Monday, 29 September 2014

Reasons why I'm feeling nostalgic for my old manual typewriter

I have some observations to make after buying a new laptop at the weekend.

1. PC World is not the place to be when you're already feeling your age.  I had to spend an hour in the kitchen when we got back.  I used my food mixer, toaster and kettle, just to comfort myself that there were some things I could plug in and operate without having to watch a Youtube video first.

2. People who work in computer stores have a lumpy bit under their jumpers.  My husband said it would be where a set of keys is attached to their belts, but I suspect they are the remnants of where the umbilical cord hasn't quite healed yet.

3. Shouting, 'Oh, I must have that one!  Look - it's got a bright blue casing!' is the quickest way to make sure your husband sidles away from you and into the camera aisle.

Fran wasn't so interested in its Intel Core i3-4030U Processor as she could have been

4. Even though your new laptop does have a pretty blue casing, you will still want to hurl it at a wall when you can't work out how to install your antivirus software or connect it to your printer.

5. Trying to get used to Windows 8 is like wandering alone around a Scottish mountain, in a thick mist, while wearing a balaclava the wrong way round.  If you find your way back to where you started, it was a fluke.

6. Until you have adapted to the ultra-sensitivity of a modern mouse pad on a new laptop, you will have to put up with a) a sudden unsolicited increase or decrease in font size on your screen; b) finding yourself about to play a Solitaire game when you were trying to do a Tesco order; c) sending an email when all you'd written was 'Hi - just thought I'd ...'

Blue AND within Fran's technical capabilities

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Reasons why Fran Googles 'Discount Botox deals' on a regular basis

I wrote this article for the Times Educational Supplement in 2010.  I wasn't quite fifty then.  My, my, it resonates even more now.    

Teaching is the elixir of youth?  Pass the cocoa ...

They say being a teacher keeps you young, and to someone pushing 50 who says, "Gosh, is that policeman old enough to be out alone?" this could be fantastic news. If only they didn't just mean inner youthfulness. I could do with outer help; the anti-wrinkle creams and the "give-you-a-fake-waist" vests don't do the job they used to.
I will be interested to see just how young teaching can keep us when we don't get our pensions until we hit 96. There comes a point, surely, when no matter how many teenagers you meet each day, if you can't hear them, see them or remember their names, the benefits of being kept young at heart are limited.
Still, I'm seeing a money-spinner here, and you can peruse my new website to pre-order a handy whiteboard pen bag which can hang from your Zimmer frame. I've also designed a range of securely lidded coffee mugs emblazoned: "I may tremble, but, boy, can I still teach". Bound to be a top seller, too, are my smart suits, made in association with Damart from cosy, striped dressing-gown material. They go well with the new "of-course-they're-not-slippers" range of fur-trimmed shoes.
But is it true? Will teaching really keep me young? Or will exposure to teenagers merely, by juxtaposition, emphasise how old and fusty I'm getting?
When I'm persuading students to notice how words are juxtaposed and why, I use a practical illustration. I ask for a very short volunteer to stand at the front. I say to the class, "Is she short? Of course we can see she is short. But what would tell us just how short?" Then I invite a very tall volunteer to stand next to her. "Ah, now we can see how short!"
See? Surely being in a classroom with agile and toned youngsters all day will only draw more attention to my bingo wings.
It's not only that. I'm way behind on techno-knowledge, highlighted by Year 10's amusement when I "discovered" the No Show button on our data projector remote control. I could hide what was on the screen? Eat your heart out, Captain Cook - this was a whole new world. In the end, the class sighed: "Miss, please stop clicking it on and off. You'll give us a migraine."
Also, a recent attempt to enlighten a Year 12 English language class of girls that "bachelorette" was the new term for "spinster" met with polite yawns. They had been using the word for years.

And, if only I could force myself to keep up with teenage culture and read Twilight, I would realise it wasn't just coincidence that all the main characters in Year 7's recent story-writing were called Bella and Edward.
Having said this, when I double-checked the Twilight characters' names with my 19-year-old daughter, she confirmed that they were indeed Bella and Edward, then moaned: "Oh, how I hate myself for knowing that!"
So, maybe it's not just an age thing, after all. Okay, I feel better. But a nice cup of cocoa will help, too. I'll put the kettle on.

I don't write for the TES these days, but if you want to peruse any of my columns for them about education, most of them are listed here. The funny side of teaching as seen in Fran's columns

Friday, 19 September 2014

Evidence that senior moments can even happen to junior people

I have so many senior moments these days.  In fact, I think I am in one long Senior Moment and every now and then I have a Junior one: a minute or two of lucidity when I rush around and get as much done as possible.  

But some moments of disorientation happen to everyone - young and old - when it takes a while for things to become clear.  Do you have experiences like these?..........

1. Someone asks if you'd like a cup of tea and then they make you coffee instead.  That first sip .....

2. You put someone else's glasses on by mistake and wonder when and how you wandered into the Hall of Mirrors.

3. You begin to undo your trousers, thinking you have a pair on with one button, and can't get them over your hips.  You've put on three stone in one day?  Then you find they're a three-button pair.

4. Your taxi arrives to take you to the station, so you run outside and hail it, dragging your case.  So does your neighbour opposite.  

5. You wake up on Saturday with a sinking feeling because you think it's Friday, and then realise, and then can't get back to sleep because of the joy.

6. You pick up the phone at home and say, 'Smithson & Co.  How can I help you?'

7. You pick up the phone at work and say, 'Hiyaaaaaaaaa!'

8. You bite into something very hard, such as pork crackling or nut brittle, and for a few seconds, you fear you are trying to eat a bit of your own tooth.

9. You wake in the night and hear high-pitched wailing from outside.  You can't get to sleep because of the 'Is it a cat? Is it a baby? Is it a cat? Is it a baby? Is it a cat? Is it a baby?' thought-pattern.  When you realise it's a baby, you can't get to sleep because of the 'How can a baby sound so like a cat?' thought-pattern.  When you realise it's a cat, you can't get to sleep because of the 'How can a cat sound so like a baby?' thought-pattern.  Then you go back to sleep and two minutes later the alarm rings.

10. Finally, my own definition of A Moment of Real Fear.  You press 'Forward' at exactly the same time as you realise you're not sure who you had written in the address box. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Evidence that Fran finds the strangest things amusing

These are things which have made me laugh today. It really, as you'll see, does not take much.

1. I noticed a banner advertising a Weight Watchers meeting at a church called St Mary Immaculate.  

2. Someone had discarded a lottery ticket on the pavement, presumably in a fit of pique.  It was labelled, in red letters, 'Lucky Lucky Draw'.  Not that lucky, then.

3. We went on a half-hour barge trip up the Grand Union Canal in Warwick as part of a 'Canal Open Day' event.  A large Texan man with a drawl to die for did the commentary on the history of my local canal.  

4.  I saw these at the Open Day and still don't know why they were there.  Everything else was to do with boats.  Was it because 'goats' rhymes with 'boats'?  

 5. On the bus home, I played 'I've seen you and I know you've seen me and I know you're pretending not to have done' with one of the teenagers from my school.  This happens often.  There's something about being fourteen that means even though you get on well with a teacher, you can't admit to recognising her when she dares to be out of doors at the weekend, living a normal life.  Then, on Monday morning, you yell along the school corridor, 'Hey, MISS!  I saw you on the BUS yesterday!'

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Reasons why moving your furniture around isn't always a good idea

My son has just moved, with his family, to Ham in South-West London.  I have sent them this poem in their 'Happy New Home' card.

Our future is in Ham.
We're feeling fine.
(I'm not, said Mr Pig,
'Cause so is mine.)

I'm always jealous when people move house, because I love new starts.  We lived in the same house for 25 years before we moved to the Midlands and, in lieu of moving house, I would change the furniture around on a regular basis instead.  Many of our conversations with our grown-up children begin, 'You know the year we had the piano at the bay window end ...' or 'That was when we used the back bedroom as a music room'.

There are disadvantages to doing this, though.  Here are some.

1. You get those deep holes in the carpets where the piano was and they never recover.

2. If you come downstairs in the night, you stub your toe on an unexpected chair leg.

3. There's always one piece of electrical equipment that is no longer near a plug socket.

4. One chair is now so near the fire, its occupant's ankles give off a smell of roast dinner in the winter.

5. If you take a tall piece of furniture away from a wall and replace it with a smaller piece, the picture above it now looks like a greetings card in a frame.

6. If you take a small piece of furniture away from a wall and replace it with a taller one, the picture above it, a scene of a family in a teashop, now features three disembodied heads eating cake.

7. You find that moving furniture around is no substitute for moving house, because your neighbour still has a penchant for Metallica and having your dining table in the bay window has made no difference to this.

8. You realise that one reason you moved things around last time was to hide the evidence of the Great Red Wine Disaster in 2012.

Fido always denied it, but had always had trouble perfecting his 'not guilty' look

I will try not to envy my son's new home.  I really like the house I live in now, and there's no reason to move.

Particularly, we have no reason to complain about our immediate neighbours.  They are extremely well-behaved. They look like this.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Evidence that I learned many valuable life lessons on a bus journey in the Cotswolds countryside

We've just got back from our holiday in the Cotswolds.  I learned some things on an afternoon out and the advice may be helpful to you should you also attempt such a bus journey.

1. What you think is an ice cream van pulling up at a country bus stop may in fact be your bus.  Keep your reactions to yourself.  

2. Before buying your £6 return ticket to a Cotswolds town you'd like to have lunch in and then explore, check that the timings of the bus will enable you to spend more than fifty minutes there.

3. When you find out that in fact you are on a tiny bus to a Cotswolds town in which you will be spending only fifty minutes, make the most of the hour-long journey.  You have paid £6 to view all that green and brown.  And appreciate each sheep you see in a field.  Wheat can get tedious.

4. When you are eating your £1.20 cold cheese scone in the street for lunch while trying to make the most of your fifty minutes in the town, remember that sitting in a cosy pub restaurant enjoying a giant steaming piece of beer-battered fresh cod and a mountain of hand-cut thick salty chips accompanied by a pint of cold, refreshing local cider would have set you back £16.95 and be glad.

5. When you only have 50 minutes in a Cotswolds town, accept the inevitable: you will see fourteen shops which are selling something you have needed for years.

6. Make the most of necessary visits to public conveniences even though they seem to chip away at your time.  Adopt the same attitude that people do before they die.  Appreciate the tiling in a way you never have.  If there is toilet roll available, rejoice and be grateful.  Analyse the flush - is it different from other flushes you have heard?

7.   On your return journey, bear in mind that the vehicle which brought you might be different from the vehicle they send to take you back.  Therefore, what you think is a family seven-seater pulling up at a country stop may in fact be your bus.

8. As your bus winds its way through the villages and a woman says, 'Can you drop me off at the Tall Tree, please, driver?' do not assume that the tall tree is the name of a pub.

9. When your bus breaks down in the middle of the countryside so that the driver has to pull up alongside a field and ring the garage for advice about how to get started again, remember everything I said in point 3.

10. Remember that it is still considered polite in British society to say, 'Thank you, driver' as you disembark, despite lingering bitterness about a dry, cold cheese scone and two hours looking out for a sheep to make the day seem more exciting.

A large enough scone, with added wheels, could even be used to transport holidaymakers from village to village

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Reasons why Fran has watched some Robin Williams clips today instead of working

Sad news about Robin Williams.   Today I watched an episode of 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' to which he brings chaos and disorder and hilarity like an untrained puppy, refusing to follow the instructions given and appearing behind desks and in front of cameras at unplanned moments.

Then I watched some clips of him ad-libbing in 'Good Morning Vietnam'.  How did he do that stuff? His brain was as quick as electricity and I don't know how his mouth kept up.

Another clip, from 'The Dead Poets Society' has him, in the role of John Keating, ordering the students to tear out a page of 'excrement' from a book on poetry in which the editor rambles on about how to measure a poem using a graph.  'Rip it out!' he cries, and the boys fall to the task with abandon, apart from one who uses a ruler to make sure he does it in a straight line.  One senses that the poor boy is having trouble taking on these anarchic ideas.

All this reminded me of something I read recently about art, whether that be writing or sculpture or dance or theatre.  It was about the element of surprise, and that it's the unexpected in art that catches the heart of the reader or viewer and brings delight.  I think this was the secret of Robin Williams' success. We love the Peep-Bo in childhood, and it teaches us to enjoy the maverick, the Jack-in-the-box, the picture of the old lady that, looked at another way, is a beautiful woman, the cheque in the post we'd forgotten was coming, the one poppy bursting out from a concrete slab, the sudden change of key in a song ....

That's why one of the most common exercises I give students at school (or in creative writing classes with adults) is to devise different endings for common clichés.  It's always said that you shouldn't use clichés, but in fact sometimes a cliché which has been subverted causes more of a surprise, and therefore more pleasure.

For instance, take 'as soft as silk'.  How could we use this in writing, or in a song, or play?  Her skin was as soft as silk is a cliché.  Her skin was as soft as silken butter?  Her skin was as soft as silk on silk?  Her skin was as soft as whipped-silk milk chocolate?

Let's take it somewhere else, keeping the sibilance, the 's' sounds from the original cliché.  Her skin was as soft and silky as submission.  Her skin was as soft as a small bird's flight.  Her skin was as soft as a sly whisper behind a hand.

It all depends what you want to say.

I'm just playing around with language here.  But I love doing it.  And so did Robin Williams.  So, that was my little tribute to him, and I pray for his family.  I know what it is to be left behind in that way, wondering.

Not all surprises are good ones.