All posts by Nancy Dear

I’m a mum who learned the hard way. We are a family of four – Nancy, Simon, Lyle (20) and Ethan (17) – who have lived in a suburb of Glasgow for the last 20 years with very little help from family separated by distance, or in the case of my own parents their untimely death.

I have worked full-time throughout most of Lyle and Ethan’s formative years; currently combining part-time PR work with freelance PR and copywriting and for the first time really having a chance to appreciate how fleeting time with your children can be.

Ectastic, relieved, proud – son no. 2 has uni offers

It has been a momentous week. 17 year-old Ethan became Scottish Schools High Jump champion for the third year in a row and left school – for good – on Friday.

He had applied to do either marine biology or sports science at Glasgow or Stirling universities and has unconditional offers for both at both institutions.

It has been a rollercoaster of emotions these past few months, with free-spirited Ethan showing signs of restlessness within months of starting sixth year.

With 3As and 2 Bs at Higher he had a good clutch of qualifications, but wasn’t sure if it was enough to go on to study the subjects he wanted to.

Thankfully the news he had been hoping for came 10 days ago. So he put in motion withdrawal from school, submitting his Advanced Higher Biology assignment as a kind of a swan song and saying goodbye to teachers and pupils.

The UCAS application process was undoubtedly as stressful as I remember with Lyle with all sorts of dilemmas and doubts creeping into Ethan’s personal statement. It’s approximately 600 words that represent a watershed in a young person’s life.

Ethan was actually really honest about his dilemma in the application describing a fascination for the workings of both marine life and the human body and alluding to time he is going to spend deciding on which final course to take.

I dare say the next few weeks will be unsettling as he adjusts to life beyond school, but he seems really content with his next steps with a holiday in Portugal with some friends to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I am studying part-time, online for a Masters in Strategic Public Relations and finding the pull back to formal education tough.

 

 

The pain of UCAS personal statements

images

It’s 4,000 characters guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of the average 17 year-old.

Crafting a personal statement to accompany your UCAS university application is one of life’s early milestones, demanding that the young person is sufficiently familiar with their strengths, interests and career aspirations to jot them down in coherent sentences for the perusal of university admissions teams.

The trouble is that so many of them aren’t. When you think about it, it’s such a tender age to make such a momentous decision hence, Ethan, my 16 year-old, is wrestling with not only how to convince admissions that he is passionate about marine biology, but how to convince himself.

He is interested in marine biology, but also in sports science and just recently has taken more than a passing interest in neuroscience.

Arguably you could say that each involves studying the workings of the body – both human and animal – and the brain, so he has landed on this theme to tie his statement together. And is now turning his attention to hobbies, interests and achievements.

Fortunately his sporting abilities demonstrate the sort of dedication, determination and team work that universities – not to mention employers – are looking for. But, again, he is dubious when faced with friends who seem to have known from an early age that they want to be a doctor or a vet.

Where does that unshakeable belief come from? Have these young people felt a calling, or, more likely, been inspired to follow in their parents footsteps.

To all the other kids I say do as much research as you can to broaden your horizons by, for example, completing the My Strengths and About me questionnaires on www.myworldofwork.co.uk and then checking out the ‘Meet the Industries’ section to see which industries employ people with which skills and qualifications, and which industries are growing.

That’s boring is likely to be the lament, but not nearly as boring as working for 40 years in a job you’re not cut out for.

Plumbing the depths

IMG_1335 (1)

It was a day we’d tried to banish from our minds all summer since Ethan sat his last Higher exam on May 18th, but the leaps and bounds down two flights of stairs the morning of SQA exam results day suggested that the news was good.

Ethan, 16, achieved 3As at Higher – English, Maths and Geography – and 2Bs in Biology and Chemistry, and all were delighted.

He worked hard at school in fifth year, but resisted the temptation that some of his peers succumbed to, to study to the exclusion of all else.

There is absolutely no doubt in the minds of kids at school in East Renfrewshire that fifth year is the most important year of your young life, setting you up for further or higher education, or not, as the case may be. And the pressure is immense.

However, as well as working towards a clutch of good Highers last year, Ethan also managed to train two nights a week and competed at the weekend in athletics competitions – he is top in Scotland for U17 high jump, with a personal best of 1.9m.

He sounds like an all-round bright, hard-working boy, I hear you say.

But it’s not enough to study Marine Biology at one of Scotland’s top universities.

Ethan has had a great love of the ocean since he was little, and has grown up to be a keen surfer and avid watcher of every documentary about the sea that’s ever been made!

So it was with some dismay that he learned that the grades he had – the same as the published minimum entry requirements for Marine Biology in his preferred institution – aren’t going to be good enough.

Further probing revealed that there are fewer and fewer places for Scots students at this institution, and that of the 115 Scots that got accepted to Marine Biology last year, 100 of them had 4As and a B, or better at Higher.

I was further intrigued to read an article in The Telegraph that said that the number of Scots missing out on a university place has doubled in the last decade.

The article said that, The SNP’s free tuition policy is only affordable because ministers impose a cap on the number of places allocated to Scottish and EU students. ‘Universities Scotland’ said the figures showed it is getting “harder and harder” for Scottish applicants to win a place thanks to “strict controls”.

Are we rapidly returning to the days where only very bright Scots (or very affluent Rest of UK and international young people) can attend university? It’s certainly something to think about.

Devon max

IMG_1147

Looking out over green fields fringed by a cloudless sky and the serene blue of the sea, I feel compelled to commend, yet again, a holiday in the South Hams in Devon.

We discovered this area about five years ago and with the exception of a big birthday trip to the States in 2013 have come here for our annual summer holiday ever since.

Of course, the stunning, rolling countryside offers life at a leisurely pace with villages such as Modbury providing the quintessential English country experience complete with local food emporiums, quirky boutiques and tearooms.

But scratch the surface and a world of surfing, wind surfing, kite surfing, kayaking and sailing awaits – and these are just the possibilities on water.

The exceptionally mild climate in this part of the UK has given rise to a culture of outdoor activities such as tennis – there are dozens of courts in Dartmouth and Ivybridge – cycling and walking, much in evidence in the tanned, svelte physiques of young and older Devonians alike.

Surfing lessons are available at Bigbury and Bantham beaches (visit www.discoverysurf.com and www.trioceansurf.co.uk for details) with the swell of the sea and long sweeps of golden sand combining to etch an unforgettable image of coastal Britain at its best in the minds of all who visit.

Younger son, Ethan, has developed an avid surfing habit over the years and recommends Bigbury for beginners, while Bantham has longer “peak” periods creating a more challenging ride.

The picturesque village of Salcombe, which sparkles against the Aegean blue of the Kingsbridge Estuary, attracts the sailing fraternity and everything that goes with it.

Excellent local bakeries, fishmongers and delis pepper the streets, alongside brilliant boutiques such as Sea Chest selling nautical classics and Deck Out providing more whimsical designs to show off sun kissed skin and beach blonde tresses.

Totnes is another delightful discovery, with Fore Street running through the centre like a mountain tributary with outcrops of fantastic delis, cafes, gift and clothes shops on either side, top to bottom.

South Hams is an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Totnes remains true to its values of nature in the raw. It is one of the founder towns of the Transition Town movement with its strong focus on sustainable practices.

Eating out is all part of the laid back vibe in the South Hams, but if you fancy throwing something on the barbie at your holiday accommodation and washing it down with a cold beer or chilled Chenin Blanc the options are endless.

Riverford Organic Farms Shop and Café near Buckfastleigh offers organic fruit and vegetables grown on local farms or on the premises in giant polytunnels, as well as fresh beef, chicken, pork and lamb and all manner of accompaniments.

We stayed at Barton Court cottages in South Huish this year, which, besides having a fantastic indoor pool and games room for occasional rainy days, is close to all the great beaches with The Beachhouse restaurant at South Milton an absolute must.

 

 

 

 

‘Green & pleasant land’ all at sea

FullSizeRender

With the summer holidays just started, I’m affording myself the rare opportunity to take my foot off the gas and wake up and smell the coffee (relaxing my avoidance of mixed metaphors too!).

Sitting in an idyllic cottage overlooking the sea in the South Hams in Devon, it’s a quintessentially English scene that the English have just voted decisively to protect.

I’ve spent the weekend pouring over post EU Referendum analysis, and can’t help but feel that the British people have been stitched up – again – by party politics.

David Cameron apparently took a gamble in announcing the referendum in the first place, in an attempt to quell an uprising by backbench Eurosceptics. And Boris Johnson backed Leave in a calculated bid to become Prime Minister.

Don’t think either of these guys really expected to get the result we did.

So we are in a new world order – the result having sent shock waves around the globe and throughout world financial markets.

I’m upset for young people whose carefully thought out arguments and overwhelming engagement was nothing short of spectacular. The media seems to be saying that this is a triumph for white, working class Britain (old versus young and, less charitably, uneducated versus educated) but the strength of feeling is just as notable.

As ever, in considering the implications I’m thinking of my sons – Lyle (now 20, I really must think of a new slug for this blog!) and Ethan, 16.

Lyle was devastated, finally laying his cards on the table that he hopes to spend his life as a touring musician – a dream that will be thwarted by continental Europe closing its borders to Britain – or, at least, making it a lot more difficult for Brits abroad.

Or will it? The strength of feeling shown by young – and old – towards this “green and pleasant land” suggests that we will work something out. And after all the bitter recriminations settle over in Brussels, can they really afford to ignore what some have called the most liberal-minded, multicultural, inclusive society in the world.

I’m not a fan of Cameron, but felt genuinely sorry for him on Friday when his dream of launching a “life chances strategy” – among other unfulfilled ambitions – lay in tatters.

Ever onwards…