Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Senses

I love crisp and crunchy mornings. Snuggling up in my warm clothes and striding briskly to the station - with my scarf wrapped round my face revolutionary-style so as not to choke on the fumes belching out car exhausts.

I had to walk past five cars with their engines running. Where were the owners? Sat in the driving seat hoping that a combination of the fan heater and the windscreen wipers scratching across the glass would shift the ice. Some hope. Whatever happened to the old-fashioned scraper? Mines being going strong these past fourteen years and, if I don't lose it, is good for another fourteen at least. Another sign that as a nation we're getting lazier, don't give two figs about the environment or the effect we have on other people.

Went off to a meeting on the Docklands. Before engaging brain I said to the woman next to me “Oh, look we've both got a burn in the same place”. (Top of left wrist). I blame mine on ciabatta, her on roast pork. By the time I got off the train I had Nonna's recipe for meatballs.

We were in a room far too small to accommodate us and I was shoved up against a scorching hot radiator. There was the mum's social worker, the dad's social worker and the kids' social worker. S.'s psychotherapist and M.'s psychotherapist. The Family Welfare Association. The parents. An interpreter and three teachers. It was all a bit overwhelming and after an hour and a half I had to lie to leave. I'm sure I have radiator burn down one side.

Coming home I had to listen to a woman wearing far too much make-up give the recipient of her phone call advice on 'tendering'. Don't concentrate on how cheap you can be but focus on service levels and reliability. “Stop, right there”, I wanted to scream. “Is it for the council? 'Cos you're going about it all the wrong way”. I've been on the receiving end of Cock-Up (or Shape-Up as the council likes to call it). Cowboys fitted the door so badly that I ended up stuck on the outside at some ungodly hour of the night and as for the double-glazing, that's a blog all of it's own. And they certainly haven't rid my flat of rodents.

Swapping onto the tube I became stuck next to a guide dog and his drunk owner. The dog stuck his head up my coat and when I tried to move him he started licking my hand rather violently. Not being sure what to do I just stood there thinking I can wash my hands when I get in. I wasn't counting on the toddler opposite shouting, “Mummy, why's the doggy licking the lady's hand?”. Everyone had a good gawp and the blind bloke coughed and spluttered fumes in my face to apologise.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Tube

Coolbuddha blogged yesterday about tube étiquette. I did my own pet hates back at the beginning of October - funnily enough, people barging on before you've got off hit the number one spot on both occasions.

Today, I jumped on the fast train 25 minutes later than normal and met a new phenomenen. The Smug Couple. Oh my god. They were loud and more importantly annoying. There were lots of them. What do I want to know about their drains, guttering and cat's fleas before 8 o'clock in the morning?

Trains in the morning are packed. Trains in the morning are, with the exception of the hisses and screeches of the train itself, silent. There is no place for couples.

I shall have to ensure I stick with the 7.14. We're all train singletons.

Dear Tesco

Food, and the thought of food, takes up a large part of my life. To this end, in order not to bore regular readers (assuming they weren't already), I have started another blog - all about food. The decision was finally taken after penning a letter to Tesco to tell them I have had enough of their stores not stocking what I want to buy.

I've yet to receive an answer but how will it compare to this gem from today's Metro? (Courtesy of C.).

A woman had written to her local Tesco on three occasions - 'oversized croissants', 'withdrawal of her favourite low-fat ice cream' and the 'withdrawal of her favourite brand of cooking chocolate'.

The response to the third complaint:

We have come to the conclusion that you have astonishingly bad taste in chocolate and Tesco is not prepared to accomodate the less sophisticated market. We suggest you try Sainsbury's as their food is especially bland and may satisfy your plain palette...If you insist on complaining, we sincerely hope you take your custom elsewhere.

Tesco have of course aplogised and said the letter is a hoax... I'd quite like to meet that disgruntled member of staff.

Monday, November 28, 2005


I have never tried smoking. I detest it. I used to battle with my dad when I was younger. He's only allowed to smoke in the kitchen. Whatever the weather I would fling open the patio doors and die dramatically over the kitchen table while attempting to eat my Weetabix.

Now, in some instances I would agree with the idea of not knocking something until you've tried it. But not when it comes to smoking. Everything about it is objectionable and you don't need to have tried it to work that one out.

I was interested to read in the paper at the weekend that banning smoking in enclosed public places has come up against yet another obstacle. Prisons.

Two thoughts popped into my head. Firstly, I hadn't ever registered the fact prisons are public places and secondly, if they want to smoke who am I to stop them?

I then got to the crux of the matter. According to the article in the Guardian, 'the Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart told MPs this week that the record prison population meant that prisons should be exempt as non-smokers would have to share cells with smokers'.

Outrageous. It must be bad enough to share a little space with someone else for an extended period of time. If that person also smoked it really would be hell on earth. So, we uphold the smokers right to smoke but not the non-smokers right not to breathe in the smoke.

A legal loophole apparently means prisons cannot ban smoking in cells as they are designated as a “private home”. Now, I do not allow smoking in my flat. So, were I in prison could I not say that smoking is not allowed in my “private home”? Who wins? Me or the anti-social puffer?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Crown Prince

The two most common lines I hear at work are :

1. You don't look well.

2. I know you're really busy but...

It's a bloody tough job (and its starting to wear me down).

The Gardener (older, sexy) recognised my plight today. He didn't use either of these lines. He said 'close your eyes, hold your hands out, I have a present for you'.

A green pumpkin from his allotment.

I cuddled it all the way home on the tube.

Doesn't take much to please me.

Mr Darcy

I've been feeling a little sorry for myself - what with work being so hectic and a rodent invading the flat. I thought I needed something to cheer me up.

I've re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. It always works.

Cannot be beaten.


Pest control have returned.

The rodent isn't dead as it probably isn't a rat but a mouse. The poison would have been too big for it (?). We now have new small poison in trays.

We are now assured it will be dead in 48 hours.

I won't hold my breath.

Monday, November 21, 2005

How could I forget?

We have a visitor.

A squatter.

A rodent.

A rat.

It's not good.

This is Thursday night's damage...

We're in a bloody first floor flat. How did the bastard get in?

He should have died of the council's poison today.

Given my relationship with the council, it won't have worked.

Stating the Obvious

As a teacher you really do need to think about what you say before the words leave your mouth. (Although I do realise this can be easier said than done).

Today, I was screamed at on the 'phone to pick up one of my kids as he was quite literally bouncing round the classroom. When I arrived he stopped immediatley and smiled sweetly.

She [the supply teacher] had said 'You can be as silly as you like as long as you don't touch the teacher's desk'. He took this as his cue to do a Skippy impression across all the other desks (spurred on by the Jungle programme).

'I didn't break the rules, miss, so you can't tell me off'.


Too Tired

Just driven C. mad. He's watching the Jungle programme. Who's she? Who's he? Who's that? Carol Thatcher must be mad to do the show - everyone and anyone who hated her mother is going to take their revenge on her. Can you vote the same person for the trial every night for the duration?

I am half tempted to attempt the subject of licensing laws but not sure I have the energy. When I went to buy the newspapers at 8.45am Sunday there were two men outside the newsagents - one with a can of Fosters, the other with a Stella. I inwardly made a face. As I opened the door to the shop I realised a 'scene' was in progress. A queue of very polite people were watching the lovely man behind the counter explaining very calmly and slowly to a third man that he could not sell alcohol until 10am. 'It's the law of the land'. This was not going down well. Much effing and blinding and patient explaining later the man left with his empty holdall. Much to the relief of everyone. I half expected the window to come in.

Still, the mood was lightened when I returned homewards. Bloke from the block next door always washes his car before church on a Sunday. Due to the cold he was wearing a duffle coat with his violently coloured pyjamas.

Oh dear. Pyjamas have triggered a memory of last weekend which I have yet to share. To cut a long story short we had a new boiler from the council last year - unfortunately, this does not mean the battle for hot water and heating on a regular basis is over.

The boiler is in a cupboard outside the flat - in the hall. The water pressure having fallen flat (again) I had to take a monkey wrench to the apparatus (while cooking roast beef and trying to plan the week ahead) to ensure some warmth. There is absolutely no point in getting properly dressed for the occasion. So, there I was in my blue stripey bottoms, green jumper and bright pink socks.

The African Chief came down from upstairs and had a good old laugh. Cheeky bastard I thought. C. was not surprised when he popped out to see how I was doing. Given the position of the pipes I had my, not inconsiderable, arse stuck in the air. I also had a massive rip in my pyjama bottoms and was showing off me knickers. Oh the shame.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A line for Jay

This is the second time this has happened to me. You cram into a tube and get pushed this way and that as everyone rearranges themselves and then you realise you're miles from a pole.

Emma: Can I just put my arm through there, please? I have nothing to hold on to.

Stranger: I've something you can hold on to, love. (Leer, leer).

Cue withering teacher stare.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ham and lettuce in dead bread

I only bought the Independent Saturday because of the free DVD - a French film that the Americans liked the idea of and made their own version - Summersby or something like that. (friends at uni took me to see it to cheer me up after the death of a school friend. Shame they didn't check out the blurb before hand - bloke gets hanged. C. was found swinging from a tree by a man walking his dog. Didn't quite do the trick). Anyway, I digress.

I've become quite disconcerted by the papers over a period of time. I know that I can hardly profess to writerly brilliance - but then I am not paid to do so. For this reason I was overjoyed to read Howard Jacobson's piece Only a depressed Russian would get a kick out of a journey on a Virgin train. It was laugh out loud hysterical. I absolutely loved it. I thought I'd give you a link and encourage you to share my pleasure. But!

I have discovered you have to pay to read it on the web. Scandalous. Get whatever you like on the Guardian website for free. One pound indeed. Ludicrous.

I was tempted to bypass their silly money-making scheme by typing the whole column out (my secretarial skills aren't bad) but I'm too responsible for that. Could I get into trouble?
I've decided not to comment on the column underneath: The value of an erotic charge in the classroom.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mine's a...

Even more surpising than the chip/potato survey has to be the following.

New research has shown that one third of adults who bought alcohol for under 18s did not realise they were breaking the law. (Click here).

I really do not know what to say other than what hope is there?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

State of Emergency

In the UK councils slap dispersal orders on entire areas (collective Asbos) based on the complaints of a few residents. All young people are treated as criminals with no recourse to the law. No one says a word.

The French government, following 11 nights of rioting, have called a state of emergency to allow mayors to announce a curfew for minors in their districts in attempt to calm things down. The League of Revolutionary Communists exhorts people to brave the curfews and to demonstrate in the streets - at night if necessary - to stand against the law of 1955 brought in to quell unrest at the time of the Algerian war.

Geographically we are close but politically and socially worlds apart.

And, chips are made from...

Following newspaper reports and Buddhist Guy's blog I decided to take a straw poll of my own.

What are chips made from?

The little loves (all 25 of them aged 11 or 12) wrote their answer on a scrap of paper while I yelled the register this morning. No-one admitted to having watched the news yesterday and given the ridiculous looks on their faces when I told them what they had to do they clearly thought I was mad.

1 child said fat and salt, the other 24 said potato (albeit with various spellings, my favourite being pertayto). When I explained why I had asked they looked even more confused. They clearly thought the answer obvious and one asked 'where did they find these kids?'. Quite.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ten ton polar bear

Psychologists have applied themselves to one of the big questions in life: what makes a good chat up line?

The article in the Independent on Sunday made excruciating reading. I feel really quite relieved that men don't try to chat me up – it's enough to put me off the lot of you for life.

I once broached the subject with male friends at uni. My friend and I, who aren't totally unattractive (we're not quite the back end of buses), were never approached by men when we were out. We put it down to the fact that we were always with a group of lads. They put us straight. T and I had 'f**k off vibes'. People were too scared to walk up to us. Laugh, we almost cried. I now realise we had a lucky escape.

The lines with the best chance of succeeding are apparently those 'reflecting the man's ability to take control of the situation, his wealth, education or culture, and spontaneous wit'.

These are the best of the lot (allegedly). My responses are in italics.

'It's hot today isn't it? It's the best weather when you're training for a marathon'. Which one? My boyfriend has run over 50 including a 24 hour race. How many have you done (liar)?

'The Moonlight Sonata or, to give it it's true name, Sonata quasi una fantasia. A fittingly beautiful piece for a beautiful lady'. I can play it on the piano. Name the language, the composer and then piss off.

'I'm sorry but I think you owe me a drink. I just looked at you and dropped mine!' More fool you.

Can you boys do any better?

La Haine

The idyll of France for many has been shattered.

The violence is no great surprise to me. I've lived and studied in France. I've taught the big themes of immigration, racism and integration at A-level. The kids were always surprised. The film that blew away all their preconceived ideas of French life was La Haine. (Hate).

The superbly shot film is a day in the life of three teenagers on a Parisian housing estate. Their friend is in a coma after being battered by the police. The fact it was released ten years ago and little or nothing has changed is depressing. It's grim but illuminating. Watch it.


Apparently, there have been 27 attacks on vessels off the coast of Somalia since March. I realise that if you're living the high life on board a luxury cruiser machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades might come as something of a surprise but do we have to call the culprits pirates? (Personally, I think the figures speak for themselves - you're asking for trouble).

I find the word pirate funny. Pugwash and Long John Silver come to mind. It's a bit like the East End in that you treat it with a kind of romantic nostalgia that takes no account of the truth of the matter. I kept telling myself as I tried to read the article pirate = bad man but it didn't work. I still think its an amusing story and I do not have one ounce of sympathy for the rich bastards on board. Should I be broadcasting the fact?

Fairweather Photographer

I have decided that I will get a photo in the Guardian supplement on a Saturday - Last Weekend. I thought the Stevenage half-marathon would be a good place to start.

A little girl's legs sticking out under a golf umbrella she was desperately trying to keep hold of. Her younger brother struggling with a huge broken branch. Runners queuing to pee behind a fence. Were the photos good?

They weren't even taken. It was just too wet. I've discovered I am a fairweather photographer. I hid in the hall on a little kid's chair reading the Independent on Sunday and drinking cups of coffee lovingly prepared by men from the Rotary Club. They even managed to twist my arm into eating a piece of treacle tart.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


I visit a few blogs on a regular basis: Pat's, Shep's and Jay's (he doesn't get a link as he seems to think I would make a good Roman concubine). I often click through 'next blog' and get bored very rapidly. I have found one blog which I return to and find very amusing: buddhist guy. Read him - he's good.

Fireworks are fun

I do love fireworks and I strongly believe you cannot beat a well organised display. In the past we've been up to Ally Pally and down to Blackheath (the best I've ever seen).

I spotted in the local paper that Canary Wharf was hosting a free display on the Thames Thursday evening – excellent time too. 6pm. Just the right time for me to hit the docks between leaving school and going to the pub.

The wind was strong but the rain had let up (thankfully) and the Riverside was full – of adults. Very few children which in a sense is a shame but positively put paid to all those bah humbug stories about glorifying anti-Catholicism. I am surprised at the strength of feeling here. I for one love the colour, smell and atmosphere of fireworks. I am celebrating a tradition – bright lights on a dark night. The only difference from whan I was a child is that I no longer wear the wellies...

The fireworks were not a disappointment. Absolutely brilliant. You couldn't even see them going up before they exploded (the sign of an expensive firework I reckon). There was a sinister moment as 'gold rain' slid down the sky towards the onlooking crowd before fizzling out. It was like a cloud moving nearer and closer. I was ever so slightly alarmed. As a child I may have been quite scared.

I did get hit in the face by a piece of flying debris. It stung but no lasting damage done.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

October Half-Term Day Nine

A stomp round Bloomsbury with the friend I had to cancel with Thursday (due to the three hour odd traffic jam). Had a fab time. He actually spotted this place - on the corner of Rugby Street (so called as the school owned the land there years back).

October Half-term Day Eight

Nothing to report.

October Half-Term Day Seven

Another lunch date. This time in Stoke Newington, north London. I was puzzled by the sight of loose groups of men, anoraks, huddled near Clapton Pond. All had cameras, old fashioned SLRs, around their necks. A man walked round the corner in a black mac holding a purple and white funeral wreath. I caught a glimpse of the card on the front – RIP R.. B..
I will admit that my first thought was Ronnie Biggs! The letters went nicely together but then I spotted it. The Routemaster Bus. The last day of the no 38. Later on in the day we had to get off the 106 and walk. Nothing was moving due to the crowds outside Clapton bus station. It was a sad moment. An overwhelmingly male one.

Abney Park Cemetery was a first for me. Where I grew up in Romford there is a massive well-laid out cemetery that is carefully looked after. The wild cemeteries of north London are totally different. Nature takes its course.

Well, I am very slowly getting there. Two days back at school and I am still trying to get half-term covered. It's the pesky photos.

The church at the centre of the cemetery is boarded up. There were remains of fires on the ground and graffiti adorning the walls. I hope it isn't left to rot. It's too imposing a building to deserve that fate.