Sunday, 31 January 2010

Earth stood hard as does our resolve.

We haven't been to the allotment since well before Christmas. Because I have now re-joined the ranks of the full time workers here at the Manor, and we leave for work whilst it is still dark and it is still dark when we come home, the only opportunities for allotmenteering have been the weekends. Which have been either snowy or tipping it down with rain or snowing again.

So it was with some trepidation that Andy and I set off for plot 87 this morning. The sun has been out all weekend, but it has been bloomin' cold. Minus 6 bloomin' cold today. Arriving at the allotment site, I had to huff very hard on the padlock of the gate just to get my key to turn so we could gain access.

We dreaded what we'd find. A plot full of weeds. A polytunnel collapsed and shredded from two hefty downfalls of snow. A storage bin swept to pieces across the neighbouring plots.

But no! Our plot, like all the others, was relatively neat and flat and iced with a heavy frost all features intact. Our polytunnel stood proud and strong, a testament to the skills of builder Andy when we put it up last spring. And despite the ground being rock hard, we managed to winkle out some leeks and Jerusalem artichokes to bring home. We would have dug up some parsnips, too, only the leaves have died back and we couldn't remember where they were.

After a couple of months where we both felt disillusioned with our self-sufficiency dream, what with the sale of our house falling through and having to wave good bye to the cottage with the massive garden, we stood side-by-side and made plans for our plot this year. A fruit cage, definitely. Move all the fruit to one side of the plot, to take up about a fifth of the space, build a permanent structure as protection from birds.

Not so many potatoes this year. Concentrate on early news, and lates to fatten up for baking. More varieties of beans - try ones that can be dried for use over winter. Put a proper support structure in the polytunnel for the tomatoes, which were such a success this year but overgrew.

Melons. Turn one of the compost bins over to use as a hot-bed, stoke up with chicken manure to get the heat going.

More squashes. Less onions. More carrots - some of the fancy colour heritage varieties. More greens like pak choi and chard. I'll try taking some cuttings from the hops and see if I can propogate some new bines. (Auntie Nece says it's a doddle - she did it many a time on her parents' hop garden).

We may never be lucky enough to own our own acre of land, but I guess the important thing is that we make the most of the land we have got, albeit a small rented plot and a garden at home. And even more importantly, as we approach our fourth growing season, we have learned from the previous years. We have begun to know what works and what doesn't. What crops are efficient to grow and what remains cheap at farmers' markets and therefore a waste of precious growing space.

And maybe this year will be a bee year for us. This April we will have been chicken keepers for 2 whole years. Time for more live-stock, and bees we can accommodate.

And now it's time to make marmalade again. Two large bags of seville oranges await my attention. Our rhubarb is poking its way through the ground, bravely facing the rest of the winter where even the hardiest of weeds are still hiding.

And onwards we go. Doing our bit the best we can.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

New Pantaloons

'What do you think of my new pantaloons?' says Mrs Pumphrey to Mrs Slocombe as they stand side by side in front of the boudouir mirror in the fifth best bedroom in the South Wing of Cluckinghen Palace.
'I think they look very tasty,' says Mrs Slocombe, who, despite the regular provision of a good, solid white cabbage several times a week to focus her pecking habits upon, still hankers after a good beakful of soft and downy feathers every now and again.
'You are NOT to revert to feather plucking,' says Mrs Miggins, looking severely over the top of her new Dame Edna reading specs. 'It has taken Mrs Pumphrey a lot of time and effort to grow her new pantaloons, and although they may look like the finest candyfloss, they are to remain on Mrs Pumphrey's bottom, because it's bloomin' brassic outside at the moment. She needs all the lagging she can get in this cold weather.'

Mrs Slocombe sticks out her bottom lip. 'I have no intention of eating Mrs Pumphrey's new pantaloons,' she says. 'In fact, I don't think I'd have room for them, not after all the cabbage I've been eating. It bloats one something chronic, you know.'

'Why do we wear pantaloons?' asks Mrs Pumphrey.
'Many reasons,' says Mrs Miggins, putting down her copy of 'Mediaeval Tapestries Quarterly', because she likes to be asked her opinion on all manner of subjects, and thus feels it important to give questioners her full attention. (Unless it's a really stupid question like, 'Do pirates wear flip-flops?' for example.)

'Such as?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Well,' says Mrs Miggins, 'they stop the wind going up your arris, for a start.'
'Are you sure it's your arris?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Quite,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Just look what happened to Polonius in Hamlet.'
'What happened to Polonius in Hamlet?' demands Mrs Pumphrey.
'He got stabbed in his arris,' says Mrs Miggins. 'And he died. And so did the rat. And I bet you anything that he wasn't wearing his pantaloons.'
'So you're saying that Polonius in Hamlet would have been saved from being stabbed if he had been wearing his pantaloons?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Most definitely,' says Mrs Miggins.

Mrs Pumphrey looks confused, a not unusual occurence.
'Let me get this straight,' she says. 'Polonius in Hamlet got stabbed to death because the rat in his arris wasn't wearing pantaloons?'

Mrs Miggins looks at Mrs Slocombe and lets out a sigh. 'Some literary metaphors go way above some chicken's heads, don't they?' she says.

Sensing a potential fracas brewing, Mrs Slocombe steps in as peacemaker ( a VERY unusual occurence.)
'So what other reasons are there for wearing pantaloons?' she asks.
'Remember that time when Mrs Pumphrey and Tango Pete did the Lindy-hop at the National Free Dance Championships?' says Mrs Miggins. 'And Tango Pete flipped Mrs Pumphrey over his head?'
'I remember,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I wasn't wearing any pantaloons.'
'And thus traumatised the first six rows of the audience,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Weren't they offered counselling?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Totally irrelevant,' snaps Mrs Miggins. 'Nice hens do not Lindy-hop without pantaloons.'

Mrs Pumphrey looks momentarily contrite at her previously louche behaviour in the pantaloon department. But not for long. The sense of freedom she felt during that Lindy-hop was...

'Stop it!' reprimands Mrs Miggins. 'You might have been able to get away with it then, but not now. Now you are a hen of a certain age.'

'Any other reasons?' asks Mrs Slocombe, because it is always stylistically pleasing when writing an account of anything to make three points in a row.

'Do you remember the Great Wind of '87?' says Mrs Miggins.
'No,' say Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe in unison.
'I do,' says Mrs Miggins, although this isn't strictly true. 'And during the Great Wind of '87, many, many pantaloons were lost.'
'Really?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Yes,' says Mrs Miggins. 'The Great Wind of '87 was followed by the Great Pantaloon Famine of 88-91. It took three years of hard work on behalf of M & S to replenish the British Pantaloon stock to its former glory.'
'That's very interesting,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

'And the lesson is...?' says Mrs Miggins, who has been standing too close to Denise these last four weeks and caught a heavy dose of assessment for learning through close individual questioning.
'Hang on to your pantaloons when there's a stiff breeze?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Don't take your pantaloons for granted,' corrects Mrs Miggins.

And let that be a lesson to us all.

Friday, 29 January 2010

It's like this y'see...

It's Friday evening. I have a pimple on my tongue. I feel physically shattered. My left tonsil is still rumbling, although I am now able to swallow without pain which is good news given how fond I am of cheese on toast and the like. I should have had a couple of days at home, recovering. But I didn't. I couldn't. I have to soldier on, as I've only been back at work for four weeks.

And also, I've just been given a Year 11 class whose regular teacher spends several months an academic year off sick. So they've had a succession of supply teachers, and that's not on, not with their GCSE's looming large. They need someone reliable and constant. And that'd be me.

This morning, they weren't playing the learning game. They were playing the chat-over-the-new-teacher-who-can't-raise-her-voice-because-she's-got-tonsillitis game.

When I finally got their attention by constantly tapping a board marker on the desk (oh for the days when you could scrape your nails down a blackboard), I said, 'You are being unfair. I am here to teach you. (Or to help you learn, if we are to use the correct Government terminology whereby teachers are not teachers but 'learning facilitators'). I have been trying to manage my facilitating battling with tonsillitis all week. You know I can't raise my voice to get your attention.'
'That ain't our fault, you being ill,' said one of the thicker, less sympathetic examples of humanity.
'No,' I said. 'But I could've had time off sick and then you'd have had more supply teachers.'

There was a brief silence whilst the rabble considered this notion. Then one of the lads said, 'You're a lovely lady, ma'am.'
'You have no idea,' I said.

And I have attracted a follower, a scruffy year 8 girl, whom I shall call Grace. Because that's her name. She seeks me out at lunchtimes for philosophical discussions. She is like a cross between Del Boy Trotter and the Kray Twins. Today, she informs me she wants to be a human rights lawyer when she grows up. If she grows up, I think.

Now Grace clearly comes from a deprived background, so I try to give her some of my time as it doesn't seem like she gets much attention at home. She is always very keen to write my learning objective on the board for the lesson after lunch, or underline the date. Or staple displays to the wall. Sometimes I feel inclined to give her some of my marking as I have to mark over 80 exercise books on a fortnightly rotation.

And Grace always starts her conversations in the same way. 'It's like this y'see, ma'am,' she says. But sadly, I often never do see. Not fully anyhow. I do try as she rattles on in her own Kentish Cockney Vicki Pollard way, nineteen to the dozen, filling me in on her love life, her many siblings, her plans for the weekend, with occasional requests for a time check. She can't tell the time, Grace. I have a hugh clock in my room. I have to point out hands to Grace, and we tell the time in measures of how many more full rotations the red hand has to make before she sets off for her first afternoon lesson.

'Where are you off to now, Grace?' I say, as she hoikes her massive bag onto her shoulder.
'Dunno, ma'am,' she shrugs. 'I lost me timetable. And me planner. But I've got a tracker,' she finishes, waving a green level behaviour sheet at me.
'Why are you on a behaviour tracker?' I ask.
'Swore at a teacher, didn't I?' she says, sighing, but not really bovvered.
'Oh Grace,' I say.
'Don't worry ma'am,' says she, heading for the door. 'I'm not going to swear at you.'
'That's okay then,' I say, because I am getting a tad annoyed at all the ones who do.
'Nah,' says Grace, 'coz I reckon you'd swear right back.'

And with a cackle of a laugh, off she goes.

I've been wondering this week if I've made the right decision, going back to teaching.

But kids like Grace make you put off such decisions.

For one more day at least.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Number 400!!

I couldn't not write a post today, as it is post number 400! Blimey... I've written 400 bits of often dubious writings and ramblings since starting this blog. I'll take a quiet pride in that.

So, what about today? What wit and wisdom can I impart on this most auspicious of occasions? Errr....ummm...well....errr....I've just spent the last 3 hours writing lesson plans for tomorrow and Tuesday. My tonsillitis has abated somewhat; I just need to expel the remains of several packs of paracetemol from my liver. (I can't take antibiotics. I am fatally allergic to antibiotics. Perhaps that's why I am so keen to avoid dangerous activities that could result in catching awful diseases and infections. Activities like travelling abroad, flying in planes, teaching teenagers in local comps...)

Oooh...exciting news vis a vis Mrs Pumphrey's bottom fluffage! Because I go to work in the dark and arrive home in the dark, my only view of the hens during the week is as fleeting shadows in the half-light of dawn, and when I put my hand in the pod at night to do a head count to make sure they are all in bed and they squawk at me for disturbing their bridge 'n' cocoa evenings. I only see them in their full daylight glory at the weekends. So I have missed most of Mrs Pumphrey's moult and the fact that she is now growing, at a mightily impressive speed I might add, a very robust and feisty looking set of bottom feathers. Her nethers now look like Santa's beard stubble in January after he's had his annual Boxing Day shave and let the regrowth start immediately in order to be full bushed up for next Christmas.

Thus I predict that in ten days' time, Mrs Pumphrey's pink pants look will be no more. And HURRAH for that. Three fully fledged hens with not a bald spot in sight. Result! (I like to think that my constant supply of white cabbage has kept their pecking habits under control. Have you ever seen a chicken try to disengage their beak from the solid depths of a white cabbage? Keeps 'em occupied for hours!)

What else? Tybalt sneezed in his sleep and fell off the back of the sofa this morning. I tried, and failed, to find a nice rug for my soon to be here grand-daughter's room. But I have since found one on the interwebbly, so yah boo to the town shops for being so inadequate. I don't know, you try to support the local economy blah, blah, blah...

I bought a new dustpan and brush after Andy snapped the handle off the old one during a particularly vigorous snow clearing exercise. I bought a red one. It is very shiny. I also bought a new cover for the ironing board. It is very spotty. And pouffy. And a new iron to replace the old one that has had a sticky bottom I've been unable to clean off properly for several months now. See how wild I've gone with spending now I'm earning again?? This week household utensils, next week a Nissan Figaro. Well, maybe not next week, but you get the gist.

Also, we have booked a holiday. A week in the West Country at Easter. In a little cottage with some friends of ours. And I'm planning on buying a camcorder. Only I am too confused about the various types and accoutrements available - flash, pocket, hard disk drive, DVD, high def, optical zoom, screen sizes, memory cards, SD, SDHC, CF, MSPD, XD, LCD - to make an informed purchasing decision based on my needs, so will probably end up choosing the one I like the look of best, which is the shiny, burgundy red one on page 529 of the Argos catalogue.

I ate too much apple crumble for pudding.

Phoebe escaped into the front garden this evening and sat in the grass and got a wet bottom. She has now got a glint in her feline eye that suggests she may be making another bid for freedom as soon as possible.

Heather caught a shop-lifter yesterday. Her re-counting of the event sounded like a cross between Keystone Kops and The Bill and that end-of-show running thing they used to perform in Benny Hill.

Why are pirates pirates? Because they arrrrrrrrrrrrrrre!

Time for bed, I think.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Ye Gods, They're a Pushy Lot

My readers are a pushy bunch. In the last week I've received all sorts of cajolancies and admonitions about my decision to allow Much Malarkey Manor to slip quietly into the sunset.

'But,' I say, 'my creativity has died. It has been sucked from me by my return to teaching. I stagger home from work, after a 45 minute walk, tired and bad-tempered, lugging bags of shopping from my detour to Sainsbugs because I've got to cook dinner when I get in. I no longer have time to be a-blogging.'
'We don't care,' say the readers. 'We miss you. You make us laugh. You entertain us. Can't you just write a teeny, tiny, teensy bit just once in a while? PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE....'

'I'm not going to be held responsible for the quality of my output,' I say. 'My sense of humour has been replaced by a sense of exhaustion and, this week, tonsillitis.'
'That's okay,' say the readers. 'We'll read any old rubbish. Look, we've even got a copy of this week's 'Hello' magazine on the coffee table. And the coffee table needs dusting. In fact, it needs dusting even more than your coffee table needs dusting.'
'Shut yer face, readers,' says I. For another thing I don't need pointing out is the sluttish approach I've had to take to housework, now I no longer have the pleasure of leisurely pootling around with a hoover in between writing a bit here and writing a bit there.

I mean, you'd think the cats would clear up a bit, now I'm out the door at 7.30 and not home until 5.30.
'I can't work without rubber gloves,' says Phoebe. 'I can get one on, but then I lose my grip with the other. You can't do cleaning wearing only one glove.'
This sounds a feeble excuse.
'I can do housework without rubber gloves,' says Tybalt. 'But my big frilly blouse gets in the way.'
'What's housework?' says Pandora, flicking another empty can of Red Bull across to the rubbish bin and missing by a mile.

Okay, the truth is I miss writing this blog. But I find it frustrating I don't have the time to do a good job and I fear also that I'll end up writing about school related tripe. Sometimes school related tripe can be entertaining, but mostly it is boring, and can so easily turn into a bitter, acidic tirade.

For example, this week a 12 year old told me to 'go f**k yourself.' Not funny. Wearisome. And sadly, increasingly indicative of the society that is breeding in this progressive, illuminative 21st century. But then the five 15 year old lads in my form group informed me they were going to create a boy band, and I could be their manager. 'Thanks,' I said, 'but you can't actually sing.' 'It doesn't matter,' they said. 'We're going to enter the X Factor.' The ensuing conversation about lycra based costumes was highly entertaining.

And I ended the week coming down with a dose of tonsillitis. I've never had tonsillitis in my life. I don't like it. I sit here now with what feels like a couple of holly covered golf balls down my throat, and the feeling I could choke to death any minute because I can't swallow properly. Will I take time off work? Of course I won't. I intend to seek out the child who coughed the germs at me in the first place and cough back twice as hard. And then set them a detention.

I've been trying to organise a 'do' for my Mum's birthday. She's going to be 70 at the end of February, and has gone to great lengths to tell me she DOES NOT want a party OR a fuss OR any extravagant amounts of money spent upon her because she DOES NOT LIKE the idea of being 70 at all, NO NOT ONE JOT.

Well, I can't afford to take the risk of doing nothing (the easy option given the shrinkage of available time to perform these social niceties), so I've booked a restaurant for a birthday dinner. I have invited Mum's sisters, Auntie Nece and Auntie Pollie. I have invited my brother and his family, even though we don't get on because I think Mum would like to see us all in the same room being civil to each other. (I have already told Chris and Heather that if they fall out I won't be expecting any similarly conciliatory offerings, because, let's face it, you can't help who you're related to.)

The restaurant lady said, 'How many guests?' I said, '13. Unless my son and his girlfriend go into labour early, in which case there will be 11.' 'Or 14,' said the restaurant lady. I agreed. How odd, to think that by the time my Mum is 70, I could be a granny and she a great-granny.

I've located a cake company for the cake. Lovely brightly coloured cup cakes, full of ADHD additives (I don't have time to make a cake myself. Number of cakes made in this house since I went back to work? Zero.) I've got flowers and balloons sorted. I'm still working on transport. I'm thinking classy and vintage, rather than the back of our Picasso.

And so I plod on. But along with tonsillitis, I also got a wage slip this week. Which means the Bank of Me looks healthy once again.

Going back to work has had its advantages. But only one.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Good Bye and Thank You One and All

Much as this saddens me, I think the time has come to close the doors of Much Malarkey Manor, throw the dust sheets over the furniture and hibernate for a while.

It's been a long week this week, what with after school meetings, a parent evening, planning lessons and generally trying to get back into the swing of being once more in full-time paid employment. Those of you who are teachers will know that even when you try to fight against it, the job seeps into every crevice of your life. It's not nice, this intrusiveness, but it happens, and needs must where the mortgage, bills, and dreams of a cottage in the country with a plot of land drive.

And the guilt has set in that I have been neglectful of life here at the Manor for a week now. I feel like a zombie, and a zombie must not be allowed to take over this blog. What's the difference between a zombie and the madness of the Lady of the Manor who has been writing for the last year and a half, I hear you cry? I'll tell you. Creativity, that's what.

When I woke this morning, at some ungodly hour, fretting about a heap of differentiated work I have to put together for the two Polish boys who are in my Year 11 set and are taking GCSE English language in 4 months' time, heaven help them, the thought of putting this blog to bed was immediately followed by two more thoughts - one, that I was to send off the first three chapters of 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' to five agents. The book isn't quite finished, but if I get five rejections, then that book too will be put to bed. And then I got another title for another book, which is 'Opals and Diamonds' (or Six Diamonds, which came in hot on its tail - I do wish those up there in the Universe would make up their minds before they send me these ideas).

I'll carry on writing because I have always written, in fits and starts, for all my life. I may have the occasional genius moment that will cause me to open up the Manor for a rant, or a chicken rave or some such nonsense. I may have to accept that I am a hobby writer, not a published writer, not in this life anyway. (Next time around I'm re-incarnating as Agatha Christie.)

The dream of the cottage in the country with a little spot of land still travels with me and Andy, but to get there we must both work, and save in the light of our appalling record of playing the lottery - many tickets, never a win, not even a sodding tenner.

Mrs Miggins is back in lay, for a third season, just in time for Mrs Pumphrey's first moult. It's like they have a rota for laying eggs, those two. Mrs Slocombe is fully feathered, laying well, and we have managed to engage her into attacking half a white cabbage every day to satisfy her anti-social pecking habits, rather than other chickens' bottom featherage.

Phoebe is fat and fine, Tybalt's ego has reduced to its normal size after his brief fling with fame via the world that is jigsaw. And Pandora, who is sitting asleep on my lap as I write this, continues to perch on my shoulder when I'm cooking, even though she is now as big as my head and there's little room on my shoulders for both of us.

My grand-daughter is due to arrive in just seven weeks now. Yesterday, Andy and I went to buy the pram. As we stood in the shop looking bemused at the array of travel options available these days, the assistant said, 'First time, is it?' I didn't know whether to be insulted that she thought I looked pregnant (too much cheese over Christmas), or flattered that she thought I looked young enough to still be having babies. Anyway, we bought a 'travel system' - buggy/pram/car seat combo, and took it to the parents-to-be who are now all braced and ready to go to submit the rest of their lives to slavery.

The allotment looks a mess; so does the garden. I blame the snow and the rain. It's certainly nothing to do with the winter apathy from the Manor gardeners. But in a few weeks, seeds will be growing into plants and food - our fourth year of feeding ourselves. And you never know, this year we might get the hang of it!

So thank you to all who have been kind enough to read and be entertained by my writing, and who have left comments so I don't feel like I am writing to an empty void. God bless you all (please feel free to insert your own belief system here - Buddha, Jehovah, Jedi or Muppet). May life be as good to you as it was to me during my 'Year And A Bit As A Writer'.

It's been great! And if some agent or publisher ever recognises my obvious writing talent (!!!) and I find myself in the middle of that 'happy co-incidence' moment called a three book publishing deal, you'll be the first to know!


Monday, 11 January 2010


So, I arrived home from work today, thinking I ought to get out and dig the snow from the driveway before Andy gets home. Our drive is on a slope which can be tricky to negotiate when there is snow and ice around. Our neighbour across the road was out with his shovel freeing his driveway, and when I mentioned that I was about to dump my school and shopping bags and do the same, he said 'I'll do it for you,' and before I could stop him he'd shot across the road and started clearing the snow. He brushed aside my protestations. 'It's what neighbours do for each other, isn't it?' he said.

Bless him!

Off I went to the back garden, to do a pre-sunset chicken check.

'Hello girls!' I said. 'I've brought you a bed-time lettuce.'
'That's nice,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'I like a bit of bed-time lettuce.'
'It's the tryptophan,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Helps get you off to sleep.'
'Where's Miggo?' I said, looking around the grounds of Cluckinghen Palace. 'Laying a late egg?'

I opened the pod. No sign of Miggo.

'Mrs Miggins!' I called.
'Bok, bok,bok!' called Mrs Miggins.

I looked around. I could hear her. I couldn't see her.

'Bok, bok, bok,' she called again. 'I'm over here!'

And there, at the far end of the garden, where the snow was at its deepest and where no hen dared to tread, sat Mrs Miggins, stuck up to her wing pits in a snow drift and looking mightily cheesed off.

'What on earth possessed you to venture up here?' I said, wading through the drift to rescue my best girl.
'I can't turn around,' said Mrs Miggins, her beak squished up against the fence. And neither could she, for she was well and truly wodged into the snow like a well and truly wodged in thing. 'And I can't feel my feet,' she added.

Anyway, I lifted her from the drift and carried her to safe ground. 'Have some lettuce,' I said.
'Thanks,' she said, digging in like a good 'un. She wobbled a bit when I put her down, and I had a heart-stopping moment because I thought she'd been attacked by something, but no, by the time she went to bed she was fine.

'Are your nethers frozen?' I heard Mrs Slocombe ask as I shut the door to the pod for the night. The smell of eucalyptus and Vicks vapour rub permeated the air, and I could hear Mrs Pumphrey flipping pancakes, her cure-all for any shocking experience.
'My nethers are no concern of yours,' said Mrs Miggins. 'But my tush is very frosty.'

Of course, now I shall lie awake all night fretting that Mrs Miggins will come down with cold, or pneumonia, or a raging desire to go on an Artic expedition. I'm not sure how she got into the drift in the first place, or why she took it into her head to venture forth thus. But I have been keeping chickens long enough now to know that there is no rhyme or reason to these wonderful creatures and if nothing else, they keep us humans on our toes.

Oh, and I would like you all to know that my very mature, grown-up and responsible veterinary husband, aka Andy, made a snow willy at work today and left it on top of one of the other vet's cars. He had a partner in crime whose identity I shall not reveal, but really Andrew! How old are you???

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snow Joke

'So what is the purpose of snow, exactly?' says Mrs Slocombe.

Me and the girls are sitting in the garden around a large brazier, done up like Nanook of the North, in our new wellies. The hens had insisted I bought them wellies so they could assist in the clearance of snow from Cluckinghen Palace every morning without getting their slippers soggy.

'Well, basically,' I said, 'the purpose of snow is to mess as many people up in their travel plans as possible.'
'I see,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'and why would it want to do that?'
'It doesn't want to do it,' I say. 'It...'
'So it's being forced by something else to do it,' interrupts Mrs Pumphrey, who just about manages to tear herself away from admiring her new neon pink boots with the yellow roses on them in order to join in the conversation.
'Some bloke, I expect,' says Mrs Miggins (blue and grey stripes with a penguin motif).
'That's typical,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I bet it's some enormous ugly troll who's in charge of all the snow. 'GET OUT THERE AND STOP THE CARS!' I bet he roars. 'AND THE TRAINS AND THE BUSES WHILST YOU'RE ABOUT IT!!'

'Yes, stop now,' I say. 'There is no troll in charge of the snow. Snow isn't a free thinking form. It just comes down and lands and gathers and clogs up the travel infrastructure.'
'Like bees,' says Miggins.
'Not like bees,' I say, sternly, because I can feel the hen brains are beginning to overheat.
'Like pelicans,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'I got held up by some pelicans once.'
'They were pelican bandits,' says Mrs Miggins. 'I think they were after your duty free.'

'Pass me the chestnuts and marshmallows,' I say. I think, I need to get something into their beaks before I get the urge to give up playing happy flockers.

Mrs Pumphrey passes me some overly long twigs on which she has artistically impaled marshmallows and chestnuts.
'And what are these extra bits?' I ask, pointing to an unidentified shape scattered amongst the marshmallows and chestnuts.
'Squid rings,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'There were some in the freezer left over from Christmas.'

'So why do people throw snow at each other?' asks Mrs Slocombe. She'd tried to join in a snowball fight in the park earlier in the day but had experienced limited success because, instead of wellies, she had chosen a pair of knee-length Doc Martens and couldn't actually move in them.

'That is a good question,' I say. 'And I'm afraid I don't know the answer because I've always thought that throwing anything at anyone is a stupid thing to do. But Andy's theory is that because snow is soft, it gives people the excuse to throw something that isn't going to hurt anyone.'
'But what if you accidentally scoop up a stone or rock in your pile of snow when you are making a snowball?' asks Mrs Pumphrey.
'Quite,' I say.
'Or dog poop,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Even more quite,' I say, but secretly think that anyone who wants to throw what amounts to a lump of hard, spiky ice at someone else for fun deserves to get a handful of dog poop.
'You could throw a tissue at someone and it wouldn't hurt them,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'And tissues are white and look a bit like a snowball when scrunched up in a ball.'
'True,' I say. 'Although I think its overall lightness might means it wouldn't get very far if you threw it.'
'So even less likely to cause damage,' says Mrs Slocombe, with the sort of triumph in her voice that suggests she has just invented something that will gain her a Nobel Prize.

'Oh my Lord!' says Mrs Miggins, suddenly leaping to her feet. 'Potatoes!'
'And you,' I say.
'No, I mean, I put some potatoes to cook in the bottom of the brazier,' says Mrs Miggins. 'About 4 hours ago.'
'I expect they'll be done then,' says Mrs Slocombe.

I don my asbestos gloves (the ones I won in a raffle at a fire station), and root about in the bottom of the brazier for potatoes. I manage to find about a dozen lumps of charcoal.

'That's them!' says Mrs Miggins. 'Are they ready?'
'Two and half hours ago, I reckon,' I say.
'Shall we go inside for hot chocolate and crumpets?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Only I think I've gone off sitting in the snow with squid rings.'

'Good idea,' I say. '
'So what's the purpose of snow again?' says Mrs Slocombe as we troop into the warm.
'Hot chocolate and crumpets,' I say.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Do you think magazines are a waste of time? I mean, when you think most of your big 'n' glossies are well over the £3 mark, and you can buy a whole novel for less than a few pennies more (if you shop in the right places i.e Amazon), and magazines are full of adverts, and have some articles that really annoy you like, for example, the story of a woman who successfully got a book published because her sister's friend's auntie once used to work in a major publishing house and knew someone who liked a bit of a book she wrote and offered her a 3 book deal on the strength of a shonky paragraph or two written on the back of a coffee-sodden napkin...

('Sssssshhhh, now, says Miggins. You're starting to sound bitter and twisted.'), well, I was totting up in my head the number of magazines I have subscriptions to at the moment. I had a bit of subscription frenzy just before Christmas courtesy of my Tezz-Co Club card points, so I haven't actually had to pay for these subscriptions. I would like to point out that I DO NOT shop in the aforementioned supermarket because I do not approve of their shonky practices, but I have one of their credit cards which I use as cash and pay off in fulll every month. I earn points when I use it and therefore THEY have to give ME something for nothing. That's my theory, anyway.

And a couple of subscriptions were very special offers because I was being tempted back as a 'previous valued customer' i.e gullible mug. So currently, the magazines that land ker-plop on the doormat every month are: The Home Farmer, Zest, Woman and Home, Prima and Country Living. And every three months I get a copy of a magazine specifically for women writers, called Mslexia. Mslexia smells lovely and feels lovely; I would continue to subscribe merely for those reasons.

Andy's regular reads are The Sky at Night, Interzzone (some weirdo sci-fi thing) and Doctor Who Magazine (another weirdo sci-fi thing). So between us we accumulate 25 magazines every three months. That's 100 a year!! And that's without the occasional purchase of Men's Health, or Good Housekeeping, or arty-crafty mag that catches our eye. Oh, and the Sainsbugs effort which this month has some very good recipes in it.

But I like magazines. They appear when you need them most. Yesterday, for example, after hiking to school in the freezing cold, teaching some recalcitrant teenagers who were more interested in not being there, and coming home again, there were three magazines waiting for me! So I had a very pleasant afternoon, snuggled on the sofa, safe from the blizzard that was raging outside, with copies of Woman and Home, Zest and Mslexia, every aspect of my well-being, physical and mental, catered for.

However, no more. I need to curb my magamania for the postman's sake. He is very good, our postie, but I think sometimes, when the new issues come out within a day or so of each other, he must sigh at the extra load he has to carry to our house.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Cousin Richard

Today is my cousin Richard's birthday, so I thought I focus my blog on him to stop me writing about school again (had to go in today, in the snow, to the ONLY school that was open in our town, only to be sent home 3 hours later because it was STILL snowing. My, how the children were moaning!)

Anyway, Richard is a couple of years younger than me, or so he tells people. However, I have more hair and am FAR more attractive, so I dispute his allegations vis a vis me being the more aged. We come from a gang of 16 cousins and as the years have progressed we are the only two who have tolerated each other into adulthood. Well, apart from my brother and another cousin who tolerate each other - they have to, they work together - but they don't count because Richard and I exceed them both in intelligence, humour and all-round general tact and niceness.

Coincidentally, Richard's great-great-great grandfather invented Pimms, too. Weird, eh?

Memories from childhood include turning a Basil Brush soft toy into a Superhero, by attaching him to a long length of string and swinging him wildly from an upstairs window. Also, building a full-size wooden fort from around four hundred redundant fizzy orange crates, an edifice we christened 'Fort Orange'. Lord knows how it didn't fall on our heads and squish us like bugs, but we emerged from many happy hours playing therewithin unscathed.

Also, an attempt to bake potatoes in an old biscuit tin placed in a bonfire. Three hours later, the embers dimming, we opened the tin to find the charred and very solid remains of our potatoes. Luckily, Richard's Mum had a stand-by supply cooking in the Aga inside.

Spreading gravel on a driveway. Richard misjudged a spadeful, and his shovel came up sharply and wacked me in the eye. And it bloomin' well hurt! My one and only black eye.

Uncle John setting off fireworks without a nod or a wink to health and safety at our annual family bonfire get-together.

Millionaire's shortbread. A wild bike ride from my house to his, down some pretty dodgy hills. And somehow, the journey was a lot longer than our childish optimism allowed for.

Being sent by Grandma to 'go and play in the Nursery' whenever we went to visit, where we froze to death, and slid up and down the lino to keep warm.

Spaniels Ben and Monty, and Jeff who ate raw Brussel Sprouts and trumped and fluffed to share the breeze with all.

Sliding toboggan-style down the stairs in sleeping bags. The stairs were narrow. And steep.

Playing at Nannie's in the Womble house. Fruit picking. Heaving great wodges of slimy pond weed from the brook at the end of the lane. Our dad's (God rest them both) chewing the fat over a pack of King Edward cigars.

And much, much more.

So, Cousin Richard, many happy returns of the day. Here's to a good 2010.

And shut yer face!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Snow bound

At 6.20 this morning, the phone rang. It was the snow-line tree from school, informing me that school was closed today. 6.20! I ask you.

Well, I called the person below me in the tree who, sensible woman, let her answer phone take the message, and then, because my heart was pounding so hard with the sudden noise shock and there was no way I was going to get an extra half hour kip, I went downstairs and made a cup of tea.

Yesterday, we were sent home an hour early as the snow clouds gathered. I was one of a handful of designated staff asked to be prepared to come into work today, in case it was decided to partially open the school for Year 11. But as my services were not required on site, I thought I would use my directed time at home to work on my scheme of work for 'Romeo and Juliet' which I have just started with Year 10 for their coursework. I would also have a designated slot mid-afternoon to watch more of my DVD of 'Jam and Jerusalem.'

'Can't we do something other than Shakespeare?' asked one boy.
'Something other than Shakespeare for your Shakespeare coursework?' I said. 'The clue, dear child, is in the title.'
'So we have to do Shakespeare then?' said he, catching on quickly.
'Indeed,' quoth I.
'Well, do we have to do Romeo and Juliet?' he said. 'It's boring.'
'Oh,' I said. 'So you've done Romeo and Juliet before then, have you?'
'No,' he said.
'Then unless you can come up with an alternative Shakespeare play for which you have a preference, I'm afraid we're sticking with Romeo and Juliet,' I said.

Both the boy and the rest of the class failed to come up with an alternative. One child said, 'What's that one with the witches?' and another said 'To be or whatsit thing.' But that was the best they could manage. So wish me luck with the whole Shakespeare thingy doo-dah.

So before I started school work, I went and dug the chickens from the snow drift that had gathered around their pod. And then they refused to come out unless I held their layers pellets breakfast in my cupped hands for them to eat from, and I'd supplied them with warm drinking water, some sunflower seeds and a whole cabbage.

And then Andy and I did a walking raid on Sainsbugs, as the local radio station said were going to suffer a blizzard over the weekend and I developed an irrational fear of running out of tea bags and apples. But then I did dream last night that we had a rabbit the size of a ping pong ball, so am clearly suffering some sort of snow induced brain freeze.

Wherever you are, I hope the snow isn't causing too many disruptions to your day, and that if it is, you are enjoying your bonus time. Things will return to normal all too soon. For happiness can sometimes appear through a door you'd forgotten you'd opened.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Nick Names and Sellotape

Today, a child tried to convince me he would prefer to be called 'Cow Pat' rather than his given name which neither looked nor sounded like Cow Pat.

I declined his request. I said, 'I shall call everyone in this class by the names I have in my register until I know you well enough to call you anything else.' And I suspect I shall never know this small child well enough to feel comfortable calling him Cow Pat.

Of course, if a student called Joshua, or Joseph, or Benjamin for example, asks to be called Josh, Joe or Ben, then I'll do that. Mostly because I think it is effective to re-lengthen the name in order to show disapproval about something. My son, Chris, certainly knew when he was younger that if I called him 'Christopher' he'd probably committed some kind of misdemeanour.

My nick-name when I was a child was kindly bestowed upon me by my fairy god-mothers aka my aunties Pollie and Nece, who called me 'Sneezy.' I don't know why. I suppose it rhymes vaguely with Denise; I don't remember being a particularly sneezy child.

At primary school. Jeremy Saunders called me 'Pink Elephant.' Only once, though. A dead arm was called for and duly delivered. I wasn't very practiced in self-control at that age.

And then I was nick-nameless until I got married for the first time and my then husband's family took it upon themselves to call me 'Den.' I didn't like it. No-one had shortened my already short name before then, and no-one has shortened it since. 'Den' indeed. Ha!

Odd request of the day goes to a Year 11 girl who bounced into my classroom Period 2 and asked if I had any sellotape.
'My tights are covered in bobbles and fluff,' she said.
I duly provided her with some sellotape and watched as she tore reams of it from the roll, and used it a la leg-wax style to de-bobble and de-fluff her 40 derniers.

It's odd, some of things youngsters worry about these days, isn't it?

Meanwhile, the snow here is now Pandora and a half deep. I have been requested, because I am within walking distance of the school, to be ready to go in tomorrow as one of 8 skeleton staff to teach Year 11. Now, walking distance is 45 minutes at a brisk trot on clean and dry pavements. Factor in eight inches of snow covered in ice, and with a nasty gale blowing, I'm thinking I may need to set off at 6 am to arrive by 8.30. This is one instance where a bunch of 15 year olds may prove to be more sensible than us adults.

Wish me luck, then, as I struggle to work in the morning. I may be gone some time...

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

I'll ask the questions, thank you

So here I am, two days back into my teaching career. I'm still breathing, I haven't fallen asleep on the sofa half way through the evening through sheer exhaustion, and I haven't locked any children in my stationery cupboard.

So far, so good.

Yesterday, a couple of year 8 boys declared I looked like Susan Boyle. I said, 'I wish I had her singing voice and money.' I did not say, 'And you look like a pile of doggy doo,' which, I confess, flit into my mind, but I managed to remember that I was the grown-up in this situation, so didn't actually say it, for if I had, that way lay fisticuffs.

And yesterday, a Vicki-Pollard sound-alike year 11 girlie scowled at me for pretty much the entire lesson. I was very good; I did not scowl back. I thought, ah well, she'll be gone by May, into the land of GCSE never to scowl at my door again.

And then this morning she appeared, all sweetness and light, and conversing like a proper human being. Apparently, she'd be 'talkin' to 'er mate,' who attends the last school in which I taught and who remembered me, and 'er mate sed I woz a ledge. (A ledge, I hasten to add, is short for a legend and not the thing many teachers consider jumping from from a great height at least once during their career.)

I resisted the urge to engage Vicki P. in a discussion vis a vis the definition of the word 'legend,' and that I was not a legend because my existence is beyond doubt. I thought, I'll quit whilst I'm ahead. Me and Vicki? We're like this now. (Crosses fingers - you'll have to imagine that bit!)

Questions I have been asked in the last two days :

'Ma'am, have you ever been drunk?'
'Ma'am, have you ever been stopped by the police?'
'Ma'am, are you religious?'
'Ma'am, is Susan Boyle your sister?'
'Ma'am, how much snow will be enough to stop us coming to school?'

(The answers were : No, yes, I believe in God, are you related to a pile of doggy-do, a bucketful.)

But the thing that really made me smile to-day was a Year 7 who solemnly informed me that William Shakespeare came from Stratford on Haven.

So THAT'S where he went for his holidays!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Computer Mania

Yesterday was a bad day. Yesterday, ever single computerised system in our house misbehaved itself. By the end of the day, Andy and I were both convinced we had a gremlin in the system somewhere, a nasty, disease-ridden, germy gremlin that had decided to play havoc with our attempts to get on with doing what we wanted to do because it was a Saturday.

For one, I wanted to do some more preparation for the start of my new job on Monday. But my laptop decided to stop working. I switched it on. It coughed. It spluttered. It gave a minor clunk. And then it stared at me, blank-faced and defiant as if to say 'Ha! You know your life's work, all the writing you've done on me in the last year and a half, INCLUDING all the prep for school? Well, I've got it trapped and I'm not giving up, no never, ever, not a chance ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!' It was like it knew I am the world's worst for saving stuff regularly on a memory stick.

And then Andy appeared from where he'd been working upstairs on his computer.
He said, 'My computer is playing up.'
'So is mine,' I said, giving the dead laptop a rattle. 'It's expired.'
Andy spent some time poking my laptop about. He took bits off the back, removed a fairly substantial amount of fluff and cat hair, he bashed buttons, and turned it on/off/on/off/on/off/on/off/on/off etc etc ad infinitum

Still nothing.

'My i-pod is refusing to work, too,' said Andy, morosely, as he sat in a defeated heap on the living room floor. He got up and returned to his study to have another go at getting his computer and his i-pod to co-operate.
'I'll pop back down and see if I can surprise your laptop into working,' he said.

Unable to access the documents on my laptop, I resorted to using my mini netbook. Work still had to be done. I thought, I'll put on the DVD of 'Jam and Jerusalem' I got for Christmas to cheer me up whilst I work. So I popped it in the X-Box (our DVD player gave up the ghost months ago), and the X-Box refused to play, too. Well, it played, but not properly. It was doing bizarre things and clearly had no intention of co-operating with my DVD.

Andy re-appeared and swore at the X-Box until it eventually did as it was told. He then tried to take my laptop by surprise but it still wasn't going to work.

I tried to start work on a document using Microsoft Office. Mini netbook wouldn't let me do it unless I inputted the '25 character access code.'

It took us ages to locate the code, which pitched up on a sticker stuck to the bottom of the netbook. We input the access code. The netbook refused to accept it. Eight times. We gave up.

And this is why I tend to hate computers and love the simpler form of pen and paper. It's a bit like cars and electric windows. We had a Fiat whose electric window would, on occasion, go down and then refuse to go up again. This usually happened in the middle of the night/ a cold snap/ a monsoon/ during a full moon when the risk of werewolf attack is at its greatest.

I never had that sort of trouble with the wind up/ wind down handles on my old 1976 Mini.

Technology isn't always necessarily better. Nor life enhancing.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Welcome to the New Year

And so the year 2010 dawned at Much Malarkey Manor. Unfortunately, I was unconscious and didn't realise it had arrived until I surfaced this morning at 7 am.

Now, I want you to know that this wasn't because I was a drunk. I don't drink, as you know (although I did partake of a glass of Buck's Fizz with last night's celebratory dinner. I knocked it back pretty much in one hit, figuring that if I did that, I wouldn't have to taste it.)

No, it was because I had been up since the crack of New Year's Eve dawn, faffing about with one thing and another. I'm an early bird, you see, and come 9 pm, Mr Sandman is placing sandbags on my eyelids, and bloomin' heavy they are sometimes.

The day culminated with my cooking of a celebratory dejeuner a deux for me and Andy. I had originally planned to cook quail, but in the absence of said bird at the butchers, I was forced to settle for poussin. I ccoked them Italian style, with potato batons, baby onions and mushrooms, with caramelised carrots and a rather nice shredded ham sauce. And for pudding I made a firm, if unsophisticated favourite - apple crumble.

Have you ever had poussin? They are tiny chicken. So you get to have a WHOLE bird to yourself. Part of me thikns it looks a bit sad, a whole tiny chicken sitting on your plate. But I think Andy appreciated the whole concept of being able to demolish an entire fowl by oneself. Anyway, by the time we'd finished our meal, we were both stuffed and I was struggling to saty awake.

And with nothing stimulating enough on the telly to encourage wakefulness, I said an early au revoir to 2009, and went up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire ( as my Mum used to say.)

And what of 2010? So far, it has been very promising. Lovely, sharp and icy, sunny weather. Lots of activity in the brain department (planning a set of drama lessons to teach to the 100 eleven year old who are passing through my portals next week), and in the physical fitness department (Wii Fit Plussing and getting very narky with an evil looking mole that kept popping my balloons - don't ask). The chickens are happy; they all laid an egg today. The house is tidy; New Year's Day is my day for denuding the place of its Christmas vestments.

And I have a set of cunningly chosen resolutions because I am an optimist and I like a challenge. Sadly, I failed in my resolution for 2009, which was to do the splits. I might be an inch or two closer to the ground than I was this time last year, thanks to all the walking and swimming I managed to do, but I think my hip sockets are too creaky to push them too far at this moment. Still, never say never, eh?

This is what I'm hoping to achieve in 2010:

1) have piano lessons and learn to play a tune with more than one hand that isn't 'Chopsticks.'
2) have a go at bell ringing. Apparently, bell ringers are in short supply and as I come from a family of bell ringers (well, several of my family are bats! Aha!) I thought I'd have a go myself
3) see if I can come up with 4 subjects to study so I can enter Mastermind. I've got one so far, which is the life and times of Oliver Postgate. Three more to go and I can put in my entry form for the big black chair!

And I think that will do for the moment.

And if you have chosen to face a challenge yourself in 2010, be it personal of something more global, then I wish you well in your endeavours and a happy and successful outcome.