Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Us Writers

'So,' I said to my sixth form today, 'what can you tell me about DH Lawrence?'

I was met with half a classful of blank stares and half a classful of avoiding eye-contact stares.

'Can one have an avoiding eye contact stare?' asks Mrs Pumphrey.
'One can if one is a shifty sixth former,' I say.

Well, it transpired that NONE of the sixth form could tell me anything about DH Lawrence except one who thought his name' rang a bell.' I'd like to say that it was my school lacking in its Literature teaching at KS4 that caused this hole in their knowledge, but half of the group come from other schools, so I think it's a general Kentish shortfalling.

'I give up!' I said, throwing my arms into the air in a melodramatic manner in order to convey 'despair' via the medium of Mexican wave. 'Call yourself Literature students and you've never heard of DH Lawrence?'

I was asking this because we have moved on from our study of Pride and Prejudice and The Yellow Wallpaper, and are having a break by looking at the exam poetry. Today, this included 'Piano' by aforesaid Lawrence-who-rings-a-bell. Mind you, yesterday we looked at 'anyone lived in a pretty how town' by e.e.cummings-who-knows-no-punctuation which is enough to stun many a brain cell, so p'raps the students were suffering a bit from that and wouldn't recognise the Queen even if she appeared in full regalia and said 'Hello...I'm the Queen.'

I persevered. 'Come on, people,' I said, in what I hoped was an encouraging and not threatening tone. 'You must have heard of a particularly famous book he wrote that got him into a lot of trouble and a court case?'

And then they began twenty questions, which, unfortunately started off with, 'What colour is your car?'
'Blue,' I said. 'Can we concentrate on Mr Lawrence, please?'
'Was it a book?'
I sigh. 'Yes.'
'Was it made into a film?'
'Was it about pianos?'
'Did he live at the same time as Shakespeare?'
'Was it about sex?'
'Yes!' I shouted, a little too enthusiastically.
'Karma Sutra!!' shouted Sara.
'What????' I said. I am disturbed that my sixth form seem to know about the Karma Sutra but not about Lady Chatterley's Lover.

I decided surrender was the best form of attack, and told them the whole sorry story. 'I think you should go and read about it for yourself,' I said. 'Knowing more about a writer's life will enhance your understanding of their work.'

But now I am not so sure. For if I stand by this assertion, then here is one writer (moi!) who, in the annals of time when scholars are studying the intricate details of Nearly King Jimbo (still available on Amazon/ Lulu and other good self-publishing sites), is going to come across as a mad bat with severe psychological problems and multiple-personality disorder.

I was talking to our school Reverend today. Actually, I'd popped in for a quick pray, having bumped into her at morning break as she was trying to flush the remains of her soup down the toilet which is never a good idea as our toilets have either a feeble flush or a flush worthy of Niagara falls and one can never be quite sure which one one is going to get. (NB Always put the lid down before flushing at our school - saves many an embarrassing sprayed trouser incident).

Anyway, I asked Rev if I could pop in after school, just to say a quick one for my Dad, because for some reason, 14 years down the line, I was feeling a bit out of sorts with the anniversary and needed a bit of a spiritual chit chat. And she was telling me about a diary she's been keeping since she became a Rev, and how people keep telling her she should publish it but she didn't know where to begin.

'They say everyone's got a book inside them waiting to get out, don't they?' she said.
'Yes,' said I. 'But sometimes you have to be careful what you allow to escape.'
And I told her about my conversation with the sixth form re: Lady Chatterley.
'Ah,' said the Rev, 'but then if Lawrence hadn't allowed it to escape from his imagination, and it hadn't come to court, then you wouldn't have the freedom to discuss hundreds of other texts with your students.'
'This is true,' said I, because I hadn't thought about it like that.

'And the moral of this story is?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Write what you like but always have a box of matches to hand,' I say.
'Good,' says Mrs P. 'Now perhaps you'd like to put those matches to better use and light the grill so I can toast some crumpets.'

Monday, 30 January 2012

Strictly Come London

So, for Christmas, Heather presented me with two tickets for the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour at the O2 arena in my VERY favourite place - London. (That was irony, by the way - no, actually, let's not be coy, that was sarcasm). And yesterday was show day.

Luckily, she had the foresight to get tickets for the matinee, because I suspect she realised I'd need time to recover from the London trauma in the evening before going to bed, and time not to think about the impeding London trauma in the morning before we set off. It takes a lot of time and effort and planning for my loved ones to get me to London. I'm surprised they haven't resorted to tranquillisers in my tea. Or just given up completely. I would.

And so it was that I had only a smidge of time to do the ironing and get into a minor grouch before Andy said, 'Come on, let's go to the station.'

This is how I feel going up to London: I fret about trains being delayed, I fret about trains breaking down. I fret about drunks on the train, I fret about small children having to listen to idiot teenage boys who love the sound of their own voices swearing loudly on the train. I fret about having to sit to close to the loos because the ones on the old rolling stock are decidely niffy and Southeastern Trains ought to be ASHAMED of themselves. I fret about people riding the trains without paying. I fret about falling down the gap betwixt train and platform when I get off the train. I fret about not getting off the train at the right station. I fret about catching headlice if I rest my head on the headrest, and banging my head on the window if I accidentally fall asleep. Falling asleep is unlikely as I am constantly on guard for bag thieves.

I fret about someone snatching my bag. I fret about graffiti. I fret about high-rise flats and the people who have to live in them. I fret about all the scruffy little unkempt and unloved back gardens we pass that back onto the railway line. And that's before we've even arrived. Oh, I always fret about losing my ticket.

To make matters worse, we then had to go on the Tube. Sometimes I think I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than go on the Tube. On the Tube I fret about explosions, over-crowding, pushing and shoving, bubonic plague and getting my shoe trapped in the sliding doors. I fret about the train being hijacked by a maniac faux Tube driver who has wanted to be a Tube driver since he was three, but didn't pass the tests and has, over the years become so obsessed with driving a Tube train NO MATTER WHAT, that eventually he steals one and drives round and round, faster and faster for hours on end, cackling like a loon with me screaming to be let off.

And when I am let off I discover I've been going COMPLETELY the wrong way because my lack of sense of direction means I can't tell my Eastbound from my Westbound and my Waterloo from my Jubilee.

Luckily, the Tube journey was only four stops, during which I managed to hold my breath most of the way, thereby avoiding hyperventilating and the bubonic plague. Bit of a hot flush, mind. Be thankful for small mercies, I told myself.

The O2 arena aka the Millennium Dome (or Linoleum Gnome as I remember calling it when it was being built 14 odd years ago), is a huge, lumbering, graceless obscenity of a building. It is cold, and soulless and full of eating places, none of which looked like they'd serve us a quick lunch because they were all packed to the rafters with people who seemed to enjoy London - eurkk! So we ended up grabbing sandwiches, crisps and chocolate from a newsagenty type place, and then eating them standing up because all the benches were full.

The section of the arena in which our seats were located was pretty much vertical. I've been to only one venue that had a steeper rake on the circle than this, and that was the Wyndham where I spent the whole of the play I was seeing leaning backwards because I felt certain if I sat upright I'd tilt off my seat, and plummet over the balcony into the stalls below. AND after that trip to London, the people I was with insisted we all go to Chinatown for a meal which gave me a whole new set of irrational complexes to fret about including how come, with it being midnight, was it still so light outside? If you want to blame somewhere for global warming, blame Chinatown in London - all those unnecessary lights! I ask you...

I digress. The show was good. Very entertaining. I barely thought about the return journey home.

Waiting on the platform at London Bridge - was it the right platform? What if the train divided into two at Orpington and we were in the wrong half and ended up in Antwerp? - I had a Mars Bar. I haven't had a Mars Bar for YEARS. It made my teeth go on edge but gave me enough of a sugar rush to keep me thinking about the toasted cheese sandwich I was going to have when I got home (IF I got home - someone might have stolen the car from the station car park). Oh yes, I was having melted cheese to celebrate the conquering of London against all odds (mwahahahahahahaaaaa!!!) regardless of a) the diet and b) the information I read recently that melted cheese is the most difficult food for the human body to digest.

Of course we got home okay. It was, as usual, an uneventful journey. But only because I defended us from all evils by thinking about all permutations of aforesaid evils and thereby negating the possibility of them actually occuring.

I paid for the melted cheese today.

But it was worth it.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Turner's Elephants

There is a new art gallery in Margate called the Turner Contemporary (I think. I might be wrong, and really, as a resident of Kent I ought to know these things for certain, but I don't and I blame my muffled knowledge on all the concrete that has been Prescotted upon our Garden of England). Anyway, there is definitely an art gallery in Margate, it is new and it is something to do with Turner.

'Will you get on with it,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'You are sounding like a wittering idiot.'
'I'm sorry,' I say, 'but I had a very traumatic experience taking the whole of Year 11 on a trip yesterday, and I have a little teeny tiny sniffy cold, so my cognitive ability is feeling very compromised at the moment and...'
'HURRY UP!' shrieks Mrs S. 'I want to interrupt your story!
'Tell you what,' I say, 'you interrupt away. I'm going to lie down for a while. Wake me when it's all over.'
'Okay,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'You go and rest your fuzzy pea-brain mind and I'll tell the story of Turner and his elephants.'
'It's elements,' I say. 'Not elephants.'
'We'll see,' says Mrs Slocombe, and she shoves me off the chair and commandeers the keyboard before I can say 'bring me a Lemsip and something that will uncross my eyes.'

'Once upon a time,' begins Mrs Slocombe, 'there was a young man by the name of J M W Turner.'
'And what did the J, the M and the W stand for?' says Mrs Pumphrey who has arrived with paper and paint samples to test against the walls in my new arty-crafty creating room.
'Jemima Morris Wendy,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'He was confused from a very early age.'
'I had an aunt called Jemima,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'She reckons she was a chicken, but she looked a bit ducky to me.'
'Anyway,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'young Turner, as we shall call him because it's difficult maintaining control of the Caps Lock key where you're typing and holding a mug of cocoa at the same time, young Turner discovered he had a talent for painting.'
'Me, too,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'What do you think of this colour for the walls?'
'I think it looks like phlegm,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Perfect,' says Mrs P.
'So young Turner decided to paint for a living. He especially like painting seascapes. And many people liked his seascapes also. They declared them to be atmospheric, because they captured the weather so well, and elemental because of the elephants.'
'Surely it was because of the elements?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Aaah,' says Mrs S, 'that's where you, and everyony else in the art world has got it wrong.'
'Prove it,' says Mrs P.
'I shall,' says Mrs S. 'Name me some elements.'
'Titanium, carbon, barium, moron...I mean, boron,' says Mrs Pumphrey, pleased that her degree in chemistry was finally coming in handy.
'Right,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Now tell me where you have seen ANY of those in ANY of Turner's paintings.'

After some thought, Mrs Pumphrey has to admit she hasn't, and she likes a good Turner, does Mrs Pumphrey.

'But,' she says, 'I can't say I've seen any elephants in his work either.'
'Aaah!' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Wrong again. In a couple of words, how would you describe Turner's presentation? You know, his a-dolloping of the paint on the canvas?'
'I'd say sloshy and blurry but in an impressionistic way, not a dropped-accidentally-on-the-floor-whilst-wet kind of way,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Sloshy and blurry indeed,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Because you know those hulking great features in the middle of his seascapes?'
'Boats and ships?' says Mrs P.
'Blurry boats and ships,' corrects Mrs Slocombe, 'and blurry because they were originally elephants and Turner, when he stepped back to do that viewing-my-work-from -afar thing that proper artists do he thought, 'There is something not quite right about an elephant floating off the coast of Margate,' and he changed them into ships.'

'Why didn't he just paint new paintings on fresh canvases?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Too poor,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Couldn't afford them. No-one would buy his work up until then...'
'Because of the elephants?' says Mrs P.
'Possibly,' says Mrs S. 'Although I'd rather spend money on a pachyderm in a pedalo than, oh I don't know, a Tracey Emin concoction, if we are using Kent artists as examples.'
'Well, if you want to look at an unmade bed you might as well stay at home and look at the free sample you stagger out of every morning,' says Mrs Pumphrey, mostly because she can't help herself. (Mrs Slocombe isn't known for her housekeeping abilities.)

'I shall ignore that last remark,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'because I am being high-fallutin' and talking about art.'
'So you are saying that Jemima Morris Wendy Turner developed his style of painting by rubbing elephants out of his work and replacing them with ships?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Exactamundo!' says Mrs Slocombe. 'And that his why his exhibition at the gallery in Margate should be called 'Turner's Elephants' and not 'Turner's Elements.' '

'Denise's Auntie Pollie has an elephant in her immersion tank,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I'm not surprised,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'After all, they had to be put to some use when Turner no longer wanted them to pose for his paintings.'

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


This, and I swear 'tis no word of a lie, is the conversation I had with a check-out lady at Sainsbugs when I made the stupid mistake yesterday of thinking, 'I'll just pop into Sainsbugs on my way home from work for a few bits.' And I say 'conversation' but you will see, as I put my contribution in italics, that it was all a bit one sided...

'Have you got bags?'
'Yes thanks.'
'Is it cold out?'
'I didn't think it was too bad considering it's January. Isn't it nice the evenings are growing li...'
'Only I was sitting here today and all I could feel was a draught. They always put me on this till and usually it isn't too bad but I thought today, I thought, there is definitely a draught. Mind you, it wasn't like the draught I felt two weeks before Christmas. But that was me thyroid. I'd been sitting on this till and I kept coming over all strange. Five times that shift they had to take me off the till. I fell of me seat the last time, I felt so weak. So they sent me home. And I said to me 'usband, not me first one, he was no good, this is me second, I said, Mike, I've got to go to the doctors and get a blood test. I think me thyroid's gone again. It takes 'em ages to adjust me medication sometimes but I knew something was up and I wanted it sorted by Christmas. So I went to the doctor, 'e took some blood, said call in a week for the results. I went 'ome and I said to Mike, I said, I bet it's over 3.6, and he said I bet it is too, like last time. I said I hope not because it's nearly Christmas and 'e said, don't you worry we'll get it sorted before Christmas. So I calls the doctors for the result and the receptionist says it's okay it's 0.9, the doctor says he don't want to see you. And I says, but that's what my last result was, 0.9, it can't be the same. And I'm feeling all cold and weak, barely enough strength to get out of bed and watch a bit of telly, it must be more than that. I lost three pounds in four days, and you can't tell me that's right...'
'No, I suppose not...'
'...so she said, her, the receptionist, the doctor says he don't want to see you. He says the test is okay. She was very rude, well they are, aren't they, receptionists, but they ain't doctors, are they? So I said to Mike, she says it's okay and he says it can't be. I says, should I go to the surgery? And 'e says, I think you should go to the surgery. It's nearly Christmas. So I went to the surgery and I told 'em to look at my results again, and do you know what they found?'
'They found they'd given me the wrong test results! They'd given me my last test results, not my latest test results. 7.4 it was! No wonder I was feeling queer. I could have fallen into a coma at any time, or DIED! I phoned Mike, I said, Mike they've got me results mixed up. The doctor wants to see me now. I'm urgent. Mike says, well, you've got to get it sorted by Christmas, and I said, do you think I should make a formal complaint about that know-all receptionist 'cos she was rude and she got the wrong set of results and Mike said, I think you should. So I think I will. That'll be £44. 03 please. How many of your own bags did you use?'
'Got a club card? So me medicine's all sorted now, no thanks to 'er, the receptionist but I'm going to complain. Mike thinks I should. What do you think?'
'I think I hope it all turns out well for you...'
'Me too. I could have DIED! Bye...see ya soon!'

I wish I knew what it was about my face that made total strangers want to tell me their innermost secrets and weird medical problems. P'raps I should wear a bag over my head.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Eh Level?

I have just spent a very dispiriting seven hours (yes, Michael Gove, Education Secretary - SEVEN hours - on a Sunday. What were YOU doing? Eh? EH???) marking my A level group's first attempt at writing an A level coursework essay. At one point during those 7 hours I felt like flinging myself from the window and, yea verily, would have done so were it not for fear of squishing the chickens in the garden below.

'And, yea verily, if you HAD done so, 'says Mrs Pumphrey, who is surveying my room of my own with a view to putting in an estimate for redecorating, 'Mrs Slocombe would have squished your knee caps with her beak.'
'I know,' I say. 'But I had reached desperation point.'
'What stopped you , then, from flinging yourself from the window?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I think dusky rose would look nice on that wall, by the way.'
'A packet of Jaffa cakes,' I say. 'So not only am I depressed about the state of these essays, I am also eight Jaffa cakes fatter than I was this morning. And it's not even Fatterday.'
'Never mind,' says Mrs P. 'You can always disguise it with feathers. What is it that sheep say? 'I'm not fat, I'm fluffy'?'
'Sheep, schmeep,' I say.
'I was only trying to help,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'How about a Hockney print over there on the wall in front of your craft table? That'll cheer you up.'

So these essays, well, I don't know where to begin. Two of them were by late arrivals to the course who PROMISED me they were motivated enough to catch up in their own time, and clearly they weren't because they don't know their Benedick's from their Don Johns and their Elizabethan from their Restoration. And one of them thinks he can curry my favour by littering his text with smiley emoticons which is way too casual for my liking. Two of them have conveyed their thoughts and ideas via the medium of drivel, one via the medium of sarcasm and one via the medium of 'I'd rather be doing Maths.' Two of them are okayish in at least I have evidence that they have been doing extra work outside of class. And one of them has plagiarised almost her entire essay from four other essays to be found very easily in the interwebbly, and therefore she has treated me as fool who wouldn't recognise that her work is clearly NOT her work. I say 'almost' because her introductory paragraph is all her own work. Because it is drivel.

What am I to do? Does this mean that I am a rubbish teacher? Does it mean that I have taught them not enough? Or too much? Or that some Martian invasion has sucked out the entire and collective contents of their brains and replaced them with anchovies and/ or wet tissue?

I'm seeing them tomorrow. Tomorrow, they will present their shiny little faces in class, and look at me in eager anticipation of the results of their first grown-up attempt at essay writing. Will I get an A, or B or C? they will be thinking to themselves, because a couple of them have very high opinions of their ability, and a couple of them are just plain delusional. And a couple of them have adopted the never wise 'wing-it-and-see-because-we-can't-be-arsed' method. To be fair, a couple of them have, it turns out correctly, set their expectations at the lower end of the grade spectrum. Except their aim with this approach was false modesty. Ooops...

Never mind, I think. We have three months to work on these essays before they are due to be slaughtered at the altar of the exam board. Up is the only direction.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Mind the Wallpaper!

...was the cry today, as Heather and Joe moved downstairs to my Writing Room, and I moved upstairs to Heather's old room. We haven't done any major furniture removal since the hall, landing and stairs were re-decorated and the first discovery of the day was exactly how precious I have become over the wallpaper. Especially when Andy decided he was going to move his man chair from the 'conservatory' up to his manly man-study.

All went well, though, and the stairs remained paper intactus. We remain intactus, too, despite Tybalt's best efforts to trip us over by dodging up and down the stairs ahead of us as we made about three hundred trips up and down laden with stuff that rendered us unable to see where we were going, let alone see where we were going in the company of a cat. And now I have, as Virginia Woolf once said, 'a room of one's own.'

You see, the Writing Room was never really MY room. Oh, it started off thusly, but soon became a dumping ground for bits that weren't 'of one's own' e.g the clothes drier complete with assorted clothes in various states of dampness, the Wii Fit stuff, the bee-keeping stuff and any other stuff that happened to be passing through and thought it would be a good place to stop off on its way to wherever else it happened to be heading.

But now, because Andy has moved his man chair upstairs, the 'conservatory' has become the ideal home for the clothes drier and the bee-keeping kit (the top bar bees were flying today! I stood under the willow arch and watched them for a while. Some were even bringing in trousers of pollen).

And upstairs I have a table which contains my sewing machine and piano keyboard, and a desk which contains my computer, and ne'er the twain have to meet. The wardrobe is full of stacking boxes. Some contain sewing stuff, some contain knitting stuff, some contain arty-crafty stuff. I have book shelves full of books and files, I have three pot plants including a rather lovely bright yellow potted chrysanthemum purchased this afternoon. My assortment of cat ornaments sit on the window sill and remain intactus despite Pandora Kitten's sudden fascination with aforesaid window sill, and her dangerous inablity to balance properly on it when it is full of cat ornaments.

There is a picture of a pen on the wall in front of the computer screen reminding me to write, and the lucky-spider-on-a-web wall art, given to us a wedding present from my friend, Sarah, is hanging on the wall beside me, continuing its job as a talisman of protection on the house. It has been employed as such for more than 7 years now and has done a pretty darn good job.

I've a little corner ready to set up with a candle, my Tarot cards, absent healing diary and meditation stuff. I found a fringed shawl I bought when I was 16, and loved to bits, and that is hanging over the door looking all fringy and lovely and smelling of patchouli oil.

I also have a pimple of my right knee, which has nothing to do with the room move but is driving me MAD with the itching of it.

The room, my room, needs redecorating because the previous incumbent was very fond of her posters and postcards, so there are great chunks of paint missing courtesy of Mr Blu-Tack, but the painting can wait for a while whilst I settle in and consider the right colour.

Tomorrow the light of dawn will hit the south-east facing window and I may well be up early to celebrate it with some early morning writing.

In a room of my own.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Marshmallows and Moving

We have a pastor at our school, and today she took assembly. (We also have pasta in the canteen, but that is a completely different kettle of spirituality in that pasta never takes assemblies mostly because it would either a) dry out or b) go soggy before it reached 'The Moral of the Story' moment.)

Today, our Reverend wanted a staff volunteer to help her with assembly. She was brandishing a large tub of marshmallows, so we all looked decidedly afeard and stepped back as inconspicuously as possible. One of our number did not step back as quickly as the rest of us, so his forward stance was taken as his willingness to be 'The Volunteer.'

Anyway, through a series of events that I shan't go into, the poor volunteer, who goes by the name of Paul and puts himself through heroic acts like participating in triatholons for charity, ended up with a face stuffed with 20 marshmallows and the definite look on his face of a man who needed to get to the loo NOW before an accident occurred. I didn't blame him. Part of my non-volunteering stemmed from the fact that certain foods make me heave and amongst them is the marshmallow.

The students were entertained though, so that's okay.

Back chez le Manor Heather announced that she had 'plans' for my soon to be ex-writing room. Blimey, I thought, as she regaled me with ideas about the positioning of sofas, beds, TVs and shelves, give us a chance to move out first. What I didn't tell her was that I, too, have been having 'plans' about what I'm going to do when I take over her room. For ages. In fact, before she even moved back home two and a half years ago after her graduation.

Anyway, as Andy very astutely pointed out to Heather's boyfriend when they were having a manly discussion about 'The Big Move' which will take place this weekend providing my Year 11's don't finish me off first, is that it's all part of my cunning decorating -by-stealth plot.
'Because when you finally move out of the soon to be ex-writing room,' he said, 'there will be an excuse to get it revamped as a second living room.'

I didn't realise I was that transparent, but too right! I'll be ripping out cupboards, adding a fire place and laying a wood floor before the front door is even closed! And installing wallpaper with huge flowers 'pon it - that goes without saying.

But that is some time in the future and we're not counting days. Unless Heather is still in residence when she is 30, then I might have something to say about it all.

I'm already looking forward to moving upstairs. Upstairs seems a lot more cosy. Plus the room is at the back of the house and catches more morning sun, and being a morning person, that is when I want to be a-sun catching. The cupboard space is more agreeable, too. I have a hate/hate relationship with the cupboards in my current writing room, mostly in that they are a swine to open and a swine to close.

I've been thinking I ought to re-name my new creative space. I want to call it something other than 'The Writing Room' or 'Mum's Study.' I was having a discussion with some Year 10s the other day about names, and one of them asked what I'd like to be called if I could change my name. Without a moment of hesitation, I said, 'Scarlett Daisy.' Not sure where that came from; but then I also knew today that one of the Year 11s dogs is called Freddy, so I suspect my psychic ability might be reheating itself after a year of lying fairly dormant.

So, for what shall I be using this new room? I shall be writing and reading, sewing and knitting, learning Italian and meditating, sitting and staring and throwing shoes out of the window at that bloomin' ginger cat that appears every now and again in the back garden to terrorise the Misses Pumphrey and Slocombe. And I shall be bee-watching as I'll have a goodly view of the topbar hive. I suspect I shall also be dusting off my Tarot cards and restarting my absent healing journal.

I have tried to make an acronym of all these things, but the lack of vowels (one miserly 'i' for 'Italian') scuppered my plan to come up with something witty and original and the best I could manage was a very tenuous 'wormskins' and that didn't include 'b' for bee-watching or 't' for Tarot.

So for the time being I shall name the room 'Scarlett Daisy.'

May God bless her and all that is created therein!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Heather sustained a ding on the head last night from dropping an i-pod speaker upon herself from a great height. This resulted in the application of a cold compress to stop the bleeding and the possibilty of growing a bump the size of a grape or potentially an egg. She said she slept well afterwards.

Unlike me who was woken in the wee small hours by what I thought was a gushing torrent of water a la the volume of Niagara Falls.

My immediate, and irrational thought was,' Oh blimey! The water tank in the loft has burst!'
To wit the rational part of my brain (which was clearly more awake than the rest of me) said, 'Don't be an idiot - there isn't a water tank in the loft. Much Malarkey Manor is, in fact, water tankless.'
'Thank goodness for that,' I thought. 'And then I thought, 'Oh blimey! The new shower has burst and is flooding the house whilst I lie here like a fool trying to sleep at 1 in the morning.'

I got out of bed. Luckily, the floor was dry. Even more luckily, my brain had achieved correct functioning synchronicity with my ears and I realised I wasn't, in fact, hearing gushing water, I was, in fact, hearing a helicopter.

Opening the bedroom window, I looked towards Orion. It was a very clear night. Clear and freezing cold. 'Jupiter looks very bright tonight,' I thought. Then Jupiter started flashing red and orange lights and moving at a remarkable speed and I realised it wasn't Jupiter, it was the helicopter. I cursed the helicopter for waking me and went back to bed.

The helicopter hung around for ages. Back and forth it went. I thought, 'Oh blimey, suppose it's a police helicopter searching for an escaped crazy gun-toting criminal? What if we are all about to be murdered in our beds?'

And then I had to sit up and say a 'look-after-this -house-the-people-therein' prayer. And then another one for Chris, Leane and Kayleigh in case the crazy gun-toting murderer was over their neck of the woods. And then I said another one for the neighbours in an act of selfless neighbourliness, even though some of them are really irritating people, with their stupid car parking antics and loud drunken barbeques that go until Lord knows what hour of the night during summer.

About an hour later I was woken by the Saturday night parade of cars passing by belonging, I assume, to people returning from clubbing in the town. I thought, 'Clubs should close at 11 p.m so everyone is home by midnight, thus allowing NORMAL people like me the chance to get a decent night's sleep.' And then I thought I was being a sour-puss, grumpy-face party pooper. And then I thought no, I wasn't, and that when I was Prime Minister I'd pass a law to shut all pubs and clubs at 11 like in THE GOOD OLD DAYS.

An hour beyond that I woke with the mother of all hot flushes so I hung out of the window again and had a discussion with Orion about the price of self-raising flour AND plum tomatoes going up again and what was the world coming to? Luckily, the helicopter had gone and the crazy gun-toting murderer presumably caught and in prison.

By 5 am I was thinking that maybe I should offer my writing room to Heather and her boyfriend because it is bigger than the room they currently share. I would then move up into their room which is a bit smaller but has the advantage of being sunnier and brighter. They have alot of combined tat between them and I think it was partly this that caused the crashing of the i-pod speaker into Heather's head. I thought, 'If we swap rooms I would have my writing room next to Andy's study and we could converse with each other at a normal volume rather than yell at each other up and down the stairs as is our current wont to do when we are working and a tea break is imminent. Also, if Heather and her boyfriend have a night out, they wouldn't disturb us when they come back home and have trouble putting one foot in front of the other in order to negotiate the stairs quietly. I mean, I'm not likely to become Prime Minister for a year or two so shan't be able to implement my early closing for pubs and clubs law for a while.'

At 7 I was prodded by Andy who declared he'd had a great night's sleep and here was a cup of tea for me.

We then had a chat about how, now we are back on our healthy eating plan in an attempt to lose another stone each, that we should rename Saturday 'Fatterday' because that's our weigh-in day, and if we couldn't have a diet splurge straight after that, then when could we? Then we larked about with song titles that had 'Saturday' in their titles and thought it was all very hilarious! I blame it on lack of sleep - I don't know what Andy's excuse was.

So, there we are. At some point over the next week I shall be relocating upstairs, Heather's bump will subside and after Friday will come Fatterday.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Mr Pie Man

I didn't know what to write for today's blog. The week, per se, has been fairly uneventful.
Work has been okay. The weather has been okay. I've made it to Day 14 of No TV For Me without any adverse reactions. I even managed to resist the new series of Hustle last night.

I've bought two new books on quilting, patchwork and applique and have been dreaming about setting up some sort of arty quilting/ patchwork/ applique business when we finally move to Herefordshire.

One of my sixth formers, who had previously declared that she 'hated' Pride and Prejudice has now declared it as one of her favourite books and she's going to read all the others Jane Austen wrote. My inspirational teaching job is done.

Mrs Pumphrey is looking broody - well, she's been in the garden flinging bits of grass and straw onto her back which is a sure sign there could be a egg on the way, although she is 4 years old now and we're not expecting much vis a vis quantity and quality.

And I have logged into the blog twice today, stared at the screen and found myself devoid of anything witty and/or intelligent to say.

And what was Andy doing all this time? I'll tell you what he was doing. He was making a PIE, that's what he was doing!

And here it is!! (It's at the top of the blog, too, but for some reason the picture moving doo-dah is being very resistant to moving pictures where I want them to be moved.)
What a pie!!!! Isn't it MAGNIFICENT??? It's chicken, ham and apricot, so I shan't be eating any, but I am mightily impressed with its overall stature. In fact, when we move to Hereford, I think Andy should have a pie making business next to my sewing business and we could call it something like... er... well, I'll have to think about that one.

Crust 'n' Quilt? The Appliqued Pie?

Okay, so the concept may need working on, but it could work. And given that I read in the paper this morning that there is a company that organises parties for pregnant women to celebrate the first scan of their baby foetus, I think there could be a market for less ridiculous ideas.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

8 Hours

It is Day 11 of No TV For Me and I have to say the whole resolution caboodle is proving far easier than I expected. This could be, of course, that there REALLY is nothing to watch on TV these days and I know instinctively that I'm not missing anything. Or it could be that, by not looking at the TV schedules in the paper, I remain unaware of missing anything decent on the telly. Or it could be that I am feeling particularly stubborn at the moment and I don't want to give in because I don't want people saying, 'Ha! Told you so,' when they catch me, goggle-eyed on the sofa at 2.30 in the morning watching 4 year old reruns of 'Come Dine With Me.'

Anyway, I became aware of another benefit of the 'No TV' thing this morning in that I slept solidly for 8 hours last night which is something I haven't achieved for years! Well, except when I had norovirus last Easter, but that was more the sleep of a drug -induced stupor and desperate exhaustion rather than a state of natural blissfulness, so that doesn't count.

I read a bit beforehand - some more Stella Gibbons and a book on quilting as I am thinking it seems appropriate I should get very involved with some sewing on these long dark Winter evenings - then it was lights out, head on the pillow, instant zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz and the next thing I know it's 6am and I'm hopping out of bed ready to meet the day and 11X1 head on. (11X1 are being especially trying at the moment. I don't think they've twigged they will be leaving school to join the big wide world in less than 6 months,; they still think school is one big laughy youth club kinda thing. Exams? What exams?)

It must be the lack of telly agitating my brain, I thought. That's why I'm sleeping so well. And I'm not having such weird dreams either which is a relief to both me and Andy.

So I feel encouraged to continue ignoring the TV. This evening, Andy and I ate dinner in the kitchen whilst listening to some comedy and then the Archers on the radio and sharing events from our busy working days. And now I am doing some writing and am about to dig out some sewing and go and join Andy in the living room where he is listening to classical music!

It's all very civilised and peaceful.

Monday, 9 January 2012

St Fillan Had the Right Idea

Today is St Fillan's Day. 'Tis (or 'twas until 19th century)the day when lunatics were taken to the valley of Strathfillan and immersed in St Fillan's Pool. His bell was then placed on their heads, and they were left tied up in the ruined chapel, where the saint is buried, for the night. And in the morning, those 'patients' who had freed themselves from their bonds were deemed cured of their affliction. Seems a lot simpler than months of expensive cognitive behaviour therapy, doesn't it?

'I'll say,' says Mrs Pumphrey, who has been immersing Mrs Slocombe's head in the water bowl and dinging the dinner time gong in her ear for nearly four years now in an attempt to cure her lunacy.
'I should have used this method today with my sixth form,' I agree. 'Especially as two of them are having trouble reading 'Pride and Prejudice' because apparently it's not 'their cup of tea. And I expressly told them they HAD to read it over Christmas. They are disobedient children, that's what they are.'
Mrs Pumphrey and I are at our weekly Pilates class, and I am wishing I hadn't partaken of chilli bean casserole with a side serving of broccoli and sprouts before I came out. Mrs Pumphrey is exercising her controlled breathing which is just as well as she is still trying to shift the extra couple of pounds that she found located in the region of her thighs just after Christmas and her corset is stretched to its limit.
'If they are having trouble reading a novel,' says Mrs Pumphrey,'why are they doing a Literature course?'
'My point exactly,' I say. 'And when I asked this question I was met with shrugs of the shoulders and rolling eyeballs. I mean, it could be worse. I could be asking them to read 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', or 'Brighton Rock'.'
'Or 'A La Recherche du Temps Perdu',' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Both parts.'
'Yes,' I say. 'It's only 'Pride and Prejudice'for heaven's sake and most of the class have enjoyed it AND read it at least twice more.'
'Which is what one wants from Literature students,' says Mrs P.
'And the excuse to watch the boxed set where Colin Firth emerges from a pond in a clingy shirt, tight pantaloons and riding boots,' I say.
'Did he have a bell on his head?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Not that I'm aware,' I say. 'I wasn't really looking at his head.'

We pause for a moment. A spine can be heard creaking and cracking. Not sure if it's mine or Pumphrey's.

'So what are you going to do with the reluctant readers?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I don't know,' I say. 'They think they are going to be able to get away with watching the film of the novel. I've told them they will fail their A level if they adopt that approach.'
'Bit harsh, isn't it?' says Mrs P.
'No,' I say. 'I also told Chloe in Year 9 that she was a gob on a stick. I've been telling the truth today.'
'It's a full moon,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Your waters are being pulled in an uncontrollable fashion.'
'I'll say,' I say. 'Either that, or my leotard is too tight.'
'Is your ear still whooshing?' says Mrs P.
'Occasionally,' I say.
'Has someone been surreptitiously dunking you in a pond and attaching a bell to your head?' says Mrs P.
'Probably,' I say. 'But I always escape.'

Friday, 6 January 2012

My New Jumper

I have a new jumper. It has many exciting features. Well, exciting for me, given all my previous jumpers have been of the plain knitted, two arms attached to a body with a hole for the head variety.

The exciting features of my new jumper are as follows:

1) it has angora mix. This means that I am constantly followed by a cloud of jumper fluff, as it sheds at the hint of the slightest movement. I find bits of jumper fluff in my eyelashes, between my toes, in my cereal and stuck in the hinges of my spectacles. The furniture gets covered in jumper fluff, so do the cats. In fact, given how much jumper fluff I shed, I am surprised I still have a jumper left, and not something more akin to a string vest which would be a very unattractive look for a woman of my age and physical proportions.

2) the jumper has a hood. It means I am now officially 'a hoodie' and my plan is to walk around town, hood-up, so as many of my students see me as possible and realise that wearing a hoodie is 'uncool' if grannies are wearing them, and then they will stop wearing their own hoodies and hopefully get a haircut and pull up their trousers to the correct height, too. Unfortunately, wearing the hood up means I transfer jumper fluff to my hair which a) makes me look like I have a woolly halo and b) confuses my hairdresser. However, it is a sacrifice I am willing to make in order to smarten up the youth of Kent. Especially Ben in 11Y2 who wears a bright green hoodie when he thinks he can get away with it, and who yesterday announced he'd had an epiphany re: stop messing about in class and start concentrating for his exam, but it transpires his epiphany lasted only as far as the end of yesterday's Parents' Evening when he was afeared I was going to nab his mother as she did the rounds and tell her what a horrid and lazy child she had.

3) pompoms. My jumper has two pompoms hanging from the hood which I like to twirl in moments of random staring-into-spaceness. I have learned, however, the folly of twirling one's pompoms and staring into space especially in the presence of a cat, namely Pandora Kitten, because of course cats love nothing better than to launch themselves at a twirling woolly ball on a string regardless of how close it happens to be swinging to, for example, a person's face. On many occasions have I stopped twirling just in the nick of time when I have suddenly become aware of Pandora concentrating on the twirling with a wild look in her eye. It's like playing a game of Extreme Danger Pompom Cats.

4) a Nordic pattern. So if I ever find myself in, er, Nord, I shall blend in beautifully. But only if I'm wearing my new jumper at the time. If I am wearing my burgundy velour trousers and purple linen top I shall stick out like a sore thumb and get eaten by a wolf. Or adopted by a bear. Or something.

And this blog, dear reader, is an example of what happens when someone is on Day Six of No TV For Me. It is the result of an over-excited imagination, an imagination that hasn't been drained by telly drivel and desperately craves a creative outlet.

It can only get worse. You have been warned.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Day Three of No TV For Me

My decision to avoid television this year has, as you might imagine, been met with much derision by other inhabitants of the Manor.

'You'll never last!' they said when I announced my intention. (I'm not going to name names, Heather, but you know who you are.) 'Something to do with Hugh F-W, or cooking or gardening or dancing will appear and you'll cave in!'

Andy said this morning, 'I see Aleisha Dixon has quit as a judge on 'Strictly Come Dancing.'
'Oh really?' I said. 'That news is of no concern to me because I have forsaken televsion for this year.'

Andy has also tried to sell the benefits of what he calls 'good' television. 'What about wild life documentaries and educational programmes?' he said. 'What about using BBC i-plyayer, so you can record the 'good' programmes and watch them instead of scanning free-view in desperate 'must watch TV' moments where you end up watching 'bad' TV?'

'Bad TV,' is Andy's definition for TV I quite enjoy watching sometimes because it takes no brain power to watch and is just the ticket for after bad days at work. Things like 'Don't Tell the Bride', and 'Celebrity Fat Club,' and Jeremy Kyle car crash stuff.

My definition of 'bad TV' could extend to programmes that Andy likes to watch, because bad TV is all a matter of personal taste, but I'm not going to start TV mud-slinging and mentioning things like, er, Doctor Who and anything presented by Dr Brian Cox.

Long-term resident of Much Malarkey Manor, Olly, has assured me that watching DVDs is NOT the same as watching TV. I am pleased about this; it means I can now watch the second disc of 'Monty Don's Italian Gardens' to progress my knowledge of Italy in preparation for the Italian holiday 2015. My plan is to save the disc for moments of TV weakness which I am realistic enough to accept will happen, probably tomorrow when I go back to work.

But until then, it is now nearly three whole days since I watched telly. Andy has watched telly, but not as much as he would normally watch. He is being selective. However, he has been pretty much glued to the i-pad I got him for Christmas.

So far, I have read a Stella Gibbons novel, done some writing, completed masses of work for school, been on several walks and kept up with the housework. I have listened to several interesting programmes on the radio and given the writing room a good sort-out. I have yet to start my 'Easy Learning Italian in a Click' programme but that's on the agenda for later this week.

There has been no shouting at the TV (there has been a little bit of shouting at the radio, but old habits die hard), no sighing at endless stupid advertising breaks, no mindless flicking up and down the free-view channels and watching some repeat of a film I've seen a hundred times before. I have found it useful to avoid the TV guide pages in the newspaper because if I don't know what's on, I won't miss it, will I? Ha! A cunning plan, you see, is all you need.

Right, back to work. I'm close-reading 'Pride and Prejudice', 'The Yellow Wallpaper' and a selection of poetry at the moment, which I'm hoping is exactly what my sixth formers have been doing this holiday. I'm at the advantage of having read them all several times before. I've told the students we won't have time to read everything together in class. I suspect there might be some excuses of 'not having had any time to read stuff properly at home.'

I might suggest, for the health of their education, that they give up watching TV.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Last Year, This Year

Last year, aka yesterday, Kayleigh wasn't a very well little girl. But once she had vomited over my trousers, and I had prescribed the traditional Granny remedy of plenty of water, plain food, sleeping on the sofa and fresh air in the park, she perked up enormously and this year, aka today, she is well!

Last year...well, I wasn't particularly keen on last year. Oh, it had its good points - new bathroom, new cooker, the discovery of Herefordshire (by me, not in general), a bumper crop of apples and a significant weight loss - but as a whole, in general, it won't go down on my list on Top Ten Favourite Years 1965-2011.

Oh, and vis a vis the new bathroom, this morning I cleaned out the hair trap in the shower and I should like to say to the other inhabitants of the Manor who use the shower (unfortunately, I have had to share this facility), that yes, there IS a hair trap and YES, I am MORE than happy to share the cleaning out of the hair-trap, please don' think it's a job I am going to become precious about doing myself. And that's all. Actually, it's not - I should also like to point out that the new range cooker is also cleanable. I know! What a surprise! I'm just saying...

So, this year, here is The 2012 Plan! (It's okay, God is still at church so won't be able to laugh in the face of The Plan. Just as well, as Andy has already had a snigger at Item One of the The Plan which is...

1) Give up watching TV. So far, nearly 12 hours in, it's going very well. In fact, I haven't even looked at the TV guide!! I have decided there is far too much to do that is more interesting, creative and educational than staring at telly. For example...

2)Learn Italian. I have purchased, with a gift voucher, an interactive computer/ book/CD combo called 'Easy Learning Italian in a Click.' This is all to do with a decision to holiday in Italy when I am 50, which gives me 4 years to get a grasp of the language because I believe that if you are going to travel abroad it is good manners to 'when in Rome etc etc', rather than resort to that peculiarly rude English custom of shouting and speaking very slowly. However, this causes a problem with Number One (see above) because part of the whole Italian experience is watching 'Monty Don's Italian Gardens' on DVD. I have watched the first two episodes (last year aka last week), but there are still two episodes to go so the question is - does watching a specific DVD for a specific purpose count as watching TV?

I also want to...

3)Lose some more weight. Not too much but definitely the 5lbs I put on over Christmas, and possibly another 10lbs or so on top of that. Really I want to get fitter. To this end I have started the 10,000 steps a day thing and in the last week I have averaged over 13,000 a day. However, this average is in danger of plummeting if I don't get my backside in gear today, as so far the count for this year is 1640.

I think that's about it for The 2012 Plan. I'm probably going to have to start looking for a new job come Springtime, as my current contract is to cover Maternity leave and although the school say they are pretty certain they will be able to offer me a permanent contract, they won't commit to a 100% certainty, and I think it would be foolish of me to take the possibilty for granted. The sad thing about working in education is that you do have to look out for yourself if you are to survive.

Anyway, we at Much Malarkey Manor wish you all a Very Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous 2012, with no crazy or unpleasant surprises, like, oh I don't know, the Olympic Games suddenly turning up on your doorstep and wrecking the countryside.

What's that, Mrs Pumphrey? What was that you said about The Olympic Games? Sorry, I didn't quite catch that...