Fronted Adverbials

I am rarely lost for words but I struggle to adequately express my dismay at the KS2 curriculum. Why test very young children on esoteric grammatical terms? Why this insistence on using ‘interesting words’? Because God forbid a child should ever say something simply. Oh no, they must pour in the ‘interesting words.’ They must learn how to make it complicated, make it difficult to read, rip out all the meaning and their natural raw honesty and replace it with cleverness. They must learn the art of using a lot of big words without actually saying anything. Then they’ll have a great future ahead of them as a politician, or a management consultant, or a PR spokesman for Monsanto.

And the practice of measuring daily reading with a timer – instead of just taking away their screens and surrounding them with books – makes me want to howl. Reading is an escape, not a duty.

But I always seem to come up short. I fail to express why it’s so important, why teaching about ‘fronted adverbials’ isn’t just unnecessary but positively harmful. Then I heard A. L. Kennedy on Radio Four and she said it all. This. All of this.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07glx87

Bleeding Heart Price Drop

To celebrate the launch of ‘Don’t Look Back’ next week, I have dropped the price of ‘Bleeding Heart’ to 99 cents. I hope that a few people are tempted to read it at that price… There’s a lot more Ness Stone to come in the next few weeks!

Pick up Bleeding Heart at Amazon now – if you want to be super kind you could use my affiliate link. It’s the same price for you, but the Zon throw me a few extra shekels.

Don’t have a Kindle? It will be on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Inktera, Scribd, Oyster, 24 Symbols and Tolino next week, and the paperback will be available via Amazon before Christmas.

Yes, indeed I did do a lot of formatting over the past few days. Yes, it was a bit of a nightmare. And yes, I would like a cup of tea, thanks for asking.

<mops brow>

 

 

How Does “Free” work?

Eduardo Saverin: You don’t want to ruin it with ads because ads aren’t cool.

Mark Zuckerberg: Exactly.

“The Social Network” Movie (2010)

I’m interested in things that are ‘free’.  Up to a point.  When something is on ‘buy one get one free’ I usually only get one, to the bafflement of the person on the checkout.  “But it’s free!” they protest with increasing shrillness, “It’s free!  Buy One Get One Free!  You can get two for the same price!  You might as well.”

Is it free though?  Is the space it takes up in my home free?  Is my time free?  Is my brand loyalty free?  Of course I don’t say that.  I just say: “No thanks.  Yes I understand that it’s free, but I really only need one toothbrush.”  The checkout assistant makes that face – the one that says “I’m wondering whether to file you under ‘Stupid’ or ‘Crazy’ right now.  But you’re a customer, and you’re usually polite and you have a cute son.  So I’ll smile and we’ll both pretend that this awkward moment never happened.”

I am not a ‘freeloader’ which my Pocket Oxford defines as ‘a person who takes advantage of other people’s generosity without giving anything in return’.  I’m interested in things that are free but I still want to give back.  So I do like ‘free’ – but only if it’s really free and fair for everyone involved.

So when is ‘free’ the right price point for the reader?  Oh, it sounds so obvious doesn’t it?  Intuitively, we think we’d like everything to be free.  And yet, my experience of getting free books hasn’t been entirely positive.  Has yours?  Ever downloaded a free ebook that turns out to be an 8 page pdf of pure advertorial?  Or read something free, enjoyed it, bought into the brand – and then found that the free sample wasn’t representative of what was really on offer?  And the worst of all – you sign up for a free e-book and newsletter only to find that you’ve actually hit the button marked: ‘Permission to stalk me across all media in perpetuity with aggressive hard-sell tactics creating an involuntary gag reflex whenever I see this author’s name.’  I suppose all those words wouldn’t fit on the sign up button… so they just went with ‘Subscribe’ instead, but that was what they meant.  I find that the negative brand associations in these cases are worse than if I’d paid for the book.  A bond of trust is created when something is free – it’s a deeper relationship than when you pay for something.  It’s emotional.

Also don’t you find that you abandon a free book more quickly than one you bought?  I ditched a kindle sample on the fourth page yesterday.  Actually the first few pages were a self-promotional prologue from the author so it was technically the first page of the actual book when I gave up and deleted it.  If I’d paid I might have struggled on for a few more pages, but it was a free sample.  I wasn’t invested so I wasn’t prepared to put up with poor writing.

On the other hand, I got a free e-book copy of ‘APE Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur’ by Guy Kawasaki as part of my NaNoWriMo winners’ goodie bag.  I’d read a few articles by Guy Kawasaki before, and I liked the cut of his jib.  The giveaway was well-targeted – a NaNoWriMo winner has just written a book so we were the perfect market.  I was excited to get it and devoured the whole thing in a few days.  I’ll probably read it a dozen times and refer back to it a dozen more.  So the next time I’m browsing and Guy Kawasaki’s name pops up, I’m going to be within a nanowrimo of pressing ‘Buy Now’.  In this case, ‘free’ worked.  Not just for the reader, but for the writer: I’ve become a fan.

“Fans, true fans, are hard to find and precious.  Just a few can change everything. What they demand, though, is generosity and bravery.” Seth Godin – in Tribes

So why did it work – not just in terms of my getting a freebie, but also becoming a fan who will buy more books?  The recent income survey at Beverley Kendall’s blog backed up how well the intelligent use of ‘free’ can work for writers.  The vast majority of the self-published authors surveyed who were earning significant amounts of money from their writing had work available for free, and believed that it had been a factor in their success.

I’ve put my novel on KDP Select so it will be free at various points in the next 90 days (details will be on Twitter).  This will be my first experiment with ‘free’.  I have low expectations at this stage – I’m just dipping my toe in the water while I write the next book in the series.  But I intend to create at least one book that is permanently free in the series I’m writing, as well as promoting others from time to time.

If ‘free’ is going to work for the reader, then I believe that the writer has to give them a quality product – a level of quality that they would have been prepared to pay for.  Also it must be a fair representation of what the reader will get if they choose to invest in other books or continue following the blog.

When ‘free’ works for the writer they find fans.  Reader loyalty doesn’t need to come in the form of money – spreading recommendations, reviews, and encouragement are all valuable to writers.  So now I’m just working on creating something that’s good enough to be free.

London in love

London is the most romantic city on Earth.  Yes, that’s right, more romantic than Florence, New York and even Paris.

Okay, I admit that I’m biased.  I fell in love here, so every single paving stone of this city is soaked through with associations.  Camden market might seem very unromantic to other eyes, but as I walk past I can see the day I met my husband.  That swooping feeling when you dream that you’re falling – it’s still there every time I pass by.  When I walk to the end of our street I can see us together seven years ago outside the hospital.  I’m holding a tiny scrap of a baby against me, Dave is wrestling with a car seat for the first time – a brand new family.  I walk past that spot almost every day and there we all are, a memory tethered to the doors of the hospital like a balloon – visible only to me, but none the less real for that.  That’s why for me, this is the most romantic city on Earth.

So you’re in love, you’re in London, and you want to go on a date… for free.  Where do you go?  My top five ideas…

1.) A Sunday walk along the South Bank  Again I have to admit my bias – my husband and I walked along the South Bank together the morning after he proposed.  But even for a first date you won’t struggle for conversation, with the river to watch and the book stalls to browse.  If the date goes really well you can continue it at Tate Modern.

2.) A picnic in Regent’s Park or, if you’re double-dating and want a more convivial atmosphere try Primrose Hill.  But Regent’s Park is perfect if you just want to lie on the grass talking and sunbathing- the park is big enough that you can have quite a big patch to yourselves.  Just don’t set up too close to The Hub or you’ll find that the lovely quiet spot you’ve chosen is actually the middle of a cricket match!

3.) A snowy day on the Heath.  If you’ve fallen in love in winter those endless days of lazing on the grass will just have to wait.  In which case, go to Hampstead Heath together in the snow.  It’s like visiting Narnia – right down to the lamp post in the middle of the woods.  Some of the pubs in Hampstead have open fires if you need to warm up afterwards.

4.) Meet me by the statue  Long distance is hard.  Meet by the statue at Saint Pancras after an absence – the perfect reunion.

5.) National Portrait Gallery – with every face, I think about who they were and who they loved.  Emma Hamilton is in Room 17.  Her memory of the day that she found out that her beloved Nelson had died at Trafalgar is in Christopher Hibbert ‘Nelson – A Personal History’ – “They brought me word, Mr Whitby from the Admiralty. ‘Show him in directly,’ I said. He came in, and with a pale countenance and faint voice, said, ‘We have gained a great Victory.’ – ‘Never mind your Victory,’ I said. ‘My letters – give me my letters’ – Captain Whitby was unable to speak – tears in his eyes and a deathly paleness over his face made me comprehend him. I believe I gave a scream and fell back, and for ten hours I could neither speak nor shed a tear.”

Boat Building

A replica of the Dawn Treader
The Dawn Treader - this one doesn't float

On a wet weekend my son often asks “Dad, can we do ‘making’?”.  He doesn’t ask me.  He knows, from previous disappointing experience, that my efforts don’t transcend their raw materials.  They look like nothing more than two cereal boxes precariously bonded with masking tape and daubed with poster paint.

But when he does ‘making’ with his Dad, the most remarkable transmogrification occurs.  No longer does he have a pile of packing paper, egg boxes, and other bits and bobs from the recycling bin.  He has the Dawn Treader sailing out of Narnia.  Hans Solo is Edmund, and his Drago Bakugan is Eustace the dragon; a new toy with endless play scenarios awaits.

They have made some memorable boats over the past few years.  Unfortunately we didn’t photograph our favourite.  It was a pirate ship.  The base was made with old plastic bottles, so that it actually floated.  It had a hand-painted jolly roger, a red fabric sail, and best of all, a long piece of string secured to the prow which meant that it could be towed along in the water.  They made it one rainy Saturday.

On Sunday the clouds cleared.  Hand in hand they walked to the bus.  They carried their boat all the way down to Little Venice and walked along the tow path, pulling their own pirate ship along the canal.  Our son was just three years old, but he still remembers that boat, and that day.  Apparently a few people stopped and took photographs of them – if you saw them, then I just hope you were having as much fun as they were.

A friend of ours builds boats – real ones from timber by hand.  He teaches the skill to kids.  I hadn’t really thought about the organic beauty in a curve of wood until I saw some photographs of his work.  But then a hand-built boat is romantic whatever it’s made from.

 

 

 

Pitfalls of apartment life

There are people who have lived in London for twenty years and never become a local.  They don’t know their neighbours, except by the noise they make.  But of course you can learn a lot just from that.

We used to have a couple of neighbours, long since departed, (not departed this life, you understand, just departed further up the property ladder) who started arguing every evening at 8.30pm.  They reached a crescendo around 9.30pm, just as I was lying in bed wondering when my husband would get back from work and how many times our baby would wake up in the night.  I found myself listening to them in the manner of a radio play.  I couldn’t help myself; it was as loud as if they were standing right next to my bed.  They argued about some shoes she bought, and about his endless DIY, and about whether she listened to him properly, and whether she didn’t listen because he wasn’t very interesting (she had a point there, I felt).  It was a bit like ‘The Archers’ if ‘The Archers’ featured young urban professionals with too many power tools.  I got hooked, and when my husband came in from work he’d ask ‘So, what’s the latest?  Is she going to let him put those shelves up or what?’.  We didn’t get out much at the time – couldn’t afford the babysitter.

They complained once about the noise of our baby crying.  I was tempted to point out that surely if they could hear the baby, then did they realize that I could also hear them?  But like a toddler ‘hiding’ by putting their hands over their eyes, they hadn’t grasped the concept of object permanence as it pertained to their downstairs neighbours.

We never really got to know those neighbours.  It was awkward, because we knew too much already without asking them over for coffee and banana cake.   And we weren’t impartial.  We were both definitely on ‘her’ side.  My husband held a grudge over a DIY-related mishap that caused our baby’s nursery to flood at 2am, and said only: ‘I’m glad she gives him earache, the drill-happy fool’.  For my part, I couldn’t be doing with a husband who was forever faffing about with the decor – it was a small flat, just how many shelves could they need?  And he shouldn’t have started on her shoes.  We’ve all bought ill-advised footwear on credit, and a gentleman wouldn’t have mentioned it.

I like all of our neighbours now.  Even if the young man upstairs has just started… to learn the trumpet.  Ah, well.

Picnics in London

Food tastes better outside.  Sausages sizzling over a campfire, fish and chips on the beach, a Flake 99 ice-cream at the park after school, steaks on the barbecue… Hungry already?

This delicious alchemy even works on frankly substandard food – those campfire sausages tend to be a little burnt on the outside, don’t they?  And yet the memory of their taste is more vivid than any of the Michelin-starred meals I’ve enjoyed.

In the summer we often take our tea to the local park and eat there.  An average family meal turns into a celebratory event just by adding a few picnic blankets and the promise of an ice-cream from the van for dessert.  Restaurants in London do tend to be expensive, but you can ‘eat out’ very cheaply in this city.  My favourite venues are:-

  • Golders Hill Park which is beautifully landscaped, with lots of open spaces.  It’s particularly good for small children thanks to the free zoo, sand-filled toddlers playground, and adventure climbing frame. In summer there is often a free butterfly house too.
  • The area of Hampstead Heath just above the Vale of Health is great for picnics – head up the slope to be wowed by a view of London which stretches out past Canary Wharf and the Gherkin to the rolling hills beyond.  There is a wide open field sheltered by trees.
My son playing frisbee
Don't try this in a restaurant
  • Regents Park is a regular venue for us.  In another life, I remember lying on a blanket reading all day in Regents Park while my husband sketched the other picnickers.  Now that I’m a mother those ‘lying down reading’ days are over, but Regents Park is still a great place to be.  Each area of the park has its own attractions – if you’re on the edge that runs along London Zoo you can see the giraffes and the zebras through the hedge.  Whereas down by the ponds my son loves feeding his crusts to the rare breed ducks and herons and watching the rowing boats.
  • Hyde Park is convenient if you are sightseeing or running errands in town, and it’s extensive enough to find your own private patch of grass even on the busiest day.  My son and I watched some breakdancers practising there while we were eating our sandwiches last week.

Later this week I’ll be packing a picnic and joining my son and his primary school class on Hampstead Heath for a day out.  I’ll be responsible for four or five of his classmates so I doubt if I’ll finish my sandwiches!   But they will taste amazing.

Did you want a list?

I’m a list-maker extraordinaire.  I have schedules, spreadsheets, notebooks with coloured flags sticking out of them, pens which are only used for writing particular tasks into particular notebooks.  (And when that pen goes missing…  oh, the horror.  I have to either buy a new pen of the exact same colour, or stop doing that kind of task.)

So did you want a list?  “100 cool things to do in London” – is that what you wanted?  I am surely equipped to give that to you.  But… No. For once in my life I’m not going to write a list.

If you want a detailed tourist guide to London, check this and this

If you’re just looking for ‘free things to do in London’ then check this

If you want to know that it’s possible to live in this crazy city on a small income and still be content, and if you want to know what that feels like and looks like, you’re in the right place.

An afternoon at the Imperial War Museum

It is, astonishingly, free to visit the IWM but donations are appreciated.  As we walked around the corner from North Lambeth tube my five year old son started jumping up and down with excitement – ‘Mummy, those are the biggest guns I have EVER seen in my whole life!’.  He was over-awed by the submarines, Spitfire, Sherman Tank, and Polaris missile on display, but gradually his questions became more philosophical, leading up to the real stumper “Why do we have war, Mum?”

IWM scrapbook
My son (and his talented father) made a scrapbook

The museum is certainly more thought-provoking than I expected.  I noticed a group of people collected around a small black object,  shaking their heads with bewilderment as they read the information next to it, and hesitating to move on.  It was the “Little Boy” bomb, the same model as was detonated over Hiroshima.  There is a Holocaust Exhibition at the top of the museum but it is not suitable for children.

A Tibetan Peace Garden, originally opened by the Dalai Lama,  forms part of the beautifully kept gardens around this museum, and there is a park off to the side where you could take a picnic.

After visiting the museum we walked to the river and crossed at Westminster Bridge – my favourite view of London.