Friday, 24 April 2015

In Hot Pursuit

Following our recent study of Sherlock Holmes, Tiger and I decide to keep up the interest in all things mystery.

I chanced upon a company that sells various themed mystery/treasure trails around the country.  The trails look quite interesting and challenging, and appears to offer a fun day out, so we tried out the one that is set in Convent Garden area.

Tiger was keen to take the lead for solving the mystery.  The trail is designed such that we are only told the starting point (this particular trail started outside the Leicester Square tube station), and have to find our way around by following the clues given in each step of the trail, which are in turned only revealed when we solve each cryptic code accurately.  We thought it would be very easy, but we realised that we were totally lost after three hours of walking around the side streets and narrow lanes in the Soho/Convent Garden vicinity and finding ourselves barely halfway through our trail.  The guideline on the trail says that it should take 1.5 to 2 hours to complete the trail.  Ooops.

Feeling very hot, bothered, and utterly defeated, we gave up for the day and went home to rethink our strategy for solving the mystery. 

We returned to complete the trail the next day, this time better prepared, both mentally and physically.

There must be something about wearing the Yorkshire flat cap that invoked Tiger's inner detective, as we were much more successful on our second attempt to complete the trail and hence solve the related mystery.  It took Tiger less than an hour to this time, and as we ended up in Convent Garden Market where there are many interesting sights to be seen, we spent the rest of the day congratulating ourselves for being super sleuths and rewarding ourselves with fantastic food found in the market.

Encouraged by our success at the Convent Garden trail, we then spent another fun day solving a second murder mystery, this time at Bankside.  I chose this location thinking that we would have a greater success because it has a shorter completion time of 1.5 hours, and that having been to that area many times we ought to know most of the places there.

Not wanting to take any chances this time, Tiger started studying the trail and working out the most efficient route once we got on the tube to get our first destination.

Our starting point this time is outside the London Bridge tube station, near the Southwark Cathedral.  This proved to be very interesting for me because we had mostly hung out on the St. Paul's Cathedral side of the river, so starting the trail from Southwark is an opportunity for us to explore a few new places.

And exploring and discovering new places we certainly did!  The trail took us through many significant, new-to-us landmarks that we did not know about or had not visited before.  Seeing new places is always exciting, especially when it is done in conjunction with delicious food, as we found when we were led to Borough Market.

It was Tiger's first visit to Borough Market, and the sights and sounds of the market fascinated him.  More importantly, we found a stall that sells Thai desserts and mango sticky rice which we both love to eat!

The trail gradually led us towards the side of the Thames that we are more familiar with, whereupon we walked past the Clink Prison Museum and Tiger wanted to go in to take a look.

I knew about this museum but did not take Tiger here for a visit when we studied Medieval England because I thought: (1) it looked more like a commerical attraction than a real, historical accurate museum, and (2) the content may be too gruesome and hence inappropriate for a young child.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only are the exhibits and artefacts historically accurate, the representation of this gruesome aspect of medieval history is not unnecessarily gory.  Tiger was fascinated by the exhibits, while I was slightly appalled by the inhumane use of certain instruments of punishment.

As we approached the end of the trail, we were brought to 'theatre-land' (at least in Tudor/Elizabethan times) and came upon the original site of the Globe Theatre, which was burned to the ground.  Although Tiger and I have visited the current Shakespeare's Globe theatre many times in the past, we have not been to the original site until now.  It is interesting to see that the site is now part of a compound inside a housing estate.  Not far from it stands the Rose Theatre, which was the first purpose-built theatre on Bankside (predating The Globe Theatre) in Tudor time.

We walked the trail at a very leisurely pace, so it took us nearly a whole day to complete it but we stopped and enjoyed our discovery of many previously unknown-to-us places as the clues took us down side streets or made us look closely at certain architectural and historical features along the way.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Will the Real Sherlock Please Stand Up?

Our search for Sherlock Holmes takes us from books to documentaries about:

If there is one place on earth that any self-respecting Sherlock fan wants to be seen hanging out at, it is here:

Getting to Baker Street tube station is only the first step.  What we are really after is house number 221b on Baker Street, which houses The Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Anyone who has read the entire canon of Sherlock Holmes, as Tiger has, will instantly recognise all the small details and different scenes/characters dotted inside different rooms of the Victorian house.

According to Tiger, looking at the various instruments that Holmes and Watson would have used in the various stories have certainly brought the stories more to life.

I must confess that I have not read every Sherlock Holmes story, but even I can recognise a few of the most famous characters, just by listening to Tiger's informal narrations of what he has read.

It would be very commendable to be able to read every book that Tiger reads, but I can't keep up with my son's reading speed.  However, I find that it helps to take an active interest in familiarising myself with the main plot of the story and a few of the main characters, in this case that means being able to recognise the hound from The Hound of the Baskervilles and Professor Moriaty, Holmes' arch enemy.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Greatest Detective

A Sherlock Holmes pantomine kicked off our interest in the most famous detective who was invented in Victorian England.

We had never watched a pantomine before (because they can be too silly for our taste) so I took a risk by taking Tiger to see this outdoor show since it could potentially turn him off the whole idea of Sherlock Holmes before we even got started.  Luckily Tiger found this production to be quite funny (his own humour is quite quirky so it is often hard to tell which way things would go) so that was a good start.

Tiger then worked his way through the numerous related books (fiction and non-fiction)

that are related to the Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London.

The exhibition is a must for fans of the great detective, of which Tiger is one.  It contains many of the memorabilia of the characters in the story, the background of the story (i.e. Victorian England), and some facts about Arthur Conan Doyle.

While we were there, Tiger also attended a creative writing workshop, which started with the workshop leader sharing his method of writing fiction with the children, highlighting techniques such as characterisation and plot development.  The children then spent some time in the People's City gallery, specifically the Victorian Walk, where they would experience the sights and sounds of a replica Victorian quarter, in order to get some inspiration for their writing exercise when they returned to the workshop room.

Tiger learnt a few tricks for writing fiction, and told me that he enjoyed the session but what he has been enjoying the most is reading all the adventures of Sherlock's younger years.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

That Which Matters

1.  Being Kind and Helpful

In this day and age when being competitive and getting ahead (often at the expense of others' welfare) are held up as the keys to 'success' (whatever that means), I am very glad to see Tiger having the good sense of offering help to others on several occasions, one of the examples that I happened to catch on the camera took place during his recent wall climbing session.  When it was other children's turn to climb the wall, Tiger concentrated on belaying the rope properly to ensure safety for the climber.  Once he got his harness secured, he went to help the younger children with their harnesses and knots, all without being prompted by anybody.  In fact, he did not even know that anyone was watching him, because the Outdoors Activity Centre was very busy and chaotic on that day and I was sitting quite far away from the children.

These are very small acts indeed but to me, such small instances of unconscious behaviour reveal a lot about someone's character.

2.  A Strong Family Relationship

A solid, loving relationship is something that we work hard to cultivate and maintain in our family, but is not something that I expect Tiger to constantly have to demonstrate or to prove himself at.  Therefore, it is always a very pleasant surprise when he actively demonstrates his affections:
  • a note (photo 1) on which Tiger dedicated his recent drawings (photos 2 and 4) to me;
  • a 'magic' ring (photo 3) that Tiger made for me;
  • photo 5 is self-explanatory.  It is written on an envelope that contains a handwritten note to me for Easter.

Tiger is also very close to his father, who he worships and with whom he spends a lot of time doing outdoorsy things.  Upon realising that such a close father-and-son relationship is becoming a rarity in Britain nowadays, I feel an increased respect for my husband for taking very conscious steps to be the responsible, supportive and available father that he is to Tiger.

3.  Integrity and a Healthy Self-Esteem

It may seem strange at first to see the positive side about getting a full page of wrong answers, but what I see in this when I marked this page of maths problems that Tiger handed in to me as part of his independent learning (he is teaching himself all aspects of fractions without my input) is a very healthy sense of self-esteem.

He is not freaking out because he doesn't know how to how to solve those problems.  The fact that he has written "I am confused!" at the bottom of the page shows me that:
  1. he is able to admit to himself and to me that he doesn't understand something
  2. he doesn't feel the need/pressure to know the answer to everything
  3. he is willing to try to work through the problem even though he knows that he is not going to get the correct answers
The most valuable part of this exercise is that, Tiger had the answer booklet right by him when he worked through these problems, so it would have been easy for him to copy the answers and "look good/clever/perfect".  He didn't.  He chose to be honest, with himself and with me.  To me, this is worth more than scoring 100% in any exam.

It took less than two minutes to explain the concept to Tiger, then he's off correcting himself by working through the problems again and getting the right answers.  Note the change in his qutoe to "I am not confused!"

4.  Physical Strength and Good Health

Having better health and a stronger body this year has opened up many more opportunities that were previously unavailable to Tiger last year.  Compared to the same time last year, Tiger is able to spend a lot more time outdoors -- he is even asking to go for long walks these days, which in turn increases the opportunities for nature study.

Tiger is also involved in different sports each week (he is a very busy boy):
  • mountain biking
  • climbing
  • table tennis
  • tennis
  • swimming

Being so active outdoor seems to help Tiger burn off his excess energy to the extent that his attitude and the resulting quality of work produced indoors are both much better than before, which in turn fosters a very positive atmosphere at home in general.

Here is John Taylor Gatto's view on what really matters.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Easter Eggs and Dark Chocolate

We don't always do much for Easter.  The last time we did anything for it was two years ago, so it's time to decorate the eggs again!

We tried a few different methods of dyeing our eggs, with mixed results:
  1. direct painting with food colouring - didn't work too well
  2. direct painting with coloured pastes made of food colouring and bicarbonate of soda - didn't work either
  3. marbling with nail polish - worked ok but very messy
  4. marbling with ink - worked ok but the marbling ink stinks
  5. soaking cracked eggs in coloured water - worked!

Needless to say, we were slightly disappointed to get little success compared to the amount of effort we had to put in to get a few half decent-looking eggs!  However, since I had the marbling ink out, Tiger then went on to do some 'proper' marbling on watercolour paper.

Tiger found the texture of the ink and the semi-random (one can manipuate the patterns made by the ink to some extent) patterns that it makes fascinating.  We both found the smell too strong and unpleasant though, so the pieces of marbled paper were left to dry outside for a few hours to get rid of the smell.

Since our dyed eggs haven't turned out too well, we thought we might have better results drawing them.

While we were drawing, Tiger wondered what the connection is between the chocolate eggs and Jesus.  We had talked about this before but he obviously needed some reminder, so I pointed him to the videos that we had watched two years ago.

As we watched the video about how the festival of Easter has evolved from the fertility goddess of ancient Mesopotamia through to the Anglo Saxon times, Tiger was intrigued by a piece of obscure information about an ancient manuscript, the Codex Sinaiticus

He then took it upon himself to look through the ancient Greek text on the British Library website, and spent the next hour and a half attempting to translate it from ancient Greek to modern English.  I did suggest to Tiger that he has a better chance of success at translating ancient Chinese texts since I can give him a hand at that but I can't help with ancient Greek.  Despite my offer, Tiger decided to have a go at translating the Codex anyway, and he got as far as translating the first stanza in 1.5 hours.  It was a slow, long-drawn process by the looks of it, but I think he's off to a good start.  In the process, Tiger taught himself much about ancient Christian history and theology, translation techniques, texts comparisons, and language rules (grammar, syntax, sentence structure).  It is all quite fascinating to watch.

Once he has had enough of translating, we resumed our happy research on Easter chocolate eggs and how they are made in the factory:

From the consumer perspective where we see chocolate eggs stacked along the shelves of supermarkets, we then moved slowly along the supply chain and traced the source of the main ingredient, cocoa beans.  What we found is not a happy situation at all:

Tiger was slightly upset -- as any naturally uncorrupted human being would be -- by what he saw in the documentary above, but I think it is important for him to start becoming aware that our relatively safe, first-world existence is not to be taken for granted, and that many people suffer injustice and exploitation every day.  Although we may not be able to offer a solution, at the very least we should not become part of the problem by sheltering ourselves in apathy and igorance.

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