Who’s the Tutor?

In a recent short-lived but productive panic about money (I have them occasionally, since trading in my smattering of unsuccessful careers for life as a full-time home-maker and freelance child-wrangler), I reactivated my old tutoring profiles on a couple of websites. Within days one of them bore fruit, and last week I trundled off to the same seaside town in which I recently spent a week babysitting an adorable toddler, to conduct my first tutoring class for some years.

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Part-Time Parenting

My littlest Paris girls - I don't have any photos of my current boys!
My littlest Paris girls – I don’t have any photos of my current boys!

I’ve been looking after other people’s children in one way or another for nearly ten years; during the brief periods when I don’t have any of “my kids” life feels unbalanced. Especially during my last year at Cambridge, time spent with kids has been such an important change of gear for me. And being part of a number of different families is very helpful in giving me ideas about how I’d want to parent my own children. Continue reading

I Love Mondays

I almost don’t recognise myself! For the last week I’ve been getting up early, always by 8am, doing an hour of work before lectures, working efficiently between lectures, concentrating in lectures, cooking proper food, sleeping (almost) enough every night, thinking about work when I’m not actually doing any, and generally feeling positive and happy despite a demanding workload and a packed timetable.

It’s such a contrast from this time last year. All the worries I had about maybe not being able to cope with coming back have evaporated, because although there still aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the reading I want and need to do, I’m still on top of things. I’m not drowning. I’m not even waving.

I had my first supervision of the term today: Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System. I think it’s probably the subject I find easiest, with the least demanding workload, but that isn’t so much because it’s an inherently easy subject but because unlike my other four, it’s not about black letter law and learning facts. Instead it’s about current affairs, sociology, legal theory and having opinions. I’m very good at having opinions! It was great to start the term with a supervision I felt fully prepared for. Things will probably get progressively worse from here, due to the structure of my timetable – next I have administrative law, which I really enjoy but which is very complex and involves a huge amount of reading, then international which ditto and is further complicated by the most ludicrously convoluted case law I’ve ever seen, then next week contract (argh) and then land, two subjects I find simultaneously dull and impossible. But maybe that’s the best order to have things in, because every fortnight I can start again on a positive note.

I’m certainly feeling positive today! As well as a successful supervision and two good lectures, I had tutoring with my Korean student. I’m really impressed by how smart he is and how well he retains things, and today I also discovered he has a keen interest and fairly well-established understanding of grammar. We covered the sort of grammar that people my age still struggle with sometimes, such as subject-object identification and the imperfect tense. Teaching him has made me extremely aware of just how many English words have double meanings, and how hard it is to explain something new without introducing half a dozen other concepts which also need explaining, until eventually you’ve both forgotten where you started.

And to cap it all, I’ve done a fair amount of fast, purposeful cycling which I just love. Last summer when I lived in Arbury, which is about three miles away from college, I would cycle into the centre and back several times a day and it was exhilarating. I was there again on Saturday night for my friends Sarah and Henry’s leaving party, which was a lot of fun. Cycling back yesterday morning (I stayed over because it had got quite late) I felt really energised and ready for the day – a totally alien feeling for 8.30am on a Sunday morning, even before I got ill!

The way I’m feeling at the moment, things have really turned a corner. If I can keep this up I feel like I can achieve anything this year. My student will be writing novels in English, I’ll get a first in at least one paper, choir will be fabulous and life will be great 🙂

And next time I’m feeling down about something, I’ll just come back to this post and remind myself of all the good things in my life!

The Start of a New Term

Today is the first official day of term, although things got going yesterday really, and I’m doing… nothing.

No lectures (they start on Thursday), no academic meetings by chance, no choir, nothing at all planned except general chores and tidying up. The irony of being totally, completely free on the first day of term amuses me.

Yesterday was quite busy. I had a start of term meeting with my DoS, then we went to a meeting with our Land supervisor (same person as last year and just as lovely as I remembered). I did a bit of shopping – John Lewis appears to be the only place in Cambridge that is not out of stock on coathangers, so I gritted my teeth and paid £17 for 12 coathangers, eek – and then three hours of reading for my first Land supervision. Aren’t I dedicated?!

The afternoon brought with it the world’s shortest meeting ever, for Contract. We went into the room, fussed about the fact that there were 9 people and only four seats, said hello, got given two sheets of paper, swiftly assigned supervision times, and left again. Five minutes, max.

This year I’ll be having one-to-one Contract supervisions with my DoS, which is a slightly intimidating prospect since I don’t remember being particularly good at contract and now I have no one to hide behind! On the other hand, it will a) make me more accountable and b) mean that if I do understand something, we can move straight on to things I don’t understand. In a group situation the pace is never perfect for everyone. We’ll see how that goes. Luckily the time is limited to an hour by lectures either side, so it won’t turn into a four-hour disaster if I get stuck on something!

I also started tutoring yesterday. My tutee is a 9 year old boy from South Korea, and he lives about fifteen minutes away by bike. I set off with half an hour to get there, and immediately got a puncture. Foolishly I didn’t turn round, go back and get my other bike (soon to be given to charity, but currently still in the college bike shed) but soldiered on. The puncture got worse, until I could feel every bump in the road and some that weren’t actually there. Unsurprisingly I was late arriving. I was so angry with myself, it’s so unprofessional to arrive late, especially to the first session! But they were very lovely and understanding about it, and I was only just over five minutes late. Next time I’ll leave even earlier, just in case (and I’m taking the bike to get fixed properly today – my brother did try to fix it over the summer but I have a feeling I need a new tyre).

The tutoring itself went well, after an initial few minutes of awkwardness. I’d made a questionnaire for the boy to fill in, so that I could know some things about him – what he enjoys doing, what his hobbies are, and also what his written english and reading comprehension are like. I was pleasantly surprised, as he reads at a level I’d expect from most nine year olds, without any allowance for the fact that english is his second language. He tried to explain a Korean joke to me, but it didn’t make much sense. I reciprocated with my favourite joke (what’s blue and square? An orange with disguise) and got there in the end.

Next week I’ll have a better idea what sort of things to take with me, but I’d made some lucky guesses. He loved the madlib we wrote together, struggled but seemed to enjoy the simplified version of Just a Minute (very simplified indeed – just trying to get him to speak at all was a bit tricky!) and reading aloud from a story and highlighting the words he doesn’t know went fantastically. By chance I’d picked a story with lots of English idioms, like “spick and span” and “a haze of slumber”, so we discussed what they meant. When he understands something, his whole face lights up in comprehension, which is very useful!

Then I raced back on my poor bike, cooked the world’s fastest curry with more success than I expected, and went to a two-hour choir rehearsal. It wasn’t quite as good as the previous ones. A bit more stressful, and more unrelenting. There were a few new people and frankly if it’d been my first rehearsal I doubt I’d have come back. One girl looked terrified throughout, and another girl who has never sung in a choir before and speaks english as a second language was in tears at the end. I hope they do come back, but I’d understand if they didn’t. It’s the most demanding choir I’ve ever sung in.

Today I’m going to try and blitz the various left-over jobs from moving in: hanging pictures, pinning up posters, the first load of laundry etc. I’m pretty happy with how my room is looking. It feels like home.

A Spontaneous Week

I can’t quite believe that it’s only been seven days since I was at my dad’s house. Last Saturday I was still there, and the whole family woke up at the outrageously early time of 9.30am to go and look round the parish hall, which is just across the road from dad’s house.

Now that the date has been settled and the venue chosen, I can reveal that on March 31st, my dad, my brother and I will be hosting a MASSIVE PARTY (by which I mean a buffet, ceilidh and concert) to celebrate our collective 99th birthday. I’ll be sending out invites closer to the time, i.e. next year, but I am already excited about it and making guest lists and plans.

Once the tour had been conducted and we’d seen all the rooms in the hall, which we can hire for an incredibly reasonable rate, I had to go back to the onslaught on my room. On Friday night I looked underneath my bed for something and was horrified to see, in the space where a storage box had been, a huge mountain of mouse droppings. My bedroom carpet is a pale brown, but it was a sea of black against the wall. So Saturday morning was spent throwing away anything that was still under the bed, vacuuming up the staggering quantity of droppings and desperately trying to get the carpet a bit cleaner. Next time I go back, I think we’ll need to hire a carpet shampooing machine but for the moment it’s thankfully clear.

After all that excitement I packed up my bags and set off on the train home. It’s not a very long journey if you exclude the wait times at stations, but because there are three changes of at least half an hour it took most of the afternoon.

I was very glad on Sunday morning that it was the first Sunday of the month, which meant that the adult choir weren’t needed for the church service and I could sleep. I should have been at the first rehearsal of the term on Friday night, but I hadn’t realised and was still at dad’s, so evensong (adults only) was my first service back. I don’t remember doing much on Sunday, I think I was asleep for most of the day.

Monday was mum and John’s one year wedding anniversary, although they decided not to do anything to mark it except exchanging cards. I had my last appointment with my counsellor, got a stack of books out of the library and made cheesy lentils – a delicious recipe I got from dad’s partner Gill.

On Tuesday I had a date to meet a friend from sixth form, Claire, at Costa. It was great to chat to her; we worked out that we hadn’t seen each other for nearly two years. She’s at the same university as my friend Lawrence, so we hear each other’s news but it’s not the same as actually seeing someone. We discussed mutual friends – Emma has moved to Australia! – and compared love lives (equally disasterous, although she seems to have the edge), and then I came home to find an email asking me if I was willing to tutor a 5 year old boy in maths and english for 4 hours per week.

I have to admit that I was initially sceptical, and rather torn. On the one hand, £40 a week is not to be sniffed at, I am very good with children of that age group, I enjoy tutoring and KS1 maths and english has a lot of potential for fun activities. On the other hand, 4 hours a week plus travel time (40 minutes each way by bus, although I will try cycling it and see if it is any quicker) is a hefty chunk out of my week, even if I take textbooks to read on the way, and I feel very sorry for any 5 year old who has to put up with that much extra “school”. But I reasoned that if they didn’t take me as a tutor, they’d take someone else so I wasn’t doing him any favours by turning it down. We’ll see how it goes – I’m meeting the family on the 24th when I go down for choir, and I’m just hoping that my supervisions and lectures won’t clash with the times we’ve provisionally agreed. If the worst comes to the worst, I’m sure there are other tutors they could find and hopefully other, less time-consuming, pupils I could tutor.

On Wednesday I had an appointment to meet the vicar for an informal chat, sort of preparation for confirmation but not really. I think it was mostly just for us both to be reassured that I knew what I was getting myself into, and for me to ask questions. He’s an incredibly well-informed and informative man, I learnt a lot and he told me some fascinating things that I hadn’t realised about the make-up of the church.

Then I got on a train and went to Smethwick Galton Bridge, to meet my friend Tom, his boat Spey, and her cargo of singersongwriters who were pootling around the canals seeking inspiration for a new album. Travelling by narrowboat is totally different from travelling any other way – calm, relaxed, and in the case of Spey, who was built in 1937 and still has her original (tempremental) Bolinder engine, very noisy and smoky.

We took a detour on our route to Wolverhampton to go through the Netherton tunnel (it took 32 minutes – I steered her on the way through, which was a very odd experience as it’s pitch black and the other end of the tunnel starts out as a tiny little dot of light) to go to a pub which turned out to have closed down. So we went to a much less exciting pub, met some tipsy men who challenged the boys to games of pool, exchanged bad jokes, laughed at a Carling’s advert, and then set off back through the tunnel and on to the Black Country Museum.

Thursday was spent at the museum as a temporary exhibit, because Spey’s sisterboat Stour (built at the same time and originally identical, although they’ve grown apart in 74 years) is a permanent fixture there. By some lucky chance a dedicated volunteer who cares for Stour, Dave, happened to be there that day. He and Tom swapped stories about the two boats while Tom fixed a leaky oil pump and I passed him cotton rags and got covered in grease and soot.

The museum is amazing, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. As well as Stour and a collection of similarly interesting canal boats connected to the history of the Black Country, there are houses, shops, a church, a school, a mine, a cinema, a fairground, a tramway, a pumping station and probably lots of other things I didn’t get to see, all representing a typical Black Country town at different points between 1890 and 1930. Hordes of schoolchildren came through while we were there, and the lady in the bakery (which sold me a cherry bakewell and a bag of broken biscuits) told me that most of their visitors are from schools. I wish I’d been to a school close enough to visit! Hopefully I’ll go back again, although at £13.40 for adult admission I’m very glad we got in for free on the boat.

At about 4pm we gathered back on Spey again and set off for Wolverhampton, with Dave and another of Spey’s joint owners, Alan. I found it quite funny that I had gone from Wolverhampton to Smethwick Galton Bridge by train in about 10 minutes, but that it took us more than 24 hours to get back. Even considering the detours and stops, it’s much quicker by train! But not half as much fun. The others started writing songs, poems, tunes etc and I polished the brasswork on the chimneys and looked out for ducks.

In Wolverhampton we moored up in a rather rough-looking area, near a British Waterways facilities building (toilets, running water, showers, rubbish disposal – very luxurious compared to a tar boat with none of those things), and went off to find a pub with the dubious aid of Gren’s girlfriend Julia, who led us first to a bar that had closed down the previous week, and then to Wetherspoons. It was a very lively, very alcohol-filled evening and we played Animal Grab, Irish Snap and a weird fusion of the two called Irish Animal Grab/Snap which dissolved into anarchy and a lot of drunken merriment.

Friday morning dawned and there were an awful lot of hangovers, but we somehow made it down the 21 locks between Wolverhampton and the start of the Shropshire Union canal. When we reached the SU, everyone except Tom and I went off in a taxi back to Wolverhampton to catch trains home, while we continued on up the canal for a few more hours. It was probably the best bit of the trip – the weather was glorious, the canal was remarkably free of lager bottles, shopping trolleys, old clothes etc, the banks were tree-lined instead of factory-lined and it was nice to just glide along, saying hello to passersby (many of whom were delighted to see Spey – she’s a very recognisable boat and the SU is her home canal).

Then we reached Wheaton Aston, where Spey was left very firmly moored and Tom drove me home. It was odd going at 60mph after several days of moving at little more than walking pace. I got home just in time to change my clothes (which were filthy and rather smelly), eat some tea and get to choir practice. A very odd change of gear in a very short space of time!

Then I slept solidly for ten hours, and now mum and John are out at some kind of church meeting/lunch/discussion group thing, and in the next hour or so I might think about having a shower (bliss!) and getting dressed, before beginning the last remaining big job before I go back to uni: packing.

I got back to dozens of emails, mostly adverts from supermarkets for things I wouldn’t want and can’t afford anyway, but one of them was the college choir’s itineary for the next year. We’ve got all kinds of concerts, extra services and recitals all over the country, but the most exciting thing is the choir tour to the USA next July. I’ve always wanted to go to New York and Washington DC, and I’ll be seeing both and also Philadelphia, Long Island and Boston! The music list for next term also looks great; I’ve even sung a couple of the anthems and masses which is encouraging. The idea of joining a college choir, even though it’ll be wonderful, is a bit scary since I imagine almost everyone else will have much more choral experience than me. Eek.

It’s been a good week, not just because I’ve had a lot of fun and done a lot of things, but because I think it’s the first week for a very, very long time where I’ve done something spontaneously and not regretted it. I have been getting out and doing things this summer, but they have been planned a long way in advance – the Bath course, Whitby, visiting my dad and so forth. I suddenly thought of asking Tom if I could join the boat for a couple of days on Monday, and by Tuesday night it was settled. It’s good to know that I am back to being able to do that sort of thing without paying for it through a week of exhaustion and anxiety (although we’ll have to wait and see about the exhaustion I suppose!).

Today is an oasis of calm in the desert of busy

It was very odd having the grandchildren here. When they first arrived I was a bit anxious that I would feel awkward around them (no matter how much experience I have with children, I still always feel awkward around new ones) but within a couple of minutes it was fine. They’re all lovely kids – the eldest is a boy and the rest are girls, the youngest aged six. I showed them round the house, and then I was basically colonised as a playmate for the rest of the day while mum and John talked to the adults downstairs. I was impressed to see how well the four of them got along and played together – occasional slight outbreaks of bickering but mostly they negotiated well (“Can I play with the dolls house now?” “I’ll just finish what I’m doing and then you can.” “Ok.”) and helped each other.

It was only one night but it did feel like a very long time – nine people in a house that’s used to having three is quite a change, and we were constantly on the go. Yesterday we went for a walk before lunch, which was fun and great for the dog (a big hit with the children, probably more so that he would have liked, but they were very good about leaving him alone if he was in his basket). We took some photos, including one with the four children and their Auntie May – you would not believe how strange that sounds to me. Then we ate an unbelievable quantity of scrambled eggs on toast and they left. And I slept for three hours.

Today mum and John have gone out for the day, to see John’s mum, to have lunch somewhere and then to visit ten different gardens. I would have gone too if it hadn’t been ten gardens. Three, maybe, but ten is too many. Also I have to pack for tomorrow. It hasn’t quite sunk in that I’m going away for a fortnight at 10am tomorrow. Even though I’ve been looking forwards to these two weeks all summer, I’m still feeling as though it’s another week or two away. It might be better if it was too, I haven’t quite got over the bronchitis/sinus infection from whenever it was and I can’t hear out of my right ear, which could make singing fun!

Summer Weather is Over

Well, looks like Tuesday was about all the sunshine we’re going to get. It’s been grey and drizzly ever since, with a few patches of blue sky in the early morning. Maybe it’ll get nice in September this year.

On Thursday I was at the children’s hospice again but I walked into town afterwards to get some money out, and then got the bus back. It’s about the same amount of walking in total, since the bus doesn’t come up the hill, but I had to get some cash for the weekend and there’s no cash point in our village.

Rather stupidly I caught the bus at 3.20, which is the bus that all the local school children catch so it was noisy and very full. The kids sitting behind me kept whispering “who’s that girl in front?” and eventually started poking me and pulling my hair, which of course is the accepted behaviour when you meet a stranger. I ignored them for as long as possible but they started to actually hurt so I turned round and told them to stop. They were rather shocked to discover that I wasn’t actually someone from their school but a “grown-up”, although I noticed no one apologised for the hair pulling… One of the girls asked me what the Pied Piper was (I was wearing my panto hoodie), which made me rather sad. Why don’t schools teach obscure German fairytales any more?

Anyway, on the way into town that afternoon I’d got a phone call from one of the jobs I’ve applied to, and they wanted to interview me on Friday morning. I explained that I had to be in town on Friday afternoon for another interview (a volunteer role) and it was awkward to come in twice, so he agreed to see me in the afternoon. In the event the volunteer interview was cancelled, so I could have gone in the morning after all. It’s a good job it was cancelled because I’d been planning to go straight from one to the other with ten minutes to spare. It was supposed to be a 20 minute walk, but it took me an hour. I wasn’t late, but it was close!

The interview went well, I think. It was for administrative support for 12 weeks in the office of a cold storage transport warehouse place where they mostly ship out raw meat and other frozen foods. The man interviewing me wanted to make sure that I’d be alright with the fact that there’s sometimes blood on the warehouse floor and that you can smell the meat. I was actually fine; it was interesting to hear about the process that meat goes through to be packed and processed – it has to get down to below -24 degrees within 3 days of being slaughtered, so there are some huge freezers which bring the temperature down (and up again) safely. I’d never really thought about that kind of thing before.

Not sure if I actually want the job, because the hours are 6am-2pm five days a week. It would be good money and I wouldn’t turn it down if they offer it to me, but the early start combined with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to take the three weeks off that I’ve planned means that I’d really prefer to get a couple of part time jobs. If I’m working one day in one place, two days in a couple of other places, then it’s full time hours but not as much of a problem to take off a couple of weeks. But we’ll see. If I have to miss Whitby Folk Festival or the choir course then I’ll just have to cope. I’m not prepared to miss going to Scotland to see my granny though.

This weekend I’m on my own because mum and John have gone to London, so I’ve been walking a lot and getting lifts from people in the choir to get me to and from church. I quite like having the house to myself sometimes, and doing things on my own timetable. I don’t actually do things all that much differently to usual, but it just feels different.

Tomorrow morning I’ve got another job interview, this time the cleaning agency and they’re coming here to see what state the house is in. I’ve been doing little bits of cleaning here and there, and I’ll vacuum in the morning – there’s no point doing it beforehand because the cats will only come and shed all over the place as soon as I’ve finished!

The Winds of Change

It is quite windy at the moment! My mum mentioned that it’s nearly midsummer and I almost fell off my chair in surprise. It just doesn’t feel like summer. I realised that this may be quite a lot to do with my circumstances – it’s the first time in my memory that I haven’t had term dates to give my year shape. That thought gave me pause.

Anyway, the change part is that I think I’m done with the hospital, until they have paid work for me that is. I came home early today after having gone in and discovered the work I’d been planning on doing had been done by someone else, and on the way home I got a call from a pub I’d applied at, wanting to interview me tomorrow. I’ve sent off my references to the cleaning agency who seem keen, and I’m going next week to talk to the hospice I’ll be volunteering at. So even if I don’t get a lot of paid work, I’ll have other things to occupy my time.

This weather is so strange. I can’t quite credit that it’s almost June. It looks like my idea of March, or maybe early November – not the beginning of summer. And April was roasting. I do wonder if it’s actually that the weather is weird this year, or if it’s just that I’ve never needed to take any notice of it before. Now, the weather is pretty much how I can tell what season we’re in. It’s exam time and I’m not taking exams. It’s nearly the summer vacation and I’m not vacating anything. The end of term is approaching and I came down more than six months ago.

Can you credit that? More than six months ago. Paris feels like a brief but enjoyable dream, which has receeded so far into the distance that it doesn’t seem quite real. Earlier today I was reading a novel and a description of a child gave me a sudden pang of missing Daughter Four. I do miss all of them, to varying degrees, but Daughter Four and Baby Girl were the two whose trust and love I had finally earned, rather than had all along or never quite managed. And now they probably don’t even remember me. Such is life, I suppose. There’s always another train.

Heading Home (again)

Well, I’m back from the south of France and about to set off for England. I haven’t packed yet, but I’m being optimistic about my chances of fitting everything in, because frankly I have to.

St Jean de Luz was lovely! It was a ten hour drive to get there, which included a relaxed two-hour lunch and a couple of stops to stretch our legs, and it whizzed past. I was travelling with three other girls around my age and we were being driven all the way by the wonderful Emma, who put up with us talking incessantly and singing awful pop songs and generally being extremely hyper for ten hours.

It was very odd when we arrived (to fabulous weather, amazing scenery and a beach at the bottom of the road) because two people had been drafted in to help out and they turned out to be Oskar and Catherine, who I met doing the Footlights Panto. It is a very small world indeed.

Anyway I won’t tell you every single detail but it was great fun, especially since the seven of us who were under 25 stayed in a flat together and did our own thing – mostly eating ice cream and giggling. The concerts were good, and surprisingly well attended considering how remote the churches were: one was closed off with crash barriers and you had to be quite determined in order to get in.

Then I drove back in a different car, with the Shaws who I stayed with on Saturday night. Sunday was Palm Sunday, with a procession and privet branches (there’s a lack of palm trees in Paris) and then in the afternoon, a party with lots of opera students who sang around the piano for about six hours.

And now I have just said goodbye to all the children and their mother, who are off on holiday – their dad is staying to work for another couple of days. There’s no way I can put it off any longer. The packing must happen.

In the last week I have had 19 views referred from links in the Czech Republic

I have no idea why that is. Perhaps Czech people really like blogs?

Today was the last day I actually worked, and it ended rather anti-climactically (is that a word?). We had all the kids bathed, changed, fed and coralled in the living room by ten past seven, at which point I came downstairs to pack and get ready for going away tomorrow. The family are now not going on holiday as early as they planned, so they will be here to say goodbye when I leave for good next Monday.

It’s the Easter holidays this week and next, so the older girls have been going to a ballet class and Sole Son has been at a tennis class. The youngest two have been at home doing arts and crafts and running around and having a lot of fun, it’s been nice. Daughter Three and I did some coffee filter art, although ours were the pre-formed kind so they weren’t round and couldn’t be made into flowers at the end. The others all made one or two when they came home from their activities, but Daughter Three went for it in a big way and there are stacks of them lying in the playroom waiting for something exciting to happen to them.

This morning a friend from Daughter Two and Three’s school came round for a playdate, dropped off by all three of her older sisters and her mum, so for a while there were seven small girls running around the garden. I chatted with their mum, first in French and then when we hit my vocabulary limits we moved into English. It took at least five minutes though! I was quite pleased. She is Peruvian, which by my reckoning makes her at least tri-lingual. Rather jealous.

I have been writing this post for over half an hour, so I’m going to leave it here – I’m getting up fairly early tomorrow as I have to be at the pick-up point for the tour by 8.30am. See you all on Sunday! Well, blog at you all on Sunday, that is.