Tuesday, 30 March 2010

An Uncrabby Update

'Look for the positives in every day,' they say.

Who 'they' are exactly, I do not know. If I find out, I shall invite them to come and spend time with my horrid Year 8 class, and then tell me to find something positive. But today I am willing to take the advice of 'they' so here goes.

1) The asparagus is coming up. I thought I had killed it before it had even started, with my random stab at trying to plant it properly with its little leggings draped over little trenches like little cowboys on little horses. But no! At the weekend I found a good dozen baby 'sparagi emerging from the bed. Hurrah!

2) There is an abundance of salad leaf product growing in the greenhouse so I am anticipating a lovely homegrown salad over Easter weekend.

3) Andy came home whistling last night and bearing a Black and Decker Workmate. If it floats his boat, I'm happy. He is already making wood working type plans for the remainder of the eucalyptus tree once it has been felled.

4) The man I telephoned to enquire about ordering a nucleus of bees kept calling me 'young lady' in a delightful Gloucestershire accent.

5) Two year 10 girls stopped me in the corridor today and said, 'Please don't ever leave the school, ma'am - you're the best English teacher we've ever had.' Poor things! I didn't have the heart to tell them...

6) My grand-daughter is lovely. And snuggly. And lovely. And I am so proud of the way Chris and Leane are coping as new parents.

7) I ignored school work planning last night and spent the evening sewing and reading about bees. Bliss!

8) I just had a hot cross bun with butter and it was delicious!

That's all I can muster for today, I'm afraid, because yet again I've had a crap day at work.

But hey! I am trying to end the day on an uncrabby note! I am planning, this evening, to do more sewing, and reading and NOTHING to do with school, and possibly to watch some rubbish TV, but mostly to do reading and sewing.

I hope your day ends with calm and peace and happiness. I hope it is more lobster than crab!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

In an English country garden...

Andy has now decided he wants to build a potting shed. This is on the back of the bee-keeping course we attended yesterday.

I shall explain...

The bee-keeping course was very informative. It was a small course of three hours long; a sort of 'we'll tell you a bit about bee-keeping and see if it puts you off the idea altogether, or fires you with enthusiasm to learn more.' It was run by Scott and Geraldine, who have many hives in various situations, and there were 7 attendees, myself and Andy included. And by the end of the session, I was all fired to buy a hive or two on the way home, and see if we could find a stray swarm clinging to a tree somewhere, in need of an enthusiastic custodian. As is my wont.

Andy managed to get us safely home making only one stop to buy some chips, as all that learning makes one very hungry you know.

So this morning we were standing in the pitifully small space we call our back garden, trying to decide the best place to site a couple of hives. We've decided already that two hives is the best way to start. Now, when we moved into our house, five and a half years ago, the back garden seemed small, because it was overgrown with shrubs and dominated by a shed. We dug up all the shrubs and removed the shed. Then the garden seemed much bigger. And then we added a greenhouse, a storage box, a set of wooden garden furniture, a raised bed and a Cluckinghen Palace. And now it seems small again.

'The obvious place would be there,' said Andy, pointing to where the garden furniture is currently situated.

This was true. The area is surrounded by fence and wall, thereby encouraging the bees to take their flight path up and away out of the way as quickly as possible on leaving their hive, thus avoiding things like banging into people's faces. And it is sheltered and catches the early morning sun, thereby encouraging the bees to get up early in the morning and begin the day's work rather than lounging around in their brood box (that's techni-talk, that is), and also staying relatively warm in the winter, thereby avoiding dying.

'But where would we put the garden furniture?' said I.
'There,' said Andy, pointing to its original space under the kitchen window.
That's where I put my seedlings to harden off, I think. But I don't say anything.

'Or we could put one hive there and another there,' said Andy, pointing to the storage box he made from the remnants of the old shed. 'But we'd have to get rid of the box because it is too long, and swap it for a taller, but thinner shed.'
'I see,' I said. 'And the hive would go next to it?'
'Yes,' said Andy.

Things become very complicated when considering the flight paths of bees in relation to the siting of hives. Especially when space is a squeeze and you don't want them pooping on your washing. If you have more than one hive (which is advisable as a pre-emptive measure to deal with potential swarming), you have to off-set each entrance so the bees develop their own flight paths and don't end up getting confused and going home to the wrong pad. And so they don't bump heads and get angry and end up stinging someone (probably me).

Hence Andy heading for Google to do an intensive search into sheds, and then deciding he might like to build his own shed. And then getting diverted to Amazon to look for a book on how to build a shed.

'You've got a carpentry book,' I said. 'It might have shed building instructions in there.'
'I do not,' said Andy.
'You do,' I said. 'I saw you reading it once.'
'I don't remember,' said Andy. 'Are you sure?'
'Positive,' I said.
'Well, I don't remember having a carpentry book,' said Andy. And this is his subtle way of saying, 'I probably have got such a book somewhere in amongst the gazillions of books in this house, but if I deny its existence for long enough, Denise will get furious and go and find it.'

Which is what happened. Except Andy realised (as I was trying to mark some stupid exam papers at the time) that I was probably slightly more furious than usual and so he'd better make an effort to find said book himself. Which he did.

'Are you sure this is my book?' he said.
'Yes,' I said.
'And not your book?'
'Why would I want a book on carpentry?' I said.
'Perhaps you bought it for Chris?' said Andy.
'No, I did not,' I said, because I know bloomin' well I didn't.
'Or perhaps it belonged to your Dad?' persisted Andy.
'My Dad was a Master Carpenter and Builder of 40 years, apprenticed from the age of 15. Why on earth would he want the 'Reader's Digest Companion to Simple Carpentry Projects?' I screeched, I mean said.

At this point, Andy sensibly retreated to his Google search for plans to build one's own potting shed, and I returned, huffing, to my exam paper marking. Which, in my defence, is enough to put anyone in a bad mood.

So there we are. And to add to the issues, we need to get the eucalyptus tree cut down before the hives are sited because the only exit from back garden to front drive with bits of massacred tree will be passed one of the potential hive sites, and although I am now a member of the British Bee Keeper Association (or BBKA) and have public liability and death of bee colony insurance, I don't want to alarm the neighbours by having an anaphylactic tree surgeon writhing in agony from multiple bee stings on the driveway.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Tidying up the loose ends

I feel this week needs tidying up and packing away. Preferably in a drawer with a hefty lock upon 't, and a warning on the outside saying 'ON NO ACCOUNT OPEN THIS DRAWER, THEREIN LIES A BLOOMIN' AWFUL WEEK, TIDIED AWAY FOR POSTERITY (AND A WARNING TO OTHERS ABOUT THE DANGERS OF TEACHING.)

So, I had ANOTHER lesson observation by the Witch Finder General; this time though, she got short shrift from me when she interrupted my lunch break (ha! there's a laugh in itself - class full of Year 10 girls wanting assistance with their Of Mice and Men coursework - 'So, Lennie's a bit of a div, is he?' 'No, I think the better term would be that he has learning difficulties.)

'So,' said the Witch Finder General, 'do you think those two little girls sitting near the back in your lesson would have made better progress if you'd put them to work with other partners?'
'No,' I said.
'Oh,' said she. 'Why?'
'Because they would have sulked,' I said. 'I find it better to let them work who they want to work with rather than who I want them to work with.'
'Oh, but it's all training isn't it?' said WFG.
'I don't have time to do training,' I said. 'I am under pressure to squeeze ANOTHER assessment out of them by the middle of next week. I don't need them wasting time by sulking.'
'Do you think you could try moving them?' persisted WFG (because she just wasn't getting the subtle undertones of my looking daggers scowl).
'No,' I said.
'Do you think they would do better in their assessment if they worked with different partners?' she said.
'No,' I said.

And with that, the WFG gave me a bit of a look, stood up and shot out of my classroom like a cat with its tail on fire. I don't think she liked my rejection of her stupid ideas. I don't care. The first time she did a lesson observation on me, her 'feedback' reduced me to tears. This time, I stood up and did a little in-yer-face victory dance.

The Year 10 girls were very impressed. With my dance. The whole experience was very grown up.

And today I had a fab afternoon playing murder role plays with my Year Sevens. I see my Year Sevens every day. We are getting to know each other very well and they give me no aggravation. Well, relatively little. Fraser still tends to poke me in the arm when he wants my attention. Fraser has ADHD if you believe in such things. He is 12, but you'd think he was 8.

'Please don't poke me, Fraser,' I said, when once again I found myself on the end of a persistent prod or three.
'Am I getting in your personal body space, ma'am,' said Fraser.
'Yes,' I said. Fraser and I have had more than one conversation vis a vis watching personal body space, especially mine.
'Sorry, ma'am,' said Fraser (and bear in mind this conversation was held with him whizzing around like a loon.)

He isn't sorry though. I suspect he'll keep on prodding people until the day when someone prods him back with the sharp end of their fist in his face. But that won't be me.

And since about 11 this morning, when I remembered that we are going on a bee-keeping course tomorrow, I have been feeling very excited about bees. I met a bee on my walk home, in fact, when I was dawdling and admiring the new buds on the hedges and trees. An enormous bumble bee (which would be a pregnant female at this time of year), flew across my path and disappeared into a pile of old leaves, presumably looking for a place to lay her eggs.

So, let's shut the drawer, shall we?

Mind your fingers!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Chicken Psychology

'What's up with her, then?' says Mrs Slocombe, who, now the Spring sap is rising, is once more on a mission to goose as many feathers from the Miggins and Pumphrey bottoms as she can.
'Who her?' says Mrs Miggins. 'And can I say that if you do that again, I shall doink you on the head. It's still too cold to be going commando in the nethers.'

Mrs Slocombe makes a last peck at Mrs Miggins' fluffage and dashes for the North Wing gardens of Cluckinghen Palace where she continues to conduct the conversation through a megaphone.

'Oh...her?' says Mrs Miggins. 'Well, I think in human parlance she's having what's called a 'mid-life crisis.'
'WHAT'S THAT THEN?' shouts Mrs S.
'It's a time in one's life when one takes stock of life already passed and life to come and realises that one is half way through one's allotted time and one is not sure what to do with it,' says Miggins.
'Don't say that,' says Mrs Miggins. 'You'll throw her into an even worse mood, and you know she'll only be out flinging more white cabbage at us if that happens.'
'Tell me about it,' sighs Miggins. 'There's only so much cabbage a hen of my age can cope with before consequences start occuring.'

Mrs Pumphrey emerges from the kitchen door. She is arrayed in her Madame Arcati outfit, except the hat is new, the last having been sat upon by a particularly hefty poltergeist.

'How is she?' says Mrs Miggins.

Mrs Pumphrey sighs, and arranges her oriental silk house coat in artful folds.

'Well, she was all right until we drew the 'Chicken of the Golden Bell,' she says.
'The Chicken of the Golden Bell?' says Mrs Miggins. 'But I thought that was supposed to be lucky?'
'It is,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'but not when it follows the Cock of Doom.'
'Oh blimey,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Indeed,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'DID SHE SAY THE COCK OF DOOM?' shouts Mrs Slocombe from the other end of the garden.
'Yes,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Why is she down there shouting up here?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Oh, ignore her,' says Miggo. 'Too many feathers in her brain, that's all. Now tell me, what else did the cards show?'
'I'm afraid I cannot divulge such personal information about my clients,' sniffs Mrs Pumphrey.
'Bag of Monster Munch and copy of Hens At Home, April issue?' says Miggins.
'Pickled onion flavour?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Whatever, ' says Mrs Miggins.
'There seems to be a period of transition arising in her fifth zenith of the emerging corn,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Meaning?' says Mrs Miggins, who, as you know, cannot be doing with all this esoteric techno-talk.
'Meaning,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'that she is very hacked off at the mo and is seeking a new pathway.'
'This one is a bit muddy,' agrees Mrs Miggins, giving the ground an experimental stomp.

Mrs Pumphrey sighs. This always happens when she tries to explain the hidden mysteries of life to those who still think it's funny to dress up in a bed sheet and jump out off the airing cupboard shouting 'BOO!'

'There comes a time in a person's life,' she begins, with all the patience she can muster, 'when you realise life is but a fleeting breath of existence that all too easily can be snuffed out with the stop of a heartbeat.'
'SHUT UP!!' shouts back Mrs Miggins, who unlike Pumphrey, doesn't mind telling it how it is.

'And when that time happens,' comtinues Mrs Pumphrey because she is stoical like that, 'things that seemed important are no more so, and you start to feel infinitely less tolerant at the rubbish people, especially educational advisors, throw at you.'
'I see,' says Mrs Miggins, because she didn't like to admit defeat on the cognitive learning front at this point. 'So what does that mean? New job?'
'In a nutshell,' nods Mrs Pumphrey.
'NUTS?' shouts Mrs Slocombe. 'WHO'S NUTS?'

Mrs Miggins looks at Mrs Pumphrey.

'Shall you tell her, or shall I?' she says.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Hide and Peace

There is peace missing from my life. I didn't realise how much I valued peace until it went missing. Last year, when I was writing, I had peace. Little pockets of it, punctuating my day. Little drifts of quiet when there was me and calm, and calm and me. And a cat maybe, passing through on their way to partake of the food bowl, or to bring me an offering of a half-chewed cat toy, or a scrunched up paper ball.

And now, peace has gone.

Sometimes I try and find it. I get up with the sun, but this is mostly to let the chickens out of their pod before their clucking reaches a dawn crescendo greater than that provided by the garden birds and the neighbours start huffin' and puffin' about 'er next door with 'er bloomin' Good Life ways.' But even then the early morning peace is tainted with the anticipation of the day of teaching that lies ahead of me. Fretting about my horrendous Year 8 group, who form part of the Headteachers 'innovative teaching plan,' but which leaves me drained, exhausted, often tearful and frustrated, because the psychological and physical effort of teaching a class of 29 children, 25 of whom have emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties, each and every day is too much for me. They defeat me, these children. They are driving me from the job.

'Take one day at a time,' senior management tell me.
'What, until I have a nervous breakdown?' I say.
'Ahahahahahaha!' they say.

They don't realise I am serious. I think they do not care, as long as they have a baby sitter for their innovative experiment.

So it's goodbye to teaching, I'm afraid. An inauspicious end to an inauspicious career.

Which leaves me job hunting again.

Is it possible to find a way of work that incorporates peace?

We're going bee-keeping at the weekend. You have to be peaceful to be a bee-keeper. Baking is a peaceful activity. So is gardening.

But it's oh so frustrating, being middle-aged, half way through one's life, and STILL not knowing where you are supposed to be going with your life. I can find peace in writing, but I've learnt that writing won't pay the bills.

Shall I consult my Tarot cards? Have I told you I used to read Tarot? I even earned some money through this during my early post-divorce years when I was a single parent. But it's not a peaceful job. People can be very demanding, especially when you fail to predict the next day delivery of their Prince Charming or the imminent arrival of a massive Lottery win. I haven't read for myself for a long while now. If I can find a quiet and peaceful hour or so, I'll give it a go and maybe some divine inspiration will come my way.

Today's blog was brought to you by Comfort Eaters R Me, fuelled by junk food purchased on way home because I was too tired to cook properly, having spent 2 hours after school today trying to catch up with my marking.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as I get my sense of humour back.

Sometime around the Easter holidays...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Landscape Gardening

Recently, I have been ploughing my way through a series of books written by Monty Don, the gardening man. I do this; I find a person I would like to find out more about (last year it was Hugh F-W) and then I buy all associated books on said person, mostly in search of inspiration.

And I have to say that Monty Don has been, thus far, inspirational. So much so in fact, that today I had a go at a piece of landscape gardening.

Now, you need to have in mind that the words 'landscape gardening' can cover a wide variety of architectural features within a garden. I thought I'd hang fire on the wall building, pergola construction, water feature of a miniature Niagara Falls plummenting 'neath an oriental bridge etc etc, and base my efforts around six bags of shiny white gravel and four rather lovely blue shiny pots in various sizes. And some pansies and violas. (I was looking for primulas and primroses but they can't be had for love nor money at the mo - well, not in Homebase anyway; I believe I may have missed the window of opportunity vis a vis primulas.)

Anyway, back home I got out my hook 'n' hoe hand tool. It's brill! Everyone should have one. It can even double up as a prop should one ever find oneself playing Captain Hook in a Christmas Pantomime. Basically, it is a hand held gardening implement with a hoe on one side and hook on the other (but you probably guessed that anyway.) And then I set about weeding the gravelly area just outside our front door, to the left hand side. You start off hacking at weeds with the hook, which brings up most of them, and then, if some weeds prove a little reluctant to leave their bed, you can flip the tool over and hack at them with the hoe bit. Either way, you end up with a weed-free space and an enormous release of any pent up anger.

And then, in a terribly artful way, Andy tipped the bags of lovely shiny white gravel onto the weed free area and I, also in a terribly artful way, spread the gravel out to form a lovely shiny white gravel bed on which to place, in an artful way, the four shiny blue pots.

I said, 'I expect all the local cats will use this as a toilet.'
'Yes,' said Andy. 'But at least you'll be able to see it to clear it up.'

And this is where the art of landscape gardening skill came into play; for at the garden centre there was also choice of shiny green gravel and shiny orangey-yellow gravel, and when I was making my colour choice I thought, 'better not choose the green or orangey-yellow option. I won't stand a snowball's chance of seeing cat poo against that.'

You see! Inspiration in action!!

Anyway, I potted up the pansies and violas in an artistic way. I also found an embryonic lupin from last year, still in its pot and throwing up this year's growth, so that got planted, too.

And then I arranged the pots on the gravel and stood back and admired.

Our friend Jean paid a flying visit, to drop off a card and present for new parents, Chris and Leane.
'I like what you've done to your front garden,' she said.

And when Heather came home from work, she said, 'I like the way the shiny blueness of the pots has been complemented by the shiny whiteness of the gravel.'

Job done!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Poor Andy and Driving in My Car

Andy has been afflicted with a bug. One of those winter vomiting norovirus jobbies. He actually had a day off work yesterday which is only the second day he's been off sick in the eight and a bit years I've known him. And the other time was when he got bitten by a dog and he was operating the next day (Andy, not the dog; that would be stupid) and couldn't because his hand was all done up in bandages like the Mummy's Revenge.

So because Andy was confined to barracks yesterday, I got to take the car to work. I said, 'I'll take the car and pop into Sainsbugs on the way home and pick up some shopping.'

'Bleuch,' said Andy, or words to that effect.

Anyway, I left him to sleep, and drove to work.

At this point I need to tell you about my relationship with driving. I actually learnt the basics when I was 14 in an old transit van that my brother and I used to bomb around the farm in. We were allowed to take the van up the fruit fields during the summer and collect the raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries and redcurrants that had been picked during the day, and bring them back to the packhouse to be weighed and prepared for market. Of course, we never managed to get beyond second or third gear, but it was all practice and we tried our best not to send trays of fruit ricocheting hither and thither.

And about the same time our Mum became a driving instructor. So we also got to practise changing gear and working clutches and brakes using the dual controls in her driving school car, albeit back to front from the passenger seat. As Mum drove along she would shout, 'NOW!' and we got to depress the clutch and change gear.

Then, as soon as I was 17, Mum took me out every evening for a driving lesson. I learnt to drive in the dark, being a November baby. And seven months and three diving tests later, I earned my full licence and was presented with a clapped out Mini 850 which managed to blow its head gasket on its first trip out. (I also have embarrassing memories of being overtaken in that Mini by a group of cyclists when negotiating a particularly steep hill and forgetting to change down gear soon after passing my test.)

After that it was a black Mini Metro which I bought (without taking for a test drive) purely on the basis that it was black. And then there was yellow Astra estate which I hated with all my heart, a blue Rover 400 which took to cutting out at 40 + miles per hour due to some weird electrical fault, then a brand new Toyota Corolla (white) which was fab. Chris was 7 years old when I had that car; the first time I took him and Heather out for a drive in it, he managed to vomit most of his Weetabix breakfast up on the back seat.

Then came my divorce and I swapped the Corolla for a metallic blue Fiat Bravo, purely because it was metallic blue and the ex-husband said one must NEVER buy a car with metallic paint. I think I also went a bit mad with red shoes at the same time for much the same reason.

The Fiat was eventually traded in to get money to buy the Eglu and the chickens. We had a Citroen Picasso by then, and we still have, and at 6 years old it is starting to show signs of strain but has been a darned good motor especially since we became allotmenteers and have needed a substantial vehicle in which to transport vast quantities of veg, seedlings and manure.

And all through the 27 years of my driving career, I have hated every moment of driving. I drive because I can and because I sometimes need to get from A to B. I don't understand people who say, 'Oooh, I love driving, me.' I don't understand people who say, 'Let's go out for a drive, just for the sheer hell of it. ' My Dad was a great one for doing this, but then he loved cars.

But yesterday, when poor Andy was being poorly, and I had the car, I quite enjoyed pootling through town and stopping off for a spot of shopping. P'raps it's time to get a little runaround, I thought.

Or perhaps I just enjoyed coming home from work without being rained on for once.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


Can I just say that I am pipped off by this person who keeps invading my blog with comments in foreign writing? When the first one appeared a couple of months ago, I thought, 'Ooh, my blog has reached the eastern hemisphere - how exotic!' And then, because I am stupidly naive and curious about these things, I clicked on the comment to see if there was a translation and got connected to a selection of highly dubious and unsavoury web sites which are certainly NOT the kind of thing I want tainting the doors of Much Malarkey Manor. Especially not now I am a granny.

So please, if you see a foreign body comment, DO NOT click on it. And I apologise that this person, or persons has chosen to despoil the decent atmosphere on this blog (albeit with the occasional rant thrown in just to keep everyone on their toes), and if they are reading this, just sod off, will you? I know how to delete the comments now, so hopefully will get to them quickly before they upset the sensibilities of you, my dear readers. But I wish I could do something more permanent about blocking such comments. Like chopping someone's fingers off.

Anyway, on to more cheerful stuff. Nothing cheerful about school, I'm afraid. My little pal, Grace, popped in to see me at lunchtime today. She said, 'Can't you be my teacher, instead of Mrs White? I don't like Mrs White. She don't half go on.'

I said, 'I think Mrs White is just doing her job. Us teachers always go on a bit. You should hear me when I get started.'
Grace said, 'It's those stupid lesson objectives. She goes on and on about the lesson objective and all I'm thinking is, shut up about the lesson objective.'

I think, poor Grace. If only she knew that lesson objectives were an example of the cutting edge of education today. Wait until she cottons onto the latest Government directive that teachers are no longer allowed to teach, but must be learning faciltators instead.

Anyway, I got home after another rubbish day and went to commune with the chickens awhile.

'So how's the new grand-daughter?' said Miggins, after she'd gobbled up copious amounts of the curly kale her Gran aka my Mum had dropped around for their gourmet delight yesterday.

'She is lovely,' I said. Because she is.
'All pink and smooth and squeaky?' said Miggins.
'Yes,' I said.
'I had one of those once,' said Miggins. 'Trouble is, I let go of the string and it floated up in the air and got stuck in a tree.'

'That's a balloon,' I said.
'Isn't that what we're talking about?' said Miggins.
'No,' I said. 'And I'm going inside to cook some tea now. I'm not sure I can cope with the surreal ramblings of chickens today.'

The garden is starting to look a bit lively now. Buds on the magnolia, buds on the apple tree. Bluebells in the front garden. A single asparagus tip in the asparagus bed. Lettuce popping up in the greenhouse, which I really must get into the habit of watering regularly (the lettuce, not the greenhouse; that would be stupid.) Especially as we've had a few sunny days recently. Lovely!

There is also a daffodil growing in the front lawn. I don't remember planting a daffodil there. Andy assures me we did.
'Just one?' I said.
'More than one,' said Andy. 'Only it seems only one has decided to grow.'
'Daffodils, eh?' I said. 'Huh!'

So there we are. Some invaders I like. Like Spring. And some I don't. Like smutty foreign blog commentators.

And I wasn't keen on those Space Invaders either. You know, those weird shaped crisps of the late Seventies. Especially the salt 'n' vinegar flavour that could skin the roof of your mouth in ten seconds flat.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Being a Granny

Now I've had a whole day's practise, I feel qualified to share my experience with you all.

1) Make use of the phrase 'I'm a granny, you know,' as much as possible, especially in the context of such things as 'I can't possibly be expected to carry that heavy shopping, I'm a granny you know,' and 'I can't possibly clean out the cat litter trays, I'm a granny you know.' It is important to utilise this phrase as soon as possible because one can't help but suspect the novelty will wear off pretty quickly with other members of the family. Use it as much as you can before this happens.

2) Share grandmotherly advice with Year 8 at school. For example - 'Sit down and be quiet immediately. If you do not follow this grandmotherly advice, you will learn nothing, fail ALL your exams and be doomed to a life of literacy hell.' If you do not have access to Year 8's in a classroom because you don't have the misfortune of being a teacher, hang around your local town's bus station at 4 p.m on a school day and bang as many ankles as you can with a shopping trolley. In fact, even if you are a teacher, do this as well. Heck, we've got to have some fun in life.

3) See how many more cats you can smuggle into the house. Granny's are allowed as many cats as they want. Just don't tell Andy.

4) Adjust your last Will and Testament with the following codicil - 'Any renditions of St Winifred's School Choir singing 'Grandma We Love You,' by ANY member of the family will result in immediate disinheritance.'

5) Remember - if you're fretting about being a granny, think how fretful YOUR mother is at being a great-granny.

6) If you have the urge to go to Build-a-Bear workshop in order to make a bear that will share the same birthday as your new grand-daughter, be prepared and select a name for the aforementioned bear BEFORE going to get it made. If you don't, the birth certificate machine will make relentless demands that you enter the bear's name IMMEDIATELY and you will be panicked into calling it something completely random. Like Arthur. Like I did yesterday.

7) Remind all GCSE students that you will be no more generous in marking their mock exam papers now you are a granny than you were last month when you weren't. Explain that grannies may come across all soft and sentimental and obliging, but that it is all a facade and we are, in fact, a bunch of miserable old bags harbouring a lifetime of injustice, resentment and bitter experience.

8) Rejoice in the knowledge that you are now entitled to be recognised with cards and gifts in celebration of 'Grandparents' Day' in September. This is despite the fact you've never acknowledged your own parents on this day because it would only be yet another occasion when your mother insists on you not buying her anything and wasting your money on me, love.

9) Tell everyone you know that you are now a granny. Tell everyone you don't know, too. Hopefully, someone will utter the magic words 'But you don't look old enough.' If they don't, do not fret. What do they know anyway, the ignorant sods?

10) Do not panic that the pain you felt near your elbow is the onset of osteoarthritis. Have a look. It's a bruise. See?

11) Enjoy the feeling of giving your grand-daughter a loving, squeezy cuddle, feeling a little bottom burp through her baby-gro and knowing you can hand her straight back to her father for a nappy change. If necessary, employ the phrase, 'I can't possibly change a nappy. I'm a granny, you know.'

And that's about it.

Monday, 15 March 2010

We are a Grandmother!

At half past seven this morning, there was still no news on the baby front. I was getting decidedly antsy at this stage; Lord knows how Leane was feeling.

Anyway, off I sloped to school, feeling like it was the last place in the world I wanted to be.

And then, at 1.30, came the call.

'Hello Granny,' said Chris.

She was here!! Baby Kayleigh Louise arrived at 1.07 p.m weighing 7lbs 13 oz, a ten fingers, ten toes, new moon Pisces baby.


Off for a visit this evening. She is a very cute baby; even Andy said so, and he is usually very disparaging about new babies, likening them to wizened old men/ Yoda/ E.T and various types of wrinkled fruit. She has Chris's flared nostrils so will be able to continue the family tradition of Kenneth Williams impersonations. She has Leane's chin and eyebrows. She is smooth and pink and robust. She has a good set of lungs and, at only a few hours old, has her Dad already finely trained in the 'squawk -n-pick-me-up' method of parent control.

And that's all for today. This is Granny Denise and Grandad Andy saying night-night sleep tight, there's a new life in the world tonight.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

A Much Malarkey Waiting Game

Last night, Chris and Leane came around for a spot of birthday dinner. Chris's birthday, to be precise, which wasn't yesterday but is today. We had chicken pie and /or steak pie, roast potatoes, parsnips and artichokes, and broccoli, followed by trifle and /or birthday cake. I said to Chris, 'We'll have to stop the candles this year; I think 24 is the optimum for an eight inch cake.'

And then I said, 'And listen here, over-due Grand-daughter. Don't you think it's about time you made an appearance and faced the world like a...a...girl?'

Did she hear me? Did she take heed of her Grandmother's advice? Hmmm....

Anyway, we had a nice evening, and sent Chris and Leane home with the advice that the best way to get the baby on her way would be a combination of drinking raspberry leaf tea and bouncing up and down on a space hopper over some speed humps.

At 3.30 this morning, Leane went into labour. Andy said, 'I reckon it was the trifle that did it.'

At 5.45 I was up and about, drinking tea and reading a bloomin' awful book called 'A Year in Christine's Garden' about the gardener Christine Walken. Fantastic gardener she might be; writer she ain't. Still, I whiled away an hour or so looking for double entrendres and being aghast at the over-use of commas and exclamation marks. (!!)

At 8.30 I was out in the front garden weeding the borders and digging in compost and trying to decide whether the little willow tree I planted last year was dead or not. My money's on deceased; Andy reckons I should give it a chance to be alive. Either way, I shan't take it out - it can be used as scaffolding for a clematis.

At 11.30 Andy and I went into town for a mooch and some lunch. I bought a 'Baby Record Book.' V. cute.

At 3.30 we were home. I fell asleep on the sofa; waiting for one's first grandchild to arrive is exhausting business.

And here we are at 5 p.m on Mothering Sunday aka Chris's 24th birthday and still no news of baby. I've made some shortbread. And played with the chickens, who are frankly appalled at the time it takes for a human to produce a baby.

Andy is in the living room do some Wii exercise. This is a shock reaction following a visit to the doctor on Thursday to get his ear syringed. The doctor seemed more concerned with Andy's high blood pressure, mentioning things like 'strokes' and 'heart attacks' and 'we need to do something about this,' which Andy and I took to meaning 'lose some weight or else.' Thinking about it, me making shortbread isn't going to help, is it?

I am supposed to be planning lessons for tomorrow, but I can't settle to it. I am baby focused. Will all go well? It is so far. Will baby be healthy and strong? Nothing to suggest during the pregnancy that she won't be anything other. Will she be born today, on her Dad's birthday? Who can tell?

And how am I going to keep 28 Year 11's occupied all day tomorrow during an English GCSE revision day if I don't get on and prepare something? To be honest, that problem is the least important one in the world right now.

Friday, 12 March 2010

After all these years I've been getting it wrong

What a week. I am pooped. I am more pooped than Captain Poop of Poop-City in Poopopolis was when he won the Who's Pooped the Most Championship, 1987.

Monday I intended to leave work fairly sharpish i.e before 5 p.m because I wanted to get into town to buy Chris's birthday present and a Mother's Day gift for my Mum (don't bother getting me anything, love. Okay Mum, but you know I will anyway).

However, I ended up leaving just after 5 because there were umpteen million 'things to be done IMMEDIATELY' at work so I stayed to get them done because I couldn't bear the weight of guilt if I didn't.

Tuesday was staff training after school. Staff training is where you get to sit in a cold room after a busy day's teaching and listen to a number of people telling you where you are going wrong and how many hoops you need to jump through in order to teach properly. Except we're not allowed to teach any more - we have to 'facilitate learning.' I told my Year 11's of this new concept. They thought it was a hoot. Now, when I see them, they say, 'What aren't you going to teach us today, ma'am?' and then we all have a laugh. I said, 'For those who wish to see a dying art form, I shall be teaching poetry after school tomorrow in a revision session.'

Wednesday - I taught an after school poetry revision session. And then I stopped off at Sainsbugs on the way home to get the weekly shop I should have got the previous weekend. Still needed to get Chris's birthday present; inconsiderately, the town shops are closed by the time I pass through of an evening.

Thursday - another after school staff training session. More of the same - don't do it like that, do it like this. More jargon, more faff. More feeling de-skilled, de-constructed. All this serves to underline my growing conviction that although students learn successfully from my classroom ramblings, teaching is not where I'm meant to be. Managed to get Chris's birthday present on way home, but only because Thursdays are late night shopping days in town.

Friday - that'll be today. Staff INSET day. No children to teach. One hour of 'don't teach like this, learning facilitate like that,' followed by one hour of trying to get to grips with the complexities of an interactive whiteboard. Emerge feeling like a Luddite/ dinosaur/ my Mum (what would I want a computer for? I can manage life perfectly well without a computer. We couldn't afford technology in my day.) Followed by four hours of marking and moderating this year's GCSE coursework. Moderation is a subjective activity. You might just as well pick random numbers from a hat. And it's dire, too, especially when half the girls turf out creative writing a la Enid Blyton on hormone replacement therapy.

This week I planned to use my evenings for turning half a hundred weight of Jerusalem artichokes into soup, making a birthday cake for Chris's birthday on Sunday, reading some of the many books that are awaiting my attention, starting off a new compost bin, writing some more 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue', catching up with the housework and doing a bit of knitting for now overdue Grand-daughter.

I have done none of these things.

Teaching is getting in the way of my life.

Time for a career change.

And I have 'A PLAN'!!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Vegging Out

Yesterday, I planted the asparagus in the new asparagus bed. Some green stuff, and some purple stuff. This means we now have to stay in this house for at least two more years because the first year after planting asparagus you have to leave any spears that grow alone, in order that the newly planted crowns (that's a technical term y'know) can build up their strength. And then in year two you are supposed to do only a light harvest, so you don't really get to pig out on asparagus until year three.

And I have to say that planting the crowns was a bit of a faff. First you have to dig a deep trench. Then inside the big trench you make a little ridge and then you drape your crowns over the ridge as though you were balancing a many legged cowboy on a particularly wide horse. And then you back fill your trench. Have you ever seen an asparagus crown? Weird looking things. If you attach one to your chin, you can do an impression of an Ood from Doctor Who. I know this because I tried and then I surprised Andy by sticking my head around the kitchen door and saying, 'Look at me! I'm an Ood!!'

He said it was a very impressive impersonation. Like an Ood was ACTUALLY there in person. Or Oodson.

Anyway, the asparagus is in and I shall wait with nervous trepidation for signs of greenery lest I have killed it/ planted it upside-down/ got my trench-ridge ratio completely skew-whiff /covered it up so deeply that it will ne'er more see the light of day.

And because the greenhouse was positively tropical I also planted some salad leaves in the hope we're going to be getting a summer this year.

Next, the allotment. Gave the polytunnel a good spring clean. Dug up a hundred-weight of Jerusalem artichokes before the whole plot became over-run with them. I tell you what, if you want a crop that requires minimum effort for maximum output, the Jerusalem artichoke's your man. Bucketfuls of the things we've got.

Pulled up some leeks. And located the parsnips at last. That's the problem with parsnips, I find. If you don't get the blighters out of the ground before their foliage dies back, you've lost them. Still, a bit of judicious prodding in the vicinity of the area where I thought I'd planted them soon produced success, and after that it was just a case of following a straight line upwards to get them all out of the ground. And on the subject of parsnips, I'm going to try chitting the seeds before I plant them this year. They can be tricky to germinate and you can lose a lot of space through no-growing seeds. Putting them on damp kitchen roll (in the manner of growing mustard and cress) can get them started and then you concentrate on planting the seeds that show signs of life and consign the dud ones to the bin.

And so we embark on year 4 of allotmenteering.

The only new growth that isn't appearing at the moment is the Baby-Bug Grand-Daughter. She was due to arrive today. It is half past eight in the evening. No sign of any action as yet. I wish she'd get a move on. I want to buy her a mini-gardening kit and take her allotmenteering with me.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Come Into The Garden Maud

Well, it was about time I got into the garden. It's been a long, wet, snowy winter, and the garden (both front and back) is on the point of neglect.

'Where are we going?' asked Andy, suspicious that I was up with the lark this morning, singing and looking decidedly perky.
'Garden centre,' I said. 'I am spending the day in the garden and I need stuff.'
'I hurt my back at work yesterday,' said Andy.
'Not good enough,' I said. 'We are going to the garden centre.'

So off we hopped, to the garden centre where Number One son Chris works, so I could avail myself of his staff discount.
And we returned with a pair of heavy duty secateurs, some long-cuffed leather gardening gloves, a spade, a wheelbarrow, some knee pads (pink, v. nice) and two lovely blue pots.

Number One on the list of things to do was to empty and move the compost bin from Cluckinghen Palace. I had been having nightmares about finding nests of rats in said bin, having seen a furry visitor run away from it a couple of weeks ago and disappear under the fence to next door. Immediately, I'd been out and laced the rat traps with fresh bait, but I wasn't going to rest until the bin was emptied and moved.

Andy set about moving the bin. He was very brave - he didn't even tuck his trousers into his socks. I wasn't so brave. I had everything tucked into my wellies. No rat was disappearing up my drain-pipe, no sirree. Luring the hens into the North Wing by using copious amounts of grapes, Andy was able to close the double gate that divides the North Wing from the South Wing, whip the bin into the air and let the contents (rat-filled or otherwise) spill over the ground. Result? Lovely compost - no rats!

The compost was moved to the raised bed you may remember the hens built last year for the purpose of salad growing; this year it is going to become 'The Asparagus Bed.'
'I like asparagus,' said Mrs Miggins.
'You've never tried it,' I said.
'Isn't it the stuff that makes your wee turn purple?' said Miggins
'That's beetroot,' I said.
'Oh,' said Mrs Miggins. 'But I don't like beetroot.'
'Quite,' I said.

Whilst the compost was being shifted by a brave Andy-with-an-achey-back using the new wheelbarrow, I set about trying to murder the buddleia with the new secateurs. I tried murdering the buddleia last year but despite my vicious pruning, it sprung back even bushier and full of flower than before. I had studied the buddleia pruning guide in this month's Gardeners' World magazine, but decided my way was the best way so disregarded any advice to 'look for new buds' and hacked away regardless.

The result was that a lot more light appeared in the garden.

And there will be even more light in a couple of months' time, because we have decided the eucalyptus tree must go. It's about 25 feet tall now, and dominating the skyline. And heaving up our small scrap of lawn with its roots. A call to the tree surgeon is in order, methinks.

In the front garden, I applied a similar pruning regime to the rose bushes, and oops, accidentally tugged the cordeline shrub a little too hard and pulled it from the ground.
'You've never liked that shrub, have you?' said Andy.
'No,' I said. 'But as it came out of the ground so easily, it was probably nearly dead anyway.'

All in all, a good gardening day was had. The asparagus bed is ready to receive the asparagus. The empty compost bin is ready to receive a new supply of compostable material. There are a couple of potential spaces available to receive a bee hive. The space vacated by the compost bin is available to receive Andy's next building project of a new conservatory for the hens for extra shelter during the rain. (Or, if Mrs Slocombe has her way, a purpose built rat hotel.)

And the chives, mint and clematis are starting to sprout in their pots, the bluebells are nosing up in the front borders, and there are little tiny leaves appearing on the rose bushes.

Spring is here. At last.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Poultry News

News from Cluckinghen Palace - Mrs Pumphrey is on the job again. No, not that one (minds out of the gutter, please) - the other one. The one involving laying eggs. For two days on the trot we have been back to 3-eggs-a-day production. The girls are on top form. And given that Mrs Miggins is now in her third season, I think that is pretty good going.

'I am great chicken,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Indeed you are,' I say.
'One day there will be a statue erected in my honour,' says Miggins.
'No doubt,' says I. And I am in no doubt because Mrs M has already furnished me with the plans and instructions, and the threat that if I don't see to the aforesaid monument immediately after her demise she'll be back to haunt me.
'It's a particularly fine statue, don't you think?' says Miggins. 'I especially like the fact it is of me perched on a hugh pile of eggs and wearing my best Dame Edna spectacles.'

So here we are, chicken keepers of nearly two years now. I have decided that keeping chickens is one of my favourite things. Even the part that involves winter morning forays into the garden in jim-jams and wellies to carry out chicken breakfast duties. Because when the girls come hippity-hopping from their pod and gather round me for a double handed feeding session, it means my cold hands are smothered by three feather duvets, all warm from a night's toasting.

'I'd like to have a go at hatching my own eggs,' I say to Andy, only today.
'I'm not sure that's possible,' says Andy, 'what with you being human and all.'
'You know what I mean,' I say, and give him a playful shove.

I wait whilst he retrieves himself from the floor.

'And quail,' I say.
'What do you think I'm doing down here,' says Andy.
'Ahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaa!!' I say.

(Andy assures me this joke works - at least, he says he gets it. And he didn't have to think about it first.)

But seriously, I would like to have a go at hatching some chicks. I've done some preliminary investigations of incubators, which seem hugely expensive especially as I've got three potential incubators outside. Well, two really. I'm not sure I would trust Mrs Slocombe to be a steady broody hen. But Miggins had a broody patch last year, and I think Mrs Pumphrey would make a fine mother hen.

And I've also been investigating quail. They need investigating; shifty little characters it seems. Some reports suggest they are vicious blighters, other suggest they are endearing little birds who sing a pretty song. But, like bees, I find them strangely fascinating. But you do need four of their eggs to make a decent boiled egg breakfast. And teeny tiny toast soldiers for the dipping.

But if I am going to head into the realms of poultry rearing I need more space. And just yet I don't see how that is going to happen.

However, our continued quest for self-sufficiency takes another step forward in three and a half weeks' time when we go on the bee-keeping course. I hope it goes well. I'm really very keen to be a bee-keeper. And apparently baby quail chicks look like bumblebees. So if we end up getting bees, and the quail have to wait until our small holding introduces itself into our lives, then what I could do is look at some bees through a telescope and pretend they are quail.

It might just work.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Never Rhyme Venus With...

Poetry. Year 7 are doing poetry at the moment. So far we have covered haikus (bless you!), acrostics and limericks. Today we did a spot of Ozymandias. Only a spot, mind, because personally I wouldn't inflict Shelley (Percy Bysshe) on anyone under the age of 35 but hey- ho, follow the scheme of work I must go.

To ease the tension of a class full of eleven year olds trying to get their heads around some weirdo stuff written by a long dead poet, I said, 'In the last ten minutes of the lesson, have a go at writing a bit of your own rhyme.' (The pupils had already told me on no uncertain terms that if it doesn't rhyme it isn't poetry, and no amount of persuasionary tactics were going to convince them otherwise.)

After a few minutes of deeply furrowed brows, sighing and flapping of arms a la 'look at me in my big frilly shirt', Callum beckons me over.

'I've written a poem, ma'am,' he whispers.
'Good,' I say. 'Why are you whispering?'
'Well,' says Callum, 'the poem has a word in it that, er, well, er...' He pauses and I can see he is trying to formulate an explanation. 'It's very scientific,' he declares.
'Okay,' I say. 'Tell me the poem.' And just to be on the safe side, I continue the whispering theme, so as not to risk over-exerting the rest of the class with the loud blurting out of a dubious sounding scientific word.

Callum begins. 'It's about the stars,' he says, by way of preamble. I nod. I am braced.
'I look up to Mars, and I see the stars,' says the embryonic poet. (Or should that be 'embyronic poet??)

I nod. So far so good. Effective use of concise language. Simple rhyme.

'I look up to Venus, and I see a...'

'Okay,' I whisper, with some urgency. 'I can see exactly where this is going, Callum.'

'But it's scientific,' whispers Callum.
'And no doubt biologically correct,' I say. 'But I'm not sure it's wholly suitable to be in your English exercise book.'
'But it's scientific,' Callum insists. I can see he isn't going to let this one go. I can see he is very keen on the piece of poetry he has written.

'Let's think,' I say. 'What if your parents were to open your book and read your poem. What would they think?'

Callum shrugs. 'They wouldn't mind,' he says.
'Okay,' I say. 'What if an OfSted inspector opened your book and read your rhyme.'

Callum shrugs again. This time he does not commit himself to comment. I suspect he thinks it will be my problem.

But should I have let the lad continue on his scientific adventure? Was I being too censorial? (Is that how you spell 'censorial?'). Should I have embraced his freedom of thought, his right to express himself fully in whatever form he wished? Or was I being restrained by my own prudish nature?

Too bloomin' right I was! There are some things I do not wish to see when I am marking, and school boy rhymes with Venus are one of them.

I mean, it's bad enough seeing the pictures the Year 11s draw of Venus rhymes on the covers of their exercise books. Unless they are really pictures of rockets, of course.