What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Monday, 2 September 2013

Something Gruesome in the Wooden Cottage...

Before we start, this tale is a little spooky, a little grim. I suggest that this is not a "meal time" story, if you know what I mean. I strongly suggest you put that sandwich down. Really. Done that? Let's go.

Sometimes, weird historical quirks come to light in unusual ways and something you never knew existed turns out to have been quite common in the Late MiddleEvil Period, or similar, when they should have known better quite frankly.  I discovered an odd one quite oddly.

Back in the days before Grand Designs and we all got bored of people turning perfectly reasonable homes into big white boxes or converting barns into barn conversions; a big house build could be quite a talking point. 

Well, it was if you lived in a small village like I did when I was growing up and there wasn't much to do or talk about. There were a couple of shops, a boarding kennels and, most importantly, a pub. It was the pub that I made a bee line for when I needed a job.  It was a good place to work because you got to hear all the local gossip, plus there was alcohol. It was pub talk that led me to learn about the Odd Find in the village.

A new Couple in the village were re-doing an old house. It was the aforementioned big talking point in the village not only because the Couple were new and therefore fresh meat, but the old house was quite the local landmark. It had a wonderful wonky roof that looked on the verge of collapse and had done for as long as anyone could remember.  Local artists painted the wonderful wonky roof against interesting skylines and smaller residents of the village were generally of the opinion that it was probably a witch's cottage and so were probably the least surprised by the macabre find within. The new Couple discovered on arrival that the wonderful wonky roof was indeed on the verge of collapse and so set about renovating the house. It was a long old job, and the builders became part of the village community long before the Couple did.

I got to know the builders quite well. Mostly because they regularly spent their lunch hour in the pub when I was working behind the bar. They were a welcome diversion because the older of the two had the gift of the gab and livened up lunchtime considerably. The younger of the two didn't say much, but had other attributes that made my teenage hormones froth up like a badly pulled pint. Chatting and fluttering proved a pleasant way of passing summer lunchtimes. I also got to know them because of the family dog. 

Ex- of several homes and a rescue centre, the family Mutt had wanderlust and his regular escapes were one of the village sights. Like I say, there wasn't much to talk about. He soon became firm friends with the builders, and by this I mean he would routinely turn up just as they were all opening their sandwiches, and help himself. He once ate a whole plate of flapjacks cooked for the builders by the Couple. This did not go down well. Still, as retrieving the Mutt from the building site after bad behaviour often afforded a fluttery glimpse of well-honed torso, I wasn't complaining.

One day there was great To Do over at the building sight. The renovation had turned up a strange find. I heard all about it first hand from the Builders.  They had pulled down the chimney that had been attached to the wonderfully wonky roof and in clearing the rubble, found something unpleasant. At first they thought it was a dead bird, caught in the flue at some point and never removed. Closer inspection however, revealed it to be a cat. There was great sadness at the thought of a villager's lost cat in the chimney until someone pointed out that the cat was a long time dead. The cat was somehow mummified. The Couple were informed and some phonecalls made. At some point, one of them thought to call the local historical society. I'm not sure why, maybe they were hoping they'd bought Tutankhamun's holiday home. 

The local historical society revealed a more grisly truth. It was, in the not distant enough past, thought to be good luck when building a house to bury a cat in the foundations. In this case in the chimney, where it became mummified. There are indications that this practice is a replacement for an even more grisly one. At which point it all started to feel a bit Wicker Man and things escalated. The National Trust began to show an interest. Or possibly English Heritage. Let's call them National Heritage. And the Couple began to take tentative steps towards local celebrity status.   A visit was arranged by National Heritage to see the Cat and possibly inter it in a museum and make notes on the significance of the house. The Press were involved. Even the builders were excited. Well, the chatty one was and the other one had had a great haircut.  The village waited to see whether this would put us on the map. A geeky and grim map, but a map nonetheless.

The big day for the National Heritage visit arrived. I went to work and awaited news from the Builders at lunchtime. It was with huge excitement that I watched them walk up the drive to the pub, and not for the usual reasons.

"Well?" I asked, "What did they say?"  Their faces did not mirror my excitement. Their expressions were sober, with traces of horror lurking.

"They weren't happy. Not at all." said Chatty, "They didn't even get to look at the Cat."

"Why on earth not?" I asked, looking at them. The not-chatty one just silently shook his head. Words often failed him, but this seemed more serious.

"Because," said Chatty in a whisper, "Your dog has EATEN the mummified cat."

It was true. The Mutt had been over to the house that morning and in the absence of sandwiches had made a meal of a 300 year old cat. He later threw it up on our lawn and spent the evening producing the most evil smells imaginable. 

Oh, the shame! Local celebrity status shifted dramatically away from the Couple, and tended towards infamy. The excitement in the village over the whole shebang took months to die down, during which time relations between us and the Couple were somewhat strained. We offered to return the remains but this generous offer was turned down, which was just as well as the Mutt had buried them somewhere post-puke. 

National Heritage were most put out and no-one got put on the map. I was somewhat relieved about this.

There you are. A revolting end for the revolting end of a revolting practice. Aren't you glad you put that sandwich down?


The Mutt later redeemed himself, in some eyes anyway, by digging up the remains of the Cat during an important barbecue and presenting it to a house guest that none of us could stand.

Friday, 5 July 2013

The best google search result ever. Contains cats.

The world is filled with wondrous variety. And on the edges of that amazing spectrum you will find conspiracy theorists, survivalists, people who drink their own urine. And then, right out there, there are die-hard pet lovers. 

Now, before we start, I don't mean you. You are perfectly sensible and love your pet a reasonable and appropriate amount. We're all owned to a certain extent, and your behaviour falls well within the normal range.

So. There's you and me. And there's them. They are out there and they blog among us. As I discovered the other night. 

I was looking up various essential oils, checking for allergic reactions, all innocent stuff. One of the oils was carrot seed. And that's when I found this query:

Can I use wild carrot seeds as a contraceptive for cats?

Read it again.

Now, wanting to tackle the problem of  homeless kittens and rapidly increasing feral cat populations is entirely laudable. But I would really, really like to see someone try and get carrot seeds into what one would assume to be a fairly cross wild cat.

Still, it was too intriguing a thought to be left alone. So I googled it. And that's where I found this:

Are there 3d glasses for cats?

Don't read it again. It won't help.

I want to believe that this is a genuine question. So I am going to.  The world is a better place, I feel, for being home to people that love their cat so much they want it to be able to enjoy a cosy evening in front of the telly with them. People who want to share an experience they enjoy with the creature they are caring for. I don't think these are the sort of people that go out robbing old ladies, making girls feel bad for being over a size 6 or dismantling the NHS.

So god bless the Extreme Pet Lovers everywhere. We need more of them to balance the frankly nasty bastards out there.

That said, there's no excuse for doggie nail varnish.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

8 Indisputable Reasons why the Monkees are better than the Beatles.

Why are the Monkees better than the Beatles? I hereby provide you, the truth-seeking reader, with 8 indisputable answers to that question.

1. No Monkees fan has ever sat down with an evangelical look in their eye and explained the history of music to you, whether you wanted them to or not. They're too busy singing to put anybody down.

2. The Monkees did not inspire Noel Gallagher to do anything.

3. Think how many tedious conversations in student bars could be avoided if "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" hadn't happened. (There's nothing I, or anyone else, can do about Puff the Magic Dragon. I'm sorry.)

4. Still on Lucy. Without the song, the early homo habilis skeleton found in Africa would not have been named Lucy and Melbourne Natural History Museum would not have felt the need to put a sensor near their Lucy model that played one phrase of the damned song over and over again any time anyone walked any where near her in a manner best described as insufferable. And breathe.

5. The Monkees walk. It's fun to do. No Beatles song has its own walk.

6. "Hey Jude" at Weddings. Worse than "New York, New York". At least that has a traditional drunken dance that goes with it. (see above for songs with accompanying moves being better in general)

7. "Cheer up Sleepy Jean" could always stop my daughter mid-tantrum when we were enduring the terrible twos, a period that went on for about 23 years by my reckoning. This gives it a price higher than rubies.

8. Paul McCartney. Yes. Be honest with yourself now. Totally honest. There. See?

So there we have it. We can all move on now. It's always possible of course that indisputable does not mean what I think it means, but I doubt it.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Lilac, love and long, long trains

I’d forgotten how good the night air smells. After a long winter, months of shutting the window on the freezing air, the night smells good. It smells of possibility.

It smells like it did when I was 17. We’re drinking cider in the park, sitting by the river, talking quietly, laying on the damp grass. Now we’re going home, and I’m with my friends, but I’m walking next to a Boy.  The baggy sleeves of our ludicrous outsize black jumpers are brushing against each other. The Boy is quietly beautiful, and his nickname is Jesus.

Nothing ever happens between me and the Boy, but there was always the possibility in  night air that smelled of Spring.

Night air smells of adventure. It’s years later. I’m standing in a train station, on the platform next to a very long train. It’s the middle of the night, the middle of the desert, the middle of no-where. And I’m standing under a breathtaking number of stars in a sky that makes you want to use the word velvet. I’m taking deep breaths and waiting to get back on the train. Somewhere, there is another boy. And this train is taking me far, far away from him and far away from any harm.

It’s the smell of a beach in the dark, tangy with ozone and seaweed and things rotting. The sand under my bare feet is delicious, cool and cushiony. I’m walking along the edge of the sea, in the leftover froth, letting the occasional ripple touch my toes and my heart is singing with delight at how far I’ve come, what I’ve done. The night air smells bloody fantastic.

That same smell, cool in my nostrils many years later, in the cold grey light just before dawn, just before a baby cries for the first time. It’s a May morning and I’m getting ready to hold my daughter. 

And a few weeks later, it’s the air that I breathe during the 3am feed, as I nurse my baby, like I nursed the one before her and will the one after. When you feel like the only two souls in the world, just breathing in the night air. It’s lilac mixed with mown grass and damp earth, new leaves freshly coated with the chill of dew.

The night air is full of possibility. I’d forgotten how good it smells.

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Great Lego Rip Off: what schools don't need.

If you've read Big Rant about Big Writing on here, then you know that I tend to get a teensy bit irate about people who come into schools and charge huge amounts of money for initiatives of dubious educational benefit. There is a simple reason for this:

It is wrong.

These are tough times for schools, and money is tighter than an inappropriate simile. However, teachers are a dedicated bunch, and we are mostly doing our damnedest to counteract Gove's tightly controlled academic agenda and keep learning fun for our children. There are lots of ways to keep learning creative and and engaging; from drama in the classroom, to outdoor learning, to historical re-enactment. My school has a large grassy hill which is perfect for recreating the Storming of the Bastille, for instance.

As teachers we feel pressure to keep learning novel and exciting. We sense the chilly shadow of OfStEd over our shoulder, and we constantly question whether we are good enough, doing enough, achieving enough.

Into this heady melting pot of stress and worry and expectation comes a Superhero... *dramatic pause*... WORKSHOP MAN! Or Woman. Or more usually, slightly iffy company.

Anyone in possession of a pigeon hole in school knows that by the end of a week it can be full to the brim with flyers: drama groups, art collections, science workshops, Owls. Yes, owls. Some of the companies touting their wares will be brilliant value and genuinely offer kids something their teachers can't, and leave memories that will last a lifetime. But the majority will not.  At best they will be a day that's slightly out of the ordinary and gives teachers a break.

All of them, however, will require money from the school. Money that is being stretched just to make sure there's enough staff. That leaves the option of asking parents for a "contribution", which is school speak for "we need the money".

And that's wrong too. Firstly because state education is meant to be free. Secondly, because no one wants to be the parent that says "no", whose kid can't go on the outing because Mum's too hard up. No-one wants the embarassment of being unable to pay. So they all pay up, for science theatres and year books and swimming and school photos and Owls. Yes, owls. Some companies are sneaky and offer the school things for free, like an assembly, but pass on costs to the parents who have to buy photos, or art work or Christmas cards. The list can seem endless when you're struggling with money. And it is not right.

To finish on a more abstract note, school's money is public money. We all pay for schools.

For all these reasons, there is a responsibility on companies who want to make money from schools to make sure they are offering something brilliant, be it a workshop, consultancy fees or training in the Next Magic Teaching Method. Make sure you have something that will really add to the children's time in school, will give teachers inspiration for years to come, and is a truly extra-ordinary learning experience. And if you can't do that, then go and make your money from somewhere else. Thank you.

(And what's rattled my cage? £12 so my kids could make a Lego house.)