Friday, 17 April 2015

Reasons why you should avoid reading anything in the mornings

I had a letter from the tax people this morning. It began exactly like this, with the first word in lower case and the rest in forceful capitals:


Is it me, or have the tax people not done the training module called 'Achieving a consistent tone'?

On the other hand, I'm more irritated by letters which begin, 'Hiya Fran! We don't know you from Eve, and frankly we don't care, but would you like to donate £3,000 to our worthy cause?'

To distract myself from having to think about tax, I had Special K for breakfast and read the back of the box while eating it. This shows you how desperate I was not to read the tax letter.

There's a current, thrilling 'free personalised spoon' offer from Kelloggs and it goes like this:

1. I save 3 'vouchers' from three different boxes of Special K.
2. I email Kelloggs, giving the voucher numbers.
3. I give them the message I want written on my spoon handle. (I would choose 'I am a fork which does great impersonations.')
4. I tell them which Kelloggs logo I want on the spoon, next to the message.
5. They send me a spoon right away.
6. Correction. They send me a spoon but it might take 90 days to arrive.

90 days? 90 days?

That's a quarter of a year! By then, I could have developed a wheat allergy, or gone on a nothing-that-needs-a-spoon diet, or moved house so the new tenants get a spoon delivery that freaks them out. Or I might have regretted my choice of message, seeing it anew as puerile and the product of a twisted mind.

The 'logo' thing hacks me off. Their aim is to get every household in the country advertising Kellogg's products for free on the handles of all the spoons in Britain.

What's the betting that when my spoon comes, there'll be a letter with it beginning, 'Wotcha, Franny! Your spoon is enclosed, LOL!'

What will yours say?
Mine will say, 'I've been in this package for 90 bloody days and am seriously peed off.'

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Evidence that people can be admired for all kinds of feats

Yesterday, a woman on the train who had no teeth was noshing her way through a whole Scotch egg as if it were an apple. (For the uninitiated, a Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and breadcrumbs and fried.) If you'd given me the choice between watching her eat a Scotch egg and not watching her eat a Scotch egg, I'd have plumped for the latter. But she was directly opposite me, and I admired both her skill and her total lack of self-consciousness. I didn't take a photo (one can get thrown off trains) but to help you imagine, here's a picture of a woman with no teeth.

And here's a picture of a Scotch egg.

This egg is a world-record beater for the largest Scotch egg made in a restaurant. The one she ate wasn't quite that impressive, but, to her, it may well have seemed that way.

There are other tasks that could be compared with a woman with no teeth eating a whole Scotch egg.

a) Someone eating a whole joint of roast beef with a rubber fork.
b) A man climbing a mountain in slippers.
c) A woman knitting a scarf using spaghetti instead of needles.
d) Sportspeople playing tennis using fly swatters.
e) A farmer building a dry stone wall using bubble wrap.

Can you add any, followers?

I'd like to think that when she got home from her train journey, she thought, 'What shall I have for tea? I know. There's that bit of pork crackling in the fridge, then I'll have a bag of peanuts, and I'll finish with some nice treacle toffee.'

As long as I'm not there to watch, I'm pleased for her. I hope she has a lovely evening.

And, yes, I had a pleasant week away, thank you. I did do other things apart from go on trains and watch people eat Scotch eggs. Not that you'd know it from this rather narrowly-focused blog post.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Reasons why teachers get nervous about Ofsted inspections

I thought, for the Easter weekend, I'd give you an extract from 'Miss', the book I'm editing, ready to tout it round agents and publishers. In the book, 'Miss' is worried about an imminent Ofsted inspection, her husband is going to walk out on her, fed up with her workaholism, and she is about to find out that his old flame will be one of her Ofsted inspectors ....

I hope you enjoy the extract. I enjoyed writing it. Happy Easter holidays!

As 11F arrived, jostling at the door with the tardier members of my tutor group, I remembered that Max King, my teaching assistant for this class, had a meeting with his line manager. Also, I'd left my photocopied worksheets on a shelf in the Reprographics room downstairs.

‘Right, Year 11. Settle yourselves. Phones away. Ties on.’
I turned to a blonde girl in the front row. She was critiquing her flawless face in a mirror. 'Maisie, sorry to interrupt your beauty routine, but I need a favour.'   
She dropped the mirror into her blazer pocket.  'Can I have a merit?’
I sighed.  'You should help people in distress without needing reward.’
‘If it's that bad, then it's worth a merit.’
'I'll go, Miss,' said Caleb, next to Maisie, grinning. ‘You know I’m a champion athlete.’ He had moved from Ghana the previous year and now sprinted for Warwickshire.    
'It's only to Reprographics,' I said. 'Not Wales and back.'
'It's all right, Miss,' Maisie said. 'I'll do it.’
'Hang on, Maisie.’ The class wasn’t settling and it was my fault. I turned to the board. ‘Year 11, copy the date and this title. Quietly.'
I wrote, 'Friday 2 February. Making your reader tense'. 
 Ofsted wouldn’t approve of such a bumbling start. Neither would they sympathise with my insomnia or domestic problems.    
Hang on. Weren’t they responsible for some of my domestic problems?

Pupil 1: What is the date?
Pupil 2: It's on the board. Use your eyes.
Pupil 3: It says the second of February.
Pupil 1: Write it down then.
Pupil 3: But it's the first. I know it is. It's my dog's birthday.
Everyone: Oh, Miss! You got the date wrong.
Me: Sorry. Sorry.
I rubbed out the 2 with the heel of my hand and replaced it with a 1.
Pupil 3: Now it says it’s the fernd of February.
Me: ‘Fussy!’  

‘Right, Maisie. At last.’ I told her where the photocopying was and she left. Too late, I noticed she hadn't even opened her book. She liked discussion and debate, but was much less keen on writing. 
Caleb had noticed too. 'What do we do when we've done that?' he asked, glancing at Maisie’s untouched book, as sly as old age. 

11F were resitting Creative Writing coursework they'd flunked in Year 10. They weren’t easy to manage. Too many had particular needs and some were notorious for behaviour problems. It only took a break time argument, a row with Dad the night before, or a bad Maths test result for someone to kick off and others to follow, like sheep. Carefully-crafted lessons could hit the dust.
No, don’t observe me with Year 11, Ofsted. Come and watch me stuff a sack with squirrels.   

Marissa tossed back her hair. A young Kate Bush doppelganger with untamed black tresses tumbling down her back like a free spirit, she wanted to know if tense as in tension was the same as tense as in past and present tense. I was umming and erring, therefore grateful when Maisie returned with my photocopying. A Twix wrapper lay on top of the papers. She presented the pile to me as though it were a purple cushion with a crown on it.
'Thanks, Maisie,’ I said, taking the papers but giving her the wrapper. ‘Put your rubbish in the bin. Why were you eating in the corridors?'
'It's not mine.’
'Whose is it?'
'I don't know, Miss,' she said. 'But it was right next to your photocopying.’
The class began to laugh. 
'Why would I have asked you to collect a Twix wrapper?’ I said.
'I don't know,' she huffed. ‘Only trying to be helpful.' She dropped it into the bin then sat down, flipping open her exercise book.
Caleb pointed to the whiteboard. 'You have to write the date and title.'
'Obviously,' she said.
It's a good thing he's an athlete, I thought, because the diplomatic service isn’t going to take him.

They used the photocopied worksheets to match tension-building devices to their definitions, then I asked, ‘Before we start writing, who can tell me the worst way to end a story? I mentioned this last week.’
There was a pause. Last week? We’re not elephants.
Maisie had an epiphany. 'But it was all a dream!' she said, throwing up her hand.
‘Well done!’
Her grin was wide. 'Can I have that merit now?'  
I started a merit list on the board, writing her name. 'I give in,’ I said. ‘Despite the fact that you thought I would litter Reprographics with a Twix wrapper.’
I turned back to the class. 'I want you to write the beginning of a story,' I said, ‘using at least four of the devices on your worksheet. And, Karl, to do that, you’ll need to put the phone you’ve got on your lap away or I’ll confiscate it.’
‘You couldn’t see it,’ he scowled. ‘You were facing the board.’
‘Call it intuition,’ I said. ‘Put it away.’
‘What’s intuition?’
‘Here’s a dictionary,’ I said. ‘Keep that on your lap instead.’

Ten minutes before the bell, I asked for volunteers to read. Most had embraced the task; a minority had needed more persuasion. We’d had a Tippex-for-nefarious-uses confiscation, an argument about a boy kicking someone’s chair, and a girl who’d cast a Geography teacher as a psychotic serial killer and needed help with alternative ideas. 
Oliver, usually quiet, with glasses and floppy light brown hair, said, 'I’ll read mine, if you like.’
‘Great, Ollie. Can I play Instant Critic?'
He nodded, cleared his throat, cleared it again, and began. 'It’s called ‘Christmas’.’
‘I always thought my mum and dad would be together for ever,' he read, 'like in fairy tales.'
The class went quiet. I drew a giant tick on the board and underneath, 'narrative hook' and 'simile'. 
'But that goes to show,' he continued, 'how wrong you can be. At Christmas, we did have some presents, but we never got to open them. They stayed under the tree, as though they'd been abandoned.'
I wrote, 'emotive' on the list. Girls said ‘Aaah’ and ‘That’s so sweet.’
'This is good, Ollie,’ I said.
'I don't know what the argument was about,' he read, 'and I don't suppose I ever will.  Now.'
I wrote, 'increasing tension'.
'By the end of the day, Dad's brown suitcase was in the hall.’
He stopped.
I wrote, 'visual image'.
'My mum kept saying, "But it's Christmas.”’
I wrote 'direct speech', feeling crass and wishing I'd never started this.  Oliver's story was like a sharp stick, poking at my own hurts.
I turned. 'Carry on.'
'That's as far as I got, Miss,' he said, and closed his book with a slap. 
Caleb said, 'That was bare sad.’
I wrote, 'bare sad'. Caleb had spoken for us all. Why be fastidious? I gave Oliver a merit.
After Oliver’s, we heard another boy’s story, featuring a zombie attack on the school dining room. His reading was interrupted by the bell as a mutant was gnawing at the leg of a dinner lady. 
Oliver stayed behind as the class surged out. 'Did you like my story, Miss?'
'It was moving,' I said. 'It must have been hard to read, so soon after the event.'
'Oh, that was two years ago,’ he said. ‘It’s all fine now. Mum’s just had another baby.’

He skipped off. 

Miss couldn't wait for the holidays. Something had to be done about the Hair.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Evidence that you can use a duck-billed platypus to say almost anything

Just a reminder that, on my new blog, once a week or maybe twice I'm posting up ideas, tips and exercises - along with a few laughs - for anyone who loves to write.

There are a few posts up there now. Today's is about using a variety of sentence types to lift your writing style.

Go and have a look or recommend to any writer friends. And follow to get regular updates.  Here's the link.

Writing with the use of a duck-billed platypus

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Evidence that you can't always find a common theme however hard you try

I have some things to tell you. I'll attempt to link them all together, but I don't yet know how. Let's wait and see.

1. Near my house, an alleyway leads under a railway bridge. On the wall of the bridge, some kid who has a GSOH but won't get a GCSE in English has sprayed, in enormous white painted letters, this message:

'Call the Graffiti Removeral!'

2. I noticed, yesterday morning while making my packed lunch of home-made cheese coleslaw, that when you grate cheese, it behaves itself, but when you grate carrot, it goes everywhere but into its assigned container. The cheese obediently grated into the sandwich box, yet only three shreds of carrot landed in there. The rest was a) on my cardigan; b) on the walls; c) on the work surface; d) still on the carrot. Retrieving shreds of carrot from various surfaces is not the way to start a working day.

3. When I log in to my computer, it asks for a password. When I mistype the password, it says to me in its 'concerned friend' voice: 'Hint: usual password.'  It seems to think I would deliberately type in an unfamiliar one. Surely, 'Might that have been a typo?' would be more humane rather than treating me as though I had a peanut's brain?

4. Today was 'moderation day' for our English department at school, checking our GCSE coursework grades to see if we'd been marking them fairly. To accompany the moderation, we had a) hot cross buns; b) Party Ring biscuits; c) Jaffa Cakes; d) chocolate biscuits. We even missed lunch while we worked, snacking instead on a) hot cross buns; b) Party Ri - you get the idea. Moderation is sedentary stuff. I have never sat so still, and yet consumed so many calories, before. If I did a week like that, I would need bringing out of the building on a crane. Two weeks: a hearse. Three weeks: a hearse, pulled by two carthorses and a tractor.

5. Last night, I started to listen to a radio programme about how stressful teaching is these days, except that I kept falling asleep, shattered after an 11 hour day. I woke several times to find the programme had moved on ten minutes without me. I love this kind of irony.

Okay. Now for the connection between these items........


Nope. Can't think of any way of linking these together. So, today, my theme is the randomness and arbitrariness of life and existence. Beckett, eat your heart out.

Here's an owl in a straw hat, just to consolidate today's theme ...

Friday, 6 March 2015

Reasons why the Internet isn't always a good thing

Short story entitled 'Why people shouldn't go to the Internet for medical help.'

'What's that strange lump on my leg? Surely that wasn't there before,' thought the woman.

She Googled it. 'Strange lump on leg,' she typed.

Website 1 said, You have a lump on your leg. It will go soon. Do not worry.

Website 2 said, You have probably bumped yourself without realising. It will go soon. Do not worry.

Website 3 said, This is probably a fatty lump or a benign cyst. It will go soon. Do not worry.

Website 4 said, You have a fast-growing incurable malignant fibrous histiocytoma. See a doctor immediately and check that you have no diaries lying around.

She felt the lump again. Surely, since she started Googling, it had grown thirteen times bigger?

The End.

Googling the lump had given it an ego and a personality of its own

Medics seem to hate it when you turn up at the surgery and say, 'Doctor, I've googled this, and apparently .....'  I guess they know what's coming. 'Doctor, I've googled this, and I think you'd better tell me your opinion quickly, because I only have three minutes left before I go into a coma.' Or, 'Doctor, I've googled this, and in my humble opinion you need to prescribe me a year's worth of Cure-it-all-acillin even though it costs £14,000 per two week course.'

Last time I mentioned I'd been playing Google Diagnosis to my doctor, it was when I had a Baker's cyst developing behind my knee. I told him people on the Internet were saying that if a Baker's cyst burst, it was a pain three times worse than childbirth. 'Is that true?' I said.

The word 'contemptuous' isn't strong enough to describe his look. 'Hmph,' he said. 'Well, people on the Internet are stupid.'

What? EVERYone? What about Stephen Hawking? I checked Stephen Hawking's website and either he's a lot cleverer than I am, or he is SO stupid, as the doctor suggested, that he's talking claptrap and academia hasn't realised.

Having said this, Stephen Hawking has absolutely nothing to say about strange lumps on legs. I guess even the best brains have their limits.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Evidence that Fran has experienced major trauma


Mourn with me, brothers and sisters. I went to M & S to fetch my new slippers and put them on at home only to find my heels hung over the edge. 

Size 7s, my foot! 

I am slipperless once again, as the nice but harassed lady on the counter tells me that there are no size 8s in stock.

Fear not. I did buy an alternative to make me feel better. Here they are. Not quite a pair, but good enough. 

Thornton's Special Toffees. Yum. One in fruit and nut, and one in Brazil nut flavour.  They won't keep my feet warm, but they still provide a kind of comfort that's very welcome in my distressed, sans-slipper state.