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.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Wild Life

No, I wasn't spending an extra day in school today. Not that kind of wild life. Today, I woke up and said to Andy, 'Let's take Kayleigh to the zoo.'

So we did.

And here are the latest scores for the 'Kayleigh Animal Appreciation' league table:

Gorillas - 9/10. Especially the one who regurgitated some mushy greenery at least three times
Elephants - 6/10. Liked the three babies who had a tug-o-war using their trunks.
Anteaters - 0/10. Noses too long. Tails too pouffey. But Gran liked them enormously and would award them 10/10. Gran is older. Gran knows best. Gran says Kayleigh will learn to appreciate the anteater as she gets older. Kayleigh says anteater, schmanteater.
Tigers - 10/10. Kayleigh says 'Here, kitty, kitty.'
Rhinos - 4/10 when they were way over the other side of the paddock. 7/10 when they trundled up to the viewing end to have some high tea hay.
Bongos - 7/10. For being very orange.
Lemurs - 8/10. For being good ambassadors for the consumption of mucho fruito. And for having a very loud fracas which shows that even lemurs can get crotchety sometimes.
Honey badgers - 6/10. For looking like they were never going to give up making a break for freedom. If only they had a length of rope, a ladder, a spacehopper and set of cunning disguises.
Buffalo - There were buffalo? Yes, there were buffalo. They were a long way away. They were sitting down. They weren't going to entertain anyone today. No way. Too hot.
Wolves - 5/10. Gran gave them 2/10. She has been wolf-phobic since childhood.
Wild boar - 10/10. For having weird ears and a nice white stripe down the middle of their backs. And for looking like they'd be able to control a class of bonkers Year 8s with a single tusk.

And the award for Kayleigh's favourite creature du jour? The squirrel that ran across our path carrying a nut as we went through the deer park

I know. You pay a small fortune to get into a wildlife extravaganza when you could have paid nothing and gone to the local park.

But all adds to the many educational, life-enhancing experiences we hope Kayleigh is going to have.

Friday, 14 October 2011


Last Christmas, Chris and Leane gave me an orchid. Pink and cream, it was. I'd never kept an orchid before. My house plants tend to be leafy green confections. Things with flowers tend to die on me. I take green and leafy plants to school for my classroom. The students don't quite get why I want to be surrounded by plants. I've tried explaining the whole removing-toxins-from-the-air theory and the fact it's nice to see greenery around the place, but the closest they get to understanding my appreciation is the fact I'm vegetarian so clearly I must nibble on them occasionally. They don't understand the vegetarian thing either. Or my aversion to the X Factor/ soap operas/ Macdonalds/ mobile phones.

Anyway, back to the orchid. It was very easy to maintain. Dunk it in water occasionally. Keep it out of draughts. The flower stem bloomed until April. Then the flowers fell off. Nothing much happened for a couple of months. Ah well, thought I. It was good whilst it lasted.

And then a pair of new leaves sprouted. And, what's this? A new flower stem? No! Three new flower stems!! One grew very quickly and has a curve of flowers on it, longer and larger than the first flower stem. And in the last two weeks, the other two flower stems have begun a growth spurt and I think they will be all a-flower by Christmas.

I think I may like orchids. I went and bought another one last week-end in a deep, plum colour, with a little yellow eye winking from the centre.

Good things about orchids:

1) they seem easy to keep
2) they seem difficult to kill
3) the cats leave them alone
4) they look lovely in any setting
5) they have nice fat leaves
6) they come in many different colours

I'm going to get another one this week-end. I'm going to find out more about orchids. Maybe orchids could take my mind off saying good-bye to the allotment.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Still Alive

Well, today was a good day.

Firstly, I didn't get stabbed. No honestly, this was a genuine red alert concern after yesterday, when a student whom I teach (well, try to but generally he ain't having it) sat in my class and said, 'I'm going to stab you, Miss, I'm going to stab you, Miss,' over and over again in a quiet and most sinister manner.

Now generally children don't freak me out, but some gut feeling unnerved me, and given this boy's history of drug taking and the paranoid and schizophrenic side effects of his habit, I was a bit bothered. So I thought, I'd better e-mail my concerns to the powers-that-be, if only so that when a caretaker finds me in the stationery cupboard lying in a pool of blood, I can say, 'Told you so!' from beyond the grave, heaven or hell or wherever else I might end up. (I'm secretly hoping for Herefordshire but I'm not sure how specific God can be about the after-life.)

Anyway, it seems my concerns have been taken seriously, which unnerved me even more and the boy was absent from my class today. I live! Hurrah!!

I'm sorry if I'm sounding flippant about the whole malarkey, but it's for the benefit of those people who say, 'Ha! Teachers! 9 - 3, Monday to Friday with 13 weeks holiday a year? Call that working??' I actually finished work at 7 last night because of a parents' evening and so far this academic year I'm averaging 60+ hours a week in school and doing prep at home. But I shan't bang on about it. Not much anyway.

My nicer, less murderous Year 11 students arrived in class this afternoon. First Charlotte.
'Look, Ma'am,' she said. 'I've made nail art from Blu-tak,' and she waved her hands at me and indeed, her nails were covered in various blobs of artisticky-looking Blu- tak.

Next, Callum.
'Look, Ma'am,' he said, and promptly stuck a small torch with a red light up his right nostril. The red light shone through his nose in a most impressive fashion.
'Very impressive, Callum,' I said.
'Yeah,' nodded Callum.
'Does it work in ears?' I enquired.
'Sort of,' said Callum. 'But up the nose is better.'

I didn't like to ask where else his torch may have probed. Best not. Teenage boy and all that.

Next Adam.
'Ma'am, can you e-mail all the homework I've missed to this address?' he said. When I picked myself up from the floor, I asked what had brought on this sudden change to his homework phobia.
He shrugged. 'Ah well, you know. I suppose Romeo and Juliet isn't so bad after all,' he said.

Somewhere in the distance, I thought I heard Shakespeare call, 'Hurrah!'

And so it continued. I threw away my lesson plan and ran a Romeo and Juliet competition based on 60 quotations from the play. The students fell upon the competition like crazy things, and they worked like mad for an hour and they asked questions about the meaning of Shakespeare's language and imagery and literary features and I nearly burst with the excitement and pride of it all! Rashly, I also said there would be prizes, which cost me £12. 49 in chocolate on the way home, but heigh-ho, it was a bloomin' good lesson, with lots of learning about English Literature and I loved it!

My Year 9s were also suspiciously good today, but they aren't getting chocolate coz I don't like them that much.

Not yet anyway.

Sunday, 9 October 2011



'If you tell me to 'ssssshhhhhh!' one more time, so help me Lord of Double Gloucester, I shall drop this suitcase on your foot, turn around and head straight back to Much Markle, tout de suite, pronto and immediately.'

'Myrtle, for the last time, if we had set off when I'd wanted to set off, we'd have arrived on time, in the daylight, and we wouldn't have to be sneaking around in the dark like a couple of criminals...'

'Don't you be bringing my Uncle Migsy into this. He didn't do it, no matter what the police said.'

'Did I mention your Uncle Migsy. I never said a word about Uncle Migsy...'

'You didn't have to. I saw the look in your eye. Just because there's one bad apple on the toffee apple stand...'

'Myrtle! Just knock on the door, will you? Hopefully, someone will be waiting up to let us in.'

Myrtle drops the suitcase on Monty's foot. 'There better had be,' she says.

Luckily, the door opens quickly and the glow of the porch light reveals a round figure wearing a floral housecoat and a hairnet.

'Ah! Here at least,' says the figure.

'Hello, yes...sorry we're late. Monty and Myrtle Pamplemeece,' says Monty, removing his hat and sweeping a low bow.

'Are you the Much Markle Pamplemeece or the Marseille Pamplemeece, or the Melbourne Pamplemeece?' says the figure.

'We're the Much Markle Pamplemeece,' says Monty. 'And we're sorry we're late only we didn't leave Hereford when I'd have liked and the train was delayed because of a water otter on the line.'

'Oh, you won't have problems like that here in Kent,' says the figure. 'We only get leaves and snow on the line. The only otter here is Mr Kettle, our plumber and handy man. He's our water otter (boom! boom!). I'm Mabel Pamplemeece, by the way. Welcome to Much Malarkey Manor. Come in, come in. I hope you enjoy the Pamplemeece Family Get-together.
And Mabel Pamplemeece picks up the heavy suitcase, flings it over her shoulder because she did body-building in her youth and never lost the touch, and shows Monty and Myrtle Pamplemeece to their room on the East Wing of the Manor.

'Breakfast at 8,' she says, 'sleep well.'

And there the story of the Pamplemeece family reunion must pause for the day because the chief writer aka me is being unably assisted in her typing by apprentice writer aka Kayleigh who is insisting on writing the story via the letters B, V and P only, which is a bit of a pain.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


Okay, the thing made me laugh like a loon this morning wasn't exactly schadenfreude because the hilarity was more ironic than malicious.

And I can't tell you the exact details of the hilarity.

But suffice to say the comment that made me laugh (and it was an involuntary reaction because I know I should be mature enough to control my thoughts and say, 'No, Denise, that's not nice. Rise above it. Be charitable. Be kind) was made by someone who describes themselves as a mother and housewife and I've known this person for 20+ years and well, if you knew what I knew, you'd been laughing, too.

And I don't know if God reads blogs, but if he/she does, then I am truly sorry and if I have to tolerate a class of monsters next week as karmic payback for my lack of spirituality this morning then so be it because it will be worth every giggle I emitted.

And I've probably been set back a pace or two on the path to the wings 'n' halo combo. And Satan and all his little demons probably rubbed their clawed hands together for the brief moment a dark smudge appeared on my soul.

And I'm sorry I'm still having a snigger about what I read.

I'm trying to get a grip. Honest I am.

And I know that if I was really sorry I'd contact this person and apologise to them. Except they wouldn't understand the irony. Or why I felt I needed to apologise. So I can't because I'm human and actually, to be honest, I don't want to.

Sigh...I try to be good. Most of the time. Most of the time I try to be kind and helpful.

But sometimes I fail. Like this morning.

But it did make me laugh.

What I read.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Hearth and Home

Today is St Osyth's Day. We should all be invoking St Osyth tonight, in order to keep our hearth and homes free from calamity for the coming year. That would be good. There's been way too much calamity chez nous this year.

So, last thing before bed, we have to rake the ashes from the grate and mark them with a cross. We don't have ashes in our fireplace here at the Manor; we have an ENORMOUS round bottomed jug covered in pretty pink roses which is generally home to a pot plant except the current pot plant is on its last legs and may be usurped by a different pot plant of the non-dying variety any day now. Anyway, I've scraped some dust from the vacuum cleaner in lieu of ashes - well, it's all household crud, isn't it?

Next, you have to offer a prayer to St Osyth to protect the house from 'fire, water and all other calamities.' I have been wondering what 'other calamities' I could specify, because I always think it's important to be exact in these things. So I shall also be asking St Osyth to protect us from Bank Holiday electric appliance breakdowns, clunky boilers, wasp invasion and anything at all to do with the upstairs bathroom which is sorely in need of a re-do.

Prayers said, you can then rest in easy, peaceful and protected sleep. Does that mean I can cancel the contents insurance, I wonder?

St Osyth was an Essex girl. I don't know if she had a fake tan, a pierced belly button, hair extensions and false nails, but I do know she was captured by pirates and beheaded. And she must have had a certain core of steel to her character because she refused to die until she had carried her head to the place she wished to be buried which was 3 miles away, and to be honest, I'd have put more distance than that between me and bunch of blood-thirsty pirates.

I'm sorry Mrs Pumphrey wasn't able to deliver the Saint's Day story, as is her usual wont. Only she's at the Bingo. I did ask her if she'd be back tomorrow to tell you all about St Keyne, but she said that apart from being able to turn snakes into stone, St Keyne was a bit of a boring woman, so no, she wouldn't, especially if she wins tonight's jackpot.

Finally, I'd like to say 'hang on in there' to my friend, Janet, who's been through a bit of an ill-health marathon these last few months, and that I'm lighting a candle for her and sending healing hugs.

And finally finally, 'Hello and Welcome!' to Alexander, the latest house guest to arrive at MMM. Good to meet you, and I hope all is well in Oklahoma. And I apologise now, but Andy and I sang 'Oklahoma!' from the musical 'Oklahoma' in your honour, and we scared the cats.

But the thought was there!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Christmas Book Cheat

I'm sorry to mention the Christmas word so early in the year, but when one is a writer, one has to think ahead.
'And when one is a chicken, one has to think ahead, too,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I, for example, have already ordered a tankini and flipflops for my summer hols next year.'

And one especially has to think ahead when one is a writer who hasn't had much time to write these last few months because one is teaching full time.

Which is why Much Malarkey Press is going to release, as the Christmas Book 2011, a little tome called 'The Chicken Blogs' or some such nonsense, which is basically a rehash of the chicken-focused writing I've published on this blog in the last three and a half years.

Look on it as being similar to all those BBC2 /Channel 4 'revisted' programmes which they advertise as being a 'new series' although what they really mean is 'old programme repeat but with five minutes added on the end in the form of a 'let's-catch-up-with-the-owners-of-Dungball-Hall-and-see-if-they've-managed-to-avoid-being-repossessed/falling down/ remortgaging-up-to-the-hilt.'

Anyway, Andy has been illustrating some, er, illustrations to go with the blogs and at some point between now and 24th December I have to find some time to do some editing and rewriting. Of course, if I wanted to be a real and proper writer, then I'd stop doing pointless paper-pushing tasks like auditing Year 11 homework for Senior Management, or preparing mini-whizzy lesson plans for Open Evening for Senior Management, or preparing a Focus Day for Senior Management (this one happened by some strange form of osmosis, don't know quite how but I'm buying an anti-osmosis suit to stop it happening again), or creating, constructing and erecting a Mentor Board for my Mental, sorry, Mentor Group because they're supposed to be entering a competition with it on Monday and 'quite frankly, ma'am, we can't be arsed to.' Which reminds me, when is a Mentor board competition not a Mentor board competition? When it is deemed a compulsory competition by, yes, that's right, Senior Management.

I'd rather be writing. But then the thought of Plan 'Cottage in the Country with Massive Garden' drives me on and I complete these silly tasks so I get paid at the end of the month. Sometimes, I actually get to teach some children.

Anyway, half-term looms in two weeks. I am planning to do writing then. Even it means sitting up until 10 every evening between now and then doing school work so EVERYTHING is up to date.

But I've read a few of the blogs this evening. And yes, they need a bit tweaking, and yes, there was a little lump in the throat when I read the blog dedicated to Mrs Bennett (do you remember Mrs Bennett?) but on the whole I was pleased with the whole entertaining blog effort.

So that's the Christmas book sorted for this year. Bit of a cheat, maybe, but needs must and all that.

'Talking of needs,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I wondered if you thought it was about time I had my own transport? I was thinking a sporty little Mazda number, maybe?'
'Mrs Pumphrey,' I say, 'it is NEVER going to be about time for you to have your own transport.'
'Not even a unicycle?' says Mrs P.
'Especially not a unicycle,' I say.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

St Faith's Eve

'Today,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'is Saint Faith's Eve.'
'Good,' says Mrs Slocombe.

There is a brief pause.

'Aren't you going to ask about the significance of Saint Faith's Eve?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who hates it when Mrs Slocombe doesn't play the game.
'Can I finish my Lego model of the Arc de Triomphe first?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'The Arc de Triomphe??' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I thought it was the British Telecom Tower.'
'No,' says Mrs Slocombe, rather hotly. 'It's obviously the Arc de Triomphe.'
'It looks very tall to be the Arc de Triomphe,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'It's perspective,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Anyway,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'back to Saint Faith's Eve...'
'I had an Auntie Faith once,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'She was World Conker Champion 1947 and she made a jolly good chips and cherry cheesecake.'
'Sounds disgusting,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'It was an acquired taste,' admits Mrs Slocombe.
'Whereas THE Saint Faith made a jolly good cake,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

Mrs Slocombe sighs. 'Tell me about Saint Faith,' she says. 'Just watch where you're treading. There's nothing more painful than treading on Lego in your bare feet.'
'There is,' says I. 'Treading on cat litter in your bare feet.'

'Saint Faith's Eve,' says Mrs Pumphrey, determined to tell her story this side of midnight, 'is the night to see a vision of future love by baking Faith Cakes. Three women must turn the cake twice during the baking...'
'Is it a very big cake?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'It must be very big if it needs three women to turn it...'
'Just shush,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Once the cake is baked, it must be cut into three, and each third is divided into nine morsels...'
'There's an awful lot of maths involved, isn't there?' says Mrs. S. 'But 'morsels' is a good word. I like the word 'morsels'. Morsels, morsels, morsels, morsels...morsels, morsels, morsels...ouch!'
'If you keep on,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'I shall ding you round the head with an even bigger piece of Lego.'

'Okay,' says Mrs S. 'Who gets to eat the cake?'
'No-one yet,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'First, each of the pieces has to be passed through the wedding ring of someone who's been married for at least seven years...'
'That'll be Denise and Andy, then...'
'....whilst saying the rhyme, 'Oh good St Faith be kind tonight, and bring to me my heart's delight. Let me my future husband view, and be my vision chaste and true.' Then the ring is hung on your bed and you will dream of Mr Right,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

'Dave Wright?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'From the haberdashery? The one with the eyes that look in different directions?'
'No!' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'But you just said...' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Don't be difficult,' warns Mrs Pumphrey, who is hefting a Lego base plate a la discus-throwing mode.
'The rhyme's a bit predictable,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'I think it should be, 'Oh good St Faith be kind tonight and bring me a bowl of Angel Delight. Let it be strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, or butterscotch maybe, but never gorilla.'
'You can't get gorilla flavoured Angel Delight,' sniffs Mrs Pumphrey.
'You obviously shop in the wrong places,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Ahem,' I say.
'What?' snaps Mrs Pumphrey, who is beginning to wish she'd never tried to inject a bit of culture into the proceedings of the day.
'I hate to tell you this,' I say, standing at a distance that I judge to be safe from pieces of flying Lego, 'but St Faith's Eve is 5th October.'
'What's today?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'The 4th,' says I.
'And who does the 4th belong to?' says Mrs P.
'St Francis,' I say.
'That's better,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Someone who appreciates us birdies and animals.'
'St Francis' Day is traditionally the day that swallows start their annual migration,' I add, helpfully.

Mrs Slocombe looks at her watch. 'Do you know,' she says, 'I've had this feeling all day that I should be somewhere else.'
'You're not a swallow,' sighs Mrs Pumphrey.
'I don't think St Francis would be bothered by such trivialities,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'AND he'd appreciate a model of the Arc de Triomphe.'

Mrs Pumphrey sighs. 'I'm going to go away and try again tomorrow,' she says.

I know exactly how she feels.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Good News This Week

Number 1 - Heather has at last got a new job. No more hanging pants on hangers in an underwear shop for her. Oh no, she's got a proper grown-up job in a proper office doing grown-up complicated stuff. In London. Just off Fleet Street. Now I can transfer my worries away from her being over-qualified-for-shop-work-and-she-deserves-better-with-her-degree, to worries about her being caught up in a terrorist incident/spending an hour and a half each day twice a day on an overcrowded commuter train/ falling foul to one of the many pick-pockets who prowl the streets of London. Dickens' style. Of course.

Number 2 - I had a lesson observation and passed with flying colours mostly of the green tick variety. My observer said, 'Thank you. It was a lovely lesson to watch. You have such a good relationship with the students. Such a good atmosphere in your classroom. How do you stay so calm? Especially with THAT lot?' (That lot being a Year 10 group of dysfunctional teenage boys with every 'syndrome' under the sun and the attention span of a bunch of gnats.) I smiled benignly and gave a modest shrug o' the shoulders. 'Well,' I said, 'no point in getting shouty with them, is there?' I didn't tell him about the weeping, the wailing, the frustrations and the bars of chocolate. That's me, not the kids.

Number 3 - I closed my old bank account with the minimum of fuss and ado. I went into the branch yesterday afternoon ready for a battle, but didn't get one. The chappie who dealt with my request provided me, ironically, with the best customer service I've had from that bank in the last 7 years. 'Can I ask why you want to close your account?' he said. I gave him my best testy look. 'Do you really want to know?' I said. I added a sinister smile. He was bright, that chappie. He picked up on the subtle, but potentially dangerous undertone of the conversation. 'Probably not,' he said. 'But I have to ask.' Anyway, his attempt to change my mind went unheeded. I was all smiles and politeness - well, the sun was shining, it was a lovely day - and the transaction completed smoothly. 'Anything else I can help you with today?' said the chappie as I tucked the official paperwork into my purse. Bit late now to start being helpful, I thought. 'No thank you!' I said. 'Have a nice weekend!'

Number 4 - Three Year 11 students have this week asked me if I'm going to be teaching A level literature next year. I said, 'I don't know. I'm covering maternity leave at the moment. Depends if the school has a job for me next September. 'Oh,' they said. I am thinking, maybe I have some pupil power on my side. Maybe their enthusiasm will secure my job? I don't know. Still, it's nice to be wanted by the people who really matter. Then I thought, p'raps I ought to set up my own school teaching just English language and literature. And maybe a spot of drama.

Number 5 - the weather has been GORGEOUS. Hot, but gorgeous. Full days of sunshine and clear blue skies from 7 in the morning to 7 at night. Here we are at the start of October, cavorting about in sun dresses and T-shirts, cats sun bathing, chickens getting through buckets of water, roses having a second wind of blooming. It cheers the soul, doesn't it, a spot of sunshine?

Number 6 - the department store in town had a discount day yesterday and for the first ever time in my Chanel perfume buying history I bought a bottle of Number 19 with a 10% discount! Chanel NEVER do discount! I see this as a minor victory against the exclusivity of brand names. I shall enjoy every squirt of that perfume, knowing that it is 10% less than every squirt of the last bottle.

Number 7 - Strictly Come Dancing has returned to the screens! Need I say more? I think not!!