Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tradition Unbroken

It has long been a tradition of mine that when I have been employed as a teacher, I do all my Christmas shopping during this half term week. It's because I cannot face either going into town in the ensuing weekends, or leaving the whole shooting match until the break up for Christmas hols because by then things are way too frantic.

But this week, because of the whole misery of life since the start of September, and the fact I am, as yet, totally unexcited about Christmas this year, I thought, I'm never going to get the shopping done a la my usual tradition.

However, this morning, despite it chucking it down with rain, despite the wind chill factor being minus 47 degrees (well, it  felt like it when I made a cuppa in my jams jams this morning and took out some recycling to the bin whilst I was waiting for the brewing of the pot), I got on the interwebbly and bought some gifts - bish, bash, bosh - and then Andy and I said, 'Let's go to Canterbury and do shopping,' and we did and I got more gifts - bosh, bash, bish - and when we got home I went on the interwebbly again and got more stuff sorted - bash, bish bosh - and the upshot is is that I have completed 85% of my Christmas shopping today, and would have done all of it if Heather had handed over her list of ideas, but she didn't so she's got four days left or she gets  a satsuma, a nut and a lump of coal.

Tradition (almost) maintained!

Other happenings today: after 8 years of EDF referring to Andy as 'Mrs' on our joint-billing account, my repeated request for them to change this has now resulted in me being referred to as 'Mr'. Stupid me, I thought it would be a simple error to rectify. EDF obviously think otherwise...

...I've got a massive pimple on my chin; thankfully, the sudden swelling of my feet yesterday has left without a trace, and will hereafter be an enigma...

...garlic and banana are a bad combination. Trust me, I know...

...I have put a sign on the front door deterring the Trick or Treaters because I am a miserable curmudgeon who doesn't see why she should fork out sweets to children she's never seen before nor is likely to see until next year,  and especially doesn't see why she should fork out CASH to the chancer teens who sometimes appear. Honestly, it gets worse each year...

...Andy has yet again proved triumphant in the biscuit making stakes...

...I need a cup of tea so...

...byeeeee for now!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Strip the Willow

Do you remember that? In country dancing at school during the more tolerable PE lessons, there used to be a dance called 'Strip the Willow.' (What do you mean, you never did country dancing at school? You must have done country dancing at school. Everyone does. Don't they??) From what I can remember the dance entailed two lines of dancers standing opposite each other (freezing cold hall and scratchy PE knickers optional, or not, if Miss Lock was in charge when PE knickers were 'UNIFORM, GIRLS' and you wore them, full stop) and you did various move together, move apart steps, then everyone together, up the middle and weave in and out of each other back to the starting point except you had somehow moved up one place in the dancing order. I think. When it worked, it worked very well. If it didn't work, Miss Lock made us move onto the Gay Gordons. Simple dance for simple people.

Anyway, I was in the garden at 7.30 this morning ready to tackle the stripping of the willow that Andy harvested from our willow arch at the weekend and that has been staring at me from its recumbent and massive leafy heap ever since as if to say, 'C'mon then, if you think you're hard enough.'

And this is where the dance comparison ends because I don't remember dancing a Strip the Willow and getting a) soaking wet b) freezing cold and c) covered in assorted bugs.

Two hours it took me to denude that pile of willow of its leafage. Two hours! But now I have a pile of willow wands ranging in diameter from a couple of millimetres to a good two inches. (Notice how I used both forms of measurement there in order to accommodate everyone's Imperial/ decimal needs? That's another school throwback, because I started primary school in September 1970 and in February 1971, decimalisation was introduced; the teachers were confused, us kiddies were confused and thus it has been every since, never being able to quite grasp the fullness of either system in a proficient way. Pence, florin, sixpence, pound, shilling? Inch, foot, yard, metre, kilo, pound? Who knows? Who cares?)

The longest piece of willow I dealt with was over 15 feet long! 15 feet of growth in 6 months! What's that in metres? About 5? It was huge. It caused me to tangle with the phone line that runs across our garden from next door's roof to our roof, anyway. There are a good twenty wands that are very sturdy and upwards of twice my height and will do very nicely indeed for bean/ sweet pea poles next year. More aesthetically pleasing than bamboo canes, I think.

And there is a bigger pile of wands which are bendy and pliable and of various lengths between 5 feet and 20 centimetres. Ideal for weaving, I reckon. Weaving what yet, I don't know. If you want to do wicker work you have to leave them to dry out for several months and then soak them the day before you want wicker as to make them pliable enough to bend safely and not have them pinging back from the shape you want them in (basket/ chair/ ornamental goat) and thwacking you in the face.

Even though I was willowed-out, as I was in the garden I thought I might as well do a bit more pruning. I cut back the hops which now have a stem of almost tree-trunk proportions. I cut back the raspberry canes and also had a trim of the gooseberry bush which is right next to the netting gate leading into the hens' new enclosure and which, every time I enter therein, becomes tangled up and causes me annoyance. I also cut back a few unknown shrubby tendrils that were worming their way through the fence from next door's garden. Primrose and Daisy followed behind, either making sure I was doing a proper job or, more likely, hoovering up the bugs I was unearthing.

And that was that. Today, I did do gardening! Inside I went to have a shower. My gardening gauntlets have sprung a leak somewhere because my hands were filthy. And at some point I must have made contact with some irritant because I now have red and itchy feet. As soon as I stepped in the shower, they swelled up and went a most unattractive colour. What's all that about then?

Following application of soothing lotion and the donning of boxing gloves to stop me from scratching, the swelling is subsiding and the colour returning to normal.

But there will be no dancing for me today.

Monday, 29 October 2012

NanoWriMo or NoNanoWriMo? That is the question.

We are fast approaching National Novel Writing Month. I participated in 2009, and successfully completed the writing of a 50,000 novel in 30 days. I got a certificate! It was a crazy, but hugely enjoyable writing experience because basically you don't have time to think; you just have to write like crazy, and let the story take you where it will. There is no time for editing, for having wafty writer moments, for allowing yourself the luxury of angst over a certain character's dilemma or whether you ought to set that piece of action here or there. You write. For 30 days. And after 30 days, you re-read what you've written and cringe quite a lot, but for writerly purposes, it is an excellent exercise in 'Just Shut Up and Get On With It.'

Now, in 2009 I wasn't working full time. I had the luxury of time to be able to faff around with this project. I wasn't coming home late every day feeling exhausted and devoid of any creative thought like I have been for the last 3 years.

And the question is this - can I manage to have a go this year, AND get through the final half term of teaching without having a nervous breakdown? Perhaps, and here is a thought, the writing will actually help me get through the last half term, because frankly, if I had a choice, I wouldn't be going back at all next week. My physical presence might be at work, but my mind is already half way out the door. (Much like many of the students, thinking about it.)

Anyway, I am quite keen to have a go at this year's NaNoWriMo. I've even thought about a subject I could write about. The Hallpikes!

The Hallpikes are a branch of my mother's mother's family. Andy discovered them whilst researching the whole family tree, and they are an interesting bunch. Since the mid-1700s, where Andy first discovered them in Settle, Yorkshire, they have travelled through the ages being cabinet and clock makers, deported to Australia for passing forged notes, hanged for passing forged notes, negligent tug-boat pilots, local heroes in Singapore, persistent bankrupts and drunks with suicidal tendencies (don't let them near razors or The Underground Tube), and the ones who pitched up in London became piano makers, jewellers, respected City clerks and neighbours of Buckingham Palace and Grays Inn. The men were mostly called Vincent, Henry or Christopher, so not wholly inventive when it came to answering the question, 'What shall we call our son, dear?' However, there was one called Richard who, it was reported, regularly knocked back 15 or 16 gins of an evening and died a drunk, aged 42, who couldn't quite handle a razor (see above warning.)

I wonder if Richard ever met James Pimm, who invented Pimms and was from another branch of the same family here down south? They lived around the same time. Perhaps Richard was James' recipe guinea pig?

He might well turn out to be, if I decide to have creative licence on Thursday with NaNoWriMo!

Sunday, 28 October 2012


In an attempt to stave off the depression of dark evenings brought on by the putting back of the clocks one hour last night, I was up early this morning at 6.45, (which yesterday was 7.45 so not that early really but at least it was light outside and I am a firm believer that people should rise with the sun and not blunder around in the dark putting their trousers on inside out) and I was forcing myself to be cheerful with a bit of singing in the shower and dancing in the kitchen whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. It helped that the sun was shining, the bitter winds of yesterday had dropped and Daisy was doing ballet in the garden.

Thus began my Campaign to Not Letting Winter Get Me Down or CTNLWGMD. (All right, so it doesn't work as a roll-off-the-tongue acronym - in fact it doesn't work as any kind of acronym, but my other potential campaign title of 'Gloom And Doom - Sharing Handy Insightful Tips' wasn't really an option either given the tender dispositions of some of the houseguests.)

I made tea and toast for brekkie, and had Marmite on mine because of the B vitamins. And then I gave the oven a jolly good clean because I find cleaning very therapeutic, and I like being surrounded by tidiness.

Andy went into the garden to give the willow arch a prune and tidy up, and I came up here ('here' being my arty-crafty writing room) to do a spot of writing. Primrose and Daisy have now got free range of half the garden thanks to a delivery of some fencing from Omlet on Wednesday, so they are happy doing chickeny things beyond the confines of their original run, and if I lean back slightly in my chair, I can watch them from the window. I can also see Andy balanced atop one of the garden chairs brandishing a saw and wrestling with the thicker branches of willow, which, given his Taurean bull-in-china-shop tendencies is making me feel slightly ill at ease, so p'raps I shan't lean back again for a while, and maybe I'll open the window ever so slightly so I can hear any thumps/ screams/ cries for help should they ensue.

Oh no, it's okay. Primrose and Daisy are wearing their 'My Little First Aider' outfits. They're doing thumbs up with their wings.

'Don't worry!' shouts Primrose. 'We are fully trained in plastering and Germolening.'

'And I can made a splint out of willow wands,' shouts Daisy.

'Phew,' I say. 'My mind is now at rest. Back to writing.'

There is a little resident robin in the garden who cheers me up, because he now knows I am a provider of food and we are becoming friends.

'No, we bloomin' well aren't,' he says. 'My motives are purely mercenary.'

 He approached within arm's reach this morning. He'll be sitting on my hand by Christmas.

'No, I flippin' well won't,' says he. 'Unless you vary the offering of sunflower seeds to say, oh, a few meal worms. Then I might be tempted.'

And, of course, it is half term this week. No school! The joy with which this fills me only proves that I have made the right decision to leave teaching. After half term, there are six weeks and four days until the Christmas holidays. Which is 34 school days. Minus one child-free day which is a Staff Development Day (or as I prefer to call them - Staff Depression Day. But at least you get a free lunch.)

Not that I'm counting or anything. But I am. It is keeping me cheerful.

I am also allowing myself to think very occasionally on Christmas. Not much. Just in a 'making Christmas card' way. And writing a little MMM Christmas storybook kind of way.

And so I leave you to enjoy a happy and peaceful Sunday with this little saying (apologies to Harriet Beecher Stowe's original) inspired by MMM treasured guest, Olly, from a comment she made about the change that chickens bring:

'When you get into a tight place (like squeezing a size 16 bottom into size 12 knickers) and everything is against you, till it seems as though you cannot hold on a minute longer, never give up (and definitely don't sneeze) - for that is just the place and time that the tide (aka Fate/ Universe/ Luck because we are not at home to Mr Cliche) will turn - usually chased by a chicken holding an umbrella, a mug of hot chocolate and piece of fresh-from-the-oven shortbread.'

Saturday, 27 October 2012


Whilst I wait for the assorted friends and family who read this blog to pick themselves up from the floor, I shall explain how this odd event came about.

The news was, in fact, revealed to me on a visit to The Guardian website as I was perusing through the jobs section just to see what was available. For there I found the job I am leaving at Christmas being advertised as Temporary Maternity Cover! Well, you could have knocked me sideways with a spatula, beat me with a whisk and turned me into pancakes.

I went to work the next day in a state of shock. A colleague appeared in my classroom just before break time.

'So when were you going to tell us you were pregnant?' said she, for she had been reading Guardian Jobs, too.

'Well, I didn't know myself,' said I. 'Bit of a shock I can tell you.'
'Is it one of those menopause babies you hear about?' said she.
'Must be,' said I.
'When's it due?' she said.
'I don't know. Sometime around Christmas, I suppose.'
'P'raps you should check with Senior Management,' my colleague suggested. 'Because they seem to know all about it.'
'Clearly,' I said. 'Because I can't imagine that they would be so deceitful as to advertise a permanent job as a temporary maternity cover if it wasn't true, would they?'

And then my colleague and I had a good laugh about the whole preposterousness of the idea.

I have flirted with the idea of playing along with the charade because up to now not a single member of SMT have asked me why I am leaving. None of them have even mentioned it, in and either 'sorry to see you go' nor ' good riddance' kind of way. In fact, it's like I don't exist. I like to fantasise that they might care, but they don't. I think they might be too afraid to ask, because I have gone beyond
the state of depression at the situation and have now reached the state of blazing anger.

So, after half term I might shove a tiny cushion up my dress, and stand in Assembly rubbing my back a bit. I might do a bit of huffing and puffing going up and down the stairs. I might take to chewing on a lump of coal at staff meetings. Or carrying a spot of knitting around.

Of course I'm no more pregnant than I'm an, oh, I don't know, Ofsted performing monkey.

On another note, we had a house viewing today. First one in three weeks. Nice young couple who are marrying next year and wanting to start a family straight away. And we are going to look at a house tomorrow, and are planning a trip to Norfolk soon to see two more houses we've found on the Internet.

Life moves on, but for me there is a distinct smell of freedom in the air.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Support Team

When one is a writer, one needs a support team. I have a support team.

I have Andy, who is and always has been, more positive about my writing abilities than I have ever been. He says, 'Give up teaching, get a little part time job and use the rest of your time to write.' And he is right. He also says, 'You must steel yourself against rejection,' and he is right about this too, because I am rubbish at receiving rejection slips; they make me want to inflict damage on the innocent post man who delivers them, then shut myself away in a tower never to see the light of day again.

I have the cats. When I am writing at the desk top, Pandora sits on my lap. She curls up in a teeny ball because she is freakishly small for a fully adult cat, and then falls asleep, and I feel I can't get up because I don't want to disturb her, so I have to sit and write (or play Mah Jong titans if the muse deserts me) until she wakes up or my legs go dead. And if I am sofa writing ( which is long hand in a notebook) then Tybalt squishes up hard against my side, until he goes to sleep as well and snores which entertains me enormously. And if I move, he gives me such a filthy look for disturbing him, I daren't get up.

And now I have chickens again! My avian muses. They are already planning a Hallowe'en adventure. I tried to tell Primrose that I thought spraying her gingery self a luminous witchy green was bound to end in tears but she said what did I know about sartorial elegance, and I had to admit not a lot really, and she said, exactly, and basically told me to trick or treat off. Watch this space!

I have writer friends in foreign parts who feel, like me, the frustrations of writing, and not being able to write, and thinking 'is it worth it?' and having to give each other 'pull yourself together' talks acroos the interwebbly. And knowing that deep down, writers we are meant to be, and writers we shall be, and it really doesn't matter that the only people who seem to get published these days are established authors or famous people of the cheap celebrity type who can guarantee their publishing houses good sales because some people will buy any old tat if it has been written by their favourite pop star.

And I have my sixth form students who know I am a writer and who have read some of my work and who think I should definitely be published and who have come up with a 'Get Ma'am Published' plan.

Which runs something along these lines...

1) take copies of ma'am's self published book into famous bookshops and insert them surreptitiously into bookshelves

2) go into those same bookshops and ask if they have a copy of Ma'am's book. When met with the predicted negative response, said sixth form plan to 'kick off' and demand that copies are secured for them immediately. They will also bandy phrases like, 'what kind of a bookshop are your running here?' very loudly, to create a public interest

3) make me sit outside famous bookshop at a table piled with my books a la book-signing mode. They will then, along with assorted friends, form a lengthy queue to get my autograph, thereby creating an interest amongst nosey passers-by who think they might be missing out on something

4) leave copies of ma'am's book in as many public places as possible - train stations, buses, libraries etc - they are willing to go pretty global on this one. Rucksacks were mentioned.

5) become my marketing team. They have already decided which of them will be my agent, which my publicity manager, which my press officer. They will give their services free of charge which I thought was rather touching until they said, 'Until you achieve international multi-millionaire status,' and I said I wasn't really doing it to make lots of money, and they looked at me like I was mad, then fell about laughing. Mercenary bunch!

But most of all I have you, the Much Malarkey Manor house guests, who, just by dropping by to have a read every day or once in a while, make my writing all worth-while.

So thank you! My support team!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Quite a few of my Year 10 class were out gallivanting this morning on various outings, so I decided, in an act of blatant loose cannonness (canoninity?) to throw out the detailed lesson plan I hadn't written because I am hacked off with having to write detailed lesson plans, and decided to do what we did occasionally in the old days which was commonly known as 'winging it.' My only proviso, I told the group when I told them of my avant guard plan for the hour, was that every activity we winged must have a connection to the novel 'Of Mice and Men' because that is what we have been studying for the last 8 weeks.

So, I had a group of three girlies out in the corridor doing a Jeremy Kyle-style 'Curley's wife-meets-her-horrid-mother-who-ruined-her-dreams-of-being-a-movie-star' and has it out with her, spitting and swearing in a mock TV extravaganza.

And another group of five girlies making a board game to teach younger students about the characters, plot, setting and themes of the novel, which produced the most spectacularly enormous cardboard dice I have ever seen in the almost 15 years I've been involved in education.

And then there were a couple of lads who constructed a rather fetching 3-D pictorial representation of the opening scene in the novel complete with a river, a pond and a lovely sunset coming down over the Galiban mountains. They even added some relevant quotations, but only after I had threatened them.

And finally, there was a boys versus girls Scrabble game where not only did they have to come up with words that actually existed, they had to spell them correctly AND link them to the novel. One of the lads tried to convince me that the heron at the end of the novel that eats the water snake thus foreshadowing the death of Lennie, was, in fact, a budgie, but I wasn't letting him get away with that one, especially as I was winning at the time.

Anyway, when it became clear I was likely to win the game of Scrabble, I was voted off the girl's team by the boys and another student took my place. I went off to sulk in the corridor with the Jeremy Kyle girls, but came back just in time to see the spectacular fracas between Chloe and Fraser.

 It is my belief that Chloe and Fraser are secretly in love, but outwardly they are always  niggling and sniping at each other, and thus it had been during the Scrabble game. Until, that is, Chloe decided to end it all by flinging the board, tiles and all, across the table with the anguished shout of 'You are such an IMBECILE!' before picking up her enormous and flamboyant bag and flouncing to the opposite side of the classroom for a mammoth sulking session.

I was so proud of her! They are a bottom set group...and she used the word 'imbecile' in exactly the right context!

My job is done.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Watching them, watching us, watching them

'They're watching us again,' says Daisy. 'And my pants are being buffeted by the wind.'
'My fault I'm afraid,' says Primrose. She has secreted her laptop inside the chicken feeder because from the kitchen window it looks like she is eating when she is, in fact, typing away on her Hen-pad, writing the outline to her next best-selling novel.
'Why for your fault?' says Daisy.
'Well,' says Primrose, 'for a start, when I put in for this writing retreat holiday, I distinctly remember asking for a country Manor location in sunny climes. Wind was most certainly not on the agenda.'

Daisy turns so she is standing down from the stiff north-westerly that is currently beating the garden into leaf drop submission. 'I suppose,' she says, 'I could put up the windbreak.'

'You could,' says Primrose.

'What ARE they doing?' says Daisy.

'Who?' says Primrose.

'Them,' says Daisy. 'So far today they have thrown oddments of food at us, covered this run with a dodgy looking piece of corrugated Perspex sheeting and squatted in the mud at various intervals clucking at us in a language I've never heard of. No idea what they're saying, have you?'

'I think it's some sort of pidgin English,' says Primrose.

'Well that's no good, is it?' says Daisy. ' Coz we're chickens, not pigeons.'

'They're just trying to be friendly,' says Primrose. 'You know, like giving us a variety of food, making sure we're warm and dry.'

'Ha!' says Daisy. 'You'll be telling me they've given us names next.'

'They have,' says Primrose. 'I'm Primrose and you are Daisy.'

'Ridiculous!' says Daisy.

'What are they thinking?' I say to Andy, staring into the soggy back garden at the hens. Andy is making another batch of sour dough bread. He is determined to perfect the art of using a sour dough starter, and there is much huffing, puffing and pummelling going on.

'I think they are thinking they have found a jolly nice place to live,' says Andy.

'Primrose looks like she is using a laptop behind the feeder,' I say, as Primrose's head bobs up and looks around like a startled meerkat for the umpteenth time, much like I do when I am in the middle of an in depth writing session.

'P'raps they're getting fed up with eating layers' mash,' says Andy. 'Shall I throw a few grapes at them?'

'They'd like that, ' I say. 'Especially Daisy.'

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Name Games

All our previous hens have arrived with names. We knew they were arriving and so we had time to muck about thinking of what they should be called.

But Primrose (the little ginger girl) and Daisy (the larger white lass) arrived sans les nomes, because I didn't know they were on their way and Andy isn't really bothered about names for animals, and if he was he'd probably call them something totally unsuitable like 'Spud Head' or 'Nobby.'

No, it takes a woman's touch to come up with the right names, because we are sensitive to character and personality, and we're usually the ones who stand at the back door shouting into the garden and need to chose something that is a) unembarrassing and b) pronounceable after a glass of wine or two. Not that I drink. But I might be driven to it by Christmas.

And so the new girls went to bed that first night, nameless, and I went to bed thinking of what to call them, which was very soothing because usually I go to bed fretting about what the next day at school will bring.

I like to name animals after characters who mean something to me, ergo Tybalt is Tybalt because I love Shakespeare, and Pandora is Pandora after Adrian Mole's infinitely marvellous love interest in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (and not because I like boxes with surprises in them unless the surprise is a kitten or a chick, and it is an especially nice box.)

And the previous hens were all named after female characters from favourite sitcoms, and so it was this tack I began with.

'Hyacinth' and 'Audrey' were the first choices, after Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances and Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton from To The Manor Born. And from the same sitcom, Marjorie.

Nope. They didn't seem right. A bit too 'bossy.' And these hens didn't seem the bossy types.

So I looked at literary heroines. One of my favourite authors is Stella Gibbons. I could almost hear the hens saying, 'We are NOT going to be called 'Stella' and 'Gibbon'.'

'What about Flora and Mybug?' I imaginarily said.


'Yes,' I said, continuing the imaginary conversation. 'From Cold Comfort Farm.'

'I don't mind being called Flora,' they said back in imaginary unison. 'But Mybug???'

'Feckless and Careless,' I said. 'After the cows?'


I flirted briefly with Enid (Blyton) and Beatrix (Potter) and whilst both of them looked like an Enid, neither looked like a Beatrix. And then Margaret/ Maggie (Thatcher) but there was no way Andy would tolerate that, plus there are no other female politicians I have a high enough regard for to name one of my hens in their honour.

And so I went to sleep...

...and as soon as I woke up, it came through very clearly. They were Primrose and Daisy.

So I didn't name them. The Patron Saint of Hens (St Bokkity-Bok-Bok) did. I didn't tell Andy straight away. I had to let the names sit with me for a while.Just to make sure.

But I texted him when I got to school. 'Primrose and Daisy say they think they will enjoy living at MMM very much,' I wrote.

'Did they text and tell you?' texted Andy back.

'No,' I said. 'They Skyped. Live news link straight from the pod.'

'These youngsters and their technology,' texted Andy.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Luck, luck, luck....cluck!

Well, you know how I've been having a miserable time at work lately...

...and you know how it's my birthday in two weeks' time...

...and how I nearly stole a chicken last weekend....

So, I got home from work last night at 9.15 p.m. Yes, that's right. 9.15 pm in the evening, at night, 13 and three quarter hours after I went to work in the morning, because it was Open Evening and we have to teach all day, then set up loads of activities and then speak to parents and their off-spring about how fab the school is.

And I was fed-up, and headachy, and hungry, and my dratted cough and cold is still hanging on.

And Andy said to me on my arrival home, 'Come into the garden,' and I thought, 'Hello, hello...'
but I went into the garden anyway even though it was pitch black and tipping it down with rain.

And there, 'neath the willow arch, the eglu pod and run stood... hadn't been there that morning...

...and inside the pod, snuggled up and fast asleep were...


Well, I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face all day!

Andy said, 'You need chickens. Happy Early Birthday!'

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I nearly stole a chicken (or three)

Yesterday, Grandpa Andy and I took Kayleigh to visit a place near Canterbury called Wild Wood. Not wild because it has particular anger management issues, but wild because it is full of wild life like otters, boar and beavers, badgers, bison and deer, wild ponies, red squirrels and wallabies, except Kayleigh insisted on calling them kangaroos (the wallabies, not the squirrels) and Andy was so impressed she knew what a kangaroo was, we decided to let that finer detail slip.

There were storks and herons, owls and egrets, weasels and stoats (no, I shan't do the joke...okay then, I will if you insist...ahem...what is the difference between a stoat and a weasel? A weasel is weasely spotted but a stoat is stotally different!) Of course, the creatures most admired by Kayleigh were the ducks. And she rather liked the pole cats, whom you could see by going underground into their burrow system and watching them through windows that had been cut into the earth. Sensible creatures, they were all curled up asleep, and luckily the window that showed the area of burrow that was full of dead rabbit heads and dismembered chicks was a little above Kayleigh's eyeline so we didn't have any awkward explanations to make re: 'Why is there a rabbit's head in the burrow, Gran, and where did all the blood come from?'

She also liked the wild ponies, especially the foal that spent most of its time scratching its bottom along some barbed wire fencing. Piles? Fleas? I know not, nor do I need to know.

Anyway, despite it being October and a gentle chill settling in the air, and despite the fact that between the sunshine we had been avoiding little showers of rain, the demand for ice-cream came. So off we trotted to find some lunch. And next to the cafe cabin thingy, there was a children's play area and a petting centre. There were goats and geese, rabbits and...and...CHICKENS!

Big old white Sussex hens pottered around with teeny buff Orpington bantams. I spotted a Bluebell and a Barnvelder, a rather handsome cockerel of indeterminate lineage, and some silkies, grey and white and looking very much at home in a Wild Wood with their Wild Hairdos.

'I'll take Kayleigh to play on the swings and slide,' said Andy, and off they went.
'I'll go and find us some lunch,' said I, and stayed and watched the chickens.

I talked to the hens, because one has to. And they talked back. A couple came over and we passed the time of day discussing the merits of a thick woolly jumper over a waterproof coat on a chill Autumn morning, and whether mammoths should be brought back from extinction, and what sort of a Prime Minster Boris Johnson would make.

And all the while I was thinking, 'Those bantams are really small. I could secrete a couple beneath my purple coat. No-one would know. I could carry on clucking to disguise any noise they might make. I mean, I've been standing here clucking for the past 10 minutes; enough people have seen me clucking. They'll think I'm some mad old bat who clucks to herself and they won't give me or my wriggling coat a second glance. In fact, if I up the level and volume of clucking, they'll probably give me a wider berth therefore making the act of chicken liberation even easier.'

Then I thought, 'I could send up an 'Escaped Wolf' alert. Yes, that'd be the thing. I could shout, 'The wolves have escaped! Everyone - run for your lives! Don't worry about the chickens - I'll save them!' And then I could just grab as many as possible and I wouldn't even have to bother hiding them because I would be committing an act of selfless heroism. And it would probably save me a lot on laundry bills, too, especially if I used one of the bins outside the cafe as a chicken carrier.

Alas, I had not the courage of my conviction, because I know Andy would have made me bring them all back with a note of apology, especially now that he has visions of grassy loveliness in his head for the back garden.

Ah well. It was, for a brief half an hour, very lovely to stand in the sun and commune, as in the old days, with chickens.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Pot of Kindness

Got home from work today to find a little potted plant with bright red flowers on the doorstep. After such an awful week, this single and lovely thought from my friend, Jean, made the misery melt away, and I carried it indoors with a smile on my face and a little skip in my heart.

There is something very powerful about a small gesture and message from a good friend that is able to sweep away the nastiness of a whole raft of people and circumstances. It makes you realise what is important, and what isn't. Jean knows that flowers are one of my very favourite things. No-one at work does.

So thank you, Jean. That bright red plant is going to sit in my arty-crafty writing room, so I can look at it often this weekend and smile. It is a little thing. But it means a lot.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Grape Expectations

Moment of excitement yesterday when Andy thought he spied some grapes on one of the vines we transplanted from the allotment. On closer inspection the 'grapes' turned out to be berries from the honeysuckle that has run rampant along the fence beside the vine.

However, one garden illusion that is real is the reappearance of grass on the lawn area. This, for me, is an illusion tinged with sadness because it reminds me that we are currently chickenless. However, Andy is thrilled because he likes a spot of grass in the garden. He set about giving it a trim using the hedge trimmer. I'm not sure if using a hedge trimmer on a lawn is the best idea, but concede it is a better idea than using my kitchen scissors which is what happened a few weeks ago when the 'lawn' or 'tussock' as it was then, needed its first trim. And that will give you an idea of the extent of our back lawn. Which is, basically, pathetic.

Consequently, Andy has decided that he is going to returf. He is very keen to returf. To help nature along a bit. I remember doing some turfing once. It involved a lot of unrolling and stomping. It was instant grass. It was brilliant, especially as you get to cut up some of the sods to fit awkward edges, like a jigsaw puzzle. And also because you get to say 'sods'.

When will the turfing happen? I do not know. I do not even know if it is turfing season. It is certainly the season of driving to work with steamed up windows, and being covered in cats of an evening. And sipping of the cocoa and remembering to keep an umbrella at work. And the first inklings of Christmas are beginning to inkle. And the front garden is covered in spider webs. The front garden is also covered in grass which I don't think the spiders care about especially, but it does mean it won't need returfing.

And this weekend I am going to take some lavender cuttings, because there are some sprigs on the oldest lavender in the border that look at me every morning as I leave for work positively begging me to make them into new baby plants, so I shall.

And now I shall go because I am aware I am rambling, and I am tired and I can hear a cuppa and home made chocolate biscuit calling me from the kitchen.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Feeling Flat

Andy and I are having a flat day. A day where, having been on the property market for almost six weeks now, the excitement of being potentially on the move has faded into the background of our life. I mean, what is one supposed to do whilst waiting for a buyer? Carry on as usual? Look at houses? Not look at houses? Either way, we are both feeling like we are not going to be moved by Christmas  and that means we are looking into the new year and 2013 seems a life time away.

Ah well. Andy made some chocolate biscuits, and we sat and had a cuppa and a chat ( I had a cuppa and a chat and cough) and we've decided we'll plod on and wait. Not much else we can do really.

Well, I can. I can sort out a new job. Being at home for a couple of days has given me much needed thinking time. Most of my thinking as been silly thinking. Like last night I thought, 'I could sew bags. Bespoke bags. Handbags, shoulder bags, iPad bags, shopping bags. And I could put a tiny toy cat in each one as my unique selling point and call the brand 'Cat in a Bag.'

And whilst I was thinking 'cat' and 'bag' I thought, 'cats love boxes. I could develop a range of boxes for cats to play in.' And Pandora Kitten could model them and I could call the brand 'Pandora's Box.' Unfortunately, Pandora said that boxes were becoming very passé and there was no way she'd associate herself with such a product. However, if I should develop a line of luxury mini-castles for cats, she would pop on her tiara and flounce around a bit because being associated with a brand called 'Chat in a Chateau' would boost her street cred no end and probably help launch her own career in Hollywood.

See. Silly thinking.

Or I could set up a business where I go into schools and teach teachers how to use English properly. Which, on reflection, isn't such a silly idea.

I do like the idea of working for myself. It's just finding the right thing to do.

Andy has been at home today. He has been mostly baking. Bread and biscuits today. It was croissants and Chelsea buns over the weekend and consequently I am feeling a bit well fed. That's something else I am looking forward to in the New Year - getting back into regular park walking. No time nowadays, especially as it's dark when I go to work in the morning and almost dark when I get home. Andy has also finished murder most horrid on the buddleia.

'I've sawn the trunk right to the ground,' he said, because he had.
'That won't stop it,' I said. 'It'll be back bigger and uglier next year.'
'It'll be time to start on the willow harvest soon,' he said, because once he gets a saw in his hands, there's no stopping him and he was eyeing up the willow arch with a glint in his eye.
'I could make some willow wreaths and dangle miniature lavender bags on them,' I said.
'And what would you brand those as?' said Andy, who is clearly expecting some witty slogan.

'I have no idea,' I said.

Feeling flat.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


And cough, cough, hack, hack, splutter, splutter...yak!

Yes, it finally got the better of me. Went to work yesterday and really shouldn't have, but institutional educational establishments have a way of making you feel guilty for having a day off sick unless you are actually dead (and then you still need a note from your GP).

But after a succession of people telling me I looked awful, and shouldn't I go home, and after sporting a headache and temperature for most of the day, I decided that today would have to be the first sickie day in goodness knows how long, and this morning I made the call and stayed chez moi.

I have done some marking. I have been very generous with my marking, in that I have sneezed over a lot of it, and coughed over the rest, thus sharing the bounty of my germs with at least 56 students. Not sure how long a germ lasts on an exercise book; I guess time will tell...

I have also tried to steam my head clear by drinking lots of lemon and ginger tea, having a very hot shower and doing some ironing. Steam works well, but only as long as the steam lasts.

Managed to lose hearing in my right ear by blowing my nose too hard. It is now very itchy. My ear, not my nose. And it keeps popping. My ear, not my nose. And running. My nose, not my ear.

I've been listening to the radio (with my one good ear). Really good programme this morning on Radio 4 about how fear of failure often prevents us from making the most of our lives. It,of course, is true. Fear of failure often stops me from writing. Stupid really, but after listening to the guy on the radio this morning, whose passion was music, I can understand a bit more of where I am going wrong. The thing that got me most was when he said that he had spent too much of his life getting up in the morning and dreading going to work. And his wake up call was a near break-down.

And even though I have a stinking cough and cold, and am confined to barracks, I still feel better than  if I was at work, because the anxiety and stress has been relieved for one day.

So, I sit here, surrounded by cats and magazines and piles of grotty tissues and empty mugs. The estate agent called yesterday with 'feedback' from our weekend viewings. Two of them liked the house but not the location. The Italian couple are 'still thinking' which I think means they will offer something ridiculously below the asking price, and the fourth couple haven't been contactable.

The MMM Adventure has fizzled into a sort of spectator sport, which given my current physical wretchedness is just as well. Still, I was gladdened to read in the paper this morning (something else I haven't done for weeks - actually have time to read a weekday paper) that Saturn has entered my sign and changes are in the wind.

Whatever that means.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Remembering what I forgot...

Oh, stupid me! Oh, stupid me, who got home from work on Friday evening and developed a full blown cold in the space of two hours. I have suddenly remembered something that I should never have forgotten, but I did, and it was stupid to forget and now I have remembered and I feel so much better, even though my throat is red-raw sore and my nose is stuffy- dribbly-sniffy, and my ears are poppy-crackley-whistley.

'What?' I hear you say. 'What is it that you have remembered that you forgot that you shouldn't have forgotten but it's okay now because you have remembered, and we forgive you because we all have our stupid moments in life?' (Well done for keeping up so far - very impressive for a Sunday morning!)

Well, I'll tell you what it is I have remembered. I have remembered that I am not a teacher, I am a writer. And I have also remembered what it was I want from life. And that is (in no particular order):

The peace and quiet of a view of the countryside
Good health
A vegetable garden
A log fire
A stable door
A terrier-dog of some sort called Colonel Bunty

That's all. And I forgot.

And how did I remember? I remembered this morning whilst performing my annual murder attempt on the buddleia in the garden. We do battle every year, me and that damned shrub, and every year it comes back a good foot taller and three feet wider and it laughs in triumph because I am a feeble human with some dodgy secateurs and it is THE MIGHTY BUDDLEIA who will triumph over the Universe (well, the garden at MMM)....mwhahahahahahahahaha! (Although I have to say that the lemon balm has given it a darn good run for its money in the global garden domination stakes this year. Still beating that back with a shovel.)

And I miss the allotment, and I miss the hens, and I miss properly growing stuff. And I miss writing because all I do is mark effing exercise books in my evenings or write stupid lesson plans that I never look at anyway just because I am not trusted to be a professional.

And it's all the fault of HORRID SCHOOL which is no longer satisfied with stealing all my waking hours (and a lot of my sleeping hours too) but wants to sabotage my health and sanity and turn me into some gibbering wreck.

('Stand back from the Drama Queen IMMEDIATELY!')
('But I like it! Look, I'm flouncing!')
('I said stoppit! NOW!')
('You are such a spoilsport - whoever you are.')
('Whatever. Get on with the blog.')

Anyway, we've had 5 house viewings this week. Three yesterday, one Friday, and one Wednesday. Two from yesterday seemed like a waste of time and I don't think we'll hear any more from them, and one was a possibly-interested; the only thing that annoyed me was that they were an Italian couple and they kept talking to each other in Italian which, as you know, I think is very rude. And given that my Italian is limited to 'lumaca' (snail) and 'klacson' (car horn) I didn't get much of a gist of what they were discussing.

The Friday appointment was for 6 p.m, having been changed at the last minute from Saturday 4.30. I got in from work at 5.10 to a ringing phone, agreed to the change in time, and spent half a crazy hour tidying up. He then didn't arrive until 7.30. SEVEN THIRTY!! I was well hacked off with him. Plus he was looking to buy somewhere for his daughter, plus he didn't seemed that interested, plus he said, 'Sorry I'm late; tell me to go away if you want to,' and I very nearly did.

The best couple were the Wednesday couple. They love the house. They stayed nearly an hour. They told us their complete life story. They are going to put in an offer... soon as they have sold their house...

....ah well. We carry on.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


The cats are worried because my writing mojo appears to be low on fuel at the moment. Well, Phoebe isn't worried because she is generally aloof to my artistic angst, but Tybalt and Pandora are fretting because when I am not being distracted by writing, I am usually interfering with their lives by a) trying to persuade Pandora to enter Britain's Got Talent with me in a human-cat dance combo, or b) following Tybalt into cupboards to see exactly what it is that makes him so cupboard fixated.

Hence they have been suggesting writing projects for me, in the hope that I will hie me back to my arty-crafty writing room and leave them to follow their feline habits in peace i.e eating, sleeping, chasing Mr Light, and kicking cat litter all over the floor.

'How about a story about a cross-dresser detective thriller?' says Tybalt. 'With a main character called Dragatha Christie?'
'Hmmmm...' I say. 'Sounds mildly amusing. But I think I might get sued.'
'Or a story about a teacher who sees how much she can swear under her breath in class before one f her students hears her?' suggests Pandora.
'A bit too autobiographical,' I say.
'What about a short novel about a Prince who narrowly misses becoming King?' continues Tybalt, hopefully. 'You could get Andy to do the illustrations.'
I give him a withering stare. 'I've already got that T-shirt,' I say.
'Well, you should write a book about it then,' says Tybalt.

'How about, ' I say, 'I write a guide on how to train one's cats to show better manners and respect towards their owners?'
'I'm only trying to help,' says Tybalt. 'You always seem out of sorts when you aren't writing.'
'I'm writing now, ' I say. 'I'm blogging.'
'It's hardly proper writing though, is it?' says Pandora. 'I mean, most of it is drivel, isn't it, with the occasional crazy rant thrown in for variety.'
'It's very good quality drivel,' I say. 'Many people would give a lot to be able to write drivel like this. I can think of at least 100 people I teach every day for a start. And that's not including staff.'
'There's always the old fall back of the hamster/vampire conceit,' says Tybalt. 'Only 4 weeks to Hallowe'en.'

I sigh. 'Yes,' I say. 'Good old Hampires. But I don't know. Don't you think writing stories about Hampires is a bit, well, flimsy? I can't help think I ought to be doing something more challenging. Something more political, for example. Or philosophical.'

Pandora's yawn says it all. She's right, of course. I have to write silly stuff because it makes me cheerful. I mean, could you imagine having a writing career constructing speeches for the likes of Milliband and Balls, that famous firm of purveyors of rhetorical fantasy? No, me neither.

'Okay,' I relent. 'I'll give Dragatha Christie a shot and see what happens.'
'Murder most horrid, I reckon,' says Tybalt, as he slopes off to explore, once again, the land of the cupboard under the stairs.