Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Reasons why Fran is getting cold feet (and that's not a cliche)

I'm unreasonably excited about getting my new pair of slippers. This is what they look like.



I never used to wear slippers. I'd always schlupped around in socks, going 'oof, oof' on the cold kitchen tiles in the winter. My husband would urge, 'Get yourself some slippers and stop oofing' and I'd look at him and say, 'I may have some parts of my body which have gone south in search of new adventures, and maybe I do watch 'Flog It' on my days off, but I am not yet old enough to wear slippers.'

Why did I think they were a sign that the End was Nigh? I don't know.

Two Christmases ago, not long after I became a Grandma and it seemed futile to hang on to my youth, in the same way it's futile for someone to cling hopefully on to a cliff edge who's got honey on their fingers, I decided it was time. I was in Marks & Spencer, thinking, 'But these all look like care home slippers' when, there they were: my destiny. Exactly like those in the picture above, they looked at me and said, 'Come on. You know you want to. We're not care-home slippers. We're cool. And how much longer can you go oof-oof on the kitchen tiles?'

Within days, I was a slave to them. Barely had I fallen inside the door at the end of the working day before I had tossed away my shoes, caring not where they landed, so I could nestle tired, I've-walked-down-forty-three-school-corridors-today feet into my size 7, fluffy black slippers.

The Anglo-Saxons, who couldn't be doing with boring nouns like 'slippers' and were very keen on using compound words called kennings in their poetry, would have called them foot-socks, or toe-houses, or feet-warmstorers or toe-cuddlers. (Any other ideas, followers?)

Alas, one cannot wear a pair of toe-cuddlers day in day out without having to face their demise at some point. I binned them at the end of January and have been waiting on the nice people at M & S to have my size in stock. I refuse to countenance any other sort. And on Saturday I can go to collect them.

Meanwhile, I've been back to oof-oofing on the kitchen tiles. I've tried wearing a pair of very thick socks but our steep stairs are wooden and slippery. As I still haven't watched a variety of classic films I need to catch up on, and I'd like to visit Dublin one day, and there are varieties of chocolate biscuits I haven't yet tried, I daren't risk mortal injury that way.

Saturday is going to be some moment, housing my toes once again. I may not leave the house for several weeks.

Fran really had been wearing those slippers for far too long. Time for the chiropodist to call.




Friday, 20 February 2015

Evidence that sometimes three syllables are enough to be going on with

I found this snippet of writing in a notebook. I don't remember where I was when I wrote it or when. A writing class? It intrigued me, though, just playing on one word like this.


The word 'abandon'. Three syllables. Oh, if only it were that simple. And yet, within the word, there is the thing itself. Ah yes, it begins with the vowel, hanging there in the air as though it were benign and could do no damage. 

But then the 'b' - the 'ban' - the plosive threat of violence, of a door shutting, of isolation and the colour black. 

And the fall. The 'don'. It is all finished. The decision to leave you behind has been made. The last part of the word can be whispered by the guilty as a victory hiss, by those who depart, as they slide the bolts on all the doors, or turn the silver key in a lock. They take the 'don' with them. 

It is the centre of the word that remains, the part that hurts the most.

A bit depressing, though. Perhaps I was on one of those writing classes that pitches you in a mire of despair with exercises such as 'Write about the worst time in your whole damn life' or 'Describe a time when you felt like listening to Leonard Cohen'.

One day, when I retire perhaps, and have more time, I will do a similar riff on antidisestablishmentarianism.

Or maybe this Welsh town name ....





Thursday, 19 February 2015

Evidence that Fran would rather start a new blog than mark the rest of a pile of essays

Hey, for those of you who like to write, I've started a new blog on which I'll share writing tips, hints, exercises and the like, mixed in with the usual selection of (what I call) humour.

What inspired me to start the blog was finding a heap of papers and files, all to do with my years of English teaching and running creative writing classes, as well as all the notes from previous writing classes I used to attend years ago. What to do with all these?

Paper a room?
Make a whole fleet of paper aeroplanes?
Send them to recycling and take up an entire landfill site with metaphors and character descriptions?

Ergo - the new blog.  It's here. Write with Fran

Come and take a look. And let any writing friends know. They're welcome aboard.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Reasons why Fran should stop watching ballet

Someone sent me a link on Facebook to this video of a Russian ballet dancer.

Something not to watch before you gorge yourself on sausage and mash.

I watched it just before my evening meal, and I really wish I'd had a sardine salad planned, or perhaps a thin vegetable soup with a couple of herb croutons. The ballet dancer leaps around as though his body is made of cotton wool, staying in the air like a bubble, for much longer than seems possible, and landing as though the floor wasn't concrete, but a thick, soft Turkish carpet.

And all I could think while I was watching was, in a minute, I'm going to tuck into a plate of pork accompanied by a hillock of buttered mash, and after that, I shall barely be able to rise from my chair, let alone fly halfway across a room like Peter Pan in nude tights.

I do love dancing, though. I have a CD called 'R & B Divas' and when no one is looking - and I've turned the mirror to face the wall - I will career around the living room like a mountain out of control, flailing my limbs to the music and using a banana as a microphone.

One of the songs on the CD is 'Toxic' by Britney Spears. I've just looked up the official video on Youtube. It appears the song is not, as I imagined, about bathroom cleaning agents.  I won't post the link to the video here, as I still want Google to let people click onto this blog without a warning, but let's just say, I thought the ballet dancer's tights were as nude as it was possible for them to be. Britney proves otherwise.

When I was a teenager, my poor beleaguered PE teacher, Miss Smith, tried to teach us 'Country Dancing' on Wednesday afternoons. I imagine she went home on those days and headed straight for her drinks cupboard for a gin and tonic in a pint glass. We were obsessed with the films 'Saturday Night Fever' and 'Grease' and she could shriek 'Remember to do-si-DO' as often as she liked, turning up the volume of the 'Gay Gordon' or the 'Irish Washerwoman' to drown out our giggles and yelps. But we were busy do-si-don't-ing, pretending we were Olivia Newton John and wishing a man in a white suit with cobalt blue eyes would come and rescue us from our fourth year schoolgirl tedium.

Do you like the film 'Billy Elliot'? I find the opening sequence transfixing, and the T-Rex song takes me straight back to my cheesecloth shirt and flared red trousers days when I experimented with bright blue eyeshadow and 'rocker' platform shoes, thinking myself elegant and sophisticated. I often use this clip at school to demonstrate the power of an opening sequence in a film.

Billy Elliot opening scene

If only Miss Smith had thought of playing T-Rex and letting us leap up and down on gym mats.



The 1970s: when wallpaper gave you nightmares






Sunday, 1 February 2015

Evidence (more evidence) that Fran likes to ruin things.

Someone just challenged people on Facebook to write a 50 word story on the theme of 'Once upon a time' and I can't resist that kind of ruin-a-fairy-tale challenge, as regular followers will know.

I posted this one:

Once upon a time Red Riding Hood’s mother said, ‘Will you take some cakes to Grandma?’ ‘Of course,’ said Red, but when Mother went to the cupboard, she was very surprised to find she was clean out of flour. Red lounged on her bed, smiling, her pillow higher than usual.

Now I feel inspired, here are a couple more:

Once upon a time, three little pigs made their mother pack their knapsacks and left home to find their fortunes, despite Mummy Pig’s distressed squeals. ‘Take no notice,’ said Pig One, who’d always lacked empathy. At lunchtime, they opened their knapsacks. ‘Hey! Who packed sausage rolls in here?’ they cried.

Once upon a time, there were three bears: Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear, and Paddington Bear, who had got lost.  ‘Apologies,’ said Paddington, ‘but would you mind awfully if I ate the marmalade sandwich I have in my hat rather than this lumpy lukewarm oaty stuff?’ Daddy Bear grinned. An ally! 

Paddington looked at the porridge and thought he knew EXACTLY what had caused the disappearance of Baby Bear


Anyone else fancy having a try at the 50 word fairy tale? Go on - you know you want to ....

Monday, 26 January 2015

Evidence that Fran can write a load of old Baloney

A friend saw the photograph of me I have on my blog (see the sidebar) and said, 'You look as though you have a neck problem.'

And there was I, trying to look engaging and light-hearted.

'The blue tee-shirt looks nice, though,' he added, to compensate for suggesting I looked as though I had cervical spondylosis.

I'm proud of knowing terms such as cervical spondylosis. It's all down to having trained as a medical secretary when I was eighteen. We had to learn medical terms with all the Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes so that we knew the difference between hypothermia and hyperthermia and didn't condemn someone to an early grave by getting it wrong on the doctor's letter.

When I first trained in the late 1970s, we didn't even have audio typing, let alone computers.  I went into the doctor's office and took the letters down in shorthand on a spiral notepad before decoding my scribbles and typing them up.

Fran kept her fingers on the key for hours before remembering it was 1979 and she wasn't connected to a printer.


One's shorthand, especially taken down at speed, isn't always reliable. I have a couple of funny shorthand mistake stories for you.

Once, I typed up a letter dictated to me by an orthopaedic surgeon. 'Thank you for sending me Mr Smith. I am recommending he undergo a Baloney amputation.'

When I took the letter in for the doctor to sign, he nearly had a coronary because of the laughing.

'What have I done?' I said.

'It's not Baloney,' he said, snorting. 'It's below-knee.'

'Oh,' I said. 'I did wonder. I thought maybe a Mr Baloney had invented the procedure.'

'He may as well have done,' said the doctor. 'I'm calling it a Baloney amputation from now on.'

2. Another secretary in the same hospital wrote in a letter, 'Thank you for referring Mrs Jones to me. I have carried out tests on her gynaecological problems and recommend she has a day at the sea as soon as possible.'

Her doctor, similarly, nearly fell off his chair when he read it.

'I said "D & C",' he said. 'Dilatation and curettage.'

'I've never heard of that,' the secretary said. 'I did think it was strange, but I thought that maybe you were one of those unorthodox doctors who prescribes yogurt and rest, or cranberry juice and a daily walk.'


You know, I think I could write a book along the same lines as 'Being Miss' (see under the spondylosis photo for details) all about being a medical secretary, my career for years before I became a teacher. There are so many good stories. But it would sound dated now, with tales about Pitman shorthand and carbon copies and patients' cardboard files and correcting mistakes with a gallon of Tippex, so that people would have to read it with a 'Dictionary of Ancient Secretarial Customs' alongside them.

I did write a radio sitcom recently called 'Receptionists', based on some time I spent working in a GP surgery. I sent it to an independent radio producer, but he sent it back saying, 'Sorry, but the first page didn't make me laugh enough, so I didn't read on.'

Not one for euphemism, then.

I should have sent him my Baloney letter with a note saying, 'This made a doctor laugh like a drain in 1979. So, what do YOU know?'










Friday, 16 January 2015

Reasons to avoid eating scones at Fran's house until February

We've weevils.

I'm only writing this blog post because I wanted to write that first sentence. Now I have to think of how to carry on and write an interesting post about the weevils who are weaving their evil weevily way through our flour and cereals and sugar.

Firstly, then, while I'm thinking, here's a picture of a flour weevil. I've had to get it off Google because when I asked our weevils to pose for a photo, they went all coy on me and said if they'd wanted to become famous they'd have auditioned for X Factor, thank you very much.

Fran the judge said 'It's a no from me.'


Fortunately, that picture is not life-size. If it were, we might have spotted Weevil Number 1 when it first arrived in our house, most likely in a bag of flour from the supermarket, to start its colonisation of our kitchen. I know my eyesight isn't what it used to be, but I think I'd have noticed it lurking in my fruit scone mixture, doing a very poor impression of a raisin.

Here's a more realistic picture of what we saw in our flour when we looked closely. 











Sorry. As I googled 'weevil' I was reminded of this guy from my childhood who leapt over buses on his motorbike. Do you remember him? Don't you think it would have been fun if he'd actually been a pest that lived in flour and leapt over buses at the weekend? Evel Knieval the Weevil. 

Anyway, this was the picture I really wanted, although our weevils were really not this obvious. I think these weevils are wearing mascara, eye liner and black underwear.






A purification ritual faces us. We have to empty the cupboards and throw away all the dry goods (making a trillion weevils homeless, but, hey, they're basically squatting).  Then we need to disinfect the cupboards and spray them with anti-weevil poison, hardening our hearts to the weevily screams and death rattles of any left behind weevils, clinging to the sides of the cupboards with their sticky little paws. After this, all the new dry goods need to go into weevil-proof plastic containers.  We are going to be solely responsible for Mr Tupperware's good year.

I have to say, I've never been given a better reason for not doing all the essay marking that's waiting for me. Usually I plead 'I have to iron the socks' or 'I have to make sure all my books are in alphabetical order' but having to commit weevilocide is a much more interesting excuse.

I have in my mind an irresistible image of a rock band, made up of four of the above-named pests, strutting their stuff on the stage and singing 'Weevil weevil rock you!'

I was going to leave you with a parody of the Winston Churchill speech 'Weevil fight them on the beaches, weevil fight them on the .....' but then I googled it and found out he said 'We shall.'  That's a bummer.