Monthly Archives: July 2008

Happy Birthday, dear Ro-Ro

This week, I’ve had to catch up with looming deadlines, most of which involved things that people had rather thought I’d done weeks ago. For one of them, I visited the local printer. I had given them forewarning, ages ago, but not taken in the item for printing. “That time of the year again?” said John, jovially. “Rather imminently, I’m afraid,” I apologised. “It’s my fault for not coming in sooner, but now we’re a bit close to the deadline.” “You want it back yesterday, then” he said in his taking-it-in-his stride voice. Actually, by the end of next week will do, but I didn’t mention that. They’ve just taken a proof copy to the shop and the Sage has given it to me (so useful, doing things locally, no special trips needed). I have a feeling I’ll have the completed order back by the end of the week, so it’ll look as if I was in time all along.

This morning’s meeting was the Festival Committee. Yes, the festival was two weekends ago; this was the – well, post mortem is hardly the phrase. Debrief? Hm. Post-festival meeting, shall we say. I took notes of things to bear in mind next year and we’ve set the date of the next meeting in January 09.

Anyway, no matter about all that. The important matter of the day is that it’s my little boy’s birthday. Ro is 24 today. Happy Birthday, Ro!!(!)

The Sage learns how to argue, but still is wrong

Last night, or this morning, I was in bed soon after midnight and the Sage (having already had a little zizz) joined me, freshly bathed, soon after. A hug and kiss and I was ready to fall asleep, when he started a business discussion.

Now, a brief exchange of interesting news is one thing, but this was a quite big change of business policy with which I radically disagreed. I said so. He replied. We weren’t quarrelling, you understand, but there was a need for a major discussion here.

“Darling, it’s quarter past midnight and I was nearly asleep. I really don’t want to talk about it now, you can’t land something like that on me at this hour of the night”. Fortunately, he agreed. However, he was not at all sleepy. It was after one o’clock, the last time I looked at the clock.

We discussed it again this morning. It was a splendid discussion, all respectful and forceful without any lack of respect for the other’s view and a clear allowance of space for hearing one viewpoint before coming up with the other’s.

He seems to have agreed with me. Good man. Maybe it was a good thing, explaining my tactics in an argument. We kept very focused and itemised all pros and cons – and then he realised I was right all along.

If he’d been, I’d have said so. I’d have said he was wonderful too. Actually, I might have said that at some time anyway.

The Lord don’t like you as you ain’t

There was a lack of cynicism in the 60s and early 70s. A fair bit of complacency of course, but also real optimism. Pat reminds me of all the falsies. Now we (well, some of us) have implants, veneers, injections and lifts, but then, towards the end of the decade, we (well, some of us) just cheerily added bits on. Padded bras if we were not quite well enough endowed, hairpieces if not all-out wigs, false eyelashes, the lot. They used to fall off sometimes, which struck everyone more as hilarious than embarrassing.

I remember when I worked at the library. Not quite the 60s in fact; I started there with a Saturday job in 1970. One girl came in with long, purple-painted nails one day. At some point in the morning, she issued a squeal. “I’ve shut my nail in someone’s book!” A pale stump was left. She rushed to get the pack of new nails, stuck one on and started to paint it. Customers were still coming in and had to be served. We were all laughing so much we could hardly stand up.

Some women had so many artificial additions that it caused some anxiety once they were married. Their husbands had never seen them without full makeup on, so they had to choose between coming clean and showing their true unadorned selves or getting up early every morning, adding the eyelashes, the hair, doing the backcombing, putting on the face, all before he was awake.

I tried false eyelashes myself, once. I know, imagine how absurd I looked. I was only about 17. I remember the Sprout came round to pick us up (we were friends long before we looked upon each other with sentimental eyes) and he struggled manfully to mask his horror. I suspect I took them off again before we went out for dinner, as I don’t remember making a complete idiot of myself all around town.

My mother and my sister had hairpieces. They both had short brown hair and they pinned the switch underneath their own at the crown and then backcombed to hide the join. It seemed to look fine then.

On the whole, except for the short-lived eyelash experiment, I didn’t do any of this. I knew it wouldn’t suit me. I was small and pale with long blonde hair which I either wore loose or twisted up into a knot. I didn’t care much what I looked like though I was, simultaneously, very self-conscious. Certainly the black-eyed pale-lipped look wasn’t me, but neither was the vivid and intense one. I was no hippy, thinking they were naive and unrealistic (I’m more tolerant now; I still think they were but I rather like that now). I remember when a girl of my age – about 14 – came up to me in the playground and intoned, passionately, “Make love not war ’cause love is lovely and war is ugly” – honestly, I’m not kidding, she said every word and she was all intense and starry-eyed – I gazed at her in bemusement.

Weeza’s Freeza

Dave’s comment on the last post reminds me of the time, about 40 years ago, when my sister attended a rather posh cookery school called W1nkf1eld Pl@ce. A girl’s contact lens dropped in the cucumber soup that was being made for dinner. No amount of fishing around could find it, so each girl was instructed to suck the soup through her teeth. Her own teeth, that is – thank you, Gordie, for noting the ambiguity. There was no sign of the lens, however. This was in the days of hard lenses, of course.

I took my daughter (who has no car yet) down to the doctor’s to register; she’d already made an appointment with the midwife for later in the day. Then we went food shopping and spend the rest of the day cooking (me) and putting things away and washing up (Weeza). I did lots of basic minced beef sauce, to be turned into Bolognese, chilli, whatever, coq au vin, a chicken casserole with peppers, onion and tomato, chicken, mushroom and sweetcorn soup and minestrone soup. Apart from some roast chicken which she can eat over the next day or two, it will all go into the freezer, to be hauled out in the next few weeks.

When we were at the surgery again waiting for her appointment, a cheerful doctor came out for her next patient. “Ooh, I can smell some lovely cooking going on! Where’s that coming from?” “Er, that might be me. I’ve been cooking all afternoon.” “Onions,” she said, coming over to me and sniffing; “yes, it’s you. It smells delicious.” I didn’t quite know where to put myself.

All is fine with Weeza and she still feels very well. I must say, the surgery is lovely. All the staff seem very cheerful and friendly, including the receptionist (!) and she’s quite happy about everything.

Ro arrived home during the afternoon and went straight up for a hot bath. He had a good time. “How was Okkervil River?” I asked. “Really good,” he assured me. “Have you come across Shearwater?” I enquired casually. “Oh yes, that’s the singer from OR’s band and someone else, isn’t it? I’ve got one of their albums – Rook, it’s called I think”. “Can’t catch you out on anything, can I?” Thanks, Mike, at least I asked a half-decent question for once. I’m immersing myself in Rook (as it were) and becoming increasingly hooked. A fabulous voice, although a couple of octaves higher than I had expected.

Another thing Ro has mentioned were the snacks. Not those he bought, but those passed around the camp fire. “The advantage of pitching your tent next to older people, you know, in their 30s and 40s.” He met a number of friends his own age too, including one of the Bens he was at school with – there were 3 Bens he used to bring home, with the result that the Sage used to call all his friends Ben. One of the ‘older people’ gave him a lift each way – he had posted the offer of a lift on a car-sharing website.

The other culinary fact was that people kept offering him cups of tea. “What is it with making tea?” he wondered. “I mean, I like tea, but I wouldn’t bother with lugging around a camp stove and a kettle and a bottle of gas, just so I wouldn’t have to go without tea for 3 days.” “Was that your friends?” I asked, wondering if he’s quiz me on my imperfect grammar. “Oh no, old people,” he said, obviously not meaning those as old as I.

He’s got a birthday coming up this week. He’s aging too.

Z has an eye in the back of her head

Not tipsy at all any more, and after a brief nap I’ve been doing the Sage’s typing because I’ll be out all day tomorrow. However, I thought I’d take my contact lens out and I can’t find it anywhere. I mean, it must be in my eye, but I’ve poked and prodded and I can’t feel it. You wouldn’t think that this would happen and I’d be completely unaware of it, but I don’t feel as if I’ve got a foreign body in the wrong place either. My fault for going to sleep without taking it out, but I usually get away with it. I hope it sorts itself out soon as I’ll have a sore eye tomorrow otherwise.

It’s raining again. It was fine this afternoon – in fact, we had a cheery barbecue in the garden. Good to see Phil’s parents, we don’t get together very often.

Ooh, it’s tipping down. Poor old Ro.

Z is smashed

Really. It is taking the last of my concentration to type this. I will sit down and read the paper, probably laughing helplessly at all the government ballsups as if they don’t affect me at all, and i’ll return later.

Not bad though. Just one capital missing, as long as you’re not fussy about the odd hyphen.

The Shearwater singer sings falsetto, you know. Very well, but it’s still falsetto. At what stage do you call it counter-tenor? Hm.

It’s raining

The friend I mentioned the other day came here after all. I was looking after Squiffany and Pugsley at the time as their mother had gone to sort out details of the teaching post she’s taking up in September (a year’s part-time contract). The children went to meet Chris, who said hello. Squiffany gazed at him solemnly, sizing him up, and then she waved and smiled and returned his greeting. Later, they both danced for him, all around the dining room table, so I think he make a good impression.

Today, is Weeza’s moving day. Her in-laws are helping them move and they will all arrive with a vanload of furniture and boxes sometime during the early afternoon. The bigger items of furniture are arriving next weekend, when Phil will move too – he has one more week’s notice to serve out at his current job. Weeza was supposed to start maternity leave on Friday but, having done a handover to her replacement on Tuesday, she decided to call it a day. She’d finished everything she was supposed to do and she’d had enough, with only three weeks to go before her due date. They’ve been doing all the Londoners’ things for the last time in the last couple of weeks. There’ll be a lot to miss, but also a good many things they won’t miss at all. I suspect that public transport in the suburbs will be hard to adjust to. In the countryside, of course, it’s pretty well ignored. It’s clearly intended for pensioners and students, and the council think that they don’t much matter, so it’s not necessary to make it convenient and comfortable, let alone reasonably priced for the non-frequent user.

Although I’d have liked to spend a day at the festival, I’m not hardy enough nowadays for camping in the rain. The third heavy shower in the last couple of hours has started. Fortunately, Ro was well equipped with waterproofs, but I suspect he won’t venture out of his tent for a while this morning. I don’t imagine he’ll find it easy to sleep in late in this weather – or is it just that I couldn’t?

I’m on duty at the new house this morning, awaiting deliveries. Having woken up early, four hours ago and not slept since, I’ve cleaned the kitchen beautifully, but now must get ready to go. Have a good Saturday, one and all.

Z suddenly comes over nostalgic, thanks to Martin

Martin was rhapsodising on the moon* today and it reminded me of my visit to the Taj Mahal – and then that reminded me of my honeymoon. Sadly, I’m not going to get all smoochy and sentimental on you. It’s made me wonder just how we ever got through that first aeroplane flight.

The Sage isn’t the best traveller. It all started when he and his brother were coming back across the North Sea on a car ferry, many years ago (I suspect it was back in the 50s, when I was a mere slip of a child). There was a storm, the captain of the English ferry refused to sail, the Dutch captain said “Pfft” and sailed – and the Sage and his brother went off for a full English**. They were dreadfully seasick on the way back, the ship nearly sank and the Sage has not travelled without anxiety ever since.

So, 1973. The Sage went to the doctor for some strong (and sedative) anti-sickness pills, for use on the journey from Heathrow to Mahé***.

We flew to Italy and stopped to pick up dinner and some more passengers. I tucked into the food, the Sage dozed. As we flew over North Africa, I was dreadfully excited. There was the Nile!!(!) I could see it, though I could make out nothing else, snaking across the landscape (I’d always rather be by the window than in the sensible aisle seat). I poked the Sage. “Look, look, there’s the Nile!” He grunted and went back to sleep…

I stuck with him. I’m a saint. He really is a bad traveller though, I can’t deny that.

Oh, by the way, we refuelled at Addis Ababa and we all got out and stretched our legs on the runway; the only time I’ve set foot in mainland Africa. There was a crashed plane at the end of the runway. It had been there a few weeks, apparently, although it wasn’t a rare occurrence.

We stopped again in South Africa to pick up more passengers. I’ll never forget**** landing on Mahé. The airport had been built by the shore, out into the water – I’m a gung-ho traveller and it didn’t strike me that it wouldn’t require much overshoot or cross-wind to land in the sea (I’m sure it’s less intimidating now). When we got out, it was instant tropical island. It was fabulous. Steamy, humid, heat with the tang of the sea. No, it’ll be one of the last memories to go.

*for pedants – on the subject of the moon

**that means a cooked breakfast, other-than-British darlings

***Main island of the Seychelles

****well, there’s always Alzheimer’s. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that I’ll never forget anything.

Z canoodles with a Man!!(!)

I went to the Sage and gave him a lingering kiss. “Thank you!” he said. “You don’t say thank you for a snog,” I reminded him. “Ah” he remembered, “Ro is away.” “Yup. That’s why I’m snogging you in the kitchen” I explained.

Ro has gone to the latitude festival. That means it’ll probably rain most of the weekend. I had a chat with him last night. “You will go and watch Okkervil River, won’t you?” I reminded him (that’s them, right next to Blondie on the right side of the line up page – on the link, darlings, not this page. “Yes, I will, if I can” he replied patiently. “If there’s a signing tent, you’ve got to queue up,” I insisted. “Er” he said. “No, you must. Tell them your mother is a fan. They’ll be mortified, but it’ll be worth it to see their faces.”

The Aga is to be serviced tomorrow, so we’ll turn it off tonight. “Will you be in?” asked the Sage. I said I would. Noon is about the time he’ll be going to see our Antiques Roadshow chum, who will be on his way back to Stansted. They’ve been filming this week at Oxburgh Hall. Chris, our chum, was a bit put out today. Someone brought in a rather impressive L’toft egg cup which is pretty valuable, but he didn’t know that. He thought it was Caughley (another factory of the same period, but not as good) and so was very pleased to hear the news. What annoyed Chris, however, was that he was unwilling to be filmed. Apparently, he’s an antique dealer and he’d bought the egg cup for £1 from someone living in the same village. Since he must have known it was worth considerably more, he came along to the Roadshow for a free valuation without the trade-off of being filmed if it was interesting. Anyway, I’m sorry to miss seeing Chris, who is a good chum, but it’ll save him three quarters of an hour’s driving if the Sage goes and meets him in a village by the main road rather than making him call here – though, being a polite and friendly sort of chappie, he would do that for the pleasure of seeing one or both of us. He lives several hundred miles away, so we don’t meet often.

Weighing pigs

Regarding the total titsup that’s happening this year about the school SATs – the thing that’s upsetting me is not the complete hash that has been made of the marking, it’s that the children concerned are being made to think that it matters to them. It absolutely doesn’t. It’s the league tables that it affects; the ranking of the school, for those who think that sort of thing matters (some parents, Ofsted, headteachers etc). It should not matter one brass farthing to the children themselves.

When SATs came to these shores, they were portrayed as being a measuring tool. The idea was that they would show the level each child was at by asking them questions at a rate that gradually became more difficult, but helped to show what they could do. It was said that most exams tested what a child didn’t know, but SATs showed what (s)he did. But before long, they became more and more important, and this anxiety of the schools (and the parents) was transmitted to the child. Now, in the spring, primary schools coach to pass the SATs, not to further the education of the child. This is absolutely not what was intended at the start.

My younger son was in the guinea pig year, those born in 1983/84. They were the first to take the Key Stage 1 tests and the Key Stage 3 tests. They were also the first to take the AS levels in the lower sixth form, followed by A2s in the upper 6th. This means he was tested in year 2, year 6, year 9, year 11, year 12 and year 13. Official government tests, that is, national ones, not the usual end of term or year exams that we were used to. And all children are subjected to that now – though now, of course, the poor little creatures get Baseline Assessment (if that’s what it’s still called, I’ve been out of primary education for a couple of years) within the first few weeks of term, so that the Contextual Value Added scores can be taken into account at every stage. I’m not against testing, exams, and certainly not against rigour and high expectations, but the reliance on strictly regimented data at the top level is working against good education, not in favour of it, and is causing increasing anxiety for teachers and pupils.

In my naivety, I wasn’t agin SATs when they started. I thought they would be useful. It was worrying, how many seven-year-olds couldn’t read or write (not in our village school) and I thought it would help to target where improvement was most needed so that appropriate help could be given. But all that has happened is that children’s lives have been made a misery. Never have they suffered such stress. It’s a tribute to their resilience that, in spite of this, and the breakdown of family life and the pressure and anxiety of life, particularly in the cities, so many children still cope as well as they do.

And in the most recent instructions for Ofsted inspectors, it’s the statistics that matter above all else. Look at the CVA scores, the SATs, the KS4 results, the RAISEonline data, the PANDA scores – oh no, scrub that last, that’s been superseded. If we don’t have a new acronym every couple of years, what are the mouse-pushers at the DfES to do with their time?