Posted by: kemiandtheboy | September 17, 2012


How wonderful it is to be home-schooling! Having set and agreed our timetable less than a fortnight ago, theboy has already scuppered it thanks to a subversive manoeuvre from his grand-mere. She has bought me a very funny book called
1000 Years of Annoying the French which theboy has been enjoying immensely for the last couple of weeks. My evenings have been punctuated by the occasional squeal of delight, gulp of disgust, or query on the meaning of a word (in particular, make sure you strike out section on Edward VII with a black marker if you don’t feel confident about giving your offspring an explanation of sex as a recreational sport).

An enormous “thank you” has to go to the BBC and Prof. Robert Winston, whose DVD “The Human Body” has saved me quite a lot of potentially over-the-top explanations – and has made it so much easier to deal with the occasional detailed enquiry tactfully!

Of course, it helps that he’s young enough to be easily diverted to weapons, warfare, puzzles and games. Anyway…the scuppering part is that he’s developed a taste for all things Anglo-Saxon. I’d like to say his French teacher would be mortified, but I don’t think she’s that shallow 😉

To make the most of this sudden change of tack, today we went to a lovely place nearby called the Herb Farm – I’ve been a regular visitor since 2003 – for an out-of-season romp through the Anglo-Saxon sea creature maze. The hedge-trimming had just started, and most of the hedge was still some 6 feet high, so there was plenty of Indiana Jones-style slashing and whipping going on as theboy battled enormous sea snakes and boy- woman- and child- eating drakes. (thegirl was squealing with delight at her revered older brother’s war dances and accompanying sound effects.)

Once home, we followed this up with the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon Discovery. A fantastic resource, offering an easily-digestible tour of early Anglo-Saxon life; if it was a film it would be rated U. By the way, their link to the game of Nine Men’s Morris doesn’t work, it’s moved here. Anyway, I thought that was enough theory prep for tomorrow’s round of the Ashmolean and perhaps also Pitt Rivers. (The latter being another contribution to his education from grand-mere who – correctly – surmised that theboy would very much enjoy the Upper Gallery).

I have to say, it’s an interesting experience being corrected/tutored/lectured by a nine year old. He spent some time explaining the finer points of a variety of axes (I erroneously had a bearded axe down as a double headed axe with a sort of spike on top). This was followed up by an utterly exhausting session of weapon-themed riddle-making. Here’s a sample:

Q. I am slender but deadly…what am I?
A. A rapier.

Q. I am big, weighty, and deadly… what am I?
A. A broadsword.

…you probably get the idea. Although, more impressively, he correctly answered a whole load of trick questions afterwards (when did the Anglo-Saxons turn up, who recorded their arrival, how do we know if they were mostly left or right handed… it’s true – they wore their scabbards mostly on the left, meaning that most of them were right handed).

Posted by: kemiandtheboy | July 15, 2012

Haynes Build Your Own

So proud of theboy! I picked up a Haynes Build Your Own Internal Combustion Engine kit for him at a recent auction, and have been sat on my hands waiting for him to develop an interest in it. So yesterday, as I’m sat tapping away on the laptop, suddenly there’s a crash bang wallop and some muttering in the kitchen. In comes theboy with the big plastic serving tray, and solemnly sets it on the table. Repeat for scissors. Shuffle shuffle rustle crinkle snip mutter rustle mutter. (Him) “Aha!” More rustling and muttering. This went on for about an hour, with screws going missing, bits being bolted on back to front, taken off with quietly muttered curses and re-installed. Then there was a loud noise not unlike a hoover but with an additional grinding-like sound. (Him) “Mum, mum, come and see what I’ve made!” Yep – he’d assembled the engine.

Apparently, this autonomous learning stuff does work! The experiment continues…

Posted by: kemiandtheboy | July 12, 2012

Levelling out

So, after the up-and-down whirlwind of the first couple of months… things are finally levelling out! The young lady sleeps real well (touch wood) – especially when we’re cuddled up. She’s just started really using her hands – it’s amazing, and hilarious too. Grandad G jested that she’ll be an opera singer. I’d be thrilled. That aside, she does look like one when she extends her little hand with that graceful sinuous gesture, opens her little pouty beak and sings…”Aaaoouuuuewwwwaughwaaaa” says she. Nothing is too trivial to explore – walls, ornaments, glass, wood, fabrics, skin, hair, everything is seized in a tiny but firm grip and examined closely, with a look of intense concentration… and drooled on. Particularly favoured objects are treated to a chewing. The little cloth dog’s ears are really getting it at the moment. She also takes great interest in meal times and insists on sitting in my lap and smelling everything. I mean, everything. Her very favourite mealtime is breakfast, as we tend to be the first up (along with the dawn chorus). I make a strong espresso and sit down with a book. And young madam on my knee. She turns the pages (I just have to keep up) and smells the coffee (I can sip when she turns her attention to the book). She gets soooooooo frustrated trying to sit up, as she’s not quite strong enough, but laying down is no longer sufficient. And she says “bwuv” at her brother, and “aaayyyay” when she’s tired.

In other news, theboy is geeking out with his Raspberry PI. He’s finally started clearing out his pit of all the computer equipment that’s been piling up over the last few years.

And as for me, I’m just quietly singing to myself. For every time I got a raised eyebrow, a finger twirled by the temple, or a snigger when I insisted I will not even consider a property which is not situated on high ground relative to the nearest mile radius. Kiss my behind, I sing, for it is a very wet July we’re having. Harharharhar.

Posted by: kemiandtheboy | June 11, 2012

An open letter to all parents from a non-parent.

An open letter to all parents from a non-parent..

Yes. And this is why humans are still here, as a species.

One response to why anyone would want more than two children (large families) and more….

Well considered and well stated response from Garden Goat to a stupid person’s dig at a very personal topic. Not everyone with more than two kids is a sponger or a religious nut…

Posted by: kemiandtheboy | June 5, 2012

Marketing for scatterbrains

I know, I’ve been quiet for a while. That’s partly due to my personal circumstances of late, and partly because I have been frying my brain day after day (or night after night) trying to understand how marketing really works. As opposed to what we were taught at uni, I mean. And bearing in mind that engineering students are not traditionally exposed to marketing or business modules. So, here are some preliminary findings of my foray into the world of online marketing for small (very small) businesses.

First of all, don’t bother with SEO you are asked to pay for. File it under “scam” and move on. Yes, apparently there is a difference between legitimate (“White Hat”) and dodgy (“Black Hat”) practices. Or you could just use free tools made available for the purpose, such as Google Webmaster Tools. And of course learn to use your robots.txt and sitemap.

Secondly, you still have to know what you’re doing to start with. I mean, trying to optimise your site implies that you have thought through what your intended audience is and how they might go about searching for whatever it is you’re selling. “It’s important to know what your conversions are so you can set your optimization goals to help achieve them.”

This is where I stop for now, because marketing as I have been taught it is a highly delineated activity. You have market segments (based on demographics, perhaps) and you decide which of those you want to reach and then find the right tools for doing so. For example, there isn’t much gain to be made from advertising on Facebook if you are selling haemorrhoid cream to OAPs. Likewise, you wouldn’t bother going door-to-door if you’re trying to sell subscription-based online games. But what do you do when you have a bit of everything on offer?

As far as I can tell, people set up multiple webstores which appear to specialise in one type of goods. For example, an eBay seller I have met at an auction not long ago pops up as a filter specialist, a Vauxhall parts specialist, a car spares finding specialist, and the list goes on for a bit. Obviously, we’re not all created equally gullible: if you click through several promising-looking articles in a webstore, and are consistently met with “out of stock, we will place this product on backorder upon receiving your payment” type messages, your bullshit alarms ought to go off. Same if you are looking for a specific part (a car cabin filter, say) and search by part number, only to be re-directed to a page of “Sorry, this product is out of stock – try one of our alternatives”.

That’s not a satisfactory answer to someone who doesn’t want to spawn sixty different webstores for the sake of selling a hundred products, of course. But what is?

Posted by: kemiandtheboy | April 30, 2012

Sleep blissful sleep

I’m sure sleep deprivation is a form of torture (it’s worth reading the comments to this article in full, by the way – I am under the impression that, as ever, men get carried away with polemics and vengeance, and women contribute interesting pointers to a wider picture of the subject). It is also a method of indoctrination in religious cults. In the last week, I have consumed coffee almost as regularly as when I was struggling through the last year of uni. It has been said a number of times that I am special to have achieved a Masters in engineering (with honours) with a toddler/young schoolchild in tow, but this takes things to a whole new level. And it’s not baby’s fault, either! She only wakes up 2-3 times a night to feed and be cleaned. It’s the fact that I then find it hard to get back to sleep for thinking of yet more things that need to be done, or sitting up at the computer doing them.

Posted by: kemiandtheboy | April 20, 2012

All is quiet on the home front…

…and as it is quiet I figured now would be the best time to post about a typical day, post-birth.

Missy (which is what theboy and I call thegirl, for she is fierce) is growing at a rate of knots. In fact, from this day last month, her weight has changed from 3.3kg to 4.8kg and her clothes/hats are on the top end of the “up to 3 months old” scale. I know, because we went to buy her some pretty girl clothes from M&S about a week ago and none of the “up to 1 month old” would fit. The midwife’s reaction was “Bloody hell, what are you feeding her – clotted cream?!” Har har har aherm. What can I say – all children in my family grow well!

Thankfully, she’s quite a settled baby so her “on demand” feeding is actually quite routine. I don’t keep track of the daytime feeds, but the night-time feeds are every 2 hours to within 10 minutes. On the odd occasion she might sleep for 3 hours (but is then awake longer and wants to chat after the feed!!) And car journeys are no longer a problem now that I have worked out how to adjust the seat. She had grown so much within the first 5 days that the seat was cramping her back, and as soon as I lengthened it by a couple of notches she stopped grouching about it. We’ve only one notch left, however!

Theboy has been doing a lot of reading and research. More importantly, he has been thinking about what he has read, and we have had some interesting discussions about (among other things) warfare, genes and evolution, Rennaisance art, learning as such, and social stratification.

This morning, we were designing mechanisms. He is as averse to writing as ever, but puts his aversion on hold when needed (e.g. while labelling his drawings). Especially when writing on the big flip chart or whiteboard. I think that first we will attempt to make the trebuchet, as I’m not confident I remember how to make things by hand (as opposed to handing a load of drawings to the workshop and telling the monkeys to get on with it). It’s a much simpler design, too (although it took him a couple of attempts to get the spring/pivot/winch in the right places).


From that, via a fairly long and involved discussion about siege weapons through the ages, angles, forces and momentum, we arrived at something potentially more interesting as a project. It is a portable cannon, which can tilt up to 90 degrees skywards and rotate up to 180 degrees in the horizontal plane, using a couple of gear/cog mechanisms. It’s not a true medieval cannon, as I’ve no skill (or inclination) to make one, but we will attempt something similar out of modern-day materials and it will be battery-powered. He started working on the design (bottom right corner) – to be continued – as, apparently, it is crucial that this contraption can fire a salvo as well as single shots.


I would love to get him to do a “show and tell” as they’re called in infant school, or – in our language – a demo for the camera. With his own permission – hopefully this is one he will be so proud of, he won’t mind displaying it to the world at large!

As for myself, I have decided that it would be ever so useful to grow a second head and three more pairs of arms. Then I could talk and use the computer, hold baby, write on a board, eat and do paperwork all at once!! For the moment, though, I am pushing the bounds of my limitations on a daily basis!

Posted by: kemiandtheboy | April 13, 2012


So, since we have less free time now (and it’s fragmented to fit in with baby’s sleeping pattern) we’re learning to make use of it in different ways. A lot of baby-is-awake time is spent talking, mainly discussing topics we’re doing this semester but also “planting the seeds” for future topics. It’s also perfect for music practice – especially if baby is crotchety and just wants to whinge. Theboy‘s recorder is particularly effective – I’d love to know what she’s thinking at that precise moment when she stops screaming and switches her attention to him. On the theme – he has an Aulos descant recorder (reasonably cheap plastic thing) and a couple of kids’ learner books. I’ll put some book lists up on a separate page when I get a chance, we use quite a lot of them regularly (not just the recorder ones!)

We’ve also taken inspiration from Top Gear and on longer trips (10 minutes+) in the car, we Learn Italian with Michel Thomas. I’ll let you know how it goes longer term – but for now, theboy has memorized a couple of important soundbites: “Voglio sapere”, “Voglio comprarlo” (occasionaly, “Io voglio!!”), “non e possibile per lei”, “cosi” and “perchè”.


Posted by: kemiandtheboy | March 26, 2012

We are +1

Last Tuesday morning, I was woken up well before dawn by stronger, quite regular contractions. It being such early hours, the inner mystic had a long chat with the inner scientist, who felt it would be of benefit to set up a spreadsheet timing and charting said contractions. Maybe a MatLab model too, she said, bet I can predict what time the baby will come from the available data. Yes yes, the other replied, and I can tell you for a fact the baby will come tonight as it is Nowruz.

Later on in the morning, theboy woke up to the joyous news that we were going into town to get his big brother presents now, before the contractions got too strong for me to drive. We had a fantastic time in toy and game shops, and it was rather hilarious to observe theboy explaining to concerned people – “Mum is having a contraction, and she can’t talk while it’s happening, she just has to breathe through it. I’d like a look at that Lego – would you mind getting the box down for me, I can’t quite reach it safely?”

We even went to Waitrose and got his favourite treats. The checkout operator was utterly freaked out at first – we’d unloaded the trolley onto the conveyor belt, and as I was about to greet her and start getting the bags ready I stopped dead, knees slightly bent, eyes half shut and breathed loud and slow. Thirty seconds can be an awfully long time! After she got over the initial shock, (and I felt like talking again) we had a good chat. It’s amazing how many women have said to me, “I wish I could have done that” or “I didn’t know what was happening when I was having mine”.

When we got home, theboy announced it was no longer safe for me to drive and the baby was probably coming tonight. “How did you figure that out?” I asked. “Because you drove like a granny and observed the Highway Code,” he replied. Ah. Silly me – if it’s obvious to a nine year old that I am no longer the bastard child of The Stig and Colin McRae, then I must be giving birth soon.

By early evening, I knew it was the real deal. I had lost the desire to time or measure anything. The next few hours passed like a few minutes. The water bill will probably be rather large, as I didn’t get out of the shower until after thegirl had arrived. The midwife was fantastic, she was very encouraging and calm, and I swear I could have bottled it right at the very end and torn if she hadn’t talked to me as if comforting a young child with a grazed knee. As it was, she spoke in just the right way and thegirl came into the world without injuring me. I know this time round what other women have said about the smell of the newborn, too. Thegirl smelled like all those amazing long summer nights in the yard when I was a kid and had no idea about bills or chores.

Anyway, I think in the end we didn’t get to sleep until well into the early hours. I also got to see the placenta properly this time – the midwife explained it (with demonstration) to theboy and I. It was so much cooler than biology class at school, having a feel of a sheep’s lungs and heart or dissecting frogs has absolutely nothing on examining close-up this marvellous life-support system that has kept a mini-human for the last 9 months. The shape and colour of the blood vessels is quite astonishing. They are enormously powerful. Theboy was particularly interested in the fact that the veins and arteries in the placenta work “in reverse” – makes sense, he commented, like when you have a driving gear and the driven gear, one goes clockwise and the other anticlockwise. Makes sense that blood flow for exchange of energy and nutrients between mum and baby is like those two gears.

It’s been a real high for me – the birth was an amazing experience – and theboy has been enjoying his new status as big brother. Not to mention all the material for discussion, of which there has been a lot. We’ve probably covered more “PSHE” things in the last week than in a couple of years at school. I won’t be posting too often just now, as I still have schooling and business responsibilities as well as as our new +1 : which is why I’ve enabled both the RSS feed and the email subscription meanwhile.

Older Posts »