Friday, 30 October 2009

Going Postal and NaNaWriMo

I've suddenly realised that NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday and I've barely given a thought to what I'm actually going to write during the month of November. Yes, I've had other things on my mind like moving people into flats, job interviews, trying to sell a house and other such malarkey, but I really ought to have a couple of ideas with which to hit the keyboard at the midnight hour on 1st Nov. I'm thinking I might start the project at midnight because other NaNo-ites across the world will be doing so and it will be entering into the camaraderie of the writing frenzy. But then I might not be able to stay awake, being a lark, not an owl. We'll see...

I did try a plot starter exercise a week ago with my 'It was a dark and stormy night...' plan. I got to 600 words and an embryonic plot began to form; indeed it bounced along merrily and I thought, hmmm, this may have some legs. But does it have the legs for 50,000+ words in a month? Unlikely. Not without me mentioning Snoopy at some point, anyway.

And then, yesterday, I had A MAGNIFICENT THOUGHT! I could write a novel about the chickens. I mean, they always seem to get a good response here in the blog, and I enjoy writing about them, as their voices and personalities come across very clearly to me.

('Is she STILL thinking our activities are a product of her over-active imagination?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who has just this week started making Christmas puddings, after all, only 8 weeks to go and there's got to be at least one pudding option for people to turn down in favour of a double chocolate Yule log. 'Yes,' says Miggins. 'But we might make it into a novel at last, so ssshhhhh. If she wants to think we don't actually behave and talk like this, let her. Our chance of true fame looms large at last.' 'Madness,' says Betty Slocombe. 'Absolute barking madness.')

And then I thought, I could set up a NaNoWriMo blog! So fans of the chickens could have a 50,000+ words dose of their heroes over November. Or would that be a bit like stuffing your face with unlimited Jaffa Cakes? The thought is tempting, but after the first three packets you start feeling nauseous with the excess. Of course, I am very much of the opinion one can never have too many Jaffa cakes, but then I've never actually tried eating 3 packets on the trot.

So, a chicken novel blog. That will be my plan for today. Will it work? What shall I call it? What about plot? So many things to decide in the next 36 hours.

Now, about this postal strike. I'm not happy about it because it's my birthday on Monday and I demand the right to receive cards through the post. It's not good enough. I mean, if I'm getting fretful about it at the age of almost forty four, then what about all my fellow Scorpios who are under the age of, say, ten, who won't be getting their cards if they have a birthday either today, tomorrow or Monday? Poor little things. Can you imagine their little faces, pressed against the window, waiting the arrival of the postie, only to be told 'There's no post today,' by their parents. It's like having a part of your birthday cancelled.

Nonetheless, I am a very lucky birthday girl. My friend, Jane, is making me a birthday dinner tomorrow night, and Andy is taking me to see 'La Cage aux Folles' on Monday. (It's starring John Barrowman - Heather is v. jealous!) And hopefully, I shall be so wrapped up in the NaNoWriMo project that I shan't miss the non-arrival of the postman.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Saturn Continuing Forwards

Everything chez Much Malarkey Manor has suddenly started moving forward in a very positive and pleasing manner. This is because Saturn, which has been traversing the skies backwards, is now going forwards.

'You see,' I said to Andy. 'Now Saturn is heading in the right direction, everything is coming together in a positive and pleasing manner.'
'You don't half believe in a load of tripe,' said Andy.
'It's true,' I said, muffling him with a cushion. 'In the last ten days, I've got an unexpected new job, Chris and Leane have got a flat, Heather has a job interview tomorrow after months in the post-graduate wilderness, and we've got a second viewing for the house.'

'It's all coincidence,' said Andy.
'It's Saturn,' I said.
'I don't care what kind of material it's made from,' said Andy, throwing the cushion back at me. 'You cannot explain the events of the last week or so by referring to the movement of planets. It's not scientific.'
'True,' I said. 'But it provided fodder for a good joke.'
'Really?' said Andy. 'You think that was a good joke?'
'I bet someone out there sniggered,' I said.

So anyway, Chris and Leane are on the tippy-toe edge of moving into their flat. This evening has been mentioned as a potential vacating the Manor day, or tomorrow, because it's Chris's day off. Yesterday, the carpets were fitted, a sofa, a washing machine, table and a cooker arrived via various sources, and more of their stuff was removed from our loft, which is starting to breath a sigh of relief.
And during dinner, Heather got a phone call from a well-known hotel chain who do a rather bizarre line in scrambled egg, asking her to attend an interview tomorrow for hotel receptionist. We did a lot of excited squealing and chattering about how good it would be to get a proper steady job at last, and I only choked a little bit on my mashed potato.

And the estate agent phoned to say that the couple who viewed the house on Saturday, who barely said a word, really loved the house and wanted to come back for a second viewing. Our selling agent, who is probably the most chatty, enthusiatic person I've come across in a long while, said they LOVED the location, LOVED the layout of the house, LOVED the fact it was a stone's throw from a massive park and a leisure centre, so fingers crossed that they LOVED it enough to put in an offer.

'So we could be moving house as well,' I said to Andy.

We've already found a house we want to move to. We put an offer in 2 months ago which has been accepted. I hope this house has been waiting for us. It feels like our house. It is a lovely Victorian cottage with open fires, but most importantly it has a MASSIVE, MASSIVE garden backing onto farmland. I don't want to say too much at this stage in case I jinx a potential house sale/purchase, but oooooooh! Are my fingers and toes crossed ever so tightly!

Of course, it's Murphy's Law that having accepted a teaching post in this town, it is possible we could be moving to another area of the county. But, I reason, the journey is manageable, and I shall be able to utilise the travelling time learning a new language, for example, or singing along to Abba. And when you're a teacher it's always better to be living away from the area you teach in, just so you can go shopping at the weekend without half the kids you teach shouting, 'Hallo, Miss!' at you when they spot you shopping in Boots for something potentially embarrassing. Or saying to you on Monday morning, 'Ere, Miss, I saw you in town on Saturday. Was that your husband with you, or sumfin, or nuffin', or sumfin'?' (And what you really want to reply is, 'No, it was Prince Philip.')

Taking one day at a time is good, I have decided. Having faith in the Universe, or the Planets, or whatever Higher Being you believe in (co-incidence, in Andy's case), is also good. It gives you something to hang on to when everything seems to be going wrong. Or backwards. Or not quite as you imagine Life ought to go.

So if you are finding yourself in one of Life's stickier moments, everything WILL be okay eventually. It will. And that there are many sticky things in Life that are even better for being sticky.

Like buns, for example. And sellotape.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Right Decision??

'You're doing what????' says Miggins. We're sharing girl-time at the hairdressers; me getting my roots done and Miggo having a feather extension to cover up the thin patches where she has embarked on this year's moult.

'You heard,' I say, although it's possible she might not, given she has a large plastic cap covering her head as she's decided to have a few gold highlights put through at the same time as the extensions. She also has another plastic cap covering her tail and nether regions, but that wouldn't, as far as I'm aware, affect her hearing.

'Are you mad?' says Miggins. She is suitably appalled at my decision to take on a teaching job to put down her copy of 'Hiya!!' magazine, where she's been entranced by an article about Katie Price and Jeremy Clarkson in some kind of Ford Focus versus Ford KA drag racing event. 'I thought you were a writer?'

'I am a writer,' I say. 'First and foremost, a writer is the occupation that most defines my existence. Unfortunately, it's not raking in the huge wodges of dosh I need to cover some unexpected expenses that life has thrust upon me and in order to alleviate the feeling I am drowning in a financial tsunami, I need to get back to paid work. And I get paid very well, thank you, for being a fully qualified teacher.'
'Fair enough,' says Miggins. She shifts in her chair. 'Should my head be tingling?' she asks.
'Well, it might for a bit,' I say. 'But if the tingle turns into a severe burning sensation, you need to tell you hairdresser, or you'll end up with less feathers, not more.'
'So, are you giving up the writing?' says Miggins.
'Absolutely not!' I say. 'Writing will keep me sane. I've had a good year and a bit writing full time. I'm not going to throw the experience away. That would be crazy.'
'And Much Malarkey Manor?' says Miggins.
'Will continue uninterrupted,' I say firmly, because my mostly daily ramblings seem to afford several people with a modicum of entertainment.
'Good,' says Miggins, 'because I'm getting far too old to be searching for a new outlet for my obvious wit and creativity. And Mrs Slocombe will go even more crackers if we have to hush our beaks. You know how stress affects her.'
'Affects who?' shouts Mrs Slocombe from across the salon. She and Mrs Pumphrey have also come for a hair-do, although they aren't losing as many feathers in the moult as Mrs Miggins.
'You, you numpty airhead,' says Miggins. 'She's going back to teaching but you aren't to worry. It won't affect normal service in any way, shape or form.'
'Well, that's no good,' says Mrs S. 'I mean, if she's going back to teaching, she'll be earning lots of money, and us hens should benefit from some it, after all we have to put up with in that God-forsaken hole laughingly called Cluckinghen Palace.'
'Ahem,' I cough, 'I can hear you, you know.'
'That was the whole point,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Well, I happen to think Cluckinghen Palace is a very well appointed set of accommodation for hens,' I say.
'You would,' sniffs Slocombe, 'you don't have to live there.'

'So,'says Mrs Miggins, sensing the possibility of an embarrassing hair-salon fracas in the offing, 'what brought about this sudden decision?'
I release Mrs Slocombe from a half-nelson and she lets go of my ear, where she's drawn only the minimum of blood.
'We need the money,' I sigh, settling back into my chair. Mrs Slocombe gives my leg a kick as she heads back to her chair, and does that 'I'm watching you' sign, flicking her wing back and forth from her eyes.
'Is that all?' says Miggins.
'Yes,' I say, sighing again at the fiscal ignorance of chickens. 'That's all.'
'Well,' says Miggins, 'I can lend you some money to tide you over, if that's all you need.'
'That's very kind,' I say, 'but...'
'No buts,' she interrupts. 'You can have all the money us hens have earned through our eggs sales this last few months. How much is it exactly?'
'Seventeen pounds,' I say.

'There!' says Miggins, triumphantly. 'Seventeen pounds! More than enough to see you through Christmas, and getting Chris and Leane settled into their new flat, and starting your grand plan for Andy's fortieth birthday, and arranging something nice for your Mum's seventieth, and buying a baby buggy and cot, and moving house and getting your hair coloured every six weeks.'

'Thank you,' I say. 'You are too kind.'

And I spend the rest of our girl-time thinking wouldn't it be lovely if we could all view the financial worries we face in this world through the eyes of a chicken. We'd know our bank manager's knees very well for a start!

Monday, 26 October 2009

A Crazy Three Days

Does order really come from chaos? Who said that anyway? I am prepared to be convinced of this statement, and if anything will convince me of its truth, it'll be the outcome of the last three days.

So, last Sunday you'll remember I applied, as if in a strange dream, for a job. And on Tuesday I was called for an interview, which I attended on Friday.

And, as you also may have become aware, Chris and Leane and Baby Bug Grand-daughter have been camping out on my writing room floor, having been made homeless from their previous digs and nowhere to go but back to good old Mum's. (It was a bit like the Nativity, only no donkey involved. But if the Wise Men come knocking with gifts, esp. of Gold as we only managed 2 numbers on the Lottery on Saturday (which was 2 more than usual), they are more than welcome.)

So I returned home from my interview on Friday - it went well and my top lip only stuck to my teeth on a couple of occasions - to news from Heather (who is also living at home having returned from uni), that the local housing association had called Leane to say they had a flat for her and Chris to view and could they come and view it, like, NOW!?

Leane had called Chris, who was at work, and he left work and picked up Leane and they had gone to look at this flat. I, meanwhile, was flaking from the interview and on tenterhooks waiting for the phone call to find out if the job was mine. And I'd also detoured through town on my way home from the interview and purchased my future grand-daughter a little outfit combo in pink, with a cute mouse on it. So my feet were aching having walked 45 minutes to the interview, plus 45 minutes home, plus an hour of aimless wandering in-between.

And then Chris and Leane arrived home, very happy, with the keys to their new flat. The phone went. It was my mum, phoning to ask after my interview. I said it went well, but I hadn't heard anything about getting the job yet. But I told her about Chris and Leane's new flat, and also that the Baby Bug Grandchild was going to be a girl. And Mum said she had a dinner service going begging, if the new flat owners wanted it.

This is good, I thought, as the new flat is as bare a new born baby's bum.

So Chris and Leane set about making a list of stuff they needed to furnish the flat i.e everything, and then the phone went again and it was my friend Jane asking after my interview. I told her the same as I'd told my Mum.

In the next hour, the list grew longer and three more people phoned to ask after the interview.

And at just gone 5 p.m, as I was about fit to burst, the headteacher who'd interviewed me called to say the job was mine, and we discussed pay points and salaries etc, which made me feel very much better as I was thinking, we could do with some extra money right now, what with new flats and grandchildren and stuff.

So I phoned the various people who had phoned me and told them I'd got the job and they all went 'HURRAH!' And then people started phoning with offers of various bits of furniture and household accoutrements. And I phoned Chris's father and asked what he intended on contributing to the setting up of the new flat, as it was looking like Andy and I were facing the bill for carpeting the place and buying a colander.

Over the weekend, Andy and I sorted out stuff we'd got double of, and managed to supply the new flatees with a hoover, a kettle, a toaster, a knife set, a chopping board, various tins and bowls, a rug, a stereo, curtain poles, a lamp etc etc etc, blah, blah, blah, and the loft and cupboards are looking a lot less full now, so less stuff for us to take with us if we ever manage to SELL THIS BLOOMIN' HOUSE!!!!! So 'HURRAH!!!' for that.

And we did a swoop on Wilkos for kitchen equipment, bathroom equipment, cat equipment (because luckily they are able to take their two cats with them, so that's a potential re-homing worry out of the way.) Then, because everyone was standing around like lemons and once I decide to take charge of a situation I am like a woman possessed, we went to the flat, measured the rooms, the windows and the gaps for things like washing machine, fridge and cooker. And I dispatched Chris and his dad to look for a sofa, washing machine and cooker, whilst I dispatched Leane, Andy and myself to get the carpets sorted out.

'No-one is allowed to return empty handed,' I said, sternly. And everyone looked scared and scurried off.

Carpets were organised - measured up, fitting slot booked, paid for - and will be all done by tomorrow. A second hand sofa has been located and purchased, the sights have been set on a reconditioned cooker and washing machine. More donations have flooded in from family and friends - a fridge, a microwave, a sideboard, cutlery, glassware, shelving, curtains.

And hopefully, by the end of the week, I should have my writing room back!

This blog was brought to you by 'Crazy Mum's Crazy House - for all your Order from Chaos Needs.' Tune in tomorrow for the next thrilling episode - 'Dealing With the Utility Companies and Other C**p.'

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Bracing Myself

So on Sunday evening, heaven's knows why because it was a quite surreal experience, I applied on-line for a teaching job at a local school. And first thing on Tuesday morning I got a call from the school asking me to go for an interview on Friday. Tomorrow Friday. And the two people I put as referees texted to say they had already been asked for references.

Well, blimey, I thought. Is this part of the Grand Plan? I mean, the money would be welcome, because occasionally one still gets the urge for a shopping splurge and then one has to reign oneself in with a reminder that one is a poor and penniless writer. Especially as one has one's children all moved back home at the moment along with a mummy-to-be and one might need intensive therapy once they've all gone again. (More on that later). And yesterday, an e-mail arrived from the school detailing my programme for the day, including the lesson I am expected to teach as part of the interview process.

So last night, after teaching my Adult Ed class - another fun hour, and my students are starting to get a bit cheeky now, so we're all settling down with each other - I set about trying to put a lesson plan together. The lesson is on media. If I put together a list of my favourite to least favourite components of teaching English, media would come very near the bottom with the exception of a rather nice Scheme of Work I once put together and taught about the intertextuality and subversion of stereotypes in the film 'Shrek'. I was hoping for a nice spot of Shakespeare, or creative writing. Or a poem. But no, I've got media.

So anyway, Andy purchased me many newspapers and I set about cutting out suitable articles for analysis, ably assisted by Pandora whom I'm surprised has any toes left this morning, after her dalliances with my scissors. And my friend Janet, media teacher extraordinaire, sent me, via the interwebbly, lots of useful resources. I stopped panicking about mid-night.

And today I went into town and purchased a new interview outfit (probably THE most important aspect of the interview process), and spent the whole afternoon creating and practising the lesson, hence the late appearance of this blog and the circling of adult children about me now muttering things like 'What's for dinner?' and 'when are you planning on cooking it?'

So wish me luck as I, somehow, find myself being interviewed for a teaching post. I think the Universe must want it for me, as it's all happened so quickly. The Universe can be weird like that and I'm not even going to try and understand its reasoning on this one.

Other news today is that Chris and Leane went for the second scan of their baby and it's going to be.....

.....A GIRL!!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A Bit Of A Trek

Our local leisure centre is undergoing a re-vamp. This news was sprung on us regular centre goers a week ago via an in-depth news letter which got very soggy in the bottom of my swimming bag, so that by the time I got around to reading it, it didn't make a huge amount of sense. Something about closing down this bit, changing that bit, digging up the other, replacing the doo-dah, and all the while ferrying swimmers, and gymmers and dancercisers hither and thither so we don't get in the way of the work men.

Well, I went swimming yesterday and my, it was a kerfuffle. Usually, it is through the turnstile at reception, around the cafe bit, through the corridor bit, into ladies' wet change, into the swimming pool, swim.
'Do you know where you are going to get changed?' said the receptionist as she swiped my membership card. Normally, this particular receptionist doesn't bother even looking at people, let alone engage them in conversation, but I guess they have been told to be nice to customers in order to keep us on-side during the 6 month revamp and stop us getting cheesed off and decamping to a different leisure centre.
'No,' I said, 'I thought I'd just follow the arrows.' And I pointed to the signs with arrows that were lining the walls in reception saying, 'Follow the arrows to temporary changing rooms.'
'That's right,' she said, and proffered a weak smile. I bet that hurt, I thought.
'And once you've changed,' she continued, 'you follow the arrows back again and enter the poolside via the little front gate in the cafe area.'
'Thank you,' I said, and left her to recover her breath after the sudden exertion of having to speak so many words in one hit.

I followed the arrows. Through reception, around the corner, then down the steps into Polar Adventure (don't ask). Actually, you can ask - Polar Adventure is the children's play area. It involves a multi-channel bumpy slide thing done up to look like a snowy mountainside, a ball pool, a net climbing cage, a carpeted play area etc etc and is covered in pictures of polar bears, penguins and moose all looking like they've had a tab or two of LSD. I've often passed by Polar Adventure and wanted to tell a member of staff that actually you wouldn't get polar bears and penguins in the same habitat, what with polar bears being North Pole creatures and penguins being South Pole creatures and that's why polar bears don't eat penguins and not because they can't get the wrappers off, but I don't like to appear pedantic and tell bad jokes.

On through Polar Adventure into the bowels of the centre, along this corridor, through that door, then along another corridor, all the while following the arrows. Eventually, having completed a pretty good pre-swim warm-up walk, I found the temporary ladies' wet-change area, which turned out to be considerable smaller than the main ladies' changing area. Got changed and then made my way back up through the labyrinth of corridors and Polar Adventure to the pool via the cafe. All without the aid of my specs and sense of direction. The place was swarming with workmen carrying bits of wood and buckets and tiles and other important building tackle, and it was very weird, like walking through a building site in my undies, so I did a wrap dress thing with my towel to preserve my modesty.

I had my swim, then trekked back through the cafe area, Polar Adventure etc etc, you know the route by now, only this time I was sopping wet, fuzzy eyed and lacking a sense of direction.

On the plus side, I covered about 1000 of my 10,000 steps per day in one swoop. The downstairs showers were much nicer than the upstairs showers, and I found a HUGE changing cubicle which meant I could change without the usual banging my elbows on the cubicle walls/door malarkey.

This state of affairs is due to continue until next March. But, having been brought up as the daughter of a builder, I know that this is an estimation in 'builder time' which bears no relation to real time. So add on another 3 months, then maybe a couple of extra weeks for glitches and we should be back to normal by next August. If we're lucky.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Neolithic Nut 'n' Seed Gatherer

This week I have been mostly cooking with squashes and pumpkins. I know it's only Tuesday, but I may run out of steam with the darn things by the end of the week, so let's run with the enthusiasm now, shall we?

Mostly, I am finding they are best roasted 1) because preparation is simple and 2) most things taste good roasted so it's a fair bet that on serving up at least the food will get eaten and not poked around the plate with a suspicious fork by people saying 'What's this? Will I like it? It looks like poison to me'.

The squash has gone down better than the pumpkin, which in some ways is disappointing as the squash/pumpkin ratio swings wildly in favour of the pumpkin following this year's harvest at the Manor. I like both. So does Andy. And Leane. Chris and Heather nibbled at the pumpkin and left it quietly to one side. So after dinner yesterday evening I made the rest of the pumpkin into pumpkin soup which will do me for lunch for the next 3 days. I thought I might experiment with mixing in various spices and herbs. Just to vary the 'pumpkin soup for lunch AGAIN' theme. There are still several pumpkins staring at me from the worktop as I write this. I am going to have to research pumpkin recipes because there's only so much soup I can cope with before my oesophagus starts rebelling.

And then there are the pumpkin seeds. I love pumpkin seeds. I love all dried seeds. And nuts. I am the only person in the Manor who likes dried seeds apart from the chickens. I think that somewhere in my genetic makeup, there beats the heart of a Neolithic nut 'n' seed gatherer. So I scooped the seeds from the centre of the pumpkin and given that it was the smallest of the pumpkins (only as big as my head), there was a surprising amount of seeds. A whole baking sheet's worth.

As I was scooping, I discovered the one thing in the world that has more slime than a slug. And that would be a pumpkin seed. I once picked up a slug with my bare hands. Only once mind. I was wiping slug slime off my fingers for ages. It was disgusting, and I'm not the most squeamish of people, I can tell you. But slugs are nothing in the slime stakes when compared with a handful of pumpkin seeds. I consulted Hugh F-W vis a vis the preparation of dried pumpkin seeds. (I did try one in its raw, slimey, nude state - it wasn't pleasant, I wouldn't recommend it). Hugh said to wash off the seeds, dry them, spread them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a smidge of salt and bake at Gas 6 for a few minutes.

I washed the seeds thinking it would remove the slime. It didn't. I tried to dry the seeds using kitchen roll, thinking it would remove the slime. It didn't. There ensued a lot of faffing as I tried to peel the slime-covered pumpkin seeds from the now slime-covered kitchen roll. I thought, is this what my life has come to? So I slung the seeds onto the tray, popped them in the oven, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

After five minutes, things were popping. And cracking. I checked the seeds. They were drying. And popping and cracking. I left them to roast for as long as I dared (about 15 minutes) least one should fling itself into the gas flames and set fire to the cooker and ultimately the kitchen, then I shook them off the tray into a bowl, waited a few minutes until they had cooled, then tried some.

They were delicious! And they were still delicious this morning when I had some on my Bran Flakes along with some flaked almonds and sultanas.

And the best thing is that they are ALL MINE!!! No one else will eat them. For I am the lone Neolithic Nut 'n' Seed Gatherer here at the Manor. Aside from the chickens.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Arty Crafty

Last year I fully intended to make our Christmas cards. I was in 'artisan' mode, having just given up teaching, and being, by that time, in full swing of writing full time. I was at a creative peak. I purchased blank cards and all sorts of accessories with which to embellish said cards with some kind of suitable Christmassy effect. I even got to the point of sitting at the table in my writing room, with all the card making accoutrements spread before me, ready to begin production.

And then I got stuck.

The possibility of choice was over-whelming. What form should our Christmas cards take? What picture, or symbolic representation of the festive season would best convey Andy and I as a happy Christmas couple? What colour theme should I use? Should I do a variety of designs to suit the variety of family and friends we have? Should I do a poem for the inside?

Well, of course, they didn't get made, did they? The sheer enormity of the task caused me to chicken out. My friend, Sarah, has been making her own cards for years and years. They have style, they have a brand - Santa Slanda -they contain a long and very funny poem centered on the main news topic of the year and one of the highlights of my Christmas is waiting for Sarah's card 'n' poem combo to arrive. I have collected each and every one of them.

And I have made cards before, so it's not a wholly unusual activity for me. In fact, Andy and I designed and made our wedding invitations. We selected a colour theme - pinks, lilacs, purples and burgundy - we created a design, we wrote and printed the invitation details to stick inside, we added ribbons and sparkle, we set up a production line on the dining room table, we manufactured 50 invitations without arguing and calling off the wedding. We even managed a set of 100 place name cards for the tables to match. Mission accomplished.

So what is it about Christmas? What is it about creating a Christmas card that is causing me such angst? I'll tell you what it is, because the reason woke me up at 4.30 this morning. It's because every year we are bombarded with magazines, TV programmes and advertising that promises us 'The Best Christmas EVER!!!!!!!'. And being a perfectionist, I am sucked into this ideal and of course, the best way to avoid failure on the perfection front is to not try in the first place. I am, in some weird subliminal way, attempting to magic up the ultimate perfect best-ever Christmas card in the history of since when Christmas began.

And it's all subjective, isn't it? What I like and deem to be perfection, may be some other person's vision of tat and tackiness. (I know, seems unlikely doesn't it, given my obvious impeccable taste, but one has to consider these possibilities, doesn't one, Jerry?). I mean, Andy and I had a Muppet themed wedding. Okay, so we didn't go as far as dressing up as Kermit and Miss Piggy, but the thought was there, believe me, and there but for Moss Bros being thin on the green tuxedo front go we. We named the tables after Muppets, we had Muppets sitting on the tables, we walked down the aisle as husband and wife to Muppet songs. But other than that, it was very tasteful.

So why don't I do Muppet Christmas cards? Because they would be tacky, that's why. Don't ask me how I arrive at this conclusion; I just know in my Christmassy heart that it would be wrong. (Although our tree top decoration is Gonzo dressed as a Christmas fairy, wand and all.)

And now three chickens have arrived at the back door dressed as can-can dances.
'Can I help?' I say.
'We've come for the Christmas card photoshoot,' says Mrs Miggins, adjusting her frilly knickers as they are a bit tight and giving her, what I believe is called in common parlance, a wedgy.
'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey, a vision in red and black frills, hiding coyly behind an elaborate fan.
'Photoshoot?' I say, glancing down at the three pairs of patent leather ankle boots that are tapping in excited anticipation.

'Yes,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'We're the two turtle doves and the partridge in a pear tree.'

Oh good grief!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Stress Management

This week, Andy has been on a stress management course. He texted me to say that a) the hotel he was staying in was very posh and b) he'd fallen asleep on the floor during one of the relaxation exercises and snored.

He also learned that a stressed person can be one of three types. They are:

1) stress carriers, who keep their stress to themselves and thus run the risk of self-imploding with stress or at the least getting a nasty headache/ tummy ache and walking around looking pained and sighing a lot and responding 'No, I'm fine, honest (sob)' when people ask them if they are okay
2) stress transmitters, who spread their stress to everyone around them, thus diluting their own angst but making everyone else feel crap in the process, a bit like nasty flu bugs or malaria loaded mosquitoes and
3) stress dumpers, who blame everyone else for their stress i.e 'It's all YOUR fault I'm so stressed. If you didn't exist I wouldn't be so STRESSED, how selfish are you, you big stress anatagonist?'

We all get stressed in different ways and to different levels. And here is the Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Stress Management.

1) In order to be truly stressed you must be at least 21 years old; under 21's don't know the meaning of the word 'stress' and use it far too frequently, in my view, to refer to something that is really just a mere irritation e.g like when their hair doesn't end up 'just so' in the morning hair straightening ritual or their bezzy mate uses the last of the mayonnaise and replaces the empty jar in the fridge in their shared digs

2) A lot of stress can be dealt with by the simple act of 'waiting to see what happens.' Accompany the act with copious tea, cake and re-runs of 'Top Gear' on Dave, and most developing stress situations will dissipate (I love that word, don't you?) in an hour or two. And seeing Jeremy Clarkson getting angry at the latest remodel of a family-sized Ford will always put your own stress issues into perspective

3) Be aware of your own stress ignition points (or SIPs, as I shall now call them) and do your best to avoid them or at least have some SIP diversion tactics in place. For example, if someone banging their cutlery against their teeth when they are eating makes you want to grab their fork and ram it down their throat, introduce some meal-time humming. Or play the radio/TV really loudly. Or if clutter gets on the one nerve you have left at the end of the day, grab a bin bag, pile the clutter into the bin bag, run into the garden, set fire to the bin bag and spend twenty minutes dancing around the flames cackling to the moon. (It'll will likely be a full moon if you find yourself actually taking this course of action.) DO NOT think twice about this method, DO NOT give the clutterbugs the option to remove the clutter. I mean, if they've been living with you for any length of time, they should know all about you and your relationship with clutter, so have only got themselves to blame if one of their favourite pairs of slouch socks, or a much beloved novel goes up in smoke.

4) Amass a collection of objects and activities that will alleviate any stress-related physical effects. My own anti-stress kit consists of a) a kitten b) my fingernails c) food that is crunchy and doesn't involve any sort of preparation before eating d) the thought of being able to run into the road and scream at the top of my voice at 3 am knowing there is nothing anyone can do to stop me e) a box set of 'The Darling Buds of May' f) any of the following DVDs - Love Actually, Down with Love, The Producers, Madagascar 2 g) playing endless games of solitaire on the laptop h) chickens watching i) making mindless lists. (At least, that is anti-stress kit Number 1. My other anti-stress kits are way too dark and vengeful to mention here.)

5) If you find you are suddenly in the throes of a bout of stress, there are many products on the market you can use to calm down the excessively beating heart, the sweaty palms, the dizziness, the sheer force of rage that is building inside you like the Incredible Hulk waiting to burst forth and go 'GGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!' at everything in sight. Things like meditation CDs, visualisation CDs, motivational books, squeezy balls, lavender oil. My understanding is that you gather these CDs, books, balls and oils and throw them with all your stressy, angry might at the source of your stress (inanimate or living) and you should feel very much better. If you have none of these products to hand, then a cushion, dinner plate or house brick will do just as well.

6) Stress can be good. Stress generates adrenaline, the 'fight or flight' hormone. It is stress that will save you from missing a deadline at work and getting into trouble with your boss, or being eaten by a lion should you find yourself being chased by one on safari. Stress once saved me from being mugged by a toddler in the sweetie aisle in Sainsbugs. (And not, as some people would have it, the fact that I was three feet taller, 20 decibels louder, 9 stone heavier and the one in buying power position.)

7) Remember that stress is only a six letter word. Like 'friend' and 'joyous.' And 'panics', 'murder' and 'horror'.

8) Stress is relative. Assess your stressful situation. Does it involve your partner, child, parent or in-law? See, I told you so.

9) You can be signed off work for stress-related illness. Then you can sit at home and watch real stress at work on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

10) I was feeling stressed when I started writing this guide. But now I don't. The act of writing has de-stressed me. So find you own stress-diversion therapy and employ it when the blood pressure starts rising. It works. Honest.

(PS - Andy has just tried to find a relaxation download from the Interwebbly for him to listen to when he's stressed. Apparently, they were all by nasal Americans, or insincere men, or sounded too 'Californian' ,whatever that means. It caused him much stress.)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Phones- 4-U (but mostly Heather)

It rained really hard last Wednesday. Last Wednesday was a day of rain-soaking-through-to-the-pants day. It was also a rain-so-hard-Heather's-mobile-phone-got-drowned day.

This proved to be a depressing occasion for Heather. She is, like all youngsters these days, lost without her mobile phone. Bereft. Bereaved. And what with one thing and another also happening this week, culminating in a visit to casualty very late Monday night/Tuesday morning with a severe allergic reaction to something or other as yet undiagnosed (probably being a debt-laden new graduate in 21st century recession-ridden, job-scarce Britain), it all got a bit too much for my girl yesterday and a little cloud of gloom settled over her as she succumbed to a Mummy-cuddle and 'let's-talk-about-how-crap-life-can-be-sometimes' chat on the sofa to try and make it all better.

'Right!' I said, gripping the situation and shaking it firmly by the throat. 'We are going to make this day better. '(Because that is what mums do. Or try to do.)
'This is THE PLAN,' I said. 'We are going into town to sort out your mobile phone. And then we can find somewhere to eat. And then you can come with me to Adult Education and then we can come home and have hot chocolate and scones for supper.'
'Okay,' said Heather.
'And also you can be my body-guard as it will be dark when I finish Adult Ed, and we have to walk home because Andy has taken the car to Shropshire,' I added.

So off we went.

Now, our home town has five basic forms of retail outlet. They are: hairdressers, fast food, pound shops, opticians and mobile phone shops.

'Where do we start?' I said, as we stood at our starting point. We could see four mobile phone shops from there already, and that was without thinking about the ones in the three shopping arcades.
'I don't know,' said Heather. This is where we share a common bond. We both know little about the subtle nuances and intricacies of mobile phones.
'What kind of phone do you want?' I said, desperate to find retail hook.
'I don't know,' said Heather.
'Okay,' I said, because my main criteria for a mobile phone is, does it feel nice to hold? My current phone is a nice smooth, oval, pink and silver pebble of a thing that does a satisfying snap-shut motion, like a clam. But then my point of reference for mobile phone styling is very limited. In twelve years I've had three phones - my current one, a previous one that belonged to Andy to which I added an Ermintrude phone cover, and my first phone which was a blue house brick.

'Let's go into Phones -4-U,' I suggested, only because it caught my eye as I looked around.

In we went. The next hour was spent like this.

'Hello. We'd like to find out about a mobile phone contract,' we said, because we had, at least, established that Heather wanted to move from pay-as-you-go to contract as it would save her money.
'Right,' said the saleman. 'Come and sit down and we'll go through some options.'
'Okay,' we said.
'Nmn £$^*(HUI jfuer.kc9n32=[dnj3lbcyua,m,' said the salesman.
'Really?' we said.
'hfyr833 &*($()Pfp midoa lovjehs ;p[;abe ;]34 fd-= de02he ;sdY3,' said the salesman, writing something on his assessment sheet,' mjf9p4q lv0rq -ie9pq Orange, iofeq, Vodaphone, n9[[4e, nur9q.5. fewq0[4, Virgin pants.'
'Right,' we said.
'Internet?' said the salesman.
'Yes,' we said.
'Insurance?' said the salesman.
'No,' we said.
'N04n. 48ef vf834[bfg ho dpq f0q34 9120-45 *(%RFVJ fnruep,' said the salesman.

And so it continued. I could feel the draft of confusion flying low over my head, but Heather was nodding sagely and asking very clever questions about touch screens, heat sensitive buttons and Facebook. And the salesman was very, very good and didn't try to make us have more than we wanted or needed.

But the result was one very reasonable mobile phone contract (even I thought it was reasonable and I am generally appalled by all things mobile phone related) on a Blackberry phone that does everything, apparently, apart from making the tea and filing, a charger to use in the car that Heather hasn't got, a couple of memory cards, an additional, very basic mobile phone loaded with £10 credit ' just in case the battery on the Blackberry runs out at an awkward moment,' and, get this, £50 for her old soggy mobile!

Now that's my kind of shopping! Exit two previously gloomy, now much cheered girlies.

And we had a celebratory sandwich, I enjoyed another successful Adult Ed session, we got home without being mugged (although we were shouted at by some morons in a car; bless them, it must be hard to be so out of control of such tiny, tiny brains) and we sat on the sofa drinking tea and hot chocolate and watching comedy re-runs on Dave.

As the Mitchell brothers would say - 'Sortid!'

And as Pop Larkin would say - 'Perfick!'

And as Heather's Mum would say - 'Phew!'

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Sparrow and the Sandal (God Bless Their Souls and Soles)

It's only Wednesday, and despite many distractions and hurdles vis a vis various family crisis situations which I shan't bore you with, we are making good headway into the list of 'Jobs To Be Done This Week.'

The car has four new tyres, ready for Winter and ready for its next MOT. Given the car is five and a half years old and was still on its original set bar one which suffered a puncture, it's done pretty well on the replacement tyre front. And now it is all perky and jaunty. When driving, it feels like the car has, well, four new bouncy tyres. In fact, it feels like its got four new rubber-soled sandals, which immediately brought to mind a traumatic experience I had when I was six or seven years old with a new pair of Clarke's shoes.

My mum was always very keen for us to have 'proper shoes' when we were growing up. You know, getting our feet measured ever six months in one of those electronic measuring machines which squishes your foot and tells you, in my case, that you've got one foot nearly a size bigger than the other. During the Winter, we had sensible black shoes, with proper straps, buckles and/or laces and good, solid heels. And in the Summer we had open-toed sandals with rubber soles, properly fitting straps and buckles. They were beige, which was a bit of a downer, but the upper was that you could bounce in them.

So one day, when I was about six or seven years old, our Summer sandals were purchased and I went for a bounce. I decided to bounce around the outside of my grandparents' farm-house because you could get a good long uninterrupted run and carry on as long as you wanted without having to stop, turn around and go back the other way. Around and around the outside of the house I bounced on my new bouncy Clarke's sandals. Bounce, bounce, boing, boing, it was like having Spacehopper feet.

And then, in the nanosecond of time it took me to bounce into the air and land, a sparrow flew from nowhere under my feet and I bounced on top of it with a heart-stopping crunch. It is the only time in my life I have ever killed a bird or animal, and I can still feel that awful rush of heat flushing through me as I realised what had happened. Looking down, the sole of one of my new bouncy Clarke's sandals was splashed with blood and the sparrow was very flat.

Panicked and on the verge of tears, I rushed off to find my Grandad. He brought me back to the scene of the crime (I regarded it as such because I had killed a bird with the thoughtless, egocentric admiration of my new sandals). He confirmed the sparrow was, indeed, dead. We scraped it up from the path and gave it a decent burial in the veg patch beside the wash-house. We put some wild flowers on the grave and then Grandad cleaned off my bloodied sandal over the wash-house drain using the wooden wire scrubbing brush my Gran did her steps and tiles with.

That was nearly forty years ago. It's odd how some things have such an impact on our memories.

The second job was to buy fresh bark chippings for Cluckinghen Palace. Once purchased, we decided to put the chippings in a pile in the middle of the run and let the hens have the fun of spreading them out themselves.

And what are they doing? They are sitting in the South End eyeing the pile suspiciously, not a hint of helpful digging in sight.

We're in the garden today. Doing an Autumn tidy. I'm going to supply the hens with fluorescent jackets, safety helmets, digging forks and the incentive of tea and cake if they shift the pile of chippings for us. I'll let you know if they oblige.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Brass Rubbing Pig

Yesterday, because the sun was shining, the skies were blue, the air was crisp and clear and because Andy is on holiday, we went to Leeds Castle for a lengthy walk in the grounds and then a spot of lunch in the castle restaurant.

Dotted around the grounds at various intervals are brass rubbing posts; blocks of wood about the height of a child who might be interested in brass rubbing, and atop each post is a brass picture each depicting a different bird, animal or leaf. (No elephants though, which is rather disappointing).

I always decline the opportunity to brass rub when we go to Leeds Castle because I don't like the smell of wax crayon and the way they always get under your fingernails. But ahead of us, as we strolled the path by the little stream leading up to the start of the moat, were a couple with a little girl, whom I guessed to be around six or seven years old. The little girl approached one of the brass rubbing posts, as curious children are wont to do, and placed her hands on it. The woman with her (whom I guessed to be a grandparent, because if she was the child's mother, she wasn't wearing very well), suddenly screamed:


Andy looked at me, I looked at Andy.
'Did she say what I thought she said?' said Andy.
'That you can catch swine flu from touching a brass rubbing post?' I said.
'Yes,' said Andy.
'She did,' said I.
'Well, I missed that part of the Government swine flu information campaign,' said Andy, and we continued on our walk, safe in the knowledge that the guardians of the nation's children are so hot on health and hygiene issues, even though they appear to be encouraging them to truant school on a sunny Monday morning.

'So pigs do brass rubbing, then?' I said, as we sat in the castle restaurant enjoying some very nice fish 'n' chips.
'Oh yes,' said Andy, airily. And he should know because he is a vet after all. 'In fact, brass rubbing was invented by a pig.'
'Really?' I said. 'I thought it was invented by a monkey.'
'Oh, you're thinking of the freezing brass monkey balls,' said Andy. 'It's a common mistake to mix the monkey's brass balls with the pig's brass rubbings.'
'How can you tell the difference?' I asked. I was thinking, this could make a good starting point for my NaNoWriMo project.
Andy looked at me. I wasn't sure if I would be able to take his next comment seriously as he had a piece of rocket hanging from the corner of his mouth. 'A monkey has a slightly longer tail,' he said.

Anyway, it transpires that in the Brass Age, which was the little recognised period of historical time just after the 'Bronze Age' and just before the 'Glass Formed into Interesting Shapes Age', that a farmer accidentally invented brass by mixing some bracken with some grass. He was trying to make gracken wine but got his proportions completely wrong (on account of the fact that calibrating scales were yet to be invented.) The resulting mix went hard as rock and the Farmer tipped it onto his compost heap in disgust (which was the name of the small hamlet in which he lived.)

Along came his pig, drawn by the smell of the fermenting organic mass. And we all know how itchy pigs can get. In fact, I would advise that should you ever find yourself in close proximity with a pig, never stand still, as it will use you as a scratching post and probably poop on your wellies with the sheer joy of the experience. The Farmer's pig discovered that although the lump of newly invented solid brass was completely inedible, it was jolly good to scratch against.

The Farmer, on hearing his pig scratching, leaned from the window of his hut and shouted, 'Ear, be starp th'scritch scritch, yo rumpy nose-fert, ' which is Brass Age speak for 'Stop making that awful noise, we're trying to have a nice quiet game of Scrabble in here.'

And the pig turned at the sudden noise, and the Farmer noticed that, imprinted on the side of the pig, was the outline of a perfect bracken leaf and a couple of very nice examples of Brass Age meadow grass.

And thus was brass rubbing invented. The Farmer made a fortune (well, a couple of sacks of grain, a wheel barrow and a goose with three legs) by toting his pig around the local country fayres, covering him in purple wax crayon and getting the local kids scratch the pig with bits of paper. Okay, so the process took a little bit of refining before the Farmer got the brass rubbing process in the correct order, but you get the gist.

'And you're sure there were no monkeys involved,' I said.
'Positive,' said Andy. 'And I should know about these things. I am a vet, after all.'

Monday, 12 October 2009

NaNoWriMo Part 2 and Horses Go Splash!

So, yesterday I explored my two new writing project options - NaNoWriMo 2009 and the Faber six month novel writing course do-dah thingummy.

Well, the Faber course was very expensive. I could buy a small car for the tuition fees PLUS I had to apply for the course saying why I wanted to join it AND I'd have to send a sample of my work so the selection board( yes, a selection board and I don't mean the continental cheese variety) could assess my merits as a writer and decide whether they would accept the several thousand pound tuition fees from me. Talk about picky. So Faber were off the potential writing project list, as soon as I'd picked myself up off the floor after recovering from my dead faint.

On to NaNoWriMo 2009. It looks fun. It looks frantic. It looks a completely crazy way to spend a writing month. So I signed up.

And now all I have to do is decide what I'm going to write. The general advice from the event organisers seems to be just to wing it. I can wing it. I did a fair amount of winging when I was teaching, especially when I was covering someone else's lesson and they hadn't bothered to leave any supply work for me to deliver. All I need to wing it is a starting point, a pithy phrase or sentence to get me rolling. Queen of Winging It, that's me, as long as I have a starting point.

These literary nuggets usually come to me when I'm in the shower, or swimming, or in some other damp or soggy location that prevents me jotting the idea down in one of my many notebooks. So I end up chanting the phrase over and over to make it stick in my brain long enough for me to get to the laptop and type it up. And then I have to keep going, regardless of other plans, interruptions or interferences such as dental appointments, cooking dinner, egg collecting etc. Writing can be a hugely anti-social activity sometimes.

I've got just under three weeks to organise a starting point. And if inspiration fails me, then there's always the old chestnut - It was a dark and stormy night...

And I have to share with you a point of conversation from around the dining table at Much Malarkey Manor last night. I'm not sure how we got onto the subject of horses going splash when they fall from a great height but according to Andy, whose wisdom in these matters I trust implicitly, if you drop a mouse down a 1000 yard mine-shaft it will receive a bit of a shock, but it will pick itself up, brush itself off and saunter away unhurt. But if you drop a rat down the same mine-shaft it will die, and if you drop a man down the mine-shaft he will end up a bit broken but if you drop a horse down the mineshaft, it will go SPLASH! (And I expect the man would then die from having a horse land on him, what him him being unable to get away in time due to his many broken limbs.)

This theory was posed by a physicist called JBS Haldane in his essay entitled 'On Being the Right Size' which was about the effects of size and gravity. I don't know if JBS Haldane was a respected and eminent physicist, but he sounds like the kind of person who, when he was a small child, pulled the legs off spiders, cut worms in half and set fire to insects using a magnifying glass. I mean, who needs to be told that if you drop something heavy enough from a great enough height it'll most likely end up broken or dead? And what's more to the point, if you want to follow his hypothesis and find out if you are the 'Right Size', well, it's a bit of an extreme route to take in order to discover the answer, isn't it? No, what you need is the Much Malarkey Manor Jeans Test (no gravity involved). You will require 3 pairs in different sizes. My bench marks in this highly scientific paper entitled, oddly enough, 'On Being the Right Size', are sizes 14, 16 and 18. It's a simple experiment. Put on the jeans. Size 14= ecstatically happy face, size 16= satisfactory smiley face, size 18= stop stuffing your face.

And that, dear reader, is why I'm an artist and not a scientist.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


One of the blogs I follow is that of a fellow(and far more successful) writer. And one of his recent posts informed us writers that next month is NaNoWriMo- that is, National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you register with the site and start writing your novel, a bit every day, and by the end of the month you end up with 50,000 words which is a fair chunk of a goodly sized book. No editing, no faffing, just write, write, writing, the idea being that amassing a big old chunk of drivel is better than amassing a big old chunk of nothing.

(Excuse me a moment, but Pandora is in the tissue box AGAIN, shredding Kleenex or at least the Sainsbugs own-brand equivalent.)

Right. And yesterday, on the back of the review section of the Guardian, was a magnificent full colour advert for the Faber Academy, detailing their 6-month writing courses, one of which is entitled 'Writing a Novel from Start to Finish' with Esther Freud (whom I've heard of) and Richard Skinner (whom I haven't. But I did go to primary school with someone called Richard Skinner. Couldn't possibly be him though, he was more interested in tractors and being tall.)

So it seems I am being pushed by the Universe to do some kind of new and massive writing task over winter. The kind of writing task that has an outside controlling influence which is good, because I need to be distracted from Winter and the dark mornings, the dark nights, the cold and the wet and the sight of Christmas cards in the shops from mid-September. (Besides, I'm making my own Christmas cards this year. I have already decided this. I planned to do this last year, but chickened out. But this year is going to be an artisan economic Christmas. Home-made cards with a witty Christmas ode inside).

I need to explore the two options properly - the NaNoWriMo and the Faber - because I am guessing on a purely assumptive basis that the NaNo option will be either free or very cheap to pursue, and the Faber option will be very, very expensive, purely from the list of famous name writer/tutors whom I very much doubt would give their services for free to us lesser writing mortals.

If Faber is expensive, then I shall have to either a) go back to teaching to fund the course which means not having the time or the calm mind to write or b) ignore the idea and consign the advert to the recycle bin.

But the NaNoWriMo thing is already tempting me. So that shall be my task for today - to explore potential new sources of writing. Also, I think it's coming up to the time of year for the Daily Mail first novel competition (if they are running it this year) and that will be a good home for 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue.

Other tasks for this week include:
1) replacing the old bark chippings in Cluckinghen Palace with new bark chippings, and worming the hens for winter
2) replacing the tyres on the car, for winter
3) coming up with a Christmas card design and poem to place therein
4) having a trip or two out because Andy is on holiday this week
5) tutoring on Wednesday (we did spellings last week; this week we shall be addressing sentence components e.g nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs (both passive and active - well, in for a penny in for a pound, that's what I say), prepositions, connectives, synonyms, antonyms, and one of my favourites, onomatopoeia, just because it's a great word to say).

And that's about it.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Recuperative Powers of the Feline Creature

I am given to understand that when a lady has a hysterectomy, she is pretty much confined to quarters for at least six weeks post-op and not allowed to even lift as much as a remote control for up to six months. No driving, no hanging the washing out on the line, no exertions involving major muscle groups. I don't know this for sure because my GP refuses to refer me for a hysterectomy even though for the last 5 years I have regarded my bits as a pointless nuisance and therefore excess to my requirements. He keeps muttering things about me being 'young' and 'might want more children.' HA! I'm going to be a granny for heaven's sake. I don't want more children of my own, that's for sure. And Andy can't stand children (so he says), so the GP's argument is groundless in my eyes.

Anyway, Pandora had her 'hysterectomy' yesterday. Andy phoned just before lunch to say that all was well, she'd been very good under the anaesthetic (which I understand is vet parlance for 'didn't try to wake up and freak me out mid-op,') and that lovely nurse Sarah was making sure Pandora was being cossetted with a smidge or two of tuna.

So I set about preparing a rest and recovery package for the return of the invalid. You know, fluffy blanket, bed socks, hot water bottle, mug for cocoa, some nice biscuits and a bit of fruit, a copy of Woman's Own, and My Weekly for the stories, that kind of stuff. I thought, we'll have a nice quiet evening in front of the telly, so Pandora can recover from the traumas of the day. I expect she'll be tired from the anaesthetic, poor thing.

Andy arrives home. Opens the cat basket. Pandora staggers out. She has a large patch of shaved fur on her side which is covered by a large dressing and a smaller patch of shaved fur on her little front leg. She is looking a bit squiffy eyed. She's been micro-chipped, too.

I kneel on the floor.
'Hello, little fluffy girl,' I coo.
'Have you see the state of my fur?' she says. 'Look. I've lost a huge wodge. It'll take years to regrow.'
'It won't,' I say. 'It'll all be back in a month, you wait and see.'
'And I'm hungry,' said Pandora. 'All I got in the hospital was a bit of tuna.'
'I've filled up your food bowl,' I say.
'With dried cat food?' asks Pandora.
I nod
'I think I'll have some of that roast pork you've just taken from the oven,' she says, and because I am feeling bad about the day she's had, I feed her little bits of warm roast pork.

Then, as she starts moving around, she catches a glimpse of the dressing that is covering her stitches.
'Ye Gods!' she says, leaping into the air. 'What in the name of all that's holy is that?'

And she grabs the edge of the dressing between her teeth and wrenches it from her shortly shaved fur. I wince because I imagine it must be like leg-waxing, but it doesn't seem to bother Pandora.
'Hello,' she says, examining her operation wound. 'What are these?' And she gives the ends of the stitches an experimental tug.
'Don't pull those,' warns Andy. 'Or I'll have to put a buster collar on you.' (A buster collar is one of those lampshade effect contraptions to prevent animals licking and chewing at bits of their anatomy whilst they heal.)
'Oh yeah?' says Pandora. 'Well, you'll have to catch me first,' and she spends the next hour racing around the house, thinking it great larks to stop periodically and tug at her stitches. We try everything we can to distract her - playing fetch, waving her string on a stick in a tempting manner, feeding her more pork - but eventually we realise the buster collar must be employed.

It takes a certain amount of rugby tackling, wrestling holds and adapting the collar with a bit of bandage to fit the thing to Pandora's neck. She sits and stares at us like a mightily hacked off Elizabeth the First. And then she continues to fling herself about in wild abandon, chasing toys, attacking feet, hurdling the sofa, getting stuck by the collar in very small places.

I am concerned that overnight Pandora will either a) strangle herself on her collar b)be strangled by Phoebe or Tybalt by her collar or c) pull off her collar and wrench out her stitches so I'll come downstairs in the morning and find her life ebbing away from her in a pool of blood.

So Pandora gets to sleep on our bed.

At 1.30 a.m I wake with numb feet because Pandora is sleeping in a dead weight across them. I get up, go downstairs for a glass of water, give Pandora water because she has followed me into the kitchen, stab myself on a knife that is sitting pointy bit up in the draining rack and decide that as I am having a hot flush, I need the bedroom window open so Pandora will have to stay on the landing.

For the next hour she sits on the landing alternating between mewing plaintively and trying to scratch her head which means her collar banging against the bedroom door.

As the sun rises, I get up and find Pandora has wrestled herself from her collar. But her stitches are intact and clean, so phew!

So Pandora Kitten is fine. Having a hysterectomy has barely impacted on her life at all. Which to me means cats are far more resilient to these things than us humans.

Either that or they are too stupid as a species to milk these situations for as much as they are worth...

Friday, 9 October 2009

Operation Pando Pants

Today, Pandora has gone to work with Andy. Today, Pandora is going to be spayed. She is six months old and, because Andy and I are responsible pet owners, we are not going to allow her to contribute to a world where there are way too many cats wanting homes already.

This meant removing any sources of food from her at 6 pm yesterday in her pre-op prep. From 5 pm I was encouraging her to stuff her face, convinced she would die of starvation before she succumbed to the anaesthetic the following day.
'Come on, Pandora,' I said, 'have some dinner.'
'But I don't have dinner until 6.30,' said Pandora. 'I am currently more interested in dragging my string on a stick around the kitchen and getting under your feet. Of course,' she continued, 'if you're offering some of what your cooking now, I may be tempted to eat earlier.'

Chris and Leane were coming for dinner. I was making Moroccan lamb, to be served with a couple of the many aubergines that have now decided to grow in the polytunnel. And apple pie.

'No,' I said. 'You can have your lovely kitten biscuit cat food.' Pandora's taste in food in very eclectic. She likes, amongst other things, any form of fish but especially pilchards in tomato sauce, chicken, potato, toast with either marmalade or Marmite, most types of breakfast cereal, Digestive biscuits and flapjack.

'Why do you want me to have dinner now?' asked Pandora. She'd turned her attention to collecting as many biros as she could find (and in the home of a writer, there are MANY biros), and kicking them under the fridge.
'Er, because, er...' I began, not quite being able to bring myself to tell her the real reason.
'I know why, I know why!' said Phoebe, skipping into the kitchen with glee. (Glee is her pet snail.)
'Hush!' I said.
'Why?' said Pandora.
'Phoebe!' I warned.
'You're going to have an operation!' said Phoebe, and she laughed with Glee which isn't a good idea as it is a well known fact that snails have weak pelvic floor muscles and suffer stress incontinence, which Glee did, all over the kitchen floor.
'Oh good grief,' I said. I didn't need this, not with the aubergines needing salting and all.

'What kind of operation?' said Pandora.
'One to stop you having babies,' I said.

Pandora considered this idea for a moment.
'Will it change my personality? Will I become a 'lesser cat?' ' she asked.
'No on both counts,' I said. 'You will still be a cute and crazy, highly intelligent, biro stealing, flapjack eating Pando Pants. And you will be doing your bit towards preventing the world becoming over-run with excess kittens and puppies.'
'Puppies? I could have puppies?' said Pandora. She looked a little alarmed.
'No, no,' I said hurriedly. 'I just added the puppy mention for all those people who think they should let their dogs have a litter or father a litter because they think it's 'unnatural' or 'unfair' for them not to. I'm wearing my educational hat today.'
'Phew,' said Pandora. Then, 'Is it an invisible hat, then?'

'I've had two kittens,' said Phoebe. 'When I was a stray, before Andy rescued me.'
Pandora looked at Phoebe. Roly-poly, humpty-dumpty Phoebe.
'Will I get fat like Phoebe?' asked Pandora. She paused by the oven to admire her lithe kitten figure in the glass door.
'No,' I said. 'That's another myth. Phoebe is podgy because she eats too much and she's getting old and can't exercise very well.'
'That's okay then,' said Pandora. 'I'll stuff my face now then, shall I?'

So at 6 pm the food was removed. All the food, including the bowls belonging to Phoebe and Tybalt. And this morning I was met with three cats who miaowed and mewed in a very plaintive way, that they were all starving to death and could they have a really big breakfast NOW?

And Pandora was put in a cat basket to go to work with Andy, and Tybalt and Phoebe have since spent the entire morning looking for her, but pausing periodically to have some breakfast, then more breakfast and then elevenses in case rations are withdrawn again.

It's very odd not having Pandora on my lap as I write. Tybalt will sit on my lap for a few minutes only, because the tap-tap-tap on my fingers on the keyboard affects his sensibilities; Phoebe would sit on my lap for eight hours at a stretch but this causes my legs to go dead and also her bulk makes it difficult for me to reach the keyboard.

I'm waiting for the call from Andy to tell me Pandora is okay.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

National Poetry Day

It's too early in the morning, really, for a poetry recital, but Mrs Slocombe is insistent and because she is bonkers I am not going to argue with her. Instead, I settle in a chair with a mug of strong tea and some toast and fix my concentration on the podium the chickens have erected in the living room. It's an extravagant podium, swathed in swags of purple satin, with arrangements of gladioli either side. A poster of Mrs Thatcher dressed as Che Guevara in a baseball cap sits ominously on the wall behind.

'We were going to have an outdoor reading,' confides Mrs Pumphrey. 'Only there's fish in the sky which means it might rain. So says Mrs Miggins.'
'Fish in the sky?' I say, wondering if the poetry recital has begun without me noticing.
'You know,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, sometimes wet, sometimes dry.'
'I see, ' I say, 'a chance of rain? Oh, not again? My washing will not dry. Today, I want the sun to shine, to get my shirts and undies dry.'
'Don't you be breaking the fourth wall,' warns Mrs Miggins. 'You're the audience, so sit still, watch and learn. This is our gig, okay?'
'Okay,' I say, 'I'll sit right here, and hush my chat, you've been quite clear.'
'You're sounding like Rupert Bear,' whispers Mrs Slocombe who is standing, partially hidden behind one of the gladioli arrangements. 'I'd stop now before you get drawn into wearing yellow check trousers.'

'I don't suppose you could tone down the volume of your sound system, could you?' I say, checking my ears for bleeding.
'You have my attention,' I say. 'And most of the rest of Kent.'
'GOOD! MRS BETTY SLOCOMBE!' announces Mrs Miggins and she steps from the podium to make way for the Greek muse.

Mrs Slocombe looks unusually nervous for a mad chicken but that could be because she's holding a balloon, to which are attached various lengths of rubber and, let's face it, balloons can make the bravest of people feel nervous. It's the frisson of anticipation that the thing could go 'BANG! at any moment. The balloon has a face drawn upon it, a face gaping in some kind of death throw.

Mrs Slocombe clears her throat.

'I AM MEDUSA!' she announces, and she pulls her floaty Greek robe up over head so she appears, in effect, decapitated. She then holds the balloon head as far in front of her as her stumpy chicken wings will allow, and gives it a menacing waggle.

'BOKKKKKKK!' she cries, which makes me jump and choke on my toast. 'BOK, BOKKITY, BOK,BOK,BOK. OH HEAD OF SNAKES.....BOKKITY, BOKKITY...IN THE CAVE OF FEAR...BIK,BIK,BIK,BIK,BIK.'

I find myself sitting on the edge of my seat, transfixed by the balloon which is now swaying dangerously close to my face.

'Bok, bik, bok,bik....bik, bok, bik,,' whispers Mrs Slocombe. You can cut the atmosphere with a cliche. Mrs Pumphrey, dressed as Britannia, nudges up on the chair beside me, her armour clunking in time to Mrs Slocombe's incantations.
'Your spear is poking my elbow,' I whisper.
'And?' says Mrs Slocombe.

'Bik, bik, bik, bik, bik, biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiik, bok...............' goes Mrs Slocombe, building the tension even further. Really, this is very good, I think.

And then...

'BANG!' goes the balloon. I shriek, Mrs Pumphrey shrieks, Mrs Slocombe shrieks. The only one who remains calm in the ensuing fracas is Mrs Miggins who is plugged into her i-pod listening to 'Today' on Radio 4.

It takes a couple of hours for my heart to fully stop racing. Mrs Miggins appears at the back door.
'I just wondered,' she says, 'if you could fill in this feed-back form? It's for the Arts Council. Only we'll get a grant for next year's National Poetry Day Recital if we can show that we've had a significant impact on our audience this year.'
I check my pulse. 'How many feathers did Mrs Slocombe lose in shock?' I ask.
'Around 37%,' says Miggins, 'give or take 15% or so.'
'And Mrs Slocombe? Can she still see that apparation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reading The Hound of the Baskervilles in pink pyjamas?'
Mrs Miggins nods. 'Just about,' she says. 'Although Watson and the violin have all but disappered, which is progress, don't you think?'

I nod. 'I think you've achieved a significant impact on your audience,' I say. 'Give me the form.'

And here is a poem that I wrote during my creative writing course last year. It's about being dead but I've tried to make it as cheerful as possible!

Organic Matters by Me

Hunched in the hearse, on my coffin coughing
From the 'flu that flummoxed my full-fat heart,
Travelling forwards, I'm looking back at the
Trouble and strife, my wife, now widow,
Face blank at the window, my eldest son Fred
And youngest girl, June, who swooped too soon
To pick through the personal scraps of my life.
They're sniffing and snuffling, they're snot-nosed and blubbing.

Before death I said, you must
Bury, not burn me. I can't bear to think
Of the frazzling and frying, of raked embers dying,
A sausage, forgotten, charred black on the grill.

Yet it happened, once dead, I was sent to the parlour
For primping and preening, like Dinky the poodle.
Flat veins injected, formaldehyde flowing,
Dead on the inside, the ouside was glowing,
Prepared for the viewing. What were they thinking?
'Oooooh look at 'is 'air? Oh, don't 'e' look nice?'
That shirt with that tie? I'd much rather die.

Ashes to ashes, to grit and to grain,
I'm a recycle nightmare. Before death I said, you must
Bury, not burn me. Embalm me in earth,
Recycle me fully, compost and mulch me.
(As garden delight, my organic matters.)

But no, did they listen? I'm overdone steak,
No medium rare at this cooking place.
Deflated and sifted, a scaffold dismantled,
Denied me the chance to be food for the worms
I'm sat in a tin, like the ham for the sandwiches
Back at the wake. And the jam in the jar
To add to the cake to sweeten
The life of my waste.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Do I write too much?

I was thinking about communication this morning as I was ploughing up and down the pool, trying to avoid the wild splash of men who seem to take up twice as much pool space as us neat and tidy girl swimmers. Why do men do that, I thought. Women can swim up and down, passing each other with plenty of space to spare, aware of our surroundings, courteous to other swimmers, conscious of invading personal body space, and yet put a man in a pool and he becomes a flailing windmill of arms and legs, splashing and crashing, making the most appalling and, to my mind, unnecessary noises, puffing and blowing as if to say 'LOOK AT ME! I'M A BIG, STRONG MANLY MAN SWIMMER IN VERY TIGHT TRUNKS! I DON'T SWIM IN STRAIGHT LINES SO GET USED TO IT AND GET OUT OF MY WAY, WOMAN!'

I thought, when the Baby Bug Grandchild is here, I shall take him/her (still erring towards a 'him') swimming and I shall shout things like 'Oooh, Baby Bug Grandchild, fancy pooping in your nappy like that, in the middle of a swim.' That'll get rumbumptious manly swimmers out of my way.

Anyway, back to thoughts on communication. The process of making ourselves understood has been fore-front in my mind these last few weeks as I have been writing lesson plans for my Adult Ed classes. Teaching adults is different to teaching children, but many of the principles are similar. I have been revisiting old material and study notes from my degree days. I did a unit, you see, on the development and use of the English Language. I thought, being a writer, that it would be interesting to study and explore the origins of our language, how it is learnt and developed, the mechanics of communication, verbal, aural and textual.

And it was. It was scientific but fascinating stuff and I have decided to use some of the elements I learned then as the basis for my lesson tomorrow night which is all about spelling. Things like phonemic awareness, sound, spelling patterns, high frequency words, word families, homophones.

I love the fluidity of language, the organic nature of communication, the way in which, as writers, we can experiment with expression and ignore 'the rules' in order to expand our creativity. That's not to say I'm not irritated by spelling errors, punctuation misdemeanours and grammar glitches when I see them. (And even more irritated when I commit them myself, because I always think I should know better!). There is a place for Standard English, for clear and universal expression, and as a teacher I'll do everything I can to maintain those standards in my students.

But as a writer, there is nothing better than messing around with language because the results reveal the personality within us, the individual that is 'I'.

When I did a creative writing course in 2007(with the Open University), the last assignment was marked against various components e.g style, content, technique. Another component was 'Writer's Voice.' Whilst I scored in the 'Good' mark band for the other elements, I scored 'Excellent' in the Writer's Voice section which was more important to me than anything else as it suggested I had found, or at least touched upon, my unique writing style.

Since then I have enjoyed the fortunate position of being able to concentrate on writing full-time. I have completed two novels for children and am half-way to completing a novel of modern fiction. My voice has developed enormously. I must have written hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words in the last year and a bit, including those that make up this blog.

And now I am wondering, do I write too much? I blog nearly every day. It is a good way to get me in writing mode. I have to think of something different to write for every post. I have to be aware of self-censorship because this is a public document (whereas in the privacy of my notebooks I can write what I bloomin' well like and frequently do!). I look at other blogs I follow and generally people post once or twice a week at most, or maybe even once a month, if that. So do I write too much? Does this blog show that I ought to get out more and engage in real life? Or that perhaps I am a very fast typist??

In order to be a writer I need to write. Therefore, I don't think I can write too much. But as a writer I have to be audience aware. And sometimes the audience might want to shout 'Shut up, Denise, you are doing my head in with all your writing, writing all the time, don't you ever stop with all this incessant writing, aarrghhhhhh!!!'

Or something like that.

Anyway, Thurday is National Poetry Day so on that day I'm going to treat you to a poem wot I wrote.

And feel free to tell me to shut up on days I go on too much. But I can't guarantee I'll do as I'm told. In the words of good old 'Cat in the Hat' man, Dr Suess: 'Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.'

Monday, 5 October 2009

Foraging nuts and chilli jam

When did it get so dark in the mornings? I mean, I know we have this blackout blind now, which has done much to throw my natural body clock into disarray, but this morning I got woken by Andy's phone alarm. I thought, it can't be time to get up, it's still dark. But as I blundered onto the landing I discovered that it was, indeed, time for Andy to rise (which is late for me) and that it was darkish outside because of the murky rain clouds.

After a few weeks of lovely warmth and sunshine, our belated Summer, it is now raining. But not yet cold, thank heavens, as I don't really do cold.

This weekend, Andy and I were mostly foraging. Well, I spent Saturday morning writing as Andy was at work. And Saturday afternoon I did some more writing as Andy was tired and in slump mode because he'd been at work in the morning.

But on Sunday? Well, we were down the allotment first thing to lift the rest of the potatoes (just as well given the amount of rain we've been promised in the South of England this week.) There were also many aubergines to be had, which caused me a minor fiscal thrill as, I have discovered, aubergines are quite expensive to buy. And then there were the chilli peppers.
'There are a lot of chillli peppers,' I said, in the manner of someone who doesn't like chilli.
'Not to worry,' said Andy. 'I'm making chilli jam this afternoon.'
'Okay,' I said. Chilli jam?

Once Andy had explained that the chilli jam is a Hugh F-W concoction and not a recipe he was going to cobble together himself, I was happy to let him proceed.
'But first,' I said, 'we are going foraging for nuts.'

Now, there were two types of nuts I was after, namely conkers and chestnuts. Andy persists in getting these two varieties confused, mostly because he insists on calling conkers 'horse chestnuts' which I know is basically correct but doesn't help him in the matter of differentiating them from ordinary chestnuts.

'You need to know the difference,' I said. 'In case you eat the wrong type of chestnut one day when I'm not looking. So think 'conker' and 'chestnut'. Don't involve any horses.'
'They are both nuts,' said Andy. 'There is no danger of me eating the wrong type because I don't eat nuts. Full stop.'

Andy doesn't do nuts.

But I think he might change his mind when I've made chestnut puree and incorporated it with chocolate in a rich chocolate and chestnut cake, all squidgy and gooey and yum.

And the conkers? Well, I want to mix those with vodka to make a potion to smooth into my lower legs where some veins are starting to make themselves visible. We have veins in my family. My Mum's got 'em, and it looks like I'm heading the same way. But I intend on giving this conker 'n' vodka thing a go. Apparently, conkers are rich in saponins which improve the strength and elasticity in the walls of veins. And I guess the vodka is for drinking when you can't stand the sight of the veins any longer and want to blur them from your vision.

Off we yomped for our forage, after a lovely roast dinner which consisted vegetables all grown by ourselves (potatoes, carrots, broccoli and runner beans) and chicken (not grown by ourselves as Mrs Miggins is too old to eat, Mrs Pumphrey is too good an egg-layer to eat and Mrs Slocombe is too mad to eat; we don't want to run the risk of catching mad chicken disease.) I couldn't remember how many conkers I needed so came back with about 5 times too many. And the chestnuts were a lot more prickly than I the ones I remember collecting in my youth.

But we have gathered bounty this weekend, that grown by us and that grown by Nature.

And today I am re-boiling Andy's chilli jam which didn't set very well, and I am going running in the rain because it is absolutely tipping it down now, but I've caught the running bug and need to run regardless of inclement weather conditions. Then I'm peeling and squishing chestnuts and drinking vodka and rubbing conkers up my legs.

It's all go here at Much Malarkey Manor!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Back Off Mercury!

Well thank heavens (literally) for that. Mercury is no longer retrograde which means that life should start moving forward rather than keep running around chasing its tail and persistently dropping the toast of progress butter side down.

Mrs Pumphrey brings me the celestial news this morning.

'I thought I'd wait and see how things went for a few days before I delivered the news,' she says. She is wearing a rather fetching Madame Arcati from Blythe Spirit outfit.
'Practising for Hallowe'en?' I say.
'Just you hush,' she says, and I am relieved I got away with the remark so lightly because insulting a chicken generally results in a savaging of the knee cap.
'I have been watching Mercury since last Sunday,' she continues, adjusting her turban. 'And feel I am now able to predict that life will flow more smoothly at Much Malarkey Manor. For the time being,' she adds, somewhat ominously.

She's right, of course. Madame Pumphrey is rarely wrong about matters esoteric. She likes to be called Madame Pumphrey in the lead up to Hallowe'en. She reckons it makes her sound more mystical and part of the whole 'veil-between-the-spiritual-planes' thing.

'Go on,' she says. 'Have a think. How has life moved on for you this week?'
'Well, ' I say, 'I've started teaching that Adult Education course, so I've got some income to cover Christmas. And Heather got a job yesterday. (At this point I shall allow myself a quick 'Whoo-hoo!' in celebration of Daughter being gainfully employed).'
'Anything else?' asks Pumphrey.
'And I have a renewed energy for 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue,' I say, because I have. I was becoming rather concerned about my magnum opus. Having been caught up in a huge whoosh of creativity during the summer, then a huge de-whoosh of flat nothingness when I became of the opinion that everything I wrote was a load of old tosh, I set to with the novel again this week and it's like a blocked drain has been Dyno-rodded and a big gloop of fatty blockage has been removed.

'That's no way to talk about Mrs Slocombe,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I'd say she was more fluffy than fat.'
'Did I say that out loud?' I say.
'You did,' says Mrs P. 'And you need to watch out for that. You're doing a lot of speaking your mind of late and someone's going to punch your lights out if you're not careful.'
'And Andy has been coming home from work on time now he is no longer temporary SVS,' I say. 'AND that eyesore of a lorry has stopped parking in front of the house and waking us at 5.30 every morning when it pulls away. Mind you,' I say, 'I've been asking for a bit of help from you-know-who on that score. 'And I look up to the skies and tap the side of my nose.
'Santa Claus?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Oh, it wasn't Santa Claus who sorted out the lorry. It was Tango Pete.'
'Tango Pete?'
'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Now the summer season at the circus is over, he's doing a bit of clamping and towing work. After all, he has got 28 hens and 193 chicks to support.'
'Right,' I say.

Onwards and upwards then, now Mercury is out of the way. Or at least taking a forward trajectory.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Back to Work

So yesterday evening I ventured for the first time into the realms of Adult Education. I've taken on a once a week course up until Christmas at the school where I used to teach.

Fully prepared (lesson plan and all!), I set off for my session feeling a bit trepidatious on account of the fact I had no idea how many people would turn up, what breadth of skills base I would be delivering my material to and whether I had enough activities to keep everyone occupied and happy for the full hour. Also, I was concerned about how receptive would people be at that time of the evening after a day's work.

As it turned out, everything was fine. In fact, it was more than fine. It was brilliant! The adult students who turned up were lovely - friendly and enquiring- and I had more than enough activities planned. Everyone joined in, asked relevant questions and we ended the evening having a really good laugh.

And I get paid for this, I thought, as I packed my bag and set off for home. What a buzz!!

Andy said, 'I can't believe you look so happy to be back at school.'

To be honest, neither could I. But I suspect it would have been a different matter if I'd gone back for a full day, with 150 eleven to eighteen year olds passing through my doorway, and quite a few of those 150 intent on spoiling things for others.

That's the nice thing about teaching adults. They want to be with you to learn, they have a wide variety of experiences and learning to bring to the sessions and I really felt they appreciated what I was trying to do. I could get on with my job and it was great!

And one of them even said 'Bye, Teech! See you next week!' when they left.

Finally, here is a poem by e.e.cummings which I loved when I was about 8 years old. I'd forgotten all about it until a few days ago when I was searching for suitable material for last night's Adult Ed and I came upon it once again.

And now, 25 years later, I love it even more because I finally think I understand what it's all about.

maggie and millie and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea