Saturday, 20 December 2014


I am living in a rather horrible and very quiet world at the moment. My hearing has not been great since being given vancomycin antibiotics some time ago but, through the last couple of months, it's been getting worse. Over the past three days, it's got to the point where someone has to be facing me or I don't realise they're talking to me. I have been to the doctor, and ear-drops have made it worse. An emergency appointment with the practice nurse yesterday was no good - I've been told to continue as I am, then go back on Christmas Eve. 

It's very strange without proper sounds. Little noises like running water, footsteps, turning pages, I can't hear at all. People's voices sound very different. I can understand, now, that sounds are vibrations, because that's exactly what they feel like. Lots of people talking together sound like a waterfall, which is why I had to miss our staff lunch yesterday - I just couldn't cope with the weirdness. I am very grateful to those who have been making an effort to talk to me, knowing that they're going to have to repeat themselves several times. The Boss Lady has slowed her speech right down, which makes her very easy to understand, and the teaching assistant from the reception class touches me on the shoulder when she wants to speak to me, and faces me head on, so all the sound goes in the right direction. That may just be habit from speaking to awkward infants, but it's much appreciated. 

I really hope this is temporary. Partly because the noises when I brush my hair are horrendous, and dreadlocks are really not going to suit me. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Madeira (the second bit)

I do enjoy people watching, and one of the best places to do this in Funchal was sitting outside The Ritz. Not quite on the scale of the London version, but a pretty gorgeous place, nonetheless. 

English tourists ranged from the walkers (khaki shorts, socks with sandals, and walking poles) to the perfectly-coiffed, high-heeled, just-off-the-cruise-ships women. I'm not sure where I fitted in along this scale. A year 5 told me recently that I was 'a bit sort of... well, you know... ummm, weird. No, no, not weird, exactly, but kind of... errrr...yeah.' I prefer 'unique', myself. I know I wouldn't fit in with the classy people. I trip over too much, and walk into things. I can never eat a tomato without sharing it with those around me. I'm also aware I have what is known these days as a 'resting bitch face'. (The Urban Dictionary defines this as: a person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without meaning to: "Nah, she's just got a resting bitch face, she's actually really sweet." Related words: resting murder face. In other words, I've spent my whole life putting up with people telling me to cheer up.)

Anyway, when I wasn't unintentionally glaring at people, we took a cable car up to some rather lovely gardens, and watched in horrified fascination as people hurtled back down the hill in wicker baskets. 

We didn't have a go. My Dad said he'd seen the drivers (??) in the bar getting pretty drunk during slack times, and we only had basic health insurance. 

Not sure who the lunatics in the picture are. And, yes, cars did use the road at the same time. 

Saturday was good. We booked an excursion, exploring the eastern side of the island. As we left Funchal and headed, via hair-pin bends, into the mountains, it dawned on us that this must be the Death Tour, run by the 'Your Life in Our Hands' bus company. The driver was Spiros, who spoke perfect English, with an intriguing tinge of Yorkshire. We were accompanied by a handful of other English tourists, and one who we thought was Italian, until she opened her mouth and we realised she was from Manchester. We stopped at a little market, where we bought lots of weird fruit, including a philodendron, which I had thought was like a rhododendron, and had to be put right by Spiros. More manic driving along sheer cliffs followed. These roads were all edged by concrete walls that were a foot tall. How this would have stopped us tipping down the mountain, I don't know. We discussed, over several bottles of wine that evening, how it gave you a sense of doom to have the drop your side of the minibus. Obviously, you never see on the news how half a bus ends up at the foot of a mountain, but I felt much safer when the 500 foot drop was on the other side. 

Safely back in our apartment, we had a tea that consisted of wine and odd fruit. During quieter moments, we heard the lift doors at the end of the corridor continually opening and shutting, for about an hour. Not having the energy or steadiness to go and investigate, we imagined a dead body lying half in, half out of the lift (we'd had a lot of wine. It was only two Euros a bottle from the supermarket round the corner.). We tried to think of Agatha Christie-style titles for the book of the murder, and devised alibis. We thought that the after-effects of too much Custard Apple would probably do it. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

My Madeira notebook, part one

Last month, The Husband and I spent a week in Madeira. My parents have a timeshare apartment in a rather swish hotel in Funchal, so we joined them to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday. Thankfully, we were also celebrating the success of his treatment for prostate cancer. (He starts radiotherapy this month, but it's just to zap the tumour that is rapidly shrinking.)

Our flight left Heathrow at 6am, which meant we had to be there at 4, so we spent the night at a nearby Holiday Inn. During the ten minute taxi-ride to the airport, my dad and the driver managed to squeeze in a conversation about politics and weather in Russia, and how it compared to Africa. Not bad for 3.30 in the morning. After The Husband had a brisk patting-down from a burly security guard at Heathrow, we flew over a damp and foggy London, and I started on my first book (Norah Ephron). The flight was three and a half hours, during which there was nothing to do but read or sleep. As the seat was bolt upright, and I didn't want to risk a beating by reclining it, I read. The Norah Ephron was brilliant, but not very long, so I was thankful I had also shoved Tina Fey in my hand luggage. Of course, there was then the worry I was going to run out of reading material before the week was out. I only had a book and a half left. Would they sell books in English? Could I learn Portuguese in a day? Seriously, it was a worry. I've read every day since I was 6, I couldn't stop now. I could hijack my mother's kindle, I thought, or The Husband had brought a football manager's biography (the first book he's read since our honeymoon in Scotland when it rained non-stop for a whole week). 

Anyway, we got to Madeira without diving off the end of the microscopic runway. That's it, in the not-very-good photo below. Apparently, it used to be half the length and had a net at the end. (I don't know what an aeroplane net looks like. I'm picturing something like a large butterfly net, but I'm sure that can't be right.) It's on all the lists of 'World's Most Dangerous Airports', but thankfully I didn't know that before we landed.  

We relaxed for the rest of the day, just wandering up the road for a beer at an outdoor cafe. Now, what I want to know is, with a temperature of 24 degrees in November, cafes overlooking the sea, and very cheap beer... why did I come home? And lizards. Scampering around everywhere. I loved those lizards. You don't get those in a freezing, foggy, bloody miserable November in Norfolk. 

But... the mosquitoes. I always attract them, while everyone else is sitting around saying, 'Mosquitoes? No, I never get bitten.' And we did look for insect repellent, but all they sold were organic herbal things. I needed something 100% chemical, with the power to repel mosquitoes, feral cats and small children. Oh well, more beer. It may not have repelled insects, but it stopped me from caring. 

Next time: The spectrum of British tourists, cable cars, and hurtling downhill on tea-trays. Or not. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Sorry, sorry...

Where did that last month go? Apologies (once again) for the lack of posts. I sit here, pathetically sniveling my way through a cold kindly donated by an infant, and trying to remember what's been happening recently. The Husband and I have been to Madeira with my parents - more on that in another post. I have a notebook from the holiday filled with cryptic notes to myself. 'How to smuggle lizards,' is one scribble. 'Giant ship in wicker shop,' is another. Give me a few days to decipher them and I'll go into more detail.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Son Number Two has been wanting to learn to play the keyboard. He's already the owner of four guitars, but has decided to try something new. Thinking a keyboard would be a bit big to bring home on the college bus, I said I'd meet him in town with the car. Just as well. I had been picturing one of those keyboards that's a couple of feet long. Wrong. It was actually a digital piano. (Call it a keyboard at your peril.) We had to fold the car seats down and will have to add an extension to the house. Son Number Two says that learning the keyboard piano will be fairly easy as it's like the guitar. I can't see that myself, but the guy in the music shop agreed with him, so what do I know?

Son Number One has caught the golfing bug and has been to a driving range a couple of times (is that what it's called? There seem to be as many stupid made-up words in golf as there are in cricket. Honestly, I don't have a clue what anyone's talking about around here. When the males in the family took up cricket and were discussing silly mid off and square legs, I thought they were having me on.)

Last weekend was not the best. Son Number Two is trying to decide which university he wants to study music at, so we went to an open day at Derby university on Saturday. We drove for three hours through the rain, attended a pretty lacklustre presentation and came home again. Sunday, we went into our nearby town to do a bit of Christmas shopping. After traipsing around for a couple of hours (and, yes, I bought some books), we returned to the car where we dumped the bags in the car boot. The Husband threw his coat in, too, and slammed the boot shut. Yes, you knew it, the car keys were in his coat pocket. I resigned myself to making a phone call that Son Number One would never let us forget. 'I'm on my way,' my smug son told me, 'and tell Dad he's an idiot.' Which I did. When Son Number One shared our misfortune on Facebook, I reminded him that we'd had to rescue him, once, from the same car-park. He and the girlfriend of the moment had returned from an evening out, to find the car locked in the car-park. Going back the next day to retrieve it, he found his car was the only Skoda in the middle of a Mini convention. 

Too right...

And I got my first assignment back from my OU religion course. I scored 74, which was not brilliant, but I got some good feedback, so now I know I like my tutor. 

It's good to be back at school after my week away. I missed the children, and the daft things they do (and make us do). I was in a younger class this afternoon, where we were meant to be making Roman mosaic pictures, but ended up doing an impromptu version of Strictly Come Dancing. I only scored 2, it was most unfair. I tried to appeal to the judges, but they weren't having it. I hope the class teacher isn't reading this. 

Anyway, I will try to work out what my holiday scribblings say, and will hopefully not take another month to get back to you. 

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. 

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Packing for holiday: clothes or books?

We go to Cornwall on Saturday. The weather looks good for the coming week, and The Daughter says the sea is as warm as the Mediterranean, sending me a link to a local website in case I needed proof. Actually, last weekend's newspaper told us the weather was gorgeous and had photos of dolphins showing off to the tourists, so here's hoping...  

I have chosen The Holiday Book: The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. It didn't take me long to choose - I was won over by the recommendation on the front cover: 'A dreamy, post-apocalyptic love letter to things of beauty.' My favourite genre, I am running out of bleak-but-hopeful books to read, so it was good to find a new one. Actually, just now looking at the book on Amazon, I've read through the 'people-who-bought-this-also-looked-at' bit, and have managed to add another dozen books to my Amazon wish-list.

There is just one problem - I have no will-power when it comes to books, and after promising myself I would save the book for holiday, I am now on page 93. So I'll also take Flight Behaviour, by Barbara Kingsolver and The Border Trilogy, by Cormac McCarthy with me. Rather thick books, they leave me room for not much more than a pair of jeans and a camera. 

I received the certificate for the RE course through the post yesterday. I keep all my certificates in a big file which I only tend to look through when I'm desperately hunting for lost birth/marriage certificates. Half the time I can't even remember doing the courses (did I really do that course on ADHD? I don't remember a word of it). My degree certificate will be different of course. I shall frame that so the last four years of slog will be worth something. Mind you, The Husband may just see it as the big hole in our bank account, so better not. 

So... getting ready for our holiday. We have a larger car this year, and less people to take (no girlfriends of sons or other hangers on), so the journey should be more comfortable. It's a fairly long journey (six hours driving, plus approximately two hours' queuing to get into Cornwall - usually resulting in cheers as we crawl past the county sign at five miles an hour). It necessitates a couple of stops at service stations which charge the earth for a cup of coffee, so we tend to fill the car with drinks, biscuits, packets of sweets and other healthy things. It's amazing how hungry you get, watching scenery and hankering after other peoples' cars. Son Number One usually manages to get just past Mildenhall before starting on his lunch, even though he's reminded that he only had breakfast twenty minutes earlier. And there's a limit to the number of Costa Coffee signs I can drive past without complaining. Really, it's a wonder The Husband doesn't just leave us on the side of the road. At least the children are past the age of needing the toilet every half hour. And being car sick - that was a joy of a phase: washing out children's t-shirts in the hand basins of the public toilets, or carrying a half-naked child through town so I could buy clothes to replace the ones I'd had to bin. Happy days...   

And now I will go back to constantly refreshing my OU webpage, in the hopes that my assignment has been marked. My tutor is moving house in a few days, she said, so aims to get all essays returned asap. Then it's just two more assignments to go, and that course is finished. I'm looking forward to the religion and controversy one. We've been told to keep a look out for when religious issues appear in the news. That'll be 24 hours a day, then. 

Enjoy your summer - I'm off to pack some books. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

One down...

I received an email yesterday, telling me I'd passed the RE course. (It was a pass or fail thing, but I'm still disappointed I didn't get a merit.) And now I've got an essay for the counselling course to be finished. I'm lucky that I've got a wonderful tutor for this one, who told me exactly where I lost points in my last piece of work. She is, it seems, a stickler for introductions. Not that I don't write them, she just wants 'proper' ones that say things like, 'This essay will consider...' and so on. In four years with the OU, it's the first time I've had to do that, and it feels very clunky. So I've written it (the intro, that is, had you expected more?) and am so embarrassed by it that I've come on here to recover and do some normal writing. Okay, so I've also done the hoovering and re-sorted the bookshelves - I just really, really don't feel like writing about existential therapy (or is it that I'm putting things off that cause anxiety? Maybe I should face this feeling of being hemmed in and decide where I want to go with my life? Maybe I should challenge my own assumptions about the world and how people view me? Maybe I should stop taking counselling courses.).

And I have books to read. The Bookworm (one of our former year 6 girls) bought me a present when she learnt it was my birthday next month. It was a second-hand book by Adriana Trigiani, which she said 'looked like my sort of thing'. It was - I already own it, but it's made me want to read the series it was from again, starting with Big Stone Gap. I'd forgotten how good the books are, so thank you, Bookworm, I'm very grateful. (And that reminds me, I have to buy the holiday book on Monday, when I go into town for Son Number Two's eye test.) 

Plus, the garden is looking nice in the sunshine. Well, that's not actually true. It looks awful, with weeds and a big pile of earth that's going to become part of a new lawn 'eventually', but there's a lot of wildlife, probably because of the weeds, etc. We have damsel flies chasing each other about, numerous butterflies, bumble bees, a kingfisher flitting down the stream, and frogs aplenty, much to the delight of the cats, who think these bouncy creatures are there just to amuse them. I have had to rescue a record number of frogs from the cats this year. I hadn't realised that frogs play dead when they're threatened. The first one looked all 'bleah' and floppy, so I carried it to the stream, whereupon it miraculously came to life and leapt of my hands into the water. After that heart attack, I'm now prepared.  

Sigh... It can't be put off any longer. I will drag myself over to Word and try to add to the 82 words I've already written. Actually, I've just read through them again. It looks completely wrong: how can an essay 'consider' anything? It's me that's doing the considering, but we're not allowed to write in the first person. Why didn't I take creative writing? I could have written any old rubbish for that...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Courses, goodbyes and young criminals.

I have finished my RE course.  I've not got my results back yet, but, heck, who cares? It's not going to count for anything. We only do RE for half a term a year, and very little of it has anything to do with me. The whole course thing was, I think, a 'ticking-a-box' exercise for the school. I have to admit that I've learnt an awful lot, though - mainly through clicking on links from research I was meant to be doing. For example, I have learnt I am a Pagan with Pantheist leanings (or is it the other way around?), that the worst thing about a website on Satanism is their continual use of the phrase 'very unique', and that actually, religious labelling is pretty much a waste of time as most people do things their own way, anyway. From research for my 'Is there unity in diversity?' essay, it seems there are no two people who believe in the same thing. We may choose a label that defines us the most accurately, but then we pick up extra bits or discard the practices we disagree with. Thus we end up with people saying things like, 'I am a committed Christian/Jew/insert religion here, but I support gay marriage/the Dignity in Dying campaign/the teaching of evolution in schools/another potentially controversial idea....' So that makes me a Pantheist-Pagan with a smattering of Taoism, believing in Karma, quality books and good whisky. I'll name that religion in... um... a while. 

Take a spoonful of each, mix well and 
stop arguing.

We said goodbye to most of our year 6 children last week. Every year, I promise myself that I won't get upset, but yet again I did. We've had a morning in which we welcomed (hmmm... is that the right word? I'm not sure...) our new students. Some were nervous (our reputation precedes us), and some were over-confident know-it-alls (not for long). They had to fill in a question sheet, writing about favourite subjects and best friends. It also gave us a chance to suss out who shouldn't be sitting next to each other, and who had neat writing. 'You're going to get sick of me nagging you,' I told one boy, 'so you may as well sort your handwriting out now,' and he gave a resigned sigh, rubbed out his work and started again. Good lad. I think we've got another 'moving on' morning tomorrow. I bet they're really looking forward to it. 

Earlier this week, a girl and her mother sought me out and gave me a story the girl had written for our school book blog. 'She spent such a long time on it,' said Proud Mother. 'We tried to find you yesterday, but we couldn't, and she was devastated.' (I really hate the over-use of that word. She wasn't devastated, she was probably just a bit put-out because I had seen her coming and was hiding in the stock cupboard.) Anyway, I started typing it out on the school blog this morning and thought how good the punctuation was. Naturally, that made me rather suspicious, so I pasted the first paragraph into Google. It turned out that the whole thing had been lifted from a rather sickly children's book about sisters. Plagiarism at such a young age... and aided and abetted by Proud Mother, too. Hopefully, they will log on to the school blog today (I told them it would be typed up over the weekend) and see my 'by the way' notice instead. I will hand back the child's story tomorrow and do my best not to smirk at Proud Mother. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Study and swearing

I am trying to get back on track by starting my RE assignment. It's been put on hold for a couple of weeks, with the permission of my very patient tutor. (She's probably just relieved she won't have to read my dire offerings for a while.) I worked for several hours and had three full pages of notes, plus a huge great list of useful websites. 'Brilliant,' I thought, 'I'm finally getting somewhere.' 'Do you want to save changes to the document?' Word kindly asked. Of course I did. And I clicked on 'Don't save' (Why??!!!!). After a frantic Google search and advice from a teenager, I was unable to retrieve my notes. I was very well behaved. I swore like mad in my head, but outwardly I just sighed and started again. 

I've used my internet history to retrieve the website addresses, but will probably never recover the brilliant insights within my notes (gives hollow laugh). At least I know roughly what I want to write about, which I will start on tomorrow as an excuse not to join in with the family yard sale. 

Other news: the Brother-in-law's operation went well and he's now back home. Complaints are about to be registered against his GP who refused to even consider that his health problems were physical, not mental. Apparently, the resulting month's delay in his treatment nearly killed him. 

The Father-in-law is extremely unlikely to recover from his stroke. He has made no improvement and the doctors are now talking about palliative care. 
The Daughter came up from Cornwall to visit him, which was a much-needed highlight for us. Son Number One is playing cricket at the moment, and has a job working a few hours a week with the local river warden, which he's really enjoying, and Son Number Two has just returned from an Eminem concert in London. The Husband is raiding the shed and occasionally appearing to ask, 'Do we want this?' before adding the rusting junk things to the yard sale pile. 

And me? I've given up studying for the day and am going to make a very strong cup of coffee. I think we have one day about mid-August when there's nothing planned, so I may book my nervous breakdown for then. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014


An update from yesterday's post (and this is going to take some typing, as I've had a fair amount of wine - a huge thanks to my Dad). 

The Father-in-law has had a huge stroke - it has affected half his brain. He is paralysed on his right side and almost blind in that eye. We were allowed to visit him this afternoon, and he recognised us but was unable to talk. The doctors are saying he will not be able to lead a normal life again. 

The Brother-in-law was sent to a different hospital this morning, after having a fall and being unable to get up. The Husband pleaded with the doctors to give him a scan. (B-in L's doctor still insisting it is a mental health problem.) Result? He had a brain scan, had fluid on his brain and is now undergoing emergency surgery. 

We have never been part of the 'Sue them!' movement, but will definitely be making a complaint against that doctor, who set back B-in-L's treatment by a month, arguing with mental health teams and treating everyone with massive arrogance and condescension. (I apologise if this doesn't make sense, it was a very nice bottle of Shiraz...). 

It's been 'a funny sort of day' as they say. Oh, and the cat brought a rabbit home. A live, baby one, carrying it gently by the scruff of the neck, as if to say, 'Look what I found, wandering around in the field.' Hysterics and mad chasing followed, and the rabbit escaped unharmed. 

This is why I read a lot. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

From 'Sesame Street' to 'Casualty'

Two more assignments are looming. One is the last module for my school RE course. Again, I chose an essay instead of lesson plans, as the class is concentrating on play practice, and RE and pirates don't really go together. Although... no, I don't think my tutor would go for that. Anyway, I had a list of questions to choose from. Loads appealed; I could have written pages on 'Is the world sacred?' but Pantheism and Paganism are not part of the RE curriculum, unfortunately, and I think I'd struggle to write much, having to stick to Judaism and Hinduism. So I chose 'Is there unity in diversity?', to which I shall write, 'There could be, if people were a bit more open-minded,' and include lots of quotes from Sesame Street

Okay, I wrote that paragraph a few hours ago, and since then, my life has been more Casualty than Sesame Street. The Husband got a call from someone who checks on his dad - he does a bit of shopping for him and takes him his morning paper. Apparently, my Father-in-law didn't answer the door, so he was worried. We tried phoning: no response, so we drove round there (he lives about 20 minutes away). He didn't answer, and the neighbour hadn't seen him that day, so we broke in. The Husband went first, and the relief when I heard him say, 'Hi Dad, it's only us,' (because you say that if you don't want to get shot by an ex-poacher) was huge. F-in-L was lying on the sofa, having had, we thought, a stroke. An ambulance was called and he was taken to a local hospital for assessment. (We're not allowed to see him yet, which is why I'm on here - I don't want you to think I'm that callous that I'd go home and blog about something instead of taking care of a family member.)

This caps a 'bit of a week', as The Husband calls it. His brother has a history of mental health problems, but has started wandering off and falling down a lot. Numerous doctor's appointments later, the GP is arguing with the mental health team, who say it is a neurological problem and that he needs a brain scan. The GP is arguing back that she knows best, and is refusing to refer him. Meanwhile, B-in-L is walking for miles, falling in rivers and losing his car. 

So now we are making endless phone calls and packing hospital bags. Sorry, boys, you'll be making your own teas tonight. I have emailed my RE tutor to say, despite what I said about getting my assignment done asap, actually, I won't be. 

I'm looking forward to getting back to work for a break.