Saturday, 20 December 2014

Evidence that Fran knows she should start on her 'holiday marking' load but is procrastinating

There's a rucksack in my hall stuffed to perdition with sixth formers' coursework essays. Somehow I need to find time over Christmas to mark them all. I got up this morning at eight and decided that before I did anything else I would sort them all out into piles so that I could devise a 'timetable' for the holiday and get some done each day.

Instead, I've done other things. And now I'm writing this blog post.  And it's eleven o'clock.

1. I wrote some Christmas cards, then went to the local postbox with them. I only noticed just in time that I was about to post one whose envelope bore the helpful message 'Kate and Tom', meant for some neighbours. I feel sorry for the postal workers at Christmas, coping with all the parcels and extra post, as well as with plonkers like me. It puts my Christmas marking load into perspective anyway.

2. I've also been looking at Christmas hampers in a fit of seasonal nostalgia. When I was a child, my grandparents used to get one every year, filled with a tub of biscuits, boxes of mince pies, jars of chutney and packets of cheesy crackers ... that kind of thing.  Now, you can empty your bank account to pay for a hamper with the same types of ingredients, but with tiddly-posh names.  This one cost £132.00 but is now down to ONLY £100.  I won't say which store it's from as it wouldn't be fair. They're all as expensive as each other.  

I have translated the product names for you in italics. 

Deluxe Hamper - £100

Farmhouse Cranberry Biscuits 125g - A few biscuits
Moyallon Cranberry Chutney 110g - A small jar of pickle
Moyallon Strawberry Preserve 110g - Some jam
New English Teas English Breakfast Tea 20g - Not very much tea
Loison Panettone 100g - A middle-class bun but not much of it
Sierra Creek Merlot 75cl - Cheapish red plonk
Sierra Creek Chardonnay - Cheapish white plonk
Robe d'Or Brut Vin Mousseux 75cl - cheapish white fizz
Yorkshire Tomato, Basil & Mozarella Crisps 50g - crisps, but with mozzarella spelled funny
Beech's Chocolate Brazil Nuts 90g - chocolate nuts, not many
Beech's Dark Chocolate Bar 60g - dark chocolate, not much
Belgian Raspberry Delights 200g - who knows? but Belgian makes it okay
The Dormen Chilli & Lime Cashews 50g - some nuts
Cherry & Almond Cake - cake, weight suspiciously unspecified - one cherry & one almond?
Walkers Mini Fingers 125g - biscuits, unashamedly small ones
Walkers Mince Pies 225g - mince pies
Walkers Luxury Mincemeat Tarts 372g - slightly better mince pies
Cole's Brandy Christmas Pudding 227g - small pudding but the brandy makes it okay
Perthshire Chilli Oatcakes 150g - tasteless dry biscuits hotted up

3. Talking of Christmas food, we have a bush outside with red berries on it which the birds love. Normally they sit within the bush and peck away contentedly at one berry after another. But today a blackbird sat on our shed roof, then flew over to the bush for a berry, then back to the shed roof with it in its mouth, then it ate it. Then it went back for another one, back to the shed roof ..... etc etc. My husband commented on it and I said I thought the bird just wanted to see what it was like to have takeaway food like humans do, and why shouldn't it, at Christmas? 

In fact, maybe the supermarkets are missing an opportunity here ...

Crimson Juicy Delights, freshly-plucked from a rural Warwickshire garden - berries

This blackbird is learning that overdosing on red berries can have unfortunate side effects

Monday, 15 December 2014

News about paperback version of 'Being Miss'

Some happy news about a delivery ....

No, I haven't had a baby. I know it's the time of year for that kind of miraculous conception to happen, but thankfully not to me.

The delivery was of a box of my 'Being Miss' books from the publishers.

So, if any of you Kindle-phobes have been waiting to get hold of a copy made of real paper (for £6 plus postage and packing) please pay using the Paypal 'Add to cart' button under the book cover in the sidebar.

Treat yourself to a laugh, Fran-style.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Reasons why shops should have one-way systems at Christmas

I've had problems with my left leg recently and it's limited my getting around, but things are improving. 'You're limping much better,' someone said on Sunday. It was an odd kind of compliment but I take whatever I can get these days.

I can't ignore the fact that my weight won't have helped. I think I'll release my own pop song about the health risks of being shaped like the largest instrument in the string section.  Come on, sing along.

'Cause you know, I'm all about that bass, 'bout that bass, knee trouble ...'

This is one of the stills from the Meghan Trainor pop video for 'All About That Bass'. I think he's
saying, ''Don't talk to me, People who could fit in my pocket make me nervous.'

Today was my day off school so I went Christmas shopping. I browsed round a shop that would win the Most Items Crammed Into Tiniest Shop in Britain award.  The combination of me - plump and off balance with two bags and a rucksack and a mutinous knee - plus a lady with a baby buggy and a walking excited toddler, plus other customers carrying long rolls of Christmas wrapping paper under their arms, caused a hiatus at one point during which none of us could move anywhere. We endured an almost-group-hug for a full minute before we cooperated in finding ways of escape, one by one, trying this way and that until we found solutions, like doing a human Rubik's cube.

That particular shop holds bad memories for me anyway. I've written before about the time another customer mistook me for an assistant and asked me what the upstairs of the shop contained. I said, 'Oh, it's clothes' but she thought I'd said 'Oh, it's closed' and complained about me to another assistant when she found I'd been lying.

I enjoyed my shopping this morning, despite it all, because I haven't been out of the house much for weeks, imprisoned by the knee, and have had lifts to and from school from teacher colleagues. I've been doing a lot of sitting-down teaching and could-you-wipe-the-whiteboard-for-me teaching and you'll-have-to-come-here-if-you-want-me-to-check-your-work teaching and come-here-right-now-so-I-can-tell-you-off teaching. (The latter has been the least successful.)

So, the outing did me good. Even my struggle down the bus aisle, causing actual bodily harm to irritated people left and right with all my bags and parcels, didn't cast too much of a pall on all the Christmas fun.

Not my Christmas fun, anyway. They didn't look too chuffed.

Fran hoped the bus wouldn't come until she'd found which bag her ticket was in. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Reasons why one should think carefully before flouncing out

I ran away from home when I was seven. We were living in Singapore because my father, who was in the army, was stationed there. I can't remember what the row had been about, but I decided it was time to seek my fortune elsewhere, yelled, 'That's it! You are all dead to me!' and left the house.

Five minutes later, I was back. I'd forgotten to take shoes and the Singapore pavements, in equatorial temperatures, had me hopping from paving slab to paving slab, my little feet toasted.

Oh, the ignominy of it all, when you make a dramatic exit and then have to slink back.

Years later, when I should have been wiser about the dramatic exit and its potential for humiliation, I argued with my husband. We were young parents, new to it. We'd never argued until we had our first child, and then suddenly there seemed to be all kinds of things about which to fight. Whose turn was it to change the nappy? Whose turn to fill up the steriliser? Whose turn to burp the baby even though the re-emergence of half a pint of curdled milk into one's lap was as inevitable as time passing?

Whatever the cause of the argument, I decided to have the last word, said, 'That's it! You are all dead to me!' (originality not being my strong point) and made a flourish of an exit out of the kitchen door and into the garden. I intended to leave by the back gate. Where to go, I wasn't sure, but who thinks about that before flouncing out?

The gate was locked, and I knew my husband had the key to the padlock in his pocket.

I came back in, pretending confidence. 'I need the key to the back gate,' I said, taking refuge in monosyllables as an attempt to sound determined. I tried to hold on to my pride, but I may as well have tried to clutch on to escaping ferrets.

My husband fought against laughter, but lost, and although I bit my lip, it wasn't long before I joined in.

It was just as well, anyway. I was at that early stage of motherhood when after three hours away from the baby, my milk would start to come in, leaking from my body and spreading across my chest like an oil spill. It's not a good look, particularly when you're attempting to play the part of a romantic, passionate escapee.

Only once have I walked out of a lesson. I was a rookie teacher and the class of boys had led me to a Place of Despair with their riotous chatter and shameless lack of interest in my carefully-planned lesson on Robert Browning's use of the dramatic monologue. This time, I didn't say, 'That's it! You are all dead to me.'  (I needed the job.)  I just left the room, one nano-second before I dissolved into tears. But they'd seen me crumbling. As I walked down the corridor towards the English Department and some privacy, I heard one boy - a boy with heart - shout, 'Now look what you've all done, you wankers!'

Half an hour later I returned, my eyes no doubt red-rimmed. The boys had finished the work and stacked their books neatly on my desk. They were sitting meekly, awaiting the bell. Their faces said, 'Oops. Maybe we went too far.'  It was the apology I needed. And they were much better behaved after that.

It was the one out of my three exits that had a positive outcome, not just for me, but for the boy with heart, to whom I gave a shedload of merit points and help with his poetry terms any time he wanted it.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, making his own version of a dramatic exit.
(No back door key required.)

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Evidence that Fran can find things to amuse her even at hospital appointments

A short play entitled 'Fran goes for an MRI scan'

'MRI, sweet?'

'Yes, my appointment's at 2. Er, honeybun.'

'No, I mean are you here for the MRI suite?'

'Ah, yes.  I'm having a scan of my knee.'

'Could you sit over there, please? We'll call you.'

'What will you call me this time? Coochy-coo?'

[10 minutes later.]

'Do come through. Are you wearing anything metal?'

'Is my gold-encrusted underwear a problem?'

'You might need to remov -'

'It was a joke.'

'Any metal plates in your mouth?'

'No, my smile is always as big as this.'

'Is your bra wireless?'

'Yes, and I can print from it without using a USB connection.'

'Are you wearing a watch?'

'It's 2.05. Glad to be of help.'

'Please take the watch off and lie down here. I'll give you some headphones because the machine is very noisy.'

'What's on the headphones?'

'Some soothing music.'

[20 minutes later.]

'So, that wasn't too bad, was it, Mrs Hill?'

'I could take the tunnel thing. I could take the staying absolutely still thing. I could take the banging and the screeching and the whirring of the machine. What I found hard to take was the top-volume Distorted Enya CD.'

'Oh, I'm terribly sorry. I didn't realise it would be distorted. Or top-volume.'

'I used to like Enya.'

'Anyway, we'll let your doctor know within two weeks.'

'That you forced me to listen to Distorted Enya and sent me nearly half-crazy?'

'No, the results of your MRI on your left knee.'

'Oh, that.'

Friday, 21 November 2014

Evidence that having the gas man in throws one into awkward social dilemmas

The Gas Man has Beeneth.  He came today to check our gas appliances and it was my day off work so I was here to let him in.

Only people of a certain age will understand that cultural reference to Flanders and Swann singing 'The Gas Man Cometh'.  If you've never heard it, it's only 2 minutes long and it's very funny. It's all about what happens when you have people 'in' to do jobs and things go wrong.

By the way, that's the first time I've ever learned to post a video link into a blog post, As I've now written 560 posts according to my stats, I don't think I could ever claim to be a fast learner.

Talking about technology, I suppose the modern equivalent of The Gas Man Cometh would be The Computer Man Cometh.

'Twas on a Monday morning
I rang Computer Man.
He said, 'I am an expert.
I'll help you if I can.'
But he couldn't come 'til Thursday.
I tried hard not to mind
'cause I had to use a notepad
but not the modern kind.

Anyway, the gas man came because we rent the house and he was asked by the landlord to check our cooker, boiler and gas fire.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it the height of awkwardness, having someone in the house doing a job?  This was my inner monologue while he was here:

Should I make friendly conversation after the initial hello? If I do, and he's here for longer than an hour, will I regret it?  What will I find to talk about?  Would it make me seem like a desperate housewife? Or should I leave him alone to do the job? If I do, will I seem supercilious and cold? Is it okay for me to sit here typing on my laptop or will he assume I spend the day on Facebook when actually I'm writing? Should I say, 'Oh, I'm writing a book' or would that sound as though I were trying to recruit fans and get him to say, 'What about?' When I do check Facebook, should I turn the volume down so he can't hear the bee-doop of a message arriving?  When do I offer tea or coffee? As soon as he arrives, or will that seem forward, as though he's popped round for a social chat? After ten minutes? Twenty? If he says, 'Oh, I'd just finished the job, actually,' what would I do then, with the kettle half-boiled? Do I give him biscuits, and if so, is one variety enough or should I offer two in case he hates coconut cookies but loves dark chocolate digestives? Do I ask him how the job is going or will that seem as though I'm questioning his ability?  What if I need the loo? Can I disappear upstairs, leaving him in the kitchen, and do I need to announce where I'm going? What if I didn't announce where I was going and then he needed a spanner? What if he needs the loo? Should I say, 'By the way, if you need it, the toilet's upstairs,' or do I wait for him to ask?  When I said, 'My husband's at work', did it sound like an invitation? Should I have added, 'But he'll be back very soon' just in case he thought it was?

The gas man was here for two hours, and the monologue above only represents a quarter of the dilemmas I encountered. As you can imagine, I got very little writing done, which is the bad news. The good news is: the cooker, boiler and gas fire are all in good working order, and he liked the dark chocolate digestives, which I don't. That left the coconut cookies for me when he'd gone and I needed comforting after all that stress and awkwardness.

Fortunately, he won't cometh again for a whole year.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Evidence that Fran's attempt at an Irish accent doesn't always impress

I'm teaching the great Irish writer Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot' to sixth formers. A telling line in the play is when one character, Estragon, says, 'There's no lack of void.' After reading this line on Monday, we discussed how the characters in the play (and people in general) 'avoid the void' with useless, repetitive activities to distract themselves from how meaningless their lives seem. Estragon and Vladimir play silly games, swap hats, insult each other, sing nonsense songs and engage in faux-intellectual conversations, just to pass the time while they wait for Godot. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't arrive, folks.)

I guess if Beckett wrote it today, he'd have Vladimir and Estragon playing Angry Birds on their phones, joining in with #ruinasongtitlebytakingawayoneletter on Twitter, and checking Facebook to see if anyone had a ham sandwich for lunch.

I told the class I thought my title for the day's lesson 'Avoid the void' was crying out for someone to write a poem.  It is? their faces said.  No one leapt forward and yelled, 'Let me, let me!'

So I did it myself.

I read it to them today and they were singularly unimpressed. I did my best Irish accent, too, in honour of Beckett and that didn't impress them either ... *sulks*  They did applaud, but only once I'd bowed in an exaggerated fashion and said, 'Thank you, thank you' so they really had no choice.

In the light of their lack of enthusiasm, I thought I'd inflict bless you with it instead.

Avoiding the void

It’s toime for us two to decoide
how we can avoid the void
because I really can’t aboide
the way it makes me feel insoide.

There’s lots of different tings we’ve troid
attemptin’  to avoid the void.
In troot, O’im getting’ well annoyed.
Oi wish dat Godot had arroived.

It takes away a feller’s proide
to feel that he has been begoiled
I'd t'ought Godot was on our soide
He said he’d come.
I tink he loid.

When you're doing your A-levels, Mummy had told him, you might get to do Waiting for Godot with Fran.