Thursday, 20 October 2011

Books on the loose

I signed up for the Bookcrossing site back in 2003, excited by the idea that you could release books into the wild and track their journey as people picked them up and read them. After registering a grand total of two books and attempting to leave one in the gym, I quickly realised that I felt too furtive and socially embarrassed leaving anything anywhere, and also noticed that the vast majority of books seemed to disappear without trace as people found them but didn't register them on the site or they got swept away into lost property or whatever. Also the act of printing out a label proved too much for me, I didn't have my own printer (this is eight years ago we're talking about) and, well, lazy.

In the meantime I signed up to, which appealed because you post the books and it just felt generally more user friendly, although less exciting. Although I have recently realised that there is such a thing as a "library" which is kind of similar except you don't have to pay postage.

Anyway, last week I was in CO1, the "church cafe" opposite the library in Colchester, and saw they had a Bookcrossing shelf. What could be easier than picking up a few books (although still with the social embarrassment in case someone thought I was nicking them) and registering them online, now internet access is everwhere. And then I can take them back again. Of course the books haven't travelled far, but rather than taking a "balloon race" attitude to the whole thing I am starting to think it is actually a great way to meet other book lovers in my new community, by exchanging comments about books on the site. I see there are local meet-ups, which will be nice in 20,000 years time when the children sleep properly. In fact I was pleased to see that Colchester has more books "in the wild" than any other Essex town. Go us.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Freelancing and blogging: a question

I have a confession. This is not my only blog. I actually have three. One is buried in the mists of time and no-one will ever retrieve it, besides it only had about three entries. This one was supposed to be my all-things-to-all-men, thoughts on motherhood, journalism and where I live, type blog. It was also originally supposed to be anonymous as I felt more comfortable that way, but since HackneyHackette, my photo and my real name are linked up all over the web (because I am incapable of coming up with more than one nickname) it doesn't take Einstein to work out who I am. Especially as I keep linking to it from Facebook and Twitter. So I don't really mind.

My third blog is the one I want to talk about. I started doing it when I was online editor of the magazine I used to work for, and have continued since I went freelance. It is under my name, with my photo, and is much more professional, supposedly covering the media portrayal of children and young people but actually other issues in that sector as well, with a personal slant.

This was fine when all the freelance work I was doing was for that magazine but now I wonder if it is a good idea to continue or not. On the plus side it keeps my name alive as an "authority" (no, really) in that sector and I was hoping it would help get work not only from the magazine but potentially organisations working in that sector. Also I like doing it.

On the minus side, I wonder if it could be more of a hindrance to getting work than a help. Will it put commissioning editors off from commissioning me if I seem so linked to a particular magazine? I don't work for direct competitors to that magazine anyway, and I can see it won't put off those from a completely different sector, say marketing, but I'm thinking of those in between - not about children and young people entirely but sometimes covering similar areas. In fact, the very commissioning editors that are most likely to commission me.

I'd appreciate any thoughts - especially from commissioning editors, although I doubt any read this. I have already taken the link to my blog off my Twitter profile as I have started to follow editors of magazines I am interested in writing for, but I will continue to post links to it when I write new posts, as quite a lot of my followers are in the sector. Do you think that's OK?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Story sabotage

HackneyChild usually demands stories on the way to nursery. I have invented, or rather adapted from a game I used to play with my cousins, some characters called Seraphina Concertina, Antonio and Plum, and these children have quite dull adventures based on my own childhood. HackneyChild enjoys the known  - holidays, fetes, decorating rooms - and is not too keen on scary things.

This morning however I couldn't think of anything so I started out to adapt The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit. "Seraphina Concertina, Antonio and Plum found a hole in the hedge. They crawled through and they were in a beautiful garden. There were statues - one of a huge dinosaur, one of a pretty lady - a lake, and a cave."

HackneyChild interrupted firmly and suspiciously. "There was NOTHING living in the cave, and the statues did NOT come to life."

Ah, OK then.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


HackneyBaby calls all beverages "water", in the same way I am told by Scottish-born Hackney_bloke that all drinks north of the border are referred to as "juice" (only by some I am sure).

This can lead to confusion. "WATTER!" "You want milky?" "WATTER!!" "You want some juice?" "WATTER!!!" "Oh, you actually do want water. Here you go then."

Bodies of water are also "WATTER!" so it can also mean "sea", "pond", "puddle", or in fact "wee". It also sounds a bit like his word for cat ("CATTA!"), so life at the moment is a constant guessing game, and the conversation above could equally well end with: "Oh yes, the cat has come over the garden wall." It's fun.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

It's like having the South Bank in Colchester

Kind of. Well, we paid a visit to Firstsite, Colchester's new, much-delayed, way-over-budget shiny golden arts centre, on its opening day last Sunday. I'm not the huge-est fan of the design, but it's striking, you have to give it that. HackneyBoy said "Why is it all slantwise and over-y?" which is a good question, the answer to which is presumably "because the architect wanted it to be".

We missed the 10am opening (apparently there was some rugby on) but got down there in time to see some Morris dancers doing their thing on the patio bit outside. Don't get me started about Morris dancing, we learned it at primary school but only the boys were allowed to perform because it was not authentic to have girls taking part, like it is authentic to have eight year olds doing it anyway.

The kids loved the wide spaces and the seating ("comfy stones!"), and there was drawing taking place on massive bits of paper over the Berryfield Mosaic, and outside in the sunken garden that used to belong to social services they were making bendy stick sculptures, mosaics, and drawing with weird chalk bags. The kids had also decided that climbing trees was art as well, and were getting on with that.

The exhibitions themselves were to me frankly a blur on the edges of my vision as I followed HackneyBaby around suggesting that the nice art people might not like it if he chalked all over the gold walls, but I saw enough to suggest I would love to go back without the children, or with a sleeping baby. I especially liked Aleksandra Mir's HELLO Colchester, a wall of pics of pairs of Colchester residents stretching through time in a Six Degrees of Seperation linky way.

I am also excited by the family games that will be taking place at weekends, and the drawing activities on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I like the sound of some of the talks, especially Camulodunum, Image and Reality. In conclusion, despite mixed feelings engendered by my mother's experience of working next to the building site for what seems like decades, I am liking Firstsite.

"Which way should the money go? Top discs or Oxfam?"

One of the hazards of moving into a bigger house is you get back all the boxes that your long-suffering parents have been looking after for you all these years. I was pleased to receive three carrier bags (they are keeping the box, apparently) full of all the books about which I have spent the last ten years vaguely thinking "I wonder what happened to that book?". There are loads of old favourites like Camerons at the Castle (which appears to be going for about £35 on Amazon :-o ), the Chimneys of Green Knowe and brilliantly, the Star Trek The Motion Picture Pop Up Book. You can make Mr Spock raise his eyebrows!

I also am now reunited with my school hymnbook, minus cover. I appear to have been trying to organise a kind of betting syndicate on which hymn would be sung at any given assembly, judging by the odds penned in next to each title, but it clearly didn't get very far. I am confronted again with the oddness of the book as a whole - traditional numbers like The Lord's My Shepherd mixed in with a load of trendy/ political/ angry 60s songs which really haven't stood the test of time but that I really wished we could sometimes sing, back in the day (we never did).

I like to read them all in an enraged Billy Bragg type voice. For example (I assume to the tune of Pop Goes The Weasel but since we never sang it I don't know): "Polaris subs, atomic bombs/ Germ research in progress/ That's the way the money goes/ What price, the poor folks?". Possibly the headmistress felt this was too political for a Tory-leaning grammar school.  I am also disappointed that we never got to sing: "I met you God last Saturday, when a group began to sing/ Mini-skirted girls weaved patterns, boys did a Jagger swing." Every assembly, I would wait with bated breath in case we heard: "Now girls, turn to hymn number 107, "As Israel and Egypt stretch their borders again/ The people of the Gaza strip once more will suffer pain", then sigh with disappointment when instead we got "Now, number 77, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise."

Friday, 23 September 2011

Not what you want for your birthday

It's not actually HackneyBoy's birthday for another month, but he received a big card through the post today. A big cheery card, with Happy 4th Birthday on it and a purple monkey with a cake (with three candles, oddly).

Who could this card be from? Opening it up, we read: "Congratulations on your child's fourth birthday. It is now time for your child's immunisation boosters against diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella." Thanks NHS North East Essex! I'll be sure to pass on your best wishes to the lucky birthday boy.

Luckily HackneyBoy has already had these boosters, after we were sent an actual letter about them some months ago. HackneyBaby had his one year old ones at the same time. They were both very brave. I am in favour of encouraging vaccinations, but it does seem a tad unfestive - also we should really have been taken off the database once the injections had happened.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Random Free Stuff To Do

One of the things I thought I would miss when moving to Colchester was Random Free Stuff To Do. Where we used to live, you couldn't round a corner without tripping over a recycling festival, an anti-racism fair, a tasting trail, a random art installation or some kind of cultural celebration.

But luckily Colchester has Random Free Stuff To Do in spades. Why, only last weekend HackneyBoy was having his hand stamped with a big red F for Felon at Wivenhoe Church Ale while we learnt valuable information about the medieval court system - can it be true that six year olds could be hung? Also I bought six birthday cards for a pound, which is particularly useful when your entire family seems to have been born between October and December.

The weekend before we all jumped on a vintage bus waiting outside Castle Park and were spirited off to the Hythe, where we explored the Colne Lightship, watched carnival dancers and a community choir, then were driven back to the castle which had free entry for Heritage Open Weekend.

We have also enjoyed two children's festivals, a bagpipe display and a cycle race among other things. I don't know if this will continue into the winter, but so far, it's looking good.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Packed lunches 80s-style

It's not something we have to worry about until next year, but seeing photos of two of my nephews on their first day at school, as well as various children of friends, made me remember my first day back in the (very) early Eighties.

Leaving aside the whole "you aren't actually registered with a class because your mum sent you to this school despite being told not to as you aren't in the catchment area, so when the whole year gets their name called out and moves one by one to their designated teacher you will be left sitting alone in the gym" scenario (it wasn't traumatic, mum, I only put two and two together about 20 years later) there was also the "homes, dinners, sandwiches" register.

Basically, once it was established each child was present and correct every morning, our school read out everybody's name again, and you had to reply "dinners" if you were having school dinners, "sandwiches" if you had brought a packed lunch, and "homes" if your mum was picking you up to feed you lunch at home. The roll call on the first day went something like: "Alison Abberton?" "Sandwiches." "HackneyHackette?" "Dinners." "Nicholas Brown?" "Sausages." "Sorry? " "Sausages." "No, Nicholas, you have to say sandwiches, dinners or homes." "But I don't have sandwiches. I have sausages." He did as well.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A road too far

There is a school in Colchester that people around here speak of in hushed tones. A legendary school with a one from Ofsted that seems to be the only thing on the minds of most of those with school age children in the surrounding area. So what did we, the most rubbish pushy middle class parents ever, do when moving out of the inner city? We moved to a house one road out of the catchment area.

Conversations with people (lovely people) that I have met since moving here have generally gone:

"You moved here from Hackney? I expect that's because you knew the schools here are really good?"

And my reply is always: "We are one road out of the catchment area of School X".

And their faces change, and they go: "Oh. Well, that other school is really good too. Even though it only got a three. It was very unfair really. I'm still sending mine to school X of course."

We didn't actually move because of the schools, I would have been happy with many of the schools in Hackney as it happens. But possibly we could have thought harder about catchment areas.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The perils of hyper local blogging

Or something.

I can't help but notice that it has been rather a long time since I posted anything. The reason for this is that, with very mixed feelings, in December I moved from the heart of the people's republic of Hackney to the Essex town I went to school in (Colchester). I miss the buzz of London, the not-knowing-what-you-are-going-to-find-round-any-corner, the random art, the great (yes, I know, surprising) early years services. But we have gained many rooms to replace a two bedroom flat, a garden, and nearness to family and extended family (on my side at least).

Trouble is, what do I do with this blog? I can't keep calling it Hackney Hackette. It's annoying as I got listed on a lot of other sites but to be fair, I assume they want to read about Hackney which is going to be unlikely. Do I continue here but change the name (can you even do that), or start another blog and link it to this one? And what can I call it? Colchester something? The Voyage Home? Something to do with Romans and castles, Twinkle Little Star or Old King Cole? I'm sure you can't stand the suspense. And what are you still doing here anyway? Wasn't it a bit dark and lonely all that time?

Anyway I shall now be writing about being a mum in Colchester rather than Hackney, which I anticipate will be less trendy, but you never know - half our street seems to have moved here from London Fields so perhaps we too will have a cafe, a cupcake shop and a fill up your own bottle of wine place before you can say "Wilton Way".