Monday, 27 December 2010


“What the hell is it now?” asked Hubby as I came in from work, ran through the dining room and threw myself onto the sofa and buried my face into a silk cushion, my shoulders heaving.
“I’m a hopeless teacher”, I sobbed. Hubby diplomatically removed the silk cushion and replaced it with an old chenille one. The one the dog favours. Amorously.
“There, there love”, he said, passing me a bit of used, stiff tissue, “I’m sure you can’t be that bad”.
“You have no idea”, I hiccupped, “I’ve been observed so closely by so many people this week it’s unbelievable. Fred West wasn’t under as much scrutiny. He couldn’t have been. He was left alone long enough to top himself”.
Hubby heaved me off the sofa and guided me into the dining room. He plonked me onto a chair and poured me a sherry.
“Right. Tell me all about it”. I was about to, when Mags walked in.
“Coo-ee”, she called, “So, how did it go?” My blotchy face and puffy eyes spoke volumes.
“Ah”, she added, helping herself to the Harvey’s Bristol Ceam, “Not so well I take it?”
Tears started anew as I tried to explain the last couple of days. “And I’m so tired”, I sniffed, “It’s been such a drive every day and I’ve been in school by ten past seven for a week and I put so much effort into that bloody lesson. I can’t believe I was being formally observed. I mean, how hard can it be understand a ballad?”
Hubby shrugged his shoulders. Ok, so he was the wrong man to ask.
“What was the problem?” asked Mags, now emptying a bag of Sensations Peking Spare Rib crackers into a bowl, “Did you go with the Johnny Cash idea?” she munched.
It is no longer considered teaching these days if one just stands at the front of the class and spouts knowledge at kids. Reciting a poem, getting the children to open a poetry book, annotate the poem and then write their own is so last century. So, to illustrate the lyrical, story-telling form of a ballad, I downloaded a Johnny Cash number, had a Powerpoint slide show attempting to define what a ballad is, followed by an example of a ballad written by Robert Graves. After that, I read them a Christmas story with such expression and animation that I’d have given anyone on Jackanory a run for their money and then, having prepared the next task by already writing the four first stanzas of a ballad based on the story I’d read them, (these days referred to as differentiaton) all the little darlings had to do in turn was finish it off.
“What was the issue then?” crunched Mags.
I read my lesson observation notes, “Not all students engaged. I didn’t differentiate enough”. Hubby scratched his head. “Huh?”, he asked. Bless him. He went to school even longer ago than I, in the days where one was expected to sit up and shut up, else a bloody great big, hard, blackboard duster would be hurled in the general direction of your conk. He is also the Commander of a training establishment and, whilst he would never condone the blackboard duster method of discipline, neither is he into what he considers to be, namby-pamby ways.
“It’s such conflicting advice”, I said in a little voice, “On the one hand I was told that I’d been creative, well prepared and resourceful and the next that not everyone had got it. I was also advised that I’d done too much for them but yet that it was too difficult for some. Short of holding their pens and guiding their hands, I really don’t know what more I could do.”
Hubby kissed me and Mags hugged me and we polished off the crisps and most of the sherry. Two days later on my final day at my first placement school, I felt like Peter O’Toole in Goodbye Mr Chips. Who would have thought that I’d be so attached to Years 7, 8 and 9?
“Goodbye, my dear children” I started, “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to teach you. Make me proud by having high expectations of yourself and being successful as you move up through the school”.
“Cheers miss”, said one, until another, rather mortifyingly, started a Hip-hip-hooray chant. As they filed out of the door, one or two students held back. A little girl approached me with a hand made card, “Thanks Miss, I’ll really miss you”. In a civilised society, I would have given her a big hug, unfortunately all that was allowed was a thank you. Not even a shake of the hand. I’m not sure who was the most bereft.
A young boy, one of the ‘disengaged’, pressed a sheet of A4 into my hand. “My ballad Miss that you wanted us to write for homework. I hope you like it”. It had the theme of the book I’d read them, it rhymed, it told a story and it had several, four line stanzas. Where’s an official observer when you need one?

Wherefore art thou?

I remember vividly winters of yore. Those biting, early mornings where Hubby would groan at the sound of his alarm and hit it, until the clock’s silence indicated its defeat, before dragging his exhausted body out of the marital bed, to shower, shave, get into his uniform, get in his frozen car and get to work at FOST before being briskly helicoptered out onto a ship in the English Channel whereupon, he would oft put the fear of God into Captains and crew whose careers were on the line, should he and the FOST staff find, whilst examining every area of ship, that they were unsatisfactory.
At this point in time of course, I was oblivious to it all. I was still deeply snuggled under the duvet. I doubt that during the 18 months of Hubby’s appointment at FOST, I barely spoke to him, let alone get up with him, make him a flask of tea, defrost his car and turn the engine on, so that when he eventually got in it to drive to work, it was toasty warm inside. How humbled therefore am I to be in that position. Hubby does not spit “Shush” at me from under the heaviest tog rating for daring to make the slightest noise. My cheeks redden at the memory of my callousness.
Dear Hubby has been my hero these past frigid days, getting up just before me to make my life a little more pleasant before I embark on my polar express journey ‘down Cornwall’. How feeble we are in this part of the world. My electric blanket is ratcheted up to such a temperature at night that come the morning, my bottom is regularly poached and, when I arrive at school I am one of many staff members whose body is swathed in swaddling cloths of thermal intensity.
To hear Sally Traffic therefore, on the radio on my drive home, warn of the dire situation on the M8 and snow gates and desperate souls stuck in their cars in snow drifts for hours on end, makes me shiver as I know that in 45 minutes I’ll be in a warm house in the company of a warm dog who is more than amenable to sitting on me to thaw me out.
Snow drifts or not though it has been a perishing week made worse by the hunt for two acceptable yet elusive, Christmas trees. I have travelled what seems the length and breadth of Cornwall sourcing trees tall enough to grace our house. I almost gave up at one point after the car just about seized up and my chilblains, in the words of Johnny Cash, ‘burned, burned, burned”.
“Can’t we just forget bloody Christmas?”, I whimpered to Hubby down my mobile from the car park of a rapidly darkening, garden centre the other side of Bodmin, “Let’s celebrate Hannukah instead. All we’d need is a few candles”.
“Don’t be so faint-hearted Alice”, answered Hubby from a centrally heated, electric lighted office, “Grab yourself a couple of trees quickly and shove them onto the top of the car. You’ll be home by six thirty”.
“I’m not Geoff Capes you know”, I replied sulkily. Mr Capes perhaps not but Chevy Chase, from some over-the-top, Christmas movie, yes, having followed Hubby’s remote instructions and did as I was bid. Ergo, I pulled up outside the house with two, massive, trees dangling over the windscreen, impeding my vision not just a tad. The children were thrilled.
“Bloody hell Alice”, groaned Hubby, slapping his head.
“Don’t even go there!”, I interrupted, “You are not in a position to criticize these trees if you did not play a part in their humping nor lashing.”
“Know what I’d like to hu…”
“Really darling! Not in front of the children.”
The following morning, stressing and a fretting over a lost memory stick and thus, every resource I possess on Romeo and Juliet, I was in a dark, cold staff room by 7.20am frantically looking for it. It was found, but the resources I needed for a lesson on an Introduction to Shakespeare, was not. I searched every file and folder to no avail. I looked at the clock, it was now 8.15. The lesson was to begin in 35 minutes, there was nothing for it but to ‘fess up and come clean.
It doesn’t matter whether one is four, fourteen or forty odd, when another adult looks upon one with that grave look of disappointment and dismay, you know you have nowhere to hide other than on the naughty step.
I was lucky this time, another teacher, perhaps moved by my dripping tears and snotty nose, lent me his Shakespeare PowerPoint just in the nick of time and, minutes later, Year 10 were utterly ignorant of the fact that my all singing, all bells a’ringing lesson was, if not exactly plagiarised, then most definitely rented. “Shakespeare was born an awfully long time ago”, I embarked “Hands up who knows when?”
“After World War Two Miss?” asked one. Sir, if you don’t mind, I will be holding onto that Powerpoint just a soup├žon longer.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


‘Snow is falling all around me, children playing having fun’. Shakin’ soddin’ Stevens didn’t know what he was singing about. Night after night I pray, I cross my fingers, I do little rituals, anything, just anything to have an extra day at home. Just an extra few hours in the week to address issues that are being exclusively ignored. Basket ball sized Golden Retriever hair-balls, dinners that take more than ten minutes to cook, dirty laundry walking to the washing machine by itself, life endangering toys upon the stairs, revolting lavatories, my children and last, but most definitely not least, bloody lesson planning.
No-one is happy. The fifteen year old has sat her mock GCSEs with barely a good luck from her mother and though I hardly deserve it, has made me very proud. My son, that long haired lover, is eating food reheated in the microwave far too often and is going about in this perishing weather in exactly the same garments as he wears, if pressed to go, to the beach. Ludicrously overdressed for August, suicidally underdressed for minus zero temperatures. I am not there to nag and insist upon hats and scarves and vests.
The littlest ones are starting to notice my absence. For the first time ever I was not one of the token mothers at their annual, Christmas craft day at school. Long faces met me on my return from work.
“Why couldn’t you come mummy?” asked the Red-Head, burrowing under my arm as I attempted to type a Powerpoint slide on Haikus for Year Seven.
“Where, sweetie?” I replied, half listening, the other half of me attempting to think of a five, seven, five syllable, three line poem.
“To our craft day? I made pretty things. Chloe’s mummy was there and Sam’s and...”
“But darling, you know why. You know that mummy is learning to be a teacher isn’t she? So I work in a school all day. Just like you go to school all day”.
“It sucks”, was her succinct reply. Her elder sister was not quite as pithy in her reply.
“It’s emotional neglect actually”. Oh God. Being this close to Christmas, Childline must have visited the school, just in case.
“I think that’s a bit harsh darling”, I remonstrated, “Emotional neglect is when you don’t get any love or cuddles or compassion or comfort”. I made a mental note of the alliterative word triplet I’d used. ‘Must use for Yr 9 lesson on persuasive writing’. The eight year slammed my computer lid shut.
“It could also be emotional neglect when your way of life, the one that you are used to, is whipped away and you never see your mum anymore and when you do, she doesn’t listen”.
“I am listening sweetie, really I am. Tell me what’s going on”. She didn’t want to. Who could blame her? She’s very cross with me. My mantra, “I’ll have a good job at the end of all this and we’ll be able to go on holidays in a plane”, is meaningless to her. As far as she’s concerned she has everything her heart desires. My earning more money is insignificant. What is significant is the here and now and, the here and now is a life bereft of the relationship she once had with me.
Once in bed after a story and a very big cuddle I rang Mags in despair.
“I can’t cope with this guilt”, I cried, “I’m a crap mother who is deserting her family. They feel abandoned and to make matters worse, I’ve made nothing home made for them for Christmas”.
“Like what for God’s sake?”, asked Mags. I could tell she wasn’t really interested. I’m a Celebrity had her undivided attention. I blew my nose.
“Well, by now we’ve usually stirred the Christmas pudding and made a wish. This year it’s a five minute wonder job. There is no cake, no mince pies yet. I haven’t pickled so much as an onion, let alone a shallot in balsamic vinegar. I haven’t bought any cards. I haven’t written my round robin. The sausage meat for the sausage rolls has gone past its sell by date. My shopping is far from covered. My Good Housekeeping lies by my bed. Spruce and unread. I….”
“That’s what it’s like for most women Alice’’.
“You’ve been complaining for years how those bloody magazines, featuring shining, sparkly families have always made you feel so inadequate. And yet every Christmas, whilst the rest of us beavered away at the office until the last minute, we’d turn up at your house on the way home only to walk into a winter wonderland that the style editor of Conde Nast could only dream of”.
She had a point. But I had a confession.
“I don’t even know where to go for a tree this year”.
“Same place as always?”, she asked.
“I’ve been banned”. Silence.
“From the nursery, Alice go elsewhere for your trees, the letter said, please”. Hang on, 5, 7, 5. I may not have a tree but, would you believe it, I’ve got a Haiku.

Day Out.

Compared with taking 40 grown women on a coach trip, which generally results in tears and tantrums and that’s only the driver, my first foray into the organising of a school trip was a breeze. There was a certain amount of paperwork to do, namely booking a coach with the best quote. Done that hundreds of times. A letter of courtesy had to be drafted to the manager of our destination so that he could psyche himself up for the onslaught of 31 teenagers and of course a letter had to be written to parents asking for their consent to take their little darlings out of school. The rest of it was plain sailing as, apart from issuing instructions to the children, I had other people to do things for me. Various offices at school collected the money and did the maths and paid the coach company. Someone else wrote a list of names. All that was left for me to do was photocopy the list and pin it up around school. I doubt very much if anyone missed little Johnny, but had they, then at a glance, they would have been rather relieved to find that he was not in school but indeed sitting at the back of the bus making rude gestures at Ginsters’ lorry drivers.
“Johnny!” I rebuked.
“Sorry miss”
I glanced at my checklist and then glanced out of the window. McDonalds was at the bottom of the hill, we were nearly there. I stood up and held on.
“Right then everyone. We are almost at Kingsley village. Can you all make sure that you look vaguely presentable. Smarten your ties, tie up your shoelaces.”
They all stopped chatting and looked out of the window.
“Alright miss! We’re going to McDonalds”. A chorus of ‘Old McDonald had some burgers’ ensued, along with an appeal for thirty Big Macs. The head of English who had accompanied me, looked solemn and wrote some notes on her clipboard.
Bugger. I had to get control. Fast.
The bus pulled up and the driver switched off the engine.
“As you know we are not going to McDonalds”. Cue a chorus of groans. “We are however going to look around Kingsley village. I expect impeccable manners. We will split into groups and we will take notes whilst we are there. Look at the marketing, colours, brand, logo and design”.
We trooped off the bus and an hour and a half later trooped back on. There were no incidents. I’d even managed some surreptitious shopping whilst the Head of English turned her back. No-one had lifted anything, or broken anything. No-one had been arrested. Everyone in fact had listened and exhibited impeccable manners and some staff there even approached me to tell me so. This was nothing like taking ladies to Cardiff for the day. There I had lost a proportion of them on the coldest day of the year, and as for last year’s trip? Well, I still come out in hives thinking about it. Was it my fault the bus broke down or that the rain was relentless? Was I honestly going to compensate everyone for jumping ship early and making their own, very expensive way home instead of waiting for the mechanic? Given the general level of aggression aimed in my direction, they evidently thought so.
I arrived home that night to find Hubby lamenting. I was tired. I was hungry. I had mouths to feed and young minds to inspire but somewhere in my day, I had also to find time to pat the dog and let my husband feel like a lover. When one is up to one’s elbows in washing up gloves and suds, mentally planning the following day’s lesson, a plan that should have been submitted 12 hours previously, the last thing one honestly wants to do is kiss like a film star. Hubby had other ideas and after a full on five minuets of snogging I really had to protest.
“Unhand me!”
“But I never see you”, he pouted. At this point I could have gone down the avenue of marital discord and said “I’m a navy wife. Welcome to my world”. Instead, which probably wasn’t any more soothing I reminded him that the next day, I wouldn’t be home until 11pm.
“Why?”, he asked stricken. I sighed.
“Because I am accompanying four 6th form students to Exeter”. He still looked blank.
“They are in a public debate competition against three other teams. It’s the south west semi- final”.
“What schools are they up against?” asked Hubby, hell bent on seducing me. I pushed his hands away.
“Posh ones”.
“Good luck to them then”. Oh ye of little faith. What with expert coaching from their teacher and me, their natural talent, ebullience and enunciation, they bloody well won! I was the crazy teacher screeching and clapping like a sea-lion at the back. My colleagues looked at me askance. I looked back. Hey, I’m trying to follow the party line in all things ‘teachery’ but don’t try and knock my inherent enthusiasm. It’s like believing in fairies, say you don’t and one will die. Ask me to be un-animated and so will I.


I drove home from school a few days ago, my head throbbing. Not only did my head throb from teaching all day but my foot was crying out in defeat too. Last week, after another long day at school, I’d arrived home at 6.30, removed from the fridge items that were to be, in twenty minutes, a delicious, nutritious meal for my family and arranged them on the kitchen counter whilst giving instructions to Hubby as to what I anticipated the final dish to be. I then ran upstairs, changed into my keep-fit gear, ran back downstairs, kissed everyone, got in the car and drove the very short distance to the gym. Running late for my BodyMax class, I stumbled down the precipitous stairs to the dance room and landed in a howling heap, at the bottom.
My roars could be heard from upstairs and within seconds the proprietors of the gym were upon me, issuing me not only with ice but advice. My fellow gym mates, alarmed at the noise at the bottom of the stairs, also ran to see who was making such a racket. They were all talking to me at once and, not wanting to be rude, I tried, valiantly to describe what I was feeling.
Was it broken? No, I smiled reassuringly through gritted teeth. Could I stand? Just give me a minute, I wanted to scream. Just leave me alone to concentrate on the pain. Like when in labour, one does not want to be lambasted by 20 questions but to get on with the job of trying not to die from the pain. That takes concentration.
“It just bloody hurts”, I wanted to shout, “Leave me alone”. But no, they got me to my feet. I felt terribly pale but it was bearable. I was able to walk. I might be able to do the class after all I thought. I stepped gingerly into the weights cupboard and chose my usual kilos and then I stepped oh, so gingerly into the dance room, set up my aerobic step and then thought, ‘What the hell are you doing Alice?’ A weird and alarming vein was bulging over the trainer on my right foot. It was time to go home.
I made my apologies graciously to the others more intent on squatting rhythmically with a bell bar over their shoulders, went slowly back up the stairs, bought milk from Sainsbury’s on the way back to the car and drove home.
By the time I reached the sofa and Hubby had tenderly removed my trainer, I was a funny colour. “I’ll get you a glass of wine”, he said.
An hour and the best part of a bottle of Pinot later and I was feeling much better. My foot had been elevated and the edge had been taken off the pain. I went to bed. At some point in the middle of the night, I needed the loo. I went to the bathroom but on my way back that morbid feeling when one is about to faint overwhelmed me and I fell to the floor with a thump. Hubby was by my side in seconds and heaved me back onto my side of the bed. I clutched the duvet like a man drowning. The rest of night passed restlessly. I could hardly bear an inch of duvet cover resting on my foot let alone the full on tog rating.
By the time dawn broke, I was more tired than I’d been when I got into bed. I stepped onto the carpet and a searing pain ran up my leg, “Yeoaw”, I yelped. Calls were made and within half an hour, Mags was in the building.
“C’mon”, she instructed formidably, “I’m taking you to hospital”. We drove to Liskeard where she found me a wheel-chair, and wheeled me into the waiting room. It was still very early. The x-ray lady had yet to put in an appearance. I waited. I was x-rayed.
“It’s not broken but you’ve torn a ligament”. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Which is worse”, she added.
“I have to go to work Mags”, I said, “I must show willing”. She drove, her lips set in a very stern grimace. She dropped me off and I hobbled, now accessorized by very fetching crutches, into school. I barely made it to reception before I was ordered off the premises, “Health and safety”, said a very uncompromising fellow. Mags zoomed us both home in a fury.
I stayed put for three days. It bloody hurts but it is not a torn ligament. My attendance at the cenotaph on Sunday will attest to that.
My efforts at going to work this week have been further stymied by the adverse weather conditions. It took 3 ½ hours not to get there. Thank God for Prince William. Had he not got engaged this week we would not have a Royal Wedding to look forward to and without the promise of bunting and street parties and a day off in the Spring, I might have thrown the teacher training towel, well and truly, in.