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.