Sunday, 28 February 2010

Mum's Birthday

Now, on Friday my Mum was 70. She did not want to be 70. I said, there's not much one can do about the march of time, Mum, but you could look at yourself as being 40 with 30 years added experience. I don't think she was convinced.

So, a couple of months ago I thought, what would Mum like for her birthday? I didn't have to think long because the AWFUL answer was already swimming in my brain, looming like an evil nemesis. I knew what she would like. She would like me and my brother to celebrate her birthday with her AT THE SAME TIME, IN THE SAME ROOM.

As you may be aware, me and my brother do not get along. Never have, never will. We are chalk and cheese (bags I the cheese). There was a blissful year and three weeks at the beginning of my life (of which I remain unaware) where I was unencumbered by a sibling, and then the brother arrived and the following 43 years and 3 months have been a series of arguments, fights and resentments for one reason or another. Well, actually, the last five or six years have been maintained in silent ignorance of each other, and that has suited us both well.

Anyhow, a couple of months ago I telephoned my brother vis a vis Mum's impending birthday. I did not speak to him as he did not answer his phone, so I left a message along the lines of 'as it's Mum's 70th, how would you feel about me booking a restaurant for you and your lot, me and my lot and Mum's mad sisters and taking her out to dinner? Me and Andy will pay. Get back to me if this idea is acceptable to you.'

Four weeks later, he phoned and spoke to Andy. Didn't want to speak to me. Said yes, okay.

So I booked the restaurant. I arranged with our friend Jean to borrow her lovely old Rolls Royce to pick Mum up. We all arrived at the restaurant. And everything was fine. My brother glared at me from the far end of a very long table; I over-compensated my feelings to tell him to 'suck it up, Princess' by being over-jolly and over-smiley. Luckily, my two children and his three children (ranging in ages between 10 and 23) sat between us all and kept a lively conversation going. And I was sat between my aunts so any misbehaviour on my part would have been met with a slap around the back of the legs.

Plus the evening was tinged with the frisson of excitement that Leane could go into labour at any minute as the Baby-Bump Grand-daughter has 'dropped' and could make an appearance any minute now. (In fact, Leane popped to the loo at one point in the evening and I clockwatched. I was thinking, if she's gone for more than 5 minutes, I'm going after her. I am not having my grand-daughter born in a pub toilet to the sounds of the live music band singing 'American Pie.')

And then Mum made a speech along the lines of how it had made her day being able to spend an evening in the company of all the people she loves the most.

Mission accomplished.

The point of today's blog, I suppose, is that me and my brother both managed to get over ourselves for long enough to give Mum a happy birthday. So long as she isn't expecting a huge reconciliation. Not until we're in the flames of Hell will that ever happen. And then we'll be poking each other with pitchforks. Mine will be bigger.

But I want Chris and Heather to know that if ever they fall out and would prefer to live their lives not speaking to each other, then I am more than happy in 26 years'time to endure TWO 70th birthday celebrations rather than one if it makes life easier for them and means they won't choke on their soup, lamb shank and double chocolate brownies.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Blankly She Stumbled

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Actually, it was the only the worst of times this week. On Thursday, I vaguely remember sitting in my classroom during lunchtime, staring at the 'to-do' list on my desk, and thinking, 'I know I've got to do all this, but I'm not sure where and how to begin. '

This is unlike me, because I am uber-organised. I am purposeful. I have direction. I get things done.

But as I stared at my desk, and listened to the rabble in the corridors, I felt truly lost.

That evening, after school, we had a twilight training session. This was the last thing I needed. What I really needed was to go home and eat many doughnuts and watch something funny on the telly. Or read one of the books I have bought recently and which have been sitting on the kitchen table staring at me in a 'when-are-you-going-to-read-us' kind of way. But instead I had to stay at school and listen to a presentation from some Year 8's (13 year olds) and Year 11s (16 year olds) telling me what they liked about lessons and what they didn't - aka what you teachers are doing wrong.

Apparently, they like playing games. They like being able to chat to their mates. They want lessons to be more relaxed. They want teachers to smile and be in a good mood all the time because 'when we come into class and you're in a mood, it affects our learning.'

Right, I thought. What about all the times you lot come into lessons swearing and fighting and talking non-stop and being down-right silly which affects my teaching? But I didn't say that. Because I didn't want to be deemed as being 'unreceptive to the student voice.' And I was focused on going home and eating doughnuts.

And after that we had a talk on being in tune with students' emotional and spiritual well-being. How ironic, I thought, that they are asking me to be in touch with something I lost in myself about 4 weeks ago. But then I thought, no Denise, your emotional and spiritual well-being lies in that doughnut waiting for you at home. So shut up.

And then after that, I had to go and see the headteacher to discuss how I felt about suddenly having my Year 8 class (most of whom have behavioural difficulties and all of whom have learning difficulties) collapsed with another year 8 class and having to teach them both at the same time. Without any notice. Or consultation. And the fact I had been trying to do this for 4 days now and ended up in tears every day because this 'innovative' form of teaching clearly wasn't going to work and I was feeling like I was the crappest teacher in the world.

In slightly more polite terms I said I felt s**t about it. And deskilled and anxious and frustrated and bl**dy p***ed off, too. In slightly more subtextual terms the head smiled a lot and said, 'Tough, you're stuck with it.' Maybe I didn't put my case forcefully enough? Maybe I had low blood sugar. Never mind, the doughnut will cure that.

I left the school at just before 6 pm, having arrived 10 hours earlier and worked through without a break (because of the to-do- list. Although I suppose my blank staring could, theoretically, count as a break. So shut up, Denise.)

Outside it was raining, nay coming down in stair-rods. I began the walk home. Within 5 minutes I was drenched. I was thinking, 'Hey, isn't this great!' Not. Even the beckoning doughnut was beginning to fade into the distance. The rush hour traffic was zooming past and sending massive puddles flying onto the pavement 'pon which I walked. But it didn't really matter because I was wet through already.

After a 25 minutes walk, I managed to catch a bus. When I got home, Heather had already cooked tea. We had doughnuts.

Yesterday, I said to my head of department, 'I probably shan't be coming back in September.'

'I don't blame you,' she said.

(Today's blog was brought to you by 'Ifyouthinkteachingisadoddlewithshortdaysandlotsoftimeoffrelaxing by the pool, YOU'RE

Monday, 22 February 2010

Throw Me A Chair

Today, a child threw a chair across my classroom. Luckily, I was not in the chair's trajectory so avoided having my brain impaled by a chair lag. Everybody in the classroom jumped. I did not. I maintained an air of controlled calm, mostly because my ear is still buzzing and I was feeling discombobulated, but deep down what I really wanted to do was pick the chair up and throw it back, with maybe a table or two to underline my displeasure vis a vis flying furniture.

And my transgression?

I had asked said child to put his balloon away. Six times. Nicely. Politely. Starting with humour. Working up to firm resolve. I mean, it's not an unreasonable request, is it? We had things to do in class which in no way, shape or form involved the use of a balloon. The balloon was being distracting. So please put it away.

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my instruction. 'Please put the balloon away.' Could be interpreted as 'Gjfirow huf ewo fjisgnrj shkf,' I suppose. By a particularly idiot child.

Another idiot child refused to be quiet whilst I was explaining the main activity of the lesson.

'I can't help it,' he said. 'I've got ADHD.'
'But you managed to sit through a 25 minute assembly the other week without speaking,' I said.

The child shrugged. This was an irrelevant observation. 'It was assembly,' he said. Like that made all the difference. He continued to talk over me. A couple of his peers told him to shut up. He ignored them too, so I didn't feel quite so bad about my inadequacies.

So today I decided it would be a good idea to open a cake shop. I am not cut out to be a teacher. Not in the current social climate. Cake will never, EVER throw a chair. Or answer back.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Tayberries and Flip It!

Auntie Pollie delivered a tayberry bush today. It's one of hers that has gone crazy in her garden and as she's had enough of it, it is being rehomed here at the Manor.

I am very pleased about this newest edition to our cropping power. You may remember me having a rant last year about the old geezer up the allotment who insisted that our blackberry bush was, in fact, a tayberry, and got very shirty about it when I dared argue with him.

Well, I am now in a position to grow some tayberries and when I have grown some I shall take a sample of each fruit and point out the difference to him in no uncertain terms.

So there! Ha!

On a more cerebral, less juvenile note, I spent some more of my Christmas book vouchers this weekend. I bought four books - 'We Are All Made of Glue' by Marina Lewycka, 'Snobs' by Julian Fellowes, 'The Ministry of Food' by Jane Fearnley- Whittingstall, and 'Flip It' by Michael Heppell.

Now, 'Flip It' is a self- help book. I don't generally hold with self-help books because I think if I can't give myself a good talking to and a slap around the face to bring me to my senses, then no book is going to any more successful. Also, what are husbands and friends for? Still, I'd heard good things about this book and as it was a nice shade of graduated blue I thought I'd give it a slot of my time. Also, it has big writing, some pictures and diagrams AND I had a challenge for it.

The premise of Flip It is finding how to get the best out of every situation. The blurb says 'Flip It challenges you to get curious about how you interpret and handle every situation...' etc etc blah blah blah. It says instead of asking 'why?' about a situation, you should ask 'how?'

And I have a situation. The situation involves big road laying lorries parking on our residential street. Right outside our house. Blocking our view from the driveway so you take your life in your hands getting onto the main road. And parking on the pavement, and blocking the junction with the main road. And generally being an eyesore, and a noise nuisance at 5.30 in the morning when their drivers set off for whatever road laying job they've got on that day. This has been an on-going situation for several months now. The drivers do not live on our road. They park up and walk away, presumably to their houses that don't have bloody great lorries parked out the front.

A neighbour across the road reported the lorries to the police last November. The police eventually investigated and found out that one of the lorries had no insurance. The lorries disappeared for two months and the neighbourhood breathed a sigh of relief. But now the lorries are back. An even bigger one has joined the other two. The road is starting to look like Operation Stack on the M20.

I am not coping with the presence of these monstrosities parked right outside my living room window. I find them a depressing eye-sore. I believe them to be nuisance parking. And I also believe that such vehicles are not supposed to be parking in residential areas any way.

So, Flip It book, I said. What am I supposed to do? I asked not 'why is this happening to us?' but 'how can I cope better with this situation?'

Firstly, I e-mailed the borough council. I made a complaint about nuisance parking. I am now in fear that there will be reprisals, that one morning we will get up to find our car covered in tarmac. Andy has discovered from the VOSA website that such lorries need a special licence to be able to park in residential areas and that these licences are very rarely granted as 3.5 tonne lorries should be parking in specially designated holding bays. So tomorrow I shall be on the phone to VOSA to find out more of the whys and wherefores because if a licence has been granted (which I doubt because they can't even keep their vehicles insured properly) then none of us residents were notified (it's a bit like planning permission).

And then Auntie Pollie arrived with the tayberry. And Andy and I looked at our front garden, which is currently edged by a three foot high wall topped with stunning views of road laying lorries.
'We could put a fence on top of the wall,' I said. 'To hide the lorries from view.'
'Yes,' said Andy. 'We could plant the tayberry in the front garden, and it could ramble up the fence.'
'Also, ' I said, 'we could put more veg in the front garden, because the beds would be hidden from public view and so not prone to leek thiefs a la Tom 'n' Barbara in 'The Good Life.' '
'Yes,' said Andy. 'We could make a secluded veg plot.'
'AND,' I said, really getting into the swing of things,' if we make the front garden hidden from view, we could put a bee-hive out there! The fence would encourage the bees to fly straight up, so they wouldn't be smacking people in the face as they come and go. No-one would know they were there!'
'Indeed,' said Andy.

So that's what we might do if the borough council and VOSA can do nothing about the lorries. Build our own secret garden!


Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Art of the Guinea Pig

I am taking a break from marking exam papers. The reasons I am taking a break are 1) I have been marking for two hours and am reaching the end of my marking tether 2) I've already done a heap load of marking this half-term and it's getting on my nerves because EVERYONE knows that the only reason a person becomes a teacher is 'cos of all the holidays 3) Heather's birthday cake (or what remains) is calling me from the fridge and 4) I just read something that made me laugh out loud and inspired a blog.

When you mark exam papers you read some interesting things. And also some dire and boring things, but I feel these only serve to highlight the little gems that make an occasional appearance. The batch of papers I marked at the beginning of the week disturbed me greatly as the students who wrote them seemed very focused on telling me how important their mobile phones were to them and that they felt lost without them, like their right hand had been surgically removed, and that they should be allowed to use their phones in school ALL THE TIME or else they would JUST DIE FROM SOCIAL ISOLATION and don't adults care, or sumfing or nuffing or sumfing. A sign of the times, I suppose, but a sad sign nonetheless.

But in today's batch, I was reading and giving marks for how students described their homes. And one boy, in describing his bedroom, talked at great length about his 'chester draws.' 'Opposite the TV is my bed,' he wrote, 'and next to it is another chester draws with my stereo and computer on it.'

Now, when my sister was a little girl, she counted amongst her pets a succession of guinea pigs. And one of these guinea pigs was a long-haired black 'n' ginger 'n' white confection by the name of Chester.

And my immediate thought on reading this boy's description of his home was 'Why would my sister's guinea pig be using this boy's bedroom as an artist studio, and what is this boy doing balancing his stereo and computer on it?'

Which was when I knew I needed to have a break and possibly some birthday cake to replenish my obviously plummeting blood/sugar levels, thereby causing abstract hallucinatory thoughts vis a vis guinea pigs being squashed for their art.

Anyway, just thought I'd share that random, abstract and absurd thought with you.

Now if you want to see something truly abstract, can I suggest you go and see the musical, 'Wicked'? Heather and I went to see it yesterday, for her birthday. I've seen it before, but Heather hasn't and was very keen to do so, and given that the only person available for her to spend her birthday with was her boring old mum, I agreed to venture forth into my nemesis (aka London), and see the musical again.

'Wicked' is basically the story of how the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz came to be wicked. Hence, presumably, the title. A prequel to the Wizard of Oz, if you like. The costumes and special effects are spectacular. The songs, in my opinion, are so-so; the kind of songs you could join in and sing along to even if you've never heard them before, provided you've got the chutzpah and the volume to give 'em a go. And the plot? I think even Heather agreed that the plot was vague, tenuous and contrived. And this musical was adapted from a novel. (Ooooooh, don't get me started on bad novels being published and earning loadsamoney. Just don't!)

During the plot there were many random points of action that occurred that were then explained away by the characters after they'd happened, just in case the audience weren't keeping up with the story. Like the writers suddenly thought, 'Ooops, that didn't make sense did it? Still, we can't be bothered to re-write it, so let's do a bit of random explanation via the medium of the flying monkey/ the weird 6 foot tall Munchkin/ the Wizard being portrayed as a bigamist/ lothario/control-freak b**tard.'

A guinea pig called Chester with a computer balanced on his head could have written a more convincing script.

And Sam Kelly (from 'Allo Allo') is far too nice to be in role as the aforesaid b**tard Wizard.


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Wouldn't It Be Lovely?

Wouldn't it be lovely to be so enthusiastic about the work you do that you can't wait to leap out of bed in the morning and crack on with the day?

Wouldn't it be lovely if you were so engrossed in your work that time raced by, yet seemed at the same time to stand still whilst you filled it to the brim with progress and productivity?

Wouldn't it be lovely to feel your face light up and your soul glow when you tell other people exactly how it is you spend your life time?

Wouldn't it be lovely to go to bed at night feeling happy and satisfied that you've lived a truly wonderful day and you know you've made a difference to someone's life, not matter how big, no matter how small, no matter how way?

And wouldn't it be lovely if nothing would ever be a big enough excuse to prevent you doing what you love - not the bad weather, the habits of others, the lack of energy or skill, the loss of enthusiasm?

Wouldn't it be lovely to experience good pressure, the kind of pressure that you rise up with and ride, surfing it like a rolling wave, unafraid to travel with it because you know it will take you to new experiences, better living, a satisfied spirit?

Wouldn't it be lovely to take charge of your life, to answer to no-one but yourself, to be your own best line manager?

Wouldn't it be lovely to be confident enough to be able to feel the fear and take a risk anyway?

Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to laugh at the words 'But what if...? and 'If only...?'

Wouldn't it be lovely if the greatest responsibility you ever had was to be true to yourself the knowledge that whatever you do, you are doing it to the best of your ability?

Wouldn't it?

Sunday, 14 February 2010


Happy Valentine's Day!

There has been much broo-ha-ha on the local news about Valentine's Day, following a decision by a local primary school to ban the giving of Valentine's cards. 'Any cards found in the school will be confiscated,' said the bitter Head Teacher, who had clearly suffered a lifetime of ill-effects from being by-passed for Valentine's attention when he was a child.

Well, so was I. But it's one of those things you just get over, isn't it? Like not passing your driving test first time, or being beaten by Debbie Wells in the 100 metres front crawl, even though your style was clearly superior to hers. It might bother you at the time, but in hindsight it's not such a big deal and it teaches you that life isn't always fair, and has pockets of disappointment, and it's no good getting all miserable and moody because eventually you will meet a fab man like Andy and all romantic disppointments of the past will pale into nothingness 'gainst the richness of love with which you are blessed today.

Well, that's what I think.

So Andy tackled Valentine's Day in the traditional manner this year and lucky me received a bottle of my favourite Chanel 19 (whose expense made it a no-no purchase when I stopped working), a red enamel and silver heart pendant on a silver chain from my favourite jewellery retailer, Pia, and a box of chocolate caramel hearts. There were also three balloon hearts.

'There were twelve in the packet,' said Andy. 'But I ran out of puff after three.'

And what did I get Andy?

A ukelele!

On opening his gift (which included a ukelele case and two 'How to Play the Ukelele' books), Andy gave me a bit of a confused look. I could tell he was secretly delighted at the ingenuity and originality of my gift to him, yet slightly bemused at the thought processes that brought me thus hither.

I had a fit of giggles as I tried to explain myself. 'I thought it was a good idea,' I said between guffaws. 'I thought, he'll never guess what this is. It was a moment of divine inspiration. It was either a ukelele or Lego.'
'I thought it was a metronome,' admitted Andy. 'When I saw the shape of the box.'
'Why would I buy you a metronome?' I said.

He gave me a look that said, 'why would you buy me a ukelele?'

Anyway, the air this morning has been twinging with the twangs of a newbie ukelele player, as Andy has grappled with tuning and attempting basic chords and a rendition of 'By the Rivers of Babylon.' I'm not sure the rivers of Babylon would have resounded with the sounds of a ukelele, but you never know. I'm expecting a rendition of 'Lady Come Down' a la Colin Firth in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Christmas.

I had a moment when I thought 'have I made an error of enormous ukelele proportions by giving this particular object as a gift?'

But Andy is very pleased with it, now he's got over the shock and sheer randomness.

And he especially likes the case.

'I could pretend I'm a gangster,' he said.
'Or that you have a violin,' I suggested.
'Isn't that what gangsters carry around with them?' said Andy. 'Their cases are violin shaped, after all.'
'I think their violin cases are more likely to contain machine guns,' I said.
'I'd never get a machine gun in my ukelele case,' said Andy.
'Probably not,' I said.

And outside, the daylight arrived before 7 a.m (which has lifted my spirits no end because it means longer days are on the way) and Mrs Slocombe was kicking off loudly because Mrs Miggins was laying an egg. And inside, my ear was now crackling and popping which a friend who is more experienced in ear infection than I informs me is a good sign, and that my ear is now refilling with air rather than goo.

And Chris and Leane came round for dinner last night, looking happy and ready for the arrival of their baby (3 weeks to go), and all is starting to feel right with the world.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, 12 February 2010

An Impatient Patient

'She's not a very good patient, is she?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I'm not sure I would be either, with a chicken sitting on my head,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Mrs Slocombe, why are you sitting on the patient's head?'

Mrs Slocombe has a look of intense concentration on her face.
'I'm trying to insert her medication in her ear,' she says. 'And I have to say, she isn't being very receptive.'

Too right I'm not. Ever since the girls offered to nurse me through my malaise, I'm not sure if I've benefitted from their ministrations or not.

'But you had to look after each of us last year,' they protested, when I said I was sure I could manage my symptoms on my own. 'And we want to repay the kindness.'

So I relented. I managed to stop them hoiking the hospital wing cage from the attic. They were very keen to turn it into an isolation unit. I pointed out I wouldn't fit.
'You would if you lost eight stones,' said Mrs Miggins.

And now, Mrs Slocombe has my head in a death-grip, and is trying to push one of my antibiotic tablets into my ear.
'I think she's meant to swallow it,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Here, have a glass of water.'
'But it's for her ear infection,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'How's it going to know where to go if she swallows it? I mean, if she swallows it, it will be travelling away from the ear, won't it? Downwards, into the depth of her bowel.'

'It's the wonder of modern medication,' says Mrs Miggins. 'But I agree we should be taking a more topical approach to the treatment of her ear.'

'Ah, now,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I've been consulting my herbal remedy book, and I've found two things we could try.'
'Explain away,' says Mrs Miggins.

I push Mrs Slocombe off my head and she lands with a thump and a fart on the floor.

'Option One,' says Mrs Pumphrey, trailing her wing feathers down the stained and grainy pages of an ancient herbal remedy tome, 'is to roast an onion and then push it in the ear.'
'You are not shoving an onion in my ear,' I say.
'It'll be roasted,' says Mrs Miggins. 'It'll be nice and soft.'
'And warm,' adds Mrs Slocombe.
'I care not,' I say. 'My ear already feels full enough as it is, thank you.'

'How do you get a peanut out of your ear?' asks Mrs Slocombe, never one to miss a comedy moment.
'I don't know,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'How do you get a peanut out of your ear?'
'Pour in some chocolate and it'll come out a Treat!' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Ahahahahahaha!!'

(Of course, the success of this joke relies on you having prior knowledge that you used to be able to get chocolate covered peanut sweets called Treats. Can you still get them? I have no idea. I gave up on peanut based chocolate sweets when they changed Marathons into Snickers.)

'And Option Two?' says Mrs Miggins.
'Is to take a slice of bread, cut off the crusts and smother with crushed caraway seeds,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And then apply to the ear as a poultice.'
'Why do you have to cut the crusts off?' I say. 'Surely bread is bread is bread?'
'It does sound weird,' admits Mrs Miggins.
'I have a theory about this,' says Mrs Pumphrey, for although we are talking herbal remedy here, she does like to back up her findings with some scientific evidence.

Mrs Pumphrey continues. 'I think it's all to do with curly hair,' she says. 'My Granny used to say that eating the crusts of your bread makes your hair grow curly.'
'My Gran used to say that, too,' I say.
'Must be true then,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'So, if the crusts were left on the bread, and the poultice applied to your ear, then all the hairs in your ear would grow curly. This, in turn, would cause further distortion in the hearing, as the sound waves would be bouncing of a curved surface and entering the inner ear in a curly fashion. Also,' she continues, as I open my mouth to voice my suspicion of this scientific evidence, 'everyone knows that curly hair takes up more space than straight hair, thereby adding to its insulating properties and...'

'I'm going to stop you there,' I say. 'Because although I can kind of see your thought process in this matter, it is all irrelevant because none of you are coming anywhere near me with either an onion, a slice of bread or a crushed caraway seed. Now give me my antibiotics and that glass of water and go and make me a cup of tea. That would be the most useful thing.'

'Oh,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'I was going to play you a few tunes on my ukelele. To cheer you up.'

She looks so disappointed, standing there with an onion in one wing and a ukelele in the other, that I agree.

I mean, no matter how ill your feel, no matter how whistley, and hummy and deaf your ear, it would be a sad day indeed if you refused to let one of your chickens play her ukulele for you to make you feel better. Wouldn't it?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Bracing for the Bees

An information pack has arrived from the bee-keeping course. It is a very informative read, even more so than the two bee-keeping books that already reside on my bookshelf. But perhaps that is because it has been put together by a couple who are experienced and enthusiatic bee-keepers and who are keen to teach others how to bee-keep. There is a sense of passion for the skill rather than 'we do this for the money.'

The course is one I found linked to the Omlet website. Omlet, who are the clever people who invented the Eglu, have now created a bee-hive called the Beehaus. I am very keen to have a Beehaus. I like saying the name out loud in a heavy, Teutonic accent, and I like that it is a clever word play on the design style of Bauhaus. (Even though I'm not keen on Bauhaus, I appreciate the value of the style).

The course people have a Beehaus. They also have a variety of other types of bee-hives. The course material advises exploring all varieties of bee-hive before making a decision about the one that is right for you and your circumstances.

So I've held off ordering a Beehaus for the moment. Even though I really want a Beehaus.

Before we knew of the existence of the Beehaus, Andy happened to say that, given the popularity of the Eglu, Omlet ought to design a bee-hive of similar ilk. And then he said perhaps that he ought to design one before they did. And he would call it an 'Oh, Bee-hive,' in the manner of Austin Powers.

But Omlet got there first.

Anyway, I'm on the chaise, nursing my illness and reading about bees. There is a buzzing in my ear, but that is an infection, not a bee. The more I read about bees, the more fascinating I find them. I'm beginning to feel a sense of duty towards them, a sense of responsibility for their guardianship. I feel that bees that are kept on a commercial basis are at growing risk from all sorts of problems. And more people should be encouraged to keep a hive or two of their own.

It's a bit like chickens, I suppose. Years and years ago, it was common for families to keep a few hens to supply their own family needs. But if you aren't careful, you add to your flock because you think 'I could make money out of the surplus eggs, or I could cram in a small flock for eating,' and your 3 or 4 hens become 20 or 30, and then husbandry becomes more complicated; things start getting out of hand, because you succumb to the hand of commercialism. And before you know it, you're cramming more livestock into your available land, because Government legislation says its perfectly okay and acceptable to keep 4 hens in space of a small box. And clearly it isn't, because things start to go wrong. AKA battery farming.

I've been reading about the commercial bee-keeping practices in America. I've seen a TV programme too. I watched in horror and disbelief as hundreds of hives were thrown, yes thrown, onto a lorry and driven from state to state, being off-loaded, left for the bees to pollinate whatever crop needed pollinating, before being thrown back onto the lorry and driven to their next destination.

And the owner of the hives was amazed that his 'business' was suffering with the mysterious colony collapse disorder. 'What was going wrong?' he wanted to know.

Well. I'm no scientist. And maybe I was being over-simplistic in my thinking, but to me, the reason why his hives were collapsing and his bees were dying in their hundreds of thousands was down to the unnatural practices he was putting them through and the money-grabbing commercial nature of his attitude.

Poor bees. Having their homes thrown onto a lorry, being bumped through a long journey, woken up in a new place, expected to go to work and return to their relocated hive, then being uprooted, driven to a new place, disorientated again and again. If I was a bee, I'd give up pretty soon, too.

A little is enough. We need no more than that.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Nocturnal Looniness

I had such a weird dream last night. In a way, it was a good thing, because it meant that I at least managed to get to sleep long enough to achieve 'deep weird dream status.' The last few nights have been peppered with little more than random, fidgety snoozes, where I have dozed and fretted about things like falling behind with work at school, and the latest threat of snow especially as I haven't been able to get any shopping in this week, and what if I don't get the hearing back in my right ear, and what if I develop an allergy to the antibiotics...


So this dream. Explain it if you can...

I was in a churchyard. It was summer and I had gone to the church looking for some information. It was a tiny church, on top of a hill. Inside, the church was busy with people carrying boxes hither and thither. I stopped one of them and asked if I could have a look at some church records. The person (I think it was a man) said, 'Follow me,' and he went through a door, still carrying his box, and down some huge grey stone steps. I remember thinking it was unusual to find such big steps in such a tiny church. Deceptive.

Anyway, I followed this man down the steps and under the church. And as we reached the bottom of the steps the stairway opened out into a MASSIVE underground churchyard, full of graves and tombs and more people sifting through boxes.

This underground churchyard was in broad daylight. The sun was shining brightly, the trees were full of lush green leaves, the flowers were blooming, their petals dancing with butterflies and bees. There was a sense of happiness and warmth and purpose as all the people went about their sifting and sorting activities.

I said to the man how busy everyone looked and how surprising it was to find such a huge, sunny and open space under the ground of a tiny church on top of a hill.

He said that there was a lot to do, more than anyone could ever realise. and that the job would get done, slowly but surely. 'Just keep chipping away,' he said.

And then he tipped the box he'd been carrying onto the grass. Out fell a collection of random objects - dust, bones, letters, books, a vase, a wooden box, a ripped bag, a candlestick and other little bits and pieces. Some were dusty and broken, some were clean and complete. And he sat on the grass and began to sift through them. The pile of good stuff grew bigger than the pile of broken stuff. When he'd finished, he used a little dustpan and brush to sweep up the broken stuff, dropped it back in his box and then tucked it away under the hill on which the church stood. I could see through the hill; I could see piles and piles of boxes,either full and waiting to be sorted or with just a handful of rubbish remaining in them where they had already been dealt with.

And that was it.

Now, if I was being glib, I'd say it was the domestic goddess fairy telling me I need to do some housework.

Or maybe I'm experiencing the symptoms of a mind raddled with painkillers and antibiotics and frets about falling behind at work.

Or is there a deeper message trying to wrangle its way past my head cold and into my psyche? Some revelation, some key to the philosophical meaning to my life?

I know what Andy would say.

'There, there, dear. It'll all be better soon!'

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

'Ear, ear

The doctor peered into my ear. To give him credit, he didn't recoil.

'Full of infection!' he announced, cheerfully, much as one would say 'Full of vitamins!' when looking at an orange.

He looked in my other ear.

'Clear as a bell!' he announced. 'But then I expect you knew that.'

I did. I have been feeling decidedly lop-sided the last five days. Stupidly, I went to work yesterday. I felt feverish, I couldn't hear anything in my right ear which was sore and throbbing, and I was blowing my nose non-stop in a way that was making even the most vile of children cringe and cover their heads with their jumpers. But I had a huge dose of GUILT! I had to go in. I'd already had two days off work, I couldn't countenance a third.

'You look awful,' said my head of department. 'Why don't you go home?'

Later, after I'd tried teaching a couple of classes and was having trouble standing upright, she returned.

'Go home,' she said. 'And do not come back until you are well.'

And as a parting gift, she gave me a pile of mock exam papers to mark. Presumably to assuage my feelings of guilt. A challenging school is no place for heroes or martyrs.

So, back at the doctor's. He is a new doctor. Our old Dr Chuckles has retired. The new doc is efficient, proficient, cheerful and tall. Very tall.

'The best things you can take for your humdinger of an ear infection (and yes, he did use the word 'humdinger') are penicillin and Nurofen,' he said. 'But I see from your notes you are allergic to both.'

I nod, to one side. My head feels weighed down by a brick.

'So the next best thing are erythromycin and paracetemol,' he said. 'Here's a prescription. Do not return to work until you are a) pain free b) able to hear and c) able stand upright and walk in straight line. And if you get any trouble at work for being away, tell them to ring me here at the surgery. I AM the DOCTOR!' he finished.

Indeed he is!

My Mum, who had stepped in as taxi-driver to take me to the surgery, then drove me to a nearby pharmacy to get my antibiotics. And here I learned a lesson. That those of us who pay for our prescriptions because we work and contribute big time to the tax system in this country have to take second place to those who do not pay for their prescriptions and kick off big time when their free prescription of methadone is not forthcoming EFFIN' NOW!

Honestly, I stood in that chemist shop, my ear thobbing , blowing buckets of green ectoplasm from my long-suffering nose, hanging onto the counter so I didn't fall over, having to listen to this...this....person and her friend shouting and swearing and stomping around like they owned the place because things weren't being done their way, and their way NOW! Sorry, EFFIN' NOW!

Gggrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Daily Mail moment over.

I recline now, at home, on the chaise. I am surrounded by cats who have taken it upon themselves to create a healing triangle around me - Tybalt at my head, Pandora on my lap and Phoebe by my feet. My wonderful, WONDERFUL husband (who has picked up some of my germs and has a cold) has supplied me with two new DVDs, a newspaper and a teeny, tiny hot water bottle in a teeny tiny knitted cover with a bear on it to press against my poor ear. He is sooooooooooo lovely!

My daughter came home with a pressie for me, too. A new pair of soft cotton jim-jams and a posy of the brightest yellow tulips.

I feel very loved. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by people who care for my well-being.

When I am better, I shall make them cake.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Head of Marmalade

This morning I made the Much Malarkey Manor Marmalade 2010. This process had the added advantage in that I was able to steam my head over the mixture for the duration of its two hour cooking time, and believe you me, marmalade has much better nasal/ear/ throat decongestion properties than Vicks and all your other leading de-congestant brands.

I was very good - I didn't cough or sneeze into the mixture once. I merely imbibed of all the steamy rich-in-Vitamin-C air, and then my ear went pop and for a brief few seconds I was able to hear in glorious techni-colour.

But now my ear is back to humming at me, though I fancy not quite as loudly as it was first thing this morning. I wouldn't mind the humming if it came in the form of something cheerful, or entertaining, like 'I'm Too Sexy,' or 'Let's Groove,' but it doesn't. It's just 'Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm,' in the manner of a having tone deaf bee trapped inside a sea-shell clamped to your ear.

Last night was the best night's sleep I've had for a fortnight. I think it was the codeine. Either that or the dubious Hugh Grant film we caught the tale end of where he was pretending to be an ageing 1980's boy band singer whilst writing songs for a teenage strumpet who did a lot of writhing with not many clothes on. At least, that's my understanding of the plot. It was disappointing. I rather like Hugh Grant and his ability to play all his characters in exactly the same manner whichever film he is in. He is what you might call an 'economical actor.' It's nice if, like me, you don't enjoy surprises. Anyway, I gave up after half an hour. I did not wish to see if Hugh managed to live happily ever after with Drew Barrymore especially as he is old enough to be her father. (Apparently, they did live happily ever after, so Andy said, but I'm still not interested.)

The only other time I've been disappointed by Hugh G is when he pursued Andi McDowell so relentlessly in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral.' I mean, Andi McDowell?? There were at least 5 other women in that film he could have cast his affections upon and he chose Andi McDowell. She's the human equivalent to a Kleenex, for heaven's sake. He should have stuck with Charlotte Colman. At least she had a bit of fizz to her, God rest her soul, and didn't spend the entire film strutting around like a precocious humourless arty know-it-all with a loo brush up her arris...

Of course, the making of the marmalade brought once more to the fore my recurring angst about where am I going with my life. Aside from both having their sticky moments, making marmalade is the polar opposite of being a teacher. I suppose I could teach people how to make marmalade, but then I enjoy marmalade making so much I'd only end up snatching the spoon away and saying 'I'll do it, you idiot. Just go and sit in the corner and DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!'

And I miss having the time to make cakes, and biscuits (although I did knock up a batch of shortbread last night during the ad breaks for Harry Hill's TV Burp) and to do things like knitting and sewing and, more importantly, writing. This blog has been the sum total of my writing over the last 5 weeks. It's just not good enough.

Ah well. Only one more week and then it's half term. I hope my germs have all died a death by then because I have things to do that require A1 tippity top health. And that I'm not bogged down with school work because my Head of Department keeps saying things like 'Oh, you can plan for this during half term, and add to that in half term, and don't forget that as soon as you come back after half term I want this, and this, and that done as well.'

And we're supposed to be getting more snow this week.

Well, I'm not having it. No way. Stay away snow. If you know what's good for you.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

I get no kick from champagne...

...but codeine-based painkillers and a couple of doughnuts do it for me every time!

My cough/cold/tonsillitis/bubonic plague seems to be working its way out though my right ear. My right ear feels like it has a spikey golf ball imbedded within. I am rendered deaf on that side. Paracetemol is no longer working. I have graduated to paracetemol WITH codeine. Which is marvellous! Especially when taken with one of the raspberry jam doughnuts Andy brought home from work with him today.

I went out for a walk this morning. I thought, a bit of fresh air will blow away the germs. Unfortunately, the air was very fresh and blew into my ear. This was not good. So whilst I was in town buying a Valentine card for Andy, a birthday card for Heather and a birthday card for my Mum, I visited Boots and stoked up on opiate based pain killers.

The lady behind the counter (you have to ask for these painkillers, you can't just help yourself) said, 'Have you ever taken these before?'
I said, 'Yes, about 4 years ago when I was having problems with a naughty back tooth.'
'Ah,' she said, 'only if you've never taken these before, you might be allergic to them. '
'But I have taken them before,' I said. 'And I'm not allergic to them.
'That was 4 years ago,' said the woman. 'Four years is a long time. People change.'

And then she looked at me a bit enigmatically.

I thought, do I know you?

'Yes,' I said. 'Four years is a long time. But I found them very effective and I want something that will be effective with an earache.'
'Oh yes,' said the woman. 'Earache is very nasty. Both ears, is it?'
'Just the right one,' I said. Just give me the painkillers, I thought.

She waved the packet at me.

'You musn't take these with any other paracetemol based painkillers,' she said.
Is that because they have paracetemol in them, I thought.
'Because these have paracetemol in them,' she said.
Thought so, I thought.
'And you musn't take them for more than THREE days,' she said. She said THREE very loudly, and held up three fingers of the hand that wasn't the hand that was holding my painkillers. 'Because they can be HIGHLY ADDICTIVE.'
Because of the codeine, I thought.
'Because of the CODEINE,' she said.

There you go, I thought.

'Please read the instructions before you take them,' she said, as I wrestled the packet from her hand. 'Do you have a Boots card?'

Honestly, I thought, as I left Boots and marched into the cold February air. There's no chance of me ever becoming a drug addict, not if I have to go through people like her first.

But when I got home, do you know what I did? I took a couple of paracetemol with codeine.

And I didn't read the instructions until AFTER I'd swallowed them AND eaten my doughnut!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Still suffering...

I'm not sure if green mucus is natural, but I have plenty of it. Should there be a sudden slump in the green mucus market, I would make a killing. Might be the only way we can afford our small-holding. We could call it 'Dun Blowin'. And I apologise if you happen to be in the middle of, say, a pot of lunchtime guacamole whilst you are reading this, but the mucus thing had to be said.

I am languishing at home. Day 2 off sick. I don't want to play this game any more. I was brought up in a family where illness wasn't the done thing. As long as you were conscious, you went to work. But all I can do at the moment, with the loss of voice, the constant coughing, the sharp stabbing pain in my right ear and the mission to fill a reservoir with green mucus (sorry!), I have no choice. Being in school and trying to teach when you are ill (especially when you don't have a voice and throwing board rubbers at pupils is no longer 'the done thing'), is a no-no.

So I dutifully sent in cover for my lessons, via e-mail, and here I sit, on the sofa, assessing the lump in my neck for upness or downness. I'm not in my jim-jams. That's another family thing. No matter how ill you are, you can still get washed and dressed. It's all about standards, you see. Standards. None of this disappearing to Tezzco for a fruit 'n' veg top up in your nightie. So I steamed my head in the shower, which offered about ten minutes relief, and got dressed properly.

On the upside, I get to do a bit of writing. I have done a bit of school prep, I hasten to add. I've just rewritten an idiot's version of Act 3 scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet for my 'special' year 10s. I tried to get them to engage with the original text, honest Mr Shakespeare I did, but they weren't having it.
'It's rubbish,' they said. (They didn't actually say 'rubbish'. Nor crap. What they actually said was sh...)
'We don't git it,' they said. 'It's toooooooo much bovver to read it. It's, like, six whole pages...why do we have to do this anyway?'
'Do you want a GCSE in English?' said I.
'Er, yeah,' said they.
'Then you need to do a piece of Shakespeare coursework,' I said. 'I mean, it's not like I can phone the exam board and say, 'Can you just give Courtney/ Josh/ Cherise/ Daniel/Jordanne/ Kristell
whatever grade they want for their English as long as it's at least a 'C', is it? Haha!'

I swear to the God of the Easy Way Out that they looked at me like this was a genuine option.

And I just hope Mr Shakespeare was otherwise occupied with his codpiece when I wrote 'MERCUTIO: Bring it on, you scumbag,' in my dumbed down script.

Right, latest news? Ah! Two things. No, three actually. I'm not sure if I should string out the news over the weekend to make 3 blogs, or hit you with them all now...

...but in the spirit of optimism that something IMPORTANT and even more EXCITING could happen over the weekend, I'll reveal all 3 things now.

Firstly, I have bought a camcorder. It is a dinky wee burgundy delight. Even if I don't use it that much, just looking at it will give me constant delight. But I shall use it a lot because it wasn't a cheap piece of tat and Andy will be cross if I don't get to grips with it. So brace yourselves for more moving picture options at Much Malarkey Manor. Especially of chickens. And cats. And grand-daughters.

Secondly, Andy and I are going on a bee-keeping course at the end of March. Originally, it was to be only moi, because there were only six places on the course and Andy booked me the last one. And then the man who is running it telephoned to have a pre-course chat about what to wear, what to bring, what to expect etc and he told Andy to come along too! He also said he was more than happy to give us advice about situating a hive here at the Manor. It was all I could do no to order all the equipment immediately! Bees by the end of spring? More than likely!

And finally, Mrs Pumphrey came racing up the garden this morning.
'Something's after me!!!!!' she screamed.
'What????' I said, for I could see nothing.
'Behind me!! Look! Look!!' she continued, racing around in a most undignified way.

Still I could see nothing. And then I twigged.

'It's your new tail feathers, 'I said. 'You've amassed a full set of bottom fluff, and now you are growing a new set of tail feathers. They look lovely. Like a Native American headdress.'

Mrs Pumphrey skidded to a halt.
'Is that all?' she said.
'That's all,' I said. Personally, I am thrilled she is no longer a bare bum hen.

But it must be odd, that feeling of full featherage when you've spent most a last year wandering around with what amounts to having your skirt tucked into your pants leaving your nethers waving pinkly in the wind.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

From my death bed

Reader, I write this evening from my death bed...well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but flippin' heck, do I feel ill or what?

I knew it would happen. I said to Andy, 'I bet you that within 3 weeks I'll have picked up every bug going in that school and be as sick as a pig.'

And I was right! Aha!!

But the satisfaction of being right is far outweighed by the sense of all round crappiness I am feeling right now. Starting with a bout of tonsillitis 2 weeks ago, I have now amassed the following - a sore throat, a rattly chest, a deaf right ear, a lost voice, a cough, the inability to taste anything, non-stop sneezing, a runny nostril, a blocked up nostril, feeling so tired I can't sleep, occasional dizziness, a strange little lump in the side of my neck (glands? The embryo of my twin??) and an overwhelming feeling when I am standing in the classroom of 'what on earth do I think I'm doing?'

My Head of Department said to me, 'Stay at home tomorrow. You are too ill to be here. Do not come back until you are feeling better.'

And normally, because I don't do 'ill', I would battle on. But actually, I am going to stay home tomorrow. Because the thought of battling on is making me want to cry.

So, today I walked home through the freezing rain, which probably didn't do me much good, and found a delivery note saying a parcel had been left for me - 'Back.' I took this to mean the parcel had been left at the back of the house so I went to the back garden, and found the parcel. It was a cardboard parcel. Containing a couple of books I'd ordered from Amazon. Books made from paper. Wrapped in cardboard. And left out in the rain.

I thought, 'If I unwrap this soggy cardboard parcel and find my new books are all wet, I don't care how close to death's door I feel, I am STRAIGHT onto the parcel delivery company to tell them EXACTLY how stupid I think their delivery drivers are. (See, there's life in the old girl yet! Will I be beaten by an army of germs? Not if I can help it.)

Luckily for the delivery company, although the outside cardboard was sodden, the books therein were dry.

Both books are about knitting. One is about how to knit fairy stories. Apparently, you get a frog and a bear and spin them into yarn. Then, using a beanstalk and Jack Spratt as knitting needles,,! Stop it, Denise!

And the second book is about knitting tea cosies. I never knew tea cosies could knit, so I'm looking forward to that read immensely.

So tomorrow, so long as I make it through the night, the plan is this - get up, eat toast, take medication, slump on sofa, drink tea, sleep. Read a bit of knitting book, drink more tea. Give chickens half a cabbage (Mrs Pumphrey now in possession of complete bottom fluffage),take medication. If I can stand up for about an hour, I'll make some marmalade. Drink more tea. Slump. Sleep. Slump. Sleep.


That'll do.