Thursday, 12 January 2017

Reasons why Fran can now work in her study again

The Boiler Man has been.

If you want to know why that's even A Significant Thing, see this post from last Sunday

He took out a spanner, said, 'Yeah, I know what this is,' turned a screw, and bingo! The boiler has been renamed Whisperer. I do not have words for the relief I feel. I will just offer you these comparative situations in an attempt to explain.

I get the same level of relief when I ....

- have eaten a bar of chocolate and when I read the calories it says '100' where I was expecting '300'.

- wake up after a dream in which forty children are rioting in my classroom, lobbing doughnuts at each other and shouting 'Out, teacher, out!'

- leap out of bed thinking it's a Friday and that I'm an hour late for school, then realise it's a Saturday

- find a seat on the bus next to a string-thin person so that they don't have to commune with my thigh

- watch a string-thin person get on the bus and take the seat not next to mine

- realise I am in a cafe, alone, with a book, and have forgotten to bring the marking I intended to do

- get a phone call from the administrator at school saying, 'You know we wanted you to cover another teacher's absence and take a Year 9 PE lesson in the last lesson of this afternoon? The teacher came back.'

 - take my shoes off after a day on my feet and snuggle them into soft slippers

- realise that the wasp in my hair isn't a wasp

- get on a train at Leamington with a Prosecco-swilling screeching cussing hen party dressed in pink handkerchiefs who all get off at Banbury 15 minutes later

- find that the homework essay a student accused me of losing was in her bag all along

- snuggle into bed on a winter's night and realise that Book at Bedtime is on the radio and not some late-night unfunny sketch show that Radio 4 has labelled comedy

- realise that the three buzzing flies pirouetting around the room while I try to write/read/mark have finally located the window

- when I realise that I hadn't pressed 'Reply to All' 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Reasons why Fran is currently hiding in her front living room with the door shut

I like general noise. I work best when in cafes, surrounded by the hubbub of gossip, coffee machines, the clink of cups. At night, I often drift off to sleep with Radio 4's Book at Bedtime murmuring in my ear. Silence worries me and makes me restless.

However, there are some noises I can't tolerate. Let us talk about them.

1. My husband using the pressure cooker

My husband makes stock if we have chicken bones left over or sometimes puts a soup together with all the root veg from his allotment. He likes to use the pressure cooker but he knows to warn me before it starts the hissing phase.  I have to know the exact time because I hate to be taken by surprise by that hissing: it makes me want to slap people. Maybe it's some kind of primal warning system of danger - a throwback to long ago (hissing serpents ... temptation ... No, Eve, don't DO it!) but that hissing noise crawls under my skin. I've typed 'hissing' several times now and it's recreating the tension in my chest; my heart is beating faster. When the pressure cooker is h ... making that noise it makes, I go to the other end of the house and turn a radio on, hoping it's not this song that's playing.

2. Clicking pens

Some years ago, I began a new teaching job. A class of fourteen year olds resented having a different teacher and one way they communicated this was by clicking their ballpoint pens on and off in the lessons. I won't judge them too harshly and perhaps it was cosmic justice; I was a pain in the butt to teachers as a fourteen year old and clearly remember humming at the back of the room or tapping a ruler, just to rile the poor man or woman doing their best to teach me about coastal erosion.

My Year 9 class must have googled 'Things that will drive Mrs Hill crazy-crazy' because they were spot-on. It would begin five minutes into the lesson. Click. Click. Click-click-click. Clickety-click. They did it under the tables, but gradually I isolated the noise to a group of girls on the left-hand side of the classroom.

'Someone is clicking a pen,' I'd say, trying to stay detached despite every nerve ending in my body screaming RESCUE ME FROM THIS TORTURE. 'In fact, several of you are. Stop it now, because if I find out you're doing it on purpose just to be disruptive, I will dangle you from the classroom window until you beg for mercy  put you into a detention in which you will complete exercises on the semi-colon.'

The only thing that stopped it was, sure enough, to catch someone at it and keep them behind, however much they protested that they'd 'done it by accident'. This, combined with some jokes of mine they found vaguely amusing, and a few bags of Jelly Babies, saw an end to it. We got on with some Shakespeare instead of reenacting High Noon with stationery items.

But it's like a trigger. If I hear a pen clicking, my toes curl up like a jester's. That posse of mutinous girls psychologically damaged me. One day I will talk to a therapist about it, if I can find a way of starting a conversation about penclickyphobia.

3. Our new boiler

Let me introduce you to our new boiler. We are calling it 'The Moaner'.  Our landlord kindly put in a new central heating system for us just before Christmas but it involved taking away our old boiler (whom we are now calling Our Old Silent Friend). Our Old Silent Friend was in the kitchen and provided warmth and a listening ear should one have had no one else to talk to about one's problems.

The Moaner has been installed upstairs in an airing cupboard. It's in the bedroom I use for my study. This is the Moaner's daily itinerary:

7-10.30 am - Switch on. Get on with business without causing too much disruption.
10.30 am -  Start moaning, quietly at first.
11.00 am -  Build up the moaning to a crescendo, hitting the top note (werewolf) at around 11.30.
The rest of the day until the heating goes off at 10pm - keep the werewolf impression going, but make him sound hungrier and hungrier.

Have we had the gas man round? Yes, three times. Has he mended it? Yes, each time he says he's mended it. Has he really? No, despite his best efforts and we're most grateful (if you're reading this, Jason). What's going to happen now? Someone from the boiler company is coming this Wednesday.

Since the Moaner moved in, my study has been off-limits. I have a spacious pine desk by a window overlooking ancient trees and it's my favourite place in the house now. It's where I read, write or mark when I'm not in cafes making a cappucino and a free biscotti last four hours. The Moaner, of course, knew all this. Maybe he also Googled 'Things that will drive Mrs Hill crazy-crazy.'

If we sit in our downstairs back room directly underneath the airing cupboard where the Moaner lives, we can hear him, werewolfing away above our heads. I am sure our next-door neighbours can hear the noise. They are probably saying, right now, 'Do you think they've trapped a live animal behind a wall like that man did in that Edgar Allen Poe story The Black Cat? Should we call the RSPCA?'

No, I'd like to say to them. Call me a therapist. I'm going crazy-crazy here, almost crazy enough to say to my husband, 'Make a soup, for heaven's sake. We have to drown it out somehow.'

'The Black Cat' by Poe. A fabulous but disturbing short story. Recommended.
Warning: Do not teach this to eleven-year-olds without re-reading it very carefully.
They don't sleep for weeks.
I found that out the hard way. 

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Reasons why Fran is glad of the fickle British climate

Twice now, we have accidentally had a Christmas barbecue, both times because my daughter-who-was-a-contestant-on-Masterchef has arrived at our house with the Christmas meat, over-estimating the size of our oven.  Once it was a piece of beef which was so big and boastful, we had to tell it to breathe in before it came through the front door, let alone the oven door. Last year, she brought a goose which had an ambition to be an Olympic shot-putter and had been undergoing intensive training before its hopes and dreams were cut short. Both the beef and the goose found themselves being barbecued in our back garden, there being no room in our tiny oven for roast vegetables and meat with pretensions. We took turns togging up in hats and coats to baste or check the meat, avoiding the twitchy curtains of the neighbours who wondered why, if we wanted a barbecue at Christmas, we didn't just move to Australia.

This year, we went to our daughter's house for Christmas and, by design rather than accident, because she is someone who lives in London but really wants to be a farmer's wife and live off the land, we sat in her garden all Christmas day watching as she roasted two pieces of meat - lamb and pork - on a giant spit made by her partner who lives in London but really wants to be a farmer. While she prepared the meat, my husband, who's a gardener, dug up the parsnips, potatoes and carrots from the vegetable patch. If you used to watch The Good Life, you're in the right territory.

The picture below is of the meat loaded onto an uber-skewer in my daughter's kitchen, with a smug duck looking on, glad it wasn't his turn. So that you can get a sense of the size of the skewer, I will tell you that the bench is about five feet long. The partner who lives in London but really wants to be a farmer is also a skilled carpenter who made my daughter a table and benches to seat ninety. If they do achieve their ambitions and move house, I think the house will have to be lifted up by a crane so the table and benches can be removed, and the table and benches will need to have wheels attached so they can be towed down the motorway towards Sussex or Wales or Ireland, wherever the farm is.

Here's the pork and lamb cooking over hot coals at the bottom of the garden.

Christmas Day, weather-wise, looked nothing like any of the Christmas cards. Not a snowflake in sight. In fact, it was such a mild day that we could sit outside, without coats, and watch the meat on the spit. So, our Christmas Day entertainment went like this:

- pour a drink
- go down the garden with the drink and a book
- Say 'Those juices are less pink now'
- watch the meat being rotated by someone else in the family
- eat some crisps
- take a turn rotating the meat
- read a book
- chat a bit
- Say 'Those juices are less pink now'
- eat some crisps
- go back indoors for another drink

No, it's not Charades, and we had to catch up on the Queen's speech later, but watching meat cook for hours and hours and hours makes you relax. Our modern, instant cooking methods that we use day to day don't provide this same sense of 'Aaaah, that's better!' It's just not the same, peering at the dial on the microwave while it goes 59, 58, 57, 56 ....

There was some incongruity within this pseudo-rustic scene in that my daughter's house is in Isleworth, next to Heathrow Airport, and the planes fly over her garden so low that you can order a drink and a snack from a member of BA's cabin crew and watch a scene from Shrek 3 before the planes move on. Occasionally, when one of us said, 'Those juices are less pink now', no one heard. You can't imagine how noisy those planes are until you've sat in my daughter's garden and felt a hot undercarriage singe the top of your head as the aircraft flies off to New York or Italy or Africa.

Every five minutes, someone said, 'Shall we taste a bit?' so we sat in a line, our mouths open just like the beaks of baby birds in a nest, and tiny slivers were sliced off and deposited in our mouths like little sweetmeats.

At five, we sat down around the mahoosive table in the kitchen, squinting through the candlelight at other family members sitting far away at the other end of the table, and calling to each other for salt or to pass the parsnips just as Heathcliff calls to Catherine across the North Yorkshire moors. In the middle of the table was an Everest of fragrant, juicy meat, and if you're a vegetarian, and still reading this, WELL DONE, YOU!

With the meat, we had homemade mint sauce and cranberry sauce and apple sauce and crispy potatoes cooked in goose fat, and parsnips and carrots and indigestion and regret.

But it was fabulous.

As an addendum, here's a picture of one of the parsnips, which I dubbed an octoparsnip. I think you'll see why.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The story of Goldisocks and the Three Beans

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in the land of One-Wrong-Consonant. Her name was Goldisocks.

Goldisocks had bright yellow hair and socks to match. This made it hard for her. When you spend your spare time peeking in at the windows of strangers, trying to be subtle, buttercup-yellow hair is a disadvantage in itself. Having matching socks that would light up a Norwegian Arctic winter or guide a ship into port in a wild storm makes it all more challenging.

Nevertheless, Goldisocks skipped off one morning into the woods and found herself in front of a cottage she had never seen before: the home of the Three Beans. Here they are in the picture below: Daddy Bean, Mummy Bean and Teen Bean. Mummy Bean is the one on the right whose face shows open distress and I'm about to tell you why.

Earlier that morning, before Goldisocks was up and about, the three Beans had been arguing over breakfast. Teen Bean had been grumpy and hard to please (he's the one at the top of the picture slathered in Marmite but prone to tantrums when Mummy Bean asks him to go and have a wash).

Also, Mummy had yet again served up poorly-cooked Quaker Bats. And, as intelligent readers well know, there's nothing so galling as having bats served up as your breakfast which aren't at the right temperature.

'My bat is far too hot,' said Daddy Bean, flapping at his steaming mouth.

'That's odd,' said Mummy Bean. 'My bat is on the cold side.'

'My bat is just right,' said Teen Bean, as sullen as thunder, 'but I don't want bat.' He shoved his plate of just-right-bat away from him and thumped the table. 'I want more toast and Marmite.'

'More Marmite, darling? Are you sure?' Mummy said, trying to be conciliatory but feeling as hopeful about this as someone hanging from a cliff by cheap nail-bar false fingernails.

'You are already more Marmite than face, son,' said Daddy Bean. 'Let's go to the coffee shop at Waitrose. I'm going to have one of their bath nuns.'

Mummy Bean frowned. For some reason she couldn't work out, that had sounded like something Daddy Bean shouldn't have said in front of Teen Bean.

This all explains why, when Goldisocks turned up to peer through the windows of the Bean house, there was no one in.

Within minutes, she was sitting at the Beans' kitchen table sampling Quaker Bats. All were cold now. 'These wings are as leathery as ... as leathery as ... as leathery as leather,' Goldisocks, who was predicted an E for her GCSE English, said aloud.

She looked around the room. In a row alongside the kitchen wall were three chains.

What she didn't know, and neither did I until thirty seconds ago, was that Daddy Bean was a collector of traditional-style bathroom accessories. This was because ... this was because .... *thinks* .... this was because his father, who'd been a plumber by trade, had died in tragic circumstances while fitting a state-of-the-art, ultra-modern toilet in a customer's house. He'd hated the new styles, but had reluctantly agreed to install this toilet for the longstanding customer. It had fallen on his foot during the installation. The foot had turned gangrenous and within days Bean Senior was dead. Daddy Bean had started his collection instantly to preserve his dear father's memory, hence the three chains suspended from the ceiling in the Beans' kitchen.

*wipes brow*

Goldisocks couldn't contain her curiosity. Like all little girls in fairy tales, she talked to wolves, bit into obviously dodgy apples, and went into forests alone. She wasn't going to resist pulling a toilet chain if she got a chance. She pulled Chain 1 gently. Nothing happened, except that it swung a little then returned to stillness.

She pulled Chain 2, a little harder. It swung for longer, twisted round, then back again, then went still.

She pulled Chain 3 with a yank so hard that the ceiling to which it was fixed came crashing down around her ears, as did Teen Bean's bed which landed on top of her. She was hidden by rubble, a bed, and frothing clouds of dust.

She was a very lucky girl. The Beans were on their way home, cheerful after a much more successful breakfast. Particularly, Mr Bean had enjoyed his bath nun, more than perhaps he should have.

The Beans gaped in disbelief, squinting through the dust and cough-coughing, at the heap of rubble in their kitchen. What could have caused it? Had they left the toaster on?

Teen Bean suddenly said, 'Dad! Is there a fire burning underneath there?'

But it wasn't a fire. As they looked closer, they saw a tiny beam of yellow, shining out from beneath the dust and destruction like the glare of a lighthouse from out of the sea's darkness.

Daddy Bean stepped forward and balanced awkwardly on the rubble pile - balance isn't a bean's best skill - to take hold of what he thought might have been a bright yellow fragment of Teen Bean's bedding (Teen Bean had nagged his parents for a Despicable Me duvet cover he wouldn't want any of his school friends to know about). But as Daddy Bean tugged the yellow material, it came off, and revealed a toe. He scrabbled away some brick fragments. A foot. And from underneath the rubble, a groan.

Mummy Bean called the Fire Service while Daddy and Teen Bean foraged at the rubble to reveal more and more of a sorry-looking Goldisocks. Minutes later, firemen having arrived to join the search, she had been rescued from the devastation, sobbed a thousand apologies to the Bean family for all the trouble she'd caused them, and been taken to hospital to be checked over.

'She left this behind,' said Teen Bean, holding up the sock which was still luminous despite a covering of dust, while watching out of the window as the ambulance disappeared. (He wasn't aware, but on another continent, the sock's brightness meant three planes changed direction and someone reported seeing a UFO.)

'That's not all she left behind,' said Daddy Bean, crossly, dialling a local builder to start the renovation process. 'I hope we never see her again.'

Teen Bean was thinking otherwise. He'd liked the look of Goldisocks with her sunshine hair, outrageous socks, and clear predilection for doing things she shouldn't.  He laid the sock on the windowsill reverently. It glowed with promise, he thought.

'Come on, everyone,' said Mummy Bean, trying to draw the family together in the crisis. 'We're well rid of her. We'll start clearing up. But before we do, let's all have one of those yummy sugary toughnuts I bought from Waitrose.'

Teen Bean tried his best with the toughnut, but it was no good.  He put it down on his plate and sneered. 'This toughnut is as leathery as .... as leathery as ... as leathery as leather,' he said.

He didn't know it, and neither did Goldisocks, and neither did I until roughly three minutes ago, but he and the girl in the yellow socks were made for each other in more ways than one and there was a happy ever after to come, in which Daddy and Mummy Bean would have more peaceful breakfasts without Teen Bean's militant face, and in which Teen Bean and the new Mrs G Bean would soon celebrate the births of their identical baby twits in One-Wrong-Consonant's City Hospital.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Reasons why Fran takes longer to cook dinner these days

Location: The Hill kitchen.

Him: What are we having?
Me: Roast, with those leftover thingies from yesterday, with a bit of .. you know ...
Him: Mash?
Me: Yes, mashed potato which I thought I'd mix with some ... some wotsit from the fridge
Him: What, the butternut .. er ... stuff?
Me: Yep. Can you hand me the silver thingybob?
Him: This sieve thing?
Me: The colander. That's it. Colander.
Him: Do you want me to ... to ... sort out the whatjamacallthems?
Me: Yes, please. Can you ...
Him: Peel them?
Me: I'll do the oojamaflips.
Him: Okay.
Me: Give me one of those knife thingies.
Him: A knife?
Me: Yes, that one, next to the one we use for chopping all the ... you knows.
Him: Vegetables. Shall I check that the ... er .. the roast ... the roast... meat ... is cooked?
Me: Yup. Shall I do some thingy sauce, with those Bramley wotsits from the ... you know, the allotment?

And on it goes, the Litany of Vagueness that emits now from our thinning, ageing lips as we prepare dinner. I'm nearly fifty-five, he's sixty, but together our brains have a combined age of nine hundred and eighty-seven, especially when it comes to naming objects.

I fear we are regressing to the 'pointing' stage of 8 month old babies when *extend finger towards banana* means 'please give me that banana to eat or I'll scream like a broken siren until I'm spent.'

But if we cook dinner together via pointing, we could still be there at midnight, by which time we'd give up the struggle, throw the whatjamacallits back in the oojamaflips and the meatystuff back in the coldthingy and go to bed hungry.

Anxious about my erratic memory, I've completed myriad do-you-have-early-dementia Internet quizzes, googling 'Why don't I know the word apple?' although the problem isn't, in fact, not remembering. It's not remembering in time, the moment you need the memory. As a teacher, this is especially frightening. Simple facts land on the tip of my tongue and then dissolve like sherbet. 'Right, then, class. Let's get back to Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare's characterisation of Romeo's friend .... his friend .... his friend ... ('Mercutio, Miss? The one you taught the lesson about yesterday?')

I haven't yet said, 'Right, then, class. Back to Romeo and Jeanette.' But I have anxiety dreams about doing so.

The most I've ever scored on the dementia quizzes, though, is 2 out of 10. One of the questions is usually 'Do you easily get lost even though you are on familiar territory?' but I've been doing that since I was eleven, turning left instead of right, right instead of left, and flipping my A to Z upside-down, right-way-up, inside-out in an attempt to orientate myself. These days there are navigation apps for one's phone, but that would mean learning to use it, and when do I have time for committing that to memory while I'm busy wandering the streets, looking for destinations?

Don't think I'm poking fun at memory loss. It's a scary thing - I see it frustrating my 94 year old grandmother who can remember the names of childhood friends and TV programmes she watched in the 70s, but not my face until I get up close and say 'It's me. Fran.' And I have a friend my husband's age with early onset dementia who can no longer remember how to cook the Bakewell tart which lured people to her house on Sundays drooling like those big dogs with flappy jowls.

My only comfort is that perhaps my own memory loss is a temporary, menopause-linked symptom. Maybe when I'm the other side of the menopause, I'll suddenly remember everything I forgot and will stand in the kitchen yelling with joy: 'Pork! Butter! Colander! Egg! Spoon! Whisk! Carrots! Onions! Carving knife! Mercutio!'

That might alarm my husband, though, who would rather have me with some memory loss than a kind of kitchen-linked Tourettes.

'I've made you this delicious pie, dear. Give me a minute and I'll tell you what I put in it.'

I was reassured at a quiz night on Friday when I helped my team out with several questions in the Literature round after squeezing my eyes shut and praying to my own brain not to let me down. I needed the encouragement: last year's quiz night saw me covering my face with my hands while everyone looked my way, touchingly sure that I'd know the name of a Steinbeck book or remember who wrote the Barchester Chronicles within the space of ten seconds. 'Sorry, sorry, sorry,' was all I had to offer as we left the spaces blank. As soon as we'd given in our answer sheet, I remembered the information. This wasn't a comfort to my teammates.

On Friday, though, we came sixth out of twelve teams. Things are on the up. Tomorrow, when I cook the dinner, perhaps I'll even say, 'Please pass me the whisk' without a hint of hesitation ...

... at which point my husband will say, 'Now, which thingybob do we keep the whisk in?'

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Evidence that Fran has seen plenty of wildlife in Cornwall, including the pasties

Thoughts from Cornwall on seagulls and pasties

On seagulls.

I am on holiday in Looe, Cornwall. Have you been there? If you're a seagull reading this, the answer is yes. In fact, you are probably reading it in Looe itself. Every seagull in the world is here, either as a permanent resident or on its own holiday. Very near our holiday home is the fish market. Every day the boats bring in mackerel or gurnard or haddock. The seagulls wait for their moment, flicking through their copies of 'Fish Burglary Tips for Birdlife' and then, in packs, like SAS troops, they pounce, hoping to grab as much as possible from the plastic ice boxes layered with the morning catch. The fishermen wave them away with their copies of 'How to Keep Seagulls from Stealing all your Stock' but back they come. It's like a war of attrition.

When our son was five, we were in Tenby in Wales and he was eating chips out of a paper cone while we stood on the beach. A seagull swooped down, its beak pointing due south towards the paper cone, and then STAB, STAB, STAB. Three chips, skewered on the end of his beak, and our son's mouth open in horror as this monster bird from a Daphne du Maurier story ravaged and pillaged his supper with not a hint of an apology.

The same happened to my sister earlier this year only this time with a long sausage roll. The seagull had obviously seen one of those rom-coms in which lovers eat spaghetti by taking an end each and slurping it in gently until their lips met in the middle, and wanted to try the same trick with my sister and her sausage roll.

This seagull's mother said, 'If you keep your mouth open like that all the time and the wind changes,
don't blame me for what happens .....' 

Talking of pastry.

On Cornish pasties ....

We decided to try the local pasties for lunch. I knew the pasty would be sizeable. I've seen them in the bakery shop windows, nudging aside Chelsea buns and doughnuts as if to say, 'Move over, small fry.' But I wasn't expecting to have to clamber inside the bag to fetch the pasty out, as you do a duvet from inside its cover, hauling it out by its corners. I wasn't expecting to climb my cheese and onion pasty, straddle it and control it before I could eat it. You do that with horses, don't you, not pastry goods?

It took some taming but finally I managed to negotiate my way from one end of it to the other. Afterwards, I felt triumphant, as I would had I lassoed a herd of wild bulls or silenced a cage-ful of roaring lions. I also felt as though I wouldn't need to eat until three days later and, even then, perhaps a thin chicken broth or a tomato salad.  I got up from my chair to say, 'Shall I put the kettle on' but the chair came with me because my hips had widened by fourteen centimetres and I was wedged into it. The Chair and I went to put the kettle on regardless. After enough pastry to line the basin of the Atlantic, one needs a hot cup of tea, if only to calm one down after the tussle.

The ship in the distance delivered this pasty to Cornwall. It has gone back to fetch the next one. 

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Reasons why Fran's neck is cold

I've had my hair cut.

I went into the hairdressers. 'I've had it short for so long,' I said, 'so I've tried growing it longer this year, and it looks fine....'

'So?...' she began.

'... as long as I'm standing still and there's no breeze or anyone near me breathing heavily or using a hand dryer.'

'What happens then?'

'I look like a Gorgon.'

'Are you sure about this decision?' she said.

'Couldn't be more sure,' I said. 'Anyway, a friend told me longer hair made me look more mature. I felt like an ancient cheese. And that decided me. Also, I've been trying to blowdry it in the mornings, so that I look like the people in the magazines.'


'I was thinking 'Glamorous Hair' magazine, not 'Crufts Monthly.'

'It can't be that bad.'

'So why am I being chased down the road by Afghan hounds?'

She washed my hair and cut it. Chop, chop, chop. Snip. Chop, chop. My hair slumped to the floor in clumps. Slumpy clumps. This must be how sheep feel, I thought. Naked. Vulnerable. Cold.

'Arrggh!' I said, as she snipped away. 'My face! My face!'

I haven't seen my face properly for a while. It took some getting used to. 'Hello, face,' I said. 'How are you doing?'

'Okay,' it said. 'But suddenly exposed and over-sized. My nose feels enormous, like a tusk.'

'Do you want me to cut your hair above your ears?' the hairdresser said.

I told her no. 'I swear my ears are getting bigger as I age,' I said. 'Some people end up with ears like cauliflowers, don't they? Soon I won't be able to get through narrow doorways. Keep them covered.'

When I'd gone into the hairdressers, it was autumn. Walking home, it was winter. My head felt light, as though I'd taken a heavy hat off, or had emerged from under a duvet.

The next day, at school, one of the students said, 'Have you had your hair cut, Miss?'

'I met this angry lawnmower on the way to school,' I said. 'A short fight ensued, and this is the sorry result.'

Another one commented in a different class, 'You've cut your hair, Miss.'

'I needed a quick way to lose weight,' I said.

'That's actually quite funny,' she said to her friend, as though teachers plus humour equals WEIRD!

But most people looked, widened their eyes, but said nothing. I'm sure Gorgons get the same reaction when they appear, minus the snakes, in elfin haircuts.