Sunday, 22 May 2016

Reasons why Fran gets through a lot of toothpaste

I wasn't a spotty teenager. Phew, I thought. I've got away with that. And, until I was 49, I did.

Then, the day after my 50th birthday. BOOM! Mahoosive spots, all over my chin, cheeks and forehead. On a bad day, I look like the Lake District.

But it's not just me. 

Next time you go to see Shakespeare's Macbeth, watch Lady Macbeth carefully. When she does her 'Out, damned spot!' speech, I swear this isn't bloodguilt at all, but a rant about late-onset acne. Granted, last time I saw the play, I couldn't see the spots on her face, but I was in a £7.50 seat in the upper circle and so far from the action that when Macbeth said, 'Is this a dagger I see before me?' I couldn't have helped him out if I'd tried.  

Furthermore, my theory about Lady-Macbeth-the-Menopausal is supported by the fact that she has ripped off her nightie in the small hours and is wandering about naked, spouting nonsense. Any woman over 45 knows what that's all about.

She's a formidable woman, though, Lady Macbeth. If I'd been her acne, I'd have gone 'out' as fast as I could.

I tried her technique in front of the mirror. 'Out, damned spot!' I said to my reflection. Then corrected it to 'spots'. I had to get to work, after all.

Nothing happened.

This might be because telling spots 'Out! Out!' when they are already 3 or 4 centimetres 'out' and yelling to the world 'Look at me, I'm an uber-spot!' is futile. Maybe I should be shouting 'In! In! Get Back In, damned spot!'

This way, I may end up with craters rather than spots, but at least I could fill those in with some tile grouting or peanut butter or left-over hummus, and then slap on some foundation.

Just part of the morning routine

There's no point trying spot concealer. Has any product ever been so mis-named? Spot concealer is only suitable for teeny-weeny-meeny little baby spots, otherwise all it does is REveal. If all I had were teeny-weeny-meeny little baby spots, I'd be spending my money in Costa instead, sipping a latte and feeling smug about people in the queue who had real acne. But I don't. I have proper grown-up spots and all spot concealer does, once I've applied it in careful layers, like Pompeii, is announce them to the public. 'Don't bother with nature programmes to see a furious, pulsating volcano! Just look over here at this old bird trying to pretend she has smooth skin!'

So what am I, and Lady Macbeth, supposed to do? Join a model agency that supplies women to medical journals?

I saw in a magazine that if you put toothpaste on a raging spot, it calms it. Sometimes I do that overnight. Sometimes it works.

You're welcome to the tip. But remember. It's only an indoor solution. Don't do what I did, which was to blob toothpaste on my chin and forehead one Saturday morning, knowing we were going out with friends that evening, and then ...

You know what I'm going to say ....

I realised my mistake just before we went into an Italian restaurant to meet our friends, and my husband had to help me scrub off the toothpaste under a street lamp in Leamington's high street. It wasn't easy. I was using a face wipe from my handbag which had been there for a year and was as dry as stage fright.

And, of course, all I did was reveal the spots, which were still there, throbbing away like a 70s disco, ready to party, and shouting, 'We're out! We're out! You said 'out' and we're out!'

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Evidence that Fran may soon need a permanent carer to get her through the day

I caused a panic at school on Friday.

I went to my classroom, expecting to teach a class of 14 year olds. They were late arriving.

I laid out on each of their desks their marked books and an A4 resource page for the lesson. I turned on the projector and put in my password to display my lesson notes.

Where was the class?

I peered into the corridor, sure that I would see them come hurtling round a corner, puffing and panting, worrying about being late dawdling along from Art or Science as though on a beach in the Algarve.

But, no. Not a fourteen year old in sight.

I waited another few minutes. Perhaps another teacher had lost track of the time or not heard the bell.

When they were ten minutes late, I scurried along to the school office to see if I had missed a newsletter item saying they were on a school trip or having immunisations in the hall. Perhaps they had voluntarily signed up for immunisations in preference to learning about irregular sentences. It was possible, and reasonable.

'I've lost 9H,' I said to the three ladies in the office. 'Any ideas?'

'The Pied Piper?' one of them said.

Except that she didn't. I just thought of the joke, and wish she had said it, as it would have made my story funnier. So I put it in anyway.

Just then, along came a member of the senior management, in charge of that year group. 'You've lost 9H? What's happened?' She looked alarmed, as well she might. If I'd mislaid them, she'd be the one informing the parents that police were combing the building for their offspring, checking the drains and investigating a crack in the playground for tell-tale threads from blue blazers.

As Oscar Wilde's character Lady Bracknell would have said in an educational version of The Importance of Being Earnest, 'To lose one pupil may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose twenty-two looks like carelessness.'

But then one of the office staff located the class's timetable. 'They're in Maths,' she said. 'Period 5, they have Maths.'

'But I have them for English now.'

'You have them for English in Period 6. This is Period 5.'

I checked my watch. My face went hot like a slow cooker like an electric hob like a gas hob like a match on a puddle of petrol. You know how being embarrassed is called 'having egg on your face'? I could have had a fried one.

'Oops,' I said. 'Senior moment. Sorry to cause a stir.' And I turned back down the corridor, their laughter following me, to do some marking in an empty room with its books and papers all laid out for a phantom class.

When my students turned up, bang on time for Period 6, I told them all about my mistake I said absolutely nothing, pretended I'd just got there, like them, and taught them about irregular sentences.

Later on, I met the senior manager in a corridor. 'I'm sorry about earlier,' I said.

She patted me on the shoulder. 'You cheered me up so much,' she said. 'Other people's inefficiencies are always so encouraging.'

'At least I was there for a class which wasn't,' I said, 'and not the other way round. It's much more humiliating to be fetched from the dining room where you're helping yourself to leftover cake to be told you should be in Room 2 teaching eleven year olds about war poetry.'

'Or teaching them about mnemonics,' she said.

Except that she didn't say that. But I wish she had, because it would have rounded off my story nicely with a touch of irony, and I do love a bit of irony.  So I put it in anyway.

You come with me, children. I'll take you somewhere you'll never have to study an irregular sentence again. 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Reasons to resist library closures

I keep hearing more news about library closures or libraries having to cut their opening hours/staff/stock/costs/losses. Arrgggh.

I wrote this poem a couple of years back. I wonder whether, in ten or twenty years' time, some of the images in it will seem archaic and quaint, like something from a previous era.

Towards the exit

I find a book on Shakespeare’s life, misplaced
in the Cookery section.  No worries.
Here’s a blue corner chair, a vase
of optimistic daffodils on a windowsill
and an hour to laze through glossed pages.

A woman with a stick and a wheeze tugs
herself up the ramp to Fiction.  She smiles
to find new romance in ‘Recently Returned’.
She leans against a pillar for the first pages
in which Marion flies to Morocco with a sad heart.

A young man, tall, unshaven, taps
his dreams into an online form. He bends
towards the screen as if in prayer
to a fickle deity, scrolling up and down
for errors, for slips, for what he's missed.

A child in denim dungarees perches
on the chair opposite me.  The mother
browses the shelves while his fat fingers
trace a dragon’s tail across the page.
He points out green and blue and mouth fire.

Two men, both in sturdy boots, shed
mud in ‘Crime’ while swapping views on
Rankin -

- The library will close in five minutes -

Clutching Shakespeare and Marion
in Morocco and dreams and dragons
and a Rebus mystery (and a leaflet on cuts
from a table near the door)
we all sigh towards the exit.

We mustn't Lego of our libraries

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.