Week 4: FiaR: A New Coat for Anna

No doubt the best thing about homeschooling is that if, for example, your child sleeps til 3am then has a nightmare and is up from 5 but is completely exhausted by 9, you can adapt the day… a lot.


Instead of church, we read through the book carefully – it’s a beautiful story and keeps even 8 year olds attention – and then discussed Bartering. This was interesting as K said she wouldn’t swap any of her precious things (anything), so we talked about trading our time and skills instead – she could help someone keep a baby busy, help tidy up a house or garden (with a lot of support). She was a bit frustrated at how much she cannot do, so perhaps it is a good time to start building some life skills into our routine.

She then did a full hour of Mathseeds – I think it’s too easy right now but it keeps her going and reinforces the numeracy she has. Today was about money and coin/note denominations.

We had a trip to IKEA and Costco for various items and we talked about how shops don’t do bartering but tradesmen or artisans might. However, I pointed out that I don’t barter for my work!

Recorder practice and an attempt at a walk before setting up some weaving with paper and watching for the SuperMoon which was only partly visible.


Mama bear was capital T tired today, and I wasn’t even the parent being woken during the night and getting up at 5am.. a bit of reading and getting ready for the day, then K entertained herself by singing and dancing around while I tried to study and prepare for an OU assignment. Not easy with in flight entertainment at full blast…

We made it to recorder on time and her daily practice is really paying off in confidence and technique. She’s now trying to play tunes by ear, after singing them out. On the way back we stopped at Princes Street to buy some equipment and supplies for the new doll case project I have planned. Shhhh it’s a surprise!

The German market is almost ready and the wheel is going round so it must be almost December!

Today marked the beginning of the Orthodox Nativity Fast, 40 days of special remembrance and fasting of course, as we approach Christmas. There are lots of links and resources here but I will have to dig out the felt Nativity calendar I made last year – it took five hours so I decided against making them to sell!


Rather a blur, as we decided to move her little handpainted bed out of the room and swap it for the grown up bed of drawers. It means that a) I have a legitimate reason to be antisocial and b) we can fit in the piano! Hooray, we have found a decent piano which will be delivered on the 28th. Granny and Grandad did most of the work as mama was very under the weather, with K helping in between playing with her figurines which she ‘dusted’. 

In the afternoon there was a lot of measuring, using tape measure, rulers and even a sonic device (as bats do to find their way around), plus a few worksheets and of course, playing with Hermie the dog.


Again exhausted so very very low key. Recorder practice, reading, reciting times tables and maths games, then a walk to get some fresh air for all of us. On the way we started looking at berries; we talked about how they help both birds and the plants, how beautiful they look and started comparing shapes and colours of leaves and berries. The light is really amazing just now, when it is not overcast.

I hope that we can use these as inspiration in our nature journals, using different material to try and decide what we like best.


A G&G day, with some great recorder practice, great cursive writing, reading our book and even a bit of maths and spelling. K has decided she hates the 10-minute a day books, perhaps because they are designed to be practice rather than teaching? Lots of dog playing with Hermie the terrier too, but overall a tired and run down girl this week.

We have decided to continue using A New Coat for Anna next week, as we didn’t achieve lots of our learning outcomes or complete the lapbook.

I forgot to mention that the Amelia Thimble bjd (ball jointed dolls) arrived on Friday, to great excitement. A post alll about them soon!

This is a “sorbus cashmeriana” in a neighbour’s garden – it is a delight in every season. I wonder if it says anything about coveting trees in Exodus…

Week 3: unit study “Dogs” part 1

This week K chose to study dogs, in general. Thankfully I had bought the unit study from Amanda Bennet’s site a few years ago. It is very North American focused but there is enough to allow it to be adapted easily for Scotland. It’s a huge resource and you DO need to use a computer though, as lots of the information is hyperlinked from the file. To complement this we downloaded the Dog Lapbook from Homeschool Share as who doesn’t love having a pretty lapbook at the end of a study?

Monday began very slowly, as teacher was feeling pretty tired. Miss K sat and played with hama beads – fine motor control, concentration, occasionally plunging her hands into the large tub of beads… while we got everything up and ready for the week to come. We had a daily timetable on the blackboard too, to make sure we got the minimum covered. That didn’t work, so on Tuesday, we added images/drawings. Tuesday was similarly busy but reluctant to work so by Wednesday, I was grateful for the rest when she went out to G&G’s.

Trying to get as many things on the floor as possible…

Our whiteboard timetable.

On Wednesday, her biggest focus was finishing work…

On Thursday we went to Church & tried to finish work in the cafe – it wasn’t completely unsuccessful but by now we were agreed that we need more focus by using a FiaR book each day. She managed to avoid maths almost all week…

Friday was another Granny & Grandad day: they managed to persuade her to do some reading – her strongest point – and some times tables, but overall this was a week that made me really wonder about homeschooling. Daddy SSS pointed out that if she had been at school, there would be room to hide if she was having an ‘off’ week but hopefully we can get more done next week & include more maths & languages.

Week 1: fiar “Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car”

This week we began homeschool again after the half term break. A few years ago we bought all the Five in a Row books and curriculum guide 1 and 2, so it made sense to use these as a good introduction. We also signed up for IXL Maths and English as a trial to see how K got on with online lessons, given her migraine problems with too much screen time. As it turns out, maths is the biggest issue in terms of motivation so we also signed up for MathSeeds, Reading Eggs and the follow on reading programme Reading Eggspress, as they are a lot more entertaining than endless lists and questions (sorry IXL).
Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car is a lovely hand illustrated book from 1973 by English author and illustrator John Burningham. It follows the adventures of Mr G, his open top car and the animals who invite themselves along for a day out. When the rain makes the dirt road muddy, they all try to get out of helping push, until there really is no other choice and everyone has to join in and rescue the car. The day ends with a nice swim and the invitation to come again.
We followed the suggestions in the FIAR vol. 2 book on what topics to cover during the week and mostly it went very well. I would say that there are definitely days where not much sit and study is possible so on those days I would be best to have outdoor activities alternatives planned.

  • Monday: Field Trip to the Glasgow Transport Museum. Different types of engine, old and new cars. Social Studies: friendship, cooperation, sharing, excuses. IXL maths.
  • Tuesday: Language: what is onomatopoeia? examples from the book. Art: sun rays, hatching, types of line
  • Wednesday: Science: friction examples, using blocks, slides, etc. Times tables.
  • Thursday: Maths (counting animals), Science (friction: sliding on the slide at the park)
  • Friday: Science – the water cycle, cloud types. Assemble lap-book. (NOT a great day for focus).

Overall the first week went really well. We didn’t fit in any visits to Church or too many nature walks, no time for German or French, and that will have to change. Next week I let K decide which book to look at and she chose one NOT from the FiaR curriculum – the School Ship Tobermory, by Alexander McCall Smith (we are currently reading book two in the series, the Sands of Shark Island).

We did dictation for the last part: the stamina needed for writing meant she was tired out for the rest of the day.

We learned about onomatopoeia and made notes about the words in the book which we thought were onomatopoeic

Using similar techniques to the book illustrations: Sun, leaves, cross-hatching

One morning she decided to get all her old phonics books out and read through twenty of them…

A week’s lesson planning. FiaR makes it very easy to fit around other commitments and make sure you’re getting a good spread of lessons.

Week 2: School Ship Tobermory

This week K chose to look at a book by Alexander McCall Smith, more famous for his books on the Number One Ladies Detective Agency set in Botswana and also the 44 Scotland Street series, set here in Edinburgh and starring the precocious Bertie and his dreadful mother amongst others. School Ship Tobermory is a new addition to his series of books and we are already onto the second.

The week got off to a tricky start. Halloween and a small party had been looming large for at least a month and now it was here, so from about 6:30am the refrain was “when do we go to the party?”. We managed to use the laptop for some maths, English skill building and then researched the author for our biography sheet. K was very impressed by how many books he writes (especially given how her head is full of stories trapped by writing problems). I’m not sure if it is just his face (and who can help how their face looks) but I get a great sense of honesty, kindness and a deep sense of ethics (which is unsurprising given his career teaching medical law!) from every one of his books. Even the unpleasant characters are treated humanely (without excuses). He reminds me a lot of Maggie Keswick Jenks, who I am only aware of through documentaries and her wonderful legacy, the Maggie’s Centres – the sense of joy in life, of taking all of it, up and down, and deciding to embrace all of it’s complexity with a deep love and vibrancy and raw honesty. I digress – but let’s say this week was a good week for me too. We used the internet to research the author, asking what we needed to know and how important the facts were to understanding his writing.

One of the challenges was deciding just what to study, as the book lead us in such amazing directions – geography, navigation, history, naval terminology, knot tying, friendship and bullying.

We compared different types of map: how did the artistic version look compared to the ‘realistic’ one? what techniques did the illustrator use to show mountains when he couldn’t use colour? how do we know there is water around the island? Compare the scales used, to work out the size of the island – why are there different measurements?
Using scratch board to try art techniques. I really loved looking more closely at Iain McIntosh’s illustrations – there is such a great use of line, shape and it’s all done with ease and mastery (in the finished result). We looked at his website to find out more about him, his techniques and get ideas for using the scratchboard. It is a LOT harder than we thought, although using different shaped tools (all ordered from Amazon, sorry) was a good art lesson.

K spent a few days with her grandparents – who are fully on board with homeschool so far – and so she stepped up and produced her own timetable to make sure everyone stayed on track.

Miss K decided that everyone needed a timetable for the day so we all knew what was happening when. I love the illustrations! It’s interesting that she naturally uses pictures as well as words to keep on track.

Her navigation studies included a couple of astrolabes – made at home with cardboard and ingenuity from the site DIY, a safe online space for children to learn how to make and do. It’s a wonderful resource and really worth spending time on. You never know when it will spark off a learning journey.

We are only using the site in a limited way as I don’t feel she needs the community/sharing aspect yet – lots of time for that in years to come!

She also began her nature studies, using the online book “Exploring Nature with Children” by Lynn Seddon. Each week has a great list of resources based on each topic, this week being fungi. There are books, computer links, things to look out for on your nature walks, a series of art prompts and an appropriate poem.

Studying different types of mushroom from her walk.

Reading out her nature studies to granny and grandad.

K and Grandad did a series of experiments from a Twinkl science project on finding the best materials for making boats. I was impressed with how much writing she did, as it is not easy for her to focus and the physical act of writing is tricky. She is learning so much though.

The cardboard astrolabe from DIY.

As usual, she did the start of a very detailed and exciting story about the adventures of Penny Lolly and the were-fox but lost focus after two pictures. It looks very interesting so far.

We used the twinkl website for handouts to look at about friendship and bullying, as the characters of William Edward Hardtack, Maximilian Flubber and Geoffrey Shark (school bullies) are quite prominent in the book, as is the friendship between brother and sister Ben and Fee and their schoolmates Poppy and Badger.

There are lots of special words which you only find on board ship – we made a note of some of them but didn’t have time to do the illustrations!

Overall a great week for learning, although the hardest thing is actually fitting everything in during the week. We need to factor in a lot of breaks to regroup and focus, time for music practice, time to walk the dog and move around, time to get household jobs done and of course there are intermittent appointments. Social time is limited just now and in winter that is always a challenge but I hope it will get easier as we ease into the routine. Next week’s topic is Dogs, one of her favourite subjects, rather than an individual book, and it will last for several weeks.

New Year.

So New Year brings all kinds of feelings to the surface for lots of people. Fo rme, it makes me want to create. I want to get out in the garden and clear the ground for the spring. I want to walk next to frosty banks of ferns and watch brown water roll over rocks and silver stones. I want to catch my breath from the cold fresh air.

So I’m going to update my blog and update my practice, as an artist and creative person. I’m a mother and an Aspie and a carer and a gardener and all of those things at once. As soon as I can work out where all my posts actually *are* on the site, I’ll back them up and try to find a nice new theme that will reflect my word for 2016: Grow.

Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Day 5 – BRUSH!!

Back to regular weather here in Edinburgh today – pouring rain (because of course nothing says ‘rain on me’ like fabric forgotten on the line overnight…)

We were both in handmade dresses and got to the Roxy Assembly – in an old Church on the corner of Roxburgh Street – in plenty of time for some chat with very friendly front of house staff. So far, we’ve not met a grumpy person yet!

Brush – ah, how we missed you! Disclosure: we saw this show twice last year, it was so fantastic, and I was so happy they were coming back, I’ve been tweeting them a countdown.. If you only go to see one show, go see this one. Or their other production, The Overcoat, which we’ll be going to very soon I hope (as school goes back on Monday, our festival going is sadly cut short. What is that about Edinburgh council? It’s almost like you don’t want the plebs at the Book Festival etc.).. On with the review.

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Act: A professional theatre group from Seoul, South Korea, Brush Theatre (Theatre Haddangse) are full of energy, joy and fabulous story tellers, both physically and verbally. The mixed group of men and women throw themselves into telling the story of Daesung, a boy who only wants a real baby brother, and the journey he goes on with his Grandmother’s pig Dalbong.

Summary: We meet a group of cheeky temple fairies, who use brushes and large sheets of paper to draw pictures of Buddha and Jesus, and run away when Daesung comes along with his family. We meet mother and father, who take him to see Grandmother a long way off. Grandmother has a lovely pig called Dalbong, his best friend (and very funny). Grandmother tells him how to get the magic dust from the statue of Buddha in a temple to make sure his baby brother comes, and along the way, he and Dalbong have some very dangerous and funny adventures. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so can’t tell you too much!


Props:  The main props are some very large boards with sheets of paper – the set is painted before your eyes, with huge gusto and perfectionism – Miss Kitty whispered “they’re very good drawers” – in lots of settings. I love the way that movement is incorporated into the art and the setting, I’ve never seen that before and it’s just as magical this year. There are a few rolls of paper and card that form mountains, flowers and stone steps! That’s pretty much it, and is one of the reasons why the music and performers are left to be front and centre, with no distractions.


Performance: it will blow you away, basically. Oh, you want more description than that? Every single actor in the troupe is gifted at communicating with face, gesture, movement and of course sound. There were more English words this year I think, and a couple of different performers, but most of the communication is non-verbal. You can see that the expressions and movements are big – there is subtlety but if you’re seated a few rows back, it won’t affect how you enjoy the show. There is live music throughout – oh how I wish I could play the accordion (and speak Korean!) – which is played from the front of the stage, so if you are close by, be prepared! There is humour but none of it patronises children or adults, there is no sarcasm and it’s all about the joy of story telling. There is a little song where the audience have to sneeze, and the cast are often in among the audience as they journey through the forest and find the temple. If you’ve ever been to a theatre and been carried away by the infectious energy of a show, you’ll know what I mean. It’s not just one particular thing, the whole ensemble is transporting.

Take Home Message: It could be “be careful what you wish for” but it’s more likely to be “be happy! love your family!” (I LOVE the respect that Daesun shows his Grandmother – it fits in with our tradition in the Orthodox church).

Brush1Miss Kitty Review: [Ed. it was hard to get her to talk in sentences to be honest, she had been so excited before we went and then when we were greeted personally AND given a lovely gift, she just about left the planet.]

“I think it’s the best show in the planet. They are so funny, they make me laugh and are so good at painting. I’m good at painting too but not like that. My favourite bit is when the dad shouts “My Soo-ooon!” and I like the pig and the bit at the end [I’ve edited this so that you don’t know the ending]. I wish I could see Brush every year until I’m a grown up.”

ASD/SEN Notes:  This is mostly a low trigger show. There are no flashing lights, no strobes, no smoke machines. The music provided is all live and mostly gentle (and well done). The lights go up and down but slowly. At one point there are coloured lights behind a screen but these are slow, hand-speed. Music could be an issue – at a scene where Daesun is in danger, the banging of a drum pretty much reduced Miss Kitty to quivering jelly, but she was also very worried by the tiger (imagine one of those new year dragon type things). I think that’s about the only thing to watch out for, which in an hour long show is brilliant. It’s ‘handmade’ theatre in the best sense.

Miss K rating: “I give it a million!”

Mama Scissors rating: 20/20, in spite of the drum.

p.s. we will be going along to the Overcoat and will review that in a week’s time. Miss Kitty was such a big fan that the lovely Brush people gave her a little gift – her words were “This is the best day of my life”!  Misty-eyed mama signing off.


Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Day 4 – Pitschi the Kitten with Dreams

A sunny day! in August! in Edinburgh! Halleluljah! I swear, this never happens. Encouraged by the blue sky (I know), we set off for the relatively early performance of Pitschi the Kitten with Dreams by Theatre Fideri Fidera, performed solo by Natasha Granger.

We arrived on time at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, which is in term-time home of the type of student I didn’t associate with, although I now bitterly regret that. This place is beautiful and has a terrific study room!  

Miss Kitty enjoyed the general pink sparkliness of the occasion and was very struck by these glittery numerals.

Meanwhile, her mama was thinking “I hung about in the dank brutalist crap that was Potterow and missed out on THIS?”



We got terribly lost and ended up going up and down a turret, so the signposting could be improved. However, very helpful and kind staff pointed us in the right direction, and soon we were part of a small tide of girls and their mothers – I think I saw two boys, no more than three years old – queuing patiently. Miss K was having a difficult time with the baby noises but she coped and we were warmly welcomed into the show by Natasha… So – the by now familiar review format.

ACT: The only visible human is Natasha Granger, a very confident, talented and warm young actor (they’re all younger than me obviously). She engaged the audience very quickly, with her open and friendly style – I think it would be impossible to resist that smile and genuine joy she exudes. You really feel like she wants to tell you the story so much and can’t wait to share the fun with you. There are obviously a couple of people who change the images – from a book much-beloved in Switzerland about Pitschi – and cue the music, but the other main characters are some suitably deranged looking kittens – see below – as well as a stuffed dog, and various props (more on that later).


Summary: This is the warm and enjoyable story of a kitten who didn’t want to be a kitten, and in the course of a day tries to be various other animals that you’d encounter on a Heidi-like hillside: a goat, a hen, a duck, a bunny etc. All very beautifully drawn and shown on the screen behind the action. Natasha plays her grandmother with great gusto – who knew that just putting on a scarf and using a walking stick to shake your booty to “Rumpf rumpf rumpf rumpf” would be so entertaining?  Kittens cannot, of course, be any of those animals and poor Pitschi has a very tiring and ultimately dangerous day, before she is rescued by granny, who is alerted by said dog. Lovely. There is a lot of audience participation but it was done without the slightest hint of sarcasm, unlike our show on Day 2…

Props: Mostly the stuffed animals, but also a bench, headscarf, skirt, basket of kittens (squee), bucket full of dangerously squirty rubber glove – be prepared to get wet – and a broom. The screen is supported by two pretty rustic poles, to complete the Swiss Mountain styling.

Take Home Message: Be yourself and make friends with people (or animals) who are different from you. Also – girls can be very funny (this was the only solo performance by a woman we’ve seen this week and she carried it perfectly).


Miss K Review: “I thought it was lovely. She was so funny, especially I liked it when she was being her granny [Ed. she then demonstrated the granny walk several times throughout the day]. The kittens were very sweet although I got a bit scared when she was in the rabbit hutch and there was a bat and owl and wolf, just like the Fairly Tales one. I really liked being a bunny, she was very friendly.”

ASD/SEN notes: Access to the Dining Room at Teviot isn’t the easiest, although I’m sure there’s a better way in – there are regulations these days. In the room, you walk along a fairly narrow passageway towards the stage and are greeted by the actor. The seats are ranged up in rows, the floor and walls are all black, seating accessed by a single stairway – unless you sit further in you will have to get up and down as kids go past. There are no flashing lights, no lighting effects or smoke machines, no strobes or bangs. There is a little music played on the accordion but mostly it is just sung. The images are on a white screen, similar to those used in school or slide shows. At one point the audience are squirted with quite a lot of water and at another, children are asked to come up on stage and hop/dance like bunnies. There is a mild threat, in one scene near the end, but there is no lowering of lights or increase in noise – note that Miss Kitty did pick up on it though, even though it was very innocuous.

Miss Kitty rating: 10/10, definitely good.

Mama Scissors rating: 10/10 – a great introduction to theatre for all kids, enjoyable by old hands like Miss Kitty, performed with gusto and skill. I’m relieved (although surprised) they weren’t selling reproduction kittens or books, both of which would have done very well. (I will accept orders for the kittens, if anyone is interested).

Definitely go see!


Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Day 3 – Trash Test Dummies

Dashing across the Meadows just after 12, we were welcomed very nicely to the Beauty Tent – sans Purple Cow Udders – for the daily show by the Trash Test Dummies.  Having heard good things from other families who do the Fringe, we were both looking forward to a proper ‘show’ after yesterday’s slightly disappointing outing.

There’s a definite Australian thing going on this year, with at least two of our five shows from down under – not that I’m complaining. I get the feeling that children’s entertainment and theatre is taken a lot more seriously in other parts of the world than here.

Act: Three young male circus acrobats/clowns/very clever guys, wearing a variety of denim dungarees with nothing else apart from boots, three large wheelie bins, lots of gags, music, skill and energy.

Summary: There’s no narrative as such – Kitty (currently addicted to Penguins of Madagascar) announced they were like Skipper, Kowalski and Private, so there are definite characters that they play. They lark about, have small sketches accompanied by appropriate music (a ballet class one was among my favourites) (no really), there’s a lot of being deliberately silly and a bit of getting the grown ups to laugh too, with the theme tune to The Great Escape and Batman likely to pass most kids by.


Props: Big wheelie (trash) bins, more bins, lots of balloons, many small plastic balls that get thrown into the audience, juggling batons, hats, a ladder, more balls. I think you could add the dungarees to the list of props as they certainly work hard.

Performance: High energy, whole hearted and done with just enough of a nod to the grown ups. I think it’s a fine line and they only just stay on the right side, but that’s ok. At one point, Skipper (as we called him) pops up without the upper part of his dungarees – Kitty found that a bit embarassing – ditto the pretending to be wearing superhero underpants (you’ll see). They worked HARD for the whole time and managed to make it much more than just a show of extremely good juggling, acrobatics and circus skills. They are definitely comedians, in the best sense of that word. Best of all, they weren’t scared of being silly – and wearing dungarees (excellent choice) – which gave them a real edge and lack of self-consciousness that I think the kids really enjoyed. Hell I enjoyed it – particularly their freestyle dancing. There were LOTS and lots of belly laughs from boys and girls, all ages, some parents particularly enjoyed being down at the front.


Take Home Message: Having fun is good. There was a bit of a thing about friendship in spite of laughing (and slapping) people but certainly not in a hugging-and-learning way. Probably the main message was “go find a gymnastics class and you too can be cool if you work really hard”.

Miss Kitty Review: “I thought it was awesome. Best show I’ve ever seen apart from Brush – it was almost as good as that. I liked the guys who were like Skipper, Kowalski and Private [Ed. This is high praise folks]. My favourite bit was when they thought their friend was dead and then they saw him and slapped him a lot, that was very funny. I liked the one with the beard most, he was like daddy. [Ed. only vaguely, as daddy no longer has a beard]. I think everyone should go see it, it was very funny. I got a bit embarassed but it wasn’t bad. It was very loud and I thought my ears might die but I laughed a lot.”

trash test 2

ASD/SEN Notes: As you will have gathered, there’s a lot going on in this show! The venue is accessible but only just – mobility needs can get in through a ground floor entrance and sit in the front row (although this means you will be engaged with at some point – don’t let that put you off). Otherwise, you are up about 8 steps and the seats are very small, ranged around a horseshoe shape over 8 tiers. I was frequently bumped by the person in front stretching backwards, much to our mutual annoyance. There is plenty of space and it feels quite open. Big lighting rig, and lots of lighting effects: not a strobe but very bright white searchlights, plus lots of coloured lights moving around. There is a smoke machine about three quarters of the way through. There is a lot of music and at one point I realised that it was setting off my ears too, so I was amazed that Kitty coped. Perhaps turn it down just a notch. There are no big bangs or flashes. NB: at one point a character has a bin bag put over his head, and at another he has ping-pong balls (and later a harmonica) in his mouth. I have to admit to freaking out a bit & making clear immediately that he was a skilled circus performer. I do have visions of small ADHD boys all over Scotland jumping into stinky bins and getting really badly hurt.

Miss Kitty rating: 20/20, definitely awesome
Mama Scissors rating: 17/20 – points lost for safety issues, excess noise and selling us a tiny plastic bin with a bag of haribo and a Trash Test Dummies sticker, which I had no way of avoiding on the way out.

Another go see, from the SSS review team.

p.s. a very neat trick – get the audience to help tidy up by turning it into a ball-collecting mosh pit at the end. Very smart.


Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Day 2



Day two started off overcast and was decidedly cool, even for Edinburgh in August. We arrived at 11am for the 11:10 performance of Jazzmatazz by Ali McGregor and crew.

We were at the far end of a queue consisting mostly of toddlers, babes in arms, their pregnant and/or tired mothers and few grandparents/dads thrown in for good measure. All in fine fettle and ready to explore the wonderful Spiegeltent (how can that be a tent mama?), we were greeted by a very enthusiastic Fringe staffer who ripped our tickets and welcomed the bright pink chihuahua currently accompanying us on our festival jaunts.


The tent is, as you can see, huge. We sat near the very front at the dance floor but there’s another tier of booth tables around the walls which, on balance, I’d choose next time. There were some mellow sounds coming from the three-piece band and a few kids attempted to get on the floor to make the most of the opportunity to lark about and not be told off.

 Said pink chihuahua, about to whack it’s head on the floor, again. It likes being thrown up and down a lot. You can see that she is probably at the top end of the age scale for this show, and very quickly began to feel uncomfortable.

Act: Ali McGregor’s Jazzmatazz, high quality singing and musical jazz aimed directly at children up to the age of 7 and their parents. There were lots of songs – only a few jazz classics, A-Tisket A-Tasket among them but lots of mash ups, including “who let the dogs out” and “single ladies” (or whatever that Beyonce track is called).  In between songs, Ms McGregor asks children things like “what do you do to cool down in the summer?” (of course there is no summer, badoom-tish), “what do you do when you feel happy?”, “what kind of animals do you see in the jungle?”. There’s usually a straight answer from the kids and she then makes a kind of witty remark about it, for the benefit of the parents. Almost entirely in good humour, although I’d say it’s a bit dry and sarcastic for kids who are old enough to know what’s going on. There’s lots and lots of dancing, led by two professionals who are not afraid to get into the kid mosh pit that forms around the front of the stage.

Summary: lots of songs, a bit of repartee, more songs, a little bit of boogying especially designed for parents of pre-verbal kids and all in a pleasant setting.

Props: the band, although you could argue that the children are a prop too. A bubble machine.

Performance: Ms McGregor has got a great voice. It’s clear, warm, rich and she is obviously very talented, as are the musicians and dancers – although they hardly got a look in, to be honest. In her bright red frock and matching sparkly shoes, she steals the show and can go from singing beautifully to chatting with a toddler quick smoothly.

Take home: Kids can enjoy jazz and live music, it doesn’t all have to be Singing Kettle. (You know what I mean if you’re Scottish).

Miss K Review: I thought it was okay. She was a good singer and I liked the band. I didn’t know many songs, and she didn’t sing any Raffi. It  was a bit busy and I got embarassed so we left early. I didn’t want to talk to her afterwards.

[Ed. Now, those who know Miss K will know that she is a chatty, fairly confident kid in spite of – because of? – her ASD. She has been going up to actors, singers etc and taking over Fringe shows for at least four years, sometimes to the dismay of less confident performers. Today was no exception and her hand shot up when she realised she’d get to speak into a microphone and answer questions from the lady. Today was the first time she’s been made to feel embarassed or shy about something she said, although I don’t doubt that was NOT her intention. However, sarcasm and dry wit are kind of lost on kids of a certain age, who are aware that they are the butt of some kind of joke and it’s not really one that they get… So take your kid, let them get up and dance and talk but make sure they’re not old enough to understand.]

ASD/SEN notes: The show is inside the spiegeltent which is nice and airy, high ceilinged and quite large. The access is not the easiest – buggies are left outside but that’s maybe because there were about 50 of them.  Steps up to the centre doors, and more steps, quite wide and shallow, from the side seating booths down to the central dance floor. The stage is thankfully up too far for it to be subject to stage invasions from the maddened crowd. There are lots of lights which are visible but none too bright, mirrors and stained glass windows around the upper walls and the ceiling is hung with red curtains. (see picture below). Sound quality was good – not too loud although it’s intense when the songs are playing. There were no flashing lights, bangs or strobes. A bubble machine in one song brought all the kids to a corner, where it was a bit too much – granny’s in particular liked taking the babies up and Miss K felt overwhelmed.  She spent much more time on my knee in this show than yesterday, even though the subject matter was in no way scary. (see the note above). Children in wheelchairs would need extra assistance to be in the crowd, if they were given access at all.

Miss Kitty rating: 5/10 (although the band and singer both got full marks for performance).

Mama Scissors rating: again, ditto. Quality of performance great, possibly not the right age group for us at 7 & 42.


Edinburgh Fringe 2015: day 1

Despite the insanity that Edinburgh school terms start only a week or so after the festival begins – and two days after the Edinburgh Book Festival starts!! – I decided to make the most of this and just go do a show with Miss Kitty every day this week.

Day one was a typically rainy affair, visiting the Pleasance, normally Edinburgh University territory – I’ve been there in the past for a medieval dance group – and right next to their gym complex. It’s going to be refurbished and so I’m not sure if the Fringe can use it next year – it’s a real rabbit warren but I have a fondness for it’s victorian bizarre layout.  Today we were down in the cellar, seeing Andon Theatre Company perform “Fairly Tales“.

fairlytales2Summary: two very talented young actors, in their 20s, perform a story about two boys (in school uniform) discovering a mutual love of traditional type fair(l)y stories and recreating them ‘for real’ in their backgardens, which join by a dodgy fence with a gap. They have an exciting journey through a magical landscape, complete with princesses, trolls, witches, wolves and a flatulent cow. No really. Her name is Mary.

Props: Absolutely minimal. The Cellar is small and intimate, with children invited to sit on the front row if comfortable. I made sure Miss K knew where I was sitting, so she could come and hug if need be (and she did find the wolf and troll bits a little unsettling for a minute). There are two rotating screens, with a plain curtain on the back, sheets of perspex that the actors draw on with magic wipers and that’s pretty much it. There’s a holder for  the sheets but that isn’t part of the performance.

Performance: both guys gave it their absolute all – they were great. I was initially a bit ‘oh god two blokes pretending to be kids and not talking like kids have done since… I don’t know, grange hill circa 1978?’ but I was completely won over. I sincerely hope that someone sees their work who can a) give them more work and b) sticks them on the telly, because I think they’re very good indeed. What gets to you isn’t how slick and well rehearsed it is (and they clearly know it backwards) but their absolute integrity – if they weren’t so sweaty at the end I’d have shaken their hands. They remind me what live theatre is about and I think it is worth about 100 times the shouty, loud, over-done performance of say a certain Dr Seuss show which spends a lot of time flogging hats outside the door. *cough*

Take home message: Don’t just read books, try playing the stories with your friends and let them get mashed up and exciting – play! write! read! [Ed. I love it].

Miss Kitty’s review: “I thought they were very good. I got a bit scared but I’m glad there wasn’t anything bad happening to the boys. I wanted to talk to them more [Ed. She is very very big on audience participation, of which there is absolutely none.  A bit unusual but it works for this show.] I give it a 20 out of 20 and think my friend P (a boy) would like it too.” (there is no higher praise).

ASD/SEN notes: The cellar is dark and quite small but it is not a problem for kids to be near their parents or move around as needed. I wouldn’t think it is great for kids who need to be very mobile or have a lot of stimming, as they will be near the front of the performance and in view of other kids, which might be stressful for them if not near parents. It is not easily accessible for wheelchairs or other mobility issues, as it is down steep steps and the seating is very close together. Lighting is ok – it gets very low before the show but there are zero big bangs, flashes, strobes or other effects. Ditto sound effects, beyond a bit of microphone use at the beginning and during the character sequences (wolf/troll/narrator). Some children will need a bit of explanation that the boys are pretending to be the story characters and that they are not going to hurt each other.

At the end of the show, each child – and parent! – was given a special pencil with the Andon Theatre logo to go and write their own stories, which was a really nice touch.

Miss Kitty rating: 20/20

Mama Scissors rating: ditto.

I recommend catching these young men before they go on to do very good things.

p.s. photo shows us being captured by Albee Vector Sound Collector, who thought we’d been to his show!