Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Beano - still crazy after all these years.

Anyone who thinks that comics are old fashioned needs to see my two pouring over their copy of the Beano Annual. They also excitedly cheer when the postman delivers the latest set of comics from Grandma in the UK. Father Christmas provided both the kids with comic annuals – Audrey with ‘Barbie 2015’ and Eli with the celebrated ‘Beano Annual’. Of the two, The Beano has occupied both kids far far more and the comic-strip stories have been read and re-read.

I used to love reading the Beano comic as a kid and it’s been joyful for me to reconnect with some of my old favourites. The stories are timeless and still beautifully rendered.

Reading through it with a 2015-eye there are undoubtedly elements of bullying in the pages – Walter the Softy is still the target of Dennis’s menacing – there’s one story in particular where Walter gets knocked unconscious and then his arms and legs are moved from above like a puppet by Dennis – so macabre it almost reads like a David Lynch film. Walter and Dennis have had a strange, fundamentally bully/victim relationship over the years, with Dennis - the bully - the protagonist. There is also much in its pages to glorify kids getting up to mischief – Mini the Minx, Dennis the Menace*, the Bash Street Kids etc etc, but so what? – I really think the kids can see the distinction between real and comic behaviour and besides who would want prim Walter the Softy as their child anyway? Is it any more or less violent than wielding an ipad to chop up fruit with a samurai sword or getting angry birds to get rid of pigs.

I don’t actually think the two things are mutually exclusive but somehow the joy of sitting with a comic has got lost somewhere along the way.

Eli loves the Numbskulls – a story about tiny men who live in your head. I think that used to be one of my favourites too. There’s a story where they get trapped outside of the head and have to climb back in through the nose and in doing so get covered in snot – sure, not very educational but still good fun if you’re six. As with all comics the stories are typically short, irreverent, funny and easy to read. It’s a long way from being classical literature, but then, since the Beano has been produced for over 75 years I’d argue it almost is.

Eli has taken the Beano Annual in to show his friends at school a few times. I think we’re a long way off a comic revival, but good things like comics should never disappear from the playground.

* Dennis the Menace as in the UK Dennis, not the annoying American one

Handball Personal Challenge

Audrey's class had to design and enact a 'personal challenge'. The choices from the other kids in the class ranged from riding horses, to singing to running. Audrey and Eli both love their 'handballs' - small bouncy balls which are really popular amongst children in Australia and whose presence probably helps explain the country's continued dominance in cricket and ball sports in general. Here's a link to Audrey's video which the two of us put together.

One day handball will be an Olympic sport!

An ingenious way to play the recorder (and probably still as tuneful)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Uriarra East

Seven of us (my two plus three other kids) plus their dad Jason, spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at Uriarra East just outside of Canberra.

It’s always a beautiful spot down by the river, but Sunday was calm and sunny and we rock-hopped down the river and then played in the shallows.

There are some great ‘fire-pit’ barbecues and so we had a barbecue and cooked sausages and ate popcorn (cooked in the billy) afterwards. The kids (as always) love toasting marshmallows in the flames.

The kids were really grotty, exhausted but happy when we reached home later that evening.

Mother's Day Classic 2015

The Mother’s Day Classic (MDC) is a fundraising walk which takes place every year in Australia on Mother’s Day*. It’s organised by a group called Women in Super, and funds from the walk go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (one of many many cancer charities in Australia).

The MDC event is made up of different parts – you can run it (5k or 10k) or walk 5k – we always opt for the latter choice, but perhaps as the kids get older we can consider one of the others(?)

In Canberra the MDC takes place around beautiful Lake Burley Griffin. The lake has many lovely faces throughout the year, but I don’t think any are more striking than the autumnal mornings in May. The amber leaf strewn banks and trees still bearing golden hues is a great place to be at this time of year.

We’ve completed the walk as a family for the last four years. In 2014 Amy was invited to be an ambassador for the event and took on the role with vigour and enthusiasm. She also raised a lot of money for the cause and even though she had terrible neuropathy in her feet which made walking really difficult, her strength and determination (as well as an ice cream half way round) somehow got Amy round the course with the three of us.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to do this year. I’d contemplated ignoring the event altogether. Tricky.

Anyway a few weeks prior to the MDC I was contacted by one of Amy’s friends (Emily) who encouraged me to join the team she was setting up and away we went.
We set up a fundraising page and I was staggered by the depth of people’s kindness. As a team we had a target of $3k which was quickly surpassed, we reached $4k then $5k, then $7k and finally $10k.

I sat with some of the others in the wonderful Bentspoke Brewery on the eve of the MDC and we realised we had raised $9,850. A couple of calls later and the dial clicked past $10k.
A career working with charities has left me a bit sceptical about how charities use fundraising income but nevertheless it was fabulous to see the cash roll in. I’m glad I didn’t ignore the fundraising side of the walk.

The day arrived and we gathered on the shores of Lake Burley G at 9am.
We’d competed in a variety of weathers in previous years; from freezing cold to calm and sunny. This year’s weather was gusty – in fact in truth it was verging on gales – the competitors ‘village’ that is set up at the start/finish had people holding onto tents and generally trying to ensure that tents, guide ropes, clothing (and stray children) weren’t picked up and gusted into the lake.

The overall disorganisation of our team also meant that we didn’t get to meet up and walk as an entire team (we had 27 in the team). We’d arranged to meet at the ABC tent – a familiar landmark with previous walks, but government cuts meant that the personnel involved in operating the tent had been made redundant and the function moved to Sydney(!) Nevertheless a good group of us did set out together.
The walk is fun because throughout the course the organisers have bands, drummers and people holding motivational signs to keep you going. Our sloth-like pace (combined with walking into a strong headwind) meant that we finished towards the back of the (very large) pack. I think we were probably fourth last, but it was still great that we all got round.

The kids variously dawdled and then sprinted, such is the way of things when you’re under eight. We collected our prizes of a medal and a banana and then found that in addition we had won a trophy because of the size of our team. That was a real added bonus.
People were so kind to me and the kids on the day and everyone was keen to give us all cuddles. Mother’s Day without a mother must have been strange for Audrey and Elijah especially as their school (rightly) places such a focus on it in the week leading up to Mother’s Day. It was nice to honour Amy by doing the walk, but I think (actually more importantly) what made it really worthwhile was the fact that we raised over twelve thousand dollars in our endeavours.

I told the kids before we set out to the MDC why we were doing the walk and what the money we had raised would be spent on (hopefully cancer research and not chief executive salaries) and both of them said that they wished we had raised more before their Mum had died. Eli said we could have done the walk every weekend.
I sadly had to tell them that there was unfortunately little relationship between the amount the walk raises and improved levels of mortality for people (especially those diagnosed with advanced breast cancer). There is actually scant evidence that treatment for advanced breast cancer has improved things at all in the last twenty years (of course pain relief and anti-nausea medications have got better, but actual life extending treatments, I’m really not sure?).

 I’m positive though if there had been a link between money raised and people living with (not dying from) advanced breast cancer there would have been absolutely no limit to the amount of money the three of us could have raised.
Above all else the large sum sets us a challenge for next year and one which I know we’ll try and beat.

*Mothers Day (obviously created by Hallmark blah blah blah  - takes place in Australia on the second Sunday of May. There’s almost as many alternative dates as there are days in the year – see the chart (from Wikipedia) here). I prefer to call Australian Mother’s Day ‘Mother’s Day’ as distinct to the UK’s ‘Mothering Sunday’ which at least has some historical/religious foundation to it.

Eli's 6th Birthday Party

Audrey and Eli ran from the piƱata with hands full of sweets, carefully counting them to make sure that they both had an even share. Meanwhile other kids bounced energetically on the jumpy castle and in the opposite corner of the hall on the large Scalextric Digital track cars buzzed round the figure eight frequently smashing into each other and disappearing over crash barriers and smacking the hard floor beneath.

 Eli turned six a couple of weeks ago and as part of his ongoing celebrations I had arranged a joint party with his little mate Aidan. The school had kindly lent us use of the school hall free of charge and numerous kids ran madly around variously excitedly running to zombie themed party games or eating party food. There was also face painting and dancing!

I made not one, but two cakes and Eli came home with masses of presents. It was lovely seeing my little boy turn six. Our first birthday party without Amy, but despite that sadness everything went well, just amazing that our little baby boy is so grown up now!

Eli's Scalextric Cake