Friday, 28 January 2011

Jumping to Conclusions

I came across this poem at work today. It brought a little lump to my throat, and made me think that it's wise to treat people well, even if they do badly by us, because we never really know the full story behind their actions unless we take the time to ask.

What My Dad Did

Where they have been, if they have been away
or what they've done at home, if they have not -
you make them write about a holiday.
One writes My Dad did. What? Your Dad did what?

That's not a sentence. Never mind the bell.
We stay behind until the work is done.
You count their words (you who can count and spell);
all the assignments are complete bar one

and although this boy seems bright, that one is his.
He says he's finished, doesn't want to add
anything, hands it in just as it is.
No change. My Dad did. What? What did his Dad?

You find the 'E' you gave him as you sort
through the reams of what this girl did, what that lad did
and read the line again, just one 'e' short:
'This holiday was horrible. My Dad did.'

Maybe I was more aware because the anniversary of my Dad's death is only three days away. It'll be 13 years. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday.

So today I just stopped. To think.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

I knew it!

So on Wednesday, I woke up and I thought, I bet the car dealer rings today with a problem with my new car, and they offer me some kind of extra as a sweetener.

And so I wasn't surprised when the phone went at 2.30 and it was the dealer.

'I know you wanted a red car,' he said, 'but we're having trouble locating a five door one under this current offer. So I have a proposition for you.'

Well, I thought. That's a bit forward, given we only met 4 days ago. But I didn't say it out loud because I didn't want him to think I was some kind of weirdo.

'What's that then?' I said instead.

'I can get a five door model in electra blue,' he said. 'It's got a metallic paint finish which normally costs £475 extra, but as you wanted a red one and we can't deliver a red one, you can have the metallic paint finish free, if you are agreeable.'

To be honest, I didn't mind having a blue one instead of a red one. And I am, as you know, a generally agreeable person. It's a nice, cheerful blue, and what I didn't want was a silver, grey, black or white one, as 95% of cars these days seem to be sliver, grey, black and white, and I want cheerful.

So I said okay. Well, it's always satisfying to get something for free isn't it? And as Andy said, metallic paint might add to the resale value.

So picking up shiny new BLUE car on Saturday!!

Which brings me back to the whole psychic message thing. After a fairly lengthy period of time with not a peep from my guardian angels, (although silently watching and looking after me; never deserting) there has been a sudden increase in intuitive activity. Perhaps it's because I am being more mindful with making time for meditation. Perhaps it's something to do with my increasingly fluctuating hormone levels. Perhaps it's something to do with that for the first time in a long time I am doing paid work that I am really enjoying so a massive amount of stress has vanished from my life. Perhaps it's because I am learning plinky-plonky piano stuff so my mind is being distracted with learning something new. Perhaps it's because the mornings and evenings are growing lighter and some part of my hibernating brain is waking up.

I wonder how long it will be before someone contacts me for a reading. Because when they do, then I'll know my life is about to take another step forward.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Look at this little face! Just seven weeks short of her first birthday, Kayleigh has grown from a baby to a proper little girl. She's just started taking her first steps, is growing teeth like she's planning on eating a hefty steak for her birthday dinner, and has taken to pointing at things and whispering 'Tat?' when she wants to know the name of something.
She's a fabulous boho chicklet!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Yes! We have no potatoes

General chit chat over the weekend about use of the allotment and the back garden has resulted in the decision not to grow potatoes this year. Well, maybe just a row of new potatoes, as there is nothing nicer than freshly dug, homegrown, organic new potato lightly boiled with mint and covered in butter.

But we have decided that we are going to concentrate this year on growing stuff that is expensive to buy. Like aubergines, beans, salady doo-dah, chard, spinach etc. And definitely more squash, because vegetarians can never have enough squasheseses....squashum....squashi...
squish? Also, we are going to solve the issue of weeds around the polytunnel by surrounding the polytunnel with paving slabs (hopefully courtsey of Freecycle) and then cover the paving slabs with pots of herbs and flowers!

And the boundary fence of Cluckinghen Palace has been taken down, so the chickens are now free to ramble all over the shop. The PLAN is that instead of keeping the chickens away from the growing areas, we are going to keep the growing areas away from the chickens, if you get my drift. Which means planting things that the chickens won't eat e.g nut trees (I am very keen on having a couple of nut trees), or planting stuff that the chickens will eat but will be cunningly enclosed within a protective fence which means the chickens will be able to see the plants but they won't be able to reach them with their pecky little beaks; this will no doubt cause them to spend the entire summer with their pecky little beaks pressed up against the protective fence, dribbling after the lush produce that they can't reach.

'We'll only be round your place more often for hobnobs,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Fine by me,' I say. 'As long as you keep off my fancy lettuce.'

We're also on the verge of buying a fruit cage and extending the fruit growing area at the allotment. There are a lot of birdies up the allotment and we lose a fair percentage of fruit to them; a cage seems a good idea. Plus we like building stuff. Ah, such fond memories of putting up that polytunnel two years ago which is still standing tall and proud despite several hefty falls of snow and us flailing around inside with various hoes, rakes and spades. We have tried to erect make-do-and-mend protection for the fruit, but it never works very well, and access is always a trial. A nice, solid, upright, non-floppy cage is just the ticket. One that's tall enough to stand up in. With a door. That'll keep out a pigeon. Or an eagle.

So the back garden looks like Steptoes junk yard at the moment. But in my mind's eye it looks like a little cottage garden, all cute beds, arches trailing with honeysuckle, hops smothering the fence, nuts trees making a tiny woodland area, pots and troughs of flowers and herbs, with three hens pottering around keeping it all slug free.

'Ha! Like that's going to happen,' says Mrs Miggins.
'It might,' I say.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The News Today

One of the advantages of tutoring is that as I don't get paid for breaks and lunchtimes, I can do what I like during these times. Unlike being a classroom teacher where you have to spend breaks catching up on marking/ tidying your classroom/ being on duty/ being a listening ear to any student who has just broken up with their boyfriend/ girlfriend/ got into trouble with another teacher because they didn't do their homework/ had their sandwiches nicked by Kieran in Year 9, who flushed them down the loo. Oh no, breaktimes now mean reading the paper, doing some writing or immersing one's soul in a darn good book.

Today, I read the Daily Rant and did the coffee time puzzles to keep the old brain sharp 'n' ticking. There were some interesting stories to keep me entertained.

For example:
1) The hoo-ha about the two male commentators being overheard denigrating the female football referee and saying someone would have to go down pitch-side and explain the off-side rule to her. I thought it was quite funny myself, but then I'm not a great feminist; I just shout and /or sulk until I get what I want. Cuts down on unnecessary politics.

2)Leading astronomers have decided there are no aliens 'out there' (doo-de-doo-de-doo-de-doo-de). Well, clearly they are wrong because I taught at least two today, one of whom declared that Austria was the capital of Germany and people who lived there spoke Australian.

3)David Essex is joining the cast of Eastenders. I may just have to break my three year ban on not watching 'Stenders...

4) Staying fat may be better for your health - well, that's a relief; pass me a doughnut.

5) Lily Cole apparently 'walking' into the lead role at her university's production of Chekhov's 'The Seagull.' What else was she supposed to do? Arrive on a milk float? I saw a production of 'The Seagull' once. I was appalled that they actually allowed the actors to smoke during the performance because I could smell it from my seat and it made me cough, but the way the seagull landed dead on the stage with a massive 'bang!' was great! Especially as I was beginning to doubt a seagull was going to actually turn up, and Chekhov had somehow mis-named his play and it was really called 'Family Tiffs' or something.

6) Can Facebook lead to madness? You betcha! And bad tempers, accusations of all sorts of unsuitable practices, the misconstruing of innocent information, broken friendships and an ironic degree on unsociability.' Newsworthy? I hardly think so. Bloomin' obvious? Well....durr!

7) Paul Daniels selling his toupe on E-Bay. What? I didn't get very far with that article. I feared I would die from lack of interest.

8) Helen Mirren having a hair cut. Ditto above. Or was she the purchaser of Paul Daniel's toupe?? Hmmmm....

9) Some dreadful rant about eating 5 fruit and vegetables a day being a cynical myth. To begin with I thought the Daily Rant had inadvertently printed an item written by 'doctor' Ben Goldacre, but it's by some woman who (surprise, surprise!) has a book out! Ha! Who's the cynic now??? Er, that'll be you, Denise, so shut up. Honestly, if Mother Nature took the time to invent fruit and veg, I'm going to eat them. Mother Nature didn't invent MacDonalds and there is a good reason for that. And I know exactly what Andy will say when he reads this. He'll say something like 'Mother Nature invented tobacco/ deadly nightshade/ the dysentry bug. I told you vegetables were poison,' and I'll say, 'Do you want dinner tonight?' and he'll agree that I am right, of course fruit and veg are good for you, dear.

10) Oxbridge skiers who slid into shame and debauchery. Apparently, one Varsity trip organiser said he saw students 'losing their souls' whilst competing in some of these dubious games. Who'd've thought the Devil goes ski-ing? Still, if there are easy souls to be had, it'd be worth him investing in a set of warm thermals and an apres-ski suit, I suppose.

11) Some woman moaning about how she underwent 15 years and spent Lord knows how many thousands of pounds on cosmetic surgery and now she wishes she hadn't. And she's only 41. Blimey, think of the years of regret and whinging she's still got left in her. Yawwwwwwwnnnnnn.....

12) Are you set to inherit your mother's face? Well, given my brother has had everything else she owns, I doubt it because I wouldn't put it past him to have that too. I'll stick to my own face, thank you kindly. It's done me okay for the last 45 years, and as long as I keep hanging the hammock under my chin and strapping it to my ears every night, it'll do me for a few more years yet before it starts dragging on my chest. And then I'll just leave it in a paper bag until Heather decides if she wants it or not.

And that's not including all the fashion tips, the celeb shenanagins, the politic bumph and Janet Street-Porter's column which, the more I read, the more I think she should be in Government as Minister for common-sense- pull-you-socks-up-and-get-on-with-it.

Off to cook dinner now. Enchiladas! Mmmmmmm...I'll regret it in the morning.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Universal Truths

1) If you go into a dark kitchen first thing in the morning with bare feet, you will step in a pile of cat sick.

2) Bouffant hair will always startle you, especially if it's on your head and you aren't expecting it.

3) Every time you walk past a dog in a park, it will think you are its owner and try to follow you home. Especially if it's a chocolate labrador called Harry.

4) If you go for a walk in the park, and you don't notice the 'Bridge Closed' sign, you will cross the bridge and find you can only escape the other end by performing some tricky manoevre with a wobbly fence post and an overgrown path covered in mud, wet leaves and other assorted slime.

5) A grandchild will eat broccoli, and the weird veggie cheesy bean pie their grandmother makes for Sunday lunch, but you will have to take photographic evidence for when they turn their noses up at the same food when they are 5 years old and deny ever having eaten such food in the first place.

6) Sometimes you CAN keep too many oddments of wood 'just in case they come in handy.'

7) Jerusalem artichokes should never be consumed when one has company.

8) Some chickens will always be feather pluckers no matter how many times their companions peck them in the head and tell them not to do it.

9) Having a dream about your mother telling you how to clean your stairs does not mean a visit is imminent and you must get up 6 a.m and clean your stairs immediately.

10) Once a cat grows beyond a certain age, (around 6 months) certain patterns of behaviour become imbedded in their psyche and no amount of effort on your part will ever stop them trying to climb onto your lap at breakfast time by digging their claws into your thigh.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Impulse Buy

I'm not one generally given to impulse purchases. But when I do impulse buy, I impulse buy BIG!!

So, for the last couple of months I've been making a major effort to utilise MMM's finances in the best possible way. Shifting savings into a higher interest account, earmarking some of my tutoring salary to pay off a little wodge of the mortgage, working out where savings can be had in day-to-day household bills etc. And my bank is going to be next on my hit list because, despite having been a loyal and no-trouble customer for well over six years, they have been taken over by another bank who have zilch customer service and appear to be paring away all remaining reasons for me to stay with them, especially the miniscule amount of interest they are prepared to pay on my current account. There are better offers out there. I know, because I've been doing my homework.

Anyway, this morning we were up and about, egg and toast for breakfast, then Andy went out to clean out the hens and set about a whole house hoover 'n' tidy up 'n' get-the-washing-in-the-machine campaign. And I was thinking, as I pushed the hoover around sucking up dust and cat fur and cat toys and biros, that my earning potential would improve if I had my own transport. We've been without a second car for 3 years now and whilst the extra walking has been good in some respects (exercise, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air etc) it has also been a pain, generally when I've been struggling home up a hill with bags of groceries and it's hissing down with rain and I'm getting severe puddle splash from passing traffic.

So Andy comes in around 10 a.m to find me staring out of the front window, hoover in hand.

'What are you thinking about?' he said.
'Cars,' I said. 'A red Citroen C1, to be exact.' Because I have seen these little cars around and about and I have been rather taken with them.
'Shall we go to the Citroen dealer up the road and have a look?' said Andy.
'Yes,' said I.

And two hours later I found myself the proud owner of a brand new shiny red Citroen C1!!

Well!! The last time this kind of impulse buy happened there was a car involved, too. It was 11 years ago and I went out to buy a wheelbarrow and came back with a Fiat Bravo. Some might say, 'What's the difference?', but I think they might be getting confused with that old joke involving Skodas.

I'm waiting for a phone call on Tuesday from the nice, totally unpushy sales chappie who dealt with us to tell me when I can collect the car but we're aiming for the end of this month.

And it was all very exciting and has cheered up a dull, wet, cold, miserable January day enormously.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

A change is as good...

There is a school of thought that suggests doing something you don't normally do has the power to invigorate the mind and spirit. So on Tuesday, my day off, and happily ensconsed in my writing room doing a bit o' study and a bit o' writing, I decided to listen to Radio 3. Usually I listen to Radio 7 (comedy, book dramatisations) or Radio Kent (is it snowing again in Kent and have all the trains stopped?), or if I am feeling sadistic and marginally left-wing, or need an Archers fix, Radio 4. If I want to listen to a spot of classical, I'll pop on a CD.

But I thought, no, try a different radio station, and 3 was where I landed following a scary seven seconds with KERRRANG! (Or however they spelt it, I was too traumatised by the racket to watch the digital message for long enough to find out.)

Ooh, it was good! Mostly lovely relaxing plinky plonky music, sometimes uplifting inspirational anthems, occasionally bizarre almost trad jazz modern moments (during which I made cups of tea; I can't do discordant as it offends mine ear.) There were interesting little chats about composers, snippets of music history, and a couple of lengthy high brow analyses from people with names like Professor Branston Pyckle-O'nion of The Hoi-Pollio Music Academy of Bratislava, who were incredibly earnest and knowledgeable and entertaining.

Radio 3, it seems, might be my new best listening friend.

The chickens, you will be unsurprised to discover, like a spot of opera. Mrs Miggins likes anything hot and Italian, Mrs Pumphrey is keen on Gilbert and Sullivan, Mrs Slocombe likes Gilbert O'Sullivan.

'Gilbert O'Sullivan is not opera,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Isn't he?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'No,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Not by a long shot. Try again.'
'Er...Bidet?' says Mrs S, hopefully.
'No,' says Mrs Miggins.
'The Magic Toot?'
Mrs Miggins shakes her head.
'Tour En Dot?' says Slocombe.
'I went on one of those once,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Just stop it, all of you,' I say, because I have no idea where I am going with this, but I am quite hungry at the moment what with it being almost dinner time and the man Andy is slaving over a hot stove so I am going to blame a low blood sugar level for my lack of grasp on the current plot.
'Perhaps I'll stick to KERRRANG!' says Mrs Slcombe.
'Well that explains a lot,' I say.

And thus I sign off, with apologies for my weak rear end.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Another Nearly King Jimbo Fan

Well, I don't know. I sent NKJ out to around 16 agents and publishers and back it came 16 times with a 'thanks but no thanks' in 15 cases and an 'I like it very much but it's not for me' once.

So we self-publish and the people who really count, the readers, have telephoned and e-mailed to say how much they love it and how much it made them chuckle. This evening, Andy's aunt phoned.

'I've read it twice and I could happily read it again,' she said. 'It's so bubbly, so witty, and it made me chuckle a lot. It put me in mind of John Cleese and Bill Oddie in its style of humour. Are you going to write any more?'

Of course I'm going to write more. NKJ is the most fun thing I've ever written, and I could write about him ad infinitum. But what do I do now? Do I send him off again, to more agents, more publishers, only to have him come back attached to another rejection slip DESPITE the evidence that people have really enjoyed reading about him? Or do I carry on writing about him because it is a huge joy in my life to do so and if it's friends and family who find him enjoyable then that's good enough?

I don't know. It's a conundrum, and it just re-inforces my suspicions that to be published these days you need that 'lucky co-incidence' event; to be in the right place at the right time and know the right people. Or be famous. Talent, it seems, doesn't come into it much.

Anyway, I am much encouraged again by Andy's aunt's enthusiasm. I am in full writing mode. My readership may be small, but they have taste and I bet they've never read one of Katie 'Jordan' Price's offerings!

Three good deeds I did today:
1) helped a Polish lady make sense of a bus time table
2) saved a wasp from certain death
3) carried a tray filled with mugs and a jar of coffee up to the staff room for a secretary who was having a 'wobbly moment'

Three things that made me smile today:
1) Mrs Slocombe trying to jump from the back of garden chair and not quite knowing how to let go
2) bluebell shoots appearing in the front garden
3) a gang of girlies chatting on the stairs about who they were going out with, who they had dumped and if you went out with the same person twice with a two week gap in between did that count as two boyfriends or one?

One thing that made me sad:
1) hearing from three different Year 7 boys who spent much of their tutoring sessions yawning, that they'd been up until 2.30 a.m the previous night playing on their X-boxes and/ or watching 18 certificate DVDs.

One naughty thing I did today:
1) Ah, now that would be telling..!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Hen Press

The chickens have decided to set up a monthly newsletter, despite their inability to type efficiently and their weak photo-shopping skills. (Is that right? Photo-shopping? I think I may be talking out of my backside on this technical term.)

Anyway, this morning, as I fed them and changed their water (I don't know why I'm bothering with the latter, given they are preferring to drink from puddles and rainwater filled bucket/wheelbarrows/ plant pots these days), Mrs Miggins says, 'Can we interview you for our newsletter?' And I said, 'Not really. I've just made a list of everything I have to do today and I don't have a spare window in my diary for interviews,' and she said, 'I didn't say anything about windows, and what do you have to do with your life that's so important anyway?'

I showed her the list which I had stapled to my forehead so I didn't make the mistake of putting it down somewhere and becoming sidetracked into watching Jeremy Kyle and eating marmalade cake in my pyjamas.

'Oh yes,' she said, perusing the sixteen items already thereon. 'You do have a lot to do.'
'I am a busy person,' I said. 'In fact, I don't even know if I'll have time to write a blog today.'
'Well, you're almost halfway done now; you might as well finish it,' said Miggins. 'In fact, let us interview you, and we'll finish the job and you can get on with the rest of your list. What's the next item?'
'Filling the holes in the kitchen ceiling in preparation for repainting,' I said.
'Fascinating,' said Mrs Miggins.

So here, courtesy of Les Hendames, is their interview. I want you to know it may have been heavily edited before reaching press.

'Welcome to Hen Press, the press for hens who like ironing and making cider. Today, we are interviewing reknowned author Denise Hunt about her life as a reknowned author. Mrs Hunt, you've recently published the highly entertaining and successful novel 'Nearly King Jimbo'.
Are there any plans for more Nearly King Jimbo?'
'Yes - in fact I have started on the next Nearly King Jimbo already and am designing a selection of associated merchandise.'
'That's interesting. Tell us more.'
'About what?'
'The merchandise.'
'Oh. Right. Well, soft toys, mugs, calendars, the usual stuff. And tours of Titbury von Streudelheim. I'm hoping they're going to be popular with the foreign travel trade.'
'Titbury von Streudelheim doesn't actually exist, does it? How can you market tours of a fictional town?'
'Titbury is a city, actually. It has a cathedral. And as to the actual reality of the place, well, the success of the tours will depend wholly on the tourists' willingness to suspend their disbelief in its fictionality; give and take is the order of the day. I'm merely taking the money.'
'Have you ever thought of being a politician?'
'Frequently. But nausea prevents me furthering my political ambitions. Bumping into Ed Miliband in the halls of Westminster would be too much for my stomach to bear.'
'You're currently supporting your writing career by providing one to one tuition in English. How is this going?'
'Very well providing I don't stray into Japanese.'
'Are there any more writing projects in the pipeline?'
'I'm considering a rewrite of 'Moby Dick' entitled 'Tossa Mackerel.' I may have to read 'Moby Dick' first.'
'You look very youthful for someone well into her forties. Have you every had Botox?'
'Never! Although I did eat some slug pellets once. The results of that had a startling effect on my forehead.'
'And finally, who would you like to play you in a film of your life?'
'Colin Firth. He seems to be on a bit of a role at the moment. Or Renee Zelwegger. She'd have to put on 6 stone first though. I am happy to tutor her on that score.'

'Thank you, Denise Hunt, for that fascinating interview. We shan't be back.'
'You're welcome. Can I get on with my hole filling now?'
'Please do. It's about time you tarted up that kitchen ceiling.'

Monday, 17 January 2011

Stars Alive!

I don't know. You turn your back for five minutes and some smarty-pants astrologer comes along and changes your star sign (and inserts two cliches in one sentence) because he thinks the moon has moved a bit to the right. For 45 plus years I have been a Scorpio. I've poddled along through life quite happily being secretive, mysterious, quick-tempered, jealous and moody, and now it seems, if Mr Smarty-Pants Astrologer is to be believed, I am a Libran.

That's no good. How's that going to work? Me, unbalanced? More up and down than a see-saw?? Pah! And ptui! To be honest, I didn't read the full article when it appeared in the paper on Friday because Friday was a busy day. I can't even remember what the so-called '13th' star sign is called. Something like 'Teflon Coated' or 'Three Egg Omelette' or some such malarkey; but I did read the comment by proper astrologer Jonathan Cainer who said it was all a load of balderdash, a sentiment with which Andy would wholeheartedly agree. Mind you, today Jonathan says I should 'foster a spirit of co-operation' and 'clear away the clutter of conflict and make room for a future full of trust and respect' because there is a lot of unnecessary stress in my world at the moment. I work in a school, for heaven's sake! What sort of advice is that to give someone who works in a school???

So I took a sneaky peek at Libra in case it said something useful like 'eat as much cake as you like today for the weight-loss gods are on your side,' but it was full of guff about sibling rivalry, family crisis and domestic drama which I can well do without, actually. Because that kind of stuff makes me eat cake regardless of the danger of chubster thighs. But maybe they are the source of unnecessary stress that is in my life? I wouldn't be surprised...

Anyway, I had a quick look through the other predictions and have decided that today I am Capricorn, because cheese was mentioned. Goat's cheese presumably. Which isn't such a good idea after all, and I shall tell you why.

Last night, Andy and I went out to dinner with some of his work colleagues. Not the ones who arrive late, change their minds about having starters and then vanish for a prolonged ciggie break just as the waiter appears to take orders, leaving those of us who were hungry in the first place to get even hungrier to the point of having a hypoglycaemic attack. Oh no, these colleagues were prompt, and sat down and ordered at once which meant dinner arrived at a reasonable time.

Well, the pub we went to is very keen on its steaks. It's not the sort of establishment that casts much of a glance in the vegetarian direction, but that's okay because being vegetarian is my choice and I don't expect to be specially catered for. As long as there are chips and salad on the menu, I'm all right.

So, there were two veggie options on offer - one was nachos and dips (tantamount to having a bag of crips and a splodge of ketchup, so no thank you there), and a portobello mushroom burger. The mushroom burger duly arrived, and it was nice, but ye gods - there must have been an entire round of goat's cheese parked on top of that poor mushroom. It was goat cheese city in that bun, and whilst I like goat cheese, I reached a point where I started feeling slightly nauseous and had to hoik the remains of it from the bun and replace it with salad.

And now I am thinking about Capricorn and goats and cheese again, and it's making me feel a tad yuk, so I'll stop if you don't mind and go back to being a Scorpio.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Catalogue Queens

The hens have discovered catalogues. This since the postman redirected a copy of the Omlet catalogue to the back garden and the girls spent a very happy afternoon sitting on the garden bench and perusing the delights of various tonics and play things for chickens and bees. And rabbits and guinea pigs. And people.

'Why haven't we got these?' says Mrs Slocombe, pointing to the set of four egg cups shaped like Volkswagen camper vans.
'Because you aren't supposed to eat eggs,' I say.
'Can we have a set anyway?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'To grow mustard and cress in.'
'No,' I say.
'Spoilsport,' says Mrs S.
'And your point is?' I say.
'Did you know you can buy a special salve for massaging into our combs in the Winter to protect them from freezing, going brittle and snapping off?' sayd Mrs Miggins, snatching the catalogue from Mrs S because she's growing old and can gte away with such appalling manners.
'Yes,' I say. 'And I can get it cheaper in the supermarket. It's called Vaseline.'
'But this is SPECIAL stuff,' says Mrs Miggins. 'In a special pot.'
'I daresay,' I say. 'But Vaseline works just as well. Besides, you need neither of these products, not with your eclectic collection of hats.'
'This is true,' says Mrs Pumphrey, whose hat collection is twice as big and twice as eclectic as the other two's put together. 'When I feel my comb becoming brittle, I whip out my yellow angora beret, pop it on, and nothing is in danger of dropping off. And if it does, it lands in my hat so I can stick it back on again with Miracle Comb Glue.'
'And it looks so chic, too,' I say.
'It looks like you're balancing a frisbee on your head,' snorts Mrs Miggins.
'You're only jealous because you can't get away with wearing a beret,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Nor a fez. A fez is very eclectic.'
'What does 'eclectic' mean?' says Mrs Slocombe, who is now perusing the Damart catalogue.
'It means something that has been selected from a wide variety of sources, styles or ideas,' I say.
'Not a kind of fence you put up to keep the foxes out, then?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'No,' I say.

So now the hens have taken to sending off for catalogues from various companies. Well, there's not too much to do in these dark evenings, and flicking through a catalogue can be very diverting. Like window shopping but without having to go out into the rain. The nouveau Chippendale authentic 18th century magazine rack is full to bursting with such gems as 'Yachting Clobber', 'Flip Flops and Spangly Pants for the Over Fifties', 'Coats for Badgers', 'Cat Maps and Other Orienteering Gear,' and 'Complete Blancmange Moulds and Setting Agents.'

Luckily, the hens have yet to discover where I keep my debit card!

('That's what you think,' says Mrs Miggins.)

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Mid-January News Flash

Malarkey bees sighted today staggering from the hive, wiping their bleary little eyes, gaining their bearings, zooming off sig-zag into the skies and returning with pollen from heaven knows where. I suppose there are a few winter blooms out there - I found a violet by the front gate a week or so ago - and bees are resourceful and will find sustenance in the oddest of places.

But this is good. As we heave our way towards Spring, the bees are hanging on in there and my optimism about getting them through their first Winter expands.

Andy's cholesterol level continues to fall through the magic of a mostly vegetarian diet.
'Humph,' he says, because he's never going to give up meat unless it starts tasting of broccoli, but it just goes to show, doesn't it, what little tweaks to one's diet can do.

And my conviction to be a veggie has been further consolidated since watching Hugh F-Ws Fish Fight on TV this week, and seeing all the waste of fish life that happens because of stupid EU fishing quotas. Have you been watching it? It's a disgrace (not Hugh, because as you know I am rather fond of him.)

I found ANOTHER intruder in my tutor space this morning, but you will be pleased to hear that since becoming imbued with the spirit of Nora Batty, I stood my ground and said, politely but firmly, that I had been given this space to tutor in two months ago, I've already had to capitulate to a hard-faced harridan intruder on Mondays, so would she please go and find somewhere else to tippy-tap away on her laptop whilst I get on educating the next generation? And she did! Wrinkly stockings rule!!

Walking to work this morning, I was followed up the hill by a couple of spotty oiks, one of whom was bemoaning the fact that his girlfriend's mother hated him and, if he didn't say 'hello' to her immediately he went into the house, would accuse him of being incredibly rude. So, bless him, he was doing his best to be extra specially polite and attentive in a 'Hello, how are you, thank you, please, ever so much, Mrs Patterson,' kind of a way. (Thank goodness he drew the line at slapping her backside and saying 'Hiya Toots, how's it hanging?' Well, you can't be too sure with the youth of today and their grasp of manners and etiquette.) But by all accounts, his best behaviour wasn't going too well.

Andy made a lovely vegetarian dinner tonight. I had two helping (two photos for the photo diary - v.bad). The dish went by the name of 'A Very Full Tart'.

Which just about describes how I feel now.


Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Today at work I was greeted by a colleague with the words, 'Hello, Nora Batty!'

I was speechless. And more than a tad upset.

And that is all I have to say.

I retire now.

To tend my wounded heart.


Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Woman of No Importance

So, when I started tutoring I was installed in a little office at the top of the English block. It is a nice little office - it has shelves, a desk and a couple of chairs, plus an armchair where I can slob and eat my lunch and read the newspaper or do a spot of writing. Other members of staff pop in and out occasionally, to make a cuppa or say 'Hi!' or rummage for an important piece of paperwork that might be lurking therein.

Most importantly, in this chilly weather, the desk stands against a radiator which means I keep nice 'n' warm; perhaps a little too warm when the sun reaches the window at about 1 p.m. But it is s good space in which to tutor, and I have been left undisturbed to do my job for well over two months.

Until yesterday. Yesterday, a woman turned up half-way through my first tutor session.

'Oh,' she said, as she came through the door. She had a shopping trolley in tow and was toting a briefcase.

I looked at her. What was 'oh' supposed to mean? My tutee looked at her, too, and yawned, not because he was bored by her arrival but because he'd been up all night having an 'X-box 360 sleep-over' with one of his mates and planned to make a good start to his school week on approximately 2 and a half hours of sleep. I know, what can you do? Keep poking 'em with a pencil to wake 'em up, that's what.

Anyway, it transpires this woman has been brought in by the school to 'oversee the running of the English department in the absence of a Head of Department.' I know, how weird is that? A core subject without a Head of Dept. Hey ho.

And she had been told by 'someone' (identity unknown), that she could use this little office to work in on Mondays, because apparently one can run a core subject department on one day a week, so that's all she'd be doing.

'Oh,' I said, not wanting to be outdone in the 'oh' stakes. I threw in an 'er' for good measure. 'Er, would it be possible for you to use the office vacated by the old Head of Department, as it's empty and for one day only?'

She looked at me like I'd asked her, in Ancient Arabic, to remove her camel from my bike rack and make me a toasted armadillo sandwich.

'Well,' she said. 'The thing is, all my stuff is up here.'

Stuff?? What stuff?? It was 9.20 a.m. What 'stuff', exactly, can one accumulate within the space of five minutes of one's Royal appearance??

'Perhaps you could work over there,' she said, pointing out of the office, across the corridor and into the room that the lady-who-specialises-in-dyslexia uses. 'It appears to be empty at the moment.'

Well, what I really wanted to say was 'You go and work it in then, Mrs Hoity-Toity One-Day-A-Week-Turning-Up-Late-Psuedo- Head-Of-Dept' but I didn't because there was a minor in the room, even though he was half-asleep, drunk on his X-box marathon.

'You can finish with this student if you like,' she added, graciously. 'I'll just sort out my 'stuff'. Ignore me whilst I potter.'

Fat chance, I thought. Potter? Pah!!

Still, I completed tutor session number one of the day, and I gathered up all the tutoring 'stuff' that I have accummulated over the last two months (yes, two months, not five minutes.) And then, dear reader, because I wanted to make my point and one isn't allowed to swear or resort to physical violence in a school unless one is a student, I SWEPT dramatically from the little office, and I STOMPED across the corridor, and I FLUNG 'n' SCATTERED my 'stuff' across the table used by the lady-who-specialises-in-dyslexia's desk, who, thank goodness, doesn't work on a Monday because if she did she would have been well within her rights to tell me to 'offer bug.'

And I spent the rest of the day at lesson changeover standing outside my relocation relocation relocation calling across the corridor to my students, 'I'm over here! I've been kicked out of our usual room. Sorry it's so cold in here, but if I switch on the heater we shan't be able to hear ourselves think BECAUSE IT MAKES A NOISE LIKE A HELICOPTER TAKING OFF!'

'Why are we in here?' asked tutee number 4, who is very keen on chickens and is getting very excited about possibly being allowed by the council to keep chickens at his house, well, garden, so I've given him a how to keep chickens book, and we are learning about keeping chickens during his tutor sessions.

'I'm afraid I am a Woman of No Importance,' I said.
'What does that mean?' said he.
'It means I should know my place and not get ideas above my station. Ask Oscar Wilde,' I said.
'Who's he?' said the tutee. 'One of your chickens?'
'Yes,' I said. 'Him and Lady Bracknell, with all her 'stuff.'

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Tat's Away!

I continue my war against extraneous tat chez le Manoir, but instead of 'War By Frenzied Flinging' which featured a lot in 2010, I have adopted the more subtle approach of 'War By Subtle Nuance.' This involves a more day-to-day process whereby I chip away in a 'drip, drip,drip' kind of way rather than having to wind myself up for an eight hour sift 'n' sort marathon which generally leaves me physically and emotionally exhausted (I still can't bring myself to get rid of my wedding dress), covered in dust and smelling like a musty cupboard in a second-hand bookshop.

What I do is this:

1) if I open a cupboard or drawer, I think, 'What is in here that I can get shot of?' and I have a quick shufti and select something, then consign it to either rubbish bin/ recycle bin/ charity bag.
2) if I go past a book shelf, I stop and think, 'Which book have I read and am never going to read again?' and I select one and consign it to the charity bag/ pile for other people to have a look at in case they want to read it. Obviously, I adopt this approach only if it's one of my bookshelves. I daren't 'relocate' any of Andy's books because I suspect that even though he has several hundred, he knows exactly where each and every one is and if one went missing he would know and I would have A LOT to answer for, m'lud
3) once a week I look in my wardrobe or chest of drawers and think, 'what haven't I worn for ages/ am too fat or thin to wear/ makes me look like a bag lady or tart' and I put an item in the charity bag

Just before Christmas, we made £115 by selling old DVDs, CDs and a mobile phone on line by using this process.

Today, I have turfed out three things from a cupboard in the kitchen, and a book.

Yesterday, I bought 4 books, which slightly negates the purpose of cutting down on my book collection, but I console myself that a) I had Waterstone's vouchers to spend from Christmas and b) at least I've got a bit of space on my bookshelves to put them in.

So I bought a book on making soft toys for I have a whim to create in 3-D all the characters from Nearly King Jimbo. I can see them now - NKJ himself, Alice, the Queen and King Andy, Mr Jobble, Mrs Bobbinflaxenfluff, Farmer Seed and his wife Annie, Bob the Cat, Prince Jimbo of Titbury von Streudelheim the prize-winning angora goat and Mick the Dog. Don't ask me why; I have these thoughts sometimes and whilst I ought to learn to say 'Avaunt ye, crazy thought! Get back to the dark recesses of mine mind,' because these thoughts often result in the acquisition of more extraneous tat, this one got past my internal tat filter. Besides, I like sewing.

And I bought Janet Street-Porter's latest book 'Don't Let The B*****ds Get You Down,' because her last book 'Life's Too F*****g Short,' was very entertaining and I find JSP quite inspirational in an odd sort of way. And she, too, is very keen on getting rid of extraneous tat.

And I bought two novels which promise to be funny and entertaining, yet ever-so-slightly literary at the same time.

So my Waterstone's vouchers are spent. No more book buying for a while. No more tat.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Give a Little, Get a Little

Back to tutoring this week, which I have to admit I am absolutely loving. It's doing what I went into teaching to do, and that is to teach. And the students I work with are such characters. I'm half way through the course for my first 'batch' of tutees, so have used this week to do a little reviewette of their progress so far, just to make sure they all feel they are getting something from their sessions and maybe adapt their programme accordingly.

Words such as 'enjoy', 'fun' and 'can use apostrophes properly now' have been the order of the day. One of the Year 11s said, 'Yeah, I really look forward to seeing you on Friday mornings coz I get to do proper work, innit, without idiots like Stuart and Danny getting on my t*ts?' I spent a goodly amount of time this morning listening to her enthuse about her plans for the future - and boy, has she got her life planned out! I told her about the Open University because she's worried about being able to afford to go away to uni, and she dashed off to order a prospectus. And as she went I thought, I bet she gets where she wants to be and I wish I had half her energy.

One of my tutees, a Year 7, declares on a regular basis (generally when a book comes within a two foot radius of him) that he 'hates books' and 'hates reading' because 'it's boring.' I suffer heartache when he says this because a) he is as bright as a button and suffers not from a struggling brain but a goodly dose of 'can't-be-bothered-lazy-itis' and b) I love books and can't really cope with people who say they hate them. So I said to him on Wednesday, 'Would you read a book on an e-reader?' ( I got Andy a Kindle for Christmas and it's been attached to his palm ever since.) And this little lad looked at me like I was mad and said, 'Course I would.' And I said, 'Why? It's still a book, isn't it?' And he said, with a pitiful look in his eye, 'Well, I wouldn't have to bother about turning any pages, would I?' it's the turning of the pages of a book that makes reading boring, is it? Easy-flip pages could be the way to go for this weak-wristed generation of children.

Another boy was having trouble with his biro today. One discovery I've made since becoming a teacher is that boys aged 11 to 14 have the uncanny knack of making biros explode so that they and all their surrounding become covered with thick, gooey ink. It's a rare and peculiar talent, demonstrated beautifully by Alfie. He got out his 'emergency biro' which then refused to write properly.
'It's all scratchy,' he said. 'What I really like writing with is a fine liner.'
'Me too,' I said. 'I have one you can borrow if you like,' and I lent him the one I keep in my lovely shiny purple handbag.
Well, he did some beautiful writing with the fine liner, taking real care to form his letters (he's a bit of a drunken-spider-on-a-page writer), and at the end of the lesson he gazed lovingly at the pen.
'You can keep it if you like,' I said, because I could tell he was reluctant to part with it.
Honestly, you'd think I'd given him the crown jewels, such was the beam of joy on his face!
'Make sure you keep up your good writing with that pen,' I said.
'I will, ma'am,' said Alfie.

And this brings me to the karmic theory of 'give a little, get a little.' Because when I got home and checked my e-mail, I found one from my friend Sarah, who bought copies of Nearly King Jimbo for her family. She had forwarded an e-mail from her aunt, part of which said thus...

'Have loved NKJ. So much so that I think it is the only book ever that I have almost immediately restarted when I have finished it. There is so much in it that my slow wit missed much first time around - and much enjoyed both times. It is a book for all ages...'

Bless you, Sarah's auntie. You've made a rookie writer very happy!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A Bit of a Solar Eclipse

I didn't wake until fairly late today - well, actually, I was awake at 4.22 a.m, fretting about my destiny because the destiny question is still languishing, void-like, in my Book of Days. So I went downstairs and curled up on the sofa because although Andy was keeping me awake with an interesting selection of orchestral snoring songs, I was probably not helping by my fidget 'n' fret contribution.

Anyhow, I woke at 7.45ish, when Andy patted my face to tell me he was off to work and there was a cup of tea on the side for me.
'Oooh,' I thought. 'I need to get up. Partial solar eclipse about to start.'

I remember the total solar eclipse back in 1999...or was it 2000?? Anyway, I do remember it, because me and the children (as they were then) cobbled together a complex viewing apparatus aka a cardboard box with a pinhole in it, and a sheet of white paper sellotaped to the garage wall. I think some sort of lens or mirror might have been involved as well. But whatever we did a la Blue Peter style, worked very well and we were able to watch the eclipse on the garage wall in glorious monochromatic shadow and without blinding ourselves.

Today, I thought I'd peer at the partial eclipse askance through the kitchen blind. It was due to run between 8.10 and 9.30. At 8.10, the sky was full and clouds and looking murky. There was a spot of blue breaking open in the North, which was no good at all. I went to feed the hens. They were busy with a cardboard box, a pin and a mirror. There was a piece of paper sellotaped to the inside of the greenhouse.
'What are you lot up to?' I said.
'Watching a boxed set of film reels of old Charlie Chaplin films,' said Miggins. 'You can join us if you like.'
'I'll pass on that one if you don't mind,' I said.
'No skin off my rice pudding,' said Miggins, which made me feel instantly nauseous.

Back indoors I continued sky watch. Clouds, clouds, clouds. And then at 9.20, the sun came out in a blaze of glory, and then it went dark and miserable again and Duncan's horses did eat themselves. Good old Macbeth. Good old Shakespeare. A quotation for every occasion.

So, bit of a damp squid there. Squid? Squib.

I think I'm fighting a bit of a cold. Kayleigh has been very generous with her mucoid sneezing since just after Christmas and I may have succumbed to baby germlettes. But I've been reflexologising the bottom of the base of my big toe (throat area) and it appears to be working as I've not yet had to resort to the drug cocktail.

Also, you may have noticed the new profile photo of moi. I'm not sure about it. Still, it's what happens when you trust a cat with a camera. They're all paws when it comes to buttons.

Monday, 3 January 2011

I Can Make You...

Blimey! Paul McKenna has got it made, hasn't he? All he has to do each year is think of something he can make us do, write a book about it using a format based on the previous year's offering, include a subliminal message CD and conduct a few seminars and I bet he won't have to worry about his fuel bills ever again.

This year it's 'I Can Make You Happy.'

Odd that. I beg to differ. The only person who can make me happy is me. I mean, if we were to start relying on other people to make us happy, we'd be heading helter-skelter for some kind of blame culture...oh no, hang on a minute...we're already in one.

'What's up with you then? You look like you're chewing a wasp.'
'Well, it's me Mum/ brother/ kids/ workmates/ bank manager/ florist innit? It's their fault I'm feeling so miserable.'
'Oh really?'
'Yeah. Want to hear about it?'
'Not really, but I expect you're going to tell me anyway...'

Etc etc blah, blah, blah.

You see - that's the thing . Be responsible for your own happiness, and stop blaming other people. It's not how they behave towards you, it's how you deal with their behaviour. I find sticking my fingers in my ears and going 'tra-la-la-la-laaaaaaaaa!!' helps enormously in maintaining my own happiness.

To be fair to Paul though, I haven't yet read the extracts from his latest tome, published in today's Daily Rant, and he might indeed tell us to deal with our own state of mind rather than blaming it on other people. In which case, I apologise unreservedly, but I shan't be buying the book.

I wonder what he'll come up with next year. Having already tried to make us thinner, richer and sleepier, may I make the following suggestions?

1) I Can Make You A Better Driver
2) I Can Make You Believe in Alien Life Forms
3) I Can Make You a Jolly Nice Vegetable Soup with Croutons If You Like
4) I Can Make You A Star But Only If You Are David Essex
5) I Can Make You Lay an Egg

Or Andy's suggestion which is...

6) I Can Make You Jump!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Garden Flurry

Bit of a mad moment in the garden this morning. Not from me - I was having a housewifely moment inside - but Andy suddenly disappeared and before I knew it he had dug and manured a hole for the damson tree he got for Christmas, moved the fig tree from the grounds of Cluckinghen Palace to the front garden where my willow tree lived and died, and planted the Christmas tree in the space vacated by the fig tree.

Whew! We'd been pondering where to locate the damson tree. For a start, it was a lot bigger than expected, and there's always the concern about roots interfering with house foundations and branches overhanging the neighbours. In hindsight, given our tiny patch of England and how full it is already with hens and bees and greenhouse and raised bed, a damson tree was not the brightest thing to decide to want, but damsons are so great vis a vis the making of jam and wine and Andy wanted one, so get one he did. But I think I can safely declare the land at Much Malarkey Manor officially full. Satisfying, but slightly sad.

The hens, of course, were very helpful in the digging and manuring of the damson tree hole.
Last night I dreamt I was practising on my piano keyboard and my Dad appeared and started sound-proofing the walls. I also dreamt that my cousins (of which I have many) started to become grandparents themselves, and there was a bit of rivalry betwixt the assorted great-grandparents about whose grand-child/great-grandchild was the best. Well, mine is of course, but no-one would listen. So what does this portend? That my piano practise is going to be horrendous and perhaps I should invest in some earphones so I can plinky-plonk away en silence? That there is going to be a major bust up between various family members and I'm going to be standing on the sidelines trying to chuck in my pennyworth and being roundly ignored? (Nothing new there then!)

Or merely that my brain is over-heating again?

On the Nearly King Jimbo front, there have been several favourable comments from family and friends who received a copy for Christmas. There has also been a deathly silence from other recipients, but mostly people have enjoyed reading it and had a bit of a chuckle so as far as I am concerned, mission accomplished in the spread-a-little-happiness stakes. The royalties have amounted to a grand total of £8.86; later I shall research exactly how many bricks this will buy for the start of our self-build project.

I continue to be bemused by the arrival of the New Year but am persisting in photographing my food.


Saturday, 1 January 2011

Photo Diary

HAPPY New Year! Happy NEW year?? Happy New YEAR??!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!

No matter how I try it out, I can't get that 'fresh-from-the-packet' feel for the New Year that I generally get on the border between 31st December and 1st January. I don't know why. I mean, I've started my Book of Days, I've given the house a good post-Christmas tidy up. I've even been for a brisk New Year's Day walk in the bright sunshine and crisp frost. Well, it would have been bright sunshine and crisp frost if it wasn't for the grey clouds and persistent drizzle. But I went for a walk nonetheless.

Didn't stay up to see in the New Year though.

What I did do, however, and here can only be the undeniable proof that I am suffering with some kind of middle-aged madness, was to don my most unforgiving outfit (a pair of skin tight leggings and a skin tight vest top) and get Andy to take full length photos of my front view, back view and left 'n' right profiles. Blimey, was that a levelling experience.

'Why am I doing this?' asked Andy.
'Because I put on weight in 2010 and I want to lose it again,' I said. 'And this is how I'm going to do it. I am going to have photos taken on the first of every month to motivate me and I am going to photograph EVERYTHING I eat to see EXACTLY how much and what I eat every day.'
'Will this work?' said Andy.
'I don't know,' I said. 'But right now my brain is telling me it's a good idea.'

And to be honest, looking at that first set of 'around-the-girth-of-Denise' photos was motivating in a depressing 'ye gods' kind of way.' I had a minor dilemma before the photos were taken and that was should they be done pre-morning poop or apres-morning poop (sorry if you're suffering a hangover, or eating, but come on, these things need to be considered), and decided apres-poop to be the better option mostly because I really needed to go. Plus I was going to weigh myself and I needed all the help I could get.

And I didn't cheat by breathing in either.

And good news in the paper this morning in that the recommended healthy BMI was re-adjusted last year (why did nobody tell me??), and I can get away with losing about a stone less than I originally thought!

So today is not marked by any prophetic, spiritual, motivational poem. It is not marked by a series of wishes and blessings, nor a list of hopes and dreams.

Just a picture of me. And my breakfast. Looking more and more like Ann Widdecombe. That's me, not the breakfast.

Photo Diary Day One. Tick!