Friday, 22 July 2016

On the move...

So many new things are going on, and Blogger is playing me up so much, that I have started a new blog over on WordPress. Sorry to be a pain. 

If you're interested, I'm now to be found here:

Thank you to everyone who has become a virtual friend over the years on here. I will keep up with reading your blogs, and will add links to your pages as soon as I work out how to do it!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

On zombie books, and corpses in the garden.

The more I look at that title, the less sure I am that I even know how to write. Corpses. It looks wrong. It is a word - I checked on Google. I even looked up 'use corpses in a sentence', but I'm not convinced. It sounds like something that Gollum would say. I know the children at school have similar moments: a couple of days ago, the most intelligent girl in the class sat with her head in her hands, moaning that she'd forgotten how to spell 'when'. I know I'd fail the SATs grammar test our year 6s have just done. What the heck is 'past progressive', and why do you need to know when you're only 11 years old and struggle to put a comma in the correct place? I know that some schools use old SATs papers to test the intelligence of prospective teaching assistants. I would re-enact that scene from Shirley Valentine, where she rips her exam paper into little bits and throws it over her shoulder. Either that, or I'd creatively deface it. 'Tick one box in each row to show whether the word after is used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition.' I can think of an answer to that, but it wouldn't be one that would score me any points. I have nothing against learning grammar, but at age eleven surely you just need to be able to tell whether your sentence makes sense or not. Learn the finer points later. If you want to. 

Anyway. (And I know that's not grammatically correct, because a sentence needs a subject and a verb. Do I care?)

Going back to corpses (my little Hobbitses) - we have an assortment of dead animals in the back garden thanks to one of our cats, who has decided it is rabbit-hunting season once more. He uses our hammock as the roof of his outdoor eatery, which means that when the sun appears (ha ha), whoever wishes to bask has to clear up a little pile of rabbit ears and rejected hind legs. It's not pleasant. Especially when a major disembowelling is taking place when I'm trying to eat my breakfast. 

There are also a couple of skulls around, that Son Number One has found on his rounds as a Forest Ranger. I love my son's job title. It makes him sound like a character from Yogi Bear and gives us endless opportunities to take the piss and sing the Lumberjack Song from Monty Python. He found a roe deer skull some time ago, which we scrubbed with Jeyes Fluid and which now sits on a bookshelf. Because that was greeted with interested enthusiasm, he's also brought home a huge red deer skull and a fox skull, complete with jaw bone and rather wobbly teeth. The red deer was hard to identify as it came from an individual with deformed antlers, meaning we couldn't find it on any guide on the internet. So Son Number One took it to the Wildlife Rangers, who told us what is was. They've promised to show him around the whole wildlife department, and I'm wondering if I'll be allowed to go, too. (Apparently, they once had to shoot a crocodile.) We've become so used to having these skulls around, that they've faded into our surroundings, but we try to remember to put them outside when people visit, just in case they think they've found the headquarters of a Norfolk Satanic cult. I took the deer skulls to school a few weeks ago, because they'd been doing a bit of topic on types of teeth (but mainly because I knew they'd just like seeing some skulls). I drove the car to school that day, because the antlers stuck out the top of the bag, and I knew I'd get some funny looks. I don't get that some people think bones are disgusting or creepy. I'm with those children that stick their fingers in the brain cavity and go, 'Wow, this is where the spinal-stuff leads. Cool!' 

And on to zombies...
I was having an interesting book-chat with our school dyslexia lady yesterday. We discovered that we were in total agreement that there are such things as books for girls and books for boys - something that would get us lynched by the sexism brigade. (We agreed that we weren't saying that certain books should only be for boys or girls, by the way.) And that did link in with something I learnt from a book I mentioned a while ago: Invisible Ink, by Brian McDonald - the best book on writing that I've read. McDonald writes about what he calls the masculine and feminine aspects to a story - basically action vs emotional stuff - and how a good story will have a balance, but those without the balance tend to appeal to a particular gender. Anyway, the conversation got me looking at my bookshelves. I have realised that, in a literary way, I appear to be bisexual. Clive Cussler is sitting next to Jane Austen. Bridget Jones and Jack Reacher are sharing a shelf. Reading-wise, I have just ditched Sense and Sensibility for a zombie apocalypse novel. And, yes, it does seem to be because of the action. The most action in Sense and Sensibility seemed to be a group of people going for a stroll up a hill before someone had a headache and had to go home. I really want to send all my Jane Austens to a charity shop, and the fact that I haven't shows me up as being a raging book snob.

Anyway, I must go. This guy's got a broken leg, forty days of food left, and is stuck in his London flat, watching the undead slowly wander past. Actually, someone did write a book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I may give that a go...

Saturday, 14 May 2016

End of an error

I have finished my degree. Apologies for the lack of recent posts, but I've been working on the short-story-plus-commentary that was my final piece for the Open University. I had to submit a plan for my final story in February and, since then, I forgot the finer details, changed the characters and the ending, and ended up with something that could only be linked to the plan by someone with a very good imagination. Fortunately, this made the commentary very easy to write, with it being a thousand words based around 'I changed this because...'. So, I clicked on the 'Submit your work' button for the last time and now have to wait until July for my result.

Thankfully, due to the result of my 'Religions and Controversy' course, I know what degree classification I'll be getting, so that's not a worry, but it would be nice to get a Pass 2 for this creative writing course (I don't think I'll reach the giddy heights of a distinction for this one, sadly). So, that's five years of study finished (I'm not counting the year I wasted when I ducked out of a linguistics course after finding it too brain-mangling, or the science course on volcanoes and tsunamis in which I discovered my maths was not up to working out the speed that vibrations move through the earth, for a one-mark question). I actually feel rather sad. I started the whole thing with a short course on psychology, because I was bored and there was nothing on television. I didn't have to pay for it because, at the time, the OU was taking Tesco vouchers for level one courses. And that was going to be it. But then I found that learning was as addictive as other OU students said it was and, several thousand pounds later, I can't for the life of me remember writing an essay on Harlow's attachment theory, but I did, and it's presumably residing in the hard-to-reach bits of my brain somewhere (the same place as the whereabouts of my sunglasses).

So, what have I learnt? Apart from the 'fact' that Milton Keynes is considered the spiritual centre of the UK (oh, how we did laugh about that...)

  • I'm not as stupid as my high school teachers told me,
  • I, very sadly, enjoy compiling a long list of references at the end of an assignment,
  • I would be sunk without my spell-checker and the thesaurus on Word,
  • I don't trust anything that isn't peer-reviewed and stocked in the OU library,
  • I have an insatiable need to keep learning new things,
  • I will never get a result that is good enough for me. 

The last point is rather worrying. While it's nice for the Boss Lady to praise the way I strive to improve myself, and while I love filling my head with 'new stuff', I'm already looking up prices of PhDs in Children's Literature (Cambridge Uni does one, and it's affordable, which I kind of wish it wasn't as I can see myself still being a student when I'm 90. On the other hand, the thought of the school children having to call me 'Doctor' could make it worthwhile). I'm finding learning very addictive, though, as I said before. I agree with that thing about 'the more I learn, the less I know,' although I can't remember if that's a quote from Socrates or Red Hot Chilli Peppers. 

The other option I'd like to consider...

Anyway. The Masters starts in September, so I'll do that, and see where the next three years takes me. Meanwhile, questions I'm getting fed up with hearing: 'Are you going to be a teacher?' Asked by staff members and usually answered by slightly hysterical laughter. 'When's your graduation?' Seriously? I could buy a huge pile of books for what it would cost me to fall up the steps at a graduation. 'How are you going to use your degree?' Ummm... 

For now, there is reading, which can now be done without feeling guilty that I'm avoiding an assignment deadline. And I will try to keep the blog more up to date. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

On brain-blips and iffy internet searches

The Easter holidays have started and things are on the up. We have finally (just about) sold The Brother-in-law's house, which means the continual journeys back and forth to check that everything's still in working order are over. It also means The Husband can stop worrying about his pension (or lack of it). Being both self-employed and an habitual procrastinator meant that a pension was one of the things he 'never got round to'. Like sorting out that huge heap of topsoil in our back garden, but let's not go there...

I'm feeling better after my weird not-sure-what-it-was-but-it-definitely-wasn't-a-stroke thing. My thought-processes are not quite what they were, and hopefully they'll improve, but I still can't deal with a string of questions or instructions. An example was a week ago at work, when I was asked how a group of children were doing with their work on percentages. I was asked several questions and then given instructions on what to do in their next session. 'Okay,' I said. Two minutes later, I could only recall the words 'fractions' and 'percentages' and I was reminded of a boy I used to work with in reception class, who would just put his head on his desk and complain that 'my brain just can't listen to all this noise everywhere'.

Despite the brain-blips, I managed to do okay in my last creative writing assignment. I wrote a short story about people training with Special Operations Executive during the war, and scored 90%. I chose the subject because I knew a lot about it (my SOE phase coming after my holocaust phase, but before my siege of Leningrad one, which I'm still partially in), but my internet history is looking decidedly iffy - a subject that several people on the course have mentioned. 'Hope I never get arrested,' one wrote on Facebook. 'I've looked up how you'd kill someone with a hammer and different sorts of fuses you'd use to make a bomb.' Luckily, my research was just on silent killing techniques and the best way to break a rabbit's neck. Not things I'm likely to put into practice, but you never know... (Which reminds me, we had a school assembly on facing your fears at school last week. Children were talking about what they were afraid of; spiders, snakes, roller-coasters were all mentioned. 'I'm scared of zombies,' said one child, 'because they eat your brains.' Sorry - not at all relevant to anything here, except the vague connection my own brain made to surviving the zombie apocalypse.)

So, I'm feeling pretty chuffed at that result, especially when I'd convinced myself I'd be happy with anything over 65%. The thing that made a big difference to my story-writing was this book: 

Seven hundred and odd pounds for an OU course, and I've learnt more from a £9.99 book from Amazon. Sigh. Anyway, I wrote my whole story using the story plan:

Once upon a time...
And every day...
Until one day...
And because of this...
And because of this...
Until finally...
And ever since that day...

which is apparently used by Pixar. Anyway, it worked for me and I think we should teach it at school instead of the stupid story 'staircases' and 'mountains' that we use. 

And now, I need to start on the first draft of the final piece for my course (and my whole degree). And I will, but there's a huge Easter egg calling from the kitchen and I need some coffee. And I've just got into the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, because my dad lent me one and it was the only thing I had to read in hospital, and I realised that, actually, they weren't bad. And reading is good preparation for writing, so it's practically coursework. 

And, anyway: 

...and I'm pretty good at writing that. 

Friday, 26 February 2016

A stroke of bad luck

It's been a funny sort of week...

I've spent the last couple of weeks fighting off a virus that started as a cold and turned into a nauseous battle with vertigo. Never mind, I thought, I'll get better over the half-term holiday. Nope. In the hope of getting back to normality, I went shopping with The Husband, nearly passed out in a bookshop and had to come home. Then I got pains and tingling in my left arm, a numb mouth, and lost the ability to think and speak at the same time. So we went back into town, but this time it was in an ambulance with blue lights flashing and siren wailing. I had a Skype-style conversation with the on-call doctor (it being a Sunday evening, with fewer than normal staff and an overflowing A and E department). As I couldn't hear the doctor very well, I was put on the phone to him, which really didn't help. Phones and stammerers don't go together, and I had to keep explaining that part of my speech difficulty was normal and I got so that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I was shown pictures of objects that I had to name, and it got a bit scary when I could see something that you put on your hand when it got cold, but couldn't for the life of me think of the word 'glove'. It only made me pause for a few seconds, but they were seconds in which I saw The Husband having to give up his business in order to care for a wife who couldn't do anything for herself. 

A CT scan and an arm-full of blood later, I ended up on a stroke ward with four old ladies, all of whom seemed to be called Peggy. 'I threw a few things into a bag, while the paramedics were sorting you out,' The Husband told me. He'd found me some pyjama trousers and an old t-shirt for sleeping in and several pairs of socks (and, for some reason, a packet of salt and vinegar crisps). It was pretty impressive, because he never puts the washing away, so must have had a frantic search through drawers and cupboards. Unfortunately, the t-shirt was from a concert we'd been to years ago, and so had 'Bowling for Soup - Party in your pants tour, 2009' printed in big letters on the back. Oh well. Most old ladies I know are very open-minded and up for a laugh, so I didn't wince too much every time I had to walk the length of the ward to the loos. (Sadly, I think I left the t-shirt in the bathroom when I left the hospital. I have a picture in my head of the nurses trying to work out which of the Peggys it belonged to.)

By now, it was evening. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, I was tired and tearful, and then a nurse handed me a leaflet about how to cope when you've just had a stroke. It wasn't a good moment. I was on four-hourly obs, which meant that every time I just got to sleep, someone would come and take my blood-pressure, shine a torch in my eyes and make me do all the things they have to check for, like raising my arms in the air and trying to squeeze their hands. And, boy, do old ladies snore! I thought The Husband was bad, but at least I can elbow him in the ribs. I knew it wouldn't be the done thing to poke Peggy in the side, so I laid there and tried to think about what I would write. That is the good thing about writing. You can take any crappy situation and think, 'That was a totally shitty thing to happen, I must write it up.' So, in my head, I thought the whole situation through and tried turning it into my latest OU assignment. The problem was, I couldn't follow one train of thought for long, and it's something I'm still having trouble with. You wouldn't believe how long it's taking me to type this. My mind hopped about from, 'I must remember to write about that t-shirt,' to, 'Oh bugger, I should be doing break duty at school tomorrow.' My aim this morning was to write part of my assignment, but so far, I've made coffee and forgotten it, had a Facebook conversation with The Daughter, written this, put the washing in the machine, but forgotten to turn it on, and read the same paragraph of a book about five times without remembering what happened. I hope things improve, because if they don't, it means I'm turning into my grandmother. 

Anyway, back at the ranch... It was morning in hospital and I had to have an MRI scan. I'd never had one before, but my dad had, to check his prostate cancer hadn't spread, and he'd told me all about it. Basically: it's noisy and keep your eyes shut or you'll panic about how confined it is in there. I got asked loads of questions by the MRI nurse: had I ever had an accident when metal had gone in my eyes? Did I have any metal clips inside me? No and no. So she gave me some ear-plugs, put head-phones on top of those and a cage-like contraption over my head. As I reversed into the machine, she played me Fleetwood Mac through the head-phones (it must be my age) and warned me that things were going to get noisy. I then remembered an episode of House in which he removed a bullet from someone by putting them in an MRI machine and turning it on. Shit, I thought, I haven't got any metal clips in me, have I? Surely I'd know. What if I'd had one after my appendix operation and no-one had told me? And other such irrational thoughts. Anyway, nothing came flying out of me, so that answered that question. The noise was like standing right next to a pneumatic drill - I could hear nothing of Stevie Nicks at all. Then the noise changed and it was as if Son Number Two had turned his guitar amp up to 11 and I had my ear pressed to it. My ears were still ringing three hours later. But the scan was a success - they found a brain and it had no abnormalities. An ECG later, and I was sent home. They thought it was something to do with the virus I'd had. I didn't know such a thing could happen, but The Daughter said that every time a new patient was admitted onto the mental health wards, they'd be tested for a urine infection, because the brain could be affected. We are put together very strangely. 

So now I am under house arrest, by order of The Boss Lady, who said I was not to go into work until Monday. I tried arguing, but she said she'd put bouncers on the door so I couldn't get in. Actually, I'm glad, because I'm not yet back to normal. I feel wobbly and tired and I can't spell - this has taken forever to write and I have back-spaced more than I have typed forwards. So, if I've made any mistakes in my spelling and grammar today, many apologies, but I really don't care. I'm just grateful that I'm still here to make them.  

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Trying to stop the havering

I attended a virtual seminar for my masters degree last week. I had no idea there were such things and had to do a hurried Java update in order for it to work, but it was definitely worth 'attending'. I even took part. I typed 'hello' and 'thank you'. Hopefully I'll be up to getting more involved as the next three years go past...

I almost didn't 'attend'. (This on-line stuff gets complicated, in my opinion. It's fine when writing, but including inverted commas in speech needs to become more of a thing than doing that two-fingered rabbit-ears gesture. Trying to explain to The Husband about my attendance at an 'open evening' and how I couldn't cook tea because I needed to 'be there' got a bit silly.) Anyway, I was getting jitters about the whole masters thing. Here I was, planning to spend the next three years and over £5000 on something that I was purely doing for pleasure, and it seemed a tad selfish. And I'll be 50 when I finish my degree for heaven's sake. I'd also be working with some intelligent people, and I know it's not a competition, but I thought I'd be a bit out of my depth. I felt I was probably going to be that student sitting at the back saying they don't get it. Maybe I shouldn't do it? But, on the other hand, if I took part in the seminar, at least I wouldn't have to make tea, so it was worth doing that at least. 

An hour and a half later, I had a reading list and four pages of scribbled notes, which include (I'm reading through them, now) 'Choose your own essay questions!!!!!' which is circled and has stars round it; 'From picture books to graphic novels' underlined twice; 'Pay yearly, phew!' and other such gems. I've also got 'psychoanalysis of illustrations' and 'carnivalesque', neither of which mean a thing to me now, but presumably did at the time. The best things? Debbie Someone said she was a bit rusty at writing essays and a teacher with a 2:2 asked if he'd be out of his depth and was told 'it depends'. My note-taking obviously needs some work. And so I exited virtual reality and entered the real thing (which smelt of fish and chips, as the rest of the family was starving) feeling a bit more positive. The Boss Lady has written me an amazing reference, and I know I'll be graduating Open Uni with a first, so I just need to convince myself that I'm not a total fraud and I'll be fine. Sigh...

Anyway, I know that I'll be a pain to live with if I'm not studying. It seems like the more I learn, the more I realise that I don't actually know very much. Which makes zero sense and shows that I really should be working on my writing. And, do you know what? There's a PhD in Children's Literature. That got my interest (and my bank account sobbing in the corner). The children at school would have to call me 'Doctor'. It's almost worth doing for that reason alone. (Son Number One deliberately ticks the wrong boxes on parcel delivery information - we've had parcels for Reverends, Doctors, Majors and Professors at this address.) And who the heck cares how old I'm going to be when I finish my studies? I'm hopefully going to get old anyway, so I may as well get old with a degree as without one. 

I think the most difficult thing about doing the masters will be having to choose a new name for this blog. 

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year

And another new year begins, as they do. 

It's been a very 'up and down' year, probably like most people's. We've lost two family members, and my daughter and I have been battling our mental health nemeses of anxiety and depression. My dad is struggling with the side effects of the hormone treatment for his prostate cancer, and I have found out that my friend's father is now facing the same treatment. But there have been positives. Despite her anxiety, The Daughter has spent three months travelling the world with her boyfriend, and both of The Sons have introduced wonderful girls into our family. Son Number One is getting on well with his job with the Forestry Commission, and Son Number Two has decided to go to Hull University this September, to study music. 

I've become reacquainted with old friends, gained respect for some people and lost it for others. Hopefully, I've put my life's priorities in better order and am becoming braver in saying what I feel. 

I don't tend to make any resolutions, mainly because I forget what they are by the end of January, but I hope I can stop comparing myself unfavourably to everyone else (and that it takes less than three months for me to remember to write '2016' on the board at school).

Over the years, Neil Gaiman has written his New Year wishes for everyone. They can all be seen here, but I particularly like the one for this year:
'Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. 
Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It's too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.
Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.'
I hope your new year is a good one.