Category Archives: Holidays

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Some people have noticed there have been some less than satisfactory bits to 2016 and it’s likely that it will be a year that gets a mention in the history books (hardcopy or digital) of the future, but I rather suspect that 2017 is queueing up to, um, trump it and we’ll look back on this one as a dream. wp-1483200640282.jpgEvery year we send out our Christmas cards (tree decorations) with a sheet of photos showing some of the things we’ve been up to; it saves writing about everything in detail and seems to get positive reviews so we stick with it. I’m always surprised at how much we’ve done throughout the year and despite worrying we’ll struggle to fill the sheet there’s always things we miss out. This year was no different and trawling through all our pictures from 2016 has served to remind me that we’ve done some brilliant things this year and maybe it wasn’t quite the shit-show I’m remembering it as.

Personal stuff

Mixed bag but nothing too tricksy here. I turned into a 35 year old and I won’t lie, I was grumpy about that. New box to tick on surveys, increased likelihood of diseases, sure I should feel more like a grown up etc. But hey, who wants to be a grown up anyway?

bhRather fabulously it was our 10th wedding anniversary this year. It means we’ve spent a lot of time looking at things we got as wedding presents and saying ‘That’s 10 years old now’ and thinking of people and saying ‘We’ve not seen them for 10 years now’. wp-1483195164527.jpgIt also means I was particularly shocked when I was off to do the Christmas shop and Howard asked, for the first time ever, for Twiglets. How can you be married to someone for 10 years and not know they like TWIGLETS?! Clearly keeping some air of mystique.

wp-1483195285814.jpgWe said goodbye to Jemima Destroyer of Worlds – the little white rabbit with blue eyes and a propensity to nap. Bert’s still here though and flourishing. We said hello to two new nephews, Frank and Thomas, born a couple of weeks apart. wp-1483197975916.jpgMeant a lot of travelling up and down the M1 but they seem like groovy enough chaps.

Finally, I’m pretty sure I made these happen:

Not had any confirmation or freebies yet, but it was me, wasn’t it?

wp-1483195328246.jpgTravel stuff

We ended up doing rather more exotic travel than we were planning this year. Our honeymoon had been a trip to Japan and we’d always fancied going back – particularly to see the cherry blossom – so we thought the whole ’10 years’ thing was a good enough excuse and went to Tokyo at Easter. wp-1483198023386.jpgWe did lots of fabulous things including bus tours (obvs), art, blossom watching, cultural stuff, and most amazingly, cuddling hedgehogs at the hedgehog cafe. I love hedgehogs and Tokyo.

Our plan was a small UK get-away in the summer and perhaps a cheap package deal for some October sunshine, but I put a stop to that by putting myself forward for researchED Washington DC. Our cheap holiday turned into a trip to New York and Washington DC during which we did industrial strength tourism (mostly via bus tours, I have so many ponchos now) and witnessed pre-election America. We really did pack an extraordinary amount of stuff in, but if we could recommend one thing, both of us would go for the nighttime bus tour of Washington DC (part bus, part guided walking tour) where the monuments and memorials take on a whole new feeling.

Arguably the best thing we did during this trip was our tour of The (actual real-life) White House organised by researchED. Didn’t think that would be happening this time last year. Now we can look at it on the telly (it’s been on a bit) and say ‘We’ve been in that room’. Next year we’ll be able to look at it on the telly and say ‘We’ve been in that room before it was gold’.

wp-1483197997065.jpgWork stuff

Obviously some of the travel stuff is also a bit work-y so I’ll start there. I hadn’t really planned on doing any researchED presenting this year and I attended a couple of events just to participate – the usual eye-opening presentations and sharing of amazing projects, with good pub-chat afterwards. The opportunity to go to America was one that I couldn’t (Howard wouldn’t let me) turn down and I’ve met some brilliant people – all quite surreal.

This kicked me into action with Journal Clubs and I got myself sorted with a website to bring together all the Journal Club-y bits I’ve got (mostly on here) and add some more detailed bits of information, templates and helpsheets. ejclogolongIt’s here if you’re interested EduJournalClub.com

Slightly connected to this is the launch of ‘What Matters’, an initiative led by the University of Nottingham School of Education to bring together schools, University and interested parties in Nottingham. I’ve spent some time this year working through ideas for activities and events with Howard Stevenson (another Howard) and the project was officially launched in November with a lot of initial interest.

bdwab0202At school we had another year of good Art GCSE results that make us increasingly confident in what we’re doing and proud of our boys. I also organised another ‘Blind Date With A Book’ event alongside organising the creation and publishing of a ‘We Are Writers’ book with work from every pupil in school. I’ve managed to keep going with Relay. Box-of-booksStill not sure how many people read it but there are occasional mentions of something I’ve written about so I shall keep going with it. This year I’ve said goodbye to my two best work-mates, Courtney and Alison. One to go and have a baby, the other to relocate down south. I do have my lovely new room-mate Neihal now who is suitably nuts and a perfect addition to the team.

Onwards to 2017…

Despite impending global doom (I am a very good worrier, I’m trying not to think about it all too much) there is a good little line up of things happening next year. ‘What Matters’ is set to really get going with a series of special interest groups and bigger events on the horizon. I’m all signed up for researchED Sweden, had to decline the offer of Oslo as it’s our wedding anniversary, and I shall attempt to update the Journal Club website with some more factsheets and ideas.

School is ready to academise in March. We’re setting up our own MAT so hopefully it’ll be fairly smooth. As the person doing the school websites it’ll add to some challenges I’m sure. On top of the academy thing we’re also expanding both pupil-wise and building-wise. This will add a few more challenges but I’m trying to look at it as opportunity rather than impending chaos.

In amongst all this we will hopefully have a think about doing something with the back garden and I’ve started looking for some new living room curtains (who said I wasn’t a grown up?). Also thinking it might be good to get that cheap package holiday with a swimming pool and reading time in too – if Tom fancies #rEDAlgarve, we’re there!


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Holidays have been a bit upside down for us this year so I’m cheating a little bit. We went to Tokyo at Easter and as that’s our ‘big holiday*’ for the year I’ve included the books I read whilst we were there too. I’ve also included one that’s a dip-in-and-out book and one I’ve not finished but think I’ll take into school as my ‘quite reading’ book.

*The plan was for a UK break over the summer and maybe some cheap sun at October half term but them someone went and signed themselves up to researchED Washington so now we’re going there instead…

Book 1: Runaway by Peter May (a Tokyo at Easter one)
Peter May keeps cropping up in these posts doesn’t he? Well I’ve managed to get my mum addicted too and she’s churning through them all aswell now.2016-08-30 10.27.12

‘Runaway’ is a bit of a change to the usual murdery plots of Mays books and if I’m honest I wasn’t 100% gripped with this one. There’s an element of whodunnit as it follows a group of childhood friends who ran away together in their youth and do it again as old men. There are flashbacks and the two stories are intertwined but it wasn’t really for me.

If you are at all tempted to give a May novel a go after me harping on, definitely do, but this isn’t the one to start with. No matter though – got another coming up in a bit…

Book 2: The Bat by Jo Nesbo (my other Tokyo at Easter one)
2016-08-30 10.27.24Having read all the available books with the various maverick detectives I’ve got on the go, I was looking for a new one to fill the void whilst some more get written. I read ‘Headhunters’ by Jo Nesbo as one of the staff Blind Date books and liked it enough. I found the Harry Hole books when I was looking at what else I could go with and as another detective to add to the mix goes it seemed perfect.

It’s quite cleverly set as an introduction to a Scandinavian cop (there are a few out there) as this one is set in Australia. We get the Norwegian feel but none of the formula that perhaps comes with the others (I believe there are others in the series set abroad too). Premise is that our detective is shipped over to Australia to assist in the investigation into the murder of a Norwegian national – peril ensues. I’ll definitely read more in the series, but might wait for when I need a gap filler rather than rush to buy them all straight away.

Book 3: I Left My Tent in San Francisco by Emma Kennedy (start of the Summer ones)
I read Emma Kennedy’s first autobiographical account last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. The amount of disaster that one family can have is quite spectacular and as Emma grew up it doesn’t look like things got much better.2016-08-30 10.45.44

This book picks up as Emma finishes university and hasn’t got a clue what to do next. Lured by promised riches on the other side of the Atlantic, we follow Emma and her friend Dee as they set out to make their fortune in San Fransisco and travel back across America before facing life as grown ups. Obviously, as this is a Kennedy tale, thing are far from smooth and I don’t think it would be spoiling it to say there aren’t exactly riches. What we do get is a glimpse into their perseverance and the generosity of strangers.

One of the most beautiful parts of ‘The Tent, The Bucket and Me’ was Emma’s relationship with her parents and that’s missing from this  book. As much as I prefer that book, I’m glad that wasn’t the end and we get a second installment. Worth reading if you’ve read the first.

Book 4: Animal by Sara Pascoe
2016-08-30 10.57.13This is a combination of autobiography and the story of female evolution. Using examples from her own life and experiences, Pascoe takes us through a history of what it is to be woman, answering questions of why we might behave and feel the way we do and how women fit into modern society. It’s not too sciency but there’s enough back-up to know it’s not just conjecture.

I’m the same age as Pascoe and I always find it quite easy to read things by people who were teenagers at the same time. I like the way she writes and read most of it with her voice in my head.She covers the topics of ‘Love’, ‘Body’ and ‘Consent’ in a funny and informative way, with things I knew, things I’d forgotten and things we should be shouting about.

I admire people who can be so honest about themselves and found a lot of what she wrote about familiar and motivating. This is the sort of book that makes you follow up on some of the references at the back and realise there are things we should all be shouting about a little bit louder.

Book 5: The Firemaker by Peter May

So. I promised another Peter May appearance and here he is.2016-08-30 11.18.16

The China Thrillers series have been out of print and are currently being reissued with the first few already available. As the name suggests, these books are set in China and follow a Beijing detective, Li Yan, through a period of immense cultural change in China. The Firemaker is the first in the series and is set at the turn of the millenium. May has spent time in China from the early 1980s and his witnessing of change in the country is evident in his writing.

The story runs at a good pace and contains all the elements I have come to expect from May. The introduction of American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell serves as our guide to the different ways and customs of the Chinese system. History is peppered through the book and the atmosphere is refreshing in a genre that is swamped with western backdrops. This is a great start to a series and a memoir to a point in time. I’m (predictably) looking forward to working through the rest of them.

Book 6: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

2016-08-30 12.48.50I’ve waited for a LONG time to read this. Having got the first ones in paperback I didn’t want to break the trend so had to wait and then decided to save it for our summer holiday that we’ve ended up not having. It was worth it.

Me n Howard love Cormoran Strike and his third adventure is a solid addition to the set. The relationship between Strike and Robin is moved forwards brilliantly, there’s enough to keep you guessing and trying to work things out, and Galbraith/Rowling has successfully built the characters over the previous novels into well-rounded figures that can work in changing settings. There’s not the same amount of explanation of the main characters now – just enough to remind the reader of previous books, and the case takes the front seat in a way I don’t think has happened before. This might be because it is more personal to Strike and so the two are more intertwined.

There is a satisfying few references of Doom Bar and we dutifully drank some because that’s what Strike would want. Just waiting for the next book now…

Book 7: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J K Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Well I can’t really say anything about this because that’s the rule.2016-08-30 11.54.25

I can say it’s brilliant and I really want to see it performed. The plays follow on from the first seven books and are set nineteen years later. The main gang are there and they have children.

It was really easy to read the story as a script so I’m not sure what some people have moaned about. I actually preferred it as I think there’s a lot of bits in the Harry Potter books that stray away from the story and with this there was just enough to allow the reader to build the scene for themselves. Having said that, the hints in stage direction hint deliciously at just how spectacular the stage production is. I doubt we’ll get tickets for London but when it goes on tour we’ll be trying our hardest to get tickets.

Book 8: Fables: Farewell by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

2016-08-30 12.02.52Oh Fables. I’d put this off but I finally read the last of the Fables series.

I blame my boss for this. He bought me the first in the Fables comic book series (trade paperback) for my 30th birthday. I’ve spent a small fortune of the rest now but they are completely worth it. The premise is that characters from fairy tales and folklore are in exile from their homelands and settled in New York. It follows their fight against ‘The Adversary’ and the challenges they face from their past and future. The series is creative and, despite the ‘fairytale’ themes, adult with no one spared for the story’s sake.

From what I can gather the series lasted much longer than initially intended and for that I am grateful. This collection of the final stories is the perfect ending to an amazing series. If you haven’t tried graphic novels then this is a series that is more than worth a try – I warn you it can be expensive though.

Book 9: What Every Teacher Needs To Know About Psychology by David Didau and Nick Rose

This is my dip-in-and-out book. A brilliant introduction to lots of  psychological principles in themes across education. 2016-08-30 12.30.26This is going to be an excellent go-to book for a wide range of topics that are bound to come up, with quick reference bullet points and longer explanations. The book is organised into three sections: Learning and Thinking, Motivation and Behaviour and Controversies. There’s going to be something for everyone in this – even if, especially if, it goes against what they already think.

The language is easy to read and not scarily academic, and there are a good number of references to follow-up and delve further into each topic. I can see this easily becoming indispensable for people at all levels of a career in education.

Book 10: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (the one I’m still reading)

2016-08-30 12.30.36This has been on the shelf for a while and was recommended quite recently on Twitter so it worked up the list. I say recommended, it was but with the word ‘harrowing’ alongside. I’m taking my time.

The book is set in mid-70s India and follows the stories of four characters who come together at a time of political turmoil. The book tells the story of each of them individually and together and I’m about a third of the way through. A couple of things have sprung to mind whilst I’ve been reading this: Anita Rani’s episode of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ that followed her grandfather’s story through the partition of India, and the book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and set in the Biafran War. Both these reminders give me a sense of foreboding as to the rest of the novel but also of importance that I read it.

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Links to books are (almost all) The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.


bertjem

We were lucky enough to have some good reading-in-the-garden weather over Easter so I took advantage and finally got round to reading some of the books I was given for Christmas and Easter. I’ve got quite a few that I still need to read but I went for either ones that Howard wanted to read ASAP or ones that he isn’t likely to read at all – or at least likely to want to take away in the summer. As you can see, I was being observed as I sat there… Anyway, I’ve not written a post for a while so I thought I’d do another mini book review.

Book 1: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovich

This is the fifth book in the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich. I wrote about the fourth a bit in my first booky post a couple of summers ago and whilst this one’s been out for a while, I’ve only just picked it up again after starting it and getting distracted. This is the one Howard wants to read ASAP so I read it first (he’s still not had time to start it though).foxglove

Whilst the first four books are set in and around London, this one takes a jaunt out to the countryside. There are of course nods to what’s happened so far in the story but equally it could be read as a stand-alone novel. As Peter Grant steps out of the city and gets away, the tension of the series is paused momentarily and I highly suspect it will prove to be the calm before the storm. There are a couple of characters we know, but if the books are ever filmed, this is the one where actors who have other jobs on or are on maternity leave can get away with being at the other end of the phone.

We get as many new questions as we get answers but I enjoyed the change of pace and once the hazy, magic filled summer is over and Peter goes back to London and the Folly, he’s probably going to be grateful for the get-away as I don’t think he’ll be getting another holiday for a while.

Book 2: The Critic by Peter May

I’ve loved the Peter May books I’ve read so far. A colleague recommended the Lewis Trilogy and I whipped through those. I’ve read the first of the Enzo Files and have some more stacked up. The Critic is the second of May’s books featuring Enzo McLeod, a Scottish forensic expert living in France. critic

Self-tasked with solving a series of cold cases, the second installment leaves Paris and heads into the countryside for a spot of wine making. If ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris made you crave cocoa, this one will make you perfectly happy to reach for the corkscrew. To be honest, I’m not a wine drinker, but I was taken in by the whole world of it all and was perfectly prepared to declare myself as a sommelier by the end of it. The character of Enzo fits most of the clichés about middle-aged detectives – the strained relationships, the drinking, the maverick persona, but it works and it’s different enough not to seem tired.

The Enzo Files aren’t a love letter to France in the way the Lewis series is to the Outer Hebrides, but the plot is strong and if you like a bit of murder then I recommend you give these a go. I’ve got the next one waiting for me already.

Book 3: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

I missed Don and Rosie. I knew I would. Since reading The Rosie Project last summer I’d been waiting for the sequel to come out in paperback. Not so much because I’m a bit cheap, more that I had the first in paperback and it’ll look prettier on the bookshelf to have them the same. I decided to go for this one now as a break from the detective genre and for that purpose it was perfect. rosie effect

Set in New York, Don and Rosie are still around and mixing their life of science and cocktails (there is also some real ale in this one – much more me than wine). Don is just as logical, and his unique take on life is a welcome return. Whilst the first book had me giggling like a loon by the pool, this one had a touch more heartbreak. I’m trying not to spoil anything really, so I apologise for being a bit vague, but rather than laughing at the predictions I was making from Don’s oblivious actions, I was hoping that I wasn’t right. Don’t think I didn’t enjoy it, I really did, just don’t think it will be as carefree as the Rosie Project.

Hopefully this will still encourage people to read all these – or try earlier books in each series. I’m not sure what I’ve got to read next. Most of our books are in boxes as we construct some new shelving for them all so I suspect I’ll wait for a bit and then uncover hundreds more I’d forgotten about when we fill the new shelves!


I love a good open top bus tour. If we’re mooching round the internet for somewhere to visit, at home or abroad, package holiday or DIY, one of the first things I’ll do is check for a bus tour. I should add that I love other tours too – trains, boats, guided tours all have their place, but I really love a bus tour.  Boat tours are a very close second and actually, I think I like the open topped buses most because it’s like being at sea.

I reckon my love of the bus tour is sufficient to enable me to provide a guide to how to get the most out of them. So here we are.

tour 02

There are lots of different bus tour operators but City Sightseeing Tours are a familiar sight in lots of places and are definitely the company we’ve toured with most. I shall list my favourites.

  • Cambridge
  • Edinburgh
  • Stratford-Upon-Avon
  • Copenhagen
  • Barcelona
  • Oxford

They are my favourites for different reasons, which I’ll go into in a bit. Generally speaking, doing a bus tour is a brilliant way to get to know a new place or city. Tours take you to all the main attractions, with a commentary and are hop-on, hop, off so you can use them to get to any of the places you want to go. Most often you get a 24 hour ticket and sometimes there are longer options. Some tours have a selection of routes.

Our strategy is pretty much to fit the tour in during the first couple of days. It’s best not to go for an early start – remember, this is a 24 hour ticket. If you race to get there for 9:30 you don’t get anything the next day. Although some buses have tour 03human guides, most tours have recorded commentary and you get some free headphones from the driver when you buy your ticket. The ticket has to last so keep that safe but the headphones can be replaced on each bus so don’t worry if they break or you lose them. The recorded commentaries are good value with some cracking incidental music and a vast array of idioms.  Some tours have a children’s commentary from Horrible Histories but they’re pretty much the normal one with added poo and fart noises.

We always go round the whole circuit once without getting off. We get to settle down, look at the map and listen to the whole commentary. This is a good technique for familiarising yourself with the layout of a new city and working out where everything is in relation to each other.  It is also a good way to work out when to get the best photo opportunities. Buses tend to slow down for key attractions but not always and it’s good to learn where traffic lights are and perhaps more importantly, which side of the bus to sit on. Another reason to take a bus tour is for the different angle you get to take pictures from.

Once you’ve completed a circuit, decide where you want to go. Remember, you’ve got the next morning too but it’s a good idea to do things that are further out first and work your way in. If you don’t get it all done and still want to visit some of the places you can probably do it on foot or by public transport. Quite often we’ve found that seeing somewhere from the bus and getting a picture is enough and we don’t feel we need to explore it more. Of course it’s always a good idea to leave things for the next time you visit too! You may have discounts for local attractions or shops/restaurants with your bus ticket so have a look at the leaflet to help you decide. If you timed your ticket buying right (or starting time, you can buy tickets online) then you should find that you can get a full circuit in the next day, possibly with a visit. As long as you get on the bus with time on your ticket, you can get back to where you need to be!

So. Why are the ones above my favourites? I shall let you know.

Cambridge

tour camb

Not actually the most rockin’ of all the tours we’ve done but for the one thing that I have missed with all the other tours we’ve done. One of the stops is at a Park and Ride. Might seem a small thing, but when you’re paying a lot for a bus ride it’s a pain to have to spend extra money and time parking the car. Quite a lot of tours have a train station stop but this was brilliant especially on day 2.

Edinburgh

tour edin

Five different tours (not all City Sightseeing). It cost more for a ticket that got you all the tours, but it didn’t break the bank and was really worth it. Some of the routes overlapped with major attractions but it was a good orientation technique and one of the routes took us out as far as The Royal Yacht Britannia which is quite a way. We were there for the Festival so we did our fair share of hill climbing, but it’s always nice to be driven up and down a city!

Stratford-Upon-Avon

tour strat

Our most recent tour so I can give you prices and everything!  We opted for the £30 each tickets. With this we got 24 hours of bus, a boat tour on the Avon and three of the five Shakespeare houses. The price seems steep but there is an option without houses and that still gets you the boat tour. It’s definitely a money saver if you’re going to do the houses anyway and again, a couple are a few miles out of the centre. Another positive is that the boat ticket didn’t have to be used in the same day as the bus ticket was bought and the house tickets last for twelve months.

In addition to all this, in the peak tourist season there is a second tour ‘Heart of Warwickshire’ runs and this takes you much further afield. The 48 hour ticket includes both tours and I think that would be a great option.

Copenhagen

tour copen

We had a 48 hour ticket here and there are two routes included (Summer only). We really did use it to learn where everything was and as a form of transport. Copenhagen doesn’t have a metro system like Barcelona or Paris and there’s quite a bit of stuff spread out. I’ve been to Copenhagen a few times as I have a friend near Malmö just over the bridge in Sweden but we spent a week here for the first time and really got to see the city well. The bus tour gave us lots of ideas of places to go that the guide books and maps hadn’t so I really do recommend it.

As a side note, if you do visit Copenhagen, the one thing that I tell everyone to do if nothing else is the Netto boat tour. Netto really is Scandinavian for cheap and this tour is half the price of the other boat tours but takes you all round the canals, with live commentary. Promise me you’ll try it even if you don’t go anywhere near a City Sightseeing bus.

Barcelona

tour 01

Three routes this time! Can’t remember if we did a 24-er or 48-er but this really was one where we felt we’d seen things from the bus and didn’t need to trek through 40 degree Barcelona to take a picture from ground level. A good, comprehensive tour of the city from Gaudi to the football stadium and down to the beach. Sun screen is definitely a must for one like this but with the wind in your hair and history in your ear, it’s a great way to cool down and there are worse ways to travel.

Oxford

tour oxf

Last for a mention, the Oxford tour really only gets on the list because it was a brilliant holiday and I loved the whole long weekend of it! It was hot, it was Easter and we were away for our wedding anniversary. Add to that the fact I was in Oxford and new Lewis was on the telly at the same time it was amazing! I made Howard recreate a scene where someone vomited near the Bodleian.  It was a great tour too of course, but I think they all are.

There are quite a few more tours we’ve done and I like them all. I love that you can’t be anything but an unashamed tourist on an open topped bus. I’ve got the route planned out for one of Nottingham if anyone’s interested in taking up the franchise.

If you’ve not done one, give it a go but remember my super top tips for bus touring wonders:

  • Time your start well to make full use of ticket.
  • Go round once to get your bearings – maybe once on each side of the bus…
  • Have a look for discount deals in the ticket options or on the leaflet.
  • Make sure to put sun cream on if there’s a hint of Sun (don’t forget hair partings)
  • Don’t use umbrellas – they blow inside out at the slowest of speeds. Go downstairs if you’re a wuss.
  • Take your own headphones if you’re fussy (Howard is but I think the cheap tinny sound adds to the experience).
  • Charge your camera and wildly point and click!