting as far as the waterfalls, before getting as far even as the woodland surrounding the area, what we noticed was the parking. It was free. Free parking, alongside a free tourist attraction: Who could have thought such a thing possible?

The waterfalls themselves were lovely. They ranged from the large:

Cascades du Herisson

To the small:

Small WaterfallAnd the whole area was glorious, with rivers meandering through sun streaked forest and paths that were for the most part dry and well maintained.


We only got to see a fraction of the area. The paths wind round for several kilometers, and our children are not the best at uncomplainingly walking for miles. Miss 13 was the most keen. She loves water and waterfalls and would happily have kept on walking a bit longer to get to see just one more. The other two would be more likely to carry on if there was an ice cream shop just round the next bend, and as we couldn’t promise that we didn’t draw it out too long. We want them to have good memories of the place, and not just recall their weary legs.

I did wish we had taken a picnic, but we are quite an introverted family, and we would have probably spent an extra hour finding a space sufficiently far away from any other family to enjoy the surroundings as we ate, and there had been serious rain the week before we arrived to there weren’t many completely dry spots to sit, so perhaps we did right not to.

Our overall verdict is that it was a lovely start to our holiday, and you couldn’t do much better finding a glorious landscape to explore.




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Les Vacances

We have been on holiday! Two weeks ago today we were just settling into the first of our three stops on our French break. We had a really early start, getting up at 4am to head off for  the ferry, then a long drive at through France, almost over to Switzerland. We stayed at a campsite called La Pergola, which is situated on the beautiful Lac de Chalan. I will pick up the tale tomorrow, and you will be able to join us as I relive the holiday day by day. I promise to almost get things in the right order, and nearly remember what we did each day. Right now, however, I am off to sleep…

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Synthetic Phonics

Mr 6 loves his bedtime story. During the school year, five days out of seven he has a book from school to read. On the other two days we have tended to read books that are beyond his ability so that he still gets read to rather than having to do all the work himself. He has progressed really well through the school reading scheme and is keeping up with what he ought to be reading. He can read some quite tricky words and all is well. He even passed the imaginary words test with flying colours.

Since the summer holidays started we have been reading more of his own books, and concentrating on the ones which he has to read himself so that come the Autumn he has not lost any ground. Yesterday he was obviously feeling lazy and picked ‘Pat Naps’ as his book. Those of you familiar with synthetic phonics, particularly those who have been through the jolly phonics system, might have clicked that that is one of the very first books a child ‘should’ read. The first sounds to be taught are S A T I P and N. This book contains only those letters and no page is more difficult to read than the title page. Mr 6 first read it about a year and a half ago.

Fine, I thought, let him read what he wants. He read the easy book. It was an eye opener. He reads the books at his official level quite fluently, but picking up this one he was straight back to P-A-T Pat! N-A-P-S Naps! It is as if his brain sees the more complex words as ones to be read, but the simple ones, the ones he first met, as a series of sounds to be decoded then blended. It is now a bit of a worry to me that learning using synthetic phonics might have done him more harm than good.

I am always a bit concerned when the powers that be decide that one method of teaching is the best and therefore only one to be used. Anyone who has more than one child knows that the only certain thing is that no two children, genetic similarity and upbringing notwithstanding, are the same. That makes me worry when all a teacher’s experience and knowledge is considered nothing and orders flow from above as to how every child in the country should be taught.

I can believe that synthetic phonics works, and works well, for a large proportion of children. I can also believe that some children learn better in other ways, and the focus on synthetic phonics to the exclusion of all else may cause problems for those children. Luckily I know that reading at home and being aware of where those issues are will help to get round them. Tomorrow night we will probably be reading about Sam’s Pot.

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As of today, we have a teenager in the house. Luckily, this particular teenager did not want to be on Facebook and Twitter the moment she was allowed to, but has restricted herself to going on the Minecraft servers she has been hearing about for so long.

We did not have a big party or other event. She wanted a quiet, relaxed day with plenty of computer time. One thing we did have to do, purely because of the fact I can’t fit it in any other time, was go shopping for her new school uniform. There are middle schools in this area, which cover years 6 to 8, so unlike most of the rest of the country the kids don’t go to high school until they are 13. Actually, Worcestershire is as close to the NZ system as I have come across in this country.

Having emptied our wallets in the school shop and the shoe shop and the sports shop, and having dodged showers and squinted into the sunlight, we came back home.

In the afternoon we had reason to be glad we had got the shopping done in the morning. The skies darkened, the thunder rumbled and the wind whipped up. I went and stood outside the back door for a moment or two, feeling the disquiet in the weather. I suddenly decided that I felt quite uncomfortable being outside in the open and nipped back inside. Moments later, the most intense hail storm I have ever seen began. They weren’t the biggest stones I’ve ever seen – they were about marble sized, but they came down so heavily the air was white. Funnily enough, it exactly marked the hour that Alena was born, thirteen years ago.

Hail StormMr 6 was quite delighted by it. He has decided that it wasn’t a hail storm, but a rattle storm, and thinks it was incredibly cool that we had ice on the ground in the middle of summer.

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