Friday, 29 February 2008

Where is Debio?

I don't normally do a 'calling all cars' thing on the blog, but just wondered if anyone out there knew what had happened to Debio (Land of Sand)? Her blog has been removed. Is she OK? Does anyone know? All answers on cyber postcard. No prizes but would love to find out.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Spreading the pinkness

Big, pink things need to be distributed widely - so I'd like to pass on my very treasured one (top of sidebar) to Expat Mum, Crazy Cath, Elizabeth M and Molly Gras. With love, pinkness and the accompanying cuddly feelings (but don't take too many at once or they'll make you sick. I'll be posting some bitter twisted ones to go with them soon).

Dawn chorus

"She won't move!"

It's 7.00 am and Deborah is sitting on the floor in the middle of the kitchen, making loud mewing noises, while Leo rapidly loses his temper nearby.

"Deborah, if you want to make sounds like that, go and make them in the sitting room."

She disappears. Within seconds, the mewing starts again, only louder.

"I said 'Go into the sitting room,' " I say, as Leo shows every sign of leaving his brief simmering phase and going instead for rapid boil mode, like those extremely fast kettles that are being advertised, though with the additional features of being much redder in the face and also capable of sudden, explosive violence.

"I am in the sitting room," says Deborah.

"She's in the doorway, which is why it's just as loud," says Leo, slowly, deliberately and with considerable force.

The cat, who has always had a nice sense of timing, chooses this minute to make an appearance from the garden and treat us to a new game of her own devising, called 'Keepy Uppy with a mouse." The mouse has every appearance of enjoying the game less than the cat, though the screams from Deborah as Leo finally runs out of patience may also be contributing to its general air of malaise and world-weariness.

We catch the mouse in a shoe. It runs up the shoe and falls out from a considerable height, attempts to stand up and falls onto its side. The cat, obviously brimful with new ideas for fun things to do with a small rodent, reappears before we can stop her, and bats it in an exploratory way with a sheathed paw. We recapture the mouse and release it outside. It huddles under a wall, looking vulnerable.

"We should put it out of its misery," I say, as I always do.

"Well, I'm not doing it," say Leo and Deborah, jolted out of their argument by the excitement of seeing something that's so obviously a much bigger victim than they are, despite being so much smaller.

All this, and there's still breakfast, school snacks, school uniform and my own departure to organise.

By the time I get to my first lesson, I feel as if I've already completed a full week's work.

"What do you say to your music teacher?" asks the class assistant, as the children line up at the end. I can only hope they see fit to recommend a large G&T followed by the rest of the day in bed.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Throwing in the towels

Not content with one freak accident, Francis busily accumulates more. He arranges to visit a factory. Hours before he sets off, it bursts into flames. He drives to Grimsby so he can share the rare beauty and magic of the dawn fish market on the docks and, that evening, feels the tremor of the UK's most vigorous earthquake for 250 years.

He baulks, though, at my suggestion that he might like to move on his own into reinforced, low level accommodation, carefully selected to avoid fault lines, tectonic plates, motorways and all materials implicated in cases of spontaneous combustion. "You could fill the place with sardines," I say. "They're definitely not on any list of hazardous materials, though I suppose you could slip on them."

Meanwhile, I have problems of my own. At school, the big xylophone is making a funny buzzing sound on the low notes. Either Francis' freak accident syndrome is catching, and it, too, is about to explode into flames, or there's something trapped inside - quite possibly the remains of an old music teacher, traumatised by one too many bracing motivational assembly chats.

"Now," says Sasha, to the school. "I want to talk to you about waste. When you dry your hands after you've been to the toilet, what do you do if you take too many paper towels?"

The children are baffled.

"I'll tell you exactly what you do," she says, voice rising scarily. "You just throw them on the floor. Creating mess. And one day, when you come in, there won't be any more, because thanks to your wasteful habits, we'll simply have run out. For ever."

There's dead silence.

"Now, here's what I want you to do. If you take too many, I want you to take all the spare ones to your teacher. They will be pleased, because there are so many things they can do with them. Like - mopping up after painting or...........

"Anyway," she continues, in a slightly hurried way. "They'll work out things to do with them. I expect they'll even put them back into the dispenser for you, if you ask nicely."

Given the general hygiene standards of the children, encouraging them to spread a merry trail of slightly used paper towels round the rest of the building seems to make about as much sense as keeping a colony of threadworm as the class pets.

The other teachers appear strangely unenthused by the notion that they might spend some of their free time carefully reinserting paper towels into a metal container so grimy that it looks as if, with just a little modification, it could provide a terrorist with a perfect starter bio-weapon.

"We need to cut down on mess," says Sasha. "Remember, a lion can choke on a plastic bag." It's the first useful piece of advice I've had all day.

Monday, 25 February 2008


Pink, big, impressive. And that's just my new award. Thank you Sweet Irene.

Table manners

Normally it's Francis who makes bizarre home decor decisions but this month, it's my turn. And I've taken full advantage of the fact.

The table was heavily reduced at the end of the sales and, judging by the torn and tattered nature of the price tag, had been for some time when I saw it - two enormous clues that could scarcely have been any more obvious if they'd come with big, red labels reading, "Don't buy this table," or "Unbeatable offer - exclusively reserved for the stupid and gullible!!!!"

Clearly my deerstalker hat and logical deduction gene is a more than normally recessed one.

"That's a very good price," I said to the assistant who gave me a look that I took, at the time, to be one of shared complicity but was, I now realise, a prime, "Is this one really this stupid or does she simply have a first rate sense of irony," expression.

"Mmmmm," she said, without committing herself.

"Large. Cheap. Slightly scuffed. Cheap. Solid..."

"And cheap," she chimed in, cleverly sensing the way my mind was working.

"I'll take it," I said.

She gave me another of those looks. This time I think it was tempered with pity.

"I hope the table's OK," said Francis, after he's dragged what looks like the hull of the Kontiki into the kitchen, "because it's so heavy I don't think we'll ever get it back out again."

He sets to work with a screwdriver and puts on the legs.

"Mmmmmmm," he says, as the fourth goes on, sounding like the assistant. "Right. Help me turn it over."

"A triumph," I say.

"Did you try sitting down before you bought it?" he asks. "No? Go on, then."

When I do, the fatal flaw strikes me. The table is ludicrously high. If you're less than six foot tall, sit down and your head bobs above the table top like a swimmer in choppy water. Deborah will struggle to see her plate in the evening, let alone manage to point her cutlery in the direction of the food.

"Bloody hell," says Lindy, as she sits down at the new kitchen table. "What sort of look are you aiming for? A tea time dwarves' symposium? Mind you," she adds. "It could be quite fun. I've always thought you come with some much more exciting names for Snow White's little friends........"

Friday, 22 February 2008

Only a car

"It's only a lump of metal," I say to myself.

The flat bed loader has arrived to take away Francis' old car for scrap. There's just enough of a charge in the battery for the man to drive it up the ramp. He parks it facing the only other car there, a white Rover. They are almost nose to nose, massively immobile, like prize fighters squaring up for a final bout.

The car was once my father's. He bought it when he was already ill and, for the first, and last, time in his life, abandoned his 'Which' guides with their careful reckoning up of every feature and instead went against his nature and splashed out, figuring, sensibly, why not?

It was briefly my mother's and then, after her death, it belonged to Francis.

The loader turns round and drives back up the road. As it passes the house, I see that a strand of red and white sticky police tape that secured the boot has worked loose and twists gaily in the slipstream as if we've decorated the car to celebrate its final journey.

I look down, hard. It is, after all, only a car.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Cunning plans

The nightmare of half term is shattered by the nightmare of an e-mail from Sasha, reminding us that as the school inspectors are due for a visit, our lessons must be not only flawless in the execution but pristine in the planning, too.

As somebody whose notes for the term so far read, "Amass fortune. Escape," I can't help feeling that I may have a little work to do. Oh, all right. A great deal of work, given that lesson plans should be so hedged about with jargon, goals, success criteria and enthusiasm that it's quite hard to see what it is you're teaching, let alone what the children are actually supposed to get out of it.

I start with reception who, this term, will be embarking on 'Five fat sausages.' In just ten minutes, aided by a smallish but essential quantity of hallucinogenic drugs and a Thesaurus, I've turned a flimsily constructed little nursery rhyme into a mansion of ideals, so lofty that with retrospective planning permission it could probably make a nice home for a Russian billionaire or, with just a little more work, be whipped up into a doctoral thesis entitled, "Towards a fairer economy: the pork and seasonings dynamic," and submitted to the London School of Economics.

The school, in what I suspect will prove to be a masterpiece of misjudged lulling and false security efforts, has so far presented the inspectors as lovely people who want only to offer kindly advice and make our lives the kitten and rainbow paradises that they deserve to be, rather in the manner of those books that portray hospitals to children as earthly manifestations of fairyland.

And, as I give the Year 2 music lessons a slick makeover (before: Sing songs, go back classroom. After: Explore dynamics, pitch, rhythm, write and perform ostinatos, develop listening skills, thinking skills, speaking skills - all in just half an hour!! No brains were harmed in the making of these lesson plans) I can't help wondering just when the truth is going to dawn.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Pursed lips

"Mum, I need to see a psychiatrist," says Deborah, who has definitely been watching too much tv this half term.


"Because I'm too scared to go upstairs. It's not normal. I think it's a neurosis. And, in any case, there's monsters in the wardrobes."

I sigh - a parent's theatrical 'How many times do I have to tell you?' sigh. Deborah sighs back, only better and more theatrically.

"If you want me to take you to the adventure playground with a friend, you have to go upstairs and tidy your room."

There's a pause while Deborah tries to work out whether it would be worthwhile seizing the phone, locking herself in the loo and calling a friend anyway, and I try to work out what I'll do if she does.

Very fortunately, the phone rings, sparing us the necessity of finding out.

"God, I'm bored," says Vicky. "Even wine's losing its appeal. I got so fed up I even tried experimenting with the bog cleaners to see if I could get them to explode, the way it says they do on the labels if you mix them up."

"And did it work?"

"Did it, f***."

"So what have you got arranged for the rest of the day?"

"I'm so bored I've booked myself in for a fairly drastic bikini wax. It's all very well sorting out your top hair but there's no point leaving it like that. What with ageing and having children, everything's running wild - or falling out. I looked down this morning and for a second I could swear there was a horrible old man with a tangly beard and pursed lips staring straight back."

It's just dawned on me that the phone's on loudspeaker and Deborah is listening, open-mouthed.

"Mum," she says. "Why has Vicky got an old man looking at her in the bathroom."

"I - She -." For once, I'm at a loss.

"At least my monsters are imaginary," she says. "But Vicky. She needs a psychiatrist. Definitely."

And shaking her head thoughtfully, she sets off up the stairs.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Carbon footprints in the sand

Francis is up at 5.00 am, early but not bright, to make the journey to work by train. And so, owing to the audible nature of his misery, are the rest of us.

"Fifty miles away and it's going to take me three hours. I'd be better off using a pack horse."

"Hang on, darling," I say, "I'll nip out and see if anyone's left one out for recycling."

I get The look. Normally it's just A look - 'The' look being reserved for occasions when it is imperative to communicate, without words, how fundamentally I have failed to measure up to theoretical wifely standards - as defined by Francis, anyway - by being flippant when a mature, considered approach is called for.

"I'm not a horrible, unpleasant bitch," I say, indignantly to Vicky later.

"You're not?" she says. "Then why the bloody hell am I friends with you? You'd better shape up or they'll have you carted off to Lovely Land with the other mothers and we'll never see you again for the clouds of platitudes. Tell you what, I'll text you some insults to get you started. They're left over from a dinner party we had at the weekend. And I want to see them all used up by evening."

I'm not expecting Francis back until late and am just contemplating the prospect of cooking the children's meal with disfavour, wondering if raw chicken really is as harmful as they say it is, when there's a strange roaring noise from outside.

"Good God," I say to Deborah, who is trying to deepen the scandal of middle class drinking habits by wresting my second glass of wine from me and downing it in one while I fight her off with the bottle, "What do you think that is?"

Before she can reply, the front door opens and Francis appears.

"The good news," he says, "Is that the office have found something I can drive till we sort out another car."

"And the bad news?"

"Come and take a look."

Outside is an enormous truck. It's not so much a cross between a Jeep, Land Rover and cement mixer as an of amalgamation of all three. It has a vaguely militaristic look to it - though one that is immediately negated by the paintwork, which sports the company logo floating in a vibrant seascape, complete with mermaids, sardines and something I greatly fear is an octopus peeping coyly from from one of the wheel arches.

"Nice," I say.


"Just wait," I say, and call Beth, who has been more than unusually pouty and unpleasant since she came back from school, ever since I told her we might have no way of transporting her to her next social engagement.

"You will be able to go to your disco at the weekend after all," I say. "And just look at what we'll be taking you in."

Beth stares, then a look of total, unmitigated horror crosses her face.

"No, please, no," she gasps, and runs into the house.

"Every cloud....." I say to Francis. "Fancy a beer?"

Monday, 18 February 2008

Half term - double the fun. Guaranteed!!!

Worried about missing out on those precious early morning school run moments over half term?

Now, just for you, local authorities have combined forces to come up with a very special offer: the chance to double the fun all the way through to Easter by spreading your half term over not one, but two whole weeks, absolutely free!

It's so easy. There are no forms to fill out - you don't even have to scrawl an 'x' on a document with a shaky, hungover hand.

Follow these simple steps and there's a very real chance that you, too, can make lie ins a thing of the past!!

All you have to do is have at least two children in different schools run by different councils and you can virtually guarantee that, despite the giant steps in communications technology, those crazy officials in adjoining areas just a few miles apart will never talk to each other when they're planning the school calendar!

The result? Pure magic.

Thrill in Week 1 as the first child on half term is prodded awake so you can get the others, who aren't, to their school on time.

Then enjoy the experience in reverse the following week.

Lie back - or, more realistically, sit bolt upright - and give your life a boost by keeping the roller coaster term time experiences coming all the way through half term, too - guaranteed!

Thrill to that all time 6.30 am favourite, "Mum, have you seen my sports shirt? I need it NOW!"

Gasp at the twists and turns of the daringly plotted hunt to find it against the clock.

Marvel at the way it turns up under the sofa, covered with dog hair and unexplained sticky patches, just after you've dropped a distraught child, sobbing, "I'm going to get detention if I turn up without it."

Wonder at the high powered car chase as you try to work out exactly which bus the children are on and if it's possible to throw the shirt through the window

Snore as those powerful tranquillisers kick in

And next week - do the same thing all over again.

Happy Half Term!!!!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Bling for the blog

Thank you Debio for my delightful awards. Mya, Iota, Molly Gras, Sweet Irene and Expat Mum - they're yours. Polish in second drawer down.

Party politics

"....She marched in to see the director of studies and said, 'I'm not doing my A-levels here - the teachers are a bunch of incompetents........"

"...Who am I? The boyfriend. Apparently."

"...So I was her best friend when she was living with her mother in the States and Ruby was her best friend here. She took one look at me and you could see the hatred in her eyes. I was the rival. Friend, lover, she just didn't know. I tell you what I think. I think she's evil."

"....She says we have met. Apparently I came round to her flat ten years ago when she was having a moving out sale, bought a Barbie for my daughter, then had a huge row with my wife over whether it was an appropriate toy for our little girl. It went straight up to the loft and I haven't seen it since."

"...Do you like the ring? Twenty five thousand dollars! Apparently that stone is just about the best you can get. I know 45 is a bit late to be tying the knot but my three cats - I call them the girls - love him."

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Parking fine and dandy

Two letters arrive for Francis from the insurers. One confirms that his car is worth less than a Northern Rock share; the other expresses mild surprise that he has declined to insure anything with them ever again.

Belatedly, I check consumer review websites and discover that there are two types of comment about the insurer. The first sort praise its charm, low costs and ease of contact when policies are first taken out. The second all complain bitterly of the firm's intransigence, small payouts and capacity for spreading misery round the world when claims are being processed.

"We should have looked at these before we took out the policy," I say to Francis. But he is too busy slipping a letter about a parking fine under his other post to answer.

I don't like to tell him that I can spot a penalty fine envelope at fifty paces and that he's hopeless at concealing things. The reason I don't like to tell him is, naturally, so I can store up the information and surprise him with it when he next complains about the phone bill which - judging by the other post - is scheduled to happen about an hour from now.

Marriage is a war but one where, if you're lucky, you achieve a stand-off early on and spend the rest of your years trying to upgrade your weapons to achieve tactical superiority. His parking fine, my phone bill. Thank God he wasn't killed in that crash. Forget Nintendo games to boost brain power. Sharpening your wits on your husband instead definitely does it for me.

I check my e-mail spam. "Basic Craps," the first is headed. So, so right, honey. But worth it. As far as Francis and parking tickets are concerned, you can hide, but you can't run.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Prickly nasties

" the bad fairy came along and took away all the warm fuzzies and swapped them with prickly nasties."

Another day, another assembly, another story with a moral that appears to bear absolutely no relation to the reality of life at school, or anywhere else for that matter.

So far this term we've been treated to:

- the man whose garden withered until he let all the neighbourhood children play in it; moral, let them in or the little b****** will vandalise it anyway

- the giraffe who only achieved true happiness by giving away all her possessions; moral - giraffes, wise up.

- the cheerful woman who refused to let untold misery grind her down and always had a smile and a quip for everyone; moral, doesn't even bear thinking about but definitely involves martyrdom, brave smiles and a national epidemic of passive aggressive behaviour, which I think is probably attributable to global warming and almost certainly spread by a new strain of horribly complacent mosquitos which fly about with their tiny heads tilted on one side in an attitude of irritating compassion and understanding. At least it makes dengue fever sound positively delightful by comparison.

The story concludes (there's something about prickly nasties being replaced by a good fairy who gives everybody warm fuzzies and is promptly arrested on suspicion of child abuse) I play the hymn with the music upside down, but nobody notices, including me, and then it's time for a staff meeting.

If the children are allowed to barbecue a sausage to commemorate Australia Day (why sausages? Why Australia Day?) will there be a vegetarian alternative?

One of the teaching assistants is going on a firefighting course. Somebody points out that as she is not in until midday, fires can only be allowed after lunch. Also that the fire brigade advocates getting the hell out of the building and leaving the fire fighting to them. "It's just for little fires," she says, looking wistfully at the smaller electrical appliances and clearly willing them to burst into carefully controlled flames.

At the 'Any other business' stage, I ask if there are any themes that the teachers would like reflected in the music lessons. There is a long pause.

"Pirates, Countries and Light," says a Year 1 teacher. "All about me," says the Reception team, "and we're doing food in the second half of the term. They could sing 'Sizzling Sausages'".

"Animals," says Sasha. There's a pause while I wonder whether to ask if this is a magisterial comment on the rest of us or a theme, then decide against it and just write it down.

Later, at home, I practise a new song. It is called: "Thank you Lord for this new day." Deborah is rolling around the carpet and screaming because I won't stop playing the piano so she can watch television and Francis is gloomily studying more documents from the insurance company that appear to read, "You're a loser. Accept it and take this derisory cheque, or else."

I look at the performance note at the beginning of the hymn.

"With quiet joy," it says.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Wheels within wheels

Francis' car insurers point out the teeny tiny print that they've concealed under the stamp on the envelope containing this documents. It says that if your car is a write off, they get to cancel your policy immediately, don't pay you a refund and keep the money. It's an industry standard, apparently, and one that I can't help admiring for the unabashed greed it displays, so naked that it would be turned away at the doors of a flasher's convention for indecent exposure.

All would be lost except that, as Francis' policy happens to expire at the end of February, we have scored a small but significant victory over Big Business and are thus triumphant.

Just not for very long.

"What do you think of this advertisement?" asks Francis. He shows me a description of a car, so amazing, judging by the description, that it appears to have been hand-crafted by angels in some celestial workshop where love, attention and the blessing of God appear to be the benchmark production standards.

"It sounds fantastic. What is it?"

"My old car. I'm putting it up for sale."

Years ago, Francis inherited an old wreck of a car. Owing to its rarity value - most of its counterparts have long since fallen apart, and a small bunch of self-deluding enthusiasts is buying up the few that remain in a vain attempt to talk them out of their determined attempts to rust themselves to death - it is worth more than it might be, but not as much as Francis' advertisement would suggest.

Several hours later, the bidding is rocketing up, often rising by as much as - oooh, £1 or £2 at a time.

"I think it's safe to say that we should soon be into double figures," says Francis. At this rate, given that the insurance company appears to be planning to offer Francis a similar amount for his now written-off work car, we should, at the very least, be able to afford quite a decent framed picture of the replacement car Francis would have like to buy but, as things stand, can't.

"Do you know how you're going to get to work?" I ask.

"No," he says. Then adds - and I should have seen this one coming - "But if you play it on the piano, I'm sure I can pick up the tune."

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Closing the motorway

Francis calls as I'm investigating the fridge, trying to work out whether any of the assorted scary looking objects in tupperware containers is food or, more likely, a colony of small, slightly smelly alien hatchlings, left for safekeeping by their parents while they head off for a night on the tiles.

"I've just closed the motorway," he says in what, with hindsight, is a tone of unnatural calm.

"Oh, well done, darling," I say, only half listening and vaguely imaging closing motorways, like judging Miss Mermaid, to be another slightly eccentric job requirement - a sort of reverse opening ceremony where you pocket the champagne, close the scissors and rewind the ribbon into a neat figure of eight shape round your fingers.

"No, you don't understand," he says."I'm at the front of a three-car pile up but I'm fine, thanking you for your concern."

"I am concerned," I say. "But I take it you're not badly hurt, otherwise you wouldn't be able to call me. What happened?"

"A van ran into the car behind me and I couldn't accelerate fast enough to stop him hitting me."

"Are the other drivers OK?"

"Well, the van driver who started it all isn't."


"Because I've just punched him in the face."


"I didn't like his attitude."

"I shouldn't think he's wild about yours, either," I say. "Why did you punch him?"

"He started blaming me for braking. Then when the police came over, he decided he didn't like their attitude much, either, so he ran away. They asked me if he had any distinguishing features and I said, 'Yes - a big bruise on his right cheek where I hit him," and they all laughed. Anyway, they've brought in a couple of bloodhounds and they're tracking him across the fields."

Francis arrives home several hours later, sounding considerably less calm as the shock sets in. He calls his boss, whose immediate reaction is to ask when he'll be in again.

"Wrong way round," says Francis, helpfully. "First you ask how I am, THEN you demand to know when I'll be back. It's better for employee morale. Just a tip for next time."

Then, surveying the still driveable car with its crumpled boot, secured by police emergency tape, he pours himself an extra large drink with an only slightly shaky hand and starts to ring the insurers.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Trifling moments: extracts from a suburban drinks party

"- I do wonder how she copes now she's in the police. She's just so pink and fluffy. She'll call me up and say, '" Hi, Mum. I just had a few minutes free after arresting a shoplifter so I thought I'd call up and see how you are.'"

"- Trifle? Anyone want some more trifle?"

"- So I unwrap it and it's this book full of tips. For girls, allegedly. And I can't make head nor tail of them."

"- Then she rings me up the other day and tells me she hasn't had a moment to herself all morning what with wrestling one criminal to the ground after another, and she's black and blue all up her legs. Then she just goes, 'Love you, Mum. Just turned the sirens on. Sorry if it's a bit noisy.' And, then, to crown it all, she calls this morning and says, 'Hope you're not cooking, Mum, I just had to tell you what I've been up today"

"- Yes I did do something completely different for the first ten years. But I'm certainly not going to tell YOU what it was."

"- There's still lots of trifle left. Come on, you lot."

" - So she says, 'We get up the top of the stairs and it doesn't smell - but only because the bedroom door's been closed for six weeks. I have a quick look and see the body's up against the radiator - and the heating's on full blast. And I think, 'Aye-aye,'. So I turn to the women pcs and say, 'Anyone got some scent, because I think we need some for our hankies?' Wouldn't be so bad except by now the relations have turned up and they're all watching from downstairs. So we're handling things really sensitively and we just sort of roll him to the top of the stairs, but gently. And then his head comes off and rolls all the way to the bottom - and two of the other policewomen faint. Are you making shortbread, Mum? I really miss your shortbread.'"

"....And I just don't understand all the tips. For example, 'Think of your nipples as headlights,' What does it mean? And if I did, what would they suggest using to get a dipped beam?"

Saturday, 9 February 2008

The gorgeousness, the gorgeousness

I'm pretty sure this is a quote from some film or other, though I may have got gorgeousness wrong. I'm pretty sure that 'the' is right, though - so 50% is pretty good and, in the UK, enough to get me a brace of A-starred GCSEs.

More lovely, lovely awards. I think all of you out there may have some or all of them already, but here goes:

The air kiss to Mother at Large, Molly Gras, Casdok, Gwen, DJKirby and Dulwich Mum

The creative blogger to Stay at Home Dad - I'm worried about you, SAHD - you don't write, you don't comment - where are you? To Miss with Love and to Dumdad.

Happy polishing, all.

Staging posts to Lovely land

It's sickness time at school, enabling the staff to combine two of their favourite pastimes - bringing in home made cake and symptoms and passing round both with equal enthusiasm.

In fact, there are occasions when the whole place resembles some sort of anti-miracle storytelling event. No sooner is one teacher off her crutches than another gets some instead. The place echos to the sound of slow, portenteous footsteps. Add a couple of wooden legs and we could stage several simultaneous performances of 'Treasure Island,' with me, cast by Sasha, taking a cameo role as the Black Spot of doom.

This morning, reception has embarked on a bit of music and movement. The children jog on the spot, freeze, and proclaim the virtues of regular exercise, while I shuffle from foot to foot in order to create the illusion of frenzied activity.

As the song finishes, Pete puts up his hand. "Miss," he says, "My finger hurts." "Just as well you don't sing with your finger, then," I say, in my least plausible jolly voice which grates so much that I half expect the vibrations to cause a flock of small songbirds to be struck dead in mid air and plummet to earth.

The children ignore my voice and instead brandish limbs at me with the gusto of trainee lepers, accompanied by many gut-wrenching moans whose vigour and clarity outstrips anything they've produced during the rest of the lesson. Some hastily pick at cuts so historic they've been listed by English Heritage to try and wrench off remaining scabs, and hold these out to me as well.

"Miss, my hand," "My tooth," "My leg,"

"MY GOD!" I say, rather more loudly than planned.

There's a sudden silence, possibly caused by the fact that this is the first and only time they've ever heard me say anything that's filled with genuine, raw emotion.

"Right," I say, making the tactical error of assuming that underneath the pain, they've been enjoying leaping round the room. "Anybody feeling really ill had better sit on the bench." Within seconds, the whole class is fighting for a seat and the moans and groans are now mixed with screams of genuine pain as skirmishes break out over the last space.

There's a courtesy knock on the door and - "We take music very seriously," Sasha is, inevitably, saying, and looking backwards as she does it towards the group of prospective parents she's bringing round the school on a guided tour.

This is a mistake.

The parents' expectant looks vanish. Music is clearly not a staging post on the way to Lovely Land - not this morning anyway.

Pete, finger troubles apparently forgotten, jumps on top of Clifford, with the clear intention of squashing him to death - forgetting, of course, that in an expanded state, Clifford will take up more room on the bench.

"And on to the library," Sasha says, smartly executing a 180 degree turn, and disappearing again.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008


The migrating mould has broken all previous records, arriving earlier than ever before and bursting out with vigour in the bathroom where it has forced the grout into ignominous retreat and now delights the entire family with its glorious black moistness as it consolidates its territory round the edge of the bath.

The wall down the side has awoken from its winter hiberation and is moving again, possibly to a more desirable area where property prices are stable. As it sheds its dowdy old bricks, no doubt in the fervent but utterly misguided belief that, thanks to bountiful Mother Nature, new ones will soon grow back, we can only admire its willpower as the garden gate is gradually shaken clear of its frame.

The neighbours, too, are stirring. They aren't usually seen until after dusk, darkness providing cover for their characteristic behaviour - deliveries of anonymous hate mail and cries of, "Who did threw that brick? I'll get you, you little b****** if I see you again."

It's a wonderful world. Let us rejoice in it, using the repertoire of quaint old four letter words that Thomas Hardy so strangely omitted in his classic works. Sometimes I feel that here, strangely, I am closer to nature that he ever was.

I love you all.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008


"Have just heard ad for something called climactic air conditioning for cars. Can it be true?" I text Vicky.

"Suspect word is climatic. But if climactic, get me one," she texts back. "Especially if you get to choose the voice."

"If climactic, could sound like Edward Heath and you wouldn't care."

Later, I'm driving along just imagining how much a good, muscular climactic air conditioning system would bring to the dullest school run - 'Hot, oh, God, hot. No - hotter, hotter, hotter. More. More.....' when I come across a car that appears to have been driven at great speed up a lampost and now rests with its rear wheels on the ground, entire front end elevated and resting on the lampost, like an affectionate pet. The lamp itself is turned towards the car, as though making a tender enquiry about its well-being.

The car looks expensive. Its driver, a man resting his arms on the steering wheel, is staring straight ahead. There is no sign of any other car, urban fox or cat that might have caused the accident. It's as if, maddened by something the lampost said, he has simply done his best to run it down.

"Do you need help?" I ask, winding down the window.

"I'm fine," he says, not looking round. "Can't say the same about the car, unfortunately."

"Oh, well. It happens," I answer, with the first platitude that comes into my head. It makes him turn and look at me for a second, with evident incredulity. It is obvious that not only have I never seen a car up a lamppost before, but nor has anyone else, judging by the small crowd of pointing, happy onlookers that's rapidly gathering to film the event and post it on social websites round the world.

"Just saw car up lamppost," I tell Vicky, when I get home.

"Probably just road testing his climactic air conditioning," says Vicky. "Maybe not such a good buy after all."

Monday, 4 February 2008

The joy of sects

"Do you prefer authentic 17th century music or the modern pieces written especially for children?" asks Sasha, next day.

Ten minutes into my recorder lesson, she's entered at a gallop. Appalled by the noise the children are making, she plucks recorders from them as she passes so that by the time she reaches the piano she resembles a demented Interflora employee, bearing what looks like a bunch of deformed, bloomless stems.

“This school is noted for its above average discipline,” she lectures me. “That was absolutely dreadful. I could hear them all the way down the corridor.”

She announces that she has a lute and is not afraid to use it. To try and work out my next move in this musical one-upmanship version of 'Stone, paper, scissors,' I have bought a book in a second hand shop about old musical instruments. It has the grippingly apposite title "Old Musical Instruments," and copious illustrations. The very first one features the Sirens who, it says, "symbolise the forces of destruction unleashed by evil sounds." Not a good time to start acting on those voices in my head, then, and claiming that satanically altered madrigal words made me swap my recorder for a set of kitchen knives.

"Apparently Sasha belongs to some weird sect," I tell Vicky, when I see her later. "One of the other teachers told me."

"So what do they believe in?" asks Vicky.

"Apparently they see evil everywhere."

"So does everyone Bad Lindy's ever met. Proves nothing. And it's practically inevitable with the recorder, I'd have thought."

"It follows the teachings of a woman, who emerged from a submerged continent after 35,000 years to reveal the truth."

"Which is?"

"They believe the human body is evil. And when I think of all that ogling going on at Miss Mermaid, I've got more than a grain of sympathy."

"It took her 35,000 years to come up with that?" says Vicky. "Somebody should have told her to pop down for another few thousand years until she thought up something more interesting."

Sunday, 3 February 2008

News from the Deep

"The job's killing me," says Francis. His words contrast oddly with his pink, healthy complexion and the cheerful way he speaks them as he cracks open another can of beer.

He shakes his head sadly at the enormous spreadsheet on the screen in front of him, so big that nobody alive has viewed it in its entirety.

Stabbing the tab right button, he sets off on his nightly exercise programme which, as far as I can tell, involves seeing if he can reach the far end before falling asleep.

"What are those figures supposed to tell you?" I ask.

"Nobody knows," he says. "Even the forecasting guru they commissioned it from has forgotten what it's about. But if I can decipher it, I get to judge the Miss Mermaid contest."

"Tell me you've just made that up."

"Yes," he says. "Because I'm a judge anyway."

"Miss Mermaid?"

"Yes? So? It's all linked to Omega 3."

"In which case, why not Miss Fish Head? I could come up with several contenders, starting with Sasha."

"I'll suggest it for next year," says Francis, deadpan. "Meanwhile, I'm a judge because we're the biggest sponsors. Honestly, it's a nightmare."

"Let me get this right," I say, "You have to judge a bunch of gorgeous, pouting, nubile women?"


"So, apart from being gorgeous and pouting, what are you judging them on? Their tails?"

"That, and their innner beauty."

"How do you do that? Analyse them for edible oil content?"

"No. I just get to ogle them from a table under the stage."

"I want to come with you," I say.

"OK," he says. "But are you sure you'll be able to walk in the tail outfit without falling over? And you would be ....well, a left field contender for the title."

"Don't be daft," I say. "I'm nominating myself as ogling monitor."

"I'll think about it," he says. "I do hope you're not jealous."

"Jealous? Of a bunch of luscious beauties all trying to get your attention and prepared to do almost anything to gain the title? What makes you think I'd be jealous?"

"That's all right then," says Francis, and carries on with his tabbing.

I go out and turn on my own computer, taking limited consolation from Megadik's latest e-mail assuring me that, "Evenings alone are a thing of the past with your brand new dick," - while being unspecific as just what sort of new brand new friends a middle aged female music teacher with an extra appendage might acquire. Perhaps I should ask the mermaids for tips.

Saturday, 2 February 2008


Dumdad, in Paris, has very kindly passed on the Excellent Blog Award, originating with a Canadian blogger who says:

'I love being a part of the blogging community and part of all the friendships that I've formed so I wanted to give a blog award for all of you out there that have Excellent Blogs. By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you have to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least 10.'

I would like to pass it on to the following (as it's at least 10, I plan to add more):

Not wrong, just different; Casdok (Mother of Shrek); Mother at Large; Sweet Irene; The Rotten Correspondent; Crystal Jigsaw; Mutley the Dog; Frog in the field; Potty Mummy; Stay at Home Dad - this a rugged one, SAHD, you'll like it!; To Miss with Love; DJ Kirby; Lady Macleod.

Dumdad, who is currently celebrating a major lottery win - check it out and bid for your share now - has also awarded me a chic Parisian award which I think adds that touch of continental sophistication I've been searching for for so long. Thank you, Dumdad.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Blowing it

It's playtime and I'm just about to call in the children for choir practice. My plastic trousers are sizzling on the radiator like a left-field hors d'oeuvre in a low-budget cookery programme with a brace of shoulder pads, resembling refugees from an experimental sanitary towel factory, keeping them company.

Outside the hall, the children are, as usual, peering putting their heads round the door like tiny spies. Either they're struggling with the metaphysics of self, context and reality or else Sasha has bugged their healthy eating snacks with little cameras and is paying per second of compromising footage.

I text Bad Lindy, Vicky and Francis to update them on my morning so far:

"Think may have blown shoulder pads gambit."

"What about mixed presentation platter of oily fish? Known international friendship symbol," suggests Francis, whose brain has clearly performed a successful separation exercise from the rest of his body and is now living underwater and suffering from pressure sickness.

"Stupid c***," texts Bad Lindy, with the characteristic depth of sympathy and fellow feeling that's made her such a strong contender in the 'Confidante of the year' awards. "Try blowing the f****** recorder instead. It's the only language she understands."

As I pick up the special non-trip rubber casing into which the overhead projector lead must be inserted, thanks to new health and safety regulations, retching slightly as I encounter its own protective coating of old jelly and bits of second hand sausage, making it to tactile sensation what strychnine is to tea at the Ritz, Conrad appears.

"Miss," he says, "I don't really want to come to choir." I wink at him. "Conrad," I say,"I'll let you into a little secret. I don't want to, either. But if you don't let on, nor will I."