Make the ordinary come alive

One o'clock...

One o’clock…

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.

 

A tree climbing gang

A tree climbing gang

 

Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.

 

Sticks and rivers

Sticks and rivers

 

And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

By William Martin

The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

 

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The solar eclipse live

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On the 20th March 2015, staff and students at my current school gathered on the spacious sports fields to observe the first solar eclipse in this country since 1999.  This was an excellent opportunity to bring students of all ages together to share their knowledge and the experience, from our 5 year olds in Reception to our oldest A Level students in the Upper Sixth Form.   The school provided solar glasses for the students courtesy of Jonathan and Sarah Higginson, who kindly donated the glasses, in memory of their 10 year old son, who died in a traffic accident in 2009. George, was science mad, and especially loved astronomy.  Consequently, his parents are raising money to purchase a telescope which will be placed in Williamson Park, Lancaster, for everyone to enjoy.  The school collected monetary donations for the solar glasses which raised over 200 pounds towards the funding of the George Higginson Telescope.

This was a fantastic learning opportunity for the whole school, with most teachers just as keen as the students to be outside and observing the scientific phenomenon.  It is important to encourage authentic learning at every opportunity.  The students in the Junior School engaged in a great deal of research during the week in their science lessons about solar eclipses and a number of classes even made their own pin-hole cameras.  Other classes decided to use colanders or telescopes to cast the shadow of the eclipse onto white paper.  Senior school students wrote about solar eclipses in their English lessons after learning about how they have been perceived in literature throughout history.  Meanwhile Physics lessons involved looking at the science behind the process of an eclipse and why they occur in different places around the Earth at different times.

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Although the weather was not favourable on the morning, the school did manage to glimpse the eclipse at different stages through small breaks in the clouds in the build-up to 9.31am.  There was a great deal of excitement and dialogue taking place about what was happening amongst the student community.  This was made more impressive and poignant as Senior School students facilitated learning as they buddied up and mentored the younger students from the Junior School to provide further explicit explanations.  It was a successful and important coming together of the school community with everyone being positive and optimistic despite the disappointing cloud cover.  You can see the impact a whole school community event like this can have here.

The RNLI – the charity that saves lives at sea

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The other crisp Sunday morning we had the great fortune to time our weekly promenade walk with the routine training exercise of the volunteer RNLI team in St. Annes. There are 237 lifeboat stations around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland and 346 operational lifeboats covering 19,000 miles of coastline.  It was fascinating and inspiring to see these committed men converge in their own free time on a Sunday morning and in a disciplined manner prepare and launch such an impressive safety vessel.

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I was surprised not more people were there to watch the lifeboat being lowered down onto the St. Annes sands and towed out towards the Ribble estuary.  I guess in many ways it summed up nicely what the RNLI is all about though, focused on the cause and with little fuss.  These men did not crave limelight or financial reward, it was obvious that they were doing something that they believed in and as Darren, one of the crew said to me: ‘the best thing about volunteering is being part of a team of people who don’t want to let anyone down.’

Paul's Iphone 1264

Without their volunteers the RNLI could not save lives at sea.  These volunteers account for 4600 crew members, 3000 shore crew and station management, and 150 volunteer lifeguards.  There are also tens of thousands of other volunteers that raise vital funds, awareness and give safety advice for the RNLI.  In 2012, the RNLI made 8346 launches of which 3120 were in darkness.

This resulted in 7964 people being rescued at an average of 22 people per day.  328 lives were saved.

Paul's Iphone 1265

 

As I read more about the RNLI and in particular the St. Annes station and crew I noticed a phone number at the bottom of one of the information posters.  Next to the number was a name and a notice to contact him if anyone was interested in volunteering for the station and crew.  I took a photo of the notice on my phone for future reference and turned to my kids and said: ‘I know what my next Global Citizenship Award target is going to be…’

Finding dinosaurs in the sand

What did you do this Sunday?  We decided to go for a walk around Fairhaven Lake in the bright late January sunshine.  An easy walk for a family of five, especially with scooters in hand, you may even call it a typical Sunday afternoon walk.  On this crisp and clear day we could see right across the estuary, probably the best view we have had since living in the area, with Southport seeming to be only a stones throw away.  Seeing silhouettes of people out on the horizon and giving in to the allure of the mostly untouched vista of sand in front of us, we clambered down the promenade wall and headed out into the estuary looking for the mighty Ribble.

A dinosaur in the sand

A dinosaur in the sand

Pretty quickly we could see a strange and weird shape in the distance jutting out of the baron sand.  It looked like it could be close to the river as the sand seemed to dip down just beyond the mysterious object.  So we headed towards it to investigate.  As we made our way out into the unknown and leaving the civilization of Lytham St. Annes behind us, Jonah observed that “this might be like walking on the moon.”  Although, even the moon is not as windy as the Fylde coast!  The closer we got to the object the more it began to look like a large skeleton, particularly one of a dinosaur – like you may see in a museum.

Young paleontologists

Young paleontologists

The dinosaur in the sand was in fact (disappointingly to the kids) a large piece of drift wood that had become well lodged into the sand banks and not a skeleton.  We did have a good chat about where the tree may have come from though and how it had got there.  It definitely created an eerie feel to the landscape, especially with the relentless wind filtering sand through the lattice like wooded frame.  We said goodbye to the prehistoric relic and completed our mission down the final dip to admire the Ribble as it glimmered its way past us and out into the salty Irish Sea.  Three tasty Drunmstick lollipops were freed from deep within the interior of the coat pocket as a satisfying treat for all, with the added incentive of being a psychological bribe, we turned 180 degrees head-on into the howling icy wind and made the long walk back to the mainland.  We had a typical Sunday walk to complete.

Getting to know the tax man

There have been many positives to coming back to my home land and re-introducing myself to the British idiosyncrasies that I had forgotten about.  Believe it or not I find it, literally, refreshing being able to walk home from work every evening with my eldest son Jonah – as we both get excited as the evenings gradually get lighter, although the Irish Sea wind does not get any warmer!  On the flip side though there has been a few aspects of British living that I did not fully comprehend and had never really acquainted myself with, even before I left these shores back in the late 90s.  One of these slight annoyances is the fact that I seem to be spending a lot of my time on the phone trying to pay bills or to set-up direct debits – it is definitely a world of monthly transaction out there – monthly wage in to be slowly eroded by a string of outgoing payments to just survive British routine.  In a perverse kind of way, this is one of the reasons we came back to learn and experience a ‘normal’ life, how to account for and budget for family living.  I never expected to be on the phone so much though, and finding it so hard to get answers to questions.

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

There is a vast amount of information on the internet but that doesn’t always make life easier or getting things done straight forward. These are just a few of my observations, but I do get the general feeling that large companies and organisations want to make processing information and helping the general public as difficult as possible – why are they so averse to speaking with people on the phone or doing e-mails, how many people do they (or not) employ in their call offices?  Why can’t you just e-mail someone and get a straight forward answer and piece of advice?  Everybody is different and everybody has a different background and circumstance, whether it be; cultural, social, financial, personal and even educational.  Surely these service companies should be providing the best possible customer service to ensure there is no ambiguity or areas of vagueness… a cause of concern or doubt (legally or financially) can really loom over someones head for weeks on end until it has been sorted out.

Being reflective

Being reflective

We all have an impression of the ‘tax man’ in our minds, the perceived baddie of the financial accountability world.  Tax is something you can’t avoid and nobody should.  I believe in taxation and I am proud to be living in a democratic country that has a safe and reliable infrastructure that my family and I can take advantage of on a regular basis. That much makes sense and I have no quibbles over my tax rates and outgoings from my monthly wage. What I do have an issue with is that it is a complete minefield out there and you could spend your entire time trying to negotiate the abyss of the tax world just to make sure you are doing things right and can sleep at night.  This is a perfect example of lack of advice or guidance and keeping things simple, and I am (supposedly) an educated, native English speaker, think what others must be going through.  The website is like a maze of dead-ends and loops that bring you right back to where you started – just give me an e-mail address to get a straight forward answer!  No, you have to ring a certain number at a certain time, listen to a monologue of automated options and make a pot luck guess at which one to choose before being put on hold for half a day!  This is obviously an exaggeration, but it is claimed that average waiting times are around 11 minutes, but this is a lottery and you do actually have to dedicate at least half a day to get this done and hope that your questions are answered, which they are often not and you are then advised to phone someone else, with a different job title at another time.  In fact last week, I was told I needed a technician to answer a certain question and that they would phone me back within 7 days at a time that suited me – I said after 6.00pm would be great.  Walking home from work later that week I checked my answer phone messages and there it was a polite but brief message from the technician saying that they had called me back but I did not answer – that would be because it was midday when they phoned and I was fully engaged in my work, back to square one!

What can you do though?  They have you right where they want you, a captured market. You either have to persist with deadlines looming, the dreaded 31st January – it is like the ‘Day of Judgement’, or pay someone to do your tax forms and write off a substantial amount of well-earned income.  It can be quite depressing and distracts you from your work commitments and home life as I said before – it looms over you.  That is until you get through to Colette.  After negotiating the automated responses and listening to Greensleeves again on loud speaker phone whilst replying to some e-mails for however many minutes I am put on hold and trying not to waste the time, suddenly Colette’s angelic voice like a miracle reaches out to me and says, “Hello, my name is Colette, how can I help you today?”  There is a sudden mass release of frustration as I connect with Collete and say, “Am I glad to hear from you Colette, please don’t go any where – promise (?), I really need your help, this tax business is like a minefield.”  I hear Colette giggle down the phone as she becomes even more human and normal as I picture her helpful persona and sympathetic smile on the other end of the phone.  “Don’t worry Mr. Crouch, tell me what I can help you with and I will talk you through it, are you logged onto your computer?”  “Yes, yes I am Colette, are you really going to help me step-by-step, are you sure you have got the time(?), please don’t go anywhere!”  “It really won’t take that long Mr. Crouch, I am not going anywhere, are you ready?”

Community partnerships

Community partnerships

For the next 20 – 25 minutes Colette guided me and reassured me as I over-dramatically (not wanting her to disappear) plugged in what I needed to submit.  She was just herself and very personable but most of all she laughed and was supportive of the difficulties this process may create for some people.  She didn’t rush the conversation or sound frustrated at all, no mention of referring back to the website.  I don’t know if the time and guidance Colette dedicated to me was above and beyond her job description, I don’t know if this is profitable for her organisation to commit that amount of time per individual call, I don’t know if others had to wait even longer as Colette was dealing with me.  What I do know though is that in 2 months of trying to get this done she was the only person to actually take the time to engage with me and treat me as a normal person who just wants to do the right thing.  I hope they did record our conversation for training purposes and use Colette as a shining example at their next training day (picture that!), I would also like to put forward Colette for employee of the month and give her a pay rise for going above and beyond – which is surely what working in the service industry is all about.  If not then I would like to put Colette forward for Global Citizen of the week, thank you Colette.

The Comedy Carpet

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Sometimes you have no idea what you are going to find or come across.  Your preconceived impression of a place often does not do it justice.  There are gems of brilliance, beauty, imagination, innovation, quirkiness, weird and wonderful everywhere. You just have to have your eyes open and be prepared to get out and about and explore the world you live in.

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Today we ventured into Blackpool and took on the bitterly cold wind to find out a bit more about our new home and what the promenade had to offer on a Sunday in January.  It was not a democratic family decision and the sight of us defiantly picnicking in isolation next to the central pier did cause a few aggravated protests as red numb hands tried to claw crisps out of their fragile packets.

photo 2 (17)We packed up our picnic and deposited our rubbish and headed up towards the tower to get a family photo to confirm in the archives that we were here.  Glum faces trudged up the promenade in single file like a Tour de France break away group using the lead rider as a wind shield.  Surely nothing could bring a smile to their faces not even those dreaded words, “say cheese!”

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How wrong can one be though, and who would have thought that for the next hour the cold wind and frozen bones would be forgotten. Suddenly, underneath our feet the promenade erupted into an impressive spread of quotes, stories, catch phrases and jokes, known as The Comedy Carpet, created by Gordon Young and commissioned by Blackpool Council.  It is a superbly well presented collection of comedy genius that encapsulates the very best of British humour.

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We all went off in our own directions, heads down and reading the vast array of reflections and chuckling to ourselves.  You would actually need hours to read them all and one day I will go back and start from a different angle and note new favourites, some old and some never heard before. Everyone likes jokes and loves to share them, and it wasn’t long until Jonah was tugging me over to listen to his favourite jokes that he had read inscribed on the Blackpool promenade – one being something to do with horses playing water polo!  (You can read some of Jonah’s very own jokes here.)

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On the way home in the car it was interesting that nobody complained how cold they were or had been, instead everybody was still sharing their favourite jokes and even Zoe and Sam were trying to make up their own ones.  It is a real hidden gem and I am glad that we discovered it so early on.  The Comedy Carpet will now be a regular feature on future Crouch tours – you have be warned when you come and visit!

 

 

Was it worth the wait?

What a day...

What a day…

Good things come to those that wait…

Plastic bags in between double layers of socks, thermos flasks filled and rations packed away, we are all ready for a full day of family sledging for the first time. There can’t be many better days than this…

The snowman is still there!

The snowman is still there!

I think Jonah’s reflection on the day sums it up:

Snow, snow, snow

I just can’t believe it’s snowed when I’ve been in England for just six weeks! I LOVE SNOW! (well nearly everything about snow) I made two snowmen with my dad. The big one is Sniggles and the child is Snuggles. I said “The snowmen are at a pub drinking beer.” because Sniggles was holding a can of Guinness beer. 

Advice from two older generations of sledgers - who to listen to?

Advice from two older generations of sledgers – who to listen to?

I'm just going to go for it!

 

It was also fun going sledging at the countryside in a field. I had the speed record and the longest distance record.

Why is the sand white mummy?

Why is the sand white mummy?

Don’t worry, I made loads of snow angels and I think the first one I made was the best. We didn’t do many snowball fights.

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There’s nothing but my iPad and Yellow Ted that will stop me from playing with snow.

You can follow Jonah’s blog here.

We were so lucky to experience snow during our visit to Derbyshire two days after Christmas.  It didn’t snow at all in the north west where we are living now and apparently, as I have fed back to colleagues back at work our Christmas highlights, it very rarely does along the Fylde coast – once in the last four years.  I have also realised that there are no slopes or hills for us to access by foot if by some miracle it did snow. Although I am considering an alpine dash up the M6 to the Lake District for some extreme sledging if the conditions and timings are right!  Realistically, it could be some time before we have a day like this again but I think that is what makes them extra special and a must for taking full advantage of.