Saturday, 27 June 2015

Dress stress

It's the Brother in law's funeral this Wednesday, and I had no idea there was so much to organise. Prior to this, the only family funerals I've been involved in were those of my grandparents, and my parents had done everything, including the 'Which pub holds a good wake?' stuff. The Grandparents' funerals had been Christian, and there had been prayers and hymns to choose, whereas the Brother in law's is not religious, and the choice of songs and readings has been incredibly difficult. The Husband comes from a pretty complicated family, and there was a period of about twenty years when he didn't even know where his brother lived, so he's been trying to piece together enough information from friends and colleagues to put together a eulogy. 

Anyway, it's all pretty much sorted now. I just have some shirts to iron and we're ready. Last weekend was spent shopping for smart clothes; The Husband's suit-trousers had mysteriously shrunk around the waistband while they'd been hanging in his wardrobe, so needed replacing; Son Number Two had to have new shoes, as the only time he ever needs smart shoes, he steals his brother's; and I needed a dress. Son Number One was already sorted, as he's the most fashion-conscious and smartest dressed of us all, but he still decided he needed yet another pair of sunglasses and a t-shirt with a picture of New York on the front (not for the funeral, I must add). 

I do not enjoy clothes shopping. I get very impatient and huffy and am rather a 'that'll do' shopper, but decided that, for this occasion, it was no good buying something from the dregs of the sale-rail. I had spent several hours on the internet, looking up 'black dresses' in the hope that I wouldn't even have to enter a real clothes shop, but as I scrolled through the offerings, it dawned on me that no-one seems to make clothes that I like. I flicked through photos of skinny 18-year-olds wearing things under the heading of 'black dresses', but found nothing: 'Slutty, slutty, horrible, too expensive, slutty, oh that's nice - no, it's backless, slutty, vile, seriously - who would wear that? slutty, dammit, I can't find anything'. I couldn't find anything suitable amongst my work clothes either, so there was no alternative but to actually go to real shops. I went on my own, because I didn't think it fair to inflict my impending bad-temper on my loved-ones. Thankfully, I found something without indulging in too much stress or violence. It's a black and white spotty dress, with a black cardigan. It covers my knickers and is not see-through, so has the advantage over the offers on the internet. I also had to buy proper shoes, because you can't wear a classy dress with Doc Martens. Well, you can, but not at a funeral (I will when it becomes a work dress, needless to say).

I now get it when bereaved people say they need to get the funeral over with before they can carry on with their own lives. We, but especially The Husband, have been preparing for this since the Brother in law's terminal cancer was diagnosed back in March. Our Silver Wedding anniversary passed a couple of weeks ago, with an exchange of cards but without the weekend away that we'd promised ourselves. Sons One and Two have celebrated their 21st and 18th birthdays with kind of muted congratulations because we're all funeralled-out. And we don't have a summer holiday to look forward to because we knew all this was imminent and have been unable to book anything. Sorry, that all sounds very self-pitying, but we are all feeling quite shattered by the past year's events. My father's prostate cancer (now thankfully treated) was followed by the Father in law's stroke and eventual death, and now this. I know shit happens, but a break would be nice. I am just extremely thankful for good friends. I've had hugs when things have been tough, good-natured abuse when tears threatened, and bottles of wine brought to the door. On the other hand, some people have obviously not known what to say, and so have totally blanked me instead. Cheers for that. 

So, enough of the self-pity. (I was trying to find another word for 'self-pity' because I've already used it once. Urban dictionary says that 'emo' and 'Arthur Dent' are related words, which reminds me: I've not read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for ages. We should make it compulsory reading in Year 6 because they never get my, 'Here I am, brain the size of a planet...' jokes. So sad. (Me, that is, not them.))

Tomorrow, it's meant to be good weather - a cause of great celebration here in England. The Sons are visiting The Daughter in Cornwall (Am I jealous? You bet.) and The Husband is not playing cricket, so we may actually be able to go out. I'm hoping we can go to Southwold, but I have to plant the thought in The Husband's head and make him think it was his idea. Obviously, he will also have to decide to visit the Adnams brewery shop, too. If I can't have a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, then a pint of Broadside will have to do...

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Stop summoning demons and get on with your maths

It's taken nearly a week for me to cotton on to the lack of pencils in our classroom, but it seems it can all be explained by the craze of Charlie Charlie. I had noticed some children playing about with pencils, but assumed it was the usual stuff they get up to when their attention drifts. Then, a couple of afternoons ago, one Year 6 boy came up to me, white in the face, and told me that he was never coming back to school again 'because the demon thing really works and our classroom is haunted'. 'Okaaaaay,' I replied, and they explained the Charlie Charlie thing to me. Basically, if you're extremely gullible, don't know how gravity works, and have forgotten all you ever learnt about science, you cross two pencils over, ask them questions, and they get possessed by a demon which answers your questions. (I'm thinking this must be a very lesser type of demon. The sort that get relegated to possessing pencils, and will never inspire a 'based on a true story' type of movie.)

As the boy who had got the jitters was one of our more intelligent students, I was a bit startled that he had been so easily taken in, but then an unrelated conversation in the staffroom had an adult confessing that she thought Ouija boards really worked, so what hope was there? Anyway, I thought I'd managed to sort out the boy's fears, when Ms Fab said she'd had to ban the class from playing the Charlie Charlie game yesterday lunch time, as they were all getting a bit silly and she was worried someone might tell the infants about it (like they did with the Bloody Mary game a year or so ago, which made an infant so frightened to go to the bathroom, in case she saw something in the mirror, that we had a furious mother storming into school). As we were having a bit of a 'finishing off / freetime' session, I stopped the class, told them, in the nicest possible way (I hope) to stop being pathetic, and we discussed the science behind the pencil-spinning. 'But a priest was on the news and says it's dangerous,' The Boy Formerly Thought of as Clever told me. I wasn't sure whether to believe that or not but, yes, I've now read it on the internet, so it must be true: a Catholic priest has warned students that they are opening themselves up to demonic activity. Sigh. More science lessons needed. 

(By the way, I am aware that a few of my recent posts may come across as bashing religion. That's not my intent: I have friends with a range of religious beliefs and they're all very nice people. However, people who use their religions as an excuse to be an arse are in for a bashing.)

During our class discussion, a more enlightened boy said exactly what I had wanted to: 'So, basically, we know it's not haunted and the people who carry on doing it are being stupid attention-seekers because it's a load of crap.' 'Yes, exactly,' I told him, and then remembered that I needed to add, 'but please don't use that word at school.' 

And on the subject of weird stuff, we went to see Derren Brown's stage show 'Miracle' in Norwich last week. Amazing, brilliant, and his book Tricks of the Mind explains just how Ouija boards and the like are 'a load of crap' (to quote my favourite student of the moment). 

Monday, 1 June 2015

On books, families and burning in hell

The final assignment has been submitted for my course 'Why is religion controversial?' and I'm rather sad to see it go (I'm sure my tutor will be even more sorry to see it appear in his inbox). It's definitely been my favourite course, tipping Children's Literature off the top spot. It tied in perfectly with our class RE topic of 'Does following a religion make you a better person?' (to which the answer from the whole class was 'Nope') and I can now irritate my family hugely by explaining, at great and unnecessary length, any religion-related item in the news. I'm hoping for a distinction for the assignment, as it means I'll get a first class honours degree instead of a 2:1, but I'm also trying to kid myself that I don't really mind either way. The Open Uni website tells me I should get my results by 17th July. I thought it was June. Damn. An extra month of pretending not to care. 

I've registered for my final course, which starts in October, and is Advanced Creative Writing. There's no reading list, for which The Husband gives thanks as past text books have been rather pricey at times. However, a past student has recommended that I 'read as much, and as widely, as possible before the course starts.' Oh well, if I must. We've just had a week off for half term, so after dashing off my assignment, I got down to the more serious business of catching up with my reading. I've just finished The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, which is a rather odd book which I've had on my 'to be read' shelf since 2001. I've started it half a dozen times, but now was obviously the right time to read it, as I managed to stick with it. It's about a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered inhabited planet (yes, yes, I know), but it was the bit on the blurb: 'They went for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm,' which made me buy it. It's good. In a kind of weird way. Anyway, I'm now reading the sequel, Children of God, having sandwiched the second compendium of The Walking Dead in between the two. 

Family-wise, the Brother in Law is getting worse and can now barely hear, is falling down a lot, and is not expected to live for very much longer. We have disgraced ourselves, in the eyes of The Husband's cousin, by not making this poor man repent of his sins, and have thus, apparently, condemned his soul to burn in the pits of hell for all eternity. I'm afraid this brings out my inner teenager, as I just want to sigh, 'Yeah, right...' and roll my eyes. Religion is controversial, indeed. The Mother in Law (who is, I suppose, proof that hell does exist) has phoned and made it clear that she has little interest in her son's death, and does not want to know when he dies, as she has no intention of attending his funeral. This, in contrast, brings out my inner Jewish Mother, as I want to rush round hugging my children, and tell them that no-one can possibly love them as much as I do. There's no point arguing with the Mother in Law. She is always right, other people don't know what they're talking about, end of. So we don't argue. We just laugh rather wickedly when she's put the phone down.

I don't see any of us going to heaven, personally. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

You can take your Bible and... try reading it

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my brother in law was in hospital with, we all assumed, a recurrence of his old problem of hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain). A scan informed us that the problem this time was a very aggressive form of brain cancer. So, since the beginning of April, he's not actually been back home. He's been moved from hospital to hospice, and is now almost completely deaf, getting increasingly confused, and has weeks left to live. 

The Husband is visiting him every evening that he can, taking the pressure off by playing cricket at the weekends and working hard. The rest of us are taking it in turns to accompany him. Despite the bleakness of it all, there are funny moments: The Brother in Law is on steroids, which are making him very hungry - if you turn up for a visit without a bag from KFC or McDonald's, you're sent on your way. When The Husband appeared empty-handed once, and pointed out that collecting a KFC order would take twenty minutes, leaving little time for visiting, he was told that food was more important, and not to forget a milkshake. (The Brother in Law is on the autistic spectrum, so doesn't tend to sugar-coat things...). 

It was all very hard to deal with, at the beginning. One of the main problems was that he hadn't made a will. Being unmarried, with no children, the lack of a will would mean everything he had spent his life working incredibly hard for would go to his mother. I haven't really mentioned the Mother in Law on here. Mainly because I ticked a box, when creating the blog, that said it was suitable for general viewing and would have no adult content. Therefore, the amount of Bad Words I'm allowed to use is limited. Suffice to say, on the morning of our wedding, she smiled sweetly at me and the Almost Husband, and told us that she gave us six months at the most. I have stuck it 25 years just to spite her. She has used and put-down every one of her children (sorry, that makes it sound like she has hundreds - there are three), and is honestly the most poisonous person I have ever known. So, anyway, the Brother in Law has made it very clear in the past that no money was ever to go her way but, without a will, there was no other way. The hospital consultant had told us that it would do the poor guy no good to know that he was dying (although someone thoughtlessly told him anyway), so we were kind of stuck. Not that we wanted his money, you understand. We just wanted it to go to someone or an organisation of his choice. 

That's now sorted, but it was a very stressful time, because it was all new to us, and we wanted the best for him. I had to hurry out of a school assembly during that time as the children were singing 'One more step along the world I go,' and it got to the chorus of: '... and it's from the old I travel to the new...' and I had to leave the hall. It was totally my own fault. In the years since I've taken creative writing courses, I tend to observe situations and think of how I'd write about them. When the children started singing, my writing brain thought: if I was doing a screenplay, I'd have a funeral scene, with background music of primary school children singing this song. And, dammit, that was it. I had to go and be consoled by The Boss Lady. I really must stop being pathetic. 

And now we're kind of getting as used to the situation as we can. We can see the humour in him bumming cigarettes off the nurses and threatening to hitchhike home when the man in the opposite bed annoys him. But, boy, did we get angry last night... The Husband phoned his cousin, just to update him on things. It was explained that the Brother in Law kind of knows he's dying, but has hope, and wants his job kept open for him, just in case. The Cousin said that it should be made clear to him that he's dying. That he should have a Bible taken in and have Psalm 23 read to him, so he can repent of all his sins and relax in the knowledge that he'll go to heaven. The Husband was remarkably restrained (Brother in Law doesn't believe in God, by the way) and said it would be an incredibly cruel thing to do. 'Everyone should have the chance to repent of their sins,' was the answer. 'Even those who are part of ISIS and behead people need the chance to repent.' We were told that we should at least leave a Bible by his bed, in case he needed it. 'Do we even have a Bible?' The Husband asked me, when he'd calmed down. 'Several,' I replied. 'Plus a Qur'an and other holy books.' We both got the same mischievous look in our eyes then, but decided that placing a Qur'an next to the bed when The Cousin visited might be a step too far. 

I have no objection to religion, but when it's used in cruel or hurtful ways, or just to make yourself feel good at the expense of others, then you can keep it. On the other hand, I know good Christians who know I don't believe, but show their kindheartedness and thoughtfulness in ways that are not shoving their religion in my face. 'I know you don't believe in such stuff,' one told me a while back, 'but I'm praying for you anyway.' To which my answer was, 'Thank you, I appreciate that you care.' 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Trial by child, and the perils of honesty

Over the past couple of weeks, the school council has been getting ready to interrogate interview prospective candidates for our Head of School job. (Forget the British elections, this was far more important.) We had whittled down over a hundred questions suggested by class councils to just twelve. Our school council Chair and Secretary had liaised with their counterparts from our partner school, and final questions had been thrashed out and agreed upon. Sadly, questions such as 'Do you knit?' had been jettisoned, but ones about super-hero powers and embarrassing moments had been approved. 

On the day of the interviews, I was to accompany our panel of four children to our partner school and sit in on the questioning, which was great because I'm very nosy. After a tour of a rather lovely little village school (opposite a nice pub - just as well I don't work there), we met up with everyone involved in the interview process and had to stand in a circle and introduce ourselves. My worst nightmare was made easier by the fact that one of our children was suddenly struck with nerves, grabbed my skirt and whispered that he didn't realise he would have to speak in front of 'all these adults'. 'Me neither,' I muttered back, but we both got through it without making idiots of ourselves. 

Various members of staff (including The Boss Lady) have told me that it's far more nerve-wracking to be interviewed by children than by adults. I can sympathise. This year, surprisingly, the question 'Can you tell us a good joke?' wasn't chosen, but that would dry me up on the spot. Especially because, after the interviews, when the children and I pick everyone to pieces, they usually say 'Well, her joke was rubbish, so I don't think I'd vote for her...'. This year, we went round the council for each child's opinions. Things such as smiling, making the children feel involved, being honest, were not particularly valued by some children: 'He had cool socks,' was top of the list from one boy. 

On the way back to our school, our four children filled my car with biscuit crumbs and discussed the candidates. I pretended I wasn't listening, (for some reason, children think you can't hear them if you're driving) so I was privy to all sorts of amusing and frighteningly honest things. 

And my vote for Head of School? Well, that went to a girl on the other school council - for a year 4, she seemed to have the world sussed, and I bet she could tell a good joke. 

All in all, it was an interesting day, and one to be repeated on Tuesday when we're interviewing for two new teachers.

I know the contribution from the school council for this sort of thing is probably not taken terribly seriously by the adult panel, but it's nice that they're allowed to get involved. And, despite the focus on good jokes and cool socks, the children give very honest and carefully thought out opinions. 

I do find children far easier to get along with than some adults simply because they are so honest. How many adults are going to tell me, 'Did you know you say "Okay, guys, can you all quieten down?" at the start of every single lesson?' I've obviously become Mrs Predictable, but at least they're warning me. I have also appreciated being told that a certain skirt becomes practically see-through when I stand in front of the classroom projector (that's one I can only wear on Thursdays, now). We had a teacher whose dress had such a split up the back that you could see her knickers when she bent over, but did any adult have the guts to tell her? She wore it for weeks while we all nudged each other saying 'You tell her'. Wear that in front of the infants, and they'd tell you within seconds that your knickers were a pretty colour. 

Anyway, here's wishing Tuesday's victims the best of luck. May you come through unscathed. (And remember the cool socks - it's a big plus point.)

Saturday, 18 April 2015

You know you're getting old when...

We had a job-lot of eye tests a fortnight ago, leaving The Husband, Son Number Two and me needing new glasses. (The bank account will take a while to recover.) I collected my new glasses today. Having worn reading glasses for a couple of years, these progressive lenses feel rather different. I've read up on how long it should take me to get used to them. The consensus seems to be between a couple of hours and six months, and that I should count myself lucky if I've not fallen down the stairs by the end of today. Some forums also warn of the danger of reversing your car into concrete pillars, but I've always been pretty good at doing that - I don't think a change of prescription will make a great deal of difference in the driving department, much to The Husband's dismay. So now I'm doing a neck workout, trying to find the right position for having an unblurry computer screen. The optician fitting my glasses this morning was very patient when I explained that I couldn't get any of her page of writing into focus. 'Move your head, not your eyes,' she said, but a lifetime of reading by moving my eyes (how the heck do you read without moving your eyes??) made that next to impossible. Anyway, seven hours later, I kind of get it. You have to point your face to where you want to look, which makes observing misbehaving school-children while pretending that you're not watching them pretty much a non-starter. 

I think the worst thing about the whole experience was the amount of money I had to part with. I used to quite enjoy choosing new glasses; I tended to head for the expensive section (because they're nicer. Come on, I have to wear these things every day.), and then spent ages trying on different shapes and colours and grading them out of ten, depending how much they made me look like my grandmother. But not for these ones. Apparently, for progressive lenses (I'm deliberately not calling them varifocals, because then I'm officially old), you have to look at the price of the frames and then add £110. Because The Husband looked close to tears already, I headed for the cheaper end of the offerings. 'These will do,' I sighed, ungratefully, after trying on one pair, 'even though they've got pink bits.' And then I complained about them all the way home. I really must stop behaving like a toddler, but it's difficult. 

And while we're on the age thing:

While I was taking down a display in the corridor the other day, The Boss Lady appeared, showing two girls around the school. Maybe they want to come here for work experience, I thought. Because I'm nosy, I went to ask Mrs Secretary (She Who Knows All) who the girls were. 'They're candidates for the teaching jobs,' she explained. When I just stared at her, she added, 'Yes, I know,' and we both sighed heavily. They looked like they should have been in school, not teaching it. Since when have they let fourteen-year-olds into teaching? Then she pointed out that one of the girls was the same age as my daughter, and I realised that The Daughter is now 24 and I'm a lot older than I sometimes think. It'll be odd, having to work with someone who's a similar age to my children. Should we get some fizzy drinks in for break times? Are they ready for the problems caused by primary school students: snotty faces and toilet troubles at one end of the school, and Boy Band adoration and hormones at the other? I discussed the problem of age with Auntie Mo, another teaching assistant. 'We may not be young, but at least we've got wisdom on our side,' we decided. And then we quickly changed the subject because we weren't actually too sure about that.    

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Funeral blues (and other depressing colours)

Yesterday was the Father-in-law's funeral. He died nearly a month ago, but apparently the Lincoln cremation service has a bit of a backlog. So we dug out the smart clothes and took what has to be the ugliest route in the UK, past garish transport cafes festooned with Union flags and signs the size of buses offering burgers for a pound. 

The Father-in-law had left no will, and because of the nature of his death (nine months after a stroke which left him unable to communicate) we had no idea of his wishes for his funeral, so he had a fairly generic do. It was something we discussed at a family meal afterwards: make sure you leave a list of do's and don'ts (and, yes, I had to look up the use of apostrophes in that phrase, as it just didn't look right). Anyway, wishes ranged from 'chuck me in a ditch somewhere' (the sister-in-law's husband) to detailed burial instructions, complete with particular hymns. Personally, I have changed my mind from cremation to a woodland burial. Just in case you're involved, I'd like a wicker coffin (or a cardboard one that everyone can scribble messages on) and to be buried at the woodland site just outside Bury St Edmunds, and have a hawthorn planted over me. That way, I can join the food chain and live forever. No-one is to wear black - I'd like all my hundreds of mourners to wear bright colours. I've not decided on songs: shall we go with something straight to the point, with 'Dead' by My Chemical Romance, or a sing-along version of 'Always look on the bright side of life'? Certainly, everyone will go to the pub afterwards (The Dog and Partridge, I think) and bring up embarrassing family stories. And then everyone will go home saying, 'That was nice, wasn't it?' rather than being sad. Either that, or a New Orleans-style jazz funeral, but that may be a bit pricey. 

I know it's a Holi celebration, but let's do this, too. 
(Although they may not let you in the pub afterwards.)

So now you know. I just thought it was rather sad that no-one knew what the Father-in-law wanted. I know some people don't like to discuss 'that sort of thing', but as it's going to happen to us all, why the heck not?

I suppose the one good thing to have come out of all this, is that I've got to know my sister-in-law and her husband better. They may only live a couple of hours away, but we've never really been in touch that much. And I met one of The Husband's cousins yesterday. A great guy, despite being a UK Independence Party supporter, he was the sort with whom you could have long rambling conversations about religion and politics, without it getting violent. I find it very difficult to relax with people when I've only just met them (in other words, I'm an unsociable cow), but he was someone I could spend several hours down the pub with, putting the world to rights. A bit like Ms Fab and Mrs GSOH, who I've not mentioned for ages, but who have kept me going recently. Because the brother-in-law's problem, with fluid on the brain, could potentially be something a lot worse. He had a brain scan, with a view to putting in a shunt to drain all the rubbish away, but they found something that shouldn't be there. We (and the doctors) don't know quite what it is yet, but he's in hospital and going to have surgery imminently. Families, aye?

Anyway, I should be researching why it's necessary for scholars to take account of conflicting and contested perspectives when studying religious practices, but I think I'll head off to YouTube to look at funeral songs. I'm thinking a bit of Dolly Parton might be good? 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

He who would cross the Bridge of Death...

We have a field at the back of our house, separated from our garden by a stream. The field seems to be the stamping ground for every neighbourhood cat. Almost every house along our row has a plank going from their garden to the field but, typically, the right cats never use the right bridges. There was obviously some cat function going on this morning. From my kitchen window, I could see five of them, secretly watching each other, then doing that slow walk which they think makes them invisible to other cats. Then one cat sat on the end of our bridge. Panic and confusion all round, as they all suddenly wanted to cross the bridge, but without getting beaten-up. I imagined a kind of cat Holy Grail situation: 'Tell me, young Scroggins, what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?' 

Our biggest cat, Merlin, has recently started bringing home young rabbits from the field. The first one was alive; he was carrying it like a kitten and it hung from his jaws without protest until we persuaded Merlin to let it go. But the next two didn't fare so well. He brought them both home and dumped them by the back door. There's nothing that puts you off your breakfast as much as a cat ripping the innards out of a rabbit, I can tell you. 

A cat we had a few years ago used to be an expert rat-catcher. When my daughter was ill and drowsing on our sofa-bad, the cat came in and gently laid a dead rat next to her pillow. He really didn't understand the commotion it caused. Such a generous act, so cruelly scorned....

Looking for a picture for this post, I found the one above, which reminded me of when we moved a cupboard from our kitchen (someone had given us a big bookshelf, and no-one argues with me over bookshelves...). We recovered numerous biros, bits of screwed-up foil, pilfered Halloween sweets, a highlighter we'd been looking for for ages, a felt mouse and a pad of post-its. One Christmas, I'd been given some bits and pieces by the school-children, and I decided to save a Lindt chocolate teddy for the next day. When I came downstairs in the morning, it was lying on the floor with cat teeth-marks in it. Merlin didn't like chocolate, it was just sitting there and had to be destroyed. My fault for leaving it in the open, I know, but... grrrrrrr!

(This post was meant to be about honesty, but that'll have to wait for another day. Yet again, the cats have taken over something that was not meant to be theirs.)

Friday, 13 March 2015

Would you rather...?

Family crises, a school trip, a non-uniform day and a week that seemed to be a fortnight long - and no alcohol in the house. I may be British, but tea does not do the job. 

The Father-in-law, you may remember, had a serious stroke last June. After breaking into his house, we got him to hospital, but he made no improvement and so was moved to a nursing home in Lincoln (where The Sister-in-law lives). He's been unable to speak, eat or move much for nearly nine months; despite having been wonderfully cared for by the staff at the nursing home, he's in pain. Now things are finally coming to an end and I hope he's soon at peace. This is the second family member who has had to 'live' and suffer after a bad stroke; I hope the Assisted Dying Bill gets passed before long, as the thought of having no control over the end of my life is frightening. My children know my thoughts on the matter, and I think they're practical and caring enough to know when to pull the plug on me. 

At the same time the Father-in-law had his stroke, the Brother-in-law was having a scary time with hydrocephalus. He was falling over, walking miles at crazy hours of the night and was almost sectioned by an incompetent doctor who thought he was mentally ill. And now the problem's coming back. Thankfully, he's recognised the symptoms and is booked in at Addenbrookes hospital to have a shunt inserted in his brain. 

So that's the family stuff. But as if that wasn't enough to turn me into an alcoholic, we had a school trip this week. (Actually, having no alcohol in the house may be a good thing, but how the heck am I meant to get my assignment written?) It was only a half-day trip, to a child-safety... umm... thing. Held in a rather gorgeous manor house, which will be mine when I have written my best-seller, there were activities provided by the police, fire-services, St John ambulance etc. As ever, the worst part was the bus journey. I was asked by a girl without a partner if I would sit with her, which I did. Big mistake. After a bit of polite conversation, I found myself listening in to a game the children called 'Would you rather...?' It started off innocently enough. Would you rather go shopping with your mum or have extra homework? Then we got to would you rather eat a rat or lick a pig's nose? By the end of the journey, it was would you rather kiss a particular boy or jump off a high building? (To which the answer was, 'No offence, and I do like you, but I'd rather die.') Obviously, for the return journey, I elected to sit on my own and read a book. 

Today, everyone wore red to school, for Comic Relief. We started the day with a talent show (I use the word 'talent' very loosely here, although there were good moments). For the rest of the day, the children were sky-high, just like the staff stress-levels. Our last lesson was on creating blogs. The eldest class were given access to a 'behind the scenes' level on the school website, where they could start blogs on any subject that interested them. Last week, I'd shown them how I edit and generally mess about with the school book blog, and they thought of things they'd like to blog about. Cars, caring for rabbits, horse-riding and fashion were all popular. One boy wanted to write about how to get a girlfriend, but thankfully changed his mind and is now writing about Minecraft. A couple of children had to be told by Ms Fab, 'No, you can't write about that creepy computer game that you play even though you're nowhere near being 16.' 

All school staff have agreed - it's been a long week. 

So, tell me: would you rather take a coach-full of year 5s on a school trip or be cast into the pits of hell? Oh, hang on, that's kind of the same thing... 

Monday, 9 March 2015

A thank you

I work at a Church of England school, but we do have a couple of Jehovah's Witness children in the eldest class. They don't take part in our school assemblies, so the teaching assistants take turns in supervising them during these periods. 

The boys have started to have their own mini 'meetings' during these assembly times, complete with songs, Bible readings and question times, and they always make the TA with them feel very much a part of things. I have to admit that, although I'm not a Christian in any shape or form, I hugely enjoy sharing their worship time. And it's funny really, because I absolutely hate our Monday school assemblies - they're very 'everybody stand up and do actions' and I will do anything to get out of them (and I know I'm not the only one. It's uncanny how many people suddenly find jobs that must be taken care of immediately.).

The meetings that our JWs have are more my idea of religious meetings: let's listen to a story, then ask questions, and take turns in talking and discussing things. No clapping and air-guitars; it's peaceful and thoughtful and something I don't mind being a part of. And one thing that impresses me greatly, is that these boys (who can be... lively... in class) are showing such a different side of themselves. They're only 10 and 11, but when I didn't quite understand what a Bible story was getting at, and I thought dammit, I'll give them a chance to laugh at me, they didn't do that at all. They took the time to give me a considered answer and thanked me for being interested. And I am interested. I think that religion, in all its different shapes, is fascinating. They know that I'm not trying to have a go at them when I ask about their lives as Jehovah's Witnesses and I've basically been told 'ask us anything'. Which is great. I can show my utter ignorance and they revel in educating me. It's brilliant role reversal. 

I have to say those boys know their Bible inside out. When answering my question this morning of why they call God 'Jehovah', they were able to go straight to verses that explained it. And, probably because they're children, they're doing it with very little agenda, just an enjoyment of sharing what's important to them. 

I think we could all do with seeing what other people do. What's the point of 'I'm right, so I'm not even going to consider your view'? Surely life is far more interesting if it's more 'I have my beliefs (or not), but I'd like to hear your opinion, too.' (Ever since reading Notes From an Exhibition, by Patrick Gale, I've wanted to go to a Quaker meeting, but haven't had the courage.)

So, I think I've learnt a lot from two boys who are usually expected to learn things from me. And that's another thing: so many adults think they know better than children. Couldn't we all do with opening our minds a bit more?

Thanks, boys, for including me in your worship time. I know where I'm going to be spending my Monday assembly times from now on.