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.