Saturday, December 29, 2007


I am entirely bereft of inspiration but feel the need to post something new.

So, here are some snapshots of the current state of The Mess:

("before" pics)

What do you mean, you see no improvement?

There are fewer piles on the floor than there were, evidence of not only re-arranging, but also of sorting, filing and binning. There is now also one pile of marked essays. I'd be happier if the ratio of marked to unmarked was more impressive.
{One student emailed me about an essay she is writing on Boxing Day. I don't know whether to be impressed at her industry or sad that she was not too busy with more fun activities}

About a week ago it was all a good deal less messy than it is now - in fact, I'd claim that it was quite tidy for a while, and there was even empty space on the desk. Its true, 2/3 of it was clear of all mess and paperwork.
But life goes on, and the new accumulation includes (from the bottom layer upwards):

some files, notes and books relating to new classes I am teaching in January;

nearly sorted piles of receipts waiting to be checked;

bottle gift bags, contents stashed away and/or drunk;

newly ordered and delivered battery re-charger (to accompany new camera I was given);

Digital photography book (additional gift yesterday to accompany the above);

packaging from new headphones (excellent Christmas gift, my ipod sounds way better at half the volume);

latest delivery from Postie the Bastard, whose rudely-awakening knock on the door was, for once, not even slightly unwelcome [even at 7.30 on a saturday] because he brought a most special package from someone very precious.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

News bragging

Some years ago it became a bit of a "thing" to send around Christmas news letters with or instead of cards. Does this happen elsewhere in the world?

Sometimes referred to as "round robins", i have no idea why. In my experience they are rarely as delightful or interesting as robins.
(We do have friends whose Christmas letters are regular exceptions to this rule.)

On the one hand, most of the people I receive cards from are people I care about and/or have some interest in; I'm glad to have a bit of an update on how they are and whats going on in their lives; I also find people interesting am quite nosey.

On the other hand, these news letters can easily be rather impersonal; full of rather more information than I really feel I need; just an excuse to flaunt one's fab lifestyle.

Some members of our extended family/friends/Christmas-card circle went through a thankfully brief phase of sending news letters which were basically a showy-offy catalogue of exotic holidays and the achievements of their offspring: in short, bragging.

There is a book which is full of fine, mind-numbing, gobsmacking, unbelievable, hysterical, excruciating examples of this contemporary literary form. The letters were sent in by readers of the Guardian to one of its columnists. I haven't read the book, but remember some he cited in the paper - one of which, for example, gave exhaustively detailed, blow-by-blow and rather unsavoury details of a year's illnesses, medical treatments and surgery.

Of course the horrifying thought does occur that these letter-writers may have something in common with (and in fact probably now are) bloggers.


If ever it happens with my blog, please please please please tell me and put me out of my misery.

Anyway - what all this has been leading up to is that I am going to share with you the only family newsletter which was ever circulated by us. Recently recovered from a friend who - unlike us - kept a copy, I can claim no credit at all for this, it was written by M who, I think you'll agree, has a gift.

(sorry this is rather a long post. but then these letters are very often way too long)

Christmas 2004
Hi everyone, its been a busy year as usual here at number 46. So many things have happened that we thought we’d share some of them with you in order to make our lives look better than yours.

January was a good start to the year. Lettuce’s rediscovery of an ancient lost weaving technique which allows sheep to spin their own fleece and in some cases weave it into intricate pastoral scenes came as something of a surprise and caused a stir in both the fabric and farming industries. Little Gem sensibly chose to turn down the offer of a role in the new Harry Potter movie in order to keep up her commitment to the RSC, and while the extra money would have been nice we respect her decision in this. M continued to make progress in the whole “getting up in the morning and putting his trousers on one leg at a time” arena – still a long way to go yet mind.

February was a funny old month as both Lettuce and LG, both independently of each other, achieved spiritual enlightenment and learned the secret of the universe at the same time – imagine! LG achieved his via her martial arts training while Lettuce through her commitment to yoga. What was interesting about the whole thing was that the secret of the universe turned out to be an entirely different colour to what had previously been suspected – how we did laugh! M started using joined-up writing this month.

March is always an exciting time and this year was no different. LG, embarrassingly, won the award for the most popular girl in school for the tenth year running along with the netball cup, the cross country running medal, the academic achievement plaque, the “emergency-heart-bypass-in-the-playground” sash (a new one this) the 500 meters unpowered-flight Silver Wings, the raising-a-fellow pupil-from-the-dead Crystal Decanter, the 'Supreme smart-arse of the year' gold spoon and she was milk monitor. Lettuce of course was promoted to “uber-Lecturer-Grandisimo-Supremo” with sweeping cultural and academic powers to redefine truth and the nature of reality as she sees fit. M got a year older.

April, and spring was very much in the air. This is always a busy time of year for Lettuce and LG as they return to the garden to give frail old mother nature a leg up. This year saw the construction of an eco-dome at the bottom of the garden. Through a carefully balanced selection of flora and fauna Lettuce and LG were able to exactly recreate the conditions that existed in the Garden of Eden with all the attendant effects on the human physiology – emotional well-being and practical immortality to name but two. A number of major pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies are currently in negotiations for the plans and exclusive marketing rights. M also demonstrated an interest in horticulture this month, mostly through the consumption of wheat beer.

May saw the usual letters from dignitaries from around the world wishing Lettuce a happy birthday – George Bush got our address wrong AGAIN! I swear you’d think that man hardly knows the rest of the world exists – but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? Anyway gifts came flooding in – a sizeable chunk of Kent was a rather generous one from HRH and most unexpected (she’d given a similar gift the year before, but I suppose she’s getting forgetful in her old age). LG’s training for her two month stint on the European Space Station in 2010 begins this month. M managed to eat his own weight in pork scratchings this month, so a personal triumph there.

June and the sun finally decided to put in an appearance. LG’s tour with the Bolshoi Ballet company was sadly cut short as the silly girl had double booked this with an international Karate competition to be held in Osaka – the only western martial artist to be invited to compete for the last 50 years as it happens. We were ever so cross with her for the mix up, it was all terribly embarrassing, but everyone was very nice about it. Luckily enough Lettuce was able to stand in for the Bolshoi gig freeing LG up for Osaka. M went to Woolwich once or twice this month and got some good pound shop bargains.

July was rather a quiet month with Lettuce only exhibiting work at the Tate Modern and the V&A, and LG taking her mock Oxbridge entrance exams. I don’t think M got up this month.

August – a real change of pace from last month. By an odd coincidence LG had been reading up on ancient civilizations, while at the same time doing a bit of amateur astronomy. By cross-referencing the names and relative positions across Egyptian, Babylonian and Sumerian texts she managed to locate the lost city of Atlantis! Admittedly this was only a rough estimate – accurate to within a 5 mile radius – but it was enough for the Royal Academy to finance an expedition. The commemorative stamps are due out some time next year. Lettuce was equally lucky this month accidentally discovering a combination of dyes and pigments that – when used to paint a self portrait – allows one to transfer physical damage and the ravages of time to that portrait. She now has one of herself stored in the loft. M discovered that you can’t eat an egg and bacon sarni without the yoke dripping down your front.

September, and for her tenth birthday, we decided to get LG flying lessons – well, she had been going on about them for years. She seems to be getting on really well and having someone in the family with a pilot’s license will be a great help, particularly in Lettuce’s charitable work in the 3rd World and Eastern Europe. Lettie’s conclusive proof for the existence of God caused a major stir in philosophical and theological quarters. The proof, now known as the “ 'Good gracious, why didn’t we see that before?' Argument for the existence of God" has been regarded as totally airtight and irrefutable by leading atheist thinkers. The postmodern atheist Jean Lyotard was quoted as saying “I don’t half feel a right Charlie now!” M still remains unsure as to whether the word postmodern ought to be hyphenated.

October, and isn’t nature wonderful? Discovered, quite by accident, that LG’s guinea pigs are in fact mutants! Yes, I know!!!! These mutant animals, or X-pigs, as we like to call them, have a range of mostly psionic powers – telepathy, telekinesis, a little precognition in the female I think. Harley also has the strength of a grown man – which is not as much fun as you might think. LG is in constant telepathic contact with them and they are revealing some startling insights into the animal world. David Attenborough is said to be “as sick as a parrot” over the whole business: “you spend your entire life up to your neck in bat poo and being groped by monkeys and this kind of thing happens in Charlton!” Sorry David. Oh, yes, almost forgot, Lettie found the Holy Grail in a charity shop this month – currently getting a lot of interest in this on eBay. M seems to be getting the hang of that whole trouser thing (see January).

November. Very boring, nothing happened. Lettuce went to work. LG went to school and M played on his Xbox.

December. Another year has almost come to an end. As we reflect upon our many modest achievements we would also like to use this time to remember those of you whose lives are neither as full nor as satisfying as our own. Only by parading our catalogue of excellence before your eyes can you truly appreciate the staggering gulf that separates us from the rest of you and in this way we hope that we might serve as an example to you all. If we have, in some small way, inspired you to be better than you are then our job here is done. In other words, you’re all losers and we’re great, get over it.

A Merry Christmas to you all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A couple of posts by The Talented Mr. Lowenkopf have me thinking about words: his post on IEDs (Improvised Exploding Devices) and another on the "Son of a bitch" gift-giving plateau he hopes to attain this Christmas.

This particularly in the light of - firstly - the latest confrontation between LG and M which reached its own plateau with LG stomping upstairs and calling him - in a muttered subtone - a bastard, and with M deciding that such nomenclature was not, on this occasion, to be overlooked or tolerated.

The disagreement in question was concerning whether or not it was advisable for LG to buy cannabis lollies as Christmas gifts for her school friends. The context of the disagreement includes LG's hour-long detention after school today with a group who signed up to some club mandating social exclusion of and possibly further discrimination against one particular fellow pupil. LG says that she didn't know about the agenda of the club when she signed up, and certainly it doesn't seem likely to us that she would have done this knowingly, but nonetheless we fully support the school taking a hard line.

We are not very happy that there seems to be some staff complicity in scaremongering about the possible longterm effects of this incident: LG claims to have been told that this could go on her criminal record and on her permanent school record and that she could be excluded from school. At the very least she has learned, early on, a crucially important lesson about words (the power of), reading (the importance of), and signatures -(the need to be cautious with).

This context alone seems to make caution about the gift-giving advisable, it remains to be seen whether or not LG accepts our verdict on this one.

In other contexts, of course, use of the word "bastard" might have been received (and intended) rather differently.

[excursus : its so so very hard sometimes, this parenting thing of choosing your battles
wisely... In other LG news, there is an almost adamantium-hard frost this morning, but still
she will not will not wear a coat to school...]

The - secondly - other light casting interesting and illuminating shadows on this topic is a recent discussion with students in a class on science fiction. Suzette Elgin, by profession a linguist, has written a science fiction trilogy which begins with Native Tongue. The book explores gender issues and relationships and the power of words.

Living in a Handmaid's-Tale-esque future America of near-totally oppressive patriarchal power, a group of women begin to invent their own language. Giving them power to name and share their own distinctively female experience, this language has crucial liberating and revolutionary potential. Words, the author explains, are magical; they have the power to make visible things - experiences, concepts - which have before been invisible. In a reversal of the way in which Orwell imagined the annihilation of the concept of freedom through the forbidding of the word, these women (over generations) grow a language full of words ("encodings") which name their experience.

Here are some examples of "Laadan", the new language:

Raduth = "to non use", "to deliberately deprive someone of any useful function in the world, as in enforced retirement or when a human being is kept as a plaything or a pet".

Ramimelh = "to refrain from asking with evil intentions; especially when its clear that someone badly wants you to ask".

Dooledosh = "pain or loss which comes as a relief by virtue of ending the anticipation of its coming."

Doroledim - has no equivalent English meaning. “Say you have an average woman. She has no control over her life. She has little or nothing in the way of a resource for being good to herself, even when it is necessary. She has family and animals and friends and associates that depend on her for sustenance of all kinds. She rarely has adequate sleep or rest; she has no time for herself, no space of her own, little or no money to buy things for herself, no opportunity to consider her own emotional needs. She is at the beck and call of others, because she has these responsibilities and obligations and does not choose to (or cannot) abandon them. For such a woman, the one and only thing she is likely to have a little control over for indulging her own self is FOOD. When such a woman overeats, the verb for that is “doroledim”. (And then she feels guilty, because there are women whose children are starving, and who do not have even THAT option for self-indulgence…)”

and here is the festive bit:

Radiidin = "non-holiday" - "a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help".

I'm happy to say that this latter is not my experience of Christmas, though I'm sure it is for many. Particularly many women. This example always elicits a response of laughter but also recognition from students.

Are there words or experiences which you would want to incorporate in a new language?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I've felt very ambivalent about Christmas cards this year - the sending of them, that is. But I'm enjoying receiving cards and think that "ambivalent" is largely a euphemism for lazy.

So - having finally got a working printer I've managed to overcome my ambivalence by making my own Christmas cards, and I feel quite self-satisfied, not having made my own for years and years and far too long.

Here is my Christmas card design, and greetings of the season to all of you, i wish you all peace and joyful times with people you love and who love you. What more could any of us hope for?

Here is an "alternative" card produced by my precious Little Gem Demon Child.

(posted here with her permission and noting her copyright)
(isn't she a poppet?)

At the time of writing this post, she is in London with her father, shopping in Camden Market where she feels at home and with her own kind. She will probably returning with purchases such as these:

And (later now) below are the boots she brought home, which are our Christmas gift to her this year.

They should help develop the muscle tone in her legs.

I remember at her sort of age receiving - and being rather pleased with - a purple velour sort of house coat thing.

I'm a little aghast at myself sharing that with you and a little envious of LG's new footwear.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Isn't this a disgraceful mess?

This is my (lack of) work space.

Our college term has ended but I have more than enough work to do with some substantial piles of essays to mark and classes to prepare for January. January which is now scarily imminent. And which will bring with it more piles of essays.

Just as getting a lot of books out of the library gives the satisfying (and easily achieved) feeling of having done some work without actually having done much at all, so clearing a viable work space will hopefully give me some sense of progress. As well as giving me.... space.... within which to work....

Items you might spot in these photos include:

1. photocopied articles - mainly needing to be filed, some for use in teaching preparation
2. wrapping paper - some Christmas gifts dispatched or given, most bought but not wrapped
3. books - library books, see above
4. OHP transparencies, mainly art of various kinds - teaching aids not filed away after classes
(i like to use a lot of pictures in classes)
(the picture on top here is the Venus of Willendorf)
5. Folders containing OHP transparencies - not put away since last used (and needed in any case for filing away transparencies used this term) (yes, theres a term's worth piled up here)
6. essays - to be marked (ptb)
7. attendance records - needing updating, also needing checking to report back on non-attending students
8. address book - for reference in christmas card writing
9. gloves - work bag unpacked, items not put away. Glove wearing weather.
10. white board pens and eraser - i scrawl, scribble and draw quite a bit during lectures
11. stack of receipts - cheque book needs to be balanced
12. bills - to be paid (ptb) or paid and needing to be filed
13. pencil with Clanger topper - of great comfort and support during essay marking
14. camera case - never far away
15. DVD of Wim Wenders Wings of Desire - watched with students last Friday, not put away (theme emerging?) (great film, i love it more every time i watch it)
16. Old Christmas cards, cut and kept as gift tags (see 2. above)
17. Guillotine - for Christmas card making.
18. Vaseline - for chapped lips. Chapped-lips weather.
19. Packet of scoubi doos - gift from student (????)
20. shoulder bag - semi-unpacked from last teaching session
21. Envelopes scattered about from my last rash of eBaying
22. Old pay slips waiting to be shredded and binned
23. ipod socks (and why not?)
24. Can of silver spray paint - over-enthusiastic plans for making own Christmas wrapping paper, now abandoned...

... cos there really is too much to do.

I do know everything which is here. I know where things are, I can find them when I need to. It is tidy and organised, in my head.

Look out for more frequent posts this week as I try to avoid all the work I should be doing.


Clangers - I am glad to be able once more to spread the word around the globe.
Clangers - wonderful magical funny surreal creation of vintage british kids TV hero Oliver Postgate. To be enlightened and delighted watch this - which is one of my fave episodes.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

winter lights

I withdraw in shame my previous comments about London greyness seeping into the soul.

After waxing lyrical about the quality of light in Suffolk, we've had a week of beautiful winter light here in London.

Sumptuous dusks

and magical dawns.

This last picture (below) reminds me of a story I remember from childhood - and which I associate with my mother, maybe she read it to us?

A story about someone who, waking in the morning, and beginning their daily work, becomes transfixed by the sight of a building in the far far distance with windows of shining gold. They set out, resolved to journey as far as necessary and as long as it takes to find their way to this glowing haven. Over hills and dales and through dark forests and across murky rivers, they are driven on by their vision of the dazzling gold. On exhausted arrival at the other edge of the horizon, they find an ordinary, undistinguished house with plain everyday windows. And looking back across the landscape, tracing the long long way they have travelled, they see their own house in the far far distance, transformed by the setting sun into a wondrous burnished dazzle of gold.

parable of life, eh?

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Well apparently this is the latest Christmas trend:

I feel neither impressed nor inspired.

There are those who claim that this is some medieval custom, the shape representing the Trinity or the crucified Christ. There are those who claim that the medieval symbolism was that the tree ('right' way up) points to heaven. There are those who claim that its all Prince Albert's fault.

Anyway, we wont be inverting our Christmas tree this year. Not for No One.

Even if it does make even more space for even more presents underneath.
Which, I suppose, we are meant to assume is the whole point of it all.


I've not given any thought at all to Christmas cards this year. And I'm tempted to just not bother. But there are people I am pleased to hear from, even if its just once a year - and I would hope, I suppose, that its mutual. And there are some people who, for various reasons, I couldn't not send a card.
And we have just bought a new printer and can, once again, print in colour. So maybe I will make my own cards again this year, as I always used to do. In the good old days.

Except that its already the 8th, and I've got no further than these indecisive musings...


This made me larf however.
For those of you not from round our way, the "idiom" of this dialogue - though not the accent - is part of contemporary english yoof culture/street slang.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Apologies that I've not been very sociable around blogland lately, too busy busy with workness and visitors and the like. The best of which was a trip over the weekend to visit Lucy in Ipswich.

Its 10.15am, and not having to go out anywhere today, I'd planned a full day of lecture preparation and/or balancing the cheque book. And here I am blogging.

V. pleased with self.

I set off straight from work with a suitcase full of Christmas presents and gin and an ipod with some special listening for the journey.

Wonderful walks in the sunshine, some of the greens were amazing. I love taking photos in London but a lot of them are rather grey. Greyness can seep into the soul.

and walks in the rain,

Ziggy had a great time flushing out and chasing game birds.

a bit of shopping, a lot of talking, enjoying Lucy's lovely new house and above all her lovely self.

The light and air in Suffolk have an amazingly limpid quality which keeps my camera busy

I had a horrid horrid dream last night but sorting out these pictures for you - and just gazing at them for a bit - has soothed my spirit.

The last two were taken at Snape Maltings, where I bought some 1963 editions of Victor comic for M for Christmas and a delicate spun glass angel decoration for Luce and for myself. (i buy myself one Christmas decoration every year). ... oooh and some other good christmas gift stuff for people .... Pretty conflicted about the approaching season, but at times I'm feeling more positive than negative about it all and I do love buying people presents.

I hope you like the pics too.