Monday, 31 December 2012

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Bl***y Telecom

So BT, our telephonic equipment provider, called yesterday and the conversation went something like this:
Me: Hello?
(Silence, and then a gentle hum; distant voices akin to the sound of a call centre).
Me: Hello?
Gavin: Hi there! Is that Mrs Hunt?
Me: Yes, it is.
Gavin: Hiya Mrs Hunt! How are you?
Me: Fine, thank you.
Gavin: That's great, Mrs Hunt. My name is Gavin, and I am calling from B.T.
Me: Yes.

(I have to point out at this stage that I did not know he was called Gavin before he said he was called Gavin; I have merely decided to call him Gavin from the offset because it is quicker and easier to type than 'operator.' Or 'pain in the backside cold caller'.)

Gavin: So Mrs Hunt...can I call you Denise?
Me: No.
Gavin: Okay, that's great. So Mrs Hunt, I'm calling today from B.T to tell you that we've had lots of engineers in your area today in response to a lot of calls from other B.T customers in your area today about our service.

(At this point I thought Gavin was going to tell me that the calls from other B.T customers in the area were appertaining to the problem we had with our landline on Christmas Day which meant every time we tried to make an outward call, we got put through to a B.T Business Centre, which was closed, it being Christmas Day and all, and that he, Gavin, was calling to apologise and offer us some sort of recompense, preferably financial. And he was right, the exchange box that is situated over the road and down a bit from where we live had been swarming with BT engineers all day. But no, naive Mrs Hunt. I thought wrongly. And thusly continued the conversation.)

Gavin: So, Mrs Hunt, I am calling to tell you that our engineers have been busy updating your Internet Broadband speed in line with, and beyond that of other Internet Broadband providers in your area. Can I ask who you have your Internet Broadband with please?
Me: We are quite happy with our Internet provider, thank you.
Gavin: BT Internet broadband is faster, bigger and more efficient than all other providers in your area.

(And then he tried to impress me with some figures about mega-kilo-jigga-speed-of-download-bytes-per-second malarkey - well, you know how men are. Either way, I glazed over when he started with the Maths because what he was saying sounded like 'burbleburbleburbleblah.')

Me: I need to tell you again that we are happy with our current provider and we have no intention of changing to BT...
Gavin: So you are turning down the chance to have the ultimate and best download speed in your area, Mrs Hunt? Is that correct, Mrs Hunt? Can you tell me, Mrs Hunt, what the download speed of your current provider is?

(Well, I don't know that kind of information, do I? I mean, I'm a girl. I don't care. That's men's stuff, that is. Makes me yawn. YAWNNNNNN. See. But I wasn't going to let Gavin know that I didn't know, so I remained ruggedly determined by saying...)

Me: We are happy with our current provider. We shall not be changing.
Gavin: That's great, Mrs Hunt, but I really don't understand why you are passing up the opportunity to change to BT super-infinity faster than the speed of Daisy with the wind behind her.

(He didn't really say that. I did. For comic effect).

Me: We are happy with our current provider.
Gavin: Mrs Hunt, how can you be happy with a provider that gives you less download speed than BT? It's burbleburbleburbleblah.....

(There he goes again...YAWNNNNN!)

Me: We just are. We aren't going to change.
Gavin: What could I say to impress you, Mrs Hunt? To make you change your mind?
Me: I am already impressed by your dogged persistence in trying to make a sale.
Gavin: But what is it that makes you so happy with your current provider that you want to stay with them, Mrs Hunt?
Me: What makes us happy about anything, Gavin?

(And at this point I could swear I heard him trying to suppress a laugh.)

Gavin: That's great, Mrs Hunt. You have a good day now.
Me: You, too. Byeeeeeee!!

And thus yesterday I learned two things: firstly, that I may have lost the Internet broadband speed offer of the century, but I won the battle against the persistent sales geek and secondly, that my name is Mrs Hunt.

And that's great!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Old Chicks' Henmanac

Because of the incessant rain we've had here for the last week, Andy and I went on an emergency bark chipping run this morning, before the hens disappeared into the muddy quagmire that is fast taking over their run, never to be seen again or at least until April when the local water company is bound to impose a drought order.

On our return, I am dispatched to the kitchen to make a cuppa whilst Andy goes to scatter bark chippings hither and thither and thus save Primrose and Daisy vanishing up to their wingpits in sludge and/or developing some kind of poultry trench foot.

'It's very kind of you,' says Primrose, as we watch Andy from the kitchen window, skidding around in a not uncomical fashion.
'Well,' I say, 'it's not good for hens to be standing around in mud. You need to keep your feet dry in this weather. Lord only knows how long it's going to last.' And I stare at the leaden skies and sigh, because I've had enough of this rain. It is the worst kind of rain - thick, drizzly, cold and clingy. The yearning for Spring is growing within me; I am keeping a close eye on the rhubarb in the front garden which acts like a crumble barometer.

'I could ask Daisy to have a predict if you like,' says Primrose. 'She's in the zone at the moment because she is compiling the Old Chicks' Henmanac 2013.'
'Really?' I say. I have long heard of this strange tome; our previous hens used it a lot to guide their daily activities but whenever I asked to have a look, out of curiosity of course, and not to have a good old giggle, I was ushered tout de suite from the library where it was kept under lock and key and a massive boulder.

'Yes,' says Primrose. 'Daisy is from a long line of Henmanac writers. Her mother was a Henmanacan, as was her mother before her, and her great uncle Manley Buntock before that.'
'Manley Buntock,' I say. 'Now there's a name to conjure with.'
'Oddly enough he did,' says Primrose. 'He used his skills as a Henmanacan as part of his magical Music Hall variety turn in Victorian times. He also did a very scary trick with a balloon and a hedgehog. It didn't always go according to plan. Luckily, no balloons were ever hurt.'
'So where is Daisy now?' I say.
'In the pod,' says Primrose. 'She was up at 5 this morning, writing down her first prediction.'
'And what was that?' I say.
'Well,' says Primrose, 'I shouldn't tell you really, but as it's just you and me and you've been very thoughtful with the bark chippings, then I shall tell you. Daisy's first prediction is that New Year's Day will fall on 1st January.'

I look at Primrose. 'I know,' I say.
'What do you mean, you KNOW??' says Primrose. She seems genuinely affronted by my revelation.
'New Year's Day is always on 1st January,' I say.
'Is it?' says Primrose. 'Are you sure?'
'Positive,' I say.
Primrose has a bit of think. 'Aah,' she says. 'I think I know where you may be getting confused.'
'I'm not confused,' I say.
'Oh, but you are,' says Daisy. 'Because no-one but no-one other than Daisy could possibly know the correct date of New Year's Day. I think you are getting confused with human New Year and Hen New Year.'
'There's a difference?' I say.
'Yes,' says Daisy with a determination that dares me to continue arguing. 'The Hen New Year is commutable.'
'Like Chinese New Year?' I say.
'Yes,' says Primrose. 'Only with less prawn crackers.'
'I see,' I say.
'Which means that the Hen New Year and the human New Year both falling on 1st January this year is a complete coincidence,' says Primrose.

At this point , Andy appears from the garden looking sodden, muddy and steamed up.
'All done,' he says. 'Where's my tea?'

I hand him his mug, and turn to continue my conversation with Primrose, but she has shot through the back door and is bee-lining for the new layer of bark chippings for a jolly good, dry-footed root about.

'Apparently,' I say to Andy, 'hen New Year is on the same day as human New Year this year.'
Andy takes a sip of his tea. 'That is unusual,' he says. 'It was on February 32nd last year.'

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Post-Christmas Hazards

1) New Slipper Fluff - lovely furry boot slippers from Andy and lovely ballet slipper slippers from Heather both generating copious amount of toe fluff. Getting to the point where I might just have to shave my feet.

2) Running Out of Ring Finger Crisis - wedding ring finger carries wedding ring, engagement ring and grandmother's engagement ring and now a new eternity ring. Knuckle lock is imminent.

3) How Long Has That Been in the Fridge For? - where you open the fridge and stare at leftovers and try to remember the order in which the originals were baked/ roasted/ concocted, then decide to run the food poisoning risk regardless because you can't bear anything to go to waste, and the fridge is VERY efficient, isn't it?

4) Sofa Slobber's A**e - it's done nothing but rain for three days, there are so many good films to watch on the telly, what's the point in moving? Until you want to move. And find you can't because your body has set in the film-watching position i.e legs tucked up under body, cat on knee, elbow across arm of sofa to prop up head. Not conducive to efficient walking.

5) Random New Planitis - the New Year is approaching. You can't help it. You want to change your life for the better. You want to be brilliant and perfect and banish all those bad habits in one fell swoop. Even though you know New Year Resolutions are a) pointless b) worthless and c) very likely to lead to massive disappointment and feelings of self-loathing when they inevitably burn and die, you still get all enthusiastic and excited about the impending arrival of 1st January. It's a disease. I think it is connected to the over-consumption of dry roasted peanuts.

6) Bin Bloat - when the packaging of all products Christmas- related becomes inversely volume proportionate to the contents that are actually to be kept and used. If only we could invent the Tardis bin. If only the local council would go back to weekly bin collections.

7) Minimalist Living Urge - when one gets fed up of trying to find an empty surface anywhere in the house because all is covered with Christmas 'stuff' and one really wants to declutter NOW but will only be accused of being a party pooper if one so much as takes down a single Christmas card before January 1st.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Advent Day 24 - Christmas Eve!

I think Christmas Eve is one of the most special days of the year, don't you? All the planning and preparation, the anticipation of the day to come.

Already today I have done the washing up to date and got out all the Christmas crockery and table decoration stuff for tomorrow. I have spiced and baked the red cabbage and made a Stilton, squash, cranberry and walnut pie for us vegetarians. I have wrapped pigs in blankets, made a sausage meat stuffing ( there's dedication for you!), I have jellied the Jaffa cakes and fruit for the base of the MMM Christmas Trifle, and am currently stirring the custard as it cools (whilst listening to The Pickwick Papers on the radio) so it doesn't get a horrid skin on it and doesn't melt the jelly when I pour it on top.

I have made 2 telly appointments for the day, to watch a couple of favourite Christmas films and do some writing at the same time because they are films I know well so don't really need to watch them, but it's tradition and it is comforting and part of Christmas Eve. And in between film watching I shall Hoover, iron and dust, make some profiteroles, prep the veg, stuff the poor dead goose and listen to the Carol Service on the radio, and probably sing along very loudly and very badly.

So by the time Andy arrives home from work this evening, at around 7 p.m, and the Advent candles are lit to shine their way down to the final piece of wax, I shall have everything ready and will have enjoyed every minute of the preparation because it will be my bit towards making tomorrow a lovely day for my husband, and children and grandchild and anyone else who happens by.

And they can do the washing up!

And Andy and I can curl up on the sofa with the cats and a nice bit of supper for two and watch some silly Christmas telly, and chat and maybe play a game of Scrabble or sing some songs from musicals.

May your Christmas be happy and bright. May your Christmas jumper be not too cheesy. May you laugh until your sides ache at a cracker joke, may you have a moment in the day when you go 'Awwwww,' at something cute and heart-melting.

And may you feel the Spirit of Much Malarkey Manor which is sent to you wrapped by two chickens who aren't that great at wrapping anything really because of their lack of prehensile thumbs, but they tried hard, didn't you? ('Yes we did!').

And have a wonderful, wonderful day.

With much love from Andy, Denise, Phoebe, Tybalt, Pandora, Primrose and Daisy xxx

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Advent Day 23

'And in today's Advent Box we have...' says Daisy.
'A bunny, a snowman, a butterfly, a dinosaur and a robot,' says Primrose. 'Ta dah!'
'Interesting combination,' I say. I am still recovering from the festivities of yesterday and am wondering if what I am seeing is a product of a sleep-starved Brian....I mean brain.

'Indeed,' says Primrose.
'They are from your granddaughter Kayleigh,' says Daisy.
'The bunny, the snowman and the butterfly are for you to hang on your Christmas tree,' says Primrose. 'She made them out of salt dough. You can treasure them forever.'
'I can,' I say. 'They can keep the Sheep Angel company,' and I hang them on the tree.

And then I turn my attention to the robot and the dinosaur. The dinosaur is eating the garland that is draped over the television and the robot is hoovering without the aid of a Hoover which is a feat indeed.

'And the robot and the dinosaur?' I say.
'Are what Kayleigh thinks you'd like for Christmas,' says Daisy. 'We asked her. We said, 'what would Gran like for Christmas?' and without a moment of hesitation she said, 'a dinosaur and a robot.'
'Right,' I say. 'The dinosaur is a bit on the big side, isn't it?'
'It depends what you plan to do with it,' says Primrose. 'I mean, it could be useful if, say, you needed to get onto the roof for any reason.'
'Highly unlikely,' I say.
'Or if you wanted to get through heavy traffic,' says Daisy.
'Stomp, stomp stomp,' says Primrose.
'Like Godzilla,' says Daisy.
'Is it carnivore or vegetarian?' I say.
'Does it matter?' says Primrose.
'In more ways than you could imagine,' I say, thinking of the Stilton, squash and cranberry pie I am making tomorrow for my personal delectation on Christmas Day whilst everyone else partakes of a poor demised goose.

The hens look at me and then at the dinosaur which has finished the garland draped around the telly and is now eyeing up the Christmas tree and a family-size box of luxury chocolate biscuits.
'We'll rehome it,' they say.
'Thank you kindly,' I say. 'Which leaves the robot.'

Actually, I am liking the robot. It has finished hoovering and is now buffing the oak floor in the hallway. As it goes it is touching up some scuffed paint work on the bannister rails.
'Does it clean windows?' I say.
'Ground floor only,' says Primrose. 'It's not very good at ladders.'
'Okay,' I say. 'The robot can stay as long as it does the housework. I could do with a bit of help after yesterday. And it'll be invaluable for tidying up before the next set of phantom house viewers arrive.'

Well, last day of Advent tomorrow. It feels, after yesterday, that Christmas has already happened. But it hasn't! Double Christmas Greetings to you all!

Advent Day 22

Party! Many people! Laughter, chat, games, jigsaw puzzle making, Christmas film watching.

Food. A lot. Eaten and enjoyed, very little leftover.

People - 22.
Hours of entertainment - 10 and a half.

Tired hosts - 2.

Lie in this morning - cor blimey yes. Just an hour to recharge the batteries.

Time allowed to open the Advent Box yesterday and then blog about it? None!

Thanks to all our guests for making it such a grand day!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Advent Day 21

'Get out of the Advent Box immediately!' says Primrose, impatiently tapping her foot, an especially loud noise as she is wearing her tap dancing shoes. And as Primrose is fast becoming a chicken not to be argued with, I open the box a smidge from where I am hiding, and try to have a reasoned conversation with her without her getting narky.

'I have to stay in here today,' I say, 'because according to the Mayan Calendar, today is the end of the world.'
'Don't be ridiculous,' snorts Primrose. 'If you really thought the world was going to end on 21st December, you wouldn't have wasted the rest of your life going to school, would you? Besides, the Mayan calendar is cyclical and we live by a linear calendar. So get out of the box.'

I think, she has a point there, and so I lift the box lid completely and peer into the outside world. All seems normal. No devastation, no rubble, no post-apocalypse housework required.

'Now,' says Primrose, 'you have to go to Sainsbugs and do the big Christmas shop. Including the stuff you are going to need for the At Home At Much Malarkey Manor Party which is tomorrow.'

'Yes,' I say. 'And whose stupid idea was that?'
'Yours, I believe,' says Primrose.
'Mmmmm,' I say. She's right again. It seemed a very good idea back in November. Actually, it seems like a good idea now. I just have to brace myself for Sainsbugs.

So I climb from the box, don my Armageddon shopping gear and head for the supermarket. I arrive just after 8. It is already busy, especially for the end of the world, but not aggravatingly so. An hour later I emerge, full trolleyed, and the car park is heaving. People are queuing to park. I allow myself a moment of Christmas smugness that I have been in and out quick as a flash, and can now go home. Except...

...I need to get a joint of bacon for the party tomorrow. Even though I am vegetarian I am not going to impose my beliefs on our guests, but all Sainsbugs can offer is Danish pig, and if dead pig is on the menu, then it will be dead British pig and that means a trip to the butchers in the town centre.

I go home. The home is still standing. Tybalt and Pandora are asleep, snuggled up in a ball together on the sofa. If cats are sensitive to oncoming earthquakes then these two are either lacking that sensitivity, or there are no earthquakes scheduled for today.

I unload the shopping. I look at the full fridge, freezer and cupboards with satisfaction. If the end of the world comes, we shall be okay for food for a couple of weeks at least. I decide to walk back into town, because there will be no parking spaces.

In town I locate and pay for the best part of a pig's back leg. I then make the mistake of thinking, 'Ooh, think I'll have a mooch around town for a while. Get some exercise.'

I find a jigsaw puzzle of the Muppets. 'That will provide some entertainment for guests tomorrow,' I think, because there are at least 5 of them who enjoy a good jigsaw puzzle. After a while, the handle on the carrier bag in which I am toting the dead pig starts to stretch so I have to lean to one side as I walk to prevent the load dragging on the ground.

The town is filling up. I walk past some teenagers who are discussing the end of the world. I think, brilliant - if the world ends today then future archaeologists will discover my skeleton in the company of the goodly part of a dead pig and a jigsaw puzzle of the Muppets. What kind of message is THAT going to send the inheritors of the earth?

I try to find myself a festive top or dress to wear on Christmas Day. I find a purple velvety number in M & S. I try it on. It is described a 'fit and flare'. It does fit, and it does flare. Unfortunately, the bit of me between my neck and my ankles has also flared this year, fatly, (I blame comfort eating in response to the stresses of being a teacher) and thus the dress flares more than is truly necessary. I decide against buying any new clothes until I've lost a bit of weight.

The pig bag has stretched beyond belief. I am forced to catch the bus home because I cannot wrestle with the combination of a dead animal, a large jigsaw puzzle AND walk two miles at the same time.

'So,' says Primrose, as I stagger through the door at lunchtime. 'We survived the end of the world then? Ahahahahahahahaha!'
'Only just,' I say.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Advent Day 20

'Reverse Advent box psychology today,' say Primrose and Daisy, presenting me with an empty Advent box. 'You have to put something INTO the box, rather than take it out.'
'How about a cat?' I say. 'Cats like boxes. And some cats need to be put into boxes to stop them harassing Christmas trees.'

For 'tis not only Pandora who is tree-fixated now; oh no, Monsieur Le Tybalt has become very tree-enamoured since the French sheep wool crocheted angel has taken up residence three branches from the top and slightly to the left of centre. He sits on the arm of the cuddle chair and he sniff, sniffety sniffs at the angel, and he tries to climb into the tree to get to the angel and it all becomes very wobbly and dodgy.

'Not what we had in mind,' says Daisy. 'We were thinking more along the lines of putting away all the things that define you as a teacher.'

Yes, of course it is today that I spent my last day in a school classroom. It was a good, if slightly emotional day. Small children arriving at various points of the morning bearing cards and little gifts. Colleagues doing the same. My last sixth form lesson spent very pleasantly sitting around chatting, laughing and eating biscuits. Hugs. Promises to stay in touch. More hugs. I drove through the gates at the end of the day feeling slightly emotional, yet relieved at the same time.

'Okay,' says Primrose. 'What are you going to put in the box?'

And so I hand over my playground whistle, my planner, my lanyard with dodgy photo therein. I also stuff in the fretting, the worrying, the sense of over-whelming tiredness, the feeling of never being quite good enough, the effing lesson plans, voodoo figures of certain members of Senior Management and data. All the data. Every bit of data I can find, and before I put it in the box I squish it and pop it like bubble wrap to make it as small and insignificant as possible because that is exactly what data is in teaching - small and insignificant because it completely fails to take into account that in teaching we are dealing with people who are, by their nature, individual and unpredictable, and have good days and bad days and were not produced in a factory, and do not therefore have a default setting when their dog dies or they fall out with their best mate.

And finally, I add Monday morning playground duty and the acts of moderating assessments and anything to do with tracking and intervention, because if you are doing your job properly you do these things instinctively, and do not need to deal with them separately, thereby making more work for yourself.

'Feel better?' says Primrose, for I am looking a bit pink with all the data squishing.
'Much,' I say. 'Can I be a writer now?'
'You never really stopped,' says Daisy.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Advent Day 19

A little parcel today, in the Advent Box. A special little parcel because it contains something unique, something that no-one else in the world has, and for that reason it has already become one of my most treasured possessions. It is a special gift from a special friend, and it has travelled all the way from South-West France.

'I can smell sheep,' says Daisy, who is on Advent Box duty today as Primrose has nipped into town to get her roots done before the party season launches.
'You are correct,' I say.
'You have a sheep in the Advent Box?' says Daisy. 'I find that very hard to believe. A hedgehog maybe, or at a push a small badger, but a sheep?'
'There isn't a real sheep in the box,' says I. 'But there is a sheep-related product in the box.'
Daisy stares at me, aghast. 'Not poo balls?' she says. 'Please don't tell me there are poo balls in the Advent Box. I'm all out of deep cleaning products.'
'No,' I say. 'Fleece.'
'Fleas?' says Daisy. 'Do sheep have fleas?' I know they can get ticks sometimes...'
'I said,'fleece,' I say. 'I wish you'd listen.'
Daisy tips her head to one side and knocks her right ear with the flat of her wing. Out pops a raisin and a piece of candied orange.'Mincemeat,' she says. 'Don't ask.'

'As I was saying,' I say, 'there is some fleece in the box. But not any old fleece. Oh no! This fleece has come from a sheep belonging to my friend Vera, and she has taken the fleece and washed it and spun it and crocheted it in to a Christmas Angel! Look!' I say.

And I show Daisy the French sheep wool homespun crocheted angel.

'Well,' says Daisy. 'Who would have thought it? Who would have thought when you went to work this morning that when you got home you would find yourself in possession of such a unique gift?'
'It's the best kind of gift,' I say, and I hang the angel on the Christmas tree. 'It's a treasure, and each year at Christmas time, when I take it from the decoration box, it will make me smile.'

Thank you, Vera - God Bless and Merry Christmas! x

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Advent Day 18

'Have a hug!' I shout, arriving home and skipping into the kitchen where Primrose and Daisy are making Christmas biscuits for the decoration of their Christmas tree. I would quite like Christmas biscuits for our Christmas tree only Pandora is on a one kitten mission to denude the aforesaid Christmas tree as often and as quickly as possible. Give her the temptation on biscuits hanging from the branches and we'd be reduced to a Christmas Twig quicker than you can say, 'Get out of that flippin' tree, you flippin' kitten.'

Anyway, I hug Primrose, who is a very tactile chicken and rather enjoys a good squeeze, and then I make a bee-line for Daisy.

'Stand back!' she says, brandishing her nutmeg grater at me. 'I do not do hugging.'

'Oh, go on,' I say. 'It's from the Advent Box.'
'A hug in a box?' says Daisy. 'Don't be so ridiculous.'
'It's true!' I say. 'A hug from an Advent Box is a very special Christmas hug and you shall have one, you grumpy crabstick of a chicken, you!'
And although she is quick on her feet and makes a dash for the back door, I rugby tackle her before she reaches the cooker and hug her until she squeaks.
'There,' I say, releasing her. 'That wasn't so bad, was it?'
'It was hideous,' grumps Daisy. 'I'm going for a bath.' And off she huffs, leaving Primrose to finish the biscuit baking.

'Where are the cats?' I say. 'They need a hug, too. Tybalt loves hugs, don't you Tybalt?' I shout.
'No!' comes a Tybalt-like voice from inside the cupboard under the stairs.
'I'll have a hug,' says Phoebe, who would quite happily be strapped into a baby sling and carried about all day long.

I hug Phoebe. Several times. Eventually I have to prise her from the front of my jumper and deposit her on a chair as we go into hug over-drive.

'What's with all the hugging then?' says Primrose.
'I'll tell you what's with all the hugging,' I say, giving Primrose another hug. 'Today I said goodbye to my Year 8 class. I told them yesterday that I was leaving, and they were in uproar.'
'Hysterical 12 year olds, eh?' says Primrose.
'Indeed,' I say. 'Anyway, today they presented me with a card and some chocolate truffles. And some very overdue, very guilt-ridden homework. And at the end of the lesson, when we were all Dickensed out with Oliver Twist, they descended upon me and demanded a group hug.'
'Oooh, scary or very scary?' says Primrose, knowing I am marginally allergic to being prodded by small children unless they are my granddaughter.
'Very scary,' I say. 'I tried to put them off by screaming and yelling about claustrophobia, but they weren't to be deterred, and thus I found myself squished like a bug in the middle of a bunch of emotional pre-teens. Actually,' I continued, 'it was okay.'
'Touching, I imagine,' says Primrose.
'Indeed,' I say. 'And so I am contained of a surfeit of huggage, which I feel duty-bound to share amongst the masses, that is you, Daisy and the cats. And Andy. Andy is very huggy.'

'Hug away,' says Primrose. 'We don't want you bursting with your surfeit, do we?'
'No,' I say. 'For a hug isn't just for Christmas, and teachers leaving their schools. A hug is...
'For any time!' says Primrose.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Advent Day 17

'It's stopped feeling like Christmas,' I say to the hens, as we sit surrounded by pine, holly, ivy, tinsel, fairy lights, candles, cards and stars.
'I know,' says Primrose. 'It didn't feel like Christmas...'
'...because it was August,' says Primrose.
'...and then it did start to feel like Christmas,' says Daisy.
'...because it was December and very cold and icy,' says Primrose.
'...and then it stopped feeling like Christmas,' says Daisy.
'...because it was still December but warmer and wetter,' says Primrose.
' what are we going to do about it?' I say, because I am now quite anxious to stop the girls in their inane wittering. Cor, once they get going, they don't half witter, these two.

'Well,' says Daisy, 'today's Advent Box contains an emergency 'Get In The Christmas Mood' kit, so we'd better whip it out and put it to use.'
'Indeed,' I say, and open the box.

'A ball of wool?' I say, retrieving the first object in the emergency kit.
'For the knitivity,' explains Primrose.
'Nativity,' I say.
'Bless you!' says Primrose.

It's going to be one of those evenings, I can tell.

Object number two - boxing gloves decorated with tinsel.
'Christmas punch!' says Daisy.
'Okay,' I say. 'Should we be encouraging violence during the festive season?'
'Should we be encouraging violence at all?' says Daisy.
'True,' I say.
'You'll be glad of those on Boxing Day,' says Primrose. 'Ahahahahahahaha!'

Object number three - a manicure set.
'For Santa's claws,' explains Primrose.
'Is there anything at all vaguely really Christmassy in this box?' I say, reaching in and pulling out a sink plunger.
'I don't know how that got in there,' says Daisy.
'Crackers, for instance,' I say. 'What about crackers?'
'Ah,' says Daisy, 'now we definitely put crackers in there.'

She's right. Cream crackers.
'These won't go 'BANG!' when you pull them,' I say.
'Of course they won't,' say the hens in unison. 'They'll go,'Where's the Stilton?'
'Oh good grief,' I say.

This is turning into a real emergency kit, but for all the wrong reasons. I pour out a cup of fresh tea for everyone.
'What would your emergency kit contain then?' says Daisy. 'What would summon the feeling of Christmas for you?'

I chew on a shortbread finger and have a think.

'Snow outside, a roaring open fire,' I say. 'All my family home and safe, cats draped across the back of the sofa, laughter, a funny film or sitcom on the telly, a good book to read, the scent of hyacinths, cheesy baked potatoes and hot chocolate that stays hot and doesn't turn into lukewarm sludge ten seconds after it hits the bottom of the mug.'

'Is that all?' says Primrose.
'I think so,' I say.

Daisy appears from a final root around in the bottom of the box. 'Will a fish kettle do?' she says.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Advent Day 16

'I haven't got time to open the Advent Box today,' I say, as I dash by Daisy, armed with a duster, mop, bucket, vacuum cleaner, and various other cleaning and tidying accoutrements. (Me, not Daisy. It is a well known fact that hens NEVER do housework.)
'Why?' says Daisy.
'House viewing...eleven thirty,' I say.
'Oh,' says Daisy. 'Actually, I don't think you'd like what's in the Advent Box today anyway.'
'What is it?' I say.
'Dried meal worms,' says Daisy. 'Primrose was certain you'd love them, as a nutritious, high protein snack. I said I thought you wouldn't on account of your being a librarian.'
'Vegetarian,' I say.
'What's the difference?' says Daisy.
I pause and think about this for a moment. 'Not a lot really,' I say. 'Possibly a knitted cardigan?'
'Can I have them then?' says Daisy.
'Be my guest,' I say, and off I go into a cleaning frenzy in preparation for the 11.30 house viewing, whilst trying to forget that the last two so-called 'viewings' didn't show up. And that it is actually nearly two whole months since we last had potential buyers across the threshold, and then we never got any feedback from the estate agents who are expecting us to pay nearly four and a half thousand pounds for their 'services' when they eventually secure us a sale.

So, as I scrub the hall floor and the kitchen floor and clean the upstairs bathroom and try and hide oddments of Christmas decorations still waiting to be put up, I think, well, this viewing will show up, won't it? Can't go wrong three times in a row, surely?

It did. They didn't. At twelve thirty, an hour after the appointed time, it became clear we had been stood up again. I wanted to phone the estate agent and leave an hysterical message on their answer phone off words mosty beginning with 'f'. Andy, because he is wise and has infinitely more patience than I, persuaded me otherwise (for the sake of my blood pressure and bringing on a premature stroke) and instead we walked into town, because it was a lovely sunny day, and we had lunch in a cafe and watched people Christmas shopping with only a slight feeling of smugness because we had done ours ages ago.

'They're quite light and crunchy, these meal worms,' says Daisy, who has been sitting on the back door step enjoying the sunshine. 'Like prawn crackers. Only worm-shaped.'
'Good,' I say. 'They smell disgusting.'
'They would,' says Daisy. 'They're dead. So, how come garden worms are all fat and squishy, and these are light and crunchy?'
'They've been desiccated,' I say.
'Meaning?' says Daisy.
'Meaning they've had all their life juices sucked out of them,' I say. 'Which is pretty much what I want to do to our estate agent right now.'

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Advent Day 15

I am afraid. Very afraid. For the content of today's Advent Box is predetermined, it being the Saturday before the Saturday before Christmas Day, which chez the Manor means...

'Deck the Halls With Strings of Fairy Lights...Falalalalalala!'

'They're all in a tangle,' I say, inspecting the contents of the box.
'Of course,' says Primrose. 'It's tradition.'

Around 3 thousand fairy lights stare up at me. They are laughing at me, because although it looks like they are all attached to the same string of cable, there are, in fact, seven different sets of lights therein. And although every year I pack these seven strings of fairy lights away carefully to ensure ease of unravel next year, somehow, whilst sitting in the loft, quietly and inert, they manage to ravel themselves into the kind of tangle generated when you put five kittens in a bag with a half knitted jumper.

Primrose can sense my nervous reticence. 'Come on,' she says. 'You have to get in there and sort the blighters out, or the Halls will not be decked.'

She's right, of course. The tree is waiting to be decorated, Pandora Kitten is poised on the back of the sofa ready to steal the first jingle bell of the season, and jingle bells are the last thing to go onto the tree after tinsel, silver beads, stars, the owl, the snowman, but only just before Gonzo the Christmas Fairy.

Lights have to go on the tree first.

'Where's Daisy?' I say.
'Looking after the Christmas duckling,' says Primrose. 'It had a bit of a traumatic experience with an ocelot. Apparently.'
'Oh, stop it,' I say.

I can see I am going to have to deal with the annual fairy light detangle myself.

Firstly , I find all the plugs, and plug them into a socket to see if all the sets still work. I allow myself a vague hope that one or two of them won't, and then I can just set about them with a pair of scissors and hack out the dead strings, thus saving me, oh, around 20 minutes of detangle time. However, all seven strings are in remarkably good form.

'Why have we got so many sets?' I say.
'Because,' says Primrose, who has set up a deckchair and poured herself a Tequila Sunrise in order to enjoy the entertainment in comfort, 'every year you think you haven't got enough lights or that the previous year's set MUST be dead, so you get another set.'
'I am an idiot,' I say.

I am in full unravel mode now, frowning and muttering, and cursing and gradually spreading out seven strings of lights across the floor like the tentacle of a seven legged octopus. A septopus. Another puss, Pandora Kitten, is almost bursting with excitement because she has heard the sound of jingle bells in the distance and to her that means Christmas has arrived.

'We only need three sets,' I grumble. 'One for the tree, one for the bannister rail, and one for outside.'

But, as always, the aggravation is worth the end result. Fairy lights are so pretty. The tree ends up with a treat of two sets, the bannister rail is wound around with the long set, the outside set (which, it transpires, are not a 'suitable for outside use' set but hey, they've been used outside for the past three years without any bother) are draped around the weatherboard of the extension, which leaves me three more sets to twirl and twine around other bits of the house tomorrow when I've got my energy back.

Tree up, wreaths and garlands draped, dangle bits dangling, pictures and mirrors tinselled...

...Much Malarkey Manor is decked for Christmas, and is sparkling like fairy dust in the dark!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Advent Day 14

I arrive home today to find Primrose and Daisy sitting on top of the Christmas Tree which is still in the garden and being buffeted by some truly gusty winds.

'We're pinning it down so it doesn't fly away!' they shout.
'I don't think the tree is going to fly away,' I say.
'It might!' shouts Daisy, who is wearing a fetching lady-pilot outfit of helmet, goggles and white silk scarf.
'It should be inside the house by now,' shouts Primrose who is wearing a less fetching outfit of boiler suit and rubber gloves because she has been giving the drains a pre-Christmas flush through.
'Don't you start,' I say. 'Heather has been asking when we're bringing the tree indoors. And can you come down now, please? I refuse to talk to you any more whilst you are up there.'

The hens, somewhat reluctantly I feel, descend the tree, and Daisy points me in the direction of today's Advent Box. I am very excited about today's box, because even now, as I report the event, I still don't know what I am going to find therewithin.

(No, really. I don't. I know I am writing this series of Advent anticipation, but today I am a) tired b) lacking inspiration and c) tired. I haven't a clue what's going on.)

'Open it! Open it!' says Daisy, all excited like.
'Okay, okay,' I say. 'What's the hurry?'
'Mere curiosity in whether you can come up with some vaguely creative in the next 5 seconds,' says Primrose.

I open the Advent Box.

And inside is an ocelot.

'An ocelot?' says Primrose. 'I don't remember putting an ocelot into the box.'
'I think we would have remembered putting an ocelot in the box,' says Daisy.
'Indeed,' says Primrose.
'I have written 'ocelot' because it is the first thing that came into my head,' I say. 'Don't ask why.'
'Why?' says Daisy.
'I said, don't ask why,' I say.
'I'm not asking why to the ocelot,' says Daisy. 'I am saying why to the asking of why.'

I think my face has now assimilated an air of confusion. I know my brain got left behind around line 5 of this blog. Oh, I'm soooo tired...

The ocelot, meanwhile, is sitting on the kitchen floor eyeing up the cat food. I can tell it is thinking,
'Dried biscuits? Where's the antelope?'
'I'm vegetarian,' I say, which, now I've said it, sounds slightly ridiculous.
'Oh well,' says the ocelot. 'If there is no antelope to be had, I'm off to Nandos.'

And off it saunters.

'If you didn't put the ocelot in the box,' I say, 'what did you put in there?'
Primrose looks at Daisy, who looks at Primrose, and they both look at me.
'A Christmas duckling,' says Primrose.
'You put a duckling in a box with an ocelot?' I say, immediately sensing a flaw in the plan.
'The ocelot was not of our doing,' says Daisy. 'The ocelot is your doing.'
'So where's the duckling?' I say.
The hens shrug their shoulders. Well, where their shoulders would be if hens had shoulders.


'There it is!' shouts Primrose, and points with her wing to where a Christmas bauble is sitting on the kitchen work top.
'That's a Christmas bauble,' I feel obliged to point out. 'You said it was a duckling.'

'Did I?' says Daisy. 'I meant bauble.'

Dear reader, I am going to bed now. You see, having completed 13 Days of Advent, I felt I couldn't let you down by missing out Day 14. Unfortunately, this means that today you have been offered a goodly pile of drivel.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

As soon as I've found the Christmas Duckling.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Advent Day 13

'Scissors and Sellotape?' I say. 'For Advent?'
'Yes,' say the hens, and a particular Pandora Kitten. 'It's a motivational item. You need to get your pressie wrapping done before Andy comes home.'

They are right, of course. Andy has been away since Monday combining a course in Cheshire with a visit to his family. I have missed him enormously but his absence is a good moment to wrap his gifts. The course has been on scanning dogs. Quite what for I do not know; I wasn't even aware dogs had bar codes, but that is why Andy, who is clever, is a vet, and I, who am stupid, am a soon to be ex-teacher. I am just hoping one of the volunteer scan dogs is called 'Blip.' That would really make my week.

So I trundle upstairs and try to remember where I have secreted various Christmas gifts prior to the wrapping process. Luckily, I haven't been too cunning this year and I managed to find them quite quickly. Armed with wrapping paper, silver star gift tags, and the Advent box gift of scissors and Sellotape, I pop a Christmas film in the DVD player and set to.

Pandora Kitten gets very excited about the whole wrapping paper malarkey. Here is the Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Wrapping Presents With a Cat. (The cat is NOT wrapping paper substitute by the way, okay? Don't even go there.)

1. Remove all gifts from shopping bags and cardboard delivery boxes. Remove cat from recently vacated shopping bags/ cardboard delivery boxes, and warn aforesaid cat that you will tolerate no messing about with empty bags and boxes this evening.

2. Remove sticky price labels from gifts. Put in waste paper basket. Remove cat from waste paper basket. Remove sticky labels from cat. This is especially important if the resident veterinary surgeon is 300 miles away and unavailable for emergency sticky label removal surgery.

3. Select first gift to be wrapped. Unroll new roll of wrapping paper. Remove cat from wrapping paper. Unroll extra wrapping paper and discard paper that has cat claw puncture marks in it.

4. Place gift in centre of unrolled wrapping paper. Assess for size. Cut accordingly to fit gift. Remove cat from wrapping paper. Retrieve Sellotape from kitchen when it has been dumped after being hijacked by cat.

5. Wrap first gift. Remove cat from opposite end of parcel to the end you are trying to fold neatly. Ignore complaints from cat who is protesting that you are deliberately trying to spoil their fun.

6. Complete wrapping of first gift. Remove star shaped gift tag from bag. Wrestle possession back from the cat who has got hold of the silver string use to attach tag to parcel.

7. Threaten cat that if she doesn't BACK DOWN NOW there will be consequences of a very serious nature.

8. Leave wrapping arena to answer telephone call from friend Jane. Return to find cat sitting triumphantly on top of first wrapped gift. Remove cat.

9. Select second gift. Repeat steps 3-7. Get a bit shouty at cat. Cat gets a bit shouty back.

10. Go to answer second phone call from husband. Think, might as well make a cup of tea whilst I'm on a break. Return to gift wrap arena. Find cat trying to rip open netting bag that contains traditional foil wrapped chocolate coins that MUST accompany gift for son, daughter and husband every year without fail.

11. Wrestle netting bag from cat. Try not to think of horror stories of cat surgery to remove netting from internal organs of a cat.

12. Select third gift to be wrapped. Make fatal error of taking eye off the cat for a moment to watch favourite bit from Christmas film. Refocus to see cat climbing into half wrapped gift and looking like she is going to settle in for the night in the novelty wrapping paper tent.

13. Remove cat.

I could go on, but I won't. The remaining gifts will all be wrapped in the same manner until cat and I both reach screaming, hissing and spitting point. Or around two and a half hours later.

Go to bed, exhausted. Remember pre- cat days when Christmas gift wrapping was such an easy task. Think, it will all be worth it to see everyone's little face light up on Christmas morning. Think, I love my cats more than wrapping Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Advent Day 12

'What is this?' I say, lifting something peculiar from the Advent Box.
'It's a costume,' says Daisy.
'A Make-A-Fool-Of-Yourself-Because-It's-Christmas costume,' says Primrose.
'I don't want to make a fool of myself because it's Christmas,' I say. 'I want to snuggle up in a duvet in front of a real log fire with a pile of books and a tin of shortbread because it's Christmas.'
'Oh, go on,' says Daisy. 'Just put it on. You'll enjoy it. You need to lighten up a bit. You've been far too serious recently.'
'And by serious,' says Primrose, 'we mean 'miserable.'
'Thanks,' I say.
'Oh, we know it's been because of the whole school, Ofsted, moving house that isn't happening thing,' says Daisy. 'Which is all the more reason that the silliness should start now. Go on, take the costume. We've set up a screen for you to change behind. We promise we won't peep.'

So, I take the costume and go behind the screen. Primrose plays a ropey version of 'The Holly and the Ivy' on her harmonica. It's going all right, and then there is a sudden gasp and a cough.
'What's happening?' I say. 'What was that?'
'Don't panic,' says Daisy. 'Just a bit of blow when there should have been a suck. Breathe, Primrose, breathe! Atta girl!'

There is the sound of feathered wing patting feathered back. Strains of 'In the Bleak Midwinter' ensue. Then...
'Ow! Ow, ow, ow ow oooooow!
'Now what?' I say. I am mid-costume. The hens have thoughtfully placed a full length mirror behind the screen, and casting a quick glance in its direction I realise I look a complete idiot.
'It's okay!' shouts Daisy. 'She's just got her lip caught, that's all. Hold still, Primrose. I've got it..........that's right...let me just get the pliers in....'
There is a twanging sound, at the same moment I realise chickens don't have lips.
'Ouch!' ouches Primrose.

Seconds later, the first few bars of 'Jingle Bells' can be heard.

'Shouldn't you stop now?' I say. 'Before you suffer any more harmonica related incidents?'
'Never mind us,' says Daisy. 'Are you ready yet?'
'Yes,' I say, not really wanting to emerge.
'Emerge this instance!' they say.

Reluctantly, I step from behind the screen. I am dressed, head to toe, in dark brown fur fabric. Upon my head , a pair of antlers. Upon my nose, a red flashing ping pong ball.

The hens take one look at me and fall around on the floor, hooting with laughter. I am glad Primrose has removed the harmonica from her beak because she is inhaling deeply, and certainly enough to breathe in the entire instrument and facilitate an emergency trip to the Casualty department.

'You have forced me to dress a Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,' I say.
'Yes!' shriek the hens. 'You look so funny! This is what Christmas is all about!'
'I'm not sure it is,' I say, but then I catch another glimpse of myself in the mirror, and the corners of my mouth start to twitch.

And, of course, as my dearest daughter Heather will know, when one starts laughing, and other people join in, it becomes difficult to stop, and soon the tears are streaming down our faces.

I don't know if it's relief from the tension of the last couple of days (because there has been nothing to laugh about with Ofsted in the building, that's for certain) but suddenly I feel a whole lot better.

Laughter in an Advent Box. What ever next?'

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Advent Day 11

I am not going to talk about Ofsted Day 1 because some swearing, and words like 'pants' and 'poo' might enter into the equation, but suffice to say it has not been a good day, for any of the staff.

So I get home just after 7 p.m, because not only has it been a day of walking the wire, it was topped off with a Parent Evening. Perfect end to a perfect day...not.

And the hens are waiting for me with an Advent Box full of chocolate, as promised, because hens are very honest creatures and always do what they say, unlike some Senior Management. Sorry, I said I wasn't going to talk about Ofsted, didn't I?

Anyhow, I say, 'thank you for the chocolate,' and Daisy says, 'we promised you two things today, but you will have to come outside for the second thing because it is too big for the Box.' Oooh, I think. I wonder what it is? A boat? A goat? A full-size replica of the Eiffel Tower? The most enormous sugar mouse in the world?

So I follow the girls into the garden. It is very cold, a heavy frost already settled in the grass, and the shrubs and the willow arch. It is a proper Winter night. Crisp. Sharp. Fresh.

'So,' I say. 'Where is this enormous thing too big to be contained in the Advent Box?'
Primrose touches my arm gently with her wing. 'Look up,' she says.

I look up. 'What?' I say.

'What can you see?' says Daisy.

'Dark,' I say. I am tired. I am fed up. I am not really up to guessing games.
'Look properly,' says Daisy. 'Really look...'

So I do. I sigh, because today life has been weary,and I feel robotic and out of touch. But I look. And I see...STARS...up there... chips of diamond against black velvet.

And the more I look - actually look - the more stars I see. Thousands, and millions, and gazzillions of stars.

'I know you weren't going to talk about Ofsted,' whispers Primrose,'but when you look up there, at those stars lighting the night, and you think that those stars are thousands of miles away, but you can still see them, doesn't it make you think that in the grand scheme of the Universe, Ofsted is the teensiest and tiniest of insignificant blobs?'

'It does,' I say.

'And that if the Universe is so big, it must contain more things that are infinitely more important than Ofsted?' says Primrose.
'Like love,' says Daisy.
'And smiles,' says Primrose.
'And laughter,' says Daisy.
'And banoffee pie,' says Primrose.
'Let's not get carried away,' says Daisy.
'Okay,' says Primrose.

'Actually, I'd agree with Primrose,' I say. 'And I'm not a great fan of banoffee pie.'

Wise creatures, hens. Very wise indeed.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Advent Day 10

'There had better something good in today's Advent Box,' I say, stumbling into the dark to put the hens to bed. I've only just got home from work. It has been a bit of a day.
'We haven't had time to put ANYTHING in the box today,' say Primrose and Daisy together. 'We have been laying eggs.'
' I know,' I say, 'and may I say that you are getting very good at it. Whichever one of you is laying.'
'It's difficult to say,' says Daisy, 'because we share the nest box at night...'
'What with it being very chilly these days...' says Primrose.
'...and when we get up in the morning...' says Daisy.
'...the egg is there!' says Primrose.
'...we haven't worked out who is doing the popping,' says Daisy.
'...could be either of us,' says Primrose.
'Well,' I say, 'either way, I'm having some for tea this evening, scrambled and atop a bagel, and i think they shall be very nice.'
Primrose and Daisy stare at each other, aghast.
'You EAT them?' says Daisy.
'Of course,' I say.
'That's just disgusting,' says Primrose. 'You do know where they come from, don't you?'
'I do,' I say. 'But what else am I supposed to do with them?'
Primrose shrugs. 'Oh, I don't know. Juggle them? Put paper ears on them and turn them into pet bunnies?'
'Anything but eat them,' says Daisy.

'Actually, what I could really do with is something sweet and comforting,' I say. 'We've got Ofsted coming in tomorrow. Everyone at school is going nuts.'
'Are you going nuts?' says Daisy.
'Not because Ofsted are coming in,' I say. 'My marking and data are all up to date, I know what I'm doing this week, my class room is tidy and organised. It's everyone else. You would think God is visiting and people are going to die the way everyone is carrying on.'
'Tense times, eh?' says Primrose.
'Indeed,' I say.
'In that case,' says Primrose, 'tomorrow we shall put two special things in the Advent Box to help you get through to the end of the week.'
'Will one of them be chocolate?' I say.
'Indeed,' says Daisy.
'That's all I ask,' I say.

Ofsted, here I come...

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Advent Day 9

'Rather an odd combination today,' says Primrose who is on Advent Box duty because Daisy is having a lie-in.
'Really?' I say. 'How so?'
'Well, they were dropped off by your granddaughter, Kayleigh,' says Primrose. 'She said you will understand.'

I open the Advent Box and there within lie a candle and a pie. Ah yes...

You see, I have an Advent candle which has been burning down too quickly in the manner of 'light the candle....whoosh....three days disappear immediately.' Which does not help towards the atmosphere of building up tension to the big day.

So, yesterday I bought another Advent Candle because it was in the sale at Laura Ashley. And it meant I had to light it so it would burn down eight days in one evening. Which would have worked if it had the instant flammability of Advent Candle Number One. But it didn't. This candle appears to be flame- proof. 4 hours burning and it just about reached day 2.

So today, when Kayleigh was visiting I lit the candle mid- way through the afternoon to give it head start as we are now playing Christmas Catch-Up what with today being 9th and candle thinking it's still 2nd. I was explaining to Kayleigh that when the candle had burnt all the way down to the holder, it would be Christmas Day. So she took up position on the sofa and stared at it like staring would make it burn quicker.

'When it's Christmas Day,' I said, because I was cuddled on the sofa with her, 'you, and Daddy and Mummy are coming round for Christmas Dinner. What would you like for Christmas Dinner? Goose?'
'No,' said Kayleigh.
'Roast potatoes?' said I.
'No,' said Kayleigh.
'Parsnips? Pigs in blankets? Peas? Gravy?' said I, reeling off other bits 'n' bobs that one would find on a Christmas Dinner plate.
'No,' said Kayleigh.
'Pudding,' I said. 'Chocolate cake? Trifle? Profiteroles?'
'No,' said Kayleigh, because it was becoming a bit of a theme and also she was distracted by candle watching.
'Well, how about some of my vegetarian Christmas Pie?' said I.

'YES!' said Kayleigh. 'Pie for Christmas!' And she took a brief moment from candle watching to tell everyone that on Christmas Day she was 'having Christmas Pie with Gran.'

I was so proud! A little vegetarian in the making!

Anyway, she instantly connected the burning down of the candle with the arrival of the pie. For the ensuing three hours, she thought that as soon as the candle burned down, pie would appear, and I couldn't make her understated that this event would occur in 16 days' time and not today.

She got quite shirty at one point, but I distracted her by putting a Christmas film on the telly and Andy distracted her by telling her there were squirrels loose in the house.

And so today I saw the season of Advent through the eyes of a child who is just realising that something exciting is happening at this time of year. An impatient child, I grant you, but I remember that impatience, too, and the wishing that Christmas would arrive now, and learning that patience and calmness makes the Spirit of the Season last longer, and that is a good thing.

This will be Kayleigh's third Christmas. I'm looking forward to it, because it is time for new traditions to be started, ones to share with the grandchildren so when they become adults themselves they might just look back on their memories of childhood Christmases with a smile and say, 'I remember when Gran and I shared a Christmas Pie.'

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Advent Day 8

The Advent Box today arrives with its lid slightly askew.

Daisy apologises. 'Bit of a big Advent to-do today,' she says. 'But it's something you'll like.'

She is right. It's the Christmas Tree! I love Christmas trees. They have to be just the right shape to fit into the corner of the living against the wall where the sideboard usually sits, which in turn moves to sit against the wall bearing the cartoon hippo picture, and the sofa moves towards the door to accommodate the sideboard and it all gets a bit crowded but never mind because the Christmas tree is in residence for a good two weeks and I get to sit on the sofa with all the lights off except the fairy lights and go 'aaahh!'

And Andy gets to develop a rash up his arms from the sap of the tree when he brings it inside, and Tybalt gets to climb the tree in pursuit of Gonzo the Christmas Fairy, and Pandora gets to knock baubles off branches and run off with them and hide them behind the shoe cupboard in the hallway for me to find in April when I do a spring clean, and Phoebe gets to wrestle herself under the tree and as far out of arm reach as she can go, knocking pine needles hither and thither as she goes.

All in all, Christmas trees offer great value for money, entertainment-wise.

We were on a Christmas role today, me and Andy. Posted the cards and two parcels this morning, then went food shopping, then Andy took me to the nature reserve near his work place for us to forage for some holly, ivy and old man's beard to add to the willow wreath for the front door. Then we stopped at a garden centre for tea and a bun, and I bought a Salvation Army brass band carol CD because another delight of the run up to Christmas is the sound of the Salvation Army band playing in our town centre.

Back home for soup and toast, it being soup and toast type weather today, and then out into town again for a wander and pick up some festive bits for our 'At Home' do in 2 weekends' time. We've already had acceptances from many people and Andy has gone into mild panic mode that a) we will run out of food or b) everyone will turn up in the same half hour.

I am feeling remarkably relaxed about the whole thing but I think it is because I am almost out of hormones and am rarely feeling tetchy about anything these days except for the moment in Sainsbugs car park this morning when, despite it being almost empty, some moron decided to park two inches off my bumper, thereby preventing me access to my boot space. I made loud grumpy noises and went to buy some festive biscuits and stock up on toilet rolls in case it snows this week.

Oh, and there was a second egg this morning! I had forgotten how exciting it is to open the pod and find an egg nestled in the straw.

It really is beginning to look, and feel, a lot like Christmas.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Advent Day 7

And so it came to pass... egg!

A truly unique Advent gift from one of the hens. We don't know which one has just produced their first egg (my money is on Primrose because of the perfect smallness and shininess of it) and it didn't make it into the Advent Box, but an egg today there was. Small and brown and a bit of surprise! We hope there is one tomorrow, too, or there could be fisticuffs over breakfast.

Home made eggs for Christmas.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Advent Day 6

Primrose and Daisy appear with the Advent box this afternoon as soon as I arrive home from work. The box is looking a tad mucky.

'What have done to the Advent box?' I say, as the hens drag it across the relatively clean kitchen floor leaving relatively unclean streaks of mud behind them.
'It's her fault,' says Daisy, pointing an accusing wing at Primrose. Primrose holds up her wings.

'I hold up my wings,' she says.
'So I see,' I say.
'I mean, I admit it was my fault,' says Primrose.
'I know,' I say.

We look at each other, confused for a moment.

'Anyway,' says Daisy, 'the Advent box looks a right Royal mess because yesterday SHE said she had found a brilliant Advent gift to put in it, and this morning the gift was gone and I wanted to fill it with chocolate and nuts...'
'Which would have been nice,' I say.
'...indeed,' says Daisy, 'but she said, 'No, this is far more exciting. Come on, help me put it in the box.'
'And did you?' I say.
'Yes,' says Daisy. 'I had my doubts, because quite frankly I couldn't see the fascination and...'
'Can I just interject here?' says Primrose. 'Because I think Lady Malarkey would have enjoyed it enormously...'
'If someone hadn't stolen it,' snorts Daisy.
'Please don't fight about it,' says Lady Malarkey, er...I. 'What was it, anyway?'
'You tell her,' says Daisy. 'I'm off to Zumba,' and off she trots with Heather, who has been Zumba-ing for several weeks now and is very excited because tonight it is Christmas Zumba, whatever that is.

'Carry on, Primrose,' I say.
'Oooh, it was lovely,' says Primrose. 'We got up yesterday and went into the garden and we saw something we'd never ever seen before in our entire, albeit very short lives so far.'
'Tango Pete?' I say, because I've been waiting for him to make an appearance to try his chat up skills on the new girls.
'No,' says Primrose. 'Something far more exciting. It was really bright and white and sparkly, and it made everything it touched look pristine and neat and clean. I said to Daisy, 'Lady Malarkey would like this. It would make housework so much easier. Cover and disguise in one neat move.'
'I have to say that not all of my housework entails covering and disguising,' I say.
'Well, anyway, we scooped lots of this stuff up and put it in the Advent box,' says Primrose. 'It was really cold. It gave me wing freeze. But overnight, someone stole it. We had a whole boxful, and when we looked this morning it was all gone and all that was left was a muddy box with a soggy bottom.'

I am thinking that yesterday we had the first snow of Winter.

'It was snow,' I say. 'You filled a box with snow and overnight it melted into water and drained away.'

Primrose stares at me. I can see her forehead pulsing where her brain is ticking.

'Nope,' she says. 'What's snow?'
'You're going to have to google it,' I say, and pass her my iPad. 'Only I've just got in from work and I need a wee and you've left wet muddy streaks all over the kitchen floor that I suppose I'll have to clear up.'
'Yes,' says Primrose. 'Quite ironic really, that we tried to bring you a present to help with the housework and it's ended up making even more of a mess. Ahahahahahahahaha!'

'Leave now,' I say.
'Before or after I google?' says Primrose.
'Either,' I say.
'Can I have a biscuit?'
'If you must.'
'Thanks, Lady Malarkey,' says Primrose.

And because I like it that she calls me Lady Malarkey and she is a chatty girl first thing in the morning when it is cold and dark, I forgive her for filling a box with snow and trying to give it to me for Advent.

P.S Phoebe has had her thyroid removed today. Andy says it was disgusting and it's gone off for tests so we aren't out of the woods just yet, but Phoebe is very chipper, eating like a cat who is intent on gaining as much weight as she can as quickly as possible, and is at this very moment purring so loudly I can hear her across the far side of the room. But this may be due to Andy giving her ears a good clean out whilst she was under anaesthetic, and clean ears make one feel VERY chipper indeed.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Advent Day 5

Sometimes you know what's in a box. And not because you go rooting through drawers and cupboards, or fight with dust bunnies under the bed in search of cunningly concealed Christmas pressies.

No. It's because you have been waiting for something you know is going to happen because a series of fortunate co-incidences have been working together behind the scenes and the Universe is working for you to achieve the best for you in a peculiar turn of life events.

'You've got a new job!' announce Daisy and Primrose in unison, as they fling open the Advent Box and a shiny new occupation jumps out and dances a nifty jive on the kitchen floor.

And indeed I do! And here is how it all came about.

Four weeks ago, I was on the website Gumtree. I can't remember what I was looking for - some craft item, or something to do with DIY I think - and I noticed that they had a jobs section.
'I didn't know Gumtree did job adverts,' I thought.

So anyway, I had a look and found an advert for an English teacher required to join a private tuition academy. Straight away, the urge was there to send an enquiry email, which I did, and thought no more about it.

A week later, a phone call from the principal of the academy. Would I meet him and his academy manager for an interview? I did. We all got on very well. The job would be tutoring small groups of students (no more than 12 in each group) at a centre, with my own teaching assistant to help, and with hours to suit me. I would be able to run classes how I thought best, and with my own methods. There would be no data analysis, no inspections, no unnecessary implementation of faddy methods. Just pure, honest, no nonsense teaching with students who want to learn.

Another week later, I have had two more phone conversations with the principal, who is asking my advice about different class focuses that could be set up. There is talk of me being a leader in the new centre that is opening.

And today, the arrival of the job offer. And a very good salary. I shall be able to work part-time evening and weekend hours, which will give me time during the day to be proper writer. Less hassle, more proper teaching, no behaviour issues, a variety of students from ages 5 to adult education. I am suddenly very excited about teaching again. I am even more excited that I shall have time to write properly.

It it the coming together of an ideal world, work-wise.

Advent. The keen awaiting of something new to arrive.

'You are keenly awaiting, aren 't you?' says Primrose.
'I am,' I say. All smiley!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Advent Day 4

'There is something abstract in the Advent Box today,' says Primrose, who is still recovering from the episode with the Falalalalalala Terminator. 'And you'd better open the box quick because she'll run out of air if you don't.'

'Okay,' says I, and open the box.

'Ta-dah!' says Daisy, who has been therewithin, and doing a goodly job of holding her breath. She is wearing a pair of comedy reindeer antlers and a comedy reindeer nose. She looks like a chicken doing an impression of a comedy reindeer.

'I'd hardly call a real live hen abstract,' I say.
'It would be a stupid name,' agrees Primrose. 'Can you imagine shouting it from the back door - "Oo-ooo...Abstract! Come here, Abstract!"

'Stupid indeed,' I say. 'So why abstract?'

Daisy interrupts. 'We heard a joke yesterday and thought it would be a good way to mark Advent Day 4 because it has a Christmas tilt to it. It is a little bit saucy,' she adds.

'That's okay,' I say. 'I've spent three hours non-stop with a bunch of 15 year olds today. I can handle a bit of sauce.'

'Right,' says Daisy. 'Here we go...three men arrive at the Gates of Heaven and St Peter says, 'You can come in but because it is Christmas you have to produce something that reminds you of the festive season.'

So the first man puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out his keys. 'These remind me of Christmas because when I jangle them they sound like jingle bells,' he says.

'Okay,' says St Peter, 'you may come into Heaven.'

The second man puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a lighter. 'This reminds me of Christmas,' he says, 'because when I light it, it is like a candle and a flame.'

St Peter agrees and allows the second man through the pearly gates.

The third man puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a pair of ladies knickers.

'How do they remind you of Christmas?' St Peter asks the third man.

'They're Carol's,' the third man replies.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Advent Day 3

As you can imagine, I am waiting, all agog, to see what the hens have put in their Advent Box today.

'You might as well just open the box,' says Daisy, who is standing at the cooker making kedgeree. 'You'll never guess what it is.'
'Can't I just try,' I say. I don't usually like guessing games. They have always struck me as an enormous waste of time, probably because, being a teacher, I spend a lot of time telling students to stop guessing and 'work it out properly.' But somehow there is a frisson if danger in the guessing of what two hens have placed in a box to celebrate the imminent arrival of the Son of God.

'Oh, go on then,' says Daisy. She opens up the back door and shouts, 'Hurry up with the haddock, will you?'
A shout comes back. 'Don't hassle me! I'm having trouble with temperature control.'

Daisy sighs. 'You pay peanuts, you get a monkey,' she says.

I am confused. 'What are you talking about?'

'Well,' says Daisy, 'Primrose said last night, 'How about something different for breakfast tomorrow?' and I said I could make a kedgeree, and she said we had haddock, but it wasn't smoked and I said, you can't make kedgeree without smoked haddock, so she said she would pop it on the barbecue first thing, but then she couldn't find any matches so she's been up since 4 a.m rubbing a couple of willow twigs together to try and force a spark and...'

'Can I just stop you there?' I say. 'Only it's all sounding very BORING!'

'Oh, well pardon moi,' says Daisy. 'Pardon moi very much for causing tedium to your intellectual vegetarian brain with talk of haddock on a barbecue.'

I glance at my watch. I have to be leaving for work very soon. Year 9 are waiting to dazzle me with their knowledge of Billy Elliot and the 1980s miners' strike. Year 10 are waiting to leave me distinctly unimpressed with their cinematic representation of the theme of love in 'Romeo and Juliet.'

'Can I just have one guess and open the box?' I say.

'Oh, go on then,' says Daisy.

'Is it a Ding Dong Falalalala Terminator?' I say, knowing full well it is.

Daisy stares at me, aghast. She is mid-way through peeling a hard boiled egg, which I find rather an odd activity for a hen to be engaged in. 'How do you know?' she says. She shouts through the back door into the garden. 'She's flipping well guessed, Primrose! How's the haddock?'

'Not looking that healthy I'm afraid. How did she guess?' shouts Primrose.
'I am about to ascertain,' says Daisy, and she looks at me accusingly. 'Well?' she says.
'I saw the packaging in the bin,' I confess. 'But I've never seen, or used one before. Tell me about it.'

Daisy opens the box and there, in all its brilliant shiny shininess, is the Ding Dong Falalalala Terminator.

'It's a genuine Mark 5 1898 model,' says Daisy.
'Have you told her it's a genuine Mark 5 1898 model,' shouts Primrose from the back garden, from which is emanating a distinctly odd fishy smell. Well, fishy-petroly-dead fly smell.
'Yes!' shouts Daisy.

'And how does it work?' says I, because I really do have to leave for work now.

'Well, you know the carol 'Ding Dong Merrily On High?' says Daisy. 'And the chorus?'
'I do,' I say.
'And that it can go on for a bit?' says Daisy. 'And you never know quite when to stop the falalalalalala-ing?'
'I do,' I say, remembering one particularly embarrassing moment at Sunday School back in the Seventies when I falalaed a falala too long.
'Well, this little beauty,' says Daisy, 'cuts you off at precisely the right moment,' says Daisy. 'Would you like a demonstration?'
'Please,' I say.

Primrose arrives from the garden carrying upon a tray what can only be described as a piece of fish ash.

'Sing!' demands Daisy, and she sets a ratchet on the Terminator and presses a button.

'Falalalalalala- lalalalalala-lalalalalala-lalalalalala- lalalalalala...' begins Primrose.

There is suddenly a loud PING and a lasso shoots from the Terminator, wraps itself around Primrose's legs and sends her crashing to the floor and the tray holding the fish ash up into the air. Primrose barely skips a beat. Looking marginally stunned, she looks up from the floor.

'...Gloria! Hosanna in excelsis!' she finishes. The tray returns from its upwards trajectory and lands on her head; the fish ash remains stuck to the ceiling.

'Works a treat!' says Daisy.
'Indeed,' I say. I look at the mess on the ceiling. 'That had better be cleaned up by this evening.'

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Advent Day 2

I can't find Pandora. I know she was around this morning, because she bit me. Not in a blood-drawing kind of way, you understand, but in an affectionate 'you are my mummy and I love you' kind of way. And she also sat on the book I was reading, which made the reading very difficult as she is barely transparent. In fact, if anything, she is very opaquely furry, or furrily opaque - either way she prevented me from making steady progress through my birthday books which I need to finish reading before the Christmas books arrive. If I am lucky enough to receive any books for Christmas that is - I don't want to be making any assumptions.

So, Pandora is nowhere to be found. I've searched all her usual hiding places - behind the curtains in the living room, atop the radiator in the conservatory, on her cushion underneath my desk - but she is absent.

I have searched in some unusual hiding places - cupboard under the stairs (usually Tybalt's domain), the washing machine (I have previously found Phoebe in the washing machine - thankfully before I switched it on) and the fridge (well, fridge is where the cheese is and Pandora is, after all, a connoisseur of le fromage.)

But no. She is nowhere. She is a vanished cat.

I am just about to open a tin of tuna because if anything will flush her out of hiding, a tin of fish will, when Daisy and Primrose arrive with their Advent Box.

'We can't stop,' they say. 'We are on our way to Bluewater shopping centre for a spot of retail therapy and take in a film, so we thought we do Advent Day Two now.'

'Fine,' I say. 'Do you want me to guess? How about 'golf club'?'

'No,' says Daisy.
'To both,' says Primrose.
'No time for guessing,' says Daisy. 'We are just going to open the box. Release the beast within.'

And they do, and out jumps Pandora.

'Pandora's Box!' they all shout, and fall about laughing on the floor.

I am not amused. 'Do you know how long I have spent trying to find that cat this morning?' I say.

'YES!' they shriek in unison. 'That's what makes it even funnier!'

'There had better be some chocolate in that Advent Box tomorrow,' I mutter, as I leave them to recover their hysterics.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Advent Day 1

'What is that?' says Primrose.
'An Advent colander,' says Daisy.
'And for what purpose exactly?' says Primrose.
Daisy shrugs. 'Straining the Advent vegetables?' she suggests.

Primrose sighs. 'Why?' she says. And under her breathe she mutters, 'Idiot chicken.'

Daisy sighs back because she is bigger and the two of them still haven't quite decided who is Hen-in-Charge at the Manor. Primrose often tells Daisy to 'back down!' and Daisy says, 'I can't back down,' and Primrose says, 'Why?' and Daisy says, 'Because I am BIGGER!' and Primrose says, 'So what?' and thus the status quo remains.

Anyway, back to colanders.

'You told me to get an Advent Colander,' says Daisy. 'I distinctly remember you saying, 'It's the first of December tomorrow - get an Advent colander.'

'Calender, you moron!' says Primrose. 'Advent CALENDAR! How are we supposed to count down to Christmas with a giant vegetable strainer?'

'Well,' says Daisy, 'I thought it was a bit odd when you said it, but I just thought you'd forgotten to take your medication.'

The two hens stare at the colander.

'The trouble with colanders,' says Daisy, 'is that they are lacking doors with pictures behind them.'

'And it's our first Christmas,' says Primrose. 'We have to do things properly, don't we?'
'Indeed,' says Daisy.

'Can I interrupt?' I say, as I have been eavesdropping the conversation.
'Would it make any difference if we said, 'No' ?' say Primrose and Daisy.
'No,' I say, 'as I am the one who is doing the typing. You could always make an Advent Calender.'

Primrose and Daisy stare at each other as if I had suggested they knit reindeer from spaghetti.
'Make an Advent calender?' they say. 'Make it???'
'Yes,' I say.

The two hens scurry into the corner and form a judgely huddle. There is much whispering, and glancing back at me, and at one point Primrose twirls a wing around the side of her head and whistles, in a 'what a looney,' kind of way which I think is incredibly rude.

Eventually, they return. 'Okay,' they say. 'We'll be back in five. Possibly ten.'

Half an hour passes, and then two very smug looking hens return carrying a box crudely wrapped in Christmas paper.
'This is our Advent Box,' they say. 'Every day there will be an Advent Surprise in it. And you have to guess what it is?'
'A llama?' I say.
'What?' says Daisy, because I think I am a bit quick off the block with my first guess and take her by surprise.
'Quiche?' I suggest.
'Stop,' says Primrose. 'We have to give you a clue.'
'A pair of dungarees?' I shout. I'm enjoying this Advent Box guessing malarkey.
'Shut up!' screeches Primrose, and I find my face covered in the white and surprisingly muscular wing of Daisy.

'First we give you a clue, and then you guess, okay?' says Daisy. 'Got it?'
I nod.
'Good,' says Primrose. Daisy removes her wing from my face and I remain obediently silent. 'Here is the clue...ahem...'I am big and round and full of currants and sugar. What am I?'

'A chicken?' I say.
'Oh, it's going to be a long haul until Christmas Eve,' sighs Primrose. 'I'm a pudding.'
'If you say so,' I say.

And thus ends the first day of the Primrose and Daisy Advent, calender.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Bless You!

Andy checked our Lulu account today.

'We have sold a copy of 'A Christmas Malarkey!' he said.

So whoever bought a copy - THANK YOU!!!

And bless you!

And bless me because I've caught another cold and it is sneeze city chez the Manor this evening. Two colds inside of two months - I am not amused. I don't like it. And I have been especially vigilant about not touching doors and handrails at school. But I think this one is a present from Kayleigh who was round last weekend all snotty and disgusting.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to steam my head.

Back tomorrow with the first thrilling instalment of 'Primrose and Daisy's Christmas Advent Calendar.'

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Christmas Carolling and Malarkey Partying

Well, after much frenzied activity the Much Malarkey Manor Christmas Preparations are well and truly under way.

Firstly, Andy and I have, for the third year running, managed to produce a little Christmas book. Okay, so the size and content of this book are smaller than last year's offering, which in turn was smaller than the year before that, but hey, we've been working full time and we'd rather produce a literary work of quality rather than something more hefty and lacking in substance. (Well, that's our excuse anyway.)

So, 'A Christmas Malarkey' has been written by moi, illustrated by Andy and printed by Lulu, and our consignment of 22 (yes, 22!) copies were delivered by a spotty and tardy courier last night 6 hours after the courier company had indicated they would be delivered, much to Andy's piqué because 'twas he who had sat in waiting for them all day.

(Feel free, dear reader, to purchase a copy for yourself from the aforesaid Lulu. Support a poor writer, won't ya guv'nor? Three cats with expensive dietary needs to support...)

Secondly, I have finally organised what I've envisaged doing for the last three or four years and that is to have an 'at home' open house Christmas gathering the Saturday before Christmas. I've sent out invitations for friends and family to feel free to pop in and visit between 11.30 a.m and when we get fed up with them and kick them out in the evening. On offer will be a running buffet of lovely Christmas scrumptiousness, fun and games and chit-chat and cake, coffee and tea, other drinkies and nibbles, jolly singing and jappery, and I am hoping it will be a relaxed and happy start to the festive season with comings and goings and mixing of all the people we love and admire.

Please come, too, if you can. Of course, I realise for you lovely people across the ocean that practicalities of time and distance might cause a problem, but if you happen to be in the vicinity of mid-Kent you would be more than welcome to drop by for some Christmas cheer. If not, then I shall be thinking of you and you'll be with us for our Christmas Malarkey in spirit if not in body. I'll force down a bit of cake in your honour (I know - such a sacrifice, but you are all worth it!) and I'll sing a carol loud and clear.

It's all keeping me busy and getting me through the last three weeks of being a teacher. A new job is on the horizon. More on that when I have the firm details.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Well, here I am, back from another day at the creative end of the sausage machine! Every time I think of that phrase it tickles me! I've tried to think of some alternatives today, but words have literally failed me, such is the genius of the wording.

Anyway, today's excitement was provided by a fly infestation. In my classroom. Ooo-er.

I didn't notice at first. Too busy catching up with some marking before students began to arrive, and thinking it was a bit chilly and I'd leave my coat on for a While. Fly buzzes by. I think, unusual for a fly to be about in the nearly Winter. Then another appears. Lands on the desk I am working at. Looks a bit drowsy. I despatch said fly to fly heaven with a nearby handy copy of 'The Kite Runner.' It's not a book I enjoy, I have to admit, and I believe my sixth form chose to study it out of pure spite.

Well, I don't think the fly noticed its demise. Didn't put up the kind of fight a Summer fly would.

And then I made the mistake of looking up. I have two sets of skylights in my classroom ceiling. When they are open I can hear what I lovingly call the Crows of Doom thumping about on the flat roof and cawing, and impersonating telephone ring tones. No, honestly, one of them makes the noise of a phone. 'Pprrrrrp, prrpppp, ' it goes. Very clever. Most entertaining.

But beating against the skylights today were several flies. And when I looked around further, I noticed more and more flies.

By break time I had committed what shall henceforth be known as 'The Great English Department Massacre 2012'. There were bits of squished fly remains on the walls, on the windows, on text books and children. I was using the sticky side of a Post-It note to remove wings and legs and innards from exercise books. I went to the staff room and put a note in the Caretaker book along the lines of 'Biblical Fly Plague in D5 - Heeeeeeelp!'

Steve, one of the Caretakers, objected to me writing in the book because he had only just caught up with the list of jobs and was thinking he could have a bit of a break and a macaroon (don't ask).

'But I've got flies!' said I. 'The children don't concentrate at the best of times. They are concentrating even less now they have the entertainment of a fly circus.'
'Might have to get the pest controllers in,' said Steve.
'That's a bit harsh, isn't it?' I said. 'They're only children after all.'
'Ahahahahahahahaha!' said Steve, and we shared a bit of a laugh.

Well, nothing had been done by the end of the day and the flies they kept on a-coming and 'The Kite Runner ' was looking rather the worse for wear. I am dreading what I am going to find tomorrow. It's only one small step from flies to locusts to frogs, you know.

But where are they coming from, these flies? Oh, I know all about the maggot thing. Which makes me think that the Crows of Doom who play on the roof have left some half- eaten squirrel/ sparrow/ chicken tikka baguette from the canteen up there and it's gone off and is mouldering in a way that only a fly could love.

Anyway, the flies brought to mind one of my favourite sayings, which the writing of today's news now gives me a chance to share....ahem...

'Time flies like the wind like fruit flies like bananas.'

Too much time at the creative end of the sausage machine, I think.

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Creative End

It is a great source of annoyance and sometimes entertainment to me that staff training days are often little more than New Age psycho-drivel on a plate. And that people, sorry 'consultants', are paid huge wodges of cash to write and deliver this drivel to professional people like teachers who sit in drafty halls (because when the children aren't in school the heating gets turned off and we all have to sit there and shiver) like I did today, looking confused and bemused and wondering if I had some how slipped into a parallel universe where everyone had gone stark staring mad.

Staff training days at school always achieve the same outcome, regardless of content. And that outcome is 'What am I doing here?????' and the urge to run screaming from the building.

So today I am reading a handout because by the end of the day I have to decide which of the two offered new initiatives I am going to implement in my teaching in order to become a better teacher. I am trying not to think a) I wonder what's for lunch and b) I have 18 more days left as a classroom teacher - how much can I actually achieve in 18 days? and c) I could have marked 25 exercise books by now AND changed my Gothic horror character display for my Oliver Twist storyboard display.

And part of what I read is this:- 'If you put pork into a sausage machine, you get pork sausages. If you put beef into a sausage machine, you get beef sausages.'

And at this point I think, 'Is there a vegetarian option? Only I'm feeling a bit nauseous with all this talk of sausages.'

But I don't know who to go and ask about this; Senior Management are conspicuous by their absence - probably hiding in a cupboard somewhere eating chocolate digestives and chain smoking unfiltered Capstan Full Strengths - so I carry on reading.

And within a couple of minutes I have an epiphany! I discover the purpose of the teacher, and I have to say it is quite a revelation and would explain why I have been confused of late, because it appears I've been barking up the wrong tree altogether regarding my understanding of the role defined by 'teacher.'

For here I am thinking that a teacher is an imparter of knowledge, a leader of learning, a guider to the font of wisdom, when according to this new initiative of superb psycho-babble on a plate, a teacher is, in fact...

...the creative end of a sausage machine!

Please don't ask me to explain further. At this point I collapse in a heap on the floor and nearly wet myself laughing. The creative end of a sausage machine? Well, I am glad that's been clarified. I know exactly where I am now. I know my place.

And I now have lots of new material on which to build some new writing. It'll have to be fiction in genre, of course. No-one will believe me otherwise.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Leibster 2

Right, it's not that I've been thinking about these eleven questions very much, oh no sirree, but more that I haven't had time to do the eleven questions justice. Lots of stuff has been happening in the last week or so, which I shall reveal in a later blog, but as I sit here, having done 4 hours of marking, I am going to indulge in a fairly lengthy blog whilst keeping half an eye on the First Christmas TV Film of the Year - Fred Claus.

Q1. If you could win any competition in the world, what would it be for?
A1. Well, dear Questionner, the obvious answer would be for writing wouldn't it, but as that goes without saying, then my less obvious and slightly more entertaining answer would be 'Best Dancing for Person Who Hasn't Had a Proper Dance Lesson for 37 years Since She Did Ballet 'n' Tap After School on a Friday.' Or, as it is known nowadays, 'Strictly Come Dancing.'

Q2. If you could eliminate one habit you have, what would you stop doing?
A2. Switching everything off at the plugs because I am certain that if I don't, the electricity will leak and we will get a bill for a gazzillion English pounds which we won't be able to pay and will thus be rendered homeless, and all for the sake of turning off the digital radio properly at the mains.

Q3. If a photo of you were to be used in an advertisement, which part would you want used, and for what product or service?
A3.This is a no brainer - I have a photo of me, aged around three yeas old, sitting in a pushchair holding a live spider monkey wearing a polo neck jumper (the monkey, not me) looking totally unimpressed by the experience (me, not the monkey). The product would be nuts.

Q4. If you had to have a piece of music softly playing in your mind for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A4. Hmmm...tricky this one. Went to a very loud Adam Ant concert this time last year and it took nine months for the background whistling to abate. So I will say 'Dancing in the Moonlight' by Toploader for the daytime, and Gymnopedie No.1 by Satie for nighttime because nothing beats a bit of plinky plonky piano music to calm the soul.

Q5. If you had to be the underwear of someone famous, who would you choose to wear you?
A5. One of Miss Piggy's corsets. What an adventure in satin and lace that would be!

Q6. If you could have the world's largest collection of one thing, what would it be?
A6. Flowers. Proper flowers, too, like roses, lily of the valley, lavender, primroses, poppies, ones that look pretty and smell nice. Either that or kittens. Or Paperblank notebooks. Tres posh!

Q7. If you could have stopped ageing at any point in your life up to the present time, how old would you want to remain?
A7. 36 years old. Young enough to defy gravity, old enough to not really care (about the gravity thing, I mean, not 'caring' in general because that would be a bad thing if we all stopped caring. Actually, it would be pretty bad if gravity stopped, too....oh, shut up Denise!)

Q8. If you had to eliminate one of the four seasons permanently, which one would go?
A8. Summer. When did we last have a proper summer? You don't get them nowadays, well, not here in Kent. It's all wishy-washy patheticness. Every year people say, 'Ooh, I can't wait for summer,' and you wait and it never turns up properly and you end up feeling hugely disappointed by the whole malarkey. You know where you stand with the other seasons. Summer has become irritatingly unreliable.

Q9. If you could have a romance with any fictional character, who would it be?
A9. Now, it would have to be either Mr Darcy from 'Pride and Prejudice' or Pop Larkin from 'The Darling Buds of May'. And as this question appertains to fiction, I have combined the two to make a new fictional character called Mr Pop Darcy de Larking About. Perfick!

Q10. If you could destroy a single CD your partner plays, what would it be?
A10. I can honestly say that Andy doesn't play any CD that annoys me. And if he does, I wouldn't notice because he is usually plugged into earphones whilst listening. Some pretty weird sci-fi things occur sometimes, but they don't induce annoyance in me, merely the raising of the eyes to heaven and a bit of sighing.

Q11. If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?
A11. I hate circuses. All those weird clowns with their clowny faces and clowny behaviour which is about as entertaining as sticking pins in your eyes, and people balancing on things and swinging from things and whooping. But if my arm was forced I'd be in charge of chicken juggling. Not juggling with chickens you understand, but teaching chickens to juggle. That should keep me out of the spotlight for a while.

And thus end my responses to the eleven questions posed by Azara.

Job done!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Flush, Thyroid, Buyers and Goodbyers

Andy, being a scientist, has come up with a way to harness the power of the hot flushes I am having at the moment. Well, okay, he hasn't, but it would save us a fortune in heating bills if he could, because the heat I am generating from therewithin moi self is quite spectacular. What I don't understand is how I can feel like a furnace inside, yet be freezing cold to the touch. It ain't natural, guv, that's all I can say.

Phoebe is having her own hormonal troubles. Having had some fairly severe dental work done, we thought she was losing weight because she was finding eating uncomfortable. Turns out, though, that her weight loss, which was reaching super model proportions, is due to an over active thyroid. She is on pills and she is going back in for more surgery in a couple of weeks to have the offending article whipped out. Meanwhile, her appetite has returned and this morning she was looking quite plump again. Still grumpy, but plump.

And also at home this morning were Andy and I on a cleaning frenzy because we were supposed to have a house viewing at 10 am. Come 11.05 I was phoning the estate agent, fuming slightly, to inform them that the 'viewees' had failed to arrive, and we were going out now, so they had missed their chance. I am of the opinion that these 'viewees' are phantom ones made up by the estate agents to make it look like they are doing some marketing because we haven't had any viewings for three weeks, and the two weeks before that there was only one. Andy says I am being paranoid.

'At least the house is clean,' said he, being unnecessarily upbeat.
'Pah!' said I.

And finally, some of my sixth formers said to me on Thursday, 'we wish we had you as an English teacher.'
'You do,' I said.
'We mean last year,' said they. 'We'd have learned far more from you than Mrs P.'

Awwwww. Now, how am I going to tell them I am leaving at Christmas? That the time has come to say 'Goodbye'?

Perhaps I shouldn't. Perhaps I should slip away, silently, unseen, and without fuss or ado.

Like a Phantom Viewee...