Friday, 20 February 2015

Hearing tests and blood spatter patterns

Part of today was spent in the nearby town of Bury St Edmunds (when she was little, my cousin thought it was called 'Berries and Lemons' - cute, but totally irrelevant to this post). The Husband was having a hearing test at the hospital and I was there for support (that's the official version. Actually, I was starting to suffer from Cabin Fever and wanted to avoid all the housework that's been left since my assignment was due). He had two appointments: the first for the test, and the second with the hearing aid department, in case he needed one. There was an hour between the appointments; we mooched around the hospital shop so The Husband could get a newspaper. I was not getting on with Douglas Adams, who I had brought with me in my bag, so I rummaged through the paperbacks on offer. For a tiny little hospital shop, they had a good selection of books, so I bought Val McDermid's non-fiction Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime. £8.99! I always buy books from Amazon, or that are on offer, so £8.99 was a bit yikes, but it had to be done; I couldn't sit there for 45 minutes being sociable. Luckily, the guy at the till only asked for £4.50, so I paid up and made a quick exit. 

I am fascinated by forensic science and if I had several thousand pounds (and was a bit more maths-savvy) I would love to do a degree in the subject. As it is, I have a ridiculous amount of books on it, plus an unhealthy knowledge of the time it takes for flesh to rot under different circumstances. Did you know the life-cycle of the blowfly is incredibly interesting? Bet you didn't. Perhaps that can be my project for when I finish with the OU. Not strewing dead bodies around the garden, but learning more about forensics. I think the main difference between being interested in a subject and learning about it, is the writing you have to do. So I'll have to set myself assignments. 'In no more than 2500 words, discuss the way in which Eduard Piotrowski's work on bloodstain pattern analysis was important to the field of forensic science.' To be worked on whenever you want to ignore the ironing. Actually, could I write about the way in which he bludgeoned live rabbits to death so he could study the way their blood shot up the walls? Harlow's work with monkeys for his attachment theory was enough to give me nightmares. 

I know I'm really going to miss the OU. This time next year, I'll be working on my last couple of assignments, and then what? When I started in 2010, it was because there was rubbish on television and I was bored. 'I'll only do one course,' I said. 'No, you won't,' said those who were already with the OU, 'learning's addictive.' And they were right. The more I learn, the less I seem to know about all the stuff that's out there. But it's all so expensive. The cost of OU courses has really gone up and I am so envious of the people that started in the 1980s and are on their 6th degree. Anyway, I have another year and a bit to go, so I'll save my moaning until then. 

As for our hospital visit, The Husband is on the border-line for needing / not needing a hearing aid, so he's going to get one for times when he really needs to listen. And then he'll leave it out when his mother phones. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

VD and the death of the complex sentence

As I waded through rubbish on Facebook this morning, putting off another assignment, I was puzzled by the amount of people wishing others 'Happy VD'. What a strange thing to be happy about, I thought. Perhaps it was to do with the release of the 50 Shades of Grey film? (And, no, I won't be watching it. Come on, you should know me better than that by now...). Of course, as my coffee started to work, I realised such posts were by people too lazy or too bad at spelling to write 'Valentine's Day.' 'And Merry STD to you, too,' I was tempted to type, but was too much of a coward.

I have started to write my new assignment, as it's due in by midday on Thursday. That's to say, I have opened a Word document. There it is, minimised at the bottom of my screen, occasionally calling out, 'Excuse me!' and being ignored in favour of... everything else. I have a pile of books and journal articles in front of me, which shows everyone my obvious eagerness to get writing. One is a book that arrived this morning (look, it's the half-term holiday this week; I have plenty of time to do this. She says.). The book's called Kissed by a Fox and is honestly about animism, although the title may have taken your imagination briefly along another path. When I looked up the title on Google Images, so I could include a photo on here, my computer started sweating unpleasantly; I have decided to use something grammar-related and far less interesting. 

That leads very clumsily to the grammar course which 3 of us went to this week. I've not mentioned Mrs GSOH for a while, but she now works at the school every morning and lunch-time, adding her little touches of insanity to the place. Anyway, she came with one of the reception-class TAs and me to be updated on grammar-lesson changes to the National Curriculum. Now, I love writing, and can hopefully write coherently most of the time, but I don't always know what the different bits of writing are called. When we got to the course, we started looking through the handouts that had been left on the table. One was a glossary. Cohesive devices...? Was that to do with grammar? We started wondering if we were on the right course. Maybe this was car maintenance, because that sounded like a kind of spanner. Fronted adverbials...? Perhaps this was biology. Passive, possessive, being stressed and subordinate?? What had we got ourselves into?

The tutor arrived before we could escape. 'Every school has a grammar snob,' she began, and the three of us looked at each other and nodded, while knowing it definitely wasn't one of us, because we had never heard of modal verbs. Anyway, we muddled our way through, and nodded sagely at all of the slides on her power-point. The coffee break was spent eating biscuits and worriedly sharing our lack of knowledge. 'I know semi-colons,' I said, relieved that I understood something, 'because we did them last week with the year 6s.' 'That's good,' replied Mrs GSOH, who then pointed out that I had chocolate on my face. Bloody hell - why can't I go somewhere and at least look intelligent?

So, what did we get out of the course? There is now no such thing as a 'complex' sentence, apparently. And this is because 'simple' sentences can be very complex (like grammar courses). We now have to talk about how many clauses the sentence has. And 'connectives' are now known as 'conjunctions'. We learnt that little children are very good at using passive sentences to get themselves out of trouble. I learnt that I know very little about grammar, and must take more care when eating. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Comic Sans, you're so patronising

Watching the breakfast news over the top of Harlan Coben this morning, there was an article on a man who has been searching the River Thames for tiny bits of metal - the Doves Type font. Robert Green, the man on a mission, was explaining how he thought that each font had a personality, and I thought here's someone I could have an interesting conversation with. Obviously, I should have thought: here's someone with whom I could have an interesting conversation, but it was early and I'd only had two cups of coffee, so I didn't. 'Mr Green,' I would say, 'don't you agree that Bauhaus 93 is so 1980s nightclub? And that Harlow Solid Italic should only ever be used by hairdressers?' 

But it did get me thinking about the fonts I use. Blogger gives you a very limited choice, (unless you know how to change html codes, which I don't) so I use Verdana, only because I don't like the others. The OU likes you to use Times New Roman, but my assignments are bad enough without that, so I rebel and use Calibri. On the school interactive whiteboards, I opt for Century Gothic (in bold for the added 'and quietly, thank you.') Comic Sans should not be allowed out of the reception class. Anyone who uses it when writing for adults should be taken to one side and given a talking-to. 

(And only one exclamation mark, thank you)

Whilst hunting on-line for links to the Doves Font story, I realised it wasn't big news. More space was given to the fact that supermarkets have been asked to move daffodils away from the fruit and veg sections, in case people eat them. See here if you really need reminding that the stupid gene seems to be taking over. 

What I did find, however, was a great time-waster - ideal for whiling away those hours when you should be writing assignments (in the font of your choice): is on the 'Psychology of Type'. There are several font-based quizzes, which form part of a research project and have stolen my Saturday morning. (Apparently, I should date a Futura font, as it's stylish, open and gives a well-considered opinion.)

Finally, if you are into fonts and the like, I recommend the brilliantly bonkers book Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. 

And... having just read through this, it's becoming more apparent that the essay on animism was the right choice... 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

On world wars and joining your handwriting

Every morning in class, we spend 10 minutes doing handwriting. The children, that is. I am trying to cultivate scruffier handwriting as I always get the 'You know you've got nice handwriting...?' appeals when someone needs 150 certificates writing out. Anyway, a couple of mornings ago, I noticed one child frowning at his work (I couldn't read it either), so I asked him if he was okay. 'I'm a bit worried,' he said. I was about to launch into my 'you just need to keep practising' spiel, when he added '...about World War Three.' Hmm. I had missed the news that morning. Should we actually be at school today? 'Only,' he said, 'we live right next door to Lakenheath, so obviously we're going to die.' A nearby child piped up with 'at least you'd get out of maths,' which was pretty similar to what I was going to say. I do hate it when children steal your best lines. 'I was just wondering what to do when a bomb falls on the school,' continued Morbid Child. I thought back to those useful and informative leaflets that had been handed out during the 80s, but didn't think he'd be convinced when I suggested he close all windows and sit under a table. 'If a bomb fell on the school, you'd definitely die,' said someone, helpfully, 'because all the roof would fall on you.' 'Oh,' said Morbid Child, 'do you think someone would feed my cats?' 'My Mum'll do it. I'll ask her,' Helpful Girl offered. And so the conversation turned to pets, and that's why we got very little handwriting done that morning. 

I did sympathise with Morbid Child's worries. I can remember being about 12 years old and sitting with my back to the television as the newscasters told us how close to a nuclear war we were. I know I silently cried into the book I was pretending to read because, if there was going to be a war, my guinea-pigs would die. I knew we humans would be fine, because we had a strong dining-room table, but what about the pets? I remember my friends and I getting all righteous about the appalling attitudes our parents had to our animals. 'When I asked about my rabbits,' one friend told me, 'my dad said we'd probably have to eat them.' Another friend said she was going to write to Margaret Thatcher and order her to make gas masks for horses. 

And while I'm writing this, Son Number One has just come in to ask how long it should take to run three miles. Well, if it was me, I'd have to do it in stages, so maybe a couple of days? And only if there were pubs at regular intervals. And the promise of steak and chips at the end. He tells me he's thinking of joining the RAF reserves. The Husband was in the Territorial Army for 12 years, so he can't really object, and I passed the selection tests for the RAF, but they didn't have jobs available for cartographers, which was what I wanted to do. (I chose the RAF because I felt it was classier, and their uniform was nicer than the Army's. Yes, I did used to be a total idiot.) 

So if World War Three could not happen just yet, I'd be most grateful. 

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.