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.