Reasons to check everyone in the classroom has a pen

Happy New Year to you all! Yes, I know it's the 8th already, but saying Happy New Year only at New Year is so Last Year. 

I thought I'd kick off 2020's blog posts with a story from the classroom about two boys called Scott and Randall. It's fictional but not fictional .... there are Scotts and Randalls in every school and I've taught many of them. People like Scott and Randall are what make teaching both extraordinarily joyful and extraordinarily maddening.   

Imagine yourself in a secondary school classroom on a rainy Thursday. 

The pupils are hard at work delighted when there's an 'incident'. 

Scott and Randall provide a welcome 'incident'

Within two minutes of entering the classroom, Scott had to be ejected.

'What d'you do that for?' Randall had swung round, clasping his shoulder, to face Scott.

I'd managed three words of my introduction to the lesson's activities. ('First, I'd like -) 

'Do what?' I asked Randall. …

Evidence that not all Santa's gifts are welcome

Dear Santa Claus

Thank you so much for the early Christmas present. Although a body covered in hives wasn't top of my wish list and neither did it substitute for the Sean Bean duvet cover I asked for, it made for an original gift.

You delivered the rash on 7 December, completely unexpectedly, and I'm still not sure of the cause. I can't say it was a particularly welcome gift. On the other hand, it did last an entire week, unlike most boxes of Milk Tray or bottles of pink gin would have.

Also, it was one of those gifts that just keeps surprising its recipient. One minute it was mild and pink, like a pair of soft ladies' pyjamas, say, and the next, it was furious and festering, like the inside of a volcano. But who wants Christmas gifts with only one facet to them?

It being an early gift, I hope you don't mind that I hid it from the general public as far as I could. When it crept up to my neck, for example, I swathed myself in a scarf I could have wrapped around the…

Evidence if it were needed that Fran will never be a naturalist

While we were having breakfast today, I looked out of the window at the garden. 'Quick! Look!' I said to my husband. 'There's a squirrel trying to ram raid the bird feeder.'

He ran to the window. 'Which one?' he said.


I said, 'I don't know. How am supposed to know all their names?'

'No, which bird feeder?' he said.

Ah. Of course. For a moment there, I thought he'd mistaken me for Francis of Assisi, not Fran of Leamington Spa.

We have two bird feeders. They are meant to be squirrel proof but that doesn't stop the rodents from attempting entry. They wrap themselves round the bird feeder, hanging on for grim death, while trying to access the contents. They try every which way: upside-down, downside-up, or suspending themselves from it by their claws, swinging the bird feeder from side to side wildly like someone on a theme park ride.

I wouldn't call myself a bird watcher at all but I do like sitting by the window, watching…

Reasons why Fran tries to engage sheep in conversation

I think I have a lot to offer sheep.

I leaned on the fence of a nearby field recently and gazed at the flock owned by a local farmer. I told them how cute they were, with their woolly coats and soft black noses, and how glad I was to be there, watching them nibble grass. I was sure the farmer didn't have time to pay them such close attention and I knew they'd be grateful.

I explained how sheep were my favourite animals and how much I'd like to hug them, telling them about when I cuddled a fat woolly-woolly sheep once at a wildlife centre and would have married it had this been socially acceptable.

I told them how sure I was that my visit to them and my obvious admiration would boost their self-esteem and make them feel proud to be part of the ovine community.

One sheep wandered nearer the fence and I felt privileged that it had come closer, clearly uplifted by my presence and wanting to hear more. I fished my phone out to take its picture.

Here it is, hanging on my every w…

Reasons why there is less of Fran than there used to be

'I have this lump on my face,' I said to the GP on Monday.

She peered at me.

Do you ever wonder whether doctors have to bite back quips like, 'Yes, that's your nose' or 'Don't say it too loud or everyone will want one' or 'If we're playing Top Trumps, I have a bigger lump either side of my chest'.

After all, it was 5pm, the last appointment of her day, and by then she must have been gagging for some light relief.

If I were a GP, I'd struggle with this all the time. Which is probably why it's a good thing I'm not. I may not have had a long career.

She found a magnifying glass and put it near my cheek where the lump was. I was pleased it was dark outside because if the sun had been shining into the surgery and caught my cheek at the same time as the magnifying glass, it might have set the lump on fire. I've read my Enid Blyton and my Brownie Handbook, thank you.

'How long's it been there?' the doctor said.

I told he…

Reasons why Fran is having withdrawal symptoms

'You said you wanted some mackerel paté,' Spouse said yesterday, while I was typing in our online order from Tesco.

'Ooh, thanks for the reminder.'

I've been hooked on mackerel paté since our August fortnight in Whitby, a seaside town on the North Yorkshire coast. I ate so much mackerel paté in that fortnight that I began to smell the same as Whitby harbour in high summer. Even splashing on Coco Chanel perfume didn't mask it, and seagulls began to circle above my head when we went out for walks. I swear my eyes began to move to the sides of my head.

I typed in 'mackerel paté'.

Two options came up.

1. Mackerel paté for humans, called 'Smoked mackerel paté'.

But it was 'currently unavailable'. At least there was another option, but this was .....

2. Mackerel paté for cats, called 'Gourmet Gold Paté with Ocean Fish'.

There was plenty of this available. In fact, it was on offer. 

I have the following questions.

1. Since when did cats…

Evidence that people have started demanding evidence

I mean, do I look particularly suspicious? Judging by recent events which I'll tell you about, I must do.

Here's a picture of me, to remind you.

Oh, sorry. Wrong picture.

Here I am.

See? Butter wouldn't melt!

A friend says she always judges people on the basis of 'Would I let them look after my cat?' It's surprisingly reliable. Try it.

You'd let me look after yours, wouldn't you?

I know for sure that the headteacher of my grandson's primary school wouldn't. Even though I've waited in the school playground once a week for two years now, he didn't recognise me last Thursday when I arrived to pick up Elijah from his after-school club.

I was under suspicion.

I'll say here that this headteacher is a lovely man and I can't blame him for making sure I was the real deal if he didn't recognise me. I'd much rather know that he checked people out than let any Tom, Dick or Hattie in to collect children.

But I couldn't help being …