Saturday, September 29, 2007


I've spent a LOT of time since May downloading, ripping CDs, borrowing bits of other peoples' playlists - and still my lovely lovely birthday iPod is not still yet half full.


In the course of all this, I've been listening to some music I've not heard for many years.

I still know all the words to every track of
American Pie
Band on the Run
Tumbleweed Connection
Selling England by the Pound
Hunky Dory
The Kick Inside
Bridge over Troubled Water
The Best of Bread

I wonder which others are also lurking in my head, waiting to be re-awakened?

Oh and some Carpenters, obviously - not sure which album though.

I probably also still know all the words to Cherish, given the chance to test my knowledge (not in too much of a hurry with that one...).

Which are your most nostalgic know-all-the-words-forever albums?

Oh and one other, Tapestry which I was listening to this morning:

"I have often asked myself the reason for the sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby

If there's any answer, maybe love can end the madness
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try

You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
And people gonna treat you better

You're gonna find, yes you will
That you're beautiful as you feel."

Its not as easy to believe these words as it was when I was a teenager. Sometime its hard or impossible to believe it, or to do it, or both.

But on the whole I do still think its true. And I don't know how I would keep on getting up in the morning if I didn't believe it most of the time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

bleedin' teenagers

LG is out with a gaggle of friends, celebrating her birthday with pizza and a film. And so I found myself at home, in the quiet, with a bit of time to spare this afternoon to write this and play with pics.

This is the second year where we've had no birthday-party responsibilities and it still feels strange. We cooked a special dinner last night (steak, as bloody as possible for LG) and will be funding the pizza - and that is all. More financial outlay, less effort.

We've had some cracking parties with her in the past. One of my favourites was her Harry Potter party when she was about 8. We did a treasure hunt around the house, and then "lessons": herbology, potions, flying, can't remember what else but it was a lot of fun. Her last 2 parties at home were also fun: a "posh" dinner party, with myself and M in attendance as servants and about 8 courses, and 2 years ago a fondu party, with forfeits and choc. fondu for pudd.

One of her latest Big Rows was about this year's celebrations, when she conducted a brief but intense campaign to be allowed to go out with her friends, and stay out All Night. She would never have imagined that we might say yes, she was obviously just in the mood for a Big Row. I can't remember if that was the Row where she and M didn't speak to each other for over 24 hours, or whether it was the last occasion on which she left home.

I wouldn't say that I have conscious concerns about Sorren's teenage years. She has been genuinely teenagery for some time and we're doing ok. I did, however, have a scary teenager dream this past week. I was being harassed through our lounge window, at night and alone, by gang of teenage girls. A lairy mob - a "durr", a "whateva", a "strop" or maybe a "hormone" - of teenage girls. They became more threatening, louder and closer until they were suddenly (and mysteriously) through the glass and in my lounge. I managed to get them into the hall and just about out through the front door, more through speed than superior strength. Just as I reached for the phone to call the police they began an assault on door, leaning on the door bell - the noise of which gradually woke me up to the realisation that my alarm clock was going off.

How does the brain do that? seamlessly and instantaneously integrating sounds in the "real" world into our dreams? it always fascinates me.

So, teenagers eh? what a transmogrification.

One very significant advantage of the no-party-involvement is the timing of LG's birthday. It has always coincided with our start of term and student induction - spectacularly bad timing because of our extreme busy-ness - which never occurred to me at the time of her conception.

I can therefore enjoy a quiet, restful weekend and conserve my energy for the onslaught of next week rather than spending my time picking crisps up off the floor.

It needs all the conservation it can get. I've had a bleedin' period now for the last bloody week and a half and feel somewhat drained. I'd thought I was through with the bloody bleeding for good, but no.

If anyone out there wants to donate some blood, I am AB negative.
One of nature's aristocrats.
Which always struck me as a particular disadvantage. In case of accident or other mishap, you'd really want the commonest blood-type, wouldn't you?

Maybe I should also have had my steak extra rare last night.

Work has also been bloody horrid this past week, I can feel it leeching away my life force and will to live. Bloody timetabling, bloody room clashes, bloody bleedin' colleagues.

I found myself playing my "93" playlist on my way to work on Friday. But Bach on the way back home.

Bach helped me to relax and unwind, and so did a birthday meal with LG, M and my dad. And looking through photos - I've had such a good time looking through and picking out some faves, don't want to be a boring proud parent but you can bypass or whizz through on top speed.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Life book

Well, please excuse me everyone if i don't get out and about much in blogland over the next couple of weeks - I'm feeling back into "real" life with a bit of a vengeance.

Some issues and problems whose memory I'd successfully repressed in the fog of despond that was May and June have returned to bite me in the bum - nothing life-shattering, but niggling yet necessary things to sort out in relation to the start of term and induction of new students. I must have some bad karma to have ended up in charge of this process.

I'm determined not to get submerged in the morass of scheduling, timetable clashes, reluctant and recalcitrant colleagues and room-booking balls-ups, but it will take a certain amount of resolve.

I used to work flat-out for the whole week prior to and during the week of induction and then be totally knackered before we even started teaching.

This WILL NOT happen this year.

I may, however, be a little in retreat and/or going to bed earlier than usual.

It was very bad timing, but the start of our academic year always coincides with LG's birthday.
She will be 13 on Friday.

Friday will be her THIRTEENTH.

This is purely a calendar measurement - she has been emotionally, mentally and hormonally thirteen for quite some time already.

I think I have the job and the daughter of some other much older and more mature, responsible person. And the "life issues" of someone I'd never imagined I might be.

I'm reading - actually, re-reading - a book of wonderful short stories by Miranda July (whose -also wonderful- film 'Me and You and Everyone we Know' I'd recommend you see, if you haven't).

One of her characters (in the book) has a recurring dream which she loves. "That day I carried the dream around like a full glass of water, moving gracefully so I would not lose any of it."

I will be carrying memories of my summer - my holiday and many other things - carefully - gracefully, i hope, despite the bum-biting - and hopefully with not too much speed and lots of pauses to rest.

Click here for more about Miranda July and her book - please please do, it will make you laugh and you will also HAVE to buy the book.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I'm feeling less than twinkly at the moment, on account of spong.

We had a new oven delivered a week ago. This is, certainly, something to be pleased - if not exactly twinkly - about.

After more than 15 years using an oven with no functioning timer; increasingly inefficient seals; ever more unreliable thermometer; fractious, stubborn, needing-to-be-coaxed and finally completely unresponsive grill it is certainly satisfying to have a fully functional, efficient oven. With glass windows which CAN BE SEEN THROUGH and which WONT FALL OUT at the slightest tremor.

I may not quite be feeling like one of those 1960's housewives from the adverts, my marriage and home now complete and twinklyperfect, but i am quite pleased.

I couldn't quite believe how easy it was to remove this manky old piece of crap from its hole in the wall and unplug it, ready for our new arrival.

I was, however, completely gobsmacked by the quantity and the disgustingly greasy quality of the spong which had accumulated in the hole from whence it came.

Had I been sufficiently composed to take pictures, I would have been too ashamed to post them here.

The oven had occupied ALL of the space, with its front edge/surround fitting over the edge of the hole.
How could such obnoxious spong find its way in there? And so much of it?

I now know why it is important for mice to be able to compress their soft little bones to fit through gaps scant millimeters wide. It is because no gap is too small or narrow to accommodate interesting and potentially nutritious spong.

In fact, I'm sure I saw a suspiciously tailed shadow scurrying across the kitchen floor that very night, before I retired to my cool clean-sheeted bed.

Tonight, a week later exactly, I tried to throw something away in our kitchen bin. Not only was the bin full, but the compressed nature of its contents suggested that considerable force had been applied to make space for more rubbish, no doubt to avoid the torture of the 5 meters trudge to the wheelie bin.

I had to invert the whole lot into a large black bin liner - whilst trying not to breathe in through my nose - discovering, in the process, another secret spong repository of equally unphotographable proportions. Not as unspeakably awful as bath-plughole spong, but in the same league of horror.

The last few days have also been full of accumulated messes and unexpected mistakes and problems at work, which I am having to sort through and clean up.

These haven't been disgustingly greasy or - so far - intractable.

They have been bloody annoying.

Changes have appeared in timetables and rooming arrangements which have no apparent explanation and bear no relationship to any other relevant sources of information. Planned events have disappeared from the schedule - other events have inexplicably taken their place.

These complications, which are taking up too much time which might otherwise be spent happily blogging, can - at least metaphorically - be described as spong I think.

Messy, annoying, time-consuming, sometimes unpleasant and/or sticky and of mysterious origins. Likely to re-appear at any time, as soon as the corners are clear and twinkly-clean and you've turned your back.

Our new oven and kitchen bin are now both sparklingly clean and freshly fragrant. But I keep feeling the need to go and scrub my fingernails.

And no, in case you were wondering, this isn't quite the end of my holiday photos.

Yes, there is a link.

Not only was our lovely french holiday home spotlessly free of disgusting spong, but the skies were also free of car-fumes and light pollution.

We could see the Milky Way so clearly that it felt as if we were bathing in its luminous beauty, and one night we lined up the sun loungers and lay for quite a while doing just that, breathing in the warm night air, spotting twinkly satellites far far overhead and marvelling at shooting stars.

I did make quite a few wishes.
None of them related to spong.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

aping (tr.v.)

Transitive verb: ape, aped, ap-ing, apes.

"To mimic slavishly but often with an absurd result"
"to act like somebody else in an absurd or grotesque way"

Suggested synonyms include : mock, parody, travesty.

Well, be that as it may, while in France most of our party spent a fabulous day going ape.

These photos are all courtesy of my BIL (thanks, Mr. M) - which accounts for the fact that I am in many of them.

I discovered not so long ago, through some of my teaching, that using the word "ape" to mean mimic goes back to the middle ages, when Western homo sapiens were taken aback by the extraordinary similarities between themselves and some of these animals. This resemblance was generally seen as inappropriate - a threat to our human superiority and God-likeness.

The idea emerged that apes were deliberately copying human behaviour, somehow trying to muscle in on our act - and so apes became a prototype or symbol for fraud, seen as imposters, flatterers, hypocrites. (Desmond and Ramona Morris did some interesting research on this)
Apes were often hanged (along with other animals) alongside Jews or heretics as a symbol of foolishness and wickedness.

Well, here we are, aping the apes.

I've sometimes showed a documentary to students about Shantek, an orang-utang who uses american sign language. Always one of them will comment that his communication is very limited, considering the many years during which he's been learning and using it.

I think his abilities to communicate through the signs invented by another species are more impressive than our attempts to negotiate the tree-tops where we don't really feel at home.

This picture below is LG.

She overcame her fear of heights. With a lot of expert and sensitive help from her cousin. (Thanks Miss A. M)

We'd gone to an English version of this a few years back, when LG was younger and considerably smaller. She had began well on the practice run but the rest of the routes were way too high and difficult and she quickly had to give up.

Not only is she older and larger now, but the French park is far superior. More relaxed, with more gradual increases in height and the option of repeating lower levels or going on to more difficult. Also much cheaper. Trust the British to offer an inferior experience and charge more for it.

LG finished (and enjoyed) the highest course and went back for more.

The best part - of course! - was the zip wires - some of them started at about 20+ meters high and disappeared over 100 meters into the trees.

Some apes who've learned human sign language have apparently invented their own swear words. Isn't that brilliant?!

I bet they would have had some funny and excruciating things to say about our efforts in the tree tops, and the system of clips and harnesses which assured our safety. The words "parody", "absurd" and "foolish" come to mind.

It was, however, BRILLIANT FUN.

Friday, September 07, 2007


How is it that the french seem to do even decay more stylishly and beautifully then we do in England?

They are, perhaps, being somewhat influenced by the British DIY / home improvement /
do-up-a-fallingdownbarn-and-call-it-a-gite thing - at least, in the part of France where we were.

But the towns, villages and countryside were still full of elegant shabbiness and dereliction.

Sometimes its hard to tell which buildings are abandoned and which are inhabited.

(A women came and let herself in through this cobwebby door just after i took the photo.)

(yes, she did give me bit of a "look")

I don't think this one had any human inhabitants though.

I wonder whether i would have found all this decay quite so appealing and photogenic if it were in England, and myself not on holiday.

Actually, I think I would. Is it just me?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I am still trying to be mentally in France at the moment, so continuing with the holiday-themed posts for the time being. Especially as there has been a distinct ever-so-slight Autumn edge to the air over the past couple of evenings. (oh shut up Pod)

I can hardly bring myself to mention the fact that i saw Christmas cards on sale - in a charity shop. How very dare they.

Its also now quite beginning-of-term-ish. I do sometimes remember that there are an awful lot of people for whom September doesn't bring that start-of-year here-we-go-again feeling which is so ingrained for we in education and/or with children. But its hard to imagine the year not having that rhythm.

Its also hard to imagine myself back in France, what with the inconveniences of name-labels to sew into school trousers (i could just scrawl on the labels....) and packed-lunch-food to buy and essays to mark and course books to prepare and the round of endless meetings cranking itself into rusty tedium again.

And talking of inconveniences.......

.... I managed to almost entirely avoid french hole-in-the-ground toilets while we were away.

We did see a number of medieval hold-in-the-wall toilets.

This one seemed to be a matter of some local pride in our village.

This one (in Domme) had a kitchen garden directly underneath. Lets hope its not still in use.

privy or prison?

This one, below, was in one of the "Most Beautiful" villages in France. A tres public convenience, n'est-ce pas? I don't think it was on the intended tourist route.

My BIL did offer to pose for the photo and now, of course, i'm regretting not taking him up on the offer.

And from one extreme to the other:

Saturday, September 01, 2007

beats talking about the weather

Look :

I've been mowing in stripes at my father's over the past week.
Quite satisfying for someone such as me, who has not A Lawn, but lumpy bumpy tussocky grass.

I've had quite a few conversations in the past which seem to support the contention that its men, in particular, who like orderly, weed-free, stripy lawns; that "male" gardening tends towards the structural, linear, architectural, controlled, whereas "female" gardenening is characterised more by flowers, scent, spontaneity and natural forms. Any opinions?

Having thought, at one stage, that ideas of masculinity and femininity are entirely due to culture & socialisation, I have come to think now that there is a great deal of evidence which suggests there might actually be innate differences between women and men beyond the purely physiological. "Natural" rather than "nurtured" differences, traits, characteristics. It seems that hormone levels while we are in the womb may have more impact on who we are than we'd ever have imagined a hundred years ago.

But - and this is the tricky but crucial thing - none of these differences are universal.

None of the so-called "masculine" traits are present in all men - and none of them are present only in men. And vice versa with the feminine. If we have to go on thinking about certain characteristics as either "masculine" or "feminine" (will we ever be able to get away from this?) surely we all have to admit that we all have some of each?

So even if there are differences its possible to generalise about - eg. it seems to be a common view just now that women are better at multi-tasking - well, so what? Not all women are. Some men are. - so what use is the generalisation? It seems to me only likely to feed our oppressively stereotypical ideas of the masculinity and femininity - in ways which support false and oppressive ideas of what is "normal" and which can be so damaging.

After mowing the lawn and having some of these thoughts, I read a piece in the paper about some recent scientific claims made about that pesky old male-blue female-pink thing.
(after some research, it was suggested apparently that there might be evolutionary origins for this particular colour-coding, with women needing to be good at collecting berries.....)
The piece I read was in the Guardian's 'Bad Science' column - click here for the full text - and cites evidence against this - evidence that the "pink is girlie" idea is actually relatively new and very culturally determined. So, not such an old thing after all - isn't that nice to know? Maybe it will go away one day soon.

I'm a bit pissed off with myself for writing this though, which I hadn't planned, because its rather worky.
I've had at least two work dreams lately, there is marking on my desk which I can't evade for much longer, I'm trying to ignore the imminence of term beginnings, induction and academic "stuff" and I don't know how long I can hang on to the holiday vibe. And its now September.


There were no such serious discussions on our holiday, thats for sure. Though one of the below is (or could have been, if we could've been arsed) related to gender issues.

Favourite topics of holiday conversation around the table in Dordogne and Lot:

1. crustiness

2. pool water temperature

3. advanced Cleudo-playing methodology

4. stickiness - qualities and definitions of, methods of testing for stickiness

5. zip then fasten or fasten then zip?

6. foreign bugs

7. Bedknobs and Broomsticks

8. why not to buy Top Budget products in France

9. comparison of strains and sore muscles following canoing and monkey-high-ropes stuff.

10. techniques for ripening avocado

11. manbags

12. anchovies

13. iPods and iPod sox

14. gizzards

15. snoring

16. spong

It would be difficult to have a really good holiday, I think, with people who weren't more than a little bit silly and who don't enjoy food more than just a little bit.

Fortunately my father and my sister and her family meet both of these criteria.