Saturday, 24 January 2015

On good music and talking to ducks

With Son Number Two being a music student, we had booked tickets for a concert featuring Tommy Emmanuel. I have to admit I had not heard of him, but Son Number Two told me he was one of the best guitarists in the world, so why not? Last Thursday, we battled our way through cycling students in Cambridge and I did my best to look educated and guitar-savvy. We had pretty good seats, and I enjoyed some people-watching as the place filled up. We'd been to the Corn Exchange a few times, and it was strange to see the downstairs bit (sorry, I don't know theatre-speak) filled with seats rather than loads of sweaty 20-somethings jumping about and throwing plastic cups of beer. The tickets had said there was a support act, but not who it was. All that Son Number Two knew was that it was 'some Australian guy'. That guy turned out to be Anthony Snape who, in my opinion, was worth the ticket price himself. So, a good night with lots of music to be added to the 'to buy' list, and tickets to be bought when Anthony Snape returns later in the year. 

OU-wise, I have had the marks back for my last assignment. Feeling that I had taken huge liberties with the question, I was not expecting a good mark and shut my eyes as I clicked the link for my results. 50 would be acceptable, I thought, as long as I didn't get any sarcastic feedback (it wouldn't have been the first time). Less than that, and there could be tears. I got 86. I refreshed the page a couple of times and checked that a dirty computer screen wasn't turning a 3 into an 8, but no. So now it's on to the next one. Animism or the Scopes Trial? (Thanks go to Paul, for the book and film suggestions that helped me get my head around the Scopes Trial.) The chapter on animism started with a 'light-hearted quiz'; the first question being 'Have you ever sworn at your computer?' (Not personally, but the school's photocopier has taken a fair bit of verbal abuse.) 'Do you talk to animals?' it went on. Obviously not. Well, apart from the cats. And we did rescue two abandoned ducks which would quack back at you when you chatted to them. But I don't talk to animals in a Dr Doolittle kind of way. I have implored frogs to come back to life, after the cats have been playing with them, but that's different. 

Ducks... Can't live with 'em...

 Son Number One many years ago, with Duck 1

By the end of the quiz, I had answered 'yes' to an alarming amount of questions. I blame books. When you spend your childhood (and beyond) reading that rabbits can wear blue velvet jackets, that dormice sleep in teapots and that most wolves are on the side of the White Witch, there's no hope of believing in rational things. 

The next course book looks interesting - bring on the apocalypse! Not literally, you understand. I have things to do, and animals to talk to...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

And on to Book 3

I made a good choice with this course on religion and controversy. Obviously, my feelings may change when I get the marks back for my assignment. Sadly, the news this week has been reinforcing just how many sides there are to 'religion' or what is done in the name of religion. The issue of religion vs. free speech was one that was covered in my assignment, and yet again, it's in the news in such a shocking and bloody horrible way. I suppose it's kind of good that I can understand such issues a bit better than I did? It does make me really sad, though, when some students on the course still show deliberate ignorance. They act in the way a couple of our Year 5 children have done: 'So, if you're a Muslim you kill people.' It seems the children I've spoken to are more open-minded and willing to listen, though. Oh well, 'haters are gonna hate', as Son Number One says to me (along with 'Stop living in your little rainbow-coloured world, Mother.')

So, onwards to Book 3 of the course, which is about controversial ideas: science, new atheism, cognitive theory of religion, and animism, followed by an assignment on either the Scopes Trial or debates on animism. Both look appealing for a change. I usually have to pick an option depending on which I hate least. Apparently, the assignment is 'double-weighted', which I think could also relate to me, post-Christmas. Actually, looking at the Scopes Trial stuff (I had never heard of it before now), it has highlighted my ignorance at how we'd teach the origins of life at the school where I work. We are a Church of England school, but children don't have to be church-goers to attend. Basically, we're just the nearest primary school for most of our pupils, with a handful coming from out of our catchment area because of our C of E status. I don't recall going into creation in any of our lessons, but I'd like to think we'd do it in a kind of science-y way, with a 'some people think this...' added, and let them make their own minds up, rather than forcing some kind of view on them. (It would only be an introduction, anyway, as it's more of a high school subject.) And then they could learn creation myths from all around the world, and if they like the idea of Chaos and Gaia, then fine. I love the stories of the Thunderbirds, myself (no, not the puppets...). 

Anyway, I should really be getting back to the subject, myself. Today, my target is to read:
  • Revolution and the rejection of Christianity
  • From persecution to 'culture wars'
  • Atheists and fundamentalists: the Scopes Trial
  • The 1960s and after: religious crisis and resurgence.
Sigh. Or I may just eat biscuits and finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Onwards into 2015

Mid-assignment, I just wanted to wish you a very Happy New Year. We saw the new year in by watching films we'd got as Christmas presents. One of mine was Looper, which was my sort of thing, but will have to be watched for a second time (minus alcohol), as there were a few 'I'm-not-quite-sure-I-got-that' moments (to which I didn't want to admit, in case I got sighs and rolls-of-eyes because it was obvious to everyone else). My hearing has been kind of fixed, so I didn't have to use the subtitles I relied on a couple of weeks ago. They took a while to get the hang of, what with italics for someone out of shot, and all that. I was also glad I'm a quick reader, because all the bits in brackets (music in the background; a door slams etc) plus speech, took some speedy reading. Anyway, the hearing is making everything sound very loud and harsh (must get a quieter keyboard), but at least I can join in with things again. 

As I said, I'm halfway through an assignment. We had to choose out of two journal articles to read, and relate it to what we'd learnt from the second course book. So I've been reading about the banning of a play called Behzti (which I keep spelling wrong. The spellchecker's no help - it just asked me if I meant 'Betty'?) and am writing about how it relates to multiculturalism, identity, authority and the media. Not the most exciting of essays, although that may just be mine. Apologies, Mr Tutor. 

Because of the assignment, I am behind with everything else. Actually, that's a lie. Because of reading the entire series of Harry Potter books in an attempt to put off writing the assignment, the Christmas tree is still up and I have not been food-shopping for ages. The cats may have to have spaghetti hoops for dinner, and I think we'll have to choose from the dregs of Christmas biscuits and chocolate for ours. Never mind. There is still beer. 

So, what did I get for Christmas, apart from fatter? Books, obviously. Nail polish, which may prod me into stopping picking my fingers and make me at least try to look vaguely feminine... or not. Chocolate, always good. Boots, extra good. Wine, of course (I always think it sounds bad when you say your children got you alcohol for Christmas, but it probably makes their lives easier, too).

Family-wise, The Daughter and her boyfriend were up from Cornwall, which was brilliant. Sorry about the broken foot, Tim. There's a story for another day. My Dad is three weeks into his radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer, and finding it exhausting, but refused to let it spoil his Christmas. Kudos to you, Dad. Hang in there.

And that's it, so far. I must now go and rummage in the freezer, and make tea for the family. Chips and raspberry sorbet, anyone?

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... "