Peas in a Pod

I have three children who all look very much alike – or at least they have looked very much alike at the stages of their life. On the days they were born they all looked alike. Looking back at photos, Stonelaughter can only tell who is who by what they are wearing!

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Plum and PK have very much the same look, and being quite close in age, it’s more evident than their similarities with Bean. They look alike, laugh alike, speak alike, have the same mannerisms …

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Sometimes though, you get a flash of how alike your children are that comes out of the blue. We recently spent a few days with Stonelaughter’s parents and he snapped some photos of the children as they played in the garden. One of them, of PK, gave us all a rush of nostalgia – an almost identical photo was taken of Bean about 8 years ago (he was slightly younger then that PK is now, but the stance, if not the facial expression, was identical).

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I can’t wait to see how each of their personalities develops as they all get older.

Apprentice Required: Serious Business Women Need Not Apply

The Apprentice is back and I’m already gnashing my teeth at the display put on by the candidates. Once again, we’re “treated” to a team of men who spout cliché after cliché with little to back up their posturing and a group of women who … well time will tell. At the time of writing, only one of the women has got any real airtime in the programme and she managed to take the feminist cause back 50 years or so with her comments. No doubt, before long we will see the behaviour usually associated with women on The Apprentice – bitching, arguing, back-biting …


Are these really the best they can come up with? Is the Beeb seriously trying to suggest that these are best example of business women they can find. Or is it more a case that serious candidates for The Apprentice either do not apply or don’t make it through the selection process, discarded in favour of those believed to make good TV.  Note to editor: watching women bitching and arguing in this manner does not make good TV.

The Apprentice is an odd programme. Ostensibly about finding the a great new business mind, it started life as a programme hunting for an apprentice to Alan Sugar.  Winners, however, did not get to work with Sugar, (one going as far as to sue him, saying there was no job for her at all). And none of the winners went on to achieve very much (maybe because they were stuck seeing out a year-long contract with Sugar’s company, whilst the runners-up made the most of the media frenzy. By the time the winners were unleashed on the world, the next round of candidates were upon us and the media had moved on.

Then the format changed – no longer looking for an “apprentice”, Sugar was now looking for someone with a business idea he could invest in. This seems to have gone better – the winners of this format are doing well, and Sugar still speaks highly of them in the media (which is more than can be said for many of his previous candidates).


One thing that hasn’t changed about The Apprentice is the format of the selection process. Each week, the candidates must complete a task, competing in teams to perform as well as they can; the winning team get pampered in some way or other, the losing team turn on each other, picking off the weak members of the herd.

But why? What does it prove? The tasks concentrate on sales, marketing and organisation, but they are not difficult tasks – sell hot dogs at lunch time, buy and sell on a market (and by they way, they don’t have to source their stock!). These are not tasks that prove a sharp business mind, they are things that thousands of people all over the country do every day.

The candidates often have high-powered job titles, and like to think themselves as pretty invincible in the world of business. They are there to start their own business – more often than not product or service based – and yet very few of them can do the most basic of tasks for this kind of business.

It becomes more and more obvious that they are selected for the programme, not on their suitability for the role, but for the inevitable gaffs they will make and guff they will spout. I’m sick of it. Is it too much to ask that people who know what they are doing are given a spot? That instead of women who think you have to be a bitch or a whore to make it in the business world, those spots are given to some of the very many brilliant female entrepreneurs in this country? I know a lot of women in business. I know a lot of successful women in business. Not one of them behaves like the female candidates on The Apprentice – I’ve never met one that does. So why, every year, does Sugar fill his boardroom with bitches and bimbos? Come on! Ditch the stereotypes. Please.


And whilst you’re at it, ditch the candidates that are just out to get their face on telly. Ditch the ones who think the sun shines out of their bum, and recruit some business people – look for those who are building their business, not claiming to take over the world, but building something sustainable. Good business people are not only found in the multimillion pound international companies; they are also found in the sustainable, grassroots businesses run from spare rooms, shared offices, market stalls …. these are the people who could ace the tasks on The Apprentice every time.

And don’t get me started on Lord Sugar ….

What Am I?

Last week’s picture brought some unusual answers, but none of them were correct – it was of course, a hair clip! So obvious once you know, right? 

And for this week, an easier one for you …. What Am I?

What Am I?

A Visit to Bridgnorth

StonelaughterToday I have another guest post from my husband Stonelaughter! This is the second of two he’s written about some home ed activities he and the children took part in – this time, planned and delivered all by himself ;-)





When I was a kid, I often visited Bridgnorth with school; looking around the old buildings, churches and of course the Castle… and sometimes visiting and travelling on the Severn Valley Railway.

So one afternoon when at a loose end in the area, I thought it’d be nice to take Bean, Plum and PK there for a wander about and to see what we could find of interest. What a great idea that turned out to be!

I’m not so convinced that the wander around the town had a great impression on the younger two but they tagged along OK and seemed to like it even if it didn’t excite them. Bean was another matter; he loved seeing the old buildings and the history information on plaques near almost all of them – some linking to other local attractions we’d seen. For instance, we saw the house where Thomas Telford was living in 1792 when The Iron Bridge he’d built was opened near Coalport; we saw a house from 1633 which had survived the destruction wrought by Parliament in the battle of 1646; and of course the Castle which had been present in one form or another since 901AD until its destruction in 1647. Bean loved all this and was happily soaking up information all day and was pretty excited about it.



For the afternoon, we had lunch in the Cafe at the Severn Valley Railway and then watched the train come in; all three of the kids loved watching it run in under the footbridge and then went to the engine and looked into the footplate where the driver and fireman were doing their work. Then we watched the train leave (which happened a bit later than we’d hoped) and by this time everyone was ready for the trip home. On the way back we popped into Ironbridge again to see the bridge for Bean to look at; then off home for a cup of tea.


It was a great trip and the amount of the town’s buildings which remain from several hundred years ago is amazing. I don’t think that what the town LOOKS like (apart from the addition of solid roads and cars) has really changed that much around the centre with several old etchings and drawings showing very familiar features from today. This fascinated Bean and that, in turn, made an interesting day really enjoyable for all of us.


Mahala’s note: This day made such an impression on Bean that by the time he got home to Grandma’s house (where we were staying that week), he had drawn up a list of research topics to work on after he’s done with Leonardo: “The Hundred House” at Norton in Shropshire; Bridgnorth Castle and town history; Thomas Telford. I can’t wait to get stuck into these – with my in-laws all living in this area, there’s a great opportunity for us to visit and find out more. 

Argghhhh me Hearties! A Piratey Typing Course for Bean

One of the things we have always known about Bean, ever since he started school is that he doesn’t like to write. He can write, and well (not necessarily neatly, especially since he is left handed) but he doesn’t like to.  At school, he would do written work very, very slowly and drive his teachers to distraction. They would keep him in at playtime to do more work, which really only made him resent written work all the more.

The thing was, like many children in the same boat, it wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work, or didn’t understand, or didn’t remember – he could and would answer all the questions asked of him verbally, would contribute fully to the lessons and remember every scrap of information he was given. He just didn’t see the point of writing it down, and was also frustrated by the fact that he is not a quick writer.

So when we began home education, I vowed not to make make him write anything down for the sake of it. If he did some research, I didn’t want to make him write down his findings unless it was of benefit to him, so we looked for other ways to record the info, if it needed recording. He created a tourist leaflet showing the “must-see” sights of Paris after exploring Paris on Google street view. 

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We’ve used maps, made top trumps cards, we’re creating scrap books, take photos, but we do very little writing. When something does need recording, he types more often that not. He finds that frustrating too, because his typing is still at the “one finger” stage and he watches me typing and gets cross that he can’t type as fast (although I’m not the fastest in the world, I can manage around 70 words a minute when there isn’t a small child hanging off one or both of my arms!).

He wants to be able to type more quickly. He has a laptop of his own (my old one, which works perfectly well for his needs) so if we can encourage him to learn to type “properly” that would be a bonus for his work output (though we do still encourage writing in ways that seem to have a purpose – writing postcards for our Postcrossing project; writing shopping lists, Christmas lists – that sort of thing).

I recently found out about a touch typing course aimed at children called TypeKids, I decided we should give it a go. Well, when I say we ….

TypeKids typing course

TypeKids typing course consists of 30 online lessons which come together to form an adventure story. The child plays the main character in the adventure, a pirate treasure hunt. Each lesson lasts around 25 minutes and comes with clear audio instructions. The child can learn at their own pace, although the course is designed to take around 10 weeks to complete – so 75 minutes a week. There’s a free trial available, and the whole typing course costs $89.95 (around £56). 

So far Bean has completed the first three lessons, all of which concentrate on the base position of the fingers (asdf jkl;). The course tries to make this as interesting as possible, with correct key strokes helping pirates climb the rigging, find treasure etc. Obviously, there’s only so much you can do with eight keys though, and learning to type necessarily involves learning by rote where the keys are.  I’ve tried the typing course myself, and found it a useful revision of my typing skills. The lessons are interspersed with pirate themed games (which Bean found a useful break from the typing practice). In the lessons we have covered so far, there’s no penalty for getting a keystroke wrong; you just try again until you get it right, and there’s no time limit, which means that children who are literally at the one-finger-at-a-time level (which I suspect most children will be) can make progress at their own rate.

TypeKids typing course

I have to admit, it’s not the most exciting course in the world (but I’m not sure how much more exciting a typing course can be!), but they’ve made a good effort at making it interesting, and it’s certainly a very useful tool, especially when you consider that our children are likely to do far more typing in the future than writing.

TypeKids typing course


Disclosure: Bean was given access to the TypeKids typing course in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are wholly our own.

An Entrepreneur in the Making

As you may know, my husband Stonelaughter has a flute workshop at the back of our garden. The flutes he makes are wooden, so it’s full of wood, wood shavings, sawdust, wood working tools …. you get the picture.

There are often offcuts of wood sitting about waiting for Stonelaughter to decide what he can do to make use of them – it seems a shame to throw them out, but his focus is on the flutes.

The Man-Shed

In steps Bean one day, wanting to spend time with his Dad in the “Man-shed” (when Plum is old enough to venture in there without losing a limb, it will cease to be called that – I know she will want to get in on the woodwork act too). He asked his Dad if he could make me a present – a wooden incense holder. We burn a lot of incense. My eight year old little man took a rough bit of discarded wood and worked on it all day. Stonelaughter helped with the routing, but after that Bean did everything himself. And this is what he produced.

You can’t tell from the photo, but it is silky smooth. Not from some product that has been applied, but from the effort Bean made to sand it smooth. Imagine a piece of silk gliding off it ….

I was, of course, delighted by this surprise present. And so proud. And I cried – just as Stonelaughter had warned Bean I would. It has pride of place on the mantelpiece and is used every day.

Incense Holder

And then Bean had another idea. Dad has lots of offcuts of wood. Bean enjoyed creating something with his hands. Bean would like to create more incense holders (though he’s already thinking about what else he could make) and then he would like to sell them. A little entrepreneur in the making.

So, we’ve agreed that he can give it a go. He’s decided on a realistic selling price, we’ve agreed a cost per unit that will go towards his materials and cost of selling, and the rest will be his to keep. Stonelaughter has agreed to share his shed space and supervise for safety. Bean is planning how to spend his first million.

In business at eight years old. Who’d have thought it?