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.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Evidence that getting a brand new name isn't always a reason for celebration

I love the @VeryBritishProblems tweets.  They always make me laugh. There's even a book of them you can get from Amazon which is all about your little British awkwardnesses  and there's a Facebook page. There's no need to miss out on the 'Yes, I do that' moments.  There's comfort in knowing you're not the only one who says sorry to people who bulldoze into you in the street because they weren't looking where they were going.

Tonight, one tweet said, Missing the opportunity to correct someone, meaning you now have a brand new first name. #VeryBritishProblems

And that reminded me.

We had an after-school training session with a visiting speaker at my school some months ago.  There were at least thirty other teachers in the room.

A colleague came up to me while we were busy doing group discussion and said, 'The trainer needs a fast typist to write up the notes as the groups give feedback. I've volunteered you.'

Aren't people kind?

I couldn't say no.  But it entailed sitting in the middle of the room, like a prize cow at an auction, while everyone looked on as I typed in their ideas which then got projected onto the screen.  It meant working quickly, because I had to summarise what people were saying as well as type.

If it had just been this, I think I could have coped.  But the true humiliation was still to come.  The trainer had misheard my name when my colleague had recommended me.  And when I say misheard, I mean got it so, so wrong that I thought I would implode with the embarrassment.  *leaves big gap in blog post to graphologically symbolise shock and humiliation*

'While you feed back your ideas,' he told the group cheerily, 'our volunteer, Gran, will type them up.'

Gran? I thought.  Did he say Gran?  No, surely not!

'Thank you very much, Gran, for volunteering to do this for me.'

Okay.  So he did say it.

'Gran will type up your ideas as you -'  Yep, okay.  There's no need, really, to keep saying it.  Did you miss the module on pronouns at school?

I had just a few seconds to make a decision.  Here were my choices.

a) Speak up, pronto, and put him right before the opportunity elapsed.

b) Suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misnaming, the slings being the barely-concealed hilarity of my department colleagues and the arrows being the fact that not one person in that room was going to concentrate on the task in hand while he repeated the word 'Gran' like a pork pie repeats on someone with an ulcer.

He said it again.  'Right, Gran, if you could just -'

I interrupted.  'My name's Fran, I said.  Fran.  Not Gran.'  I avoided my colleagues' eyes, just as one avoids sharks, or dark alleys, or recurrent bouts of syphilis. I wanted to add, 'I'm sure lots of people are baptised Gran, but I'm not one of them.'  But I didn't.

I also wanted to turn my head towards the camera, like Miranda Hart does, and say, 'Rude!'  But there was no camera.

He apologised, apparently unaware of the scale or ramifications of his error, and we moved on.  I typed as fast as I could, hoping it would lessen the time I had to sit like an exhibit at a freak show: 'Only £5 to see the Incredible, the Amazing, the Unbelievable Misnamed Typing WOMAN!'

And, about seventeen years later, the groups finished feeding back ideas, he said thank you for the help, and I was able to escape.

At least, I suppose, I've got a story for those evenings with friends where you've had just a little too much wine and someone says, 'Let's all tell our Most Embarrassing Moment stories.'

And there was me, thinking my 'The Day the Toilet Roll Went Under the Cubicle Door and Landed at  a Lady's Feet' story had been my most embarrassing moment.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Reasons to look out of windows - a guest post by Deborah Jenkins

I promised you some Deborah Jenkins and here she is, guest posting for me about windows. Enjoy..........  

When you enter a strange room, what’s the first thing you do? Introduce yourself? Admire pictures?  Plump for the comfy chair? Perhaps you’re a circulator or you do a quick reccy of the room checking for exits and extinguisher positions in case of fire. Perhaps you sniff the air, appreciatively or otherwise, for signs of flowers or body odour. Perhaps you sidle. I like sidlers. I used to be one years ago. The art is to flatten yourself wafer thin against a wall and move, crab-like, towards the nibbles. If you are quick – small, jerky movements work best – no one will notice you, because they’ll be too busy admiring pictures, testing the sofa etc. And by the time they’ve finished, you’ll be sitting on a dining chair shovelling cheese straws for all you’re worth and they’ll mistake the smell for body odour and leave you alone…

Well, these days I don’t do any of that.  I go to the window. Because, infinitely more reassuring than chairs or people or even cheese straws, is sunshine or rain or a scrap of sky. There might be trees or a garden or a thread of vapour from a soaring plane. There might be cows, or a dog, or a woman on a bike or something to look at or admire. And best of all, there’s that pleasing reminder that while you’re having a drink/attending a talk/visiting a friend, the world outside is carrying on quietly without you and when you’ve finished, you just step outside and you’re part of it again…

When you think about it, windows are rather clever. You can be warm and dry and sofa-bound while being simultaneously aware of the weather or if there’s a cat in a tree. You can make animal-clouds. You can curl up in a square of sunshine. You can dream. You can look at the same view imagining you’re someone else – Anne Boleyn, Rod Stewart, the queen. I have pressed my nose against ancient glass and watched it steam and wondered who else’s breath has done this. I have sat in a castle on a wedge of stone as thick as a brick and looked through a grille at the sea below. Last night I gazed from the roof of my brother’s house to a sprinkle of lights on a hill. And I thought of the people under those lights and I felt glad, you know, that we were in this thing together under the same stretch of sky with the same slice of moon rocking up there in the darkness with no more than two panes of glass between us. Windows. Great, aren’t they?

There’s a couple of vibrantly clad African women who walk, or rather sway, down my road quite often. They walk slowly, shouting on phones or singing, or laughing to each other very loudly. Whenever I see them, usually from my bedroom window, it makes me smile. They seem to enjoy life so much although I get the impression they are not well-off. They are a splash of colour through glass.

There’s that phrase, isn’t there, When God closes a door, He opens a window. As if the opening and closing of doors is the serious business of life and windows are back-up. When we were little and visiting my grand-parents’ house, they were quite often at work and for some reason, instead of leaving a key they used to leave the toilet window open. We never used to worry about this much because we all knew the routine. My Dad would lift my brother onto his shoulders. Then my brother would squash himself into a small rectangle, and squeeze himself – toilet window shaped – through the opening, shimmy down the loo and run to open the door. To my knowIedge, my grand-parents were never burgled, which explains why I’ve never seen any photos of rectangular bodied thieves in the Didcot Gazette. I had forgotten all this until my brother reminded me recently. Actually it explains a lot about my brother.

So, inventor of windows (the Romans? Norsemen? (Certainly not Bill Gates but then I should have expected that, googling who invented windows?), we salute you! You have given us a way of keeping an eye on things. You draw some of us to you like magnets, so we don’t feel trapped. You give us glimpses of both past and future. And you remind us that however impassable life may seem, somewhere there’s a window waiting, even a toilet one, to take us safely to our destination.
What about the windows in your life?

And here's a link to one of my favourite posts of Deborah's, about stairs, among other things. She does this sort of thing very well. Stairs

Monday, 27 October 2014

Evidence that Fran does get the occasional invitation despite the risks

I don't get many invitations these days.  That's what happens when, at people's dinners and parties, you tell the same jokes again and again, like this one.

A customer goes into a fish and chip shop and says, 'Can I have a steak and kiddly pie, please?'

'A steak and kiddly pie?' says the shop assistant.  'Surely you mean steak and kidney?'

'But I said that, diddle I?' says the customer.

One of the reasons I love that joke is that I can use it to start off lessons about phonology (speech sounds).  It doesn't always work.  Often I say, 'Let me start the lesson by telling you this joke ..' and the students say, 'Is it the one about the steak and kiddly pie?' and I say, 'Oh, damn.  Have I already done that?' and they yawn and say, 'Yes, about fifty times.  Could you just teach us the lesson and then we can go?'

Anyway, having said I don't get many invitations, I did have one this week, and that was from an old friend and writing buddy Deborah Jenkins who writes beautiful prose on her blog StillWonderingHere.  She said could I be a guest blogger so I have sullied her lovely blog with a post about eyebrows and I suspect she didn't feel she could say, 'I was hoping for something more philosophical/thoughtful/useful.'

Here's the link  Fran on eyebrows

Watch out on my blog at some point for something from Deborah.  She writes like a dream as well as being funny and I know you'll like her.  Have a browse on her blog and see what I mean.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Evidence that one vowel can make all the difference to a fairy tile

Once upon a time, there was a big mix-up about vowels across the kingdom.  Hence, the not-so-well-known story of the three .....

One morning, the three beers were having breakfast.  Things weren't going well.  Yet again, Mother and Father Beer were perturbed.  'How come,' they said, 'we have a son who is exactly the same size as us?  What the hell happened to hierarchy?'

It was true.  Baby Beer, at the tender age of seven, was as tall and as wide as both parents.  When they went shopping, and Mother Beer met a friend, it was always awkward, introducing Baby Beer.  When she said, 'And this is my son,' her friends sniggered behind their hands, and patted the heads of their own diminutive offspring indulgently.

Every morning, the Beer parents awoke, hoping that in the night some miraculous process would have returned Baby Beer to a normal size.  They dressed him in age 7 pyjamas, even though it was a strain to get the buttons done up.  They put him in a child's bed, even though his froth hung over one end.  They read him bedtime stories such as Thumbelina and Flat Stanley.  They showed him films they thought would help, but when Baby Beer threw their well-played copy of 'Honey I Shrunk the Kids' against the wall and shouted 'Can't you just accept me as I am?' they wept in frustration.  For, no, they couldn't.

His parents visited the doctor to ask for help, but he took one look at Baby Beer, said to them, 'What ales you?' and collapsed into unkind mirth.  They walked out of his surgery with as much dignity as they could, considering they were unsophisticated alcoholic beverages in unprepossessing glasses bought from Asda, £3 for six.  

Each morning, whatever they did, Baby Beer awoke looking just the same.  'You ought to think yourselves lucky,' he yelled at his parents.  'I've been reading Kafka, and there's a chap who woke up as a giant beetle.  How would that go down when you took me down the High Street?'

One good thing about it all was that the disappointment of finding Baby Beer still the same size, day after day, distracted the Beer family from other minor issues such as burnt porridge, broken chairs, and, once, a blonde girl with pigtails they found sleeping in Baby Beer's bed.  None of this seemed significant, compared to the fact that, at parties, doting relatives were stuck for something to say to the child, the old fall-back of 'Haven't you grown?' seeming crass.

The only thing to do was to wait.   And wait.  And wait.

So they did, until Baby Beer was a teenager, and they could walk proudly into town, with Baby Beer's shoulders on the same level as theirs.  They no longer needed to worry that someone would point and say, 'Is he "lager" than you expected?', and hold their sides in amusement, thinking that they were the first person ever to make the joke.

That problem solved, though, meant that suddenly, what had seemed the minor issues .... disastrous breakfasts, destroyed furniture, and that little girl they found snoring beneath Baby Beer's duvet, took on more major significance.

But that's another story.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Evidence that, for one thing, Fran's going to leave litter where it is

Things I did this week that made me feel silly.


1.  A child at school barged through a door rather than holding it open for me, so that I had to stand aside, and I apologised and thanked him automatically.  

2. On my way to an A level class, I picked up three chocolate bar wrappers and a sandwich wrapper in a school corridor, intending to find the nearest bin, but then couldn't see one.  I arrived at my lesson clutching the sheaf of wrappers, looking as though I'd binged on fast food between the English Department and the Sixth Form Centre.  And I felt as guilty as if I had.

3. In bed one night this week, I dreamt about a giant wooden spider - imagine an arachnoid Trojan Horse, with elbow joints - and woke myself up yelling 'Aarrrggggh!'

4. I was on a train from London to Leamington Spa and an elegant* lady sat next to me, trim and fashionably-dressed.  I tried not to doze off, but I did, and woke with a sudden snort.  To her credit, she didn't move a muscle in response.

* How come elegant rhymes with elephant?

5. I told a joke to some people which didn't come out right, but they were really kind about it and laughed a lot, which made me feel worse.

6. I tried to take my first ever selfie with my mobile phone while I was on a train, but was so horrified by the image I saw, whatever angle I tried, that I decided against it, then accidentally took a photo of the back of a seat instead.

7. I got lost in London because I failed to see the Post Office Tower.