Sunday, 23 April 2017

A sonnet in honour of chocolate

As it's Shakespeare's birthday today, and Easter is still in our minds, I thought I'd post a sonnet I wrote in honour of chocolate, and celebrate both at once.

A shout-out to Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, too. HI, ELIZABETH!

Anyway, sonnet and chocolate nearly rhyme, so it makes sense to put them together.

How do I love you? Let me count the ways.
I love you when you're cast in bunny shape
or in a simple slab from Sainsburays
or from the fridge, or melted, or in cake.

I love a Minstrel cool upon my palm.
I love a Cadburys button on my tongue.
I find it hard to stop - you have such charm -
before I know it, I've had twenty-one.

I love you whether white or Swiss or Belgian.
I want you to myself. I do not share.
I'll eat you 'til my little belly's bulging
and I can barely get up from my chair.

Oh, chocolate! I'll love you 'til I die
(though when I do, you'll be the reason why).

Someone said 'I've brought you chocolate. Dive in'. So ... 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Reasons why Fran is playing more children's games these days

A month ago, to see my grandchildren, I had to go on one of these all the way from Leamington to Richmond in South-west London.


Now that they have moved to within ten minutes' walk of our house in Leamington, I just have to go on one of these.

Correction. Two of these.

Correction: The legs above were my dream legs, not my real legs. 

Correction: These aren't my real legs either. They're someone else's. For my legs, think, 'Somewhere between Picture 2 and Picture 3.' 

It's taking some getting used to, knowing that just by putting one leg in front of another (never my favourite activity) I can be at my son's house, playing Snap or Snakes and Ladders with a 3 year old and a 4 year old, or watching a Peppa Pig DVD, or answering a litany of questions from a curious Elijah, who's just started school and wants to know the answer to Every Awkward Question Ever. 

I took them both to see their Great-Great-Granny in her care home. She's my mother's mother, is nearly ninety-five, and Elijah (nearly 5) was fascinated. He wanted to know 

- what does nearly blind mean?
- what is a walking frame for? 
- why does she need us to shout? 
- why is she old?
- why can't she walk very well?
- what is quite deaf?
- why does she live here?
- where does she have her dinner? 
- who else lives here? 
- why don't her legs work very well?

Sometimes, he asked the same question two or three times, not because he hadn't heard the first time, but because he was so interested, and wanted to hear the information all over again. 

It was ironically not unlike a conversation with my grandmother, the dear old lady in question, only with her it's because she forgets that we ever had that conversation, so we have it twice. Maybe thrice. And again the following day. 

Some might lose patience with this, but I find it oddly calming, and it saves on thinking up new topics. Every time I visit her I can say 'Did I tell you so-and-so had died/is getting married/has moved away?' knowing that I did, but she'll deny all knowledge, and so we can do it all again. She's just as pleased with the news every subsequent time I tell it. I told her about Vera Lynn becoming a hundred years old at least five times, and she relished the information just as enthusiastically on each occasion.

My grandmother is 95 in July. I am 55 at the end of April. Elijah will be 5 in July. 

Out of the three of us, Elijah's legs are definitely the ones with the most potential. My gran's legs are weak and unreliable. Mine are too plump and varicose-veiny. Elijah's got his dad's legs: like a young footballer's, with strong thighs and muscles. 

I feel like breaking into 'The Circle of Life'. To save you the pain of that, here's Elton John singing it instead. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Evidence that Fran is still in the country and entering a new phase ...

I do apologise. Did you think I'd been abducted by Planet Zoggians? Left the country with just a bag of underwear and a passport to start a new life? Been locked in a public toilet somewhere in town for three weeks and only released when someone realised 10B hadn't had Shakespeare inflicted on them for ages and were looking unusually cheerful?

'Where's Mrs Hill? We don't know. We decided not to query it.'

Facebook keeps telling me: '123 people who like your 'Fran Hill - Writer' Facebook page have not heard from you in a while. Write a post.'

I'm not sure I like its tone.

My 'Fran Hill - Writer' page is where I put my 'I've written a blog' updates. And any major progress on my novel. Or any major achievements in competitions ... So, I'm not saying that page has been 'quiet' but if a butterfly flew past it, you'd hear its wings like a pair of bellows.

I'm sorry, therefore, for my absence on the blog. Various events in family life and school life and personal life have swallowed up all my good intentions like a voracious greedy maw, chomping away at them and saying, 'Aaaah!' with no thought at all for my blog followers.

One key event is that my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren are moving to Leamington from Greater London. Instead of me calling them to say, 'Hi - we're just setting off to see you - we'll be there after four hours on crowded trains, delayed trains, replacement buses, and Paracetamol' we can call to say 'Hi - just setting off ... if you haven't made a Victoria sponge already, you still have time to bung a mixture in the food processor.'

They're moving in two stages. Yesterday, we helped the son and daughter-in-law unpack a van-full of boxes, kids' bikes and bedding. They drove here from London, leaving the little ones with a friend. Next Saturday, they'll be back with grandchildren instead of boxes - or perhaps grandchildren IN boxes if the journey doesn't go too well - and our new adventure called 'Being Nearer the Grandchildren' will begin.

I don't know what it will look like yet. It's unknown territory. I'm not exactly Grandma-at-home-with-the-kettle-on because most of the week I'm Grandma-in-a-classroom-with-my-don't-you-dare-face-on. In fact, Grandpa will probably see them more than I will, as his gardening job is Proper Part-time, as in, not Part-time-but-really-full-time like mine. Not jealous not jealous not jealous not jealous not jealous not jealous not jealous.

Apologies, too, for all the hyphens. I'm a bit hyphen-obsessed at the moment.

One thing I vow to do is to teach the grandchildren the difference between dashes and hyphens, as I find even my sixth formers are not sure. When I say, 'A dash is an item of punctuation, with a space either side of it, but a hyphen is mostly used to make compound words or to split words at the end of a line' they stare at me as though I'd just stood on a desk and yelled the f word in the middle of a lesson.

The same happens when I tell pupils that:

as well is two words
a lot is two words
thank you is two words
the word 'weary' means tired, not suspicious
starting a new line does NOT equal a new paragraph: never has, never did, never will, and, no, this ISN'T just one of my hobby horses.

I will let you know how the Ten Minutes Away grandparenting goes. I am pretty excited about it. I hope I can do the job justice, that's all, and that the grandchildren don't tire of us.

Perhaps I'll leave the hyphen/dash lesson for a few weeks, in that case.

He vowed to ask Mummy and Daddy whether the move was permanent after that last visit to Grandma's.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Reasons why Fran will never be on that Great British Sewing Bee programme

Lying on my bed is a pair of black trousers. They need some sewing work done but I am to needlework what Donald Trump is to coherent discourse and am putting it off.

I bought the trousers one summer, several years ago. The label said 'medium length' but when I first wore them, the hems smothered my shoes, dragged along behind me like two recalcitrant children, and yelled to the world, 'This is a shortarse if ever there was one. There's enough spare material here to cover a three-piece suite.'

I turned the trousers up to a more reasonable length but, that day, didn't have any black cotton. So, I waited until I could get to the shops to buy black  used silver-grey cotton instead and kidded myself that the stitches wouldn't show if I was careful.

Wouldn't show? Wouldn't show?  Perhaps if I was to needlework what Donald Trump is to verbal gaffes they wouldn't have shown. But -

I wore the trousers to school the next day and taught the first lesson of the morning to teenage cool-dude A level English students. Until you've been a middle-aged plumpy teaching a roomful of fresh-faced cool-dudes who can throw chopped and irregular layers of garments in different colours and patterns on top of a hangover and still look fabulous, you may think I'm exaggerating about how one's confidence can be destabilised by a touch of amateur needlework.  Some of the students were no doubt future fashion designers who'd learned at the feet of mothers who'd hand-sewn their ivory christening gowns in tiny elegant Jane Austen fully-matching-ivory-cotton stitches, with sequins, beads and all.

The lesson took place in a classroom with the sun crashing in at the window, its beams focused on my trouser legs, cruelly lighting up those silvery stitches as a car headlight picks out a cyclist's fluorescent jacket or strobe lighting picks out dandruff. My fumbling, clumsy stitches, quite clearly sewn in by someone with pork chops for fingers, dominated my thoughts and I tried to keep my legs tucked under the chair. No doubt some students were thinking, 'She looks tense. Why is she curled up like that? I hope that's not a diarrhoea bug she's trying to keep under control.'

I put the trousers in my wardrobe that night. 'I'll re-sew them tomorrow,' I said, 'with black thread.'

The next day, I re-sewed them. That was in 2013.

There they are now, lying on the bed.

I really ought to get round to taking out those silver stitches and re-sewing them.

I really ought.

After all, it's my half-term, and I'd have the time.

On the other hand, there's a nice lady in a shop fifteen minutes' walk from here who does sewing jobs and repairs for a very reasonable fee.

It would surely do me good to get out for a walk tomorrow ...

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Evidence that tiny things shouldn't be underestimated

I walked past a tree just now, coming home from town. The traffic was quiet, the road peaceful, and the houses Saturday-afternoon lethargic. But on the topmost branches of the tree perched a teeny-weeny bird singing a song so loud and bold and shrill that the tree winced and looked embarrassed, like someone who'd taken a garrulous, opinionated relative into a library and was regretting it.

I looked up, expecting to see the bird grasping a microphone and on its left and right, balancing precariously on the branches, a pair of mahoosive Panasonic loudspeakers.

My, my. What a voice for a bird so minuscule. Put it next to a large fly, and the fly would be taller. Had the bird lain down in the road and cried, 'Come on, local moggies - free meal!' I suspect the moggies would have taken one look, said, 'We've seen more meat in a vegan's pantry,' and moved on.

I'm not good on bird species, but I think this one was a lesser-spotted-town-crier-bird, or a an early-Tom-Jones or the rare megaphone-dressed-in-feathers bird.


What other things make an impact completely out of proportion to their size? I've had some ideas.

1. Babies.

Babies are born small for a good reason. Anyone who's ever given birth will be able to tell you that reason.

But, boy, do babies make a noise.

Here's a picture of a crying baby.


Whoever drew that picture lied.

Here's a more realistic picture of a crying baby.

NO one's tonsils are cute.

When tiny babies cry, their whole bodies disappear behind their open mouths. In fact, mothers all over the world are wandering around, saying, 'I hear the noise, I see a black hole, but where is Baby?' Then they realise that if they approach the black hole, the child is there, just behind it. The words 'Mummy's here - would you like more milk even though you've already drunk fourteen pints this morning?' will restore the black hole/child balance within seconds.

I will list the rest of my ideas. You know where I'm going with this now.

2. Mosquitoes.

3. Broken wind after cabbage.

4. A tiny Lego brick on a carpet in the dark.

5. A kidney stone.

6. A shred of basil between your front teeth.

7. A little toe stubbed on a bedpost.

8. An eyelash hair in the eye.

9. A bit of egg yolk in the meringue mix.

10. A tiny crack where the handle joins the mug.

11. A needleful of anaesthetic.

12. One forgotten kipper at the back of the fridge.

Can you think of others, followers? Please tell me in the comments :)

Fran suggested it sing 'I believe I can fly ...' but it was offended and clamped its beak tight shut

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Reasons why Fran is writing at midnight

I'm writing this while sitting in bed very late on a Wednesday evening, unwisely so because I have to be up at six. But I usually listen to Radio 4 at this point and they're playing some of their unfunny comedy. I swear they use the late comedy slot to try out people who ring up and say 'My mum says I'm hilarious. Can I have a show?'

'Yeah, sure. We have a space at 11.15pm we reserve for people whose mums think they're hilarious.'

'Will it be a big audience?'

'Sure, we get all kinds. Insomniacs who really don't care what's on as long as someone's talking to them. Women breastfeeding and using our show to bore the child back to sleep. Drunk people: they're easy to please. Shift workers so knackered we could play them Paradise Lost backwards and they wouldn't realise. Old people who napped for longer than they meant to at 4pm and now won't sleep until 3am. Women still breastfeeding. Ex-comedians who want to feel smug that they weren't that bad at your stage. Oh, and usually a wannabe comedian's mum.'

'Do any talent scouts listen then?'

'Pff. If they do, it's because they're insomniacs, breastfeeders or drunk people. Or their radio isn't tuned properly.'

'So am I not likely to hit the big-time if I have a late show on Radio 4?'

'You're more likely to hit the bottle. As are your listeners from what we've heard on your demo tape: those who aren't already half-blood-half-vodka.'

If I turn the radio on now, at 23.45 it'll be Today in Parliament. The problem with that is, I've already watched BBC Parliament for half an hour today on BBC iplayer to see what the result of the launch-Brexit vote was (not that it was a surprise). That was half an hour of my life I'll never get back: MPs shuffling about in the House or gossiping thigh-to-thigh with other MPs on narrow not-enough-room benches; (mostly) men in suits squeezing their paunches past each other on their way into and out of the lobbies like a fat man's version of Inuit-rubbing-of-noses ; and over it all the Speaker calling for 'HORS-D'OEUVRES' all the time and not a canape in sight, poor chap.

Here's the list. I want dim-sum, a couple of mini sausage rolls, and a cracker with a touch of liver pate. 

I'm lucky with my sleep, especially since hitting fifty. As long as I sleep for five hours solid, I'm up the next morning ready to roll, although in the winter that first peel-back of the duvet is a challenge, then there's the insult of cold air, the search for the slippers and the blind shuffle to a chilly bathroom. All that achieved, though, I'm soon perky-perky and as bright as a new coin.

That means that if I go to sleep too early - say, at ten - I'm awake at four and only get back to sleep with the help of a hot drink and - here's a trick you can borrow - reciting my times tables in my head. It's so efficient, this method, that I rarely get to 1 x 4 = 4 before I'm snoring like a troll. Ask me anything about multiples of three. Past that, don't bother. Ask a real insomniac.

We're into the midnight news now so it's time to get horizontal and curl up. I don't think I've missed much, not listening to the late-night sessions of what passes for humour, and anyway the news itself at the moment contains a generous helping of bizarre could-that-really-happen comedy.

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'