Friday, 29 April 2016

Evidence that Fran obviously has work to do that she's avoiding

My husband bought me some Ferrero Rocher chocolates for my birthday. Unfortunately for you, it got me thinking.

Q. What do you call hazelnut chocolates you eat too quickly?

A. Ferrero Rusher.

Q. What's it called when you divide a box of hazelnut chocolates evenly between two of you?

A. Fairero Rocher.

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate that accidentally landed on your cat before you ate it?

A. Furrero Rocher.

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate to which you are allergic?

A. Ferrero Rasher.

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate that's a frustratingly long way from where you are on the sofa and you can't be bothered to get up and fetch it?

A. Too Farrero Rocher.

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate when you're being colloquial?

A. Ferrero Nosher.

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate that goes 'Boo!' in the night?

A. Fearero Rocher.

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate which you drop and which then bounces against a wall, then against the coffee table, before landing in your lap?

A. Ferrero Ricochet

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate that turns out to be a long-lost parent?

A. Fathero Rocher

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate that enjoys homely crafts and makes shawls?

A. Ferrero Crochet

Q. What do you call a hazelnut chocolate dressed up in a fur hat and reading Tolstoy in the snow?

A. Ferrero Russian.

Q. What do you call a philosophical hazelnut chocolate who believes children should be educated outdoors?

A. Ferrero Rousseau.

Q. What do you call a box of Ferrero Rocher that Fran has owned for two days?

A. Empty.

I'm going to stop there, because I could do this for hours and hours, and I am supposed to be writing a novel.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Evidence that you're Proper Middle-aged

I'm 54 tomorrow.

You know you're Proper Middle-aged when ....

1. Your 93 year old Granny says, 'Oooh, really? Will you really?' when you tell her how old you'll be next birthday.

2. People you've been feeling sorry for in the bus queue then insist you get on the bus before them.

3. You bend down to pick up a sock and try to do three other things at that level (pick fluff off carpet .. switch on a plug .... feel under the radiator for that lost button) before getting back up.

4. You feel proud of yourself for finding out how to use 'Crop' on your mobile phone pictures, barely a year since you learned to take an actual photo.

5. You think about contacting someone who taught you at school and then realise they'd be 109.

6. You visit a city centre on a Saturday and wonder if it's all on fast-forward.

7. You root for the ones with grey hair on Masterchef.

8. You understand, finally, why they say, 'Mind the gap' on the Tube network.

9. People start sending you birthday cards with pictures of gardens and a lone watering can.

10. You find yourself saying, 'Why did I come in here?' But it's the bathroom ...

... but hopefully the RIGHT bathroom 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Reasons why using mugs you hate can be a good strategy

Is someone who steals other people's work mugs a cup-leptomaniac?

There was a cup-leptomaniac in a previous school I worked in. You could try to keep your own, dedicated mug in the staff room cupboard, but it wouldn't last long. Someone would lift it, perhaps thinking, 'I'll bring that back later.'  Or perhaps, 'I'll sell that on e-bay with the other ninety-six.'

Even now, eight years since I left that school, I'm sure teachers are unearthing stolen mugs in dark corners of classrooms, cultivating a foot of green moss over a spongy layer of prehistoric coffee.

However, it was a boys' school, with mainly male teachers, and I found a cunning plan to make sure I kept my own mug for most of the time I was there.

I bought this.

Four years. Four years, I managed to keep this mug for myself before it was stolen a fortnight before I left.

While I've been writing this, I've remembered. I put some verses about my cheesy kitten mug into the leaving speech poem I delivered on my last day at that school. They went like this.

I’ll also miss the Staff Room and its kitchen:
The Bermuda Triangle for Mugs, it’s true.
I miss my cheesy kitten mug especially.
(You should be feeling guilty if it’s you.)

It cost me just a quid somewhere in Hounslow;
The cheesiest kitten face you ever saw.
Now Kitty’s festering somewhere in a corner

with mould and mildew on each little paw.

A colleague in the English Department was notorious for using other people's mugs then leaving them on windowsills, coffee half-drunk. Somehow it became my job to clear up after her. I wrote a verse about her, too, in the poem. Names have been changed to protect the definitely-guilty. 

I’ll miss Mary's mould formations in the coffee
that she’d made, but then forgot to drink.
They were beautiful, those different types of fungi
but a bugger to force down the kitchen sink.

Do you have a favourite mug? I always have a current favourite. We're very good at smashing mugs in our house on our stone-tiled floor, so I get to ring the changes often.

This month, it's one my sister bought for my birthday when I was in Cornwall with her, in the seaside town of Looe.  Appropriately, it's a mug with a fish design. It looks like this.

Ha ha. Not really! It's not as crass as that. But you believed me, didn't you? You weren't at all surprised. 

No, it's more like this one. 

No, not that one either. But it made me laugh. 

*goes back to Google*

*comes back, feeling stoopid*

Dur! Why don't I take a picture of the mug? 

I am so dim. I am also nearly 54 and so not techno-natural. 

I'll go and do the picture. Wait around a while. I am to smart-phone operation what Frankenstein's creature was to the supermodel industry.

I'm back. Did you have a nice fortnight?

Here it is. 

Say hello to it. It'll only be a week or two before it dies a tragic death on our kitchen floor.

Tell me your own muggy stories. Or if you want to own up to being a cup-leptomaniac, I'd like to hear about that, too. I won't turn you in. Unless you stole my cheesy cat mug. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Evidence that Greek islands aren't the only places where one can have holiday romances

A sonnet in honour of Bakewell Tart ice cream, written after last week's holiday in Cornwall.

I bought you from an ice cream stall in Looe.
The day was balmy. Seagulls screeched above.
You cost me two quid which I thought was steep
until I tasted you. I fell in love.
I ate you by the harbour, looking out
at boats, and children crabbing, while my heart
expanded with a flaming passion, hot
for ice cream tasting like a Bakewell Tart.
My previous loves - vanilla, toffee fudge,
or rum and raisin - these would all, I knew,
be tossed aside, rejected, bade farewell,
in favour of the ecstasy that's you.
Since tasting you, you haunt my nights, my dreams. 
You are the crack cocaine of Looe's icecreams.

The moment Fran realised that all other loves, so far, had been inferior, and wondered how to tell her husband that she was leaving him for a dairy product.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Reasons why Fran is just like Alice in Wonderland

A couple of days ago, just like Alice in Wonderland, I found a small door.

However, unlike Alice, I hurtled through mine without any trouble at all.

Here's a picture of the door.

You: 'That doesn't look like a small door. That looks like a very big door.'

Me: Look carefully and you'll see that within the big door IS another, smaller door. That's the one I hurtled (hurdled?) through, having not noticed, because it was 10pm and dark, the lintel at the bottom. I can't think of a better phrase than 'arse over tit' for what happened. 'Head over heels' is another, but not half so satisfactory to say.

I was with my friend, Deborah, at Keble College in Oxford, and we were coming home from our evening out. (The door is the one at the entrance to the college, by the Porters' Lodge. During the day, they open the big door. At night, just the smaller door.) Deborah's a writer, too, and we'd booked two nights' bed and breakfast at the college, disciplining ourselves to an itinerary so that we could make progress on our novels.

Did you know you can do this ... stay in the student accommodation as a short break? We booked it through universityrooms.com and apparently you can stay in any big city that has a university using the scheme.

Obviously, you can only do this when the students are on a break. It's not a case of 'Budge up, Edwin. I'm in here with you for a while. Gosh, this bed's narrow, isn't it? It would help if you took off your gown and mortar board and left that scientific dictionary under the bed.'

I loved staying in that student room. The desk was the size of a - the size of a - the size of a door you could fall through. All the furniture was Real Wood, not tacky MDF held together with Blu-tak and optimism. And the bathroom was a proper bathroom, not a 'pod' as I've seen in other student rooms - a kind of caravan-style add-on whose walls might fall in if you pulled too hard on the toilet roll.

The breakfasts are fabulous. The sausages even have meat in them. You eat them in the main dining room, glared at by oppressive pictures of all the previous Wardens, who are all very stern and look as though they're thinking, 'If one more student vomits in the middle of my sunken lawn, I'm going to resign.'

If you're at one end of the table and ask for the salt, you get it a month later. 

Back to my accident.

I didn't know I was falling until I'd fallen and found myself decorating the stone tiles, wondering if I'd died, and hearing Deborah's voice - or was it an angel? - wondering the same.

Considering the force of my trip, the trajectory I took, and the fact that I'm not entering Miss Slimming World of the Year any time soon, I was surprised to get away with the minor injuries I have, which are:

1. Big bruise on left knee.
2. Graze on right shin.
3. Sprained right wrist, but only painful if I lift anything heavier than a small bar of chocolate. I've tested it.
4. Vague ache in left shoulder, but that could be because I'm using that arm instead of the right to lift the bigger bars of chocolate.

Maybe I bounced. This is the one question I don't want to ask Deborah. She's the only one who knows, and I hope she'll keep that information to herself.

She takes a lot of pictures on her holidays. I asked her if she'd taken one of me, laid out with my arms and legs splayed like a giant starfish on vacation in Oxfordshire (or just lost). 'There WAS a short pause before I heard you ask if I was okay,' I said.

She swears not. But I'm watching Facebook closely. And I'll tell you now that her blog is worth a visit here  and that she's written a cracking little novella all about a woman who buys a house without telling her husband and that's here if you have an e-reader.

Just call me 'Mrs Emotional Blackmail'.

And, yes, it did get written in the Incident Book, just in case there's anyone out there with a Health & Safety hat on.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Evidence that Fran can even turn a cooking disaster into a linguistic opportunity

Yesterday I made Florenjacks. Another name for them is Flapentines. It depends which way you look at it. They are the first biscuits in history with a duality of personality, a bit like Jekyll and Hyde, only baked on Gas Number 6 and containing flaked almonds.

You've never heard of Florenjacks/Flapentines? Well, where have you been?

Forgive me. I am dissembling and making you feel bad about yourself for being out of the Florenjack/Flapentine loop. You were thinking, I know, 'How come I'm always last to hear about the latest baking fashions? Whaddya mean, no one cooks Madeira Sponges any more?'

They call it FOMO, don't they? Fear Of Missing Out.

Having brought up the FOMO issue, before I tell you about my duality biscuits,  I have a raging desire to tell you the difference between acronyms and initalisms.

It wasn't until I trained to teach English that I discovered there was a difference, in the same way as, it wasn't until I trained to teach English that I discovered that a teacher's bladder can hold fifty-three litres of liquid and that a Hard Stare was Paddington Bear's gift to the teaching profession.

Words like FOMO, AIDS, LASER, NATO and SCUBA are called acronyms because they become words in themselves. You don't sound out each initial, although when the acronym is first coined, you might do. Sometimes, with acronyms, you don't even know you're using one. I didn't know that SCUBA stood for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, for instance, not that I had undergone any FOMO about this, and even now I know, I don't feel my life enriched to any great extent. As far as conversation starters at parties go, I'd imagine, 'Do you know what SCUBA stands for?' might send your fellow guest running for the whiskey table.

That's acronyms for you, anyway.

But, when people say O.M.G or T.T.F.N (as Terry Wogan used to at the end of his radio shows) or F.B.I or the U.N or the B.B.C, this is called an initialism because you pronounce each initial separately.

I guess these initialisms don't turn into acronyms very easily. 'Omger, omger, did you see that programme about the effbih on the bubbercuh?' 'No, sorry - anyway, got to go. Tuhtuh-fer-un!'

Another linguistic concept is called blending - you might know blended words as portmanteau words, where you take two existing words and run them together to make a new one. Like, 'brunch' or 'Brexit' or 'Brangelina' for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, although that's a bit awkward, with rumours flying around about their marriage. There may be unblending ahead/But while there's moonlight, and music, and love and romance/Let's face the music and make biscuits.

*seamless, expertly-handled linguistic link back to biscuit story*

You won't have heard of Florenjacks or Flapentines - my new blended names for biscuits - because I invented them yesterday by using a recipe for Florentines but misreading an instruction saying ADD ONE TABLESPOON OF FLOUR as ADD FOUR OUNCES OF FLOUR.

Easy mistake, obviously ...

... if you're two, or wearing a blindfold, or as dead as stone.

I realised my error only after I'd ...

a) wondered why the mixture was so dry and crumbly in the pan
b) added syrup
c) added more butter
d) added more syrup
e) and butter
f) struggled to 'roll the mixture into round balls' because bits of nut kept landing on my feet
g) put the 'balls' on the baking tray
h) patted them into shape
i) re-shaped them, more firmly
j) re-shaped them again while damning them to hell and back
k) slammed them in the oven

At that point, I went back to the recipe and realised that what I had in the oven were not Florentines, but Something Else, as yet Unnamed.

I think Victor Frankenstein felt the same as he watched the monster he thought would be a beautiful new human being respond to the surge of electricity, sit up, like a giant misshapen gargoyle with poor seam work, and say, 'DADDY!'

Unfortunately, the four ounces of flour in the biscuit recipe
 had made much more difference that Fran could ever have anticipated 

At least I didn't reject my creations like Victor did. They're not Florentines. They're not like anything I've cooked before. Or eaten before. They're an odd mix of Florentine, flapjack, digestive biscuit, rock bun, and despair at failure. Bits are still falling off them, like Kamikaze crumbs, leaping off the edges of the biscuits, and who can blame them?

But they're edible.

And they gave me an opportunity to tell you the difference between acronyms and initalisms, which isn't an opportunity that comes my way often.

For which you are, no doubt, grateful.

Addendum: While you're sitting there feeling grateful, here's a picture of the Flapentines to look at - River's comment below reminded me that I'd been remiss in not posting one before ...

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Evidence that Fran has been single-handedly supporting the cough sweet industry for a fortnight

'Do you know the little rhyme about coughing?' I asked a sixth former at school on Thursday.

We were discussing the problems associated with having a cough. I've had a hacking, violent one for two weeks now, one of those in which your insides make a strong bid to become your outsides. This is fine if you're at home and can bend over double in your own kitchen, but not in front of a class of 25 teenagers watching you cough and hack like a tuberculous hag throughout an explanation of the difference between a dash and a hyphen. 'So, you see [cough cough cough], whereas a dash is punctuation and can be used to [hack hack hack] separate clauses in a sentence do excuse me while I open this cough sweet [cough cough cough], a hyphen is used to create [desperate, panicked sucking on cough sweet] compound words [hack hack hack inhale sweet].'

No pupil wants you to come to their desk to help with their punctuation exercises, either, when it's like having a eucalyptus plantation check your work.

The sixth former hadn't heard the coughing rhyme. 'Tell me,' she said.

'Okay. Here it is. "It's not the cough that carries you off. It's the coffin they carry you off in"'.

'Oh,' she said. She put on a face that implied, 'You just spoiled my day, old person. It's like the Grim Reaper just walked in and said, "Time's up."'

'Sorry,' I said.

Mrs Hill in her role as encourager and motivator of today's youth

I'd forgotten that when you're seventeen, fresh-faced, and erupting with optimism, jokes about death seem more macabre than when you're fifty-four this April and your definition of optimism is a hope that the brown spots appearing on the backs of your hands and on your forehead won't mean people mistake you for a giraffe when the light is poor.

I was intending to write a blog post about coughs, but now I think I'll write a list of definitions of middle-aged optimism instead.

1. The hope that your hair will go 'glamour-grey-white' and not 'sucked-of-all-life-dirty-grey'

2. The hope that you'll be able to keep your getting-out-of-a-chair noises to little uh sounds and not progress to BLOODY NORA with a hand on the hip

3. The hope that toilets will never be more than ten strides away

4. The hope that the effect of that chorizo sausage last Friday night was a one-off

5. The hope that you'll never have to thread a needle again with anyone watching

6. The hope that no one will ever say 'Would you like a million pounds - no strings?' to you in a crowded room full of other people chatting

7. The hope that you'll be at the bottom of the stairs when you realise you have forgotten why you intended to climb them, and not already at the top

8. The hope that, today, no forty-five year old will let you on the bus first

9. The hope that, if death should come while you're napping on the sofa, someone will close your mouth for you

10. The hope that, if death should come while you're coughing your inner organs out, someone will take the cough sweet out of your mouth before it sticks to your skull for ever and when someone digs you up in 2064 it'll still be there, exuding its menthol fumes

The cough is going now, which is welcome, because our neighbours are doubtless wondering whether I have TB.  I have coughed so dramatically on the other side of their bedroom wall at night-time that I suspect flakes of plasterwork have drifted from their ceiling, the light fittings have swung gently from side to side, and a few porcelain ornaments have shifted dangerously to the edges of shelves.

But the manufacturers of Lockets have been laughing.