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Comrades-in-arms

This is a piece of microfiction from my upcoming project The Die Decideswhich is live on Kickstarter now!
We rolled a ten sided dice and it gave me the directions of 500 words in the category of “On The Allotment”, with the theme of “Acceptance”…

Comrades-in-arms

Slugs. Don’t talk to me about slugs.

Last year I had enough broccoli to fix a famine. Finest crop I’ve ever managed. Every plant? Perfect.

Then I was away, and it rained like the dickens. They thrive in the wet, y’see? Come back and it was like someone had taken a strimmer to the plot – the Battle of the Somme but with brassicas. I barely salvaged enough to balance up your standard roast dinner for one.

There’s too many of them, that’s the problem. I’ve heard on fancy vineyards they keep an army of ducks around. Just there to munch on the slimy scumbags. Good work if you can get it.

Don’t think I’d get permission from the General Allotment Committee for that though. Snooty barstools, the whole lot. In it for the power. I can hear them now, all “Against regulations”, and “Your army of ducks ate all my tomatoes”. They wouldn’t know a good crop of broccoli if I dropped it on them. Not that I can, thanks to the slimy criminals on my patch.

Thing is, can’t be much of a life. I mean, I’m retired now – course I am, shuffling around a veg patch, muttering about gastropods – but in my glamorous professional career I was a traffic warden.

No, not even – I was a “Parking Enforcement Officer”, they retitled us, very grand! My job satisfaction went through the roof with that one, no doubt. Would have preferred a pay rise, but you take what you can get. “I’m a P.E.O., you know?” I’d say, to bulldog builders as they swore at me for ticketing them for blocking the ambulance entrance to the hospital whilst they nipped somewhere for an emergency sausage roll. I like to feel there was a new begrudging respect in their eyes as they threatened to physically intrude on my anatomy with the afore-mentioned ticket.

So I suppose I understand the lettuce grubbers more than I let on. I used to step on them, but can’t bring myself to these days. More satisfaction in tossing them onto Mr Chairman’s fancy railway-sleeper raised beds. Few more tomatoes’ll be good for them, I’m sure.

Truth be told, since the wife moved on, company has been somewhat thin on the ground. Say what you like about slugs, but they’re not complainers. “Always on that filthy allotment”, she’d say. Easier to stay quiet about that, but well, there was no one to nag me in the shed. Slimy they might be, but they know how to hold their tongue like no-one’s business.

I’d not admit it publicly, like, but there’s sometimes the day I’ll cook up a cuppa, and perch one of them on the potting table. I’m not mad, I know its just a big mindless worm; but its still nice to sit with someone sometimes, right?

I like to think of ‘em like old rivals, comrades-in-arms, almost. Reminiscing about the battles we’ve fought.

I’d never have eaten that much broccoli anyway.

 

Thanks for reading! Did you enjoy it? If you’d like to have your say in what the die decides for me to write next, please check out The Die Decides on Kickstarter!

Snow

Excited squeals announce a changed world.

The door bursts open. There are visible footprints! Snowballs and smiles.
It’s a new garden, a new playground.

Possibility! And a seeping cold.

Emotions change as gloves falter in their protective warmth.
Why are my fingers hurting?

Enthusiasm eclipses. Now there are tears and tiredness.
I don’t want to play outside any more.

Hot drinks, rubbed hands and new distractions. The old warm world.
And whilst the little ones move on? We are left.

With visible footprints.
Where did all this mud come from? 

The secret no one tells you? That pure, white snow? It’s dirty.Snow melting on grass

A Crash Course in Homeschool

So, you’ve found yourself stuck at home with your kids. They can’t go to school, possibly for months(!), and suddenly there’s this big hole that needs to be filled. You are pretty sure you can’t just put them in front of CITV for the next 12 weeks, but you aren’t quite sure how to tackle things?

Help is at hand! My wife and I home school our kids one day a week – they go to school the other 4 days. This means whilst I still wish I could pack them off again, we aren’t completely lost about what to do.

It’s important to recognise that many of us are also having to work from home at this time too – I know I am! That makes providing input into our kids even harder and difficult to balance. My advice is to take things a day at a time, to plan, and to do what you can. For example, its the days where I’m busy and short handed that having a schedule and touching base together at the start of the day becomes even more of a lifesaver, and there are also resources that help with this, as for example an igcse biology tuition which is helpful when students need to learn this subject. This time is still going to be hard. It will probably be a bit horrible at points. We can manage to make it less horrible though!

So, if you are worrying how best to tackle home school, here are eight simple tips.

 

1. Have a schedule

…and don’t get too stressed about it.

Ever wonder why your kids seem to behave so much better for the teacher than you? Part of the secret is that children respond well to routine. When school isn’t happening, suddenly they feel cut loose and a bit lost. 

We start our home school day with a short assembly, where we take a register (yes, there’s only three of them, but they are used to being asked), and then briefly explain the plan for the day.

It helps to start and end at a clear point (9am-3pm for us) with clear break times so that they know what to look forwards to. Then we work through the day in half hour chunks.

Really, we try to pretend as much as possible that we are an official learning environment: our kids even put their hands up to ask questions (which was their idea!), which helps reinforce the “I’m at school” mentality. We have a blanket ban on phones, games or screens during school hours, unless we watch a subject video on YouTube (there’s lots of good science videos about fire!!).

Just remember – sometimes things don’t go to plan. Tantrums happen, activities over-run. This morning Joen spent nearly the entire morning reading and read a whole book, instead of the planned “Walk” and “Maths”. That’s okay! He had fun, he did something educational – don’t beat yourself up about it!

2. Pay attention to them

…the secret is that you’ll actually enjoy it more!

This one is a bummer, but its still true: its very hard to do effective home school without your attention fully on the children. We find that even on the days we have two adults, really its best if both of us are sat at the table with the three of them for the majority of the day.

I know, I know – you are busy, we all are! You’ve got to work from home too, and tidy the house, and cook dinner, not to mention the desire to escape and just doomscroll on your phone. It can be a nightmare, a feeling of being stretched, angry, and wanting to scream at everyone. And yes, kids can be boring! But ultimately, if you want to experience some quality effective time with your kids, you need to be present. Somehow.

The secret is that its actually a lot more fun for the adults when they are invested too, rather than when it just feels like a distraction from the stuff we’d rather be doing. I find it much better to be checking in with the children regularly of my own volition, rather than being torn away from my laptop in annoyance. And the schedule can help ground you; rather than “Look, can you just go and work or something!”, it can be, “Oh, I’m sorry that you are finding the maths hard. Why not try it for another 10 minutes, and then its break time on the timetable and you can play outside for a bit…”

And don’t forget – you get breaks! We have break time, a walk, and lunch, during which time the kids play and we can get some stuff done.

3. You need some equipment

…but it doesn’t need to be expensive.

You always want a box full of activities, so that, at minimum, you can say “let’s write a story and illustrate it” and grab stuff out of the activities box. It doesn’t hurt to have some work books too!

We have a box filled with some of the things below. Good places to buy them are supermarkets, The Works and Baker Ross.

  • Plain paper
  • Coloured paper
  • Glittery paper
  • Stickers
  • Scissors
  • Sellotape
  • Crayons
  • Colouring Pencils
  • Normal pencils
  • Many, many, many rubbers and sharpeners (its insane how many we lose)
  • Felt tips
  • Leap Ahead Maths, English and Science books, for the correct ages (Can pick up this sort of thing quite cheaply)

If money is a real problem, all you need is a ream of paper and some colouring pencils. Just have something you can point to and say “Can you draw me a treehouse” to your grumpy nine year old.

If you want more resources for home school worksheets, check out TheSchoolRun.com which has a free trial and is extremely good value (£33 a year for unlimited resources!).

4. Know our emotions & attitudes

…putting a name to it can help

You are still going to have some tremendously grumpy days. You can’t call the parents or put your child in detention, but we find naming emotions helps to de-escalate.

Maybe because it mimics the warning systems schools use, but we find it very helpful to use this wall chart (feel free to make up your own one like it). When children are messing around, pointing to it and saying “Are we Finding It Hard to get our work done?” is often all it takes to turn around unhappy attitudes.

Of course, if we hit “Star” or “Super Star” levels, then a treat can happen. Sometimes, sneakily, the treat is something already planned, like baking cookies, or reading a story together!

If you need more advice on parenting tips in these hard times, we find Fresh Start Parenting to be a very helpful source of advice…

5. Have a project

…broken into little bits

It can be daunting to think of something to do, but having one big idea and breaking it into chunks can give a theme to your week. Plus it means you don’t have to think of what to do next all the time, you just move to the next chunk.

This week we are writing letters, one each day. Everyone writes a letter (Mum and Dad too!) and we put them in one envelope, and either post them or can arrange to drop them off at our friend’s houses. A great way to keep up with the socially isolated 70 year olds in your family, and a great way to keep in contact with the other kids from school!

We are also having “Story Week”. We asked them “What is a story?”, and the kids helped up break it into component pieces.

Tomorrow we will make some components – “Write 5 characters each, write 5 locations…”. The next day we will write a story using those ideas. The next day we can read them to each other. And suddenly a little idea becomes 4 days of practical teaching!

6. Not every day will be perfect

…and that is okay!

Everyone has a bad day sometimes, and children especially so! They are little bubbles of excitement, overtiredness and emotion, so expect things to be messy.

I cannot count the number of days that have gone astray, with crying, shouting, tantrums. But accept its going to happen, and be ready to regroup and start again.

Tomorrow is another day, and it really can be a blank canvas. Yesterday was our first day of isolation, and our son went absolutely mental, an awful day. Today? One of the best days of home school we’ve ever had, in 5 years!

7. Go outside

…never under-estimate the joy humans get from open skies.

If things are tense, blowing up, or just feel like treading water, sack it off, and go to the park.

Seriously, you might as well! What’s more constructive? Letting the kids burn off energy and breathe fresh air, or constantly forcing a grumpy kid to do some sums through the tears?

Now, don’t just throw out every day of schooling and play outside all the time – but having regular break slots and walks is a very healthy thing for them to look forwards to. And us parents actually end up loving it too!

8. Have fun

…this time together is a blessing!

 

Ultimately you love your children so much that it hurts. That makes this time together a period to cherish.

Every day won’t be brilliant. But some of them will be. Home schooling kids is an utter pain in the bum, especially if you are having to balance it with your own work. But an incredibly silly, fun, joyous pain in the bum.

My prayer is that you enjoy it just as much as we (sometimes) do!

I’ll leave you with a silly video we made together in homeschool…

Flame – Microfiction

A feeble spark as the head died. She grimaced and tried once more. It fizzled out.

The matches were damp, that was the problem. Starting to shiver now, she turned over the box and tapped it. Two fell out. Only two left? She took one and tried again.

A tiny roar, and an adolescent flame, growing in confidence. She moved it carefully towards the wick.

Blast! That breeze.

One match remained. She muttered a prayer to Prometheus, and flicked her wrist. Success!

Her other hand shielded the tiny warmth as she brought it to the candle.

Her smile glowed orange.

 

Taking Covid Seriously – As a GP? People just aren’t taking Covid seriously…

It’s December 29th today. I’ve spent the entire Christmas period working as a doctor. I was on call overnight every day as an Out Of Hours GP, I saw patients face-to-face in night time emergency appointments, and I worked as a normal GP either side of the weekend.

Unmistakeably, over the last week, I’ve seen that people are not taking Covid seriously.

Dr Chris in the snow
Dr Chris, out in the snow at midnight this morning, visiting a nursing home. And yes, I put my mask on properly before I went inside…

Every day this week, I have seen multiple patients with cough and/or temperatures. And they haven’t even considered a Covid-19 test. Not even considered it! They’ve not isolated, they’ve not made any attempt to shield vulnerable relatives, co-workers or friends. Nope, they have spent Christmas with their entire extended family, putting them all at risk. People are not taken Covid seriously.

It would seem like I’m breaking confidentiality saying this, but this has not been an isolated case. This is not one or two thoughtless individuals; for months now I have experienced a repeated, persistent, willful ignoring of symptoms and the guidance.

If you have a cough, if you have a fever, if you have a change of taste or smell, what should you do? You should isolate and get a test. Right?

People know that. They just don’t want to do it.

It is not an exaggeration to say that 80% of the patients I’ve spoken to with Covid symptoms have not been tested and have not been isolating. I suspect 90% would be the true figure. It is becoming slightly surprising to speak to a patient with Covid symptoms and discover that they have had a test.

Why aren't people taking Covid seriously?
Oh, you don’t have ‘a Covid cough’? How reassuring.

In the last week I’ve had multiple patients tell me “I’ve got a cough, but it’s not a Covid cough“.

Which is incredible to me. Amazing, really. You see I’m a qualified doctor, who has been working in multiple Covid-specific services for 9 months, and yet I still need a patient to have a Covid test before I can confirm that a cough isn’t ‘a Covid cough‘.

Let me translate their words for you: “I’ve got a cough, but I don’t want my life to be disrupted by acting responsibly, so I’m going to arbitrarily decide that it’s not the virus. And so I’m not going to have a test, and I’m not going to isolate. I’m still going to go and see Grandma too”.

Deciding not to have a test – and not to isolate – because you don’t want to be inconvenienced is irresponsible. It’s not taking Covid seriously. It’s not taking Grandma’s life seriously. And a jaw-dropping number of people are doing it.

Yet, at the same time, we are hearing stories of ICUs full to capacity, of young people dying, of more patients in hospital than in April. Our daily cases figure is higher than many country’s total figures. Over 600 healthcare workers have died in the UK. Other doctors, cleverer, better dressed doctors than me, are going on the record to talk about hospitals running out of oxygen, about families celebrating Christmas without the loved ones who have died from the virus

Please, for the sake of the NHS, for the sake of healthcare workers, for the sake of Grandma, please start taking this seriously.

I know you know this. I can’t believe you haven’t heard this message, but people really are not heeding it, so I’ll say it again:

If you have:

  • a new continuous cough
  • a raised temperature
  • a loss of, or change in taste or smell

then you need a Covid test and your household need to isolate until it comes back negative

Even if you are sure it’s ‘not a Covid cough‘.

Please take this seriously.

 

Chris Lowry is a GP who eats too much trifle.
Follow him on twitter at @bigonroad

Alpaca-based Microfiction

My friend Adam shared a weird alpaca tweet on facebook the other day.

Somehow, it spurred me into creative mode, and I wrote an epilogue…

As it bared its fangs and sunk them into me, the brief moment of relief vanished. How easily did I forget the scourge of vampacas upon this land? Bristly tufts of hair began to burst out of my face, my neck vertebrae groaning and stretching.

In my last moment of consciousness, before the full blood lust of the camelid rage took over me, I had but one thought – “How I wish it had been a sheep”.

Of course, Adam had to criticise: “That sounds more like a werepacca to me”. And so I responded.

Hidden, in the corner of the dark field, the werepaca growled. And sort of “baa-ed”. Whatever noise alpacas make, anyway. It recognised the transformation – the man had become a vampire controlled drone, a inhuman barely controllable bundle of rage. Better than the alternative though – a full vampaca – intelligent, deadly, riddled with malevolent dentistry; they were almost unstoppable.

The werepaca slunk off towards the woods, scraping its foul bloated body along with it. Barely caring at the scraps of man-flesh and wool it left behind on the barbed wire, it retired to plan its attack. The emnity between werepacas and their vampiric brethren was as old as time. And kinda cute.

What do you think? Is there the basis for a book in there?

(The correct answer is “no!”)

Deadzone Scatter Battle Report

I’ve been doing a fair bit of model painting and scenery collecting during lockdown. One of our favourite games is the Mantic Games futuristic skirmish game Deadzone.

Adding to the fun, my son recently got a huge metal Enforcer Strider model that hasn’t been used in a battle yet. Joen and I decided to test this out with a short game…

The Teams

Joen was playing the Enforcers, with 3 Pathfinders and a Strider (which was nearly half his points on its own!).

I was playing the Forge Fathers, with all my new Brokkrs, and the Inferno Drill. I had 6 models to his 4, although if the Bomb Bot and Inferno Drill won’t function without the Chief or Engineer within 3 squares.

The Setup

We randomly set up the play area, rolling a D6 for every tile to determine large and small scenery and items to pick up.

In Scatter you score VPs for finding Intel tokens, killing opponents, and 1 VP per Objective tile held at the end of a round. You roll to see who is going first, and then take it in turns to put half your force in opposing corners. It was our first time playing this scenario, and the split setup is a real tactical challenge, especially with such small teams.

Joen rolled highest, so he set up first, with the Strider and a Pathfinder top right. I responded with the Engineer, Inferno and Bomb bot bottom right.

We finished his setup with the Sergeant and remaining Pathfinder bottom left, and my Chief, Brokkr and Steel Warrior top left.

Turn 1

The Enforcers began with a Pathfinder (1) sneaking through to cover against the bulkhead and shooting at the Brokkr Engineer (2) – to no effect.

The Brokkr Chief (3) ignored this, cool-headedly, and moved two squares south, remaining in cover but keen to get his fearsome hammer into play as soon as possible.

Seeing this, the Enforcer Sergeant (4) fired at him… ineffectually. He then moved into the cover of the southern watchtower, planning to sneak up on the Engineer (2), as the Engineer began shuffling himself directly towards the Sergeant from the other direction.

The final Pathfinder sprinted to the western watchtower (4), hiding perfectly underneath it. Emboldened by the total lack of deaths so far, and keen to stake a claim on the north Objective, the last Brokkr marched to the north Objective marker (3)…

…only to be brutally slain by the Strider, which waddled forward into a perfect vantage position (1), getting to roll 5 dice, and rolling a 6 on all of them – a 1 in 32,768 chance – not even needing to use the 2 Heavy Burst Laser re-rolls. Ruinous.

The Forge Fathers responded with burning rage, and the Steel Warrior (5) commando-rolled over a ruined wall, landing on his knee to belch flames into the base of the western watchtower. Even though the Pathfinder had hidden perfectly, the Dragon’s Breath’s outpourings didn’t care, and the Pathfinder died with a scream of “IT BURNS!”.

Enforcer activations over, the Engineer (2) hummed as he rolled the Bomb Bot to the other end of the bunker, and fired the Inferno Drill wastefully into the soil quite near to the Strider (1).

With no Objectives held by teams, the score at the end of Turn 1:
Forge Fathers: 2, Enforcers: 1

Turn 2

This round saw both teams drop to 50% vitality, with deaths all round.

As the Pathfinder Sergeant (4) killed the Steel Warrior, the Brokkr Chief (5) ran out of cover and killed the Sergeant in retaliation with a Shoot Command Dice. He then finished with a sprint to the western Objective. His time there was short, as the sole living Pathfinder (1) snipered him to a bloody pulp, before hiding again back in the north-east corner.

The machine battle began, with the Inferno Drill (2) caused three punishing damage points to the Strider, whilst the Strider (1) was unable to achieve anything in retaliation.

In the final moments, the Engineer (6) skinnied up the wall of the bunker, landing himself on the southern Objective, twiddling on a remote control to send the Bomb Bot (6) to sit on the western Objective.

With two Objectives held by the Forge Fathers, the score at the end of Turn 2:
Forge Fathers: 6, Enforcers: 6

Turn 3

The start of round 3 was the Enforcer’s opportunity for a sudden victory. I had foolishly left the Engineer (6) on the roof of the bunker, unprotected, in clear view of the Strider. If he died, the Bomb Bot and Inferno Drill would be disabled, and the battle lost.

The Strider (1) fired, using an Extra Dice command dice, with Weight of Fire allowing 2 rerolls. And managed a single point of damage. The Engineer was injured, but alive.

Then Joen grinned, and revealed his other command dice – an extra Shoot action! Which missed! The moment had passed, and my Engineer jumped down to hide behind the bunker.

Climbing onto the roof of the north east bunker, the last Pathfinder lined up a perfect viewpoint to the Bomb Bot – 3 normal dice + 1 for higher ground + 2 for full view of target model. 6 dice still only resulted in the Bomb Bot taking a single point of damage. Not quite enough to explode it.

The final activation was the Inferno Drill (2). Which it used to destroy the Enforcer’s Strider! And then, with a Shoot Command Dice, took a pot shot at the Pathfinder, injuring and pinning it.

With one Objectives held by the damaged Bomb Bot, the score at the end of Turn 3:
Forge Fathers: 11, Enforcers: 6

Turn 4

There was a definite imbalance on the field now, with the Forge Fathers with 3 models and Enforcers with just 1. Still, it’s not over until the female Teraton sings…

The Pathfinder, all alone now and the desperation showing on his face, stood up, and fired at the Bomb Bot, finally destroying it with a loud “BOOM!”. Using a Movement Command dice, he jumped down, a little nearer the eastern Objective.

The Engineer scuttled out from his hiding place, taking a shot with his short ranged Burst Pistol – the first time he’d actually been in range of an enemy. He might as well not have bothered, since it pinged harmlessly off the bulkhead behind the Pathfinder.

Not satisfied with that result however, he typed in a command to his control unit, and the Inferno Drill lumbered forwards two squares, landing squarely on the eastern Objective. With a Shoot Command dice, the mechanical weapons platform turned, ponderously, and fired an overwhelming 6 dice blast at the Pathfinder. With 3 hits, the Enforcers needed a minimum of three successes to survive…

…and they rolled three, two 7s and a 6…

…and the last Pathfinder lived on, even as the Inferno Drill claimed the Objective, winning the game.

End Game

Final Score: Forge Fathers: 12, Enforcers: 6

Victory belonged to the Forge Fathers, but it all nearly fell completely apart on Turn 3! Interestingly, we rolled to see what would have happened if the Inferno Drill hadn’t scored that final Objective VP. On his next activation, the Pathfinder would have successfully killed the Engineer, potentially reversing the victory!

Overall a fun battle, and one that was a lot closer than I’d expected. The splitting of forces of Scatter really made the Engineer a weak point in the Forge Fathers setup, I’d expected to have the Chief on hand to control machines if needed. There will be a rematch!