Thursday, 29 December 2011

Playing Games

You wouldn't think that a small person who is still three months short of her second birthday would be able to master the swanee whistle, would you? All that blowing and sliding the slider up and down in a manner that is co-ordinated enough to produce a decent sound. Yet Kayleigh has learned, and can now wander about the house making noises like a deranged Clanger.

We thought, let's try the child, who is clearly a musical genius, with something a little more challenging. Like a kazoo. Which is also more annoying, as we soon discovered when she managed to get the hang of that too, albeit in short and loud bursts. Stylophone next, I think. (She's had a couple of goes on my piano keyboard, but this generally involves using her bottom to play it, which is good neither for my nerves nor the instrument, so a return to the piano keyboard may be postponed for a few more months yet.)

On Christmas Day, the combined ages of the adults at the Manor was 181, giving an average age of 30.1666 recurring. Whilst one of us, (me!) is more than half that average again and clearly, therefore, was the most mature to deal with co-ordinating a bloomin' good Christmas dinner though I do say so myself, the rest of the 'adults' (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense), ran amok with various toy weaponry and a flying monkey that made a heck of screeching noise every time it flew through the air. They also played a variety of ridiculous games with 'suitable for ages 8 - 12 years' stamped on the boxes, and generally got very silly - silliness that resulted in at least one banged head and a stamped-upon foot.

On more than one occasion, Kayleigh looked at me as if to say, 'What on EARTH are they doing, Gran?'

That said, it was the funniest Christmas Day I've ever enjoyed! More of that, say I!

Today I went and had a haircut. I had a haircut a couple of weeks ago, and I was stupidly seduced into a bob. This isn't the first time this has happened, so really I shouldn't forget that when I am at home and have neither the time nor the inclination to blow dry a bob properly, I end up looking like a deranged spaniel. Well, usually, when this happens, I play the waiting game of six weeks or so until my next appointment and then I have myself debobbed until the next time I think,' Hmmm, a bob looks like a nice hair-do.' But this time, for some bizarre reason, I couldn't bear the wait. I went back today.
I said, 'Please debob me, and if I show any signs of heading bob-wards again, show me a picture of 'Country Life' magazine and bark a couple of times.'
'Okay,' they said.
I emerged from the hairdresser a few quid lighter and feeling ten years younger.

In the local news, a woman is in hospital following a road accident. Oh dear, I hear you say. But wait, let me fill you in on the details. The woman was 60. And a granny. She was a passenger on a quad bike.


Now, I'm all for saying you are never too old to try new experiences, but in this case I make an exception. SIXTY??? ON A QUAD BIKE????? You can imagine the scene - parent gives their child a quad bike for Christmas which in itself shows a certain lunacy. Granny says, 'I wish I was young enough to have a go on that - it looks fun.' Her son (parent of the child) says, 'Come on, Mum. Hop on behind me, and I'll take you for a spin,' and so she hops on, he revs up because he is approaching middle age and wants to show off a bit, and off they roar, leaving little Jimmy standing in their wake thinking, 'I wish they'd got me Lego instead.'

They collided with a Ford Fiesta, which suggests that one of these vehicles was travelling in the wrong place.

Trouble is, this kind of accident happens nearly every year in Kent, Lord knows why. Well, I do know why, but I don't like to say because I don't want to be seen as being er...disresepctful to certain members of the community, but all I can say is, A SIXTY YEAR OLD GRANNY ON A QUAD BIKE????

So there we go. Age knows no barriers - no swanee whistles, kazoos, Christmas malarkey and bobs.

And no quad bikes, apparently.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Quiet Inbetween

'I think,' says Mrs Pumphrey, who has joined me in the kitchen to assist with a two-handed assault on the remainder of the Christmas shortbread, 'that Christmas Day, followed by Boxing Day, should then be followed immediately by New Year's Eve. Three days - bish, bash, bosh! Get it over and done with as quickly as possible.'

'I agree,' I agree. 'It's an odd time of year, isn't it, this gap between Christmas and New Year?'

'More odd for the likes of Mrs Slocombe,' says Mrs Pumphrey, nodding towards the garden. Mrs Slocombe has declined the biscuit fest in preference of playing with her new basket ball hoop set. She is remarkably good at 'slammin' the dunk' given she is only 14 inches tall and the net is eight feet tall. (I believe 'slammin' the dunk' to be the correct term, but my American friends can feel free to put me right on this one, as I may be having a quaint English moment following the ingesting of too much spiced red cabbage.)

'She's decided she wants to try out for the women's basketball team for the 2012 Olympics,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Haven't the teams already been selected?' I say. 'The Games are only 200 odd days away now.'
'Oh, I don't know,' sighs Pumphrey. 'I'm just humouring her at the moment. I managed to dissuade her from applying for the beach volleyball on the grounds that a chicken's bottom is never going to look good in a thong.'
'And for that the world will be eternally grateful,' I say
'Are the Games really that close?' says Mrs Pumphrey. We have finished the Christmas shortbread and are now moving on to the Christmas cheesey crackers and leftover red pepper houmous.

I confirm that they are. I know they are imminent because Andy and I went for a walk in our local park yesterday which is currently being transformed with new paths and carparks, and the dredging of streams and the felling of trees and the landscaping of well, er...landscape. The local council might say that this massive project is for the benefit of us local people, but I know full well that if the Olympics weren't happening an hour up the railway track, then our park would be left in its usual state of fairly ordered parkiness rather than being transformed into a super-duper 'we're expecting masses of visitors' parkiness.

'Are you planning on being less cynical in 2012?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'No,' says I. 'But I am planning on being less reactive. I've already made a start. No Daily Mail for four days now.'
'That's very good,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

We sit in companionable silence, because that's all one can do in this quiet inbetween that buffers Christmas from the New Year. That and have a jolly good read of the books one received for Christmas. My favourite so far has been Stella Gibbons' 'Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm.' In fact, I have decided to make Stella Gibbons my Author of Choice for 2012, and have used an Amazon voucher I received to buy three more of her novels.

'So,' I say, once Mrs P has unglued her beak from the bottom of the houmous pot, 'have you any plans for 2012?'
'I'm still working on them,' says Mrs P, mysteriously. 'And now I think I'm going to slam a dunk with Mrs Slocombe.'
'It's the only way,' I say.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Very Merry Christmas!

Here's wishing you all, wherever you are, whoever you are with, a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Thank you for continuing to tune in, and for giving me a reason to carry on writing.

God bless you, every one!


Thursday, 22 December 2011


The weather has been somewhat erratic of late. A spell of very heavy morning frosts, a spell of the wet and windies, and last Friday a spell of snow which came to nothing but made the North Downs look very pretty for a few hours.

And today it is mild and bright and sunny! And the top bar bees are out and about and being quite raucous like they are wending their way home from a particularly feisty Christmas party. They are staggering a bit, if it is possible to fly in a staggering way, and the figure of eight bee dance looks a bit more like a wobbly figure of half-deflated balloon dance. But some of the gals are coming back with enormous trousers, so they are finding food from somewhere and it's nice to know they're able to get out for an al fresco bee poo, rather than use the indoor facilities.

We checked the hives at the out-apiary on Tuesday. Andy pressed his ear to each hive and reported definite humming from each. Especially the three storey hive. Very loud humming apparently. Humming like it was a hive full of a gazzillion bees.

Therefore, we are hopeful that our four colonies will survive the Winter. Touch wood, fingers crossed and all the jazz.

Actually, we have concerns for the smallest colony which was born of one of the swarms. It achieved about three quarters capacity with the help of some additional feeding at the tail end of Autumn. The Queen was laying well for a new, late season Queen. She did her best, bless her. But we think that some candy feed might be in order.
'I'll buy some now from the interwebbly,' said Andy. 'So when the weather gets really cold,' (which we think it will), 'we can pop a block of fondant on for them.'

Fondant itself is quite cheap. It is also very heavy. Like a brick. Which means that postage costs 150% more than the product itself. But hurrah! We have discovered we can make our own fondant and given I purchased a massive sack of sugar for the feeding of the bees and we have a preserving pan for the making of sugar related products, we are going to make our own fondant and sod the postage and packaging.

It's been a bit chaotic, our journey into bee-keeping. But some how, possibly under the guidance of the patron Saint of Bee-Keeping who has no doubt done a lot of eye-ball rolling at our sometimes frantic and panicked methods, book in one hand, dollop of laissez-faire luck in the other, we have survived our second year.

Andy pointed out that if the bees behave next year like they did this year, then this time next year we could well have 16 hives.

Good grief!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


...not only have we had a spooky bathroom haunting this week, and me 'losing' my keys, I discovered yesterday that I had been wearing my pants inside out all day! What's all that about then??

Andy has started jogging. I'm not sure if he will want you to know this as it is a NEW thing but what brought it on is that Andy and I have been on a healthy eating plan for the last three and a half months and I have lost two stones and Andy has lost three! But we have reached what I believe is called a 'plateau'(which, ironically, rhymes with gateau), plus it is nearly Christmas and dieting over Christmas seems to smack of 'BAH HUMBUG!' to me. So Andy has decided to unplateau himself by doing more exercise and,hopefully, off-set some Christmas cheer AKA many, many pigs in blankets to boot.
'Can one have too many pigs in blankets at Christmas time?' I say.
'No,' says Andy.
'Are pigs in blankets like worms in duvets?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who has started shopping for the hen Christmas dinner doo-dah.
'I expect so,' says I. 'It's all dead animal carcass, isn't it?'

I have decided to stay a la plateau for a couple of week because I am reaching that point where if I lose too much more weight I am going to become haggard and gaunt and my cheeks will meet up with my knee caps and I'll look like a melted Salvador Dali monstrosity. Plus, I had a minor thrilling moment on Monday when I was able to purchase a pair of knee-high boots from a normal shoe-shop rather than a shop for larger ladies where they make boots with elasticated tops to fit around larger than average calves. I have decided that as a)I now appear to have 'normal' size calves and b)my thumb and forefinger can touch when I circle them around my wrist and c) if I flick my hand too hard my wedding and engagement rings almost fly off, I can safely indulge in some Christmas stuffing in the form of a squash, cranberry and Stilton pie and the speciality Much Malarkey Manor Christmas Trifle, which is becoming a bit a family tradition.

Maybe exercise in the New Year. Because I LOVE exercise!! Ahahahahahhahahahahahaaaaa!!!!!!

Yesterday, I went to Sainsbugs for to do most of the shopping save for the goose (poor dead thing) which I am collecting on Friday. I reached the cheese section which seems to expand at an alarming rate this time of year. So many cheeses - Stilton, Brie, Cheddar with cranberries, Cheddar with apricots, Cheddar with smokey bits, Cheddar with Cheddar, Wenselydale with grit, Lancashire with hotpot, Cheshire with cats and Parmesan with er...palms, Gouda with goo and Double Gloucester with Doctor Foster. Oh, you get the idea. Too many cheeses.

And I was standing next to a lady, who was looking as confused as I at the selection of cheeses, and we both sighed at exactly the same time.
'Too many cheeses,' said she. And I agreed.
'I know what will hapen,' she said. 'I'll take all this cheese home and no-one will eat it except me and I'll end up going down the doctors after Christmas to be put on a higher dose of cholesterol pills.'

See??? See what Christmas cheese does????

Mum popped in this morning and we had a similar conversation about there being too much food at Christmas. So I gave her a single Jaffa cake with her cuppa and sent her on her way.

We're not going to go mad this year. We've both lost a significant amount of weight and actually we find we can't eat what we used to anyway, not without there being a certain amount of dyspepsia and acid-reflux ensuing.

I shall wear my new boots around the kitchen for the next week or so. If my calves start expanding ,I shall know I've gone too far.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Mrs Black is Back

You remember the resident Much Malarkey Manor ghost? The deceased mother of the previous incumbent, who objects to any house alterations we do, because she hasn't got over the fact we now own this place and she doesn't?

Well, she's been very quiet of late, especially given Dave the Plumber has revamped the bathroom and it is now all shining and gleaming like a posh hotel-type bathroom.

Until yesterday. Yesterday we had to call out the electrician because the bathroom light suddenly stopped working. The electrician came out, changed it, it worked fine.

And then the bathroom door inexplicably LOCKED itself from the inside! We thought someone was inside the bathroom, until we counted ourselves and discovered that we were all outside the bathroom. Andy had to get his tool box out to take off the handle and unlock the door from the outside.

And then the bathroom window decided it wasn't going to shut. It did, eventually, after a lot of wiggling and jiggling and poking with various DIY implements.

And then this morning I lost my car and house keys! Okay, nothing to do with the bathroom, but once a ghost starts to misbehave, they know no bounds and I think Mrs Black was, by then, intent on trying to scupper our outing to Canterbury, especially as she knew I was looking for a Christmas jumper and a pair of long boots.

We turned the house upside-down looking for the keys. Now, when I arrive home, I do either one of two things with my keys. I deposit them in the mouse bowl by the front door or I deposit them on the sideboard in the kitchen. The first option is when I have only my handbag with me and the second option is when I have shopping with me and am carrying my keys between my teeth.

I checked both my handbags - the big one and the little one. I checked my coat pockets. I checked the kitchen, the hall , the living room and the writing room. I went outside and checked the path and the driveway. No keys.

Andy followed behind me, checking all the places I checked, just in case, like you do.

No keys. I am thinking, there's a burglar waiting for us to go out and when we do he/she/scum will be in the house stealing Christmas presents and using the new toilet with dual action flush. Andy is thinking, they'll turn up somewhere. (The keys, not the burglar.)

Anyway, I found the spare car key and we decided to go to Canterbury. I was fretting quite a lot, and cursing my stupid and forgetful brain. Off we went.

And on the way, I did two things - I prayed to St Anthony to find the lost keys and I stopped for some petrol.

As I was standing in the petrol station waiting to pay for my petrol, I caught myself scanning the floor in case my keys were there. Like they would be, in a place I'd never been to before. And St Anthony kept saying, 'Your keys aren't lost,' and I kept saying, 'Well, where the heck are they then?' and the other people in the queue were slowly backing away.

I paid for the petrol. And, as I put the purse back in the bag, there, in the little side pocket - were my keys!!!!!

How many times had Andy and I checked my bag??

Yet there they were!!

Somewhere in the ether, the ghost of Mrs Black let out an old-lady titter.

I was not amused.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Cluckenchickenhoffen Kuchen

Mrs Slocombe says...

It is the time of year when hens across the world make a cake to celebrate the festive season. It is called the 'Cluckenchickenhoffen Kuchen' and I have decided to share the recipe with you, the human beings, whom I believe have a similar tradition called, rather uninventively, the 'Christmas Cake.'

'What else is it supposed to be called?' I say. 'It's Christmas, it's a cake.'
'You, at the back,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'sit still and be quiet. You wouldn't interrupt Michel Roux Junior, would you, when he's in the middle of a moment of Masterchef creative genius?'
'Yes,' I say, 'in fact, I would. If only to tell him to stop bugging his eyes.'
'Point taken,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'but you can still hush your beak. I'm in charge of the blog today.'

I sit back and shut my beak. Actually, it's a relief to allow a guest blogger to take up the keyboard, so to speak, because I have far too much else to do, including catching up on a fortnight of sleep.

'So, here we are, the eighteenth of December or, as we call it in hen world, 'Cluckenchickenhoffen Kuchen Nachten Nuiten Night,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'And in order to begin the process of making your cluckenchickenhoffen kuchen, you will need a large bowl, a wooden spoon, a sieve, a pair of secateurs, a baking tin of a least three feet in diameter, and a large wine glass.'

'For measuring out a glassful of brandy for the cake?' I say.
'For measuring out a few glasses of wine for me, because I'm going to need them after I've finished this process,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Cluckenchickenhoffen Kuchen Nachten Nuiten Night is also the night of the year when nearly every hen I know gets completely blotto. There's a lot of singing,' she adds.

'Right,' I say.

'Firstly,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'pour yourself a glass of wine. Let's start how we mean to go on. Next, open your kitchen cupboards and see what you've got in them you can put in the cake.'
'You mean, there isn't a recipe?' I say.
'Recipe schmecipe,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'This cake is a bit like Lent. You throw in whatever you've got that needs using up because its best before day is nigh. You know, like in the song, 'A-weigh for to manger.'
'As in the French for 'to eat?' I say, because the written word is never very clear on pronunciation hints.
'Indeed,' says Mrs S. 'The last verse is very specific,' and she sings, 'Beer, mincemeat, four cheeses, salami, some hay, cloves, honey,a muffin, some ice cubes and steak.'
'Stop there,' I say. 'I think I get the idea.

'So, in the cupboards at the Manor I found the following to go in the cake,' says Mrs S, taking a sip or eight of her large glass of Pinot Grigio, 'half a jar of ginger balls in syrup, a box of quinoa, a jar of malt extract minus a tablespoon and a sachet of a cereal called Crunchy Nutty Honey Bits and Boulders...'
'That was a free sample,' I say.
'...and a can of crab meat, some red lentils, a jar of Much Malarkey Manor marmalade labelled Feb 2009, a half jar of pickled beetroot. I scraped off the mould,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'It'll be fine.'
'And that's all going in the cake?' I say.
'All except the beetroot,' says Mrs S. 'I'm saving that for the decoration. I may glace it first. Are there any acute accents on this keyboard?'
'Probably,' I say. 'Though I've yet to find them.'

Mrs Slocombe opens the jar of ginger balls in syrup. She takes a sniff, then imbibes of another glass of wine to stop her eyes watering.

'Take your bowl,' she announces, 'and add all the ingredients, excepting of the garnish of your choice.' And, between sips from wine bottle number two, she adds all the ingredients to the bowl. A fizz from some dubious chemical reaction follows.
'Is there a method for going about this mixing?' I say. 'Like creaming or whisking, or folding or sieving?'
'All of those,' says Mrs S. 'Solding and fisking and screaming and whifking. Spoon your wield as you wolly gel jish.'
'Okay,' I say. 'I'm glasdI clarified that.'
'Too me,' says Mrs S. 'Cheers!'

And then there is a pause whilst Mrs Slocombe steadies herself against the kitchen table and pours another glass of wine.

'Next,' she says, 'set fire, I mean, heat your oven to electri-gas hob mark twelve and treek waters. Line your taking bin with preef-goose pooper and pour your mixture into the tin as pickly as quossible to avoid acid burns.'

I decide to take over at this point, as Mrs Slocombe is looking decidedly green around the wattles.

'How long does one cooken the cluckenchickenhoffen kuchen for?' I say.
'I generally leave it in until koke smills the hitchen,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Is there any wore mine? Thish bottle eems a bit smempty.'
'I think you've had enough,' I say.
'I'll shay when I've nuff ahad,' says Mrs S. 'I'm not as drunk as some thinkle peep I am.'
'I think that's the point,' I say. 'You can't say.'

Mrs S raises a wing in the air as if she is about to make a strategic point. She goes a little boss-eyed and then drops to the floor like a concrete block.

I empty the contents of the baking tin into the bin, and use the oven to heat up a few mince pies, one of which I nibble upon with a cup of tea to the sound of Mrs Slocombe snoring under the table.

I think we've just experienced what a barber might call, a very close shave.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Love is...

I am tired. Very tired. It is proving to be a long haul to the Christmas holidays.

Thus was I a weary, fed-up traveller when I arrived home this evening. All I wanted to do, all I was capable of doing, was having a shower, getting changed and drinking a mug of tea. And even then I wasn't sure about my ability to stay awake long enough to do that.

And then...

Andy, my lovely, kind, sweet and adorable husband, presented me a gingerbread house! Yes, he made it himself. Today. With his own masterchef hands.
Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it great? Isn't it just a piece of pure Christmas magic?
I sat and stared at it. I nibbled on a piece of gingerbread wall. I marvelled at its little melted sweet windows, and its tree, and its almond-tiled roof.

I thought, 'Love is when a little thing lifts up a weary soul.'

I thought, ' Love is an unexpected moment of childish happiness.'

I thought, 'Love is...a gingerbread house!'

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Bah Humbug!

'I refuse,' I said on Thursday, 'to decorate the house for Christmas until I've broken up from school. Absolutely refuse.'

'It doesn't feel like Christmas,' I said to Andy, on Friday.

Well, it didn't. It was freezing cold, so that ticked the December box, and I was thinking, I'm going to have to tackle the North face of the Eiger on Sunday, aka defrost the freezer, but other than that the only Christmas excitement had been a) opening the Advent calendar doors in the morning b) lighting the Advent candle in the evening and c) forcing my tutor group to watch 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' during tutor time at school because I didn't fancy delivering the rather grim presentation provided by my Chapter head. I shan't tell you what it was about, but it would have involved a lot of awkward questions from the children, the kind of questions a Grandma shouldn't have to answer first thing in the morning when she's only recently had breakfast.

So yesterday, Saturday, we decided to go to Rochester Christmas Market. We went last year. It was good. This year, we took Chris, Leane and Kayleigh with us. The market was full of unusual foods, and artisan presents and fairground rides and people in costume pretending it was 1870 something.
Lesson Number One - there is nothing like a small grandchild gazing in wonder at people dressed up in Dickensian costume whilst trying to eat a pretty hefty chunk of ginger biscuit to put you in the Christmas mood.

In the afternoon, we went to buy our Christmas tree. Given we've had a living room rejiggle this year, space has become available for a slightly larger than usual Christmas tree. And Andy had already hinted at upsizing.
'I want a huge Christmas tree this year,' he said.
We came home with one that was nearly 7 feet tall and handsomely buxom. And as we had just paid almost £30 for aforesaid tree, we brought it indoors straight away in order to get our money's worth. And decorated it. Cor, it did smell good!
Lesson Number Two - one cannot have a bare tree dominating a corner of one's living room without decorating it and one cannot have a decorated tree in a house without the rest of the house matching.

So, with the decorations and lights up inside, it seemed crazy not to deal with the outside of the house, too. Heather and I went out into the bitter cold where I skidded about on top of the stepladder and hung lights on the weatherboard, and Heather shivered about on the path guiding the lights up to me and providing a safety cushion should I happen to topple from stepladder in a no doubt high-comedy moment.
Inside, Andy was constructing a wreath for the front door from MMM willow, holly gleaned from the woods out the back of his workplace and ivy gleaned from under the MMM front hedge. The wreath was hung upon the front door. It looks fab!
Lesson Number 3 - if you're going to decorate a house, then inside and out is the order of the day. If you leave out the outside it will only sulk. And it's nice to share some twinkling lighty wreathy cheer with the neighbours.

Thoughts ran, then, to how atrocious the postal system is at this time of year. So on went the Salvation Army band Christmas carol CD, out came the cards, stamps and cups of tea, and Andy and I spent a companionable hour writing our Christmas cards together. They were then posted, against my better judgement, in the strange little post box at the end of the road, in which (and this is a well known fact) lives a family of arsonistic gnomes who set fire to all the post before it can be collected for delivery. This means no one will get a card from us this year, but I did warn Andy about the gnomes, and he chose to ignore my warning, so it's his fault, okay?
Lesson Number 4 - Christmas cards - it's the thought that counts. Well, it'll have to this year, now the gnomes have burned our offerings.

And with the darkness descending, we switched on the Christmas lights. I went a bit fuzzy-eyed at the sight of the Christmas tree, and a bit fuzzy-eared because I seem to have developed a spot of tinnitus. And the semi-final of Strictly Come Dancing was on the telly, and it was fab 'n' Christmassy.

And this morning, I am taking a break from freezer defrosting to write this blog a) because my aged aunt has complained I've slipped behind this week and left her with nothing to read, and b) my fingers are frozen with all the scraping-ice-off-with-a-spatula malarkey and I need to bring them back to life with a bit of nifty keyboard dancing.

The freezer will soon be ready to receive Christmas goodies.

Does it feel like Christmas now?

Yes, it does!

Sunday, 4 December 2011


'And what is this?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who has dropped in to raid my wool basket for a spot of angora/ acrylic mix.
'It's my new range cooker,' says I.
'It looks like the control desk of the Starship Enterprise,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'It is,' I say. 'Only with flame throwers.'
'And how easy is it to handle?' says Mrs P.
'Oh, no-one's allowed to USE it,' I say. 'That would be crazy.'
'So it's just going to sit there?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Indeed,' I say. 'Sit there and be admired.'

Okay, I know it will have to be used, I suppose, what with Christmas looming and people wanting to eat bits of dead animal and cake, but I am out there in the kitchen every evening a-buffing and a-polishing to keep my magnificent piece of cooking kit as pristine as possible for as long as possible. I may even develop some OCD tendencies. Who knows?

And the bathroom is almost done. Dave the Plumber reckons one more day and it will be back to shower heaven. I don't mind baths, but they are a lot of faff and they turn your bottom pink if you wallow for too long.

'I know what you mean,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I had a pink bottom for AGES!'
'That wasn't because you sat in a bath too long,' I say. 'That's because Mrs Slocombe is a bad feather plucker.'
'But not any more,' says Mrs Pumphrey who has been sporting full bottom feather coverage for several weeks now, ever since her annual moult.'
'No,' I say. 'It's surprising what a well-aimed peck in the head will discourage, isn't it?'
'I'll say,' says Mrs P.

Andy, meanwhile, has been out pruning the willow. This is not a euphemism. He has been up a ladder with the secateurs, and he collected enough willow whips this morning to weave an enormous willow wreath for the front door. It is truly enormous. Of car-tyre proportions. He also wove a smaller wreath of steering wheel proportions and then he wove a Christmas tree shape of three feet high triangular proportions. I have earmarked the willow Christmas tree for the spot just outside the front door, and I intend to drape it with solar powered Christmas lights. Andy is dubious of its ability to support lights. I am willing to give it a shot.

Kayleigh has started going swimming on a Sunday morning with my Mum. She is, by all accounts, becoming a proper water baby. She is also starting to say more words and today I am SURE she said, 'Daddy at work.'

The Much Malarkey Manual 2012 has arrived, hot off the printing press. For rush job, it looks pretty darn fabulous!

The knitted nativity is looking woeful like a pile of unknitted wool. For this, I blame school.

And talking of school, my tax code has FINALLY been sorted. So the Bursar assures me. I remain to be convinced until I see my next salary slip. And there had better be a hefty size tax rebate on it.

I think Chelsee or Harry should win Strictly Come Dancing.

Andy has found a CD of Salvation Army band playing Christmas carols. I am thrilled by this because it means we can sing-along without interruption from professional singing artistes getting in the way. I love the sound of a good brass band.

My friend, Sarah, and I went to see Adam Ant in concert on Friday night. My hearing has just about recovered. Sarah is still in possession of her pants.

My friend, Sarah, and I met our friend Alison for a girlie pub lunch on Saturday. It was great! Best triple fried fat chips on the planet. We agreed we should meet up more often, especially since we are enjoying comparing notes on the ageing process so much. Alison declined to join us for the Adam Ant extravaganza. But then she is two weeks older than me and two months older than Sarah. She is clearly the grown up of our outfit.

And that's all I have to say.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Under the Stars...or the Tent...or the Beehive...

So this morning I opened the kitchen blind and was greeted, as usual at this time of the year at 6 in the morning, by total darkness. And I thought, as I usually do when greeted by the dark, 'Why are you getting up in the dark? Why aren't you still snuggled in bed? Why aren't you getting up with the sun rather than before it, as Nature intended?' And then I thought, 'Oh yes. Work.'

And as the sun came up, the garden lightened and I thought, 'Must go and let Pumphrey and Slocombe out of the pod.' The pod, if you remember, has been moved into the cosiness of the greenhouse in order to give the hens extra warmth and shelter from the looming wintery nights.

And I glanced into the garden and saw Mrs Slocombe mooching down the garden from the direction of the willow arch which is now devoid of leaves and awaiting pruning. (Andy is keen to get hold of some willow prunings - he is going to make a Christmas wreath for the front door by doing a spot of artisan-type willow weaving.)

And I thought,'Someone's already let the hens out. That saves me a job.'

But I couldn't see Mrs Pumphrey. And she usually sticks out like a bright white sticky out thing in the morning gloom, what with her being hugely voluminous and sparkling white of featherage.

And do you know why I couldn't see Mrs Pumphrey? Because she was still inside the pod that was inside the greenhouse with both doors closed.


'Yes!' shouts Mrs Slocombe from the mini-hen spa I've set up in the bathroom because I feel guilty for being a bad chicken-keeper and putting her at risk of darkness/ coldness/ marauding cats/ marauding foxes/ marauding burglars. 'I could have been murdered in my feathers!'

'But you weren't,' I say, serving her a glass of champagne and bowl of Twiglets.
'But I could have been,' says Slocombe. 'I was in the DARK all NIGHT on MY OWN!'
'What I want to know,' I say, ' is why you weren't in bed when I came to close the pod and shut the greenhouse?'
'What I want to know is,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'is why you didn't waggle your arm about in the pod like you usually do when you can't see me, so you can check I am in bed by the power of touch.'

This is true. Mrs S is a dark grey hen and I have trouble seeing her if I don't shut the pair of them away until after dark because I am late home from work. I usually have a poke around to make sure they are both safe. I didn't last night. I have no idea why not.

I am a bad henkeeper.

'Yes you are,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Add more hot water to the Jacuzzi, if you please. And peel me a Ferrero Rocher.'

'So where did you spend the night?' I say. 'Under the beehive? In your tent? Behind the eucalyptus tree stump?'

Mrs Slocombe glares at me, huffily. 'Are you mad??' she says. 'I got a taxi and went to the Travel Lodge in town. They're sending you the bill. I made copious use of room service. And I pinched a bathrobe.'

I sigh. I suppose a hefty hotel bill is small price to pay for a unscathed alfresco hen.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Deadline Deadhead

Well....we did it! Andy and I worked like mad things on Sunday, and with five and a half hours to go, we completed the Much Malarkey Manual 2012. It has been uploaded to Lulu, copies have been ordered and a discount secured. It was touch 'n' go, and for a week or two we thought we'd have to abandon our publishing project because of stupid things getting in the way, like being a teacher and a vet, but once I had secured the services of Dr Millicent Funderbust to write the Foreword, it was all systems go and we did it!!

After school today, I had to 'tolerate' (and boy did I tolerate) a 'training' session (and I use the word 'training' with a heavy side serving of sarcasm) about...well, actually I don't know what about because the session was delivered by a man who was a cross between David Brent and Alan Partridge (aha!) and I was completely transfixed by the whole idiocy of him and it.

He kept saying things like, 'You need to listen to the little voice inside your head,' and 'you need to develop your identity so it's okay to say that you choose not to feel bad/ sad/ hacked off about things.' And 'You don't have to live by your script.' (What????)

I said that if I got home and found one of my cats had died, then actually, I would want to feel sad. The little voice inside my head said, 'Be a writer, you moron.' It also said, 'how about trying to get a job in a grammar school? That's a good idea.' The other voice inside my head said, 'Don't forget about the mortgage and paying Dave the Plumber for the bathroom.'

My script has gone to Lulu and is currently being printed.

This man was also very egocentric. He had A LOT to say about himself. And he also came across as being very bitter about his first wife. I guess he didn't mean to, but he did. He had issues. That's when he started sounding like Alan Partridge.

And halfway through whatever it was he was talking about, the little voice in my head was saying,' Don't forget you have 44 GCSE mock exams to mark by Friday.'

So I brought the essays home with me, fully intending to cancel something like, well, sleeping tonight in order to get some of them marked. And then I remembered what Alan David Partridge Brent said about having choices and developing the feeling of being comfortable with the choices we make so I made the choice NOT to mark the essays tonight and if they aren't done by Friday it will be fine to say to SMT, 'It's okay, I chose not to mark them by your deadline and I am comfortable with my decision, and I'm allowed to because Alan David Partridge Brent said so.'

What SMT will say I daren't guess.

And as for my identity...well, yes, I AM Dr Millicent Funderbust, but don't tell Andy or he'll claim back my expenses.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Renovations Day Two Hundred and Twelve

The tiles are on the bathroom wall. Except for the tiles that we ran out of (black floral on whit - I told you I was no good at maths) and that I've had to order more of which hopefully are being delivered tomorrow because I paid extra for delivery so they bloomin' well better had or there will be trouble.

The sanitary-ware that was in the hall is now in the bathroom, but piled in a corner of the bathroom and not in situ in a usable sort of way.

The cooker is still looming large in the kitchen awaiting installation on Wednesday. The wall against which it will sit was stripped bare of its faux wood covering yesterday by Andy and his crowbar friend. The old cooker was dragged kicking and screaming into the middle of the kitchen and the surrounding underneaths, tops, bottoms and sides cleaned by me and Mr Cillit Muscle Bang so Matt the Gas Fitter doesn't think that a complete slattern runs the kitchen.

The resulting bared wall - lumpy and bumpy with ominous looking wires sticking out hither and thither- has been measured and assessed for tiles. More tiles. Which will cause more tile angst for me today.

The three drawers to the right of the old cooker have been demolished to make space for the range. Which means new homes to be found for their contents. Which meant the larder cupboard needed sorting out. And the three drawers on the other side of the cooker. I am looking at the walls and ceilings. I am thinking - 'Let's hang stuff from the walls and ceiling. Let's get a pan hanger.' I am looking at the kitchen ceiling and thinking, 'I need to repaint that ceiling.'

Pandora Kitten vomited up the stairs yesterday. Or possibly down the stairs. I'm not sure which way she was facing at the time. Anyway, there's a distinct possibility some intense carpet cleaning might need to take place soon.

The school is still refusing to change my tax code because they still say they haven't received confirmation from the Inland Revenue. The Inland Revenue say they have sent confirmation twice. I am stuck in the middle being a bit tearful about the double incompetence of it all.

There are ten more pages to edit for the Much Malarkey Manor Christmas Hen Diaries 2011. They have to be done TODAY so we can get a printing discount from Lulu.

I've done the ironing.

I've got a bit of a funny tummy.

It's raining in a not very nice way.

And if anyone asks me at school tomorrow if I've wasted another ten hours of my weekend writing pointless lesson plans that I don't even look at when I'm teaching, then I am very likely to a) scream b) laugh hysterically or c) throw a pretend faint in the hope of being sent home.

Then I'll have time to paint the kitchen ceiling.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Renovations Day Three

(N.B Renovations Day Two passed by in a blur of going to work, teaching all day and then having to stay until 8 p.m for the Sixth Form Open Evening, in order to drum up trade for next September and, hopefully, secure my job.)

So, I arrive home late last night to find the hall looking like a plumber's merchants. Cardboard boxes containing various pieces of sanitary ware in various states of disassembly, block the pathway to my exciting delivery of the day...the NEW RANGE COOKER!! (Well, what would you get most excited about - a toilet or a lovely oven? Even if the toilet is one of those that butts straight onto the bathroom wall in a smooth and streamlined way thus avoiding annoying gaps beyond the behind that are difficult to clean. And I'm still talking toilet here. And not other forms of behinds.)

And there she was! In the middle of the kitchen. No, not the new toilet. I told you, that was in the hall. Please keep up. No, the new range cooker. It's HUGE! Actually, it's bigger than I thought it'd be. It's cream and shiny and you could stuff it with a whole flock of Christmas geese.
The cats have adopted it already as a glorified cat bed. And there's even a little storage section for putting your premature lambs in to keep warm. If we had any premature lambs. Which we don't. But one can never be too careful.

Upstairs, the bathroom has gone from apocalyptic building site to minimalist cube. Today, I came home to find the bathroom accoutrements still cluttering the hallway. I went to see what progress had been made and it seems that the electrician had been in, as the bathroom light was disconnected. I'm rather bemused about where the extractor fan is going to be located, because I had this crazy idea of a massive hole being bored through the wall into the outside world, thus allowing steam to escape, but no such hole has appeared nor looks like it is going to. I think Dave the Plumber said something about the extractor being linked to the light fitting somehow. It all sounded like mystical plumbing magic to me.

On the tile front, as if I haven't suffered enough tile trauma, we have decided that the black flower tiles on white and the white flower tiles on white need a plain black, very thin border tile to go on the wall betwixt them, in order to delineate them, so to speak in interior design parlance. So another trip to the DIY doo-dah shop is required. I may need to take tranquillisers before hand.

I am still thinking teal 'n' purple for the accent colour.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Renovations Day One

Up early this morning to finish clearing out the bathroom ready for Dave the Plumber to set to and work his magic. Andy had made an initial assault on it yesterday whilst I made what turned out to be a reckless sunny Sunday visit to the local garden centre Christmas decoration department with a small child aka Kayleigh, who insisted on being in charge of the shopping basket. Think small child with no spatial awareness + basket nearly as big as small child + artistically placed displays of delicate glass-type decorations + crowds of people = not my best idea of the year.

But we did get to see some real reindeer. That was exciting. Ish.

Anyway, got home, blood pressure slightly raised, to find old bathroom cabinet, bathroom shelving, towel ring, blind and towel rail flung on the gravel outside the front door, ready for a tip visitation. Storage cupboard was moved downstairs to second bathroom (thank goodness we have two bathrooms - we'd be stuffed otherwise), assorted bottles, loo rolls, cleaning equipment etc etc were crammed into every available space.

I was gently mocked by a certain person whose name rhymes with Handy because I insisted on cleaning the bathroom before Dave the Plumber arrived. Well, I'm jolly glad I did because I got home this evening to find the remains of our old bathroom - loo, basin, shower cubicle etc etc - on public display in the driveway. At least I can still hold my head high amongst the neighbours for having a pristine pan.

I ventured into the upstairs bathroom to see progress so far.

It looks like...well, like derelict building site. It's very empty. There are bits of wall falling the wall. A wooden floor has been revealed. A wooden floor in a bathroom? Good grief. Actually, it all looks a bit grim. I think I might have to leave it for a few days before I make any further visits.

Anyway, I don't know how long this whole malarkey will take. I am hoping I shall be able to adopt an air of serenity that will mean most of the dust, debris and chaos will waft over me like a serene and wafty thing, and in, what, a couple of weeks we'll have a lovely new shower room and the journey leading to its finish will seem nothing but a distant nightmare, I mean, memory.

I might distract myself by shopping for a bouffant luxury fluffy mat for the floor. Or some new bouffant luxury bath towels. Or a nice pot plant that will appreciate the whole steamy atmosphere. It might be a bouffant pot plant. Can one get bouffant pot plants?

'We need an accent colour,' I said to Andy.
'A what?' he said.
'Well, the room will be black and white. It'll need a spot of colour to lift it,' I said, going all Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen on him.
'I have no idea of what you are speaking,' said Andy.

So that'll be me choosing the accent colour then.

I'm thinking cerise. Or a jade green. Or purple. I like purple.

As you know.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Ear, ear

So, I've had my new smart phone with the touch screen doo-dah and tippity-tap whizziness for nearly three weeks now. It has many pros. For example, I can check my e-mail in the flash of a flashiness, and no waiting for a laptop to crank itself up and decide if it can, nay indeed wants to, connect itself to the Interwebbly.

I can text very easily. It has a programme called 'swype' which involves, well, swiping one's way back and forth across the keyboard like a mouse on ice-skates. It has caused me no end of entertainment. Also, the starter package I got had 3,000 free texts with it to use in the first month. I am battling gamely to get through the allocation, but have to say I've only managed to use 87 so far. And that's going some for me. Another 2, 913 to go. I'm not sure I'll get through them. Not without developing some digital disfigurement anyway.

I can find out where I am on a map. Generally, I find I am right here. Or sometimes there. I can Google on the run. I can remind myself about things I am liable to forget by using an assortment of bells, whistles and ding dongs. I can also download games like 'Clouds and Sheep' although it has been causing me some angst because my sheep keep eating poisonous mushrooms before I can get the weed killer out, and then they walk around in a state of fuzzy green burbleness looking tres ill until I spend 5 points on an inoculation to make them all better. And then the stupid things stand under thunderclouds and get themselves electrocuted by lightning. I am sure real sheep can't be that stupid. Surely not?

I can take photos. I took one of Tybalt. He looks like a cross between Oscar Wilde and Vlad the Impaler.

I also have 3 hours of free phone calls. And today I made one to a delivery company who left a message on the house phone yesterday saying they had a heavy delivery for me and would I call to arrange a suitable date and time? And their office hours were 9-4 which is no good for those of us who work from 7.30 - 5 and can't use the work phone to make personal calls. So I used my smart phone and some of my free minutes. (The heavy delivery turns out to be the black 'n' white floral Laura Ashley bathroom tiles - they are arriving on Tuesday, along with the range oven which I am VERY EXCITED ABOUT! And I suspect, as the plumber starts the bathroom refit on Monday, that there will be a lot of plumbing equipment kicking about. And the occasional loo. And basin. And showery bits. There's going to be a certain amount of chaos chez le manor on Tuesday.)

And it was at this point that I discovered a con to the smart phone. Because I was put on hold for a while by the delivery company whilst they located my heavy load, I had the phone pressed to my ear for a few minutes. And when the call was over I was left with a moist imprint of my right ear on the surface of the phone.

Ooo-err. That can't be hygienic, surely?

And whilst it was interesting to see an imprint of my ear, which I've never seen before so there's a first, I can't help but think I should start carrying a packet of antiseptic wipes around with me should anyone else's ear other than mine own shell-like come into contact with my phone and, well, you know, bugs 'n' germs 'n' stuff. Bleuch!

As it was I had to buff away for a while with a tissue to remove my own sticky residue.

But aside from that, the phone is fun! Oh, and purple. Which is always good in my book!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Mercury in Retrograde

I think, although I'm not sure, that Mercury, Planet of Communication, must be in retrograde at the mo, because since Saturday we have experienced, here at the Manor, a variety of forms of miscommunication.

'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I, for example, sent a communication to the kitchens yesterday evening for a plate of warm buttered toast and Marmite and a pile of profiteroles with toffee sauce and for some strange reason, my order never arrived.'
'Strange indeed,' says I.

Anyway, this weekend I tried to order a range cooker from an on-line electrical appliance store. I wanted to place the order by phone because I had a couple of questions I wished to ask. Like would it be able to handle a Christmas goose without me having to shove it in sideways and give it an extra heave-ho with my foot.

I phoned the free-phone number. The website said that they aimed to answer all calls within 20 seconds of connection. After ploughing my way through the mass of 'Press 1 for...' option button doo-dahs, I was connected to some VERY LOUD music where I was deafened for 15 minutes and, with no sign of a customer service person, I decided to hang up.

I e-mailed their customer service department, and an automated response said someone would be in touch within 24 hours. 48 hours later, someone DID get in touch, apologising and saying that if I called their free-phone number, a customer service bod would be pleased to take my order. Doh! By now I had decided a) this was a shonky on-line company who didn't have any electrical appliances at all and were trying to steal my credit card details and b) I didn't want my hearing damaged further by their VERY LOUD music, so I ordered the same range cooker for the same price from Boots (I know - weird!) and got £27.36 worth of Boots points to spend!

Next, for some reason known only to AOL, we lost our internet connection for 2 days. Andy ran the gauntlet known as 'Technical Support' where the Level 1 operator refused to be sidetracked from his script, probably because the support line was a premium line and they were earning some money from us. Andy was then transferred to LEVEL 2 support, who said that it WASN'T our connection, it was a problem with the phone codes in our area (?????) which AOL was working hard to rectify. Andy was cross because a) why didn't the Level 1 technician know this and b) the Level 2 man was probably lying just to get rid of him.

Today, by some miraculous process, the internet is restored. And has there been any communication from AOL? Like an apology? An offer of refund for the two days we were off-line and the hour long phone call to their premium cost Technical Support line? Have there heck!

Next again - do you remember the saga of my pensioner tax code? Well, I got a new and correct tax code through the post 3 weeks ago. Toute de suite I took it to work where it was duly photocopied. Today, the finance lady tells me they haven't received notification from the Inland Revenue and they can't put me on the correct code until they do which means that AGAIN this month I'll be paying too much tax, but it's okay, she said, because it should be sorted by the end of December and it'll be like getting a big Christmas bonus when I get the refund.

I wanted to shout, 'NOOOOO!!!! It's not a bonus! It is, and always has been, my hard-earned money. And I need it NOW because I've just spent a fortune on a new range cooker and tiles for the bathroom. And if YOU hadn't inexplicably changed my tax code in the FIRST PLACE, then I wouldn't be having this aggravation now! It's all your fault, you bunch of incompetents!!! Aaaarghh!!!!!'

But I didn't because there were children present.

So I phoned the Inland Revenue AGAIN, who said they had sent out a notification to the school at the same time they sent out mine so it should have arrived. We checked addresses etc. The nice man said he would send out another. It should arrive in the next 7 days. It better had.

A courier has 'delivered' two boxes of Christmas pressies from Amazon by flinging them in a wild and careless fashion over our 7 foot fence and into a puddle on the other side. Luckily, the contents were undamaged, but I'm hoping the same courier hasn't been booked to deliver our bathroom tiles, or we could be in trouble with his maverick ways.

On the plus side though, communication with Dave the Plumber has been good, mostly because he has a very organised wife, and communication with Matt the Gas Man, who is installing the range, has been good mostly because he is a cheerful and obliging type with a diary.

And lastly, dear readers, I am sorry that my blog comments box has been spammed this week, and I hope no-one has been inconvenienced by clicking on the comments and ending up on some dubious website. I have deleted the comments.

And the communication I wish to send to those who spam is a) you are NOT welcome at the Manor, and b) well, b) is unrepeatable.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

On the Tiles

Dave the Plumber is due to start refitting our upstairs bathroom next Monday. This has thrown me into what is commonly known as 'Tile Panic.'

'We supply everything else,' said Dave. 'All you need to do is decide what tiles you want.'

All? ALL??????

I am assuming that, being a plumber of enormous experience, Dave is aware of the gazzillion types of tiles there are OUT THERE in the Universe. It not a case of having a choice of, say, three, and you can discount one immediately because it is avocado green. Oh no! I spent all last weekend fretting over tiles. I looked at around ninety seven websites, all with different tiles/colours/ textures/ sizes/ delivery times/ delivery dates/ costs/ inc VAT/ ex VAT/ etc etc until my little brain froze over and I considered installing an outdoor bathroom where tiles would be unrequired.

Eventually, because I am a big Laura Ashley fan and I love flowers, I chose some Laura Ashley flower tiles. Black flowers on white and white 'n' silver on white. But what combination to have them in? I then spent all this week taking the bathroom by surprise by opening the door suddenly and throwing a vision of a variety of black/ white/ patterned/ plain tile combos at the various bits of wall (metaphorically, of course, not literally - that would be crazy, not to mention loud and messy).

Andy tried to help. He made suggestions which he knew I'd reject, bless him, but then he seemed suddenly happier when he realised the tiles were LARGE tiles and not TIDDY tiles, I don't know why. And he said I should choose the tile combo because basically he really couldn't be bothered with interior design.

Neither could I at that point.

I even prayed to St Beenqueue, Goddess of la Toilette, for guidance. She suggested black on white half way up the walls from the floor and white 'n' silver on white for the top half of the walls except for the shower cubicle which should be white 'n' silver on white all the way from top to bottom! Crazy!

I said, 'Okay,' because now I can blame it all on her if it looks hideous.

And don't get me started on the measurements.

'How many should I get?' I asked Dave.
'Enough, plus 10%,' said Dave.

I brandished my tape measure. I made a wild guess and I added 10%. I remeasured the bottom bit for the black on white, then the rest for the white 'n' sliver on white, and then I made another wild guess and ordered the tiles before I could think about it too much. Fingers crossed. Oh, and I think I deserve an A level in Maths now, thank you very much.

We're off to the DIY shop now - to get flooring. And a mirror and a blind. Oh, and some tiles for the kitchen because we've decided, sod it, we're going to get a range cooker and we need to retile behind the space where it will go.

I can feel another tile panic coming on. The kitchen is in shades of green. P'raps avocado mightn't be so bad after all...

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Load of Bull

Mrs Pumphrey says...

'The Lady of the Manor has had a bit of a rough week. On minute she's being told she's in danger of being classed as a 'rubbish' teacher, the next she is being told she is a great teacher and the school love her. She is, as you can imagine, mightily confused and just a tad hacked off with the whole work thing. So tomorrow she has decided to have an 'art and craft' day. She is planning to knit a Nativity, to the background noise of a variety of possibly Christmas-themed DVDs. She is NOT to be disturbed...'
'She will be in possession of some sharp needles,' interjects Mrs Slocombe.
'Indeed,' says Tango Pete, who has arrived for a sleep-over-Strictly-Come-Dance-with-a-Cockerel' weekend.

'So I have stepped in to deliver today's blogeroo,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'And where is the Lady of the Manor?' says Mrs S.
'Holed up in her writing room with a bowl of frozen raspberries and a very loud CD of Queen,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'The raspberries will do her good. Give her teeth something solid to gnash upon.'
'I like a bit of Queen,' says Tango Pete. Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe stare at him. There is a stony silence. A ball of tumbleweed bowls across the kitchen floor. Somewhere, in the distance, a wolf howls.

'Anyway,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'what's the blog for today, Jim?'
'Jim?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Yes,' says Mrs S. 'You know, like years ago when Jimmy Young used to rule Radio 2 and he had a little squeaky voiced character called Raymondo who used to say, 'What's the recipe for today, Jim?' and then 'This... is do!'
'I'm not cooking,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I know that,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'I don't get it,' says Mrs P.
'Never mind,' says Mrs S. 'I expect you aren't the only one.'

'TODAY!' says Mrs Pumphrey, loudly, in order to gain ownership of the conversation once and for all, 'is Martinmas. And many years ago, in Scotland, there lived a farmer who had an unusual cow.'
'Was it a cow shaped like a chicken?' says Mrs S.
'No, it was a cow shaped like a cow,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'What was unusual about it was that its name was Hawkie and it insisted on being serviced by an elf-bull...'
'Not by Halfords?' says Mrs S.
'No,' says Mrs P.
'Is an elf-bull connected in any way at all to the elf-service?' says Mrs S.
'Just shut up,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'The elf-bull lived in the river and it was small and had fur like an otter...'
'Was it actually an otter?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Was Hawkie in need of some elf-service spectacles? Ahahahahahahahahaha!!!'
'You are so irritating sometimes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'The elf-bull was very fertile and Hawkie produced fine calves every year. But one Martinmas Day, the Scottish farmer decided that Hawkie was looking a bit old and haggard so he thought he'd sell her at the Martinmas Fair.'
'How ungrateful,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'And Hawkie got to hear of his evil plan,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'So she broke the wall to the barn, called all her calves together and they all went to the river and jumped in!'
'To be with the elf-bull?' says Mrs S.
'Probably,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'The details are non-specific.'
'So what did the farmer do?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Spent the rest of the day searching for the moral,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Gun Powder, Treason and Plop.

The hens are building a bonfire in the back garden. It's quite a small bonfire as I have banned them from using the stepladder after Mrs Slocombe used it rescue a balloon from a telegraph wire about a month ago and ended up dangling from the wire herself, the balloon fluttering gaily to its frredom in the great beyond.

'I told her not to go up there,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I told her she'd had one too many gins and flip-flops are unstable footwear for ladder climbing, but would she listen?'
'What?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'See?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I do,' I say, 'but you're still banned from using the stepladder. Health and Safety.'
'So what do we do now?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'We want a proper bonfire of enormous height and magnitude, not a poor excuse of a small cushion of twigs.'
'Stack chairs,' I say. 'One on top of each other. I'm not allowed to use a step-ladder at school to put up classroom displays, so I stand on a chair instead. Sometimes I put a chair on a desk.'
'Much safer, then,' says Mrs P.
'I'll say,' I say. 'I barely wobble at all.'

So there is a chair stack in the garden at the moment and the bonfire is taking on gargantuan proportions. Well, gargantuan when you're only 18 inches tall. Still small by my 5 feet 6 standards.

'You've never bothered with celebrating Guy Fawkes Night before,' I remark, as the chairs slip away from each other and Mrs Slocombe disappears from view somewhere behind the remains of this year's hops.
'Guy Squawkes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Not Guy Fawkes. Guy Squawkes.'
'I assume from this you are boiling for a story of important historical relevance?' I say.
'You bet,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

Once again, it seems, the chickens got there first...

'Twas back in 1605,' begins Mrs Pumphrey. Mrs Slocombe emerges from the undergrowth, straightens her bodywarmer and restacks the chairs. 'And a plan to overthrow Parliament was afoot. Clandestine meetings in dubious dark corners in even more dubious taverns had been occurring for weeks. Civil unrest was building, and it was all to do with the Corn Laws.'

'Weren't the Corn Laws introduced way after 1605?' I say. 'Like, a couple of hundred years later?'
'Yes, well, that's just typical, isn't it?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'We chickens try to be organised and nip these things in the bud, and look what we get for our trouble. Ignored, that's what. If humans listened to chickens, the world wouldn't be in such a sad and sorry state.'
'Pardon?' I say. I am distracted by Mrs Slocombe who is now climbing back up the chairs with what appears to be a small wardrobe attached to her, backpack style.

'Anyway,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'The plot was set to blow the Houses of Parliament to kingdom come, and the hero of the hour was to be Guy Squawkes, who drew the short straw from the hen's nest.'
'Should hens be playing with gunpowder?' I say.
'Another myth,' says Mrs P. 'The plan was to use powered chicken plop. Much more eye-watering.'
'This is true,' I say. 'And would explain 'gunpowder, treason and plop.'
'And this is where the hole in the plot appeared,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'There should have been 5 bags of dried ploppings, enough to lay an incendiary trail from the cellars all the way up to the throne where King James parked his Royal backside.'
'Where was King James during all this?' I say.
'Having toffee apples and sausages with Shakespeare,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'They were working on the script of Macbeth. Oh, and burning a few witches.'
'Oh,' I say.
'So there was only enough ploppings to go half way along the corridor, about as far as the members' bar,' says Mrs P. 'Unfortunately, Guy Squawkes was rather fond of a flagon of ale, so when his ploppings trail dried up, he caught a whiff of the brew and side tracked himself in the bar. And one flagon turned into four or five and the next the gang know is that Guy Squawkes is standing on a table singing something like, 'We're going to blow the king to smithereens and we're going to do it tonight!' at the top of his voice.'
'Kind of gave the game away, didn't it?' I say.
'Indeed,' says Mrs P.
'Didn't he meet a rather gruesome end?' I say, thinking of the ensuing hanging, drawing and quartering malarkey.
Mrs Pumphrey sighs. 'Indeed,' she says. 'He was elected MP for the London Borough of Enfield, and endured many years of surgeries dealing with a quite bonkers electorate who made unreasonable demands like free plague carts on Sundays and nuts for all.'

'I can see now,' I say, 'how British history has been sorely misrecorded.'

A loud BANG! causes Mrs Pumphrey and I to jump, almost from our wellies.

'Sorry!!' shouts Mrs Slocombe, emerging from a cloud of smoke. 'I was just testing a Roman Candle with Andy's blow torch!'
'She can trace her ancestry back to Guy Squawkes, you know,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I'm not surprised,' I say.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Cob Nuts and Blankets

I forgot to mention two other pressies from yesterday - a cobnut tree and a wool blanket. I forgot the blanket because it's already on the sofa being tres snugglesome and I forgot the nut tree because it arrived last week and I thought it was Lego (don't ask) and it got planted in the garden at once because now is the time of year for nut tree planting.

Auntie Pollie noticed the nut tree and she said she'd be along to steal nuts as soon as they were ready. I have posted a nut-tree goblin guard at the front gate in order to thwart her in her nut-nicking mission.

Anyway, remember the Stalking Stabbing Boy at school? Well, yesterday he went for me. More verbally than physically, but it got pretty close. He didn't know it was my birthday - well, I 'd like to think he did know it was my birthday because I had written 'MY BIRTHDAY' on my whiteboard in big purple letters, which he should have been able to read but maybe his stoned-out-of-brain little eyeballs were having trouble focusing. Anyway, he was duly carted off, permanently, and an alternative curriculum in a special place and an appointment with a mental health specialist were promptly arranged.

And I was left to swelter in my classroom which is fast turning into a hot-house in summer because the heating thermostat has gone haywire but it can't be adjusted because the key to the casing that surrounds the thermostat is 'misplaced'. Lewis in Year 11 suggested I 'smash the cover, ma'am! Go on! Smash the cover!' I declined on the grounds I am now officially too old to be charged with criminal damage. Instead, nearly a week into November, I opened ALL the windows, plus the sky lights and tried to cool the room down that way. I apologise for the microcosm of global warming I am creating.

A new student is joining my English Lit class this week bringing the total to 11. I have warned him that he MUST WORK HARD to catch up and he MUST NOT FUSS about the extra work and ANY ARGUMENTS and he'll be out on his little ear. Actually, two students tried to join the group, the second one being French. Now, this shouldn't be a barrier, but I set him a little assessmentette to gauge his English Language skills, and it transpired they were generally, well, dire. In fact, my French was better than his English. So I suggested that maybe the finer points of Shakespeare and Jane Austen and a bunch of eccentric poets probably wasn't the best way for him embark on an A level education.

However, his father is VERY KEEN for him to do English Literature. But I shall stick to my professional guns. 'NON, monsieur! Pas de tout. Votre fils ne connait pas la difference between le rhyme et le rhythm. Absolutement PAS!' I shall dit.

I am glad it's Friday tomorrow. I am pooped. My power of rational thought is disappearing. I mean, coming home at 5.30 this evening, in the dark and the rain, I thought it's be a jolly good idea to pop into Sainsbugs and get a couple of bags of shopping. And then it took me half an hour to get back out of the car park into the rush hour traffic.


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Birth Day

I have been a very lucky birthday girl today!

Andy is, as we speak, in the kitchen slaving over a proper Italian meal for dinner this evening.

I received many lovely pressies - a book on travelling in Italy, Monty Don's 'Italian Gardens' DVD, a book on growing orchids, the latest Philippa Gregory novel and the latest Paul Torday novel; a CD of Caro Emerald (1940s swing-type music), a variety of scented smellies - Chanel 19, Body Shop pamplemousse and White Musk Libertine and Avon Roses, a cute storage tin with cats upon't, a cute diary with cats upon't, a cute key holder with chickens upon't, Maltesers, flowers, fluffy socks for my poor frozen toeses, vouchers for M & S and Waterstones, and a Samsung Galaxy Smart-phone with slidey, sweepy touch-pad control that will drag me into the 21st century good and proper and stop the kids at school laughing at my tinky wee flip top phone.

It's a good start to the next year of my life. I have decided to view my birthday as more of a New Year than the 1st January New Year. It seems more relevant this year, somehow, and there are less leftovers threatening to scupper my health-kick plans.

And 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to Ollie, who shares this November 2nd day with me. I shan't tell you who is the slightly older of us two, but she knows who she is!!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Lesson Learned

Today was marking day. I had planned to do all my marking at the front end of the half term holiday, so it wasn't hanging over me the whole week like a dead albatross.

But having a stinking head cold put paid to that idea, so marking it was today. It went better than I expected, to be honest; I managed to maintain my handwriting to a fairly legible standard through the entire batch, thereby avoiding the possibility of, 'What do you mean, you 'can't read my comments?' Of course you can read my comments! For goodness' sake, at least make the EFFORT,' exchanges between me and students.

About halfway through a pile of particularly dire Romeo and Juliet essays, I was distracted by a fracas. Actually, I was distracted by the lure of a cup of tea and slice of birthday cake brought round by my Mum yesterday. Yesterday, I had a bit of a pre-birthday buffet lunch with some family and friends. My birthday isn't until Wednesday, but when one is a worker and one's friends and family are workers, one has to organise social activities around the weekend as much as possible.

Anyway, back to the fracas. The chickens were going bonkers in the back garden and I couldn't see why. It took me a while to locate the source of the angst and then I spotted it - a ginger kitten. To be more precise, a ginger kitten perched on the top bar hive, batting for bees.

'Oh the folly of youth,' I sighed, donning my outdoor shoes to go on a kitten-in-peril rescue mission.
'There's a kitten on the bee hive!!' yelled Mrs Pumphrey as I entered the garden.
'I know,' I said.
'It'll get stung!!!' said Mrs Slocombe, although she didn't look too distressed by the idea - more ghoulishly interested.

I plodded to the end of the garden, pausing under the willow arch which is shedding its leaves to Autumn and will soon be requiring a prune. Do I just dive in and get the kitten? Should I put on my bee suit? The weather was warm; the bees were flying. They're still bringing back great trousers of pollen, goodness' knows from where, although the ivy is looking particularly abundant this year.

I decided to just go for it. In I went, scooping up the kitten and exchanging quick social pleasantries with the bees. Who ignored me.

'WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT KITTEN??' shouted Andy from his study window.

Damn, I thought. All ideas of smuggling the ginger fluff bundle into the house when he wasn't looking were ruined. I was hoping that when he did notice her appearance in a couple of weeks' time and say something like, 'When did we suddenly become a 4 cat household?' and hold the ginger kitten aloft, I'd reply, 'What? That old thing? Had it for ages.'


'Hmmmmmm...' said Andy.

I released the kitten - the cute, soft, cuddly, light-as-a-feather kitten - at the other end of the garden whence it promptly ran back into the garden, chased the hens for a while, returned to the bee hive and perched atop having more games of the 'bat-the-bee.'

I think it may have got stung because it suddenly made a frantic exit over the fence and we haven't seen it since. Just as well really, as I can't be doing with it stalking the hens.

'No,' say Mrs P and Mrs S. 'We are far too old for that malarkey.'

Kitten lesson, hopefully, learned.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

It's All In Code

I know I look a bit raddled sometimes, like now, because I have a cold - itchy eyes, squeaky ears and a tissue up my nostril - but I'd like to think I'm still erring on the appearance of the right side of 50 on most days.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when I got my first salary slip from my newly named school last month and it was bearing a different tax code.
'What's this?' I thought. 'This is not right. Some of my salary is missing.'

So I looked up the tax code on Her Maj's Inland Revenue Website. 'P' it said, 'is the code for people aged 64-74.'

Well, I checked the mirror and my birth certificate, just in case I'd slipped into some weird space/ time continuum (there is A LOT of Doctor Who stuff in this house), and then I went to see the lady in the finance office at work.

I explained my tax code issue. 'I think you're taxing me as a pensioner,' said I.

And do you know, the lady looked at me as if to say, 'And?'

Luckily for her she didn't actaully say, 'And?' She said, 'I'll speak to the Bursar. Don't worry, if it's wrong, you'll get a rebate next month.'

IF? IF?????

Well, I needed facts and I needed them now, so I phoned the Inland Revenue. I explained my tax code issue. They said, 'Yes, you've been given the wrong code. Don't know why. We didn't send it. But as the school is operating under a different name, it may have been a problem with the changeover. Wait until your next salary slip. It'll be sorted by then.'

Of course, it wasn't. And 'twixt then and now, I worked out what had happened. There is another lady who shares my surname at school. She works during the exam season only, as an invigilator. She is a lady of a certain age i.e 65-74. I reckon they mixed us up.

I said as much to the lady in the finance office. 'Well,' she said, 'the Bursar says your code is correct.'

I said, 'It isn't.' The lady shrugged. I restrained myself. I knew I was right. I don't go into these things without getting my facts straight first.

So I phoned the Inland Revenue again. I said, 'I think I've been given the wrong tax code.' I told them the tax code on my salary slip.
'That's a code for pensioners,' said they.
'I know,' said I.
'We haven't told your workplace to change your code,' said they. 'They're wrong.'
'I know,' said I.

There was a pause.
'We think we know what's happened,' said they. 'They've mixed you up with someone at your school who has the same surname.'
'I know,' said I.
'Tell your work what's happened,' said they. 'They'll sort it out.'
'They won't,' said I. 'I've tried,' said I. 'They say I am wrong.'
'No,' said they. 'They are wrong. In fact, it looks like they've been wrong since April. Tell you what, we'll send them a copy of your correct tax code. Then they'll have to put it right. They'll give you a refund of overpaid tax.'
'Thank you,' said I. 'You've been very helpful.'

I replaced the receiver. 'HA!' I said to myself in a triumphant and vindicated kind of way.

Why does life have to be so awkward sometimes? Why do I find myself having to sort out other people's cock-ups?

I'll tell you why. For the pleasure of being able to 'HA!' every now and then, knowing you've been right all along.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Writers in Residence

Andy is hoofing ahead with the illustrations for the Much Malarkey Annual 2011 -'The Chicken Blogs'. He is being very dynamic. He's like Rolf Harris and Tony Hart all rolled into one. He's the Michaelangelo of Much Malarkey.

I, on the other hand, have been staring at the draft of the script, trying to get my brain in gear for a decent editing session. However, my brain is being hampered by a head cold which is proving slightly worse than I anticipated. I have sneezed 477 times today. Well, it feels like 477 times. Probably nearer the 100 mark, but illness can make one exaggerate somewhat. I have a niggle of an ache between my eyes which is making me scowl and look more bad-tempered than usual. I have itchy ears, and currently (and this is an attractive image) I have a tissue protruding from my right nostril because I have discovered that when a nostril is blocked by a cold, the insertion of a tissue stops it feeling blocked even though you've just filled it with a tissue. Weird! Try it and see if I'm not right.

Also my throat hurts when I swallow.

But am I complaining? Of course I am! Good grief, what do you think I am?? Some kind of martyr????

Still, could be worse. Could have pneumonia.

So I said to Pumphrey and Slocombe today, 'How do you fancy writing a Foreword for the MMM 2011 Christmas Special?' and Mrs Pumphrey said she would be delighted and Mrs Slocombe said she always writes forward ahahahahahahaha! I said if she was going to be facetious she could forget the idea, and Mrs Pumphrey told Mrs Slocombe to apologise and Mrs Slocombe said what for? Being witty? And Mrs Pumphrey said, no you idiot, because if we write a Foreword we get to go into the writing room and use the computer. And there will probably be tea and biscuits, maybe a muffin and honey, so Mrs Slocombe said, okay, she was sorry, but I suspect she wasn't really because she had her wings crossed behind her back.

But because I am incapacitated, I had neither the energy nor inclination to extract a proper apology which is why there are currently two hens hogging my desk-top and I'm dictating this to them during a break in their Foreword writing.

'What do you want us to write?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Oh, I don't mind,' I say. 'Something brief and amusing.'
'Like your CV?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Shush!' says Mrs Pumphrey, who can smell muffins in the toaster.
'Sorry,' says Mrs S.
'Would it be okay if I got Mrs Bennett and Mrs Miggins to contribute, from beyond the nest-box so to speak?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Planning a seance?' I say.
'Well, the veil is growing thin,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Almost Hallowe'en. Ideal opportunity.'
'What about Mrs Poo?' I say.
Mrs Pumphrey sighs. 'Unfortunately, the veil will never be thin enough to contact her. Not where she's gone, anyway.'
'What's that supposed to mean?' I say. I don't like the idea of one of my girls turning Kentucky somewhere, even if she was a vicious madam who liked nothing better than a sliver of human skin with her layers' pellets.
'It means,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'that her little chicken soul took a left turn to ThistleDo, rather than a right to DandeDo.'
'I have no idea what you're talking about,' I say.

'Look,' says Mrs Slocombe - (I hate it when she says 'Look' like that - makes her sound pompous, like Tony Blair trying to get an idea through the thick skulls of the idiot masses - sorry, the electorate who voted for him in '97. Oh no, I was right the first time - the idiot masses) - 'there are a number of possible destinations for a chicken's soul once it has been released from its chicken body.'
'And,' interjects Mrs Pumphrey, 'that destination depends on what sort of a chicken you've been. For example, if you laid your eggs well, and were productive, you go to HenlayDo.'
'And if you've been a good mother to your chicks, you go to BroodeDo...'
'If you were good at seeing off the local cats you go to KitteDo...'
'And a good fertiliser of the garden will go to PoopdeDo...'

'Hang on,' I say. 'You're telling me that Chicken Heaven is made up of many layers?'
'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And a not inconsiderable number of cocks.'
'Where do they go?' I say.
'Cock-a-Doodle-Do, of course,' says Mrs Slocombe, giving me a pitying look that suggests I should leave the real talent to do their writing and go and check on the status of the muffins.

'Well, ' I say, 'if Miggo and Bennett have anything to say, that's fine. You can put it in the forward.'
'I'll run it by you first,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

To be honest, my raddled brain is unbothered.

I wander into the kitchen. And sneeze all over Mrs Slocombe's muffin and honey.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Hellos and Goodbyes

Hello to the traditional half term cold. Not a horrid, horrid cold, but one that is going to cause minor irritation. It happens to teachers. Stress keeps germs at bay. The moment you let down your guard, the germs take hold. Generally in the mucus membranes.

Hello to a private tutoring student - A level grammar - which I like because when one is being a private tutor, one can teach how one jolly well likes and no-one is going to lean over one's shoulder and tell one one's doing it all wrong. As long as the paying customer is happy, all is well. One's audience is captive and usually enjoys their hour, which, I must add, goes a darn sight quicker than the hour one spends in front of, oh, bottom set Year 10, for example. (Apologies for talking like the Queen - momentary delusion of grandeur.)

In fact, if I could make a living being a private tutor, that is what I would do all the time.

Hello to Andy who is on holiday this week, too. He spent most of the morning at the allotment dismantling the fruit cage and the polytunnel in preparation for saying good-bye to our plot. He brought back some carrots and the last of the tomatoes which I've been nibbling at all day because they are DELICIOUS!!

Hello to Mrs Pumphrey's new feathers. She did this last year - moulted and regrew her plummage with amazing speed. Where other hens go hunched and moody when they moult, Mrs Pumphrey remains perky and bright and loud and bossy. I've been feeding her some corn to keep up her strength, but not too much because we don't want aggressive hens on our hands, do we?

Goodbye to more tat from the cupboards. We had a bit of a crisis in my writing room yesterday, whereby there was a fight between a sofa and a book case and a built-in cupboard. But Andy and I took them in hand, they all know their places now and the opportunity was taken for an Autumn clean and turf out.

Hello to a bathroom re-do. We've taken the plunge and secured the services of a plumber to renovate the upstairs shower-room. He's due to start work in three weeks. As always with any home improvements, I am ridiculously excited.

Almost goodbye to our oven. It's making funny noises. It's becoming awkward to light except the big gas burner which still behaves like a flame thrower. Bits are dropping off it. I'm not surprised. It was cheap, it gets worked hard, and it has probably been picking up on my feelings of loathing pretty much since the day it arrived. I have my eye on a double oven range-style number in cream. In fact, I can almost feel it wending its way towards us, ready to take on the Christmas goose. It's going to be a very full house at the Manor this Christmas. A double oven will be most welcome.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Nine Weeks and Counting

'Here,' announces Mrs Slocombe, 'is my Christmas List. Only I know that the half-term break is when you traditionally do your Christmas shopping, and who am I to stand in the way of tradition?'

'Well, you stood in the way of the lawnmower last week,' I say, 'so I wouldn't put anything past you.'

'Just read the list,' says Mrs S. 'It's very specific.'

I take the list and read.
1) a torch with red, orange and cerise filters
2) a chess set with the pieces shaped like little woodland creatures
3) a banjo
4) another banjo
5) a silver sequin skirt and halter neck top combo set
6) a chocolate gnome
7) a yellow bobble hat with ear flaps
8) some black and white vinyl floor tiles
9) a white chiffon blouse with blue polka dot sleeves
10) a Volkswagen Beetle

'You don't want much, do you?' I say.
'I think my requests are modest,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'I was being ironic,' I say.
'It doesn't suit you,' says Mrs S.

The chicken is correct about my tradition. The next break from school I get won't be until a week before Christmas and there's no way I'm going into town a week before Christmas to do shopping. I shall go into town, but only to gloat that I've done ALL my shopping and everyone hasn't HAHA!!

Of course, being a 21st century chick, I do a lot of my Christmas shopping on-line. Free delivery if I can manage it, and the postman does the footwork and sometimes leaves parcels where they AREN'T likely to be stolen by any opportunist passer-by. And thus I started today. I have bought 2 presents AND a knit-your-own-Nativity scene pattern book pour moi. I have made some lists and I am in control. Nine weeks to go and I'm a step ahead of the game.

'So, does Mrs Pumphrey have a Christmas List?' I say.
'Probably,' says Mrs S, 'but I wanted to get mine in first.'
'That's very charitable of you,' I say.
'Was that irony again?' says Mrs S.
'Yes,' I say.
'I've just remembered,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'can you add an iron to my list? One of those hi-tech jobbies. My old iron just isn't coping with the creases in my jeans any more.'

And so the run up to Much Malarkey Manor Christmas 2011 has begun. I'm off to sharpen my knitting needles.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Best Bear Forward

I'm going to ask you a question and be VERY careful how you respond, because it all kicked off at the Manor this morning when Andy thought I might like to listen to a radio programme about Rupert Bear.

'What do you think about Rupert Bear?' he said, unaware of the torrent of emotional angst he was about to unleash.
'Rupert Bear?' I spluttered into my scrambled egg. 'RUPERT BEAR??? I think Rupert Bear is a selfish prig who has a very high opinion of himself and treats his Nutwood friends very poorly indeed. In fact, I'm surprised Algie, Edward and Co didn't lure him into Nutwood itself and kick the stuffing out of him...'

'Oh,' said Andy.

'...and,' I continued, because I was on a roll now, 'I think Rupert Bear was a self-centered egotist who walked around with a twig up his backside. 'Oooooh, look at me, I'm such a perfect bear, I'm so clever, I'm so la-di-da, I can speak in rhyming couplets,' I said, doing my Rupert Bear impression and wishing I had a stupid little scarf and pair of yellow tartan trousers just to complete the whole stupid 'When-I-grow-up-I'm-going-to-be-Stephen-Fry' look.

'I only asked,' said Andy.

'Why?' I said. I was feeling a bit red and and angry by this point.

'Because there's a programme on Radio 4 later, of celebrities celebrating Rupert Bear,' said Andy.

'Clearly all mad or drunk,' I snorted.

'Are you okay?' said Andy.

'I think,' I said, 'that you may have released some suppressed child-hood memory.'

I took a sip of tea from my cup. My humour was down, my temper was up.

'So,' said Andy, treading with care,' who would you say was your favourite bear?'

I gave it some thought, I wrinkled my brow. 'I think it might be Ermintrude Cow.'

'But as you said, she's a cow not a bear.'

'Look at me,' said I, 'do I really care?'

'Or Winnie the Pooh? He sounds funny?'

'His T-shirt's too short. He eats too much honey...'

'Or Pudsey, that chap with a patch on his eye?'

'He's okay, I suppose, but too silent a guy...'

'There's only one left. That Peruvian laddington...'

'Yes!' I shouted. 'My favourite is Paddington!!'

'Can we,' said Andy, 'stop talking this?'

'Yes,' I agreed, 'we're taking the mickey.'

So it was agreed that Paddington Bear is THE BEST and ONLY bear.

But then I had a thought. Do any of you remember the cartoon strip 'The Perishers?' One of them had a cross-eyed bear called Gladly. After 'Gladly My Cross I'd Bear.'

Like the newt I once had. Called Tiny. Because he was my newt.

'STOP!!!' shouts Mrs Pumphrey from the garden where she is moulting beau chicken-coop.

'Okay,' I say.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Shattered Illusions

And there was me thinking my bosses were taking me seriously.

About the 'I-am-going-to-stab-you- Miss,' student.

Alas, no. It seems that 'Every Child Matters' but the teacher doesn't.

The powers-that-be are all-inclusive. No child shall be denied an education. We must forgive. We must give a second chance. A third chance. A fourth chance. Ad infinitum chance. The child knows not what he does. The child will be back in my class after half-term. With a knife? Who knows...who cares? Not my place of employment.

Still, at least I know where I stand. With my back as close to the wall as possible.

Okay, I know. But flippancy is the only way I can respond to this. I am livid. Fuming. I can't think about it too much, or I'll never get any work done.

And here's another thing. Years ago, when I first started teaching, I would set essays for my GCSE students. Extended writing as it is called nowadays. Students would write a lot. I would mark a lot. Student would receive back their essay, sorry, 'extended writing', and would improve it and hand it in again to be marked again. And so it went on until one of us peaked/ gave up.

But then it was decided that students should be spending NO more than 20 minutes in a lesson on a single activity. Which kind of put paid to the essay writing. Teachers like me became paranoid we would fail an observation if an observer came into class and found students spending more than the allotted 20 mins per activity. So we stopped. Exercise books became little more than notebooks.

And now we find that observers are coming into lessons and complaining about the lack of extended writing in exercise books. So I'm damned if I essay-set, and damned if I don't. I'm going back to essay setting. It's a must as far as I'm concerned. I'm going to be a disappointment whichever way I go, so I may as well go the way I think will benefit my students the most.

Today I have learned that whatever I do, I'm unlikely to win. I think it's because I am becoming increasingly slow at guessing the next change in fad. In order to get back up to speed, therefore, I'm going to have a go at predicting the next range of educational fads:

1) it will be discovered that students learn better if they are all sitting facing the front and listening to the teacher.

2) students are children, who are not independent because they are children, therefore cannot be left to be 'independent learners' because, as children, they look towards adults to be led. 'Tis the way of Nature.

3) it will be discovered that computer games and violent films are detrimental to educational progress and social and emotional development and as such, both will be banned until a student achieves 5 GCSEs of grade C and above...

4) ...ditto hormones

5) it will be discovered that students will make better progress if they bring a pen to school with them

That'll do for now. No more whinging. Time for a cuppa and a dose of Doc Martin. On the telly. Not the flea treatment.

Although something is making me itch.