Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Monday Night's All Right For Fighting and Standing on a Tree Stump in the Dark

With the nights drawing outwards, les poulets du maison are staying up later and it was nearly six o'clock before I got around to putting them to bed yesterday.

As usual I could see Mrs Pumphrey (being enormous and white) in the gloom of the pod, and as usual I couldn't see Mrs Slocombe (being smaller and black). And I remembered that the last time I couldn't see Mrs Slocombe I went all laissez-faire and shut the pod regardless because I assumed she was 'in there somewhere' and she ended up spending all night al fresco under the top bar hive.

Not wanting a repeat of the poultry faux pas I went back inside to retrieve the torch, and I wafted it about a bit and it was a good job I checked because Mrs S was, indeed, AWOL.

'What does that mean?' says Mrs Slocombe to Mrs Pumphrey. They are in the living room settling down for a video-fest of 'The Vicar of Dibley'. Normally, they would use their own telly/ DVD combo, but it has been borrowed by Tango Pete who has taken it to his local pub, 'The Ballcock and Plunger' because the pub's TV has broken down and there is some HIGHLY IMPORTANT sporting event occurring that needs to be watched in wide-screen, hi-def, audio-surround-sound 60 inch glory and Les Madames TV fits the bill just so.

'It means,' I say, 'Absent Without Leave.'
'Oh,' says Mrs S.
'What did you think it meant?' I say, because I'm always up for a laugh.
'Always Watching Over Lettuces,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Is that the best you can do?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Yes,' say Mrs S and I in unison, 'we've had a long day.'

Anyway, on the evening in question I was forced to go a-wandering the grounds of Much Malarkey Manor in order to locate Mrs Slocombe. This irked me enormously, because I'd already had my fair share of aggravation that day in the form of 5 teenage boys who thought it would be a good idea to invade my classroom whilst I was busy minding my own business aka teaching, and pick a fight with one my students therein.

I had flung myself betwixt and between them, thinking 'They won't fight with a Granny in glasses in their midst, surely?' and I was right but there was a fair bit of effing and blinding and pushing and threatening (and that was just me...ahahahahahahahahaaaaa!!), before the fight was averted and I regained my composure by drinking a mug of black tea bolstered with copious sugar in lieu of milk because the PE department had used it all on their cereal AGAIN. (There is a notice on the staffroom fridge warning that milk is NOT to be used for cereal, but the notice is assuming that the PE department can actually read, and thereby lies its downfall, proven by the continual lack of milk and dried cereal attached to the door handle.)

I eventually found Mrs Slocombe. She was standing on the remains of the old eucalyptus tree stump.
'What are you doing up there?' I said.
'Pilates,' said Mrs Slocombe, and to prove her point she said, 'AARRRRRRRR!!'
'Isn't that pirates?' I said.
'I am wearing an eye -patch,' she admits. 'And I did have a carrot but I think it's flown away.'
'Parrot,' I said.
'Whatever,' said Mrs S. 'But I doubt they make as nice soup.'
'What is she doing??' shouted Mrs Pumphrey from the pod. 'Does she want cocoa or Horlicks?'
'I think she wants something a little stronger than that,' I said. 'Like Valium. You do know the difference between pilates and pirates, don't you, Mrs Slocombe,' I said, turning back to face her, because I don't know about you, dear reader, but I am well confused.

'I do,' said Mrs Slocombe, 'and the truth is there is no difference 'cept for the 'ARRRRRR' which I mentioned earlier.'

Well, I glad my hens are so hot on their literacy, I think. Better than my sixth form who think that Neopolitan ice-cream gets its name from Napolean Boneparte. That was a bit of a worry, I can tell you, especially as their exam is less than three months away and they shouldn't even be thinking about ice-cream.

Anyway, I thought, 'Enough of this malarkey,' and I rugby-tackled Mrs S, eye-patch, carrot and all, and shovelled her into the pod, safe and sound for the night. I think in doing so I may have startled Mrs Pumphrey because she produced her first egg of spring today. I was surprised - didn't think we'd be seeing any more eggs as they are both over four years old now, but good for her is she still feels able to pop 'em out.

My blog today was going to be about some data analysis I was forced to do after school, but in the two hours since I've been home, it has been consigned to the darkest recess of my mind like something nasty in the woodshed, as Aunt Ada Doom would say.

And as my colleague said as we made our way to our respective cars - 'Data analysis? Who gives a sh...'


Saturday, 25 February 2012

Saturday Showers and Enormous Pants

I went and had a haircut today. And whilst I had a haircut (note that I didn't say, 'a haircut and colour', which is my usual menu du jour at the hairdresser but more of that later) I left Andy in charge at home because Dave the Plumber was due to visit 'sometime in the morning', he didn't specify when but then plumbers don't, do they?

And the reason that Dave the Plumber was visiting was twofold - 1) the new shower has sprung a teeny tiny occasional dribble of a leaklet and 2) the downstairs bathroom is feeling a bit jaded and jealous of the upstairs bathroom posh-hotel-make-over look and thinks it deserves a bit of a tart-up, too.

Andy texted me as I emerged from my haircut (not colour) with the message, 'I think Jam and Jerusalem may have arrived' which wasn't code for some mad old relative turning up unexpectedly and wanting to be entertained and please could I come home NOW!? but that the postman had delivered Series 3 of that wonderful TV series by Jennifer Saunders. 'Jam and Jerusalem' is like 'The Darling Buds of May' - I watch it when I get the urge to live in a Middle England all-lovely-and-nice community, where quaintly funny things happen every day and everyone knows your name and there is no spitting and swearing and people have dogs called Pip and Badger. I've watched the first two series over the last weekend or so whilst being creative with the cross-stitching and felt in need of the third and last series as I am experiencing wistfulness and desire to escape the midst of Overcrowded Kent.

The postman had also delivered, I was to discover later, the Classic Chillout Piano Music CD which I ordered at the same time because I wanted some plinky-plonky background music to write to. I now await two books for my March reading programme - a Jane Austen biography and another Stella Gibbons novel - and my Amazon bonanza will be complete.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, well, Andy joined me in town just before mid-day for a tea and baguette lunch at our favourite tea shop, Dave the Plumber having been, inspected and gone.

'What's the verdict?' said I.
'Well,' said Andy, 'the shower is leaking because the seal betwixt the drain hole and the shower base has come adrift.'
'Oh,' said I.
'Apparently,' said Andy, 'the shower tray has a bit of 'give' in it. And as we've stood on it, to have a shower...'
'....like you do,' I said.
'...it has caused the sealant to crack,' finished Andy.
'Chicken and bacon and egg and cress on wholemeal?' said the waitress.

I thought about this for a moment. The shower revelation, not the baguettes.

'So what Dave the Plumber was saying,' I said, 'in the nicest possible way,' I said, 'is that we are too heavy for our shower tray.'
'Sort of,' said Andy.
'Can I mention at this juncture,' I said, 'that the shower has not deigned to leak when I have been in it.'
'That,' said Andy,' is because you are in and out of it like a shot because you are worried it will leak.'
'That theory is debatable,' I sniffed, because it was bloomin' hard work losing that 2 stone and it's been even harder work keeping it from coming back.

Anyway, Dave the Plumber is returning at some point in the not-too-distant-future (he didn't say when but then plumbers don't, do they?) with some appropriate bolstering which he intends to insert 'neath the tray so it doesn't 'give' when us heffalumps enter therein. He is also going to send a quote for tarting up the downstairs bathroom.

'Did you tell him about the way the pipes scream when the water pressure goes above a dribble?' I said.
'Yes,' said Andy, 'but I don't think he knew what I was talking about. He did tighten the bath tap without me asking though. With a massive wrench.'
'That's nice,' I said.

After I'd had my haircut (pas de couleur) and before Andy arrived for baguettes, I went shopping for pants. Like shoes, I don't own that many pairs. I tend to buy half a dozen pairs and then wear them to death, because, like shoe shopping, I find pant shopping a tiresome thing and providing they keep coming out the washing machine in one piece and remain around my nethers without the aid of tights then they are serviceable.

However, with Spring in the air and thoughts of tights being consigned to the back of the underwear drawer (hurrah!) I was aware my current pant set mightn't survive the gravity test for much longer. (I have suddenly thought here that my American guests at the Manor may be confused because 'pants' means 'trousers' doesn't it, in Americanese? It's crisps and chips and biscuits and cookies and taps and faucets and Bush and Blair all over. What I mean is 'knickers.' I hope that makes things clearer!)

So I went a-knicker shopping and thanks to a discount at BHS I got ten pairs for £10.50. 'That'll do me for a couple of years,' I thought triumphantly, and then I thought, 'Oh. I forgot. I've lost more than 24lbs. Will these knickers be too big? Will they fall down, not through frailty but through lack of enough of me to keep 'em up?'

So when I got home I tried on a pair. And let's say that they do stay up, presumably because of their springy newness, but that they will also keep all my stomach and some of my rib cage warm, too.

Ah well, at least I know I can now go down a knicker-size when next I decide to do a pant shop.

Back to the haircut. I have decided to stop having my hair dyed. I now sport what my work colleagues charmingly call a 'gamine pixie look,' and I think that this type of short hair-do can cope with grey hair. And so does my hairdresser, who is called Stacie. So I'm giving it a go. I thought, 'You have managed to avoid watching television for two months now. You have will-power. You can avoid having your hair dyed.'

And so ends a busy sunny bee-flying Saturday. And now I am going to write, accompanied by some plinky-plonky piano music and the promise of new pants in the morning.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

No Two Days...

...are the same in the world of education. It's one of the good things about teaching, that you never know what the day will bring. This is because despite all the planning and theories and the ideas and strategies, an uncertain element always appears in the shape of 'the children' and they are very uncertain elements indeed.

'Are they like Turner's elephants?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'No,' I say. 'Sometimes I think I'd prefer to be on the sea in a storm with an elephant or two, rather than in a classroom with a bunch of testy Year 11s who have just realised they've got 63 days left of their school careers and it's a bit late to start thinking about doing some useful work.'
'Is it really?' says Mrs Slocombe, who herself is very keen on the notion of 'Life Long Learning' and has just started a course in furniture renovation because she is sure I'm never going to get around to revamping my Gran's sewing box and has ideas of performing decoupage upon it.
'Well, pretty much,' I say, 'although I did make a bet with one of the Year 11 boys today.'
'Oh yes?' says Mrs S. 'Involving what?'
'An A* grade in return for a skateboarding hat,' I say.
'A skateboarding hat?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'One can purchase a specific hat for skateboarding?'
'Apparently so,' I say. 'I forget what they are called but they cost £30.'
'And you said you'd buy him one if he got an A*?' says Mrs S.
'No,' I say. 'He started it. He said 'If I get an A* in my English exam, will you get me a skateboarding hat?' and I said that if he got an A* I'd buy him TWO skateboarding hats. I have to say,' I admit, 'that I felt a tad guilty when his eyes lit up like beacons, because his chance of getting a top grade are about the same as...'
'You going out to sea in a storm on a boat with two elephants?' finishes Mrs Slocombe.
'Exactly,' I say. 'But he started it AND, I have to say, if he'd have worked hard from the start of the course and not been such an immature, mouthy and lazy little baggage, I wouldn't have been so certain of my bet.'
'Do you think he'll still go for it?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Not sure,' I say. 'I think he was genuinely tempted, and we shook hands to show I was serious about the bet. He wanted to know how much extra work he'd need to put in between now and the exam, and I said about two hours a day, and his shiny beacon eyes started to dim a bit and he said it would cut into his skateboarding time, and I said, what price a skateboarding hat?'
'Thirty pounds wasn't it?' says Mrs S.
'That's not what I meant,' I say. 'I was being figurative.'
'Oh,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'So, what else happened today in the zany world of teaching?'

I sit back and sigh. We've just had pancakes and I am feeling a bit stuffed but pleasantly stuffed as I think pancakes sit rather well with my constitution.

'Well,' I say. 'My sixth form appalled me AGAIN by not knowing about the tradition of eloping to Gretna Green to get married, and I explained the origin of the phrase 'letting the cat out of the bag' through the medium of dance.'
'What were you teaching?' says Mrs S.
'Pride and Prejudice,' I say. 'You had to be there for it to make sense. And another of my Year 11 boys plied me with half a bar of Galaxy chocolate. I tried to turn it down but he was insistent. And it was okay to eat because it was a fresh and untouched by human hands bar. And my Year 10s had a very heated debate about racism because we are studying 'Of Mice and Men', and one of them fell off his chair, I don't know why. Boomff - suddenly, there he was gone. And one of my tutor group invented a kebab pancake which I said sounded disgusting so she said how about she add some jelly babies and I said that made it even worse for us vegetarians because jelly babies are non-veggie on account of the gelatine. I explained what gelatine was, but I think she got the wrong end of the stick because I heard her telling her mate later on that jelly babies have got meat in them.'
'It sounds very complicated,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'And then after school I helped a student with his audition piece for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' I say. 'I was flinging myself about a bit by this stage of the day, and he was looking at me like I was mad.'
'P'raps he was looking at you with inspired awe,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Highly unlikely,' I say. 'But it made me think that tomorrow I'll go and offer my services to help with the production. I haven't done anything properly dramary since producing 'Little Shop of Horrors' at my last school.'
'You could audition for Titania!' says Mrs S.
'That's just crazy talk,' I say. 'Me? Queen of the Fairies? Queen of Trying to Maintain Her Sanity more like. I was thinking more along the lines of in a back-stage capacity.'
'Anything else?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Don't think so,' I say. 'Scared a Year 10 in the corridor. Unintentionally, I hasten to add. Oh, and I was offered a permanent teaching position today, so I must be doing something right if they want to keep me on.'
'That's good,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'I'll say,' I say, because I really wasn't looking forward to the mind-numbing process of filling in loads of application forms and praying for interviews. 'Because I feel I can now go on a book spending spree on Amazon.'

'Go to it!' says Mrs S.
'I shall!!' I say.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Insurance - PAH! And other exciting animals...

My little blue car is due to have its insurance renewed. Now, bearing in mind I have (touchwood) an unblemished driving record of almost 29 years, and that last year my little blue car and I just about managed to travel 2,000 miles between us, and I am not a boy-racer (although I do own an angora-mix M & S knitted hoodie), and the value of my little blue car is, well, little in comparison to say a Porsche or Tardis or aircraft carrier, one would expect one's insurance renewal quote to be around the same or even - dare I say- slightly less than it was last year.


It came in at double PLUS a little bit more! £270 something to £550!! HOW? WHY??

Totally unnecessary, I thought, as little blue car and I have been good this year, so I got straight on to Compare The Small Mammal from the Desert.com.

And within 3 minutes (because I had saved my details from last year and it was as easy as checking 'n' clicking), I got a quote for £228!

Now, tell me...how does that work then? Same cover, same excess, same everything, but a different company = £322 cheaper! I don't understand. It all seems a bit peculiar to me. But oddly satisfying...

However, that wasn't the best bit. Oh no!! Because I bought my insurance through Compare The Small Mammal from the Desert.com, I was rewarded with a FREE Small Mammal from the Desert of my own! (Not a real live one, you understand - I think the chickens might have something to say about a meerkat maurading the Manor grounds) but a soft toy version!

I was directed to the Meerkovo website, where my name appeared on a banner and the resident meerkats did a little song and dance for me and I was told they were sending my soft toy at once, and I could track its progress across the globe from Meerkovo (wherever that is - I suspect somewhere near Milton Keynes, or Stranraer) to 'zee UK' via their on-line tracking tool.

It was all very exciting!

Other exciting things week -

a) Heather's 24th birthday today! Managed to light and blow out 24 candles on the cake without setting off smoke alarm

b) getting a £5 off M & S voucher in the Daily Rant yesterday and using it to buy a jumper I saw at the weekend that I liked but didn't buy because something stopped me and it was obviously God saying 'Wait until Thursday and you'll save a fiver.'

c) seeing my friend Janet yesterday for lunch

d) getting a lovely floaty top from Andy as a Valentine's pressie

e) finding some rather good teachery stuff by joining the Times Educational Supplement on-line doo-dah (and I have to say that their stuff is marginally better than the Guardian on-line teachery doo-dah stuff, although the Guardian beat them on better access to jobs pages.)

f) being able to get up in daylight rather than get up in the dark

g) finishing 'Starlight' by Stella Gibbons and being glad I discovered that Stella Gibbons wrote many more books other than Cold Comfort Farm

h) getting more than half-way through an Ian Rankin novel. I've never read Ian Rankin before - Andy has many of his books though and I thought I'd give one a go. It's okay - but not a patch on Stella G.

And that, as they say, is that.

Six weeks until the Easter holidays.

Not that I'm counting...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Fat Chips, Fat Jobs and Fat Bees

Firstly, I am relieved to see from my vantage point up here in my arty-crafty writing room, that I can see bees a-coming and a-going to and fro the top-bar hive, which is good as it means they have survived the recent cold 'n' snowy weather. Whether we shall be as pleased of their survival in a few months' time when they decide they want to swarm I do not know, but for the moment I am glad they are not lying therein their house in a dead and frozen lump of bee-icicle.

Secondly, I am sad to report that the Best Fat Chips in the World are no more. I shall take a moment of silence now in order to mourn their passing, and to sigh much in the same manner as I sighed when The Body Shop decided to stop making their Dewberry Shampoo.


This sad discovery (the chips, not the shampoo) was made yesterday on our trip out for Valentine lunch. Our favourite pub has revamped its menu. Which is okay. I understand this is what pubs do, although I don't understand the mentality of changing something for the sake of changing it, I mean, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Anyhow, I completed my lunch order with the words, 'And a bowl of your finest chunky chips, please.'

The barman said, 'The chips aren't quite so chunky any more. We've slimmed them down a bit.'

Slimmed them down? SLIMMED down a CHIP???? I'm sorry, but am I missing something here? If I wanted a thin chip I'd go to a chain of well-known burger bar. And the reason I never go to the aforesaid burger bar (whose name I dare not speak) to buy chips is because I might just as well buy a box of matches, dip them in salt and then nuke them with a blow torch. I'd get the same effect.

'Our new chips are just as nice as the old ones,' said the barman.

What I really wanted to say was, 'Well, why change them then?' but I didn't because it's not good for the soul to be contrary on Valentine's Day when one's hubbie has taken one out for lunch, so I said, 'Okay, ' instead and thought, 'They'd better be as good, or I shall be suffering the biggest disappointment since discovering that although a single Jaffa cake on Weightwatchers ProPoints Plan is one point, if you have two Jaffa cakes, they suddenly take up three points of your pitiful daily allowance which seems very bad Maths to me.

The chips duly arrived. They were okay. But they weren't The Best.

And, reader, I am sad to report that even a dollop of excellent sticky toffee pudding couldn't quite make up for the realisation that the Best Fat Chip has now become legend.

And this morning, whilst in a Fat Chip State of Depression, I have been job hunting because my current place of work, although (and I quote) is '99.9% certain' they will be able to upgrade my temporary maternity cover post to a permanent position ready for September, that 0.1% still threatens, and I feel I need to start looking elsewhere, just in case, because we do have a mortgage and bills.

My current workplace says it will let me know 'as soon as possible/ as soon as the financial projections are in/ as soon as other members of the department have informed us of their intentions.' The situation isn't helped by the fact that two of the department are on maternity leave and haven't decided on a full or part-time return, and another is expecting to go on maternity in the next three months and another is having interviews for posts in foreign climes.

I want to shout, 'My eggs have gone off and I don't do abroad, ergo I am a reliable catch!' but it's neither dignified nor ladylike, so I shall continue my gentle scouting around and let the Universe be my guide on this matter.

Other than that, did you know it is Galileo's birthday today? Even when they were burning him at the stake as a heretic for his crazy 'Earth-moving-around-the-sun' idea, he stuck to his theory. I bet he is up there now on his little cloud saying 'Told you so.'

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Our Day Out

Well, I am surprised I haven't woken up this morning riddled with pneumonia. In an act of what I can only describe as sheer lunacy, Andy and I decided yesterday to take Kayleigh on a trip to Leeds Castle. To be fair, it was a bit of a spur of the moment decision, forced by some intense staring between the granny and the grandpa over toast for lunch, and some intense 'twirling-round-and-round-and-getting-dizzy-and-falling-over' by the grand-daughter; not a good idea especially as she had just eaten a substantial amount of cheese and we have hard ceramic tiles on our kitchen floor.

So before we all went stir (or twirl) crazy, we piled into the car and drove off for a brisk walk, a look at the ducks and possibly tea and a bun at the restaurant, although we'd already had tea and a bun at our favourite cafe in town earlier in the day and I think that's what Kayleigh believes Granny and Grandpa do with their free time, drink tea and eat buns. Well, what else is one supposed to do on dark, cold, windy, icy February days, for heaven's sake? Something useful???

'It doesn't look very busy,' I said, as I reverse into a parking space. (Joke: what do you do when you find a spaceman? Park in it, man.)
'No,' said Andy. 'Especially as it's half-term.'

There was a reason for the lack of busyness, we realised, as we stepped from the car and a blast of icy, sleety rain lashed at our faces.

At this point, most normal people would have said, 'Let's p'raps not go on a duck hunt today.' But as history has shown, we are not most normal people. Andy likes Doctor Who for a start, and I am resolutely persistent in my personification of chickens.

'What's that supposed to mean?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who is swanning around in the back garden in a pair of love-heart covered hot-pants in celebration of St Valentine's Day.
'It means I give human qualities to animals or inanimate objects,' I say.
'That's ridiculous!' huffs Mrs P.
'I know,' I say.

Besides, the grand-daughter was off on a mission, for yea verily she had spotted a peacock and was in hot pursuit shouting, 'CHICKEN! CHICKEN!' Everything that is chicken sized and covered in feathers is a chicken to Kayleigh. Nine times out of ten she is correct because we have chickens in the back garden. Unfortunately, the one time she isn't correct is generally when we are in public and people look at her with pitying eyes like they did yesterday as if to say, 'Poor child - doesn't know the difference between a chicken and a peacock/ goose/ duck/ swan.' Of course, they never verbalise their pity, because if they did they would get very short shrift from me as I'd say, 'Look - she's not even TWO years old yet. What do you expect??' (I am very defensive of my grand-daughter. It's clear she is a genius and the sooner the world realises this, the better.)

Anyway, we were off, through the wind and rain and sleet and it was bloomin' cold. And when it is cold, one wants to walk at a fairly brisk pace to keep the blood coursing through the veins and the feeling intact in one's toes. But small children have other ideas. They have puddles to jump in, and wooden rails to run their mitten hands along, and much backtracking to do in case they missed something thirty seconds ago. They have far more things to stop and examine, because they are closer to the ground and they notice detail like twigs and pebbles and poo. They have to talk to every swan they see. They have to observe the world via the medium of zig-zag walking.

In a cunning plan, Grandpa Andy would swoop her up from the ground every now and then, shouting, 'Does Kayleigh want to be an aeroplane? Wheeeeee!!!!!!' and he'd run ahead with her a hundred yards or so. Or he'd say, 'Where's Granny? Look! There she is! Chase after her,' and I'd turn around and make my 'Eeek! There's a Bear after Me!!!!' face, and Kayleigh would find this hugely entertaining and run after me. And that way, we made progress. Just as well, really. If we went at Kayleigh-pace, we'd still be walking around the lake today.

At the restaurant, because if we'd be hesitant about indulging in a second tea and bun stop prior to the visit, we certainly weren't now, we had a minor cup emergency, whereby we'd left Kayleigh's beaker in the car, and the only drinking vessels available were a pint glass and a china tea cup. But she managed her 100% orange juice in a tea cup very well. No spills, no breakages. Even managed to stick out her little finger in an ever-so-refined way. I have to say, Kayleigh is a very civilised child to take to eating places. Except when she wiped a blob of gluten-free chocolate fudge cake up her coat. That was a bit mucky.

Despite the Arctic conditions, we arrived home safely and only a very light shade of blue.

And today the weather is noticeably warmer. The snow is gone, courtesy of some overnight rain. And my knees are warm, courtesy of a Pandora Kitten.

And in about half an hour, my tummy will be warm, courtesy of Andy who is taking me out for a Valentine lunch at a pub that does the best fat chips EVER!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Flower Power

As soon as Andy was out the door to do his once-in-a-couple-of-months Saturday cover for work this morning, I was off into town to the Laura Ashley sale, in pursuit of my mission to cover the entire house in floral wallpaper.

So far, it is going quite well...

And I've chosen and purchased the paper for my arty-crafty writing room. It's a pale cream with little sprigs of pink roses on it, and it looks jolly nice. I have also discovered a new design covered in enormous red poppies, experiencing a moment of what I think is called 'love at first sight'. However, the poopies...poopies?? I mean poppies...would overpower the current room of decorating focus. It was with reluctance then, that I left the Laura Ashley poppy wallpaper in town.

But I'll be back...

I love flowers. I don't know why. But then what is there NOT to like about flowers? I remember as a small child being entranced by little blue flowers which were commonly known as 'cat's eyes', and little red flowers called 'scarlet Pimpernels'. I think they were both weed-type flowers but I loved them nonetheless.

And my grandad grew gladioli, and I was amazed that flowers could be so HUGE and colourful. My gran's front garden was crammed full of roses, and her back garden had a mass of flowers I adored which I now know to be lungwort or pulmonaria. We had a bright yellow laburnum tree in the front garden of the first house I ever lived in, and my abiding memory of that was that we were told NOT to eat it, as it was poisonous and we would DIE! Even if we touched it and licked our fingers! In the second house we lived in, there was a lilac tree on the drive and it's the first time I became aware that tree flowers could smell.

At our primary school there was a huge flowering cherry tree, beneath which us girls used to sit and fashion ourselves hair garlands from the fallen blossoms. And our local church had, and still has, a massive wisteria which was magical to walk beneath after Sunday school. It was like being in a house made of flowers in the summer and twisty, windy woven wood in the winter.

One of the best gardens I have visited is Anne Hathaway's cottage just outside Stratford-upon-Avon. When I imagine the house that will be our forever house, I always walk through a garden just like hers to get to the front door. The front door always has honeysuckle and roses growing around and over the porch and blankets of lavender beneath the windows.

I have to admit there are some flowers that leave me feeling a tad tepid. Cactus, for example. And red hot pokers. I don't understand either of those. Or lilies. But that could be because lilies are poisonous to cats and I love my cats.

In the front garden the bluebells are waiting to burst into flower. And a little violet has been flowering bravely by the front gate since the middle of December. When we moved here, there was a single violet; as the years have passed, it has spread and spread and it has become they and they are the most beautiful colour. Like the ones I used to find on my lone walks in the countryside as a child, when I'd find them in the high banks that lined the lanes, along with celandines and primroses.

Power to the flower - that's what I say!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Things I Have Learned This Week

1) Never put Marmite in your eye - it really hurts.

2) Your average teenager will never understand why Shakespeare is so great

3) It's okay to ignore a lesson observation carried out by a PE teacher, especially when they send you an e-mail feedback entitled 'leson obsevation'

4) Chickens resent snow and can melt it with a single stare from their gimlet eye

5) TV really doesn't matter any more.

6) Bottom set Year 10s have an uncanny knack for interpreting poetry

7) Embroidering a koala takes two evenings and a lot of squinting...

8)...so p'raps it's time to have my eyes tested again

9)'Life's too short' occurences happen in groups of three, very quickly, so why don't we move to Hereford NOW!?

10) A full rubbish bin-on-wheels does not provide sufficient counterweight to prevent one sliding down an icy drive way in a wild and dangerous fashion

11) Eating too many frozen raspberries can cause tummy upset

12) Sticking to a diet in Winter is impossible, therefore I have made a law against it

13) Typing whilst eating a hot cross bun makes your keyboard sticky

14) God sometimes makes you do things you really don't want to do, but you'll only get nagged if you resist so best get on and do them if only for a quiet life

15) Potties come in some very stupid designs these days

16) Sometimes one is spoiled for choice e.g Laura Ashley flowery wallpaper for the decorating of one's arty-crafty writing room

17) Cat mug or bee mug? Sometimes the decision is difficult

18) Not only can I touch my toes without bending my knees, I can now touch the floor!

19) You can never escape the lure of doing another course with the Open University

20) Data is NOT the answer to successful education

And one thing I didn't learn...

...any Italian. I really must get on with my teach-yourself course before it becomes laden with dust.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Diversionary Tactics

Having established that DVDs do not count as TV, I can report that today, 36 days into 2012, I have watched NO television, and two DVDs. One of the DVDs I needn't have bothered with only it was lent by a student who thought it might entertain me. I felt, therefore, obliged to watch it, though I suffered several fidgety moments and toyed with the idea of skimming through it and selecting a couple of moments that I could relate in response to the inevitable question, 'Did you like the film I lent you, ma'am?' with the reply, 'Yes, I especially liked the bit when the detectives lifted the dead man's head from the table using a pencil in each ear.'

But I didn't. I was polite in his absence and watched the whole thing thus maintaining a guilt-free conscience.

The biggest issue with not watching TV is filling the hole it leaves with other more meaningful activities, the danger being that non-TV watching can become like TV watching only without the TV in your line of vision a.k.a staring at the wall. I have done a little of this, and although it has been mildly therapeutic in a meditative kind of way, I now recognise the need to make sure I plan and am proactive in my evening's choice of entertainment and not resort merely to reading, Sudokuing and generating stuff for school. (Although I have enjoyed the reading enormously! I never complain about reading too much.)

To this end, and inspired by a magazine article and a craft blog I discovered, I set about trying to find an arts and crafts club thingy to join that was local, and failing that, an arts and crafty adult education thingy at the local adult education centre. And I drew a blank on both.

This led me to think I ought to set up my own arts and crafts club. You know, meet up once a fortnight, share ideas and skills, have a bit of a gossip and a bit of cake etc etc.

And whilst I was thinking about this today, I got Andy to get my Gran's sewing box from the loft. I say 'box' but it's more like a little table made from a box and a drawer and set on legs. It looks 1950s style and I rescued it from Gran's house when she died in 1986 before it got slung away as rubbish. I had always intended to have a go at refurbishing it by ripping out the linings and replacing them and tidying up the varnish. Start with the easy bit, I thought. Get the lining out and replace that.

Easier said than done. The lining in the drawer came out easily enough - a piece of stiff card covered in fabric and glued down with what I can only describe as horse glue. It came off pretty well with the aid of a cheese knife in the shape of a small machete.

But the lining in the main box was attached with small rusted tacks and more horse glue about half an inch thick and very reluctant to part company with the wood. Also, the lining around the sides of the box seemed to be attached to corrugated cardboard which was very reluctant to being teased off in one piece. However, once I'd started a-ripping and a-cheese-machete-hacking I had to carry on.

It was a messy job. I scraped a knuckle. A couple of patches of glue refused to budge and I suspect that when the sewing table eventually disintegrates, those two patches of glue will remain intact, hovering in the air and defying anyone who approaches them with a full-sized machete, let alone one built for the slicing of Stilton.

I cleaned and polished the outside of the table as best I could but I can't help but think the varnish could do with being stripped off completely, the wood rubbed down and the whole thing repainted/ revarnished/ refinished some other decorative way. And that would involve, I suspect, the use of highly dangerous chemicals and/or a highly dangerous blow torch effort and I'm not quite brave enough to tackle that kind of renovation just yet.

Still considering the Much Malarkey Arty-Crafty Club idea. Not sure of the hows, the whys, the whens and the wherefores yet, but I do know I like the idea.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Parents, Poetry and Snow

Yesterday, I was forced to call a parent. Now, I don't enjoy calling parents, mostly because you never know what kind of reception you're likely to receive. I mean, if you call a Customer Service centre, for example, at least you know you're unlikely to be sworn at, or if you call a friend, you are sure to receive a warm welcome...well, that's the idea anyway.

But parents of the children you teach? You have to gird your loins (or grid your lions as I first typed) and remember you have the right to say, 'I am going to hang up if you continue to be rude/ aggressive/ mad as a box of frogs,' should the conversation take a turn for the worse.

Phone calls to parents generally fall into one of the following categories:

1) You are calling to discuss their child's poor behaviour and ask them, as a parent, what they intend to do about it. This will be met with one of several responses. Parent will be either shocked or appalled or embarrassed or defensive. They will promise you it will never happen again (unlikely), that they will discuss the offence with their child as soon as they return home, they will deny their child has ever been naughty in their ENTIRE life but in case they do it again they want me to phone them IMMEDIATELY and tell them, or they will say it's nothing to do with me and to eff off and mind my own bl**din' business.

2) You are calling to congratulate a parent on their child's outstanding effort/ quality of work/ community spirit/ random act of kindness. Parents are generally surprised by this kind of phone call, especially the ones to whom you've spoken before vis a vis their child being the horned Gremlin from the Devil's soup bowl. Often the response is one of initial disbelief, followed by suspicion, then pleasant surprise and then grateful thanks. Actually, it's fun making this kind of phone call. It nearly always causing the parent to feel wrong-footed.

3) You are calling with a progress report and you catch a parent at 'an awkward moment'. Examples have included : changing their baby's nappy, going through a supermarket checkout, watching Jeremy Kyle, watching a tyre being changed at a very loud garage, and relaxing on a beach in Corfu (this was at the beginning of September - parents had decided to keep their Year 11 child off school for another month so they could have a cheap holiday. Never mind the fact it was his GCSE year and he needed all the teaching he could get to scrape a 'C' grade).

4) You are calling about any one of the above matters and no matter how many times you call on whichever of the sixteen numbers on the computer system you have recorded for that child, the parents NEVER respond. Generally, these are the parents of the worst child in your class, so I suppose I can understand why they never answer their phones. Probably too busy changing the locks before their treasure arrives home.

Or, as yesterday, you can call the parent of a sixth former to explain why you are very reluctant to enter their child for the A level exam - because they are lazy and lacking in the useful brain cell department - and something bizarre happens by a process of subliminal osmosis.

'I think,' I said to our Head of Sixth Form as I reported back re: the phone call, 'that I have just agreed to help Dan's father arrange a poetry slam at a pub.'
'What?' she said, but already she was laughing.
'I phoned to say I wasn't going to enter Dan for the exam,' I said, 'and I explained why and his father went into a massive sob story about how Dan is being a difficult, shouty and emotional 17 year old, and that he was really a very talented artist and did I like art, and did I like poetry and he was hoping to arrange a poetry slam at The Bull at East Farleigh, and I could help him, couldn't I, if I was interested because I'd know all about poets and writers, being a Literature teacher and he'd write to me with all the details and we'll take it from there, shall we?'

By this time, Head of Sixth was in fits. 'I did warn you he was a charming Canadian artist,' she said.
'Yes you did,' I said, 'but when you said 'artist', I thought you meant painter artist, not con artist.'
'Well, good luck,' she said, 'and if it happens, I'll come along and support you.'
'Too right you will,' I said. 'And buy me a stiff orange juice and endless bags of cheese and onion crisps.'

Of course, I am hoping that Dan's art-crazed father will do as all the other parents generally do which is express a flurry on enthusiasm then forget all about his wild and crazy plan. Part of his reason for the whole poetry slam (what IS a poetry slam, anyway??) is that he wants to bring together different generations because, 'teenagers only get to socialise with their grandparents at funerals.'

I can only say that they must have a peculiar way of arranging cross-generational gatherings in Canada, because I saw my grand-daughter this very morning and there ne'er was a coffin in sight.

Anyway, it's the weekend and I shouldn't be talking shop. It's very cold here. We are promised a heavy dollop of snow tonight. I sent Mrs P and Mrs S to do a panic buy at Sainsbugs and they came back with cream crackers, a jar of pesto, a can of furniture polish and some of those sandsheets one uses for lining a budgie cage with if one has a budgie.

'You are useless,' I say. 'When snow is forecast you need milk, cheese, baking potatoes, baked beans, strong white flour for the baking of the bread, and toilet rolls. Got it?'

'Not cream crackers?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Definitely not cream crackers,' I say. 'Ridiculous bird.'