Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Evidence that Fran knows what to do when a loaf isn't rising

I had an O'level Domestic Science teacher in the 1970s called Mrs Gough.  She's one of the reasons I love cooking pastry, puddings and cakes, although she owes me about £596.00 in weekly fees to Slimming World and Weightwatchers as a result.

This was before Domestic Science, when you learned to cook real food, became Food Technology in which you learn to make a cake from cornflakes and melted chocolate, then write a year-long project for GCSE about its nutritional value and how you would market it.  

One day, Mrs Gough taught us to make bread, but because there were so many of us in the class, some had to put their loaves on the middle shelf.  Half-way through the cooking, I noticed that Pauline Brown's loaf, at the top of the oven, was rising triumphantly whereas mine, in the middle, was as flat as Norfolk.  I opened the oven and switched them over.  Pauline, if you're reading, I'm really sorry about your loaf, and while I'm here, I also apologise about the chocolate cake and the cheese souffle.

Pauline thought it was just as well she was predicted As in all her other subjects.

The other thing I remember about Mrs Gough was her lack of tact and it led to one of those 'wish-floor-would-open-up' moments that one always remembers and which still make your stomach flip with emotion.  (Serious 'miserable-childhood' moment coming up.  Fetch a Kleenex.)

I wasn't brought up in the kind of domestic environment that encouraged or taught basic cleanliness. Daily routines such as face-washing and teeth-cleaning were not established, let's just leave it at that.

Mrs Gough was responsible for teaching us Personal Hygiene.  I remember one day she addressed my class of 15 year old girls (the boys were segregated from us and sent to learn woodwork in preparation for their lives as postmen, store managers and bus drivers).  She said, 'Girls, why do we wash our faces in the mornings?'  I put my hand up and offered, 'To wash the dirt off, Miss?' and she said, her eyebrows raised in horror, 'Wash the dirt off?  Wash the dirt off?  One hopes one did that the night before!'  All the other girls laughed and I felt shame begin at my toes and make its insidious way up to the burning face which I hid behind my hands.

So, Mrs Gough did teach me how to make pastry that puffs like a dream around a pile of stewed apple and blackberry, but she also taught me never to make assumptions about the kids I teach and what their home lives are like.

Back to funny stuff before we all go and find razors.

The other incident I recall was during our O'level D.S. exam.  We were making soup, and one girl had chosen to do tomato, but when she put it in the liquidiser, the lid came off mid-whizz and the soup sprayed up and out of it at full pelt, splatting the walls and ceiling.  It looked like a scene from a Tarantino movie, and it nearly was one when Mrs Gough came over and saw the carnage, not helped by the maniacal screaming of the girl whose O'level in Soup was at risk.

My soup was fine.  This may have been because I switched my liquidiser for Pauline Brown's, but I honestly can't remember the details ...

Pauline wasn't sure how she'd started off with a delicate green pea soup recipe and ended up with this.  

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Evidence that interviewing an inanimate object is a worthwhile activity

You don't have to be 'a writer' to do this exercise.  You do, though, have to be prepared to discover some truths about yourself.  

1. Choose an object which is important to you (or to a character in a story you are writing).

2. Ask it these questions (or any others you devise) and write down its answers.  You may find the object unwilling to speak.  In this case (where's a chatty object when you need one?!!!) imagine what it would have said, and in what kind of voice.  

When did you first meet your owner?
What physical contact do you have with your owner?
Where are you kept?
How do you think your owner feels about you?
What do you think you represent for your owner?
In what ways are you like your owner?

I interviewed my teacher's planner, made notes on the replies, and then wrote these up in the planner's voice.  Here is the result.

The teacher's planner speaks.  

She hugs me to herself because she knows what would happen if she lost me.  I am her oracle, her Delphi, and her reassurance.  

When she was a trainee, in 2002-2003, she was given an unused 2001-2002 planner which just had 'Nigel Bates' scrawled inside the front cover, and she had to alter all the dates herself.  

The first time I met her, then, was in the summer holidays before she began her first proper teaching post, and she kept repeating, 'I have my own planner!  I have my own planner!'  She did not know I would represent, in the names of 190 children written in my registers at the back, and in the six yawning spaces per day yet to be filled with lessons, a job in which she would flounder like an unpractised swimmer in an irritable sea.

She is very like me, in some respects.  Her favourite colour is purple, and my cover is purple, and although I didn't get a choice over this, I'm willing to accept it in the light of her affection.  Some planners are beige and, although the idea of a teacher's planner hierarchy seems absurd, I do think purple wins over beige every time.  Not that you'd know that from the Paris fashion shows.

Also, like me, she has blank spaces.  She knows her memory is not what it was and, just as she finds the sight of my many unfilled spaces frightening on a Sunday evening, so she is afraid when a name wriggles out of her consciousness, or someone's birthday skitters by her before she can grasp it as she used to.  

Monday, 7 July 2014

Evidence that Fran is very pleased to have finished exam marking and can now go back to faffing about as usual

One of my favourite things to do is type random half-questions into the Google search bar and see what other people have been asking.

I said ONE of my favourite things.  Don't judge me.

Here's my first search today, and its results.  What happens if you ......

What happens if you .... swallow gum
What happens if you .... miss a pill
What happens if you .... don't eat
What happens if you .... eat weed
What happens if you ....drink on antibiotics

Here's a short matching game for you.  Don't get too excited - there are no prizes except, as I tell the kids at school, a deep sense of personal satisfaction and pride.  Match the question below to the people above.

Which person has a chest infection but also a vodka habit?
Which person is a teenager whose teacher spotted them chewing in a lesson?
Which person missed all the nutrition modules in their Human Biology lessons and is near death?
Which person has just eaten some very strange cookies?
Which person has fourteen children already and is worried that she is just about to have her fifteenth?

Now, my next search.  What's the best way to .....

What's the best way to .... kill ants
What's the best way to ....cook pork chops
What's the best way to .... buy a car
What's the best way to ....clean silver

Here's another matching game.  You know the drill now.

Which person has a mother-in-law coming round for dinner and feels she ought to display the wedding present that's been in a cupboard for months?
Which person left a jar of golden syrup out on the kitchen surface while on holiday for a fortnight?
Which person has just passed their driving test and is about to inflict themselves on the nation's roadways?
Which person infected someone with food poisoning the last time they cooked and found it ended an otherwise ideal relationship?

Allow me one more.  I am having such fun.  How do I know if .....

How do I know if ...... he loves me
How do I know if ...... she likes me
How do I know if ..... she loves me
How do I know if ..... my iPhone is unlocked

Only one question for you this time.

Study the above list carefully.  What do you learn about the two major obsessions affecting today's society?

Here's a song on the same theme.

A song to go with today's tasks.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Evidence that being in one's fifties gives rise to a range of anxieties

I have some questions about ageing.

1. If my lips get thinner as I age, and I started with thinnish lips in the first place, will they eventually disappear into my face so that people will stare at me and say, 'What a funny place to have a wrinkle!'?

2. If it's true that ears are the one thing that get bigger as you age, whereas everything else shrinks and shrivels, am I likely to be mistaken for a baby elephant while out shopping?

3. If there comes a day when I start to cut my toenails but then can't make my way back up, is there a way to eat and drink upside down?

4. If things are preserved by putting them in the fridge, would doing an hour's stint in there once a day keep me from ageing, if I could make enough space on the meat shelf?

5. If my sight is likely to get worse, is it worth having a regular place to put my spectacles at night, so that the day I wake up not being able to see them, I'll definitely know where they are?

6. If it's true that every woman who ages loses their eyesight and grows chin hairs simultaneously and therefore won't be able to see to pluck them out, is that not proof that the world is not a just one?

7. If people who are at least forty let me on the bus before them, even though they were first in the queue, am I allowed to slap them?

8. If I end up with dentures, would eating a toffee be an acceptable way to get myself out of a conversation with a bore?

9. If I did slap the person at the bus stop, and ended up in prison, would I get a concession for my age and be allowed to sleep on the bottom bunk?

10. If someone from the 'Help the Aged' charity knocks at my door, is it acceptable to say, 'I'll just take the money right now, thanks, in cash.'?

11. If memory problems result in arriving at parties slightly under-dressed, will people pretend not to notice?  

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Evidence that it's never too late to give old songs new life

Tonight I busied myself finding out what happens if you type one letter wrong in a Beatles song.  Voila! A nature theme emerges!

What do you mean, have I nothing useful to do?  I have PLENTY useful to do.  That is the point.

Hay Jude - a mournful ballad advising someone who's letting someone else get under their skin to take refuge in a barn.

All My Lowing - another farm-based tune in which cows pledge their undying commitment to other cows.

Nowhere Map - This song has a line that goes, 'Knows not where he's going to' and ends up with someone lost in a field because the Ordnance Survey people messed up and produced a blank.

Hay Tripper - the one-way ticket involved in this song is a ticket to the police cells after being found with illegal substances and as high as the Burj Khalifa during the harvesting.

With a little Kelp from my Friends - a happy little lyric all about someone whose social circle introduced them to natural homeopathic remedies.

Kelp! - the enthusiastic song promoting the homeopathic remedies sung by his social circle.

Happiness is a Farm Gun - this is a nostalgic ditty sung by those grieving the loss of the farmer's right to blast cheerfully away at anything that moved or nibbled at your cabbages.

Getting Butter all the Time - this song is a taunt, used to tease the newer dairy worker who doesn't quite know when to stop beating the cream.

Fixing a Mole - a nasty little tune about dealing with countryside pests, not a favourite song with the RSPCA.

The Beagles were excited about playing Glastonbury

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Evidence that dog hair, football and Daphne du Maurier have more in common than they thought

A strange man offered me a handful of his dog's fur this morning while I was walking to church.  Am I right in thinking you can't say the same happened to you?

I'd been watching him while I approached.  He was standing with his two young children, and had bent down to groom his big hairy dog with the palm of his hand.  I heard him saying, 'Look at all this moulting fur, boys.  Look at this.'  As I walked past the group, the dad obviously thought I was his wife (who was in fact walking behind me), so he stood up suddenly and thrust a large clump of fur right into my face, saying, 'Will you look at all that?'

It's only after the event, isn't it, that you think of all the things you could have said in reply?  I wished I'd said, 'I will, if you like, because I haven't had such a kind offer in ages' or 'No, thanks.  I've already had my dog fur fix for the day' or 'Only if you promise I can show you my treasury tag collection in return'.

But of course I said none of these.  Embarrassed, I did one of those very silly laughs that you make you feel ashamed afterwards for even daring to exist, and walked on.

The only redeeming factor was that, as I continued down the path, I could hear his wife and kids laughing like drains at his mistake and taking the mickey out of him good and proper.

For yet another year, Fido had won the 'Dog That Would Look Silliest with a Bald Patch' prize at the Dog Show

While we're talking about dogs, which have legs, let me, in a seamless link, mention last night's World Cup football, which was played by men, with legs.

Did any of you see the England v Italy match?  It didn't start until 11pm, so I sat up in bed, with my laptop on a chair beside me tuned to BBC1, and a pile of urgent marking on my lap.  I turned the sound down low on the game, started marking, and every time I heard the intonation of the commentator go up a notch ('He's running down the wing, and he's just passed it to Rooney, and Rooney's just passed it to Sturridge ...') then I glanced at the screen, and caught the good bits.

The good bit.

While we're talking about football, which has two Ls in it, let me, in a seamless link, tell you that you must read Daphne du Maurier's chilling story called 'The Lordly Ones' (the title of which also has two Ls in it).  It is haunting me, since I read it a few days ago, and stories that haunt you need to be recommended.  It's in a collection called 'The Breaking Point' which was apparently written when she was going through mental anguish.  And it shows.  The stories are harrowing but brilliant.

Let me know if you've read it.  What did you think?

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Evidence that Fran's definition of a piece of furniture may not fully match the dictionary's

I have 450 exam scripts to mark and have just done number 130.  That will tell you everything you need to know about why I am taking a break to write a blog post.

I thought I'd tell you about my desk, the one I've been using while I mark my scripts.

When I say the word 'desk', are you thinking along these lines?...

You were?

Don't worry.  It's not your fault.  You are a normal human being and have nothing to be afraid of.  It's my problem, not yours.

In our house, 'desk' means this.

As I said, it's not your fault.  Did any of you study Saussure and his ideas about the completely arbitrary link between the signifier and the signified?  If you did, you'll know why that's relevant to this blog post.  If you didn't, be grateful.  I found those lectures so confusing that my brain was like a knitting bag that's been ravaged by three cats.

This art book is what they call a 'coffee table' book.  Only, in the case of this one, it's not because it can go ON the coffee table, but because it is the size OF a coffee table.  And this is why I have been using it for years and years as my 'desk'.  It sits on my lap, I pile a teetering Leaning Tower of Marking on top of it, and off I go.  Tick, tick, tick.  Cross.  Tick, tick.  Cross.  Tick.  Cross, cross, cross.  Cross, cross, cross. "E grade.  Were you listening at ALL in this lesson?'

I also use the desk when I am teaching private pupils at home, which I do regularly, both of us sitting on the sofas in the living room.  I prefer teaching like this; they feel more grown-up, I think.  It takes them a while to get used to my unusual approach to furniture, but after a couple of lessons, when I say, 'Help yourself to the desk' they reach for the Art Book without a hint of the fear and doubt they experienced in Lesson 1.

Only one pupil took a few lessons to get used to the idea; at first, when I offered him the Art Book to put on his knees, he frowned and then shrugged before complying.  To be frank, I was surprised to find he asked for a second lesson.

I told this to a girl I'd been teaching for a couple of years - someone who'd been fully integrated into the Fran-Hill-way - and she said, 'He does go to quite a posh school, though, Fran.  Perhaps your shabby copy of Robert Cumming's Annotated Guide to Art with its torn cover isn't what he's used to leaning on when he writes up his essay about Faraday's law of induction.'

I thought that a little harsh.