Archive for the 'General News' Category


Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Sorry everyone. We are, in fact, still here. And we have been doing things in September and October, but I haven’t been writing blogs. The excuse that worked for the first half of the year, viz that Gavin and I seemed very rarely both to be at home, doesn’t work… until just recently. Gavin’s currently in Hawaii. Before that, I was in Aberdeen. It’s been a mild autumn throughout the UK, but I can’t say I exactly had the tropical-paradise experience. Nor did the boys, who were in a relatively warm and sunny Rugby for half-term.

What’s been going on? The football season has started and I’ve been learning lots about football. I have the Match of the Day theme tune on the brain more often than I care to think (and if YOU now have the MOTD theme tune on the brain, thanks to reading this, I apologise. Catchy tune, isn’t it? Did you hear the Chief Rabbi singing the grace-after-meals to that tune on the Radio 4 Sunday programme the other week? We had to play that back to the boys twice. But I digress). Well, when I think of it, MOTD makes about as much sense to me as In The Night Garden used to. I can recognise the characters, mostly, though I still get some of the less memorable ones mixed up. I know what their main personality traits are supposed to be. I can pick up the emotional tone, even when I can’t really follow the plot. I get the theme tune on the brain. On some basic level I fail to see the attraction. But I like it vicariously because it makes the boys happy.

Meanwhile, out of doors, a public service announcement. Himalayan balsam is, as we know, an evil invading plant, out to oppress our harmless native species (and, presumably, take their jobs and benefits). It has taken over large areas near us, and when the spring comes we shall play our full part in the Leeds City Council “Banish the Balsam” campaign; the boys are already looking forward to it. However, in the meantime and given that it’s too late to do any anti-balsam action this year – the explode-in-your-hand seed pods are really, really cool. We’re making the most of them before the balsam all gets banished next year. (I hope we’re not making the banishing job harder by exploding the seed pods. My excuse is that we’re exploding them forcibly before they are ready to explode. Hmmm).

Matthew has accompanied me on a couple of afternoons canvassing with the local Labour party. The one where nearly every door was opened by a half-asleep student in pyjamas was more fun, if dubiously more productive, than the one where most people were out. In other political news, considerable relief here in mid-September on learning that (for the moment) all our family still live in the same country.

The boys have been to their first meetings of Cubs and Beavers; it was a bowling trip, so no knot-tying involved. Peter has had some keyboard lessons at school and can just about play ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ (officially) and the Star Wars theme and a bit of ‘Yellow Submarine’ (unofficially, because Matthew and I decided he should learn something a bit more interesting). They both still seem to like school, and like going to school. This is never something we take for granted. But it’s very, very useful…

I finished, and sent off, what I’ve been referring to as ‘the Quaker book’. I would say that this means I don’t have to bore the rest of the household with it any more, but I’m not taking that risk.


Thursday, December 30th, 2010

As a kind of apology for hardly posting at all this year, we hereby bring you the Burnell/Muers household review of the year 2010.
The general synopsis: occasional storms, sunny intervals and fog patches; fair or poor. 2010 was not a great year for us. It had drama, much of it hospital drama. It had comedy, some of it bittersweet. It had little triumph and little disaster. It just had rather more than its fair share of low-level rubbishness. And definitely too much vomit.

2010 in months:
January: Begins well with a Mummy-and-Daddy escape to Skipton in the snow. Then melting snow, slush, frozen slush, and repeat. Peter talks.
February: Trip to Dumfries to see Granny Lilo and Grandpa Morris. Peter acquires more words. Rachel starts learning to co-clerk business meetings. It seems to take rather less time and effort as the year goes on. Either I’m doing something right or I’m doing something very wrong. Or, quite possibly, both.
March: In between acquiring words, Peter vomits a lot. Matthew reads a lot.
April: The campus has a brand-new state-of-the-art educational facility – for under-fives. Got to start somewhere. So Matthew becomes a Dragonfly and Peter a Ladybird. Peter vomits a lot more. Muers family gathering on Easter Monday, at which photos are taken with Peter looking small and thin. Hoping for a healthy gathering in 2011. We eventually find out why Peter is vomiting a lot.
May: Peter stops vomiting. We start to work out how to cope with a gluten-free diet. The country starts to work out how to cope with a hung Parliament. After several false starts, failed mixtures and faintly sickening episodes, at least one of these coping efforts seems to be working OK. Hmm. Towards the end of the month we note the end of the brief period during which three of the four of us were square numbers. Gavin (who by this point can see rather less than he would like) convenes Yearly Meeting Elders. Rachel plays with Yearly Meeting Toddlers.
June: Peter celebrates his second birthday with a toddler fracture and a gruffalo cake.
July: Sun, sand, sea, spades, trains, gluten-free cream teas, hooray. I think it was also in July that a mouse managed to get inside our boiler and cause over £1000 worth of damage (aka an enforced boiler upgrade) by chewing the wires.
August: Gavin spends a few hours under general anaesthetic, which some would say was a rather extreme way of catching up on sleep. Matthew spends a few days in Edinburgh with Grandpa Martin. While Matthew’s away, Peter decides that being grown up is clearly worth a try, and potty-trains himself (more or less overnight) in preparation for growing up.
September: It all gets very exciting. Matthew celebrates his fifth birthday at a picnic in the park with lots of Dragonflies; is very sick in the early hours of the next morning; starts school the morning after that. Meanwhile Gavin crosses miles and timezones in a selfless quest for the perfect very-expensive-bit-of-scientific-equipment. And finds it and buys it before the budget gets cut. We say “welcome to out of your mummy’s tummy” (in Matthew’s words) to the boys’ first ever first cousin, the small and perfectly formed Marcus Raphael Muers.
October: Matthew loves school. He also loves half-term with grandparents. After his trip to the Natural History Museum, we have to revise our out-of-date dinosaur knowledge. It’s true – the brontosaurus has now been expunged from prehistory. In other dubiously-justified pieces of educated guesswork, Browne reports. Rachel learns, somewhat to her surprise, that the teaching she’s been doing all these years isn’t of any public benefit. Something’s revolting, and it probably isn’t the students.
November: RIP Kepler, the cat who never learned to miaow or purr (but had a nice line in riding round the house sitting on your shoulders). Plenty of opportunities for the boys to spot police horses around campus.
December: Snow falls, snow on snow (snow on snow). The city grinds briefly to a halt, but Matthew’s school keeps going, as do the student protests. Someone fails to break into our bike shed, and leaves us a red-handled screwdriver and some broken hinges as a souvenir of their efforts. Peter learns to recognise Ps-for-Peter (they are everywhere when you start looking for them) Christmas happens, with lots of food and family, and added mystery viruses for the children. We eventually collapse in an overfed midwinter heap, prepare to wave goodbye to 2010, and thank you all for sticking with us.

There and back again

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

We went to Edinburgh for a few days to stay with Grandpa Martin. It was very, very good to get away for a bit. And to be looked after, and to see the sights of Edinburgh. And even to travel by train with the boys, who were incredibly well-behaved. (Matthew now chants, whenever the train arrives at a station: “Please make sure that you have all your personal belongings with you. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform edge”).

Havoc wreaked in Martin’s flat was slightly less than we’d feared, because Peter still hasn’t attained independent mobility. I am clear that this is entirely because of a difference in attitude between him and Matthew; Peter is a much more risk-averse baby, or much more calculated in his risk-taking. You can watch him looking at something he’d quite like to grab, figuring out that a move in that direction would require an unsupported step, weighing up the likely gain and the possible pain, and deciding to settle for what he’s got. Where Matthew at the same age in the same situation would have gone for it without thinking twice (and fallen on his face, nine times out of ten, and succeeded the tenth time). Peter will let go of the hands of the parent who’s “walking” him, for exactly the amount of time for which he’s capable of standing unsupported, and then grab them again just before he starts to fall over; he’s got it figured out. Crawling is also still in the future. Unlike some politicians (we are told), he has a reverse gear; also unlike them (perhaps it would be better for us all were it otherwise) he doesn’t as yet have a forward gear.

But he’s ahead of Matthew, age for age, in one important respect: he has a tooth. On balance we are relieved not to have another very late teether – though we entirely missed the signs of teething (lots of dribble, hand-chewing, etc) because we had kind of forgotten that normal babies cut teeth before they turn into toddlers.

A highlight of the trip for Matthew was Edinburgh Zoo. Zebras are still his favourite animals, although they have competition – particularly from the lions, the camels and the penguins. (I decided I liked the tree porcupine, because I could relate to its attitude – shuffle out of its little house, look around at what was then a cold grey day and a few visitors gawping at it, be distinctly unimpressed, pull some bits of straw back into its house, retreat, stay put).

Reported by Martin from when Matthew was taken to the chimpanzee house:
Matthew: “Look at the monkeys!”
Martin: “Actually they’re not monkeys, they’re chimpanzees”.
“They’re really monkeys”.
“Well, no, they’re really chimpanzees”.
“No, they’re MONKEYS!”
Woman to small child nearby: “Look at the monkeys!”
Matthew: “No, they’re not monkeys! They’re chimpanzees!”

Incidentally – I usually feel uncomfortable about looking at great apes in zoos, or even watching them on nature programmes; not a well-worked-out ethical position so much as a gut feeling of wrongness (“what gives me the right to look at, and make comments about, you, rather than vice versa?”). But I was impressed with Edinburgh’s chimpanzee area, including the large display about how closely related we are to chimpanzees. Matthew now knows that he is an ape. He also knows, as do we all now, that both chimpanzees and humans can touch their left ears with their right hands (and vv), and monkeys can’t. The things you learn.

Gone quiet…

Friday, February 13th, 2009

… hasn’t it? Sorry about that. For our excuse – read the day in the life, add in a tummy bug from which the last and longest-suffering victim (Gavin) is only now recovering, and ramp up the workload on Mummy and Daddy as the teaching term progresses. But we’re all OK. When Peter’s awake, Gavin and I (and any other adults left in charge of him) are spending increasing amounts of time shuffling around on our knees with him holding our fingers so he can “walk”. He can support himself holding onto furniture, and he can transfer between pieces of furniture, but he’d really rather not. He can also still entertain himself sitting and fiddling with things (especially if they’re things that make noises, and especially if there are several of them to hit together), but again he’d really rather not, if there’s any possibility that willingness to do so will mean he’s left alone while his parents get on with something else. His communication is also developing, more or less without us noticing (compare how obsessively we watched Matthew at this age); when I thought about it I realised that he can now communicate very reliably “milk please”, “that food please”, “had enough now”, “pick me up please”, “I’d like to walk holding your fingers”. And he clearly understands quite a lot (mummy, daddy, Matthew, cat, bathtime, milk, cot/rest, etc).

It’s been snowy. Not as snowy here as in the south of England, but snowy enough for Matthew (helped by parents and grandparents) to build a snowman, a snow train and a snow pirate in the garden. Snowy enough for the children at nursery to play with snowballs, though with some lack of clarity about the rules of the game: “X and me tried to throw two snowballs at Y. But he didn’t manage to catch either of them”. Snowy enough for the well-used but not well-gritted pavements and paths around Headingley to turn temporarily into ice rinks, and for us to perfect a range of techniques for descending steep slippery slopes while carrying small children on our backs. (They never told us crampons would have been useful for survival round here. It’s grim up north). Snowy enough for snow to be much on Matthew’s mind: “This rice is like… snow sausages!”

Matthew’s actually been coping amazingly well with disruptions caused by illness, his own, Peter’s and ours. He entertains himself happily for longer and longer periods, including by “reading”, or reading, his books – in each specific case it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on.

Day in the life

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Monday to Thursday, ie the days we’re all out being a hardworking family:

Peter feeds sometime between 2.30 and 5 am, babbles for a bit, goes back to sleep. He then usually wakes again shortly before 6. At this point he’s not hungry, just awake. I hear him on the baby alarm, summon up my energy, get up, get dressed, go downstairs, feed cats, make up bottles of milk for the day and Peter’s breakfast (Ready Brek). Get Peter up, because by this time he’s getting bored. Matthew’s awake at this point, but entertaining himself in his room until 6.30, when the bunny wakes up and he emerges. “Where are you Mummy? Did you sleep well? Did Peter sleep well? I slept fine”. Breakfast, packing of bags, sorting out of laundry, one or two stories or games of Happy Families, (usually) another feed and nappy change for Peter, minor battle to persuade Matthew that he has to get dressed (Gavin usually does that one), out of the house at 8, give or take. Matthew’s on foot and on Gavin’s shoulders; Peter’s in the carrier on my back. We “chase” through the alleyways and play games as we walk along the roads. The vicar’s cat is a xenophobic cat and his name is Xerxes (we organise things so Matthew doesn’t get X, if we ever we get that far). Peter usually goes to sleep en route. Deliver Matthew and Peter to nursery at about 8.45; Gavin takes Matthew (hang coat and bag on peg, take out what he’s brought for Show and Tell); I take Peter (put his bottles and nappies in his basket, hand him into arms of nursery nurse). Gavin and I walk across campus to work (“So what are you doing today?” – “Going to these meetings; answering these tricky queries and these annoying ones; marking marking marking; supposedly, writing these lectures; trying to find the time to think about…”)

About 4.50 I leave the office to go and collect Peter. The extra ten minutes is for a feed before we go home. They tell me about his day; usually, they tell me he’s eaten everything, slept very little, and demanded to be held standing up. Sometimes, if he’s been upset, he’s been taken to visit Matthew. Usually he hasn’t been very upset. He feeds (more to say hello than to take in much nourishment, I think); Gavin arrives, we collect Matthew and head for the bus stop. “How was your day Mummy? How was your day Daddy? How was Peter’s day? My day was actually fine. We had carrots for snack. And X and I were running around. And there were bikes on the big field…”. The buses are full these days; we usually manage to look needy enough to get at least one seat between us. Matthew does running commentary or stares tiredly into space. So does Peter. So do we. The traffic speed is somewhere between slow and stationary. Home from the bus stop with Matthew running down the hills, in at the door a bit before six. Matthew watches DVDs, one of us cooks supper, the other minds Peter. Suppertime, milk for Peter, Daddy-supervised bathtime and bedtime for Peter (during which I read stories to Matthew as he gets sleepier and sleepier), ditto for Matthew (during which I do the washing up and start on the other chores). I read Matthew a story in bed. Goodnight, sleep tight, have a nice long sleep… (yeah right).

Peter’s usually in bed by about 7, Matthew by about 7.30. So we’ve got two or three hours. We make the next day’s sandwiches and prepare food for the next night’s supper and tidy up and do more laundry sorting and (one of us does) any necessary shopping. We do the various bits of work we’ve ended up bringing home, and the pottering-around-on-computer sort-of-work things we never fit into a work day. And have a hot drink and a sit down and a chat, and occasionally watch an episode of The Wire (our current TV drug of choice – though given the subject matter that’s perhaps not a good way to put it). And so to bed.

I look at this and think how remarkably lucky we are to be able to walk, all together, to one place where we both work and both children are (very well) looked after. We were thinking of buying a house much further out of the city centre, and didn’t. As setups for hard-working families go, ours is an excellent setup. And I’ll say cautiously that the situation feels sustainable. But weekends are good things.

New Photos

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

I’ve finally gotten round to putting up about 4 months worth of photos on the website. Some of these have been available on facebook and some re new from our travels overs Christmas. We’ve done a certain number of flicks between pictures of Matthew aged 6-7 months and Peter. Generally we can tell the two apart ! (look in March and April 2006 for the comparison).

a better museum

Monday, October 6th, 2008

We like the National Railway Museum. We will go back there. The combination of lots of space to run around in, and lots and lots of trains, makes it pretty much Matthew’s idea of the perfect day out – and, from observation on Saturday, the same goes for a very large number of other small boys and at least a few girls. I think I am being slowly converted by/to Thomas and his friends, because I caught myself momentarily feeling sorry for the out-of-service steam engines. I think I even patted one of them on the buffers. Oh dear.

I expect it won’t be long before we have to brush up on our knowledge of the respective merits of 2-4-0s and 4-4-2s. (Now somebody is going to tell me one of those never existed).

Moving on out…

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

We’ve moved Peter out of his Moses basket and out of our room, into his cot in his room. So instead of sleeping with a baby beside me, I sleep with a baby monitor beside me. I sleep worse, if anything (trusting this will be a temporary effect) because I keep waking up, not hearing anything and wondering if the monitor’s working. Peter, however, seems to sleep better; having got into a pattern of a 1am and a 4am feed (since his chickenpox), he’s now had two nights of sleeping past 2am. So perhaps our suspicion that he was waking himself up by hitting the sides of his basket was correct. Or perhaps it’s just coincidence.

I haven’t adjusted to no longer having to creep in and out of our room in the evenings.

In other news, I’m continuing to try to keep up my driving, so today we had a trip to Nostell Priory. Excellent day out, highly recommended (sunshine helps); Chippendale did good furniture, John Harrison did good clocks, the National Trust does good cake. Etc. Day marred only by (a) Matthew for some reason having three accidents in a day, which is more than he’d had in the previous three weeks (b) getting back to Headingley and discovering that the student hordes had descended and the nice accessible parking space for the (cute little) car-club car was occupied by a large unauthorised car (with a large boot, presumably recently emptied of duvets and kitchen equipment), so I had to look elsewhere. Not so easy on moving-in day. I really don’t like parking, even in nice accessible spaces. I really don’t like parking on busy roads. I really, really don’t like parking when there are lots of people watching. I should just get over it, I know.

Read somewhere recently (probably in the Guardian, so it must be true) that some very large proportion of people are terrified of public speaking. I don’t really understand what their problem is; but then I bet none of those people are scared of driving, still less of parking. In my defence I’d argue that the worst thing that can happen if you mess up public speaking is that you look a bit stupid, while the worst thing that can happen if you mess up driving is that you kill one or more people. In their defence they could argue that there are more people who are really bad public speakers than who are really bad drivers, so statistically it’s much more likely that you’re going to mess up the former than the latter. Anyway, the two cases have this in common: some people have a natural talent for it, they’re lucky; but more or less everyone else can, in fact, get good enough if they practise. Gavin’s a stalwart and nearly unflappable driving companion (who has the advantage of 3D spatial reasoning ability). Matthew is now just about old enough that he can be persuaded to keep quiet for the difficult bits, and can be entertained at least for a while by spotting “twisty pilots” [electricity pylons] and all vehicles that aren’t cars. Peter, without fail, screams when put into the car and stops screaming immediately when the car moves forward…

Full house

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Not quite, but six adults, three toddlers/preschoolers, three babies and two rather annoyed cats seemed quite enough at the weekend. We were very glad to see friends whom we don’t see often, and to give all the grownups a chance to stop themselves saying “haven’t you grown!” to the older children, and to give the mobile children the chance to be very mobile (“Let’s go in the attic and look for the cats! Let’s play on the climbing frame! Let’s pick some more peas! Let’s play hide and seek in my room!”), and to give the babies the chance to lie/sit next to each other on a play mat. Peter, as the youngest person present, found it all a bit much at times. Matthew, as the youngest older child, loved it but had some trouble keeping up with the pace. We’re trying to figure out the right approach to sharing toys. Until very recently I was a bit worried that Matthew was very unassertive and would allow other children to snatch toys from him (standing there looking confused and upset but making no protest). Within the last week or so he’s started to deploy the word “mine” (with snatching back, shouting, etc). So now we’re starting the long process of “yes it’s yours, but it would be kind to share it for a little while”, etc etc. While recognising that toddlers have quite a rough deal, in that unlike most of us they don’t usually get much say over who comes to “share” which of their possessions.

Climbing frame is good in this respect, in that it really is more fun if shared.

Making an exhibition

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Gavin is away most of this week at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, about which a bit of trumpet blowing is in order and he is not going to do it himself. If you’re in or near London, it’s the place to be.

Meanwhile I am very grateful for grandparental backup this week. Although Peter is still, in general, a fairly chilled-out baby, he quite likes being awake at the moment. He doesn’t yell all that much, he looks at things – but he doesn’t really like being left on his own or put down in his Moses basket to look at things. So it will be interesting when it’s just me and the boys & Matthew wants to be run around with when Peter is in the middle of looking at things. (First extended period of me being at home outnumbered by children will be on Thursday, if you don’t count Saturday when Gavin and Martin spent most of the day working on Matthew’s new climbing frame & I kept Matthew and Peter well out of the way… From next week it will be every Thursday & Friday).