Thursday, 30 May 2013

On books and zombies

It's hard getting back into the swing of reading anything I want to, now that my courses have finished for the Summer. It's especially difficult to start reading fiction again. I'm irritated that my non-judgemental reading-anything habits have suffered due to how I've now been taught to look for hidden agendas, analyse text, and edit everything umpteen times. I want to be able to enjoy rubbishy books but at the moment, I can't. Numerous books have been started, then relegated to the 'Yard Sale' or 'Charity Shop' pile. I've stopped downloading free books onto my Kindle because they're often full of spelling mistakes or have bad punctuation. (Similar, in many ways, to this blog, but this is just 'bash-it-out' writing - my Creative Writing tutor would sigh heavily if she could read this.)

Non-fiction is easier reading because I don't feel guilty if I'm learning something. I just finished a book on pathology, which was incredibly interesting (A Matter of Life and Death: Inside the Hidden World of the Pathologist, by Sue Armstrong). 

There was a great bit on the body farm in Knoxville, run by a guy called Bill Bass. He leaves corpses lying around on waste-ground to see how they decompose. Then there was a bit on one of the pathologists involved in discovering the HIV virus in Africa. The whole book was fascinating. Definitely not one for the yard sale pile.

I have just ordered World War Z by Max Brooks from Amazon though, so hopefully my fiction reading habits will kick in again. Son Number One has been trying to get me to read it for a while, and as the film comes out soon, I need to read the book first. Sparkly vampires have never done it for me, but I don't mind a good zombie book. (Hmmm, I've just seen how that kind of relates to the afore-mentioned decomposing corpses...)

While on the subject of books: The Daughter, when I mentioned that I wasn't looking forward to the end of my studies, said I should write a book. Now, as I'm not actually a published author (snort of laughter here...), I think it would be rather arrogant of me to say, 'Hey, I'm going to write a book when I've finished my degree.' Because it's not a book until it's been accepted by a publisher and printed. As that's incredibly unlikely, all I can say is that I'm going to write lots of words in the hope that someone will like them, even if it's just family members being nice. Writing my final piece for my Creative Writing course, I was in danger of running way past my word count, and knew that each of my paragraphs could easily have become a chapter. As I don't get it back until August, I won't know how well/badly it's done, so I'll hold on until I see what the examiners thought. If it did okay, it'll be something to work on, even if it just stops me being bored and driving my family mad. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Baby talk and cardboard boxes

I have to admit that, although I've had three children, I really don't like babies. (Other people's, that is. My own were fabulous, obviously.) Until they're a few months old, they have to be handled like unexploded bombs in case they projectile vomit in your hair or start a three hour squalling marathon. I adored my own children (still do, actually), but I will never be one of those women who get all squealy over friends' babies. It doesn't go down well to ask, 'Do I have to?' when asked if you want to hold said baby, so I end up with an infant which eyes me suspiciously, while I try to work out the shortest time I can hold it without seeming rude. 

From Dave Engledow's 'World's Best Father' photos

(More photos on his Facebook Page)  

I was never one of those mothers who talked in baby words with a high pitched voice. Why do they do that? I always thought it was ridiculous to say to a little child, 'Oh, look at the bunny,' (and certainly never a 'cutesy, ickle bunny') only to have to say, a couple of years later, 'Actually, it's not a bunny, it's a rabbit.' I felt I would have been deliberately teaching them the wrong thing. My Grandmother disagreed with me, but was put right by my daughter: 'It's not a choo-choo, Nanny. It's a train.' Baby-talk makes me cringe, especially if it's done in a silly voice with added noises. Nothing makes me want to leave a room more than a mother who talks in baby-noises, and then tries to get me involved. (Apologies to my children if you feel you missed out.) 

I like children when they get a bit bigger. Okay, so you then have tantrums to deal with (from the toddler, that is. Although I think I may have had a few myself...). I remember how my children made themselves as rigid as a board if they didn't want to go in the pushchair - I had to push them in the middle to get them to sit down. But at least they started to get interesting. And from that age on, they just got better. By age 10, they were more or less human. 

Actually, the Daughter was up from Cornwall over the weekend, and we had a conversation about childhood and cardboard boxes. (Wow, we sound an interesting family!)  My children were reminiscing about the fun to be had from a huge cardboard box. The best was one from a new washing machine - it spent weeks taking up the best part of the living room. It was decorated with crayons (as was the carpet, we later found), and ended up with windows (cut out by the children using lethally sharp steak-knives) complete with curtains held up with sticky tape. Great fun.

I would love to get dozens of huge boxes, put them in the school hall and let the children loose on them, just to see what they make. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Big words and stylistics (but not The Stylistics)

Two books for my September course arrived today, and I got that familiar 'what have I let myself in for?' feeling. Luckily I recognise it from other courses now. I like to get ahead by ploughing through as many of the books as I can before the courses start, and there are always lists of words I've never seen before and which make me panic and feel stupid. I suppose it does show that I actually learn things, though. I can read back through the Children's Lit stuff that made me buy a new dictionary, and understand it perfectly. (Well, apart from anything written by Kimberly Reynolds but as her name is used as a swear word on the course forum, I'm not too fussed by that.) Anyway, the new course is in two parts - the first is on sociolinguistics (which I must learn to spell correctly), and the other is on stylistic analysis of poetry, plays and prose fiction. It looks fascinating, but involves lots of Big Words. And every time it mentions stylistics, I think of the soul group from the 70's, which doesn't help. 

Other courses-wise, I've finished. The final, big assignments have been sent, and now I just wait until August to see how well or badly I've done. I sent them in a bit early, as I wanted to get them out of the way, but it meant I had to leave the course Facebook groups. People kept writing about all the topics they'd covered, or they were asking questions about things I'd not thought of including, and it was all making me wonder if I'd done everything wrong. And I don't think I have...

On another topic, our school library is in the process of being catalogued by a lovely lady who's throwing most of our books out. I think she was pretty shocked that lots of our non-fiction is almost as old as I am, and politely told me that we need to buy new books. To which I politely replied that we had no money. 

Yes, we know what happens next, and 
I'll try not to...

Anyway, it turns out that our library is a bit of a mess, and she won't have time to catalogue all of the books. As I had eagerly agreed to be trained to run our library, it looks like I'm going to be in for quite a bit more work than I'd bargained for. And as I don't get any time out of the classroom, I may have to do some negotiating, timetable-wise. (I will try not to cry this time, though.)

On a happy note, The Daughter travels up from Cornwall tomorrow to stay for a few days. We haven't seen her since Christmas, so I'm looking forward to properly chatting. She's driving up, as the price of train tickets has gone through the roof, and I shan't be able to relax until I get that text saying she's arrived (she's staying with my parents as her allergy to our cats makes her quite ill now). I'm in awe of the way she will happily hop in the car and drive anywhere. My journeys take great planning and I play 'what if?' scenarios through my mind all of the preceding night. 

So if I'm not back for a while, I'll either be catching up with The Daughter, or buried under a pile of books. I'm hoping for the former...

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Don't get mad, get the tissues...

After yesterday's rant (sorry about that), I decided I would go into work and calmly explain how I would rather supply teachers took the class until behaviour issues could be resolved, as I did not want to be the one held responsible for children getting hurt by flying chairs, etc., etc. Well, I got as far as, 'Is it too late to get a supply in...' and then I burst into tears. Embarrassed is not the word. Why can I never get angry, or admit defeat without making a total arse of myself? I retreated to the staff room to make myself an industrial-strength coffee, and someone asked me if I was all right. Not a wise move. Half a box of tissues later, I made it into the classroom (too early for the children, thank goodness), where the teacher thought better of commenting on the state I was in, and admired my trousers instead. So I was fine. Until Ms Fab saw me, dragged me into a side room and was nice to me. And then Mr Chaos came in to ask if I was okay, before hastily backing out of the room. (By the way, what were you drinking? That was one strange-looking cup of tea you were holding...).

I must remind the caretaker to order
more tissues...

Things got sorted today, anyway - not in a pleasing way, but not everything has a happy ending for everyone. My faith in the way things run has kind of been nudged back in the right direction, but I feel sad for those involved in the dramas that angry and confrontational people cause. I know this post probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but I can't go into details, and I don't have enough tissues, anyway. 

I know I work with the best people anywhere, but they really must learn never to be nice to me when I have mascara running down my face...

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Making allowances and other really annoying things

You know that the children I tend to like best at school are the mischievous ones - the ones with a glint in the eye and a sense of humour. I don't like the ones who throw tantrums, get in moods and make life hell for everyone. I know that some of these children have 'problems' (and I don't mean Special Needs - that's a totally different issue), but I am really fed up with being asked to 'make allowances' for the vile behaviour and abuse that gets hurled our way. In most cases, these children are how they are because of their parent/s. They're getting a hellish childhood, which has turned them into angry little balls of fury. But I don't understand how 'making allowances' helps. Surely it sends a signal of 'Oh, okay, so you've just told me to f**k off for the third time today, but it's all right - you're having a hard time, poor child. Why don't you go and have a nice, quiet time in the library while all the well-behaved children have to get on with their work?' When I've just seen the books an innocent child got for their birthday hurled across the room, it makes me furious that the hurler gets sympathy because he's 'obviously stressed'. By accepting this behaviour, aren't we just allowing it to continue? The angry children go on to be angry parents who carry the whole cycle on and on, making more people miserable. Perhaps I'm wrong. I'm sure some child psychologist would tell me I've got the wrong attitude, and that I should be flattered to be on the receiving end of so many middle-finger salutes. I sympathised with one boy who said recently, 'My mum says that X is like that because he's not had enough hugs from his mum, but sometimes I just want him to go away.' Me too, sorry. 

I guess this makes me a f***ing b**** 

On the other hand, and just 'mild annoyance' rather than 'going-home-and-ranting-at-the-husband fury' we have the limpets. They are the ones who make a point of rushing across the classroom to give you a bear-hug, staring at you adoringly and sighing your name with added rainbow sparkles. I hurry to add that this is from the infants, (although there was one year 6 boy I had to avoid a few years ago - it's amazing how boring and matronly you can be when you really try). I know I should be pleased that these little children like me, but it makes me cringe. I feel wrong that children who are not mine are sharing that much affection, and I want to scrape them off with a stick when they grab my hands and hang off me. I'm not a holding-hands-with-children-while-on-playground-duty sort of person. I say stupid things like: 'Oh I'm really boring. Who shall we find for you to play with?' In other words, 'Please go away and get your hand out of my pocket.' 

I'm aware this makes me appear to be a child-hater, but I'm not, honestly. I do like all of the children, actually - even the chair-throwers and the leg-huggers. They just irritate sometimes, and today has been hugely irritating. Even Ms Fab got fed up, it was that bad. I just hope tomorrow will be better as I don't have any alcohol in the house. And there's a Brownie trip on Saturday that I'd forgotten about, and it's meant to rain. I think I may have to bribe Son Number One to share that bottle of schnapps he's had in the fridge for yonks.  

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Back to normality (and I don't like it...)

The courses are both finished. The final assignment was sent in yesterday, and I'm trying to get used to being able to do what I want. I'm feeling guilty writing the blog, as I'm so used to using it as a diversion from studying. I've been looking back on what I suspect are going to be my two favourite OU courses - so, what have I learnt?

Creative Writing: Never to write poetry again. I didn't do too badly on that assignment, scoring 75%, but I felt a fraud and a bit of an idiot writing it. It made me think of a guy I used to work with, who published his own poetry. The other bookshop staff and I read it, and asked what it meant, to which he replied that if we didn't understand it, it was because we were uneducated and didn't have poetry in our souls. Henceforth, he was known as The Pompous Tosser. He was actually sacked after a month of 'work' as he would turn up at lunchtime saying he'd been up till 3 that morning writing, which was much more important than selling books to ignorant peasants. The other thing I learnt about writing was that (and I really hope this doesn't sound arrogant) I knew pretty much how to do it anyway. I just hadn't really sat down and written since school, and probably would never have done so without the course. I needed that strict timetable to actually do some writing. What's helped me most with Creative Writing was not the course, but reading hundreds of books. 

Children's Literature: I desperately need to read the whole 'Mortal Engines' series by Philip Reeve. I love 'Treasure Island' and hate 'Junk'. Apart from that, I learnt a heck of a lot about the history of childhood and how every book (irritatingly) seems to have a hidden agenda in there somewhere, even if the author emphasised that it didn't. I learnt that Patrick Ness can get away with not describing his characters, even if I can't. I've always loved children's picture books, but I've learnt a lot about their history and how they they're continually evolving. I learnt that I love illustrations by Molly Bang, and must buy a book with more in:

Name that fairy tale...

I have learnt tons of booky things, and it's been money well spent, even if it's just to keep the brain working. 

Now, I have a huge pile of books awaiting, so better get started...

Monday, 6 May 2013

Halfway to getting my life back

Yesterday I finished my Creative Writing course. Finishing my final assignment was an act of procrastination in itself, as it was a way of getting out of my Children's Lit work. These final two assignments are worth 50% of each course result - if I fail them, I fail the courses. 

For Children's Lit, I have to write about how the latest winner of the Carnegie Medal fits into the history and traditions of children's literature. Fortunately, it's an amazing book - A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness - and I know I can write loads about it. The book was unique in that the illustrations also won the Greenaway medal, and I am much more impressed with the illustrations than the story, I must admit. Fellow students said that the book left them in tears (it's about a boy who has to face his mother's death through cancer), and one woman couldn't face reading it, choosing the other option to answer instead. Perhaps I'm too cold-hearted, but it didn't have the same effect on me. The pictures, on the other hand, portrayed emotion and atmosphere so well that I'm glad the course had a section on picture books, as I really want to write about them. 

 Some of Jim Kay's illustrations for A Monster Calls

I have my notes. I kind of know what I want to say, I just need to get in the right mood to get on with it. It has to be in by the 23rd, which I know I'll do easily. I just need a kick up the backside. 

The Creative Writing assignment didn't have to be in until the 30th, so logically I should have done that last, but I wrote the first paragraph so I wouldn't forget it, and the next few thousand words begged to be written, so how could I refuse them? I ended up editing huge chunks to get down to the 2500 word requirement. I then had to write a 700 word commentary on how I'd done it. As 'It just came,' would not have sufficed, I lied and wrote about how I'd used particular chapters of the workbook I've not looked at for months, and had taken note of tutor feedback for previous assignments. All lies, but it was what they wanted, so I typed it with my fingers crossed (very tricky).

I know I won't get distinctions for either course, but I'm hoping for a pass 2, especially for Creative Writing. Getting that for both courses will mean I'm on target for a 2:1 for my degree, which will do me fine. 

Other news: well done to my Daughter, who has got into college for her first step towards training as a psychiatric nurse. I can't tell you how incredibly proud I am of her. Not just that she's happy to start a new career, but that she's willing to support herself through her training and then work in a sector which will undoubtedly be challenging. That she has a heart big enough to treat people with empathy and respect just makes me love her even more. I think she's amazing. 

Actually, her attitude's probably that kick up the backside I was needing...