Wednesday, 27 February 2013

School Council Shock

Infant stages take-over bid and demands weapons

We have a Prime Minister in the making. It was the first school council meeting of the term, and the very first one the youngest children sent representatives for (they're often overwhelmed by the older ones and sit there in a panic-stricken silence). Up for discussion was how to spend a sum of money to benefit all pupils in the school. They had talked about planting flowers to make the school prettier. They had asked about new break-time equipment, and whether we could have class pets. 'Any other ideas?' I asked. One of the youngest infants stood up, hushed everyone with a gesture and dramatically intoned: 'Nerf guns. For everyone,' then sat down again. The secretary looked at me in a panicky 'do-I-minute-this?' sort of way. There was silence from everybody. I think they were shocked that this Little Guy had had the guts to stand up and ask for such a thing. Forget flowers and all that rubbish - the Little Guy wanted to have some fun and wasn't afraid to put it to the school council. (I was all for putting it to the Boss Lady, but only if staff could be similarly armed. Little Guy did agree to that...). Sadly, the idea was shelved by other council members and a vote was called for. 'I'll be the counter!' said Little Guy, leaping up, and carefully counted the eight hands that were up for prettifying the school. 'That's twelve,' he announced. The secretary looked at me sideways. 'Twelve,' I confirmed, in an eight sort of way. 
The sad thing was, we all left the meeting with great visions in our heads of a school Nerf-gun war. We'd have been picking up foam darts from the field for days afterwards. 

So, if you see news stories of a Little Guy in a dinosaur jacket marching on Downing Street, you know you read it here first... I know I'd vote for him. 

Monday, 25 February 2013

Not my idea of beauty

I recently read a newspaper article on how a mother paid huge sums of money on plastic surgery for her then teenage daughters, so they could look more like Jennifer Lopez (apologies for it being from the Daily Mail...). These girls are now not happy with how they look. Maybe I'm getting a bit past it, but why do so many already lovely girls feel the need to become someone else? There are magazines full of identical 'celebrities' who have all gone for the big lips/fake tan/plastic boobs look, and I feel incredibly sad when I overhear year 5 and 6 girls talking about how wonderful they are. A couple of years ago, we did a topic on 'Inspirational People', and some of the girls said they looked up to someone I won't name, but who used to be a 'glamour' model. They wanted to 'look like her and be famous'. I could have cried. Why do 10 year olds see these women as role models? And if that's the modern idea of beauty, then how sad. 

What happened to glamour (in the old-fashioned sense of the word)? 

What happened to (cliché alert!) making the most of what you've got? 
What impression does it give, if your role model is a topless model? I've been told by someone who wishes to remain nameless (for fear of violent reprisals) that he believes the bigger a woman's boobs are, the smaller her brain. (Just to let you know, this person is twice divorced, and deservedly so. He now lives on his own, surviving on microwave meals for one.) Going along with this theory, I'll have you know that I appear incredibly brainy. 

I do admit to using a similar theory when it comes to men's appearances, though. (Not boob-wise, obviously.) Because it's not just women who want to artificially 'improve' themselves. I think that obsessively going to the gym every day really does not improve the look of a man. Well-muscled men always give me the impression they're going to be incredibly boring (I apologise if you're a nicely-toned deeply intelligent guy...).

I'd prefer someone with a sense of humour
 and a spark of intelligence. 

And now, having insulted half of the western world, I'll bid you goodnight...

Friday, 22 February 2013

Hoping for a bad result

I'm awaiting the marks for my creative writing assignment - the one with the chopped-up sentences that loosely called itself a 'poem'. Usually I hope for a good mark; often I settle for an average one. My latest children's literature was 68, which I feel is rather bleah, but was 9 up on the one before, which was extremely ugh. For my poetry, I sort of want a bad result. If I get a decent one, it will make a mockery of my other decent ones for that course. I worked very hard on past creative writing assignments, and feel the marks were earned, but poetry was different. I didn't read the chapters in the workbook, to start with. Well, actually, that's a lie - I did flick through and read the subheadings. I already knew that poetry was something I would be bad at. I know people say you don't know until you've tried, but surely you must want to try for that to work?

So now I'm wearing out the refresh button on the keyboard, hoping to see my score of...umm...about 47? Just enough so my tutor can acknowledge my use of the English language and basic punctuation. 

On a more alarming subject (more alarming than my poetry? How can that be possible?), I was looking through my blog stats earlier, and noticed referrals from, erm, (how to phrase this?) somewhat suspect sites (blush). In a flurry of panic that these sites had somehow downloaded things onto my computer (I am not computer savvy), I googled the problem, and found this rather wonderful blog entry that explains everything. I'm glad I found it, as the blog itself is great, and is about to be added to the ever expanding list to the right of this page, under the title of 'Blogroll'. Do help yourself to any of those blogs, by the way. Some are by fellow OU students doing creative writing, others are there because they're funny, insightful or just a joy to read. 

And now I must go and refresh my results page...again...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Keeping my promise

Whenever I go into my local Waterstones, I like to browse the children's section. Not just because I'm studying children's literature; I've always thought that books for children and 'young adults' (what a horrible phrase) are written with more imagination than those intended for an adult audience. I am annoyed by, and feel sorry for, those readers who think children's books are beneath them. If I had been a book snob, I would have missed The Hunger Games (which is so much better than the film), The Graveyard Book, and The Book Thief. I would not have a book called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I bought because I needed to see that title on my bookshelf. I owned two copies of The Hounds of the Morrigan because one had been read so much, it had fallen apart. I say owned, because The Daughter remembered the story so fondly that she took a copy back to Cornwall with her. I like it when that happens - certain stories from your own childhood fill you with so much magic, you always want to own a copy. 

Anyway, several months ago, I was browsing in Waterstones when the man who runs the children's department came over for a chat and to recommend some books I might like. He told me to give Wonder, by R J Palacio a try, and said it was the best children's book he'd read for a long time. He then sold it to me very cheaply, on the condition that I'd read it and recommend it to others.

Different covers, but the same story.

I put it on my 'to read' pile, got stuck into my studies and forgot all about it, until Ms Fab mentioned that she'd just read it herself. When I finish an assignment, I reward myself by reading a non-study book, so I read it. I started when I got up this morning (late-ish, as it's half term), and have just finished it. It should, in my opinion, be read and discussed by every year 6 class everywhere. If you haven't read it, it's a simply-written story of a 10 year old boy with an incredibly bad facial deformity. Up until now, he's been home-schooled, but now he starts school and is exposed to the real world. What stayed with me, was a line from J M Barrie's The Little White Bird, which was quoted by the school's headmaster: 'Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?' 

Ok, forget the year 6's - maybe everyone should read it...

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Decision made! (For real, this time....I think.)

Isn't it a nice feeling, when you know what you're doing? I don't get it very often, so I'm sure you'll excuse me while I revel in it. Over the past couple of weeks, various people have offered me some very good advice. They may not have realised it was advice at the time, but that's how I've taken it, and it's been enormously helpful. Please bear with me while I explain how I've changed my mind about my studying yet again....Yes, yes, I know, sorry....

Because I'm just doing a degree to stop my brain atrophying, I've been having a problem choosing my next course. I've got two more courses to do (three, if I can work it without the OU rapping me over the knuckles for doing too many credits). I've been choosing courses because they look enjoyable, as I had no specific target in mind other than 'I like Humanities'. You will know from my blog address that I'm not the best person at making up my mind, so my attention has wandered from myths via literature to religion and back again. I really need to decide by March, when I can register and reserve a place on a course. 

A colleague told me that I should do what I like doing - an obvious little piece of advice, really, but one that I rarely consider, as I feel selfish when I do things just for me (she added that life's too short not to, but I'm hoping I've got a few years left in me yet). I like writing. You know I'd like to try my hand at Na-No-Wri-Mo when I have a few spare minutes and I think that's where the next course choices will come from. So, I'm going to do one on English Grammar, then a linguistics course. Hopefully, those combined with the Creative Writing will turn me into a better writer, making less fewer mistakes. They'll help to give me knowledge I can use, rather than just enabling me to talk intelligently about picture books. 

I know those particular courses are meant to be pretty difficult, but I don't mind if I can see a result from them. And I'm sure you'll be grateful to see some sort of sense coming into these blog entries. 

So now I can look forward to a fun-packed two years. The first course, I've just discovered, will have to be linguistics, simply because it starts earliest. I'm being told that: 'In exploring creativity across a range of genres and social contexts, this course provides a lively introduction to stylistic, sociolinguistic and multimodal analysis. It draws on work in literature and performance studies as well as English language studies.' Should I be worried that I have to look some of those words up? I had wanted to do the grammar one first, thinking that would be useful and help with linguistics. But that doesn't start until next February. (I'm so sorry, this post is turning into a big ponder and is probably incredibly boring to read. I do apologise.) Shall I give myself 7 months off? I'm now eyeing the big pile of books that are waiting for my spare time. It's tempting. Damn it, I've worked hard enough. Grammar first, then linguistics.

Never have I made so many decisions in such a short space of time. Never have I put off so many readers. (And now I'm asking myself whether that should be 'as many'?). I'm sure someone will let me know....

Thursday, 14 February 2013


I thought I was in for a nice break after the latest Children's Lit assignment, as we're now studying picture books. 'How difficult can that be?' I stupidly asked myself, looking forward to learning about Beatrix Potter and Anthony Browne. I then stumbled upon the following paragraph in my study guide:

'This book mocks the grand narratives of modernism and its utopian dreams of progress through its depiction of a rusting and obsolete post-industrial urban space, and by ironically playing with logic and utilising pastiche as the dominant style of artistic expression. The represented urban space and its inhabitants are nameless, and repetition and sameness of architecture and human form eschew identity, diversity and cultural difference.'

After reading this, I gave the intelligent response of 'Ay?' What someone called Mallan meant, when he or she wrote it in 2005, was that it's a book about a robot-type thing that wanders about and gets lost. Now, I know I wrote an earlier post on how I like people who are intelligent, but this is different. I learnt very little from the above paragraph except that the author probably likes using a thesaurus. 

Flicking through other relevant chapters, I've read that space, in picture books, has been 'redefined and manipulated into five dimensions'. I don't do science, but that strikes me as being a bit tricky. I only just understood Son-Number-Two's maths on 3D co-ordinates, and now I have to consider two more dimensions? Perhaps I need to watch more Doctor Who.... 

Also, there is, apparently, a huge difference between picture books and picturebooks, apart from me feeling the need to say one more quickly than the other. (One of them is also disliked by my spell-checker.) I can feel an imminent head-meeting-the-table moment. 

I'm being told that picture books  picturebooks  books with pictures are incredibly complicated because, in order to use them, you have to realise that a drawing of a person is not, in fact, a real person, but an illustration. So, what do these lecturers think two-year-olds are doing when they scribble on a bit of paper? That toddlers really believe they can create life with a crayon? It seems to me that an awful lot of people are getting away with writing teaching materials that are utter bollocks. 

What a shame I can't get away with the same in my assignments....

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Dwelling in dreams (whilst not forgetting to live...)

I read a magazine article recently about dreams. Not the usual stuff where they pretend they know what your dreams mean, but about how the way that people dream is changing. They seem to think it's all to do with television. Apparently, before colour tv, most people dreamt in black and white, but now most dream in colour. I think this is complete rubbish. Does this mean that before tv, nobody had dreams at all? My cats dream, but they don't watch much television - they get twitchy legs and make little noises, so they're probably off in someone wonderful world where they can beat up next-door's cat and pee on whatever carpet they want. 

The article said that many people have silent dreams, so that surely disproves their original idea anyway; or is that referring to the many people who obviously watch television with the sound muted? I've spoken to loads of people, and they all dream in colour, with sound. (Actually, I just mentioned it in passing to Ms Fab, when we should have been discussing maths plans, but that was enough proof for me.) I dream every night, and usually remember what happened. A couple of nights ago, I dreamt I'd had a baby which I left on the floor and forgot to feed for a few days - that was weird and probably signifies something I'd rather not know about.

In dreams, I've lived in the rainforest in a hut made of money-spiders. I've had a dog killed by chimpanzees (I hate chimps, they scare me), I've climbed to the moon on a tower of scaffolding, and I've died twice. Stairs are a recurring theme - in all sorts of houses. When I've been stupid enough to consult a dream dictionary, I'm told it means I'm 'confident and moving up in the world.' I disagree. I don't think I'm ever confident in anything I do, and I feel I'm stagnating, not moving up. 

I think that dreams may be handy for writing, though. I read a wonderful book called The World House, by Guy Adams, which is like a long, strange dream. It's about a box which contains a door into a house. In that house, one room may contain a forest, another a ship on a sea; the library holds books of everyone's lives and are gradually being eaten away. It's bizarre, but brilliant. I would love to write something like that. 

I really want to do Na-No-Wri-Mo in November, but don't think I have the discipline to write fifty thousand words in a month, and do an OU course at the same time. Something else to add to the list of 'When I Finish Studying.'

Sunday, 10 February 2013


The assignment has been sent, and I've now had too much wine to type correctly, so that's it really....

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Slowly getting there

I've spent nearly six hours on the Children's Literature assignment, and have started writing a load of rubbish. Well, I hope I've only just started writing rubbish.... I have twelve pages of notes which need putting into some sort of order and typing up. I need to improve on my last Children's Lit score, which was a miserable 59 (after being in the 70's for the previous two). I tell myself I'll be happy with a score over 60 for anything, which may have been true a year ago, but not any more. Stupid, because a year ago I was doing level one courses and am now on level three. 

Even though I'll miss the learning, I'm kind of looking forward to the degree getting finished. I don't even really know why I'm doing it. If it's just to prove my old teachers wrong, then it's a bloody hard and expensive way of doing it. Over £3500 into it, and I've still got two years to go. Or am I just tired and in the wrong mood to be thinking about it?

Another problem is I'm now doubting some things we're supposed to be teaching the children. Literacy lessons are being spent learning endlessly about adjectives and adverbs, and yet, in Creative Writing, we're told to try not to use them. Every book on writing says, 'Stop using adverbs! Less adjectives! Write what you mean and stop being lazy!' and yet at school it's: 'Put in more adjectives! Where's your description?' And then there's reading: 'Quick! How many books can you get through in a month? Why are you still on that level?' rather than actually discussing and enjoying books. I just get the feeling that lots of things they're being taught are going to have to be unlearned in later life. I also get the feeling I'm being a bit of a miserable cow today. Sorry. I will make an effort to cheer up and be optimistic.

Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.  Of course, then your eyeballs will boil and your lungs explode from decompression.  But that's what you get for being a damn showoff.

So, in my mood of optimism and sunshine, why am I doing this degree? I think what it actually boils down to, is that I hate Eastenders. It's on almost every night and the husband and Son-Number-Two both watch it. It's too loud and too depressing and I don't want to be in the same room as the programme in case I accidentally watch a bit and get sucked in. In fact, I don't watch an awful lot of tv at all. So, instead, I shut myself into a little room and read stuff. If I'm going to be reading anyway, I may as well learn things at the same time. 

And when the degree finishes? No idea. But definitely, definitely, no teaching. The more I have to take the class, the less I want to teach. When I take the class for any length of time, I find myself coming out with things I promised myself I'd never say. All those things that children take the mickey out of: 'You're wasting your own time now,' or 'You're really letting yourself down.' Those things that make me want to go and shoot myself because I'm turning into a Boring and Horrible Person. I love working with the children, but I think teaching would make me hate them (and myself). 

I'll probably just carry on doing what I'm doing, but I'll be blogging more, while using less adverbs. (She typed, thoughtfully.)

Friday, 8 February 2013

Excuse me, your ignorance is showing

I help to referee at a lunchtime philosophy club, and was asking the children if they could think of any questions to discuss in future sessions. One they came up with was, 'Should children be made to go to school?' In my opinion, yes, they should. There's no excusing ignorance, especially when you can do something about it. It amazes me that huge amounts of people seem to have no curiosity about anything at all. I'm lost if I'm not finding out things. If I don't know something, I need to find out answers. I even found out the answer to the practice/practise problem, you'll be relieved to know (and here, I need to duck, cringe and apologise. I did mean it nicely. You know who you are....)

Something that really bugs me (yes, sorry, it's going to be one of those posts) is the sort of person who pretends to be stupid, thinking it makes them look cute and feminine (because it's almost always a woman, letting the side down). You know the sort: 'Me? Oh, it's no good asking me! I'm so silly!' Usually accompanied by fluttering eyelashes and giggling. Those women need a slap. 


I don't get how these women think ignorance is attractive. Or is it? Maybe I've got it all wrong. I find knowledge rather appealing, myself. It certainly comes before looks in my book. I was watching a programme called Wonders of Life the other day, presented by Prof. Brian Cox. Now, I've seen photos of him and not thought a lot, but when he was talking about hydrogen atoms and how much energy there is in a waterfall, well, you could have knocked me down with a physicist; he went straight to number 2 on The List. (You know what The List is, I bet you've got one.) He's not overtaken Steve Backshall, as it takes a lot to beat someone who abseils into extinct volcanoes and finds a new species, but there's time - I've only seen the first programme in the series. 

Intelligent men make up the majority of The List. I had to retire David Attenborough - although I don't believe age is important, that was getting silly. Chris Packham made it into single figures when he got emotional about polar bears on an iceberg, and taught me how Canadian forests depend on salmon being in the rivers. I think that's it - I like people who can teach me things. Apart from maths; quadratic equations will never be sexy. 

So, to get back to the original question: yes, children should be forced to go to school, or else there will be no clever people, and nobody left to fancy. Case closed. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Tempus fugit and all that...

You know I should be writing an assignment when I'm on here two days in a row...

I was looking ahead at my courses this afternoon, and realised that they both finish in May. I thought it was July, so that means I'll have four lovely months when I can read what I want and not have to refer to Freud. My spell-checker butted in again there, and asked if I meant 'fraud'? It comes to the same thing, I think. I am so sick of children's books being totally wrecked by what seems to me to be over-analysis and a huge reliance on things having hidden agendas. (Sorry, that was a very long sentence to not have commas.) Peter Rabbit is about death, Treasure Island is about castration, and everything else is about sex or how you really fancy your dad, but didn't know it. 


Harry Potter has been criticized for not having a girl as a main character, I've read. Isn't this just adults reading children's books and trying to find fault? Children just read the story, don't they? And surely we should just be grateful that some authors get more children reading books. Would all those boys who love Harry Potter have read it if it featured Harriet instead? 

Son-Number-One loved the story of Peter Rabbit so much when he was little that I got to know it off by heart. I believe the first line is, 'Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.' Not bad going, considering I last read it to him about 14 years ago. Not once did he ever tell me off for reading it, saying, 'Mother, read me a less violent book. Enough with rabbit pies.' Mind you, he is, at this moment, blowing up soldiers on his playstation, so maybe there's a point there somewhere. 

Perhaps my next course is not such a good choice, considering I'll have to read of Oedipus, and all the strange things that Zeus turned himself into in order to have his way with pretty ladies. What kind of stupid woman lets herself be seduced a swan - what was going on there? 

Anyway, I must go and do something vaguely connected to studying. Drinking coffee, for example. It wakes the brain up and will help me think creatively. Or a glass of wine and a bit of rubbish on tv, which will help me to relax and let ideas flow. Yes, let the wine flow. I mean, the ideas....

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Stop bugging me

My grandmother used to tell me that cold winters were good because they killed viruses and stopped you getting ill. Well, they missed the one that the children kindly shared with me this week. I actually stopped eating for a day, that's how bad I felt. Feeling guilty at having a couple of days off work, I tried to study but, after reading the same chapter of Harry Potter three times and still not understanding a word, I gave it up as a bad job and went to bed instead. We have lots of poorly people at school at the moment. If it's not making them achy and tired, it's giving them horrible colds with coughs like sea-lions. Staff are usually fairly immune to bugs, but not this time. I returned to work to find others suffering, including Mr Chaos. 

Now, I do want to point out here that his name is not meant in a bad way at all. I realise that chaos could be seen as being a mad jumble, but I meant it as being unpredictable (as drummed into me by my science teacher). I like unpredictability, so I'm using it as a compliment here. People who are organised and efficient tend to scare me a bit. They probably have very tidy houses and slip a plate under your biscuit in case you drop crumbs all over the carpet. Efficient people have tick-lists and know where their keys are. I like unpredictability (and mad jumbles, actually). My favourite teacher at high school was completely disorganised. He'd open the classroom door, peer at us all, and say, 'Should I be in here?' and then order a student to fetch his forgotten books from his car. We should have more teachers like that, to show children how to be more laid back and stop stressing over the unimportant things. Organised people have strict rules and expect you to stick to them. Disorganised people can't find their pen to write any rules down, and they can't borrow mine because I've lost it.

(Photo: Wikipedia)
This is something to do with the Chaos Theory.
I read it, but didn't understand a word, sorry. 

Anyway, back to bugs and other delights. Illnesses are another reason I prefer working with the older children. Not that they get less ill, but they can usually deal with it themselves. A teaching assistant from our infant class is brilliant at cleaning sick off carpets and clearing up accidents. I'm rubbish at it. After bringing up three children, you'd have thought I'd be okay, but I end up with watering eyes and need a sick bag for myself. I don't think I'm the only one. It's funny how many staff are suddenly needed on break duty when some poor child's been ill halfway down the corridor. 

I know there are lots of ill people about at the moment. If you're one of them, take care and hope you get better soon.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Headline prediction...

Watch out for the headlines: 'OU TUTOR SUICIDE'. The story will go on to explain how, due to an early submission of atrocious poetry by one of her students, the tutor felt she could no longer go on teaching imbeciles and had to end it all.

Yes, the poetry assignment has been sent, and my computer is begging me to delete its memory. The work wasn't due in for another three weeks, but the more I tinkered, the worse the poetry got. Both Ms Fab and Mr Chaos have won prizes in poetry competitions, I've found out, but I know I'll never reach those dizzy heights. Ms Fab was nine when she won hers, and, she tells me, she got to meet the Mayor of Macclesfield. Sigh.... 

I went for free verse in the end. In other words, I wrote a few sentences, chopped them into bits and set them out in an arty-looking way. After scattering a few commas about, it looked like something the year 3's would have written, which meant I'd improved it quite a lot. I had tried. Kind of. Actually, no, I hadn't at all. I went into this assignment with a bad case of can't-be-bothered-ness and if I get a crappy mark, I deserve it. Poetry sucks, especially when I've written it. (Apart from Philip Larkin.) 

May not be warranted at this point.

And now I can move on to life writing. I either want to find some obscure and faintly disturbing person to write about, or do autobiography (which is not the same thing, thank you.) 

Speaking of Ms Fab (meaning the poetry prize bit, not the thing about faintly disturbing people) I've had a couple of readers asking about her. She has fans, and rightly so. I'm one of them. 

Ms Fab and I are in shock as the person who runs the Brownies is thinking of retiring. We were kind of preparing for it (see earlier post on dragging Brownies into this century). It's one of those things we thought, 'Won't it be good when...', but now we realise it will mean we'll actually have to do things. We'll have to pretend to be responsible and organised. We'll have to go to meetings. These meetings are what I imagine Over 60's clubs are like. You have to take your shoes off when you go in these hearty ladies' houses, and drink tea out of little china cups and try not to get your finger stuck in the handle. We had a hilarious email inviting us to a 'Games and Giggles' evening. Now, I know my new year's resolution is to be less of a misery guts, but I'm sure you'll excuse me not going to that. I read it with the text-speak 'ffs' going around my brain. Let me emphasise, this occasion is for the adult leaders, not the children. I think we need a breakaway rebel Brownie group. Like the WI did, but with less nudity. 

I will try to keep you up to date with Ms Fab's doings. Well, the ones that won't get her arrested, anyway...