Friday, 19 June 2009

Pigeon holed in one

Since the swine flu episode, there are tell-tale signs that my popularity, never high with those at the top, has waned even further.

My pigeon hole has been moved. It's now right next to the inward opening door.

It's also so low down that anyone entering the staff room in a hurry stands a real chance not just of decapitating me but, with a little effort, favourable draught and suitably placed receptacle, achieving a hole in one.

Then there are the memos. Hate mail I could deal with. For one thing, I could mark it out of ten, write 'Next time, don't forget to include your name,' and then blu tack it to the notice board, in the sure knowledge that the offender would be pathologically unable to resist writing out any spelling mistakes three times and thus be unmasked.

But anonymous hints and tips on report writing is another thing altogether.

'"Sings well unaccompanied." "Enjoys performing to an audience."' I read out to the deputy head. 'Am I really that incompetent?'

'No.....' she says, though with her eyes cast firmly downwards as if hoping to find her next cue woven into the heavy duty carpet fibres along with the biscuit crumbs and tea stains. 'Though I do think you might consider checking that all the children you do actually write reports for are still at the school.'

This is in reference to my glowing tribute to a pupil praising his inate musicality, impressive vocal range and prodigious recorder skills. It was written at speed just as the second bottle was taking effect and despatched to the relevant class teacher with a glowing sense of a job well done. As, indeed it would have been, if only the child hadn't turned out to have left after only one term.

I look through the latest sheet of photocopied comments again, and a pattern seems to emerge.

'Oh, my God,' I say. 'Listen. "Needs to spend more time practising to improve performance skills. Needs to develop sustained listening skills" I don't think these are about the children at all. They're about me.'

The deputy head stares down at the list. 'I think you could be right,' she says. 'Especially this one. "Needs to listen more carefully to instructions and respond more positively."'

'What rubbish,' I snort. 'What did you say, anyway?'

Breakfast coarse

'Had a good time at the sleepover?' I ask Deborah, as I collect her from Vicky's house.
'It was great,' she says. 'We stole all the DVDs with sex and violence, pretended we were asleep, then watched them till 3.15 am. Actually, we didn't need to pretend because Vicky had gone to sleep on the kitchen floor. And guess what we had for breakfast?'
Chez Vicky, it's anyone's guess.
White wine and nachos?' I venture. 'Vodka smoothies? Coco Pop crudites?'
'Breast pancakes, of course,' says Deborah brightly.
'Well, of course,' I say, looking back down the street to see if a social services SWAT team is even now breaking down Vicky's door.
Not that much later, I call Vicky to ask when exactly it was that she decided on anatomically correct portion control as the way forward in children's catering.
'It's a special mould,' she says, sounding, for her, a tad shamefaced. 'Lindy gave it to me ages ago and I'd shoved it in a drawer and forgotten about it. Little buggers nicked it. Still, it could have been worse,' she says.
'They didn't look in the other drawer. If they had, it would have been penis on toast, instead.'

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Swine fever - the musical!

I arrive at school in a wave of hysteria. Actually, I arrive everywhere in a wave of hysteria. It's just more obvious in a school, where at least half the staff seem to have been recruited for their ability to exist in a state of ordered calm that borders on the unnatural.

Like everyone else, I've been calculating the odds of staying in employment with or without a pension. Thanks to swine fever, the good news is that none of us will need to worry about being jobless - or reaching pensionable age.

The bad news is that because of swine fever, this is because we'll all be dead.

But there's one silver lining to it all. Our fabulous new pandemic coincides with planning for the summer plays. Asked to consider animal-based themes for reception, I've had some corking ideas.

There's the semi-staged version of 'Old Macdonald's Farm,' whose climax coincides with the line 'and on that farm he had some pigs,' which is follows by mass hysteria and a stampede for the exit.

Or we could do 'Three little pigs,' with the three hastily crossed out and replaced, successively by 'two,' 'one' and, 'Oh my God, I've got the sniffles,' followed by mass hysteria and so on.

Chortling heartily at my own wit, I pull open the staff room door and by way of greeting shout, 'We're all going to die!'

Half a dozen unnaturally serene faces stare back at me. Half a dozen faces of unbridled serenity - and Sasha's.

'Ah, Mrs Philistine,' she says. 'Had you met the chair of governors? We'd arranged he'd be attending the staff meeting today to get to know you all a little better.'

At this point, it's hard to know what to do for the best. Whipping out a fetching little blue face mask, as seen in Mexico, but with the logo 'Get off me, you swine,' and then tap-dancing backwards out through the door again and into the street would be the best option if, as unfortunately isn't the case, I possessed a) a mask and b) the ability to tap dance.

But thank heavens for quick-thinking colleagues.

'That's one of the songs for the summer play, isn't it, Mrs Philistine,' asks the deputy head. 'Surely I remember you saying that you had a really good idea for a gripping adventure yarn. Didn't you....?'

For once quick-witted enough not just to recognise but act on a cue, I nod in violent agreement.

'How clever of you to remember,' I say, gratefully. 'And I think I've just remembered where the music for it is. Excuse me. I must see if it's there.'

Later on, I thank her.

'Do you think Sasha was fooled?' I ask.

'Pigs might fly,' she says. 'And if they do, let's pray they sneeze on her as they whistle past.'

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Ancient notes from my wall calendar.

This breaks two rules. Well, one really, but so important they wrote it out twice, or should have done.

Never indulge in cute kids' quotes.

And here I am doing it. Soon I'll be reduced to eyeballing babies in prams (I always find I look away first) and nodding benevolently as the recorders shrill the note of death into my brain.

These are things that Beth and Leo said during 2000 that I noted on our wall calendar as being memorable in some way. My mother had died recently (30th December 1999 - honestly some people are just so selfish). I assume that's why death crops up a bit in their conversations. Or maybe they just like talking about it.

At the start of the year, Beth was six; Leo nearly four and Deborah not yet born.

No quotes. Everyone too sad.

Beth (playing the same bit of music over and over again until I could have screamed - and may well have done): 'I'm greedy with my favourite songs.'

Me, to Beth: 'Where's Dad?'
Beth. 'Upstairs.'
Me: Can you go and get him?'
Beth: Why? - I didn't put him there.'

Leo, talking about his breakfast with certain note of resignation:
'I'm preparing for boiled eggs.'

Beth (to me)
'Don't get cross while I'm at school. I'm not there to control you.'

Overheard from a children's cartoon:
'Subdue him, then bring him to me.'
Not a quote from my children, but felt it was an instruction that would help my parenting enormously.

Overheard as children playing schools together:
'Granny could be death monitor.'

'Let's play we're death.'

Beth, after Francis had endured particuarly horrid dental treatment and was complaining about the pain.
'At least we have my teeth.'

That's quite enough. Phew. I'm just going to go and crush a few hamsters underfoot until I'm back to normal again.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Sweet and sour

"It is simply not fair to expect 115 children to sit quietly and patiently during assembly when 5 other children apparently can't be bothered," says Sasha.

"It is simply not fair to expect twelve members of staff to sit quietly and patiently during assembly while one other member of staff is allowed to monopolise the whole bloody thing," I hiss to the deputy head.

It's 25 minutes into the penultimate assembly of term and Sasha, the great orator, is in full flow. The bell for playtime tolled long ago, but not for us, apparently.

As, once again, she takes us through notable incidents from her childhood, favourite holidays and friendships, it's dawned on me that in her hands, assembly storytime is simply a form of budget therapy. Where else, after all, can you ramble on as long as you want, secure in the knowledge that your audience - like a therapist - is compelled to listen to you utter the first rubbish that comes into your head but - unlike a therapist - without the power to evict you when your time is up?

All we need now is to train the children up in synchronised supportive head-nodding gestures, install a comfy couch next to the piano and hang a note on the hall door saying, 'The doctor is IN' and Sasha's monologues can gain the medical legitimacy her subconscious has probably been crying out for for years.

'So now let's all stand and sing our special Easter song,' says Sasha, who has reached the denouement of her story and compelled the children to search for a moral. My choice: 'Persuade your parents to emigrate to a country where compulsory education starts at 8,' isn't, apparently, an option.

Our Easter-themed song is an unfortunate choice. Unfortunate, that is, because the title, frequently repeated in the many, many verses, is 'Chocolate Dreams.'

It wasn't a problem until Francis looked over my shoulder as I was typing out the words and, unasked, offered several non-infant school-friendly definitions of what exactly these might be

As the children reach the second chorus, stretching the word 'Dreams' over several long, long bars, I catch the deputy head's eye. Obviously she's been talking to Francis or, more likely, subscribes to 'Doubles Entendres weekly,' because I see reflected in her face what I know is already in mine - barely repressed hysteria.

There's nothing for it. I play a few crashing chords, then stop.

'What is it?' says Sasha.

'Er.....I thought we should do some sort of hymn,' I venture. 'As a balance.'

'Very well,' she says, with unwonted benevolence - that last therapy session must have exorcised a fair few inner demons - 'If you want.'

Blindly, I pick out the first hymn I can find. It's 'All things bright and beautiful.'

We're doing fine until we get to the line about the purple-headed mountain. There's what can only be described as a suppressed giggle from the direction of the deputy head but somehow, we reach the end.

'I would stay for longer,' says Sasha, 'but I've got some visitors to see.' Casting one suspicious look round the hall, she leaves.

You can almost hear the thwack of a thousand intensely visualised arrows thud into her departing back.

'Never play that song again,' says the deputy head to me, out of the corner of her mouth, as she leads a class of small children out to play.

And, on reflection, I don't think I ever will.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Playing your cards right

'What about that one?' asks Beth.

'No. Sorry. Too'

'Well, how about this?'

''s that rolling, endless landscape. It's like a peep into eternity.'

'It's not, Mum. It's just some fields and things. You're reading too much into it.'

We're in town and I'm in search of a greetings card. Beth is currently being Perfect Child and, given her behaviour in the last episode, quite right too.

The card has got to be blank, neutral yet cheering but in a restrained sort of way.

Yet another friend has been diagnosed with some grim sounding ailment and is about to be whisked into hospital for tests, more tests, surgery and no doubt a bonus dose of MRSA if she fails to express sufficient gratitude for her treatment.

So it's card time. And there's nothing like hunting for one whose picture balances empathy with a judicious amount of optimism to throw me into a kind of shop-induced coma.

I have only to see the words 'blank inside,' on a dinky piece of folded cardboard to feel exactly the same way.

'It's those pictures,' I tell Beth. 'They're all landscapes with hills. And what do you get with hills?'

'A great view? Snow? Sore legs? I dunno.'

'Valleys,' I say, with a certain bleak triumph.


'The Valley of Death,' I say.

She looks as blank as one of the cards.

'So what you could read into that card is an implication that they might not get better.'

'She'll just be pleased to get a card. Nobody analyses get-well cards.'

'I do,' I say. 'Somebody sent me a picture of lillies in a vase once and it took Francis two weeks to convince me it wasn't a death threat in code.'

We gaze together at the rows of stationery.

'And that's another thing,' I say. 'Have you noticed there's never anything living in those blank cards.'

'There's trees. Flowers.'

'Yes, but there's no animals. No people. Nothing apart from endless vegetation. What does that suggest to you?'

'A bunch of crap artists who couldn't draw animals.'

'No. It suggests the solitude of death.'

Beth gives up, chooses a card for me and propels me towards the checkout. She is, sadly, bigger than me, and I am powerless to resist.

Just after we've paid, Vicky sends me a text announcing the arrival of an exciting and possibly fatal new illness in one of our previously disease- free friends.

'Is there anything I can do?' I ask.

'Shouting "God's a ******* **** might help,"' she texts back. Despite myself, I laugh out loud.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Bloody hell

This was going to be something a little different. Something ....ooh, even a little poetic. Warm round the edges (or am I just mixing that up with incontinence pants - it's so hard to be sure these days) and a little soft and cuddly inside (not incontinence pants, then).

I was going to write about the end of term, today. About how the school felt after the pupils had left for the hols and all the other teachers - except me - had set off to get drunk. How odd it feels to be inside a place designed exclusively for mass use, defined by noise and activity - at least some of it purposeful - when it's empty.

That was before I got home, though, and had all poetic thoughts driven out of me within a very few minutes.

I'm going to add a warning now. The following scene involves bodily emissions, a dog with degraded tastes and my darling eldest daughter's disposal of items signalled in ladies' loos with those paper bags tastefully adorned with a woman in a crinoline.

So....I arrive home. In one of my token nods in the direction of housekeeping routine, I have remembered not only to put on a wash this morning but, even more surprisingly, to take it out again on the same day. Marvel if you will.

When Beth first started her periods, you could always tell because for several days each month, the house looked as if we'd hosted a series of 'come as you are,' parties for slaughterhouse workers, or staged a no-expense spared on the effects production of Macbeth, with particular emphasis on the murders.

She's got better, no question, but only because we told her that if we had to replace the bathroom carpet again, she was paying.

But there are still gaps in her understanding. Like her inability to believe that, amazingly, there is no sanitary towel fairy who will come round each night and remove all offending items, sweep them into some fragrantly scented bag and leave some money for them.

There is, however, a dog with a cracking sense of smell and no discretion.

A dog, moreover, which, encouraged by Beth, likes lying on beds. Ideally, the biggest bed in the house...

When we leave this morning, I ask Beth, then Deborah, to make sure our bedroom door is shut. They both assure me it is. Fool that I am for failing to read the secret message concealed in their smiling, positive assurances which is undoubtedly on the lines of, 'Oh, for God's sake, who knows? Who cares? Check the door yourself if you're really that desperate. And why do you worry about everything?'

I almost feel that I don't have to supply the denouement. But here goes. Don't feel you have to read it.

So I go upstairs with the washing and hear the guilty rattle of the dog's collar from our bedroom. (The cat, naturally, is lying all over my printer downstairs looking smugger than you would have thought possible, and sporting a virtual speech bubble that says, 'I told her not to do it but she would, anyway. Disgusting, isn't it?')

On the bed is the dog. On the bed round the dog are what look like pinky-orangy shreds of material. There are 10 or 15 of them. I shout at the dog, who disappears downstairs and then wonder whose scarf she has been chewing.

Then I look a little closer at the shreds and see, in the centre of one of them, a small bit of turqoise string. It's then that the realisation dawns, especially when I notice that not all the pinky orangey markings are confined to the shreds of material. They've magically inserted themselves into what was, when I left the house that morning, a nice, white counterpane.

If I need to be more explicit, forgive me. This is as good as it gets. But I tell you now, it's all true what they say in the ads. By gum, Smith & Nephew take pride in their workmanship. And talk about value for money when it comes to the sheer volume of material they cram into those tiny little tubes.....We should all be proud of them. And as for the absorbency. Crumbs!!!!

I don't always use my blog as therapy but I am now. Because writing it down is stopping me doing what I so dearly want to do now......find the dog and beat it to a pulp, drive to Beth's school, drag her out of her classroom and beat her to a pulp, then hole up in the house and wait for the NSPCC and RSPCA to sort out which one gets the pleasure of arresting me first.

But I won't, you know....

I've done the liberal education thing. We didn't have a party to celebrate the onset of periods. And, in retrospect, that's just as well. But I'd thought that my 'this what it is, this is where it goes, and that's what you do with it afterwards,' talk was, if not definitive, one of the best of its kind.

Perhaps not. Or was I just too liberal, to the point where periods and their associated accessories are so much in the open that, what the hell, you let it all hang out? And I do mean that quite literally.

If you haven't thrown up yet, thanks for reading. And let's hope the ST fairy is up and flying tonight. And that she's balancing a large bottle of vodka on those blood-stained, fragile little wings.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Putting the sick in music(k)

It's whole school singing time, the not-to-be-missed weekly singalong special that all the children love. Or so we tell them, anyway.

We start off with the rainbow song.

'Take a little bit of red.......and a little bit of orange. Add a bit of yellow...and a bit of green,' I sing, feeling grateful for the growing short-term memory problems that should ensure I remember none of this within an hour or so.

As we romp in a wholesome fashion through the colour palette, I notice that the reception child nearest the piano is obeying the song instructions all too literally. She turns first scarlet in the face and then, seconds later, sickly green.

As we enter the blue, violet and indigo phase I shout, 'Really big voices, children,' and she rises magnificently to the occasion. Waves of vomit cascade out of her mouth, drenching her and her companions, and start lapping over the lino and towards my feet.

In less time than it takes to say, 'Cripes, have you got the pot of gold down there, too?' I've leapt up from my seat and am carrying on with the song from the safety of the corridor outside while other teachers who, unlike me, seem to have suppressed their gag reflect (you probably get it surgically removed as part of today's training course) are assisting her with kind, compassionate looks and a yard-high pile of paper towels.

The rest of the children, like me, shrink away from what's fast becoming a small lake and finish the song huddled together at the furthest side of the hall.

'What about early playtime?' suggests Mary.

'Only if you're sure,' I say. 'Alternatively, I'm sure there are a couple of songs I could theme to the occasion. What about 'Way, hay and up she rises?' or 'Miss Molly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick.'

While the hall is swabbed with sawdust, disinfectant and, for all I know, lashings of green jelly for the purposes of coordination, I escape to the staffroom.

There, Mary is eyeing a stack of milk cartons. There are eight. All are unopened and all have an expiry date of several days ago.

'Should I risk it?' she asks, possibly rhetorically.

'Why not?' I say. 'Give me a few minutes while I run off a copy of 'The Rainbow song' for you and fill a bucket with sawdust and we all could keep ourselves happily occupied for hours.'

Friday, 13 March 2009

An education in mortification

As the old saying goes, 'When humiliation flies in at the window, self-esteem makes a quick, abashed departure down the fire exit.' Something like that, anyway.

And this week, it's as if some minor god, holding a giant rota - a bit like the one we have for break duty - has decided that it's my turn to experience a little soul-detoxifying mortification.

We're in the staffroom, mulling over break time topics like who ate the last chocolate biscuit or whether the child who unexpectedly pushed the door open to show us all her fabulously suppurating finger heard me shout a word unbecoming to the teaching profession as I accidentally photocopied 200 instead of 20 copies of my song sheet, when Mary suddenly quizzes me on my life.

'What do want to do when you grow up?' she asks me, quite seriously.

It's hard to know quite how to react. Should I obey my primal instincts and hit her very hard on the head with one of my ukuleles until she aplogises, or accept her question as a tribute to my inner youthfulness and answer it?

'I think I'd probably be doing the same thing, only better,' I say, equally seriously.

'Here,' she says, 'I hope I didn't offend you. I didn't really mean it the way it sounded.'

Next, towards the end of that same breaktime, I text Francis, starting with a casual endearment. Nothing too saucy, yet definitely tending towards the intimate.

Mary interrupts me to ask something about yesterday's lesson with her class and, as I press 'send', I realise that I wasn't paying attention - and that the dynamic new head of music shares Francis's initials and is next to him in my contacts list........

The phone has helpfully programmed itself to delete all sent messages after 0.0000000001 of a nanosecond, so there's no record. When I ring Francis to check, I get a recorded message.

'Help,' I say to the deputy head, explaining the situation. She laughs heartily. 'I know what to do,' she says and, without further ado, rings the dynamic head of music to tell him that if he's had a vaguely suggestive text from his older, dowdier, less dynamic colleague, he should immediately delete it.

'He thought it was hilarious,' she reports back, guffawing. 'And so did everyone else who was listening.'

'And had he got the text?' I ask.

'Do you know,' she says, laughing even louder.'After all that, I forgot to ask.'

But there's more to come. With a few minutes spare at the end of the lesson, I am overcome with the spirit of Joyce Grenfell and, playing some different styles of music to Reception, exhort them to be, successively, corn in a field, cantering horses and scarecrows.

At the end they line up and one of them puts up a hand. 'Mrs Philistine,' he says,'I know why you got us to be scarecrows.'

'Why?' I say, for once moderately interested and hoping for some penetrating insight that might enrich all our lives.

'Because you're wearing your scarecrow trousers!' he says, triumphantly.

'I'll have you know,' I feel like saying, 'That these came from Whistles.'

Instead, I smile weakly, send the giggling youngsters back to their teacher and head, once more, for the staffroom, arming myself with a ukulele on the way. The children do not know what they do, but Mary is a different story. One more crack about my Peter Pan approach to my career and she may need a bit of life coaching herself - in A&E.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Journey into fear........

'So,' I say to the deputy head, 'Here's my risk assessment form for the music festival. Where do I begin?'

'It's not very complicated,' she says. 'Just time-consuming. You just have to think through all the stages of the journey, work out what might happen and what steps you'd take to prevent it.'

'And you reckon that's not complicated?' I asked.

'Oh, yes - I'd forgotten,' she says, ignoring this. 'Then you have to assign a number to indicate just how risky you think each hazard might be.'

I take the form away and study it. Ten of our six and seven year olds are performing in a concert. Their challenge, if they choose to accept it, is to leave the school, get on a coach parked right outside the school, get off again immediately opposite the doors to the theatre, go in, sing and then repeat the same journey in reverse order.

I take the form to the staff room. 'Help me,' I say. 'I can't think of enough hazards.'

'No problem,' say my lovely colleagues. 'What about tripping?'

'Surely they won't be on Class A drugs that early in the morning? They add such a nasty aftertaste to the Cocopops,'

'No - trip hazards. Consider the risks inherent in just leaving the school. You may see just an ordinary path from the front door to the coach. To a health and safety assessor, it's almost literally a minefield. Blackbirds, pebbles, slow-moving squirrels, unexpected fly any moment a surprise object might appear and cause a child to fall over, resulting in minor injuries, possible concussion, definitely shock.'

'I had no idea it was so dangerous,' I say. 'What preventative action am I allowed to suggest? How about posting an armed guard by the front door several hours before we leave, enabling them to blast all surprise objects out of the way with machine guns and flamethrowers. Or perhaps we could just get Sasha to fix them with a level one laser glare. That'd vapourise the lot.'

'It's good,' says someone, 'but it may be too long to fit on the form. And expensive. I'd go for the budget option.'

'Which is?'

'Ensuring that one of the teachers walks ahead of the children and checks for hazards as you go.'

This agreed, I move on to the next phase of our journey into fear....the coach journey itself.

'You could accidentally leave a child behind. And there's always vomiting or accidents to fall back on,'

'So .....let me guess. I'm the children within a portable, neutron-generated forcefield with a breathable goretex lining that is permeable to sick, pee and poo?'

'Again, nice - but costly - and hell if you forget to dissipate the forcefield before you attempt the swing doors at the theatre.'

The solution turns out to be a small cardboard object, shaped like an inverted cowboy hat and apparently designed to slop only dribs and drabs of sick into a helping teacher's hands.

Technique number two is a bag of spare pants and trousers.

Then there's our top secret weapon. Many, many headcounts.

'Headcount, headcount and then headcount again. And don't forget to headcount the teachers, too, in case any of them try to run away.'

What nobody actually says is what happens if your headcount doesn't add up. Or if you end up with more children than you left with - something that, I'm assured, has happened several times.

Assuming we make it on to the coach - something that I'm beginning to realise may well be an impossible dream - we have to contend with the actual journey.

What if the driver collapses with a heart attack, we're attacked by aliens, the Satnav fails and we end up on a sardine trawler off the Outer Hebrides. What then.....? What then......?

'Put a paper bag over her head, someone,' says the deputy head. 'Hyperventilating again. Honestly, these music teachers. They just can't cope with the pressure.'

'You'll thank me,' I say, though now in somewhat muffled tones. 'When one of us is forced to kick the driver's body out of the way and steer the bus off the pavement and away from the crowds of nuns, toddlers and fluffy kittens that will no doubt be out for a quiet walk at that very moment, or we resist the first onslaught of the giant slugs from Planet Zog using only emergency reserves of council grit and some of the higher recorder notes we've learned, you'll realise I was right.'

'Get the second bag,' says the deputy head. 'And this time, tape it up until it's time for assembly.'

Monday, 2 March 2009

No great shakes

Teaching music offers many things, but nothing in greater profusion than opportunities to wonder when it was exactly that you accidentally swapped your life with some sad, middle-aged git with an infinite capacity for self-abasement.

And, look, here's one of those opportunities right now.

I am sitting on newspaper in the school hall. In my hand is a packet of dried mung beans. By my feet are several tupperware containers and a smallish child.

We're on what these days is called a learning journey. Normally my learning journeys begin or end in a pub. Preferably both. Not today, though. Today, I am encouraging child A to meander through a landscape dominated by the creative and exciting sounds made using said beans and tupperware containers.

The idea is that I do this without in any way attempting to influence the process This is so I can observe Child A's creative play, record it and tick off another box on the form.

Ten minutes later, we're still sitting there. Child A is now holding the packet of beans in one hand, the tupperware in another and looking at them with the air of someone who would rather be somewhere else, which makes two of us.

I point to the tupperware, then the beans and, through the medium of mime, suggest that Child A attempts to unite both.

Child A eventually takes the hint. A few minutes later, beans are cascading into the tupperware and being swilled about.

"What are you doing?" I ask, brightly.

"I'm shaking. I shake it," says Child A. For truthful responses, it couldn't be bettered. With that level of accuracy, it's a witness protection programme in the future, for sure.

"And what sort of sound are you making?"

"A shaking sound."

"Does it remind you of anything?" I ask. Child A pauses. Outside, rain drums down making, to my mind, a sound remarkably similar to that of dried beans falling rapidly on to plastic.

Child A looks blank. I walk to the window and look out as the rain, heavier now, droplets strikingly mung-bean sized, cascades down the windows. I lean suggestively towards the playground.

Child A looks, if anything, blanker, but with a possible undercurrent of terror.

"OK......What about popcorn. Do you like popcorn?" I ask, desperately, abandoning all attempts to avoid leading questions. "Popcorn makes a sound when it pops, doesn't it? And I like clapping, Don't you. All those loud claps....lots of clapping."

We both lapse into silence. I sense that one of us is about to call for help. I am worried that it might be me.

"So does that sound remind you of anything?" I ask, as beans and plastic reunite in a flourish of rain, popcorn and applause-like sounds.

"Shaking," says Child A.

"That's great," I say. "Probably time to go back to the classroom, now."

Repressing a sobbing sigh, I draw a line through my notes and wonder if the next class will care, or even notice, if I'm curled up under the piano, clinging to the sustain pedal and sobbing my heart out over a spilled packet of mung beans

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Me and the dried legumes

It's late-ish on a Saturday evening and instead of propping up a bar somewhere, a femme fatale with nowhere to go but underneath of the nearest table, I'm fine-tuning my lesson plans.

Up till now, I've been able to teach without having to communicate much in the way of detail to my lovely colleagues.

On the whole, it's probably a safe assumption that what with Harvest Festival and Christmas plus class assemblies and summer productions filling up a lot of the year quite nicely, you can probably - without taxing your powers of imagination too much - have a fair idea of what music teachers are up to in their lessons.

But now, thanks to government regulation, that's no longer enough - especially when it comes to reception children. I have, not just to teach them, but to observe them, listen to them and write down their comments so that I can make sure that each one is developing on government lines.

I have until the end of June to confirm that each child 'moves expressively to music. When creating music he or she explores rhythm, tempo, pitch and/or duration and shows awareness of repetition and phrases in music.'

Naturally, it has nothing to say about what happens if they don't do any of these.

To make absolutely sure you understand what's required, you're given the following example as a guideline.

'Molly wants to make a sound like the rain shaker. She spends a long time dropping beans on to the drum and talks about the sounds they make as they bounce on to it.'

How long is a long time?

Am I doomed to see precious seconds, minutes, hours or even days of my ever-diminishing lifespan being frittered away while the nation's four and five year olds do me the honour of sharing their deepest throughts to the accompaniment of dried beans cascading on to drum membrane? Is it possible I might even die, drowned in a sea of pulses and post-toddler platitudes?

But I've got off lightly. Reception class teachers have to complete, apparently, well over 100 observations during the course of the year. I ask one what she thinks.

"They're leaving the procession in droves," she says.

So as I turn to a fabbo song book, I'm struck by its title:

'Alleluya - 77 songs for thinking people.'

Clearly, too many people in education have been reading the other version - for the unthinking ones.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Government, death and the over 50s

As my daughter hits 16 this year, I’ll be hitting 50. Liberation and new adult privileges are hers for the taking. But surely that’s the case for me, too…..isn’t it?

Everywhere I look there’s a plethora of information telling me how much I stand to gain from blowing out those five decades worth of candles.

Car insurers love me. All their ads say so. At last I’m officially too mature to pack my car with friends and head off to the nearest supermarket to do wheelies in the car park.

House insurers love me. Their ads say so. Yup, at 50, I'm so streetwise that I can spot a cowboy builder by his swagger; so security conscious that I’ve had the vestibule papered in Neighbourhood Watch stickers.

I’ve even stood outside the front door and attempted to hook my own keys through the letter box the way burglars do, just to make sure I’ve stashed them a safe distance away.

And I own a carriage clock – and a vintage pack of Rizlas. Good heavens, what more can anyone want as testimony that I’m at once cool, yet sensible? Matured, in fact, into the ideal citizen.

So as I sashay, virtually speaking, on to the Over 50s section of the government’s own website, DirectGov, I’m feeling pretty confident about how the outside world views me and my fellow (though mature) coolsters?

Then I start to read and am struck by a growing sense of bewilderment. Surely this is some hideous mistake? I check again.

And, yes, it’s definitely is where the two score and ten mob come in. It’s just that our beloved government’s notion of how my post-50 life is going to be lived is distinctly at odds with mine.

Take work. I have every intention of doing some. Lots, actually – and not in noticeably different way to how I do it now. And everyone else I know feels the same, economic climate permitting.

You’d never guess it, though. Work appears to be largely off the radar of the civil service drone who put this section together, presumably on the assumption that the over 50s are doing well just to move about a bit, let alone make it into a paying job.

There are just two headings, ‘Looking for work,’ and ‘Working to suit you.’

These are followed, immediately and ominously with the third and final section, cheerily entitled ‘Losing your job’ - employers, presumably, preferring their gorgeous, pouting oldsters to work to suit them instead.

Perhaps on the assumption that readers like me will now be plunged into terminal melancholy, the website devotes what to my mind is a disproportionate amount of space to what should obviously now become my major preoccupations: illness and death.

Above all, the government is worried that I might be cold and keen that I should, above all, wrap up warm.

Cold? That’s the last thing they should worry about. After reading this, I’m boiling – with fury.

With work, health and death safely covered off, it’s time to see what the future holds as far as sex is concerned.

I turn to NHS Live Well ‘Sex as you get older’ section. Much of it appears to be penned in that intensely irritating format of rhetorical questions, beloved of beaurocrats and parents of small children (‘How dare you behave like that?’) and much loathed by everyone else, especially me.

‘Why [should over 50s] wear a condom?’ the NHS wants to ask me. Well riddle me ree to you, too. Clearly, in view of their own depressing take on the area, the answer must be, ‘So you can pretend you’re still fertile and defy your own mortality.’

Needless to say, that’s not what required. You’re never too old to outwit STDs is, of course, the correct answer. Ain’t it good to know that those dear little bacteria still love us, no matter how old we get?

‘Your sex life needn’t disappear once you hit 50,’ it adds. What’s with that ‘needn’t’ word? And, sorry, but did I say I thought it did? And as for disappearance - well, at least I can be reasonably confident that no burglar is going to hook it out of the letterbox with a fishing rod.

As far as the government’s concerned, you can forget 50 being the new 40. Instead, it appears to be the new 60 and counting (up). Fifty five is the new 70. And God forbid that I even contemplate stretching my palsied limbs in the direction of my 60th birthday cake. Try to cut it and they’ll probably arrest me for knife crime.

And as for congratulations for having hit my semi-centenary…..well, it wouldn’t surprise me to find a link to a fold-it-yourself origami coffin. But look on the bright side. At least the exercise will keep me warm.

Monday, 2 February 2009

My life in second hand quotes

"Watcha doing?" texts Vicky.
"Making soup for the school Advent Fair," I text back.
"Am also weaving Xmas wreath to sell for starving children with my teeth while knitting hats for the poor with feet."
"Self-righteous c***," she texts, and refuses to speak to me at all for three days.

New Year's Eve - should old acquaintance's kids be forgot.......Oh, yes, please
"Francis and Omega Mum, could you speak to your son? He keeps asking my children why they don't know where their knobs are. It's so inappropriate."

As midnight strikes, we find ourselves hating Leo, the friend and each other in equal measure. We do not exchange New Year's Eve kisses.

"I'm the only one who hasn't turned up for work," says a stricken Francis. He has taken a break from greasing the toboggan rails to listen to stories of heroism from the colleagues who have taken four hours to get to work for the privilege of being in the office for two more before struggling home again.

News from my in-box
1. Freecycle
Wanted - bike for person. Just for going to the shops and leisurely wee cycles up the river.
"We've all had those wee cycles," observes Vicky, "and it's not a bike she should be asking for."

2. Valentine's Day Spam Honesty shock
'Just order online your ideal Valentine's day present!You falter whether you should get our replica watch for Valentine's day present and you are frightened that its material will lighten away pretty soon?'
Well, yes, since you ask. Well spotted.