Wednesday, 29 October 2014

On books, 'golf' and job interviews.

Sorry, it's been ages since I was last on here. I blame bookshops. I was just innocently browsing in Waterstones while The Husband was queueing in the bank, and a pile of books ganged up on me and forced me to buy them. Obviously, I had to start reading the second I got home. I try not to, but I always read new books at top speed. I do keep them, though, and give them a more thorough read a year or so later, during which they usually make a great deal more sense. Over the past few days, a zombie apocalypse led straight into the Trojan War, after which Lincoln Rhyme solved a few particularly puzzling murders in New York. And now I've got a reading headache and have to write an assignment. Sigh... Luckily, it's half term, so I've got a whole week in which to put off writing it.

The Husband is 'playing golf' today. I put that in inverted commas because he doesn't actually have a clue what he's doing. He's gone, with the rest of our village Cricket Club, on a golfing day. Which means there are a group of men standing on a golf course and saying, 'What the heck do I do with this?' and holding up all the regular golfers. And then they're having a meal at the golf club, for which The Husband was complaining that he had to wear a tie. Unsuccessful rootling through drawers led to him wondering why he'd agreed to go on 'this poxy thing, anyway', when he could have been wearing jeans, putting up fences and getting paid. 'Don't go, then,' I suggested, but he was enjoying his whingeing, so ignored me. To add to his pleasure, it's meant to rain heavily this afternoon. Son Number One was meant to be going, too, but suddenly became ill. Very suspicious. Very sensible. He's recovered now, thankfully, and is eating a huge lunch and watching the football on television. It must have been one of those short-lived viruses - you know, the sort that only last until your father's out the door.

And about Son Number One: after several years helping his father with the gardening business, he'd had enough verbal abuse and has been job-hunting. He saw an apprenticeship with the Forestry Commission (we live on the edge of Thetford Forest, for those who don't know me personally), and ended up on the short-list for an interview. When someone dropped out, he was asked to drive 150 miles to the Forestry Commission HQ, only to be interviewed by someone who lives five doors down from us. Son Number One said he was practising imaginary interview questions on the drive up there. The first question was actually 'How's your dad?' He wasn't expecting that one. Anyway, he got the job of Apprentice Forest Craftsman, and as there were over 800 applicants for 12 jobs, he's pretty proud of himself, and so he should be. He'll be an apprentice for two years, after which, he said without thought, he'll be able to branch out. 

And now it's time for lunch, so I must get food before the boys empty the cupboards (Son Number Two is currently hunting zombies). Having run out of books to read, I suppose I must then make a start on that assignment. Damn. Should have bought more books. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

I blame Stephen King (amongst others...)

I've not made a good start on my new Open Uni course. I should be typing an introductory email to my tutor, printing out articles from the OU library and generally being a model student, but I have been massively side-tracked by Stephen King. I have several books on creative writing, most of which I bought during my OU course on the subject, and they've been flicked through and never looked at again. Stephen King's book On Writing, however, is something different. I originally downloaded it on my Kindle, but have since realised that books win, hands down, so have re-bought it in its original format. I think a copy should be given to all of our year 6s (along with instructions not to read it out loud in front of their mothers). Extracts from the book should be laminated and stuck around the classroom; 'The road to hell is paved with adverbs,' being one of my favourites. And it's good to know I'm not alone when I invent characters and they run with the story, completely changing it and making it their own. I cannot write the story plans we lecture the children about. I did try, but my characters sat down, sulked, and told me that wasn't how they saw the story going, and didn't I know them at all?

Anyway, On Writing gave me a shove and said, 'Oi, you've not written anything in ages. Get on with it.' And 'getting on with it' suddenly became far more interesting and important than printing out articles on Gandhi. I must remind myself of this when I fail the course. 

Other distractions: we have a book day coming up at school, for which we have been instructed to dress as our favourite story character. As my favourite character is Door, from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, that means I would wear my normal stuff to school, so I had to think of something else. I put 'costumes, story characters' into Google. You'd have thought I'd typed something completely different, looking at some of the ideas that were suggested. Was that outfit for Little Red Riding Hood really suitable for traipsing through the woods? She'd have snagged those stockings on the brambles, surely? I could have been Rhiannon, from the Welsh legends in The Mabinogion, and after whom we named The Daughter, but that would take too much explaining to the school children. After ransacking the wardrobe, I've decided to be Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet, and the Merlin stories. In the children's eyes, I'll just be a sort of fairy, so I won't have to bore them with explanations. Someone had the idea that all of the staff could dress the same and we could do a real life Where's Wally? but I'd already ordered my wings and someone else was determined to come as a character from Frozen. Anyway, it should be a fun day with infants getting over-excited and very little work being done. 

And now that's sorted, it's nearly time for lunch, so there's no point starting to study just yet. I'll have a coffee and go back to Stephen King. He says that 'Books are a uniquely portable magic,' now there's a quote to go on the school library wall. Hmmm... some quotes on books and reading from famous authors... I must go and Google some... 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Husband + internet = trouble

I recently won a pile of children's books from the National Book Tokens website, and thought it only fair to pass them on to the children at school, so we started a story competition for the older class. I have spent the best part of the morning typing up one of the entries onto the school book blog. I have come to the conclusion that we really need to crack down on exclamation marks. I was determined not to edit the story I'd been given, but my fingers itched every time I finished a sentence. Exclamation marks! Everywhere! Everything was so exciting! Exclamation Marks Anonymous could be run as a lunchtime club, I thought. "Hi! I'm Laura! And I'm addicted to excessive punctuation!!"

Anyway, that's one story down, and another three to go. I'll leave the winning entry until last as it's seven sides of A4 paper in tiny writing, and will probably need breaking down into several blog posts. It's worth reading, though. The one rule was that the story had to be set in Australia, as that's where the book offered as a prize was set. Common themes were: koalas, incredible coincidences and magic portals. 

While I was busy typing, I was relieved to be interrupted by a knock on the door. It was two incredibly pretty girls who asked to speak to my husband. After hearing that he was not in, they said, "Only, he was on our website and ordered a Book of Mormon." Gobsmacked is a particularly unattractive word, but describes my reaction perfectly. Because they were nice people, and I didn't want to be rude, we ended up having a ten minute conversation, during which we discussed a mutual friend who was a Mormon, my mother's religion and a range of other things, all while I was working out how to kill my husband. 

The Husband is well-known within the family as being a real techno-phobe. It takes him a good half-hour to type a short email, and he still can't get his head around the spell-checker. The other day, he was trying to find out the timetable for a local pool league and ended up accidentally creating a facebook account. We have frequent cries of "What have I just done, here?" from the computer room, to which Son Number Two will sigh heavily and go and put things right.

Oh well, he'll have to sort this one out himself. He's been left a phone number for the lovely Mormon ladies, with instructions to contact them so they can either come and talk to him or cross him off their list. I'm going to make sure I listen in to that conversation. "Well, you see, I thought I was ordering some fence panels... " 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Another course, another breakdown

The OU website for my new course has just opened, so the first thing I've done is read the essay questions. Bad move - I don't think I have enough wine for this course. The first assignment is: 'What opportunities and challenges do the responses of devotees and detractors provide scholars for writing the histories of controversial figures?' And that's just part one. It has to be answered in 'no more than 1500 words', which isn't that many. Still, 'errmmmmm....' is definitely less than 1500 words. 

After a bit of a panic and mouthing bad words, I went to the student forum to see how many people were asking for their money back and doing media studies instead. A seasoned OUer had posted something along the lines of 'It's meant to be difficult. If it's easy, you're not learning anything. When you've finished the course, you'll have achieved something.' To which dozens of people (including me, now) have said 'Thanks, you're absolutely right, of course. I'll stop panicking.' 

And why am I looking up questions that I don't even have to answer until November? Yes, I have another assignment due. Its the end of module assignment (the sort of exam bit) of my counselling course. It doesn't actually look that difficult (but I'm typing that bit quietly, in case fate overhears), so I really should crack on with it and get the course out of the way. I have banned myself from reading the books from the RE course until the essay is finished, and that's quite a good incentive, as they look interesting. The problem is, I want to read the bits on the Apocalypse in book four, rather than 'controversial figures' in the first book.

Okay, then. A strong cup of coffee and I'll get writing.  

Friday, 5 September 2014

Looks like a good year ahead (she says...)

I like our new class. We have a good mix of interesting personalities and mischief. Two days down, and we have picked school council reps, class monitors and librarians. I have given myself the luxury of five librarians this year, one of whom is continuing from last year, knows the ropes and is happy to beat the others into shape. Badges, it seems, are very important. Offer a child a shiny new badge and they'll volunteer for anything. (Actually, I can understand that, and wouldn't say no to a 'librarian' badge, myself.) Hmm, I just looked through Google images to illustrate this post. Is that really how people see librarians?! I don't think I've ever looked over my glasses at anyone in quite that way.Why are librarians portrayed like that? Although I have to admit there is a guy in Waterstones who is appealing simply because he talks knowledgeably about Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss books. 

Anyway, on the subject of books, that leads me to the next on the list of things that make me happy:
It was fairly easy to pick my new librarians, as they were the ones whose letters (yes, they had to apply for the job) I identified with. One girl wrote how she would help to look after the library because books were special and could take you on adventures. Another told me that she liked people to recommend books to her - that it made her like reading the book even more if someone else had enjoyed it. 

Yes, I have a lot of books. Several thousand. We don't have wall-space for many pictures because there are bookshelves around every room. I've got books in the car for those 'hanging around waiting for someone' times - at the moment, they are The Crucible and Bravo Two Zero. I will try almost any book, unless it's about airheads shopping for shoes in New York, or anything to do with Mr Grey. 

I won a pile of books recently. They were advertised as children's books, and I thought I would read them before donating them to the school library. Then they arrived, and only two are suitable for school, the rest being 'unsuitable for younger readers.' So I'll have to keep those. What a shame. I'm reading The Last Policeman and Labyrinth at the moment, (putting off the reading on psychotherapy until it absolutely has to be done). 

And those books are calling me now, along with a new bottle of malt whisky. Cheers!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

But I don't want to go to school...

Day one of staff training, and the morning on child safeguarding brought back some pretty rubbish memories, so it's amazing, brilliant and wonderful to come on here and find out I've reached over ten thousand blog views. 10,333 to be precise. I cannot thank you enough for reading the garbage I regularly churn out. When I started this... goes to check... wow, exactly two years ago, (I wasn't expecting that) I got excited when I had two readers in one week, and I see that just yesterday I had 91 readers (and that's not dubious Russian websites, either). Thank you

So, yes, back to work today. The children join us on Thursday, so that's two days to remind me of the ratbags we've inherited this year before I spend the weekend binge-drinking. Actually, I'm looking forward to getting back to normal. I've missed the children and the busyness of the school - spending six hours a day reading is a luxury, but it does give me a headache and makes me fat (because I have to drink coffee and eat biscuits while I read), so I need to get back to work.

I have decided to take a leaf out of The Daughter's book. She's been doing a thing called 100 Happy Days, and posting her photos on Facebook. I've seen pictures of concerts she's been to, her cosy bed which is festooned with fairy lights, Cornish beaches and cups of coffee. It's a nice idea, and makes me realise that I tend to bypass the nice things and whinge about the irritations. 
And so - the first pictures of things/people that make me happy, starting with my children. (I will include The Husband on here when I find a photo he approves of...).   

The Daughter, obviously the most gorgeous girl in the
world, here with her boyfriend who is nice
enough to be included with these people who make me happy. 
Son Number One. Cricketer and owner of
many pairs of sunglasses. 

Son Number Two. Guitar-player and generally
laid-back guy.

So that's my first example of what makes me happy. Not sure if I'll be able to think of a hundred things without getting boring, but at least I've shared the most important one. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Phone phrustrations

I have finally been dragged into this century, phone-wise. Not only do I now own a smart phone, I have it on contract (I just heard the thud as The Daughter passed out). My old phone - second hand from one of the children, as it turns out most parents' phones are - finally gave up the ghost last week. Thankfully, we had a load of old mobiles which we were going to put into the next charity bag through the letterbox, so I dug one of those out and made do with it, although the black flip phone made me look like a Star Trek extra.

Yesterday, we went into town and I got the cheapest contract I could find (no, I don't need 500 do-dahs of internet access, thank you. How many calls do I make a week? Maybe three a month... But unlimited texts would be handy so I can answer the texts of everyone else on unlimited texts, instead of having to text, 'Sorry, have only got 15p of credit left.') The shop girl was good at disguising her sympathy for this poor, friendless customer, and kindly showed me the way round the mini-computer it seemed I was buying. 

Unlike The Husband, I do read instructions, and spent several hours last night working out exactly what my new phone could do. I accidentally phoned a couple of Facebook friends in the process, but I've now got a list of contacts, and have changed the boring screen-saver to the old Calvin and Hobbes one from my old phone. 

If you find a phone with this screen-saver
and less than 20 contacts, it's mine...

The problem I have been wrestling with all morning is the ringtone. The ones on the phone are mixture of bleeps and electronic burbles which, when heard, make everyone in the vicinity look at each other and say, 'Is that me?'. For the last rather-a-lot-of-years, I have had The Cure's song 'Friday I'm in Love' as my ringtone, and have got so used to it that, even when I hear it on a cd, I still reach for my phone. The children are so familiar with it that they shout, 'Phone! Oh, it's the radio, never mind...' So I would probably never answer my phone (to all those people who never call me) if I had anything different. That being the case, I have spent over three hours trying to find a way of downloading the song onto my phone and turning it into my ringtone. Sad, I know, but I have finally done it. Son Number One would be proud. He gets more than a little frustrated when The Husband, feeling instructions are way, way beneath him, keeps asking how to do things. We get role reversal, with the child berating the adult for not even trying and giving up too easily. 

Anyway, I'm getting used to the phone, and can now join the throngs of people who sit in pubs and ignore each other. I can check the weather rather than looking out of the window, see what stupid photos people want me to share on Facebook, and talk about apps with the best of them. 

And now I must continue with my assignment. I have written half and done it in record time, with my case study showing that my friend really needs therapy before she drives herself and everyone else quite mad. Although... it is lunchtime. And the house is empty because everyone's gone to a football match. So, lunch and a couple of episodes of House first, then I'll carry on with the essay. Possibly.  

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Plymouth and playing with money

'Plymouth: graphic novel nerds, monopoly and posing in sunglasses.' 

The final bit in my little scribbly notebook, this was the wander around the... (is Plymouth a city?... Google tells me it is - thank goodness for the internet, making up for my lack of general knowledge) city that took place between the train journeys mentioned a few days ago. 

I rather like Plymouth, and it's on the shortlist for places to retire to, not that The Husband knows anything about this. The list also includes Truro (with apologies to The Daughter who will now probably make plans to move), the Lake District and Glastonbury, but depends on a decent sized lottery win, because obviously I want a large house with a farmhouse kitchen and library. Anyway, Plymouth is a good shopping centre, not that I do shopping on the scale of, say, Ms Fab. While The Daughter went and bought shares in Primark, I dragged the rest of the family into a large book shop. Son Number One and The Husband joined the ranks of bored men on a squashy sofa while Son Number Two and I browsed books. 

I am increasingly intrigued by graphic novels, which are, I suppose, just an acceptable way for adults to read comics. Everyone browsing in that section was male and looked to be under 30, so I gingerly approached the shelves, expecting to be told I was too old to be there (similar to the way I feel when I go in Topshop). The thing was, where to start? I'm not into Marvel superheroes, and everything seemed to be part of a series. So I had another wander around the shop, and found a Walking Dead monopoly. The Sons had a thing about monopolies a few years ago - we have a French game, a Star Wars version, World Cup 2006, even a surfing monopoly - but Walking Dead monopoly?? The Husband watches it on tv, but I stopped after the first series. The story was good, but I hated the sound effects, which were like someone sticking a pitchfork into a watermelon. But it did remind me that the story started life as a graphic novel, so I now have the first eight books all in one volume, which, after a day of non-stop reading and a massive headache, has made me itch to get the next one. 

While The Husband tried to find something in Fat Face to spend a gift voucher on, Son Number One complained about the prices of shirts, and spent £25 on a pair of sunglasses instead. When it was pointed out that they were the same as the pair he already had, he corrected us and said that the lenses were a bit darker. I think that now makes him the owner of six pairs of sunglasses, including ones with weird orange lenses that he wears for cricket and make him look like a strange insect. 

You can never have too many pairs of sunglasses

And that was it from my holiday notebook. 

Today, Son Number One (that's him in the photo) has just come back from meeting a friend in Doncaster, and Son Number Two should be setting up his tent at the Reading Festival. It's the first year he's been, and I am being a Worried Mother. I know he's with friends, and I know he's no idiot, but I am looking forward to seeing him again on Monday. I don't care if he smells or has lost his rucksack, just as long as doesn't miss the bus home and we have to drive 150 miles to get him. 

Meanwhile, The Husband is watching The Great British Bake Off, and I have an assignment to write. It's more of a creative writing exercise, because we have to make up a case study and say what approach we'd use to counsel this poor person. I have based mine on someone I know (don't worry, it's not you). I'm actually really enjoying this course, mainly because I'm getting good marks, that always helps. I have promised myself I will finish my essay by the time Son Number Two gets home, but that still gives me time for a little procrastinating. I saw a video of someone doing that thing where they roll a coin through their fingers and, for an unknown reason, thought 'I want to do that.' But first I had to find a half dollar, because apparently that's the best coin to use. Digging through a drawer, I found one (like you do) - a 1964 Kennedy half dollar, no less. And now comes hours of me irritating the family by constantly dropping coins. 

Oh well, anything to get out of studying. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Five are fairly well behaved in Cornwall

I am trying to make sense of the notes I scribbled in a tiny notebook whilst on holiday in Cornwall just over a week ago:

'Lizard: church on beach, cliffs, seals, rain, cows in field, death statistics.'

This relates to when we drove to the most southerly point of mainland Britain, Lizard Point. Despite having visited Cornwall several times - as a child, then when The Husband's mother lived there, and now that The Daughter's there - I had never been to Lizard Point. On the way there, we stopped at Gunwalloe cove, which is one of The Daughter's favourites (it's rather handy knowing a 'local'). 

Son Number Two and The Daughter 
at Gunwalloe Cove, trying to prove me wrong
when I said the tide was going out

Right next to this was the tiny church called The Church of the Storms, which regularly has to have stone piled behind it so it doesn't disappear into the sea. After a clamber on the rocks, we continued to The Lizard, where we took a steep path down to the little beach, from where we could make out seals bobbing about by the rocks. 

At Lizard Point

We then followed a cliff-top path, just a foot or two from huge drops into the sea. We saw some gorgeous little beaches, but there was no way to get down to them, although I'm sure the boys were itching to try. They have a thing about climbing on the rocks which I'm sure is going to cause me an early death, if not them. 

No, you can't go down there...

A sudden rain storm caused an abrupt about-turn, and we followed a footpath which led through a field and headed towards the car-park. There was plenty of evidence of cows, and as we rounded a corner, there they were. I immediately thought of the statistics that Son Number Two had read out to us recently, of deaths caused by particular animals. Okay, so most were the expected - tigers, sharks, snakes and so on - but I was sure that cows had been included in there somewhere. I do like cows, but from the other side of the fence, not when thirty of them all stop eating and stare at you (it reminded me of a time we'd been to a pub in a neighbouring village). 'Actually, they're not cows,' The Daughter told me, as we got closer. 'They're young bulls.' Oh, even better. Still, we kept going, doing our best to look inoffensive and vegetarian. We made it back to the car safely, just drenched, and steamed up the car as we sat in traffic jams back to Truro. It's amazing how many ways you can put your life on the line just going for a walk by the sea...

'Truro: sweet shop and seagull net.' 

Truro has a proper sweet shop - the sort that you try to walk past, but can't. The sort that has everyone saying, 'I've not had one of those in years.' I only went in to keep the Sons company and to have a nose around, but came out with a bagful of Reese's peanut butter cups, which I'd not had in... gosh... days. The good thing about those is that no-one, apart from The Daughter, likes them, so I don't have to share. Poor Son Number Two and his Rosy Apples, though - they didn't last long. We met up with The Daughter plus Boyfriend, who showed us to a rather nice eatery, where we sat outside because it was so warm (at the time. We later moved indoors to avoid the wind and confuse the waiter.). The outdoor seating area had a big net over it to stop the seagulls stealing your dinner. (Seagulls are, I think, the main reason my mother hasn't been to Cornwall for a long time.) Think pterodactyl and... umm, that's it really. Just don't eat chips when you're out in the open. And keep tight hold of small children. 

Herring gull. Don't make eye contact. 

'Falmouth: park and float.'

We're used to catching the park and ride into towns, but Falmouth had a park and float - you park the car and catch a ferry that takes you up the River Fal and into the town. And that was about it for Falmouth - it wasn't as nice as I'd remembered from a few years back. 

Next time:

'Plymouth: graphic novel nerds, monopoly and posing in sunglasses.' 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Truro to Plymouth and back again

Okay, so this actually happened a week ago, while we were in Cornwall. I had a need to write things, so bought a notebook and got scribbling during the train journey...

Standing waiting for a train at Plymouth station, I have an urge to push a man off the platform. Not just because he's wearing the most awful flowery shorts I've ever seen, but probably for the same reason I want to push people into the sea when they sit on the edge of a quay. (Not that I've actually done this, you understand, I just have to take a step away in case I'm tempted.) Something similar was mentioned in the staff room a while ago, but while it seems I'm the only one drawn to murder, the others went for the suicide option. One woman admitted she's afraid she's going to throw herself off bridges when she walks across them; another felt the urge to jump in front of tube trains (so next time your train's delayed, it could be because of our school secretary.). My Grandmother used to deliberately move away from the edge of bridges because 'water draws you, dear.' Son Number Two found out there's a name for this bizarre urge: high place phenomenon. Anyway, Mr Flowery Shorts tuned into my thoughts and moved away from the edge of the platform, so that was my fun spoiled. 

We've just had a day in Plymouth, mooching around the shops, and took the train because it was actually cheaper than driving and parking. Our tickets came with reserved seats, and I was a bit further down the carriage than the rest of the family on the way there. I volunteered for that as I don't tend to do conversation whilst travelling - I'd rather gaze out of the window and listen to my slightly suspect inner monologue. As I stared out of the window, I realised I could see the reflection of the woman sitting in front of me, who was facing my way. We had an embarrassing amount of eye-meets during the journey as I looked out at hill-side golf courses and fields full of cows. I had nothing to do but watch things (I'd forgotten to bring a book), while Window Woman was busy drinking coffee (two sugars), eating chocolate (half a bar, such restraint) and rubbing cuticle cream into her fingers. 


I'm really not very good when it comes to train travel, I suppose I don't do it enough. For a start, I always have to be on time for everything, and when I say 'on time', I mean fifteen minutes early. So I start to get nervous jitters half an hour before the train's due - when everyone else is calmly sitting there drinking coffee, I'm looking around saying, 'Do you think we should be going?' In Truro, I embarrassingly tried to feed my train ticket into the wrong machine while the rest of the family, and assorted station staff, watched me. 'Did you not see the big red cross over that machine?' asked Son Number One. Obviously not. 

Waiting for the return train, there were various announcements telling us the train would be delayed by six, then eight, then ten minutes (I didn't know Mrs Secretary was down this way), which resulted in mass confusion when it appeared within thirty seconds. 

And now we're on our way back, on an overcrowded train for which we again, thankfully, have reserved seats. We did have to fight for those seats, though. Well, the rest of the family did. I'm far too English - I'd have stood up for the hour and a half journey to avoid saying, 'Excuse me, but....' In the event, I just stood there and lamely said, 'Ummm....', but she got the message and I got my seat. I am sitting next to Son Number Two for this journey, but he is plugged into his iPod, so I am free to write and be antisocial. I am trying not to be nosy, but I do like to people-watch. There is a little girl further up the carriage - I can't see her, but she keeps loudly asking if we're nearly there yet, which is making everyone smile (apart from her parents, I imagine). 

I am very disappointed that the train is so quiet (and I am not inviting comments about my age and steam trains here). When I was a child, my Yorkshire Grandad told me that trains said 'travelling far... travelling far...' and they don't do that any more. It not nearly as exciting just hearing newspaper pages turning. And it means that people talk more quietly, so I can't listen to their conversations. There's just been an announcement that the next stop is Truro, so I will pack up in a panic in case I don't have time to get off, and end up in Penzance.