Monthly Archives: September 2011

Erosions of childhood

Yesterday, Jake was out of bed (yes, on a Sunday morning!) to present a floral tribute on behalf of the town to honour the war dead. I was super-proud of him. He’d only had to do it as a last-minute thing (the man who’d brought us the apples turned up and I felt a bit guilted into it… bring apples one day and ask boys to be out of bed before midday on a Sunday… bit of an ask!) but I thought it was really cool he decided to take part in it and that he didn’t moan, though that was probably more because his friends were there and he got to do something with them.

Anciens Combattants parade

Yesterday, 200 specialists sent an open letter to the Government in England asking them to address the ‘erosion of childhood’ that’s happening there. I agree. I think a lot of children in England aren’t children any more. I speak as someone who entered her teen sulks around 12 years old, but I had a good 12 years before that! It made me think a lot about Jake and how different his life is here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware of the dissenters and I’m aware of how hard it is for him to be away from close family. I’m aware there are a few people who think he’d be better off in England where he could benefit from the handful of family relationships rather than have 1,000 miles between us and them. I know it’s hard for them to be apart, even if they didn’t see him that much in England over the last 5 years, despite how much they think they saw each other. I can understand why they think that life in England would be better, for those handful of relationships, but I for one think what he has here is infinitely better than what he had back in Bury.

Presenting floral tributes

First off, he’s off out on a real live school trip this afternoon. He’s taking a magnifying glass, a box with air holes, some gloves and some tweezers. Shouldn’t that be how science is? He was happily packing his rucksack this morning. I used to do school trips in England. I took hundreds of kids to football matches and ice-hockey at the weekend. I stopped doing that round about 2000 because it got too difficult. The paperwork was epic. I was no longer allowed to make the phone calls or collect the money or arrange a coach because the unions thought I should be marking. And Ofsted upped a notch and made exam results the most important thing about school. I no longer had time to sort out coaches and tickets and money as much as I’d want. By the time it got to 2007, the only trips I did were ‘educational’ theatre trips and by-and-large, if you went somewhere, you did it on your own time. No other teacher was willing to let their precious children out or ‘waste’ a single moment of cram-time. The night when I was supposedly on the phone with colleagues collaborating and cheating according to the now-defunct National Assessment Agency, I was with 60 kids, 8 members of staff and a glass of wine at the Lowry. We got back to my house at 11pm. I’m not sure when I had time to fit ‘cheating’ into my day. That was the only trip those children went on all year. I value stuff like that. 140 other members of staff didn’t.

The second reason I’m glad we’re here is that Jake didn’t do some of his homework last night. You may wonder why I’m glad about that. He was supposed to write a journal entry for his homework in his cahier de vie – his ‘life’ book – saying what he’d done this weekend. Unfortunately, he was too busy having a life to write about it. I can’t say I mind much. He’ll do it tonight and catch up, but he spent yesterday being part of a community and then playing with his friends. He got back at 8pm. I’ve got to say, the more French he learns, the more friends he makes. He’s a very friendly little boy and his French friends love him.

Alexis, his partner in school, has become besotted by him, according to his grandfather. I like that too. His grandmother rang me to ask if Jake could go up to play. Mums and Nanas arrange play dates. I know who his friends’ parents are and they know us. Last year, Jake’s best friend Julian cried when Jake jokingly told him he was moving back to England. No-one cried about Jake moving to France.

Julian was apparently very upset that Jake had had a sleepover at Alexis’s. He wanted Jake to sleep at his. And he’s not just roaming the streets with kids we don’t know. Here, he doesn’t get in fights on the street. He doesn’t have any French friends who have a Facebook account. None of his French friends are ‘in relationships’ on Facebook and none of them know what lol is, or its French equivalent. They have xboxes, sure, but I’m of the opinion that an xbox is like modern-day soldiers for modern-day boys. It’s Action Man, virtually. It’s a world inhabited by boys with a whole imaginary, visual world.

The children waiting for the procession to start

And we’re not always soaking wet here, so when he does go out, he doesn’t come home wet to the bone. He has friends with swimming pools but the gap between the haves and the have-nots in France is not so obvious. No-one wears football shirts or expensive kits that change every year to boost the income of footballers. No-one wears trainers that cost more than 20€.

Jake and three of the children from his school

His exercise books are marked regularly. They aren’t filled with worksheet after worksheet. His teachers have a clearer understanding of teaching principles than most teachers in England do. I spent 3 years trying to get 200 English teachers to understand what an outcome is. Here, they have lovely little self-assessment sheets that are validated by his teacher. Sure, he does some copying and they still have dictation to check their spellings. How terrible! Spelling tests… in this day and age? Who’d have thought it? How very backwards. He has no interactive whiteboard. I think there’s a projector. La Maitresse still has a chalk board. I last had a chalkboard in 1999. I last saw a chalkboard – oh, I think in about 2006. Very backwards, chalk boards. How on earth will he make the same progress without a suite of laptops and ipods? The school might be like something from Cider with Rosie but his teachers have a better understanding of actual learning than most I know in England. And that’s depressing. 15 billion pounds on English Education following Blair’s ‘Education. Education. Education.’ speech – and I still know plenty of teachers who still have no idea what learning looks like, though they’re very good at playing DVDs on their £3,000 interactive whiteboards.

Not only that, when he’s 15, he’ll get to choose real courses. At Broad Oak, he has a choice of mechanics or hair and beauty if he fancies doing something vocational. That’s it. Two courses. And speaking as someone who’s worked in over 35 schools to some degree or another, I know vocational courses are very much for naughty kids who are foul-mouthed and disenfranchished.

The village parade to the war memorial

Last year, I taught a lovely boy. He really wanted to do a mechanics course. He’s a really practical boy and he knew what he wanted to do. His dad is a mechanic and he dreamed of opening his own specialist VW garage. He knew that’s what he’ll be doing. The school have a mechanics vocational course but they wouldn’t let him do it because he had half a chance of getting 5 A*-C and he was well-behaved. Plus, to be honest, it’d have been a dead loss because he’d have been put with all the lads that can’t sit still and think it’s okay to tell teachers to fuck off.

In France, if you are practical, like Jake is, it’s not seen as a terrible sin. You don’t have to be thick or naughty to do a vocational course. Artisans – craftsmen – are celebrated members of the community. Practical knowledge is well-paid. Building, plumbing and carpentry are seen as skilled trades rather than something for Polish men to come and do so we can then moan about them and how much of our 100€ callout charge is going back to Poland. There are hundreds of vocational courses. Hundreds. In England, there are 14. Hair and Beauty, catering, health and social care and ‘leisure and tourism’ are pretty much the options for girls. The options are a bit wider for boys. They can do construction or mechanics as well. What we’re doing is setting up a nation whose vocations are focused around tertiary industry. We’ve got a nation of hairdressers and beauticians. Or you do GCSEs in a limited range of subjects and then you do a narrower range of A levels. Past 14, you don’t have to do another language. Past 16, you don’t have to do science, or maths or English. |Ironically, the pupils who didn’t get a C grade are not encouraged to do qualifications in English, Maths or Science in college (unless they’re re-sits to get them up to that golden C grade) so if you’re rubbish at basic skills, you don’t do more of them – you just don’t do them at all.

In France, you keep doing basic skills in French and Maths – whether you’re on a traditional course or whether you’re doing a technical/vocational course.

Don’t even get me started on £9,000 tuition fees and ‘free’ education. I know I wouldn’t be going to University if I got my A levels these days. I couldn’t afford it. I wouldn’t have taken the risk that I’d be able to pay back my debt afterwards. I’d have gone into something like banking at 18, where they train you in house. And I’d have been bored rigid and mostly incapable. And I have to ask myself: do I want Jake to be limited in the ways that English education is limited these days? Do I want him living in a city where his bike gets stolen, where he has little to do other than hang around?

None of his friends have iphones or blackberry devices. None of them wear Nike or Reebok. They will, of course, but when they’ve had a childhood. One of the girls at his school had a Hello Kitty t-shirt on yesterday. She’s 10. No 10 year old at Jake’s previous school would wear a Hello Kitty t-shirt, not even ironically.

I know it’s probably twee and over-nostalgic of me to want him to have a life in a village where the mayor and the headmistress are integral members of the community, where elders are respected and children play. Maybe he hates me for wanting that for him but just maybe he’ll be a little bit glad in 20 years’ time that we did our best to stretch out his childhood as long as we could and find him a system where being a practical little boy isn’t seen as some kind of damnation.

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I almost can’t look at the papers at the moment. Today, DC is on the front pages doing some kind of ‘I told you so’ dance, telling off the Eurozone for dragging the world into the mire. We’ll say nothing of the USA, the faltering Chinese economy, the massive Japanese debt, daily alerts about Greece, austerity budgets in France.

I said yesterday in relation to another matter that people should get their own house in order before pointing the finger. He who lives in glass houses and all that… but there’s a huge issue in England at the moment that is really stuck in my craw at the moment.

PFI schemes. You won’t know what these are maybe, or how ludicrous they are but when I tell you, you’ll be dumbfounded that anyone could have agreed to them. Put it this way, you might as well have given all your money to Kerry Katona and seen it go up her nose. At least it would have been more entertaining and done less damage.

Here’s the thing. Set up in 1992 under John Major, they snowballed under Brown. Just to get that straight. Conservative idea. Labour misuse. Pigeons come home to roost under Con-Lib government. Nobody is absolved from blame over this.

When you know what PFI schemes are, that’s important, because each and every one of our politicians contributed to the problem, worsened the problem and then we, the people, will suffer.

Basically, the idea is this: in order to build new public buildings when the Treasury coffers are empty, you contract out the buildings. You offer the contracts to developers and building businesses. They build a new hospital or school with their own money, and then they lease it to the people who will be using it. In the case of hospitals, health care trusts. In the case of schools, local authorities on the whole. Thus, you get a shiny new hospital or school for nothing. Yeah, right.

The leases run a bit like mortgages, in principle. The hospitals and schools pay the developer interest and a lease fee and then after 25 years, they get the building. In theory, should things go wrong, it’s like renting: it’s not your problem to fix.

In reality, it’s possibly the world’s most stupid idea. It’s stupid because the lease-back fees are exhorbitant. The interest rates would make loan sharks blush. The pay-back terms aren’t just over 25 years, but sometimes over 60. Things were built that just didn’t need building. I know there’s no reason hospitals and schools shouldn’t have a wonderful atrium and modern art and lots of glass and look totally unlike schools or hospitals.

Lots of studies agree that the very appearance of schools and hospitals puts people off what they’re supposed to be doing there. But when you’re on a budget, you don’t deck your house out in Farrow and Ball, or buy a conservatory. You build a shed and paint with B&Q budget paint. Sure, it doesn’t look as good, but it does what it needs to. More importantly, it doesn’t saddle you with debt for needless changes.

Some people will point to the benefits of PFI schemes like how they have modernised or streamlined things. But at what cost? And couldn’t those benefits have come just from building the same buildings with public funding – always cheaper – than private funding? All we’ve done is lined the pockets of the developers. Sure, we have shiny hospitals and schools and so on, but at what cost?

The cost, of course, was initially soaked up by the people who were paying for the leases – the hospitals themselves. So what happens when you have a high mortgage or repayment rate? You cut other things. You stop having your daily can of coca-cola or you stop paying a man to cut your grass.

This – on a grander scale – is what happened in the PFI hospitals. They cut other things. And the majority of expense is always staff. In a school, about 80% of the budget is staff. I guess it’s a little different in hospitals because of the costs of machinery and so on. But staff are easy to cut. It’s easier to get rid of a nurse – or just fail to reappoint when they move on – and fill their shoes with an auxiliary. Services get stretched thin. Staff get stressed. Terms for repayment get renegotiated and you’re the loser again. You need to find more funds.

You’ve got two choices. You stop paying and default, with all the consequences, or you go cap in hand and ask for more money from the Treasury. Central and local government put you in this position, but they’re now slapping your hands as if you’ve been willingly messing about with your budget. They give you more. But unfortunately, they don’t have bottomless pockets, so that means somewhere else, a cut has to be made.

And guess what? All the hospitals who have been putting up with shit buildings, decrepit units, MRSA-discos-in-the-making, those hospitals and Trusts who’ve been frugal – the Government take from them to give to you. The government robbing the ants to give to the grasshoppers.

Imagine it this way. Your neighbour bought a shiny new car. He bought it on ridiculous finance. You told him other ways to borrow the money, and actually even advised him to save up until he had enough to pay for it, but he ignored you. He bought it on a credit card with 21.9% APR with a 10 year term. It was affordable. They’d pick up the costs if things broke. It seemed sensible, even though he’d be paying thousands of pounds more than it was worth, and thousands of pounds more than he’d have had to pay if he’d have bargained with another credit company, or even if he’d saved up.

Soon, he lost his job and had to downsize. You watched him struggle. Unfortunately, if he defaulted, he’d have legal proceedings to face. He went to the finance company to say ‘take it back’ but they can’t or won’t. They force him to keep paying. In fact, they pass him on to a ‘debt consolidation unit’ who allow him to pay 20% APR over 20 years. It feels less, but it’s much, much more.

But the economy turns for the worse again. Now he can’t afford those payments either. He’s already eating beans on toast every night and now he can’t buy new shoes for his children, so he goes cap in hand to the dole office.

The dole office do this. They see that you’ve got £5,000 saved up. You’ve been putting it aside because you worried something like this would happen. You were saving for your retirement, as you’d been advised to do. You only have debit cards and you never buy anything you can’t pay for outright. You’ve been driving an old banger because you were saving up to buy a new one, and you’ve been making-do and mending as long as you’ve been a grown-up. You do everything right.

The dole office take your £5,000 to pay off some of your neighbour’s new car.

This is in essence what has happened with the health care trusts and the schools. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

This would never be legal on a personal level. You couldn’t just raid your neighbour’s bank account if you were stupid enough to sign up for one of those 1279% APR loans. But this is what the government are doing. Plundering the pockets of the ants who have saved and stored and made-do in order to pay for the shiny atrium in the grasshopper’s house.

It’s so disgusting, I’m personally surprised Bono and Sir Bob aren’t involved in it and we haven’t got Midge Ure trying to get everyone together to raise money and awareness.

And this is what your leaders do whilst you try your best to follow their advice about debt.

“The price tag for repaying PFI firms will reach £8.6 billion next year alone, with the taxpayer owing a total of £121.4 billion on public projects which are worth only £52.9 billion.”

In a way, I don’t blame the organisations like Innisfree who profit from these schemes. I think that they should renegotiate. I think they are unconscionably greedy if they don’t. I think they should do the right and the honest thing. But you can’t blame them for having rock-solid contracts that allow them to double their profits. They’re a business. That’s what businesses do. At least businesses and banks are honest, if not always transparent, in their motivation. Their aim is to make money. Nothing more. Nothing less. They will do so in the ways that make the most, and that means cutting costs, cutting corners, being barely legal. Don’t ever expect more from a business. They are dependable and forthright in their aims. We know what they’re about.

No, it is the government that allowed this to happen. Businesses only exist where there is a need. And businesses should not be above the law and above governance. We’ve got this bizarre system where banks and businesses operate outside the law and are ungovernable. The only way it can work is if they are limited by all governments. For if we don’t limit them in England, they’ll go somewhere like Macau where they can.

But then, who’d want the governments to be in charge of stuff when they’re the idiots who signed us up to this in the first place??! Would we really want these idiots to be in charge of stuff when they can’t see Ponzi schemes for what they are and when they’re too stupid to realise that if you rob Peter to pay Paul, you’re never going to make ends meet. Sooner or later, you’re going to run out of people to rob.

Really, they need me to be in charge and to rip up contracts and say “‘that was a ridiculous, unconscionable deal and we’re not honouring it. You’ve been lucky to have what you’ve had. We’ll pay you 2% above inflation and that’s a good profit. Now fuck off.”

After all, who are they going to complain to?

Goodbye, Summer… it was nice whilst you lasted!

I know you won’t think so, but the year is over. I’m in hibernate mode. The freezer is full and the ground is mostly empty bar a few winter crops that will stay in the ground right up until the winter.

It feels like it’s been awfully rushed. You have a year to live in eight months. Sow, pick out, plant on, nurture, water, fruit, harvest, dig up, dig over. And it’s all done.

Peas first leaves
Last week of January and we have pea shoots

In January, I was madly planting out and hoping the frosts didn’t last too long. The poly tunnel was empty except a few peas and beans. More of them next year! And although the peas did okay in the polytunnel, both of them did better outside. Poly tunnel is just for seed trays next year! Plus, it will give it a year to get itself weed free. The convolvulus weeds in there are so thick it’s almost undiggable. Steve’s going to sterilise it once everything is out of there.

Mona Lisa potatoes being chitted
Chitting potatoes ready for planting - January

I’ve dug and dug and dug. Now I’ve got 5 plots plus the tunnel. When we arrived, we had only the one. I think that’s a lot more growing room! I still don’t think it will be enough though. I’d like more peas and more cabbages, more variety and more range. I’m not sure where I’ll put the next plot though! I’ve got a fenced-off vegetable garden where the chickens can’t get in so it’s fairly limited in terms of how much space there is.

Broad bean beginnings
February and the broad beans are emerging like aliens from John Hurt's belly

March was fairly warm and April got hot. By April, stuff was outside and things were beginning to come in as a harvest. Really, April is where it all started. April to September – the whole year happens in that time. All you’re doing either side of that time is clearing up or preparing.

So what have we had?

French breakfast radishes
French radishes at the end of April
Turnips
Turnips in April
Cherries and Elderflowers
Cherries and Elderflowers at the beginning of May
Cornichon flower
Gherkins
courgettes, beans and gherkins
Courgettes, gherkins and beans in June

 

charentais melon
Charentais melon
Pepper
Peppers in August
Pears in August
Pears in August
Roma Tomatoes
Tomatoes in August
Beetroot

What my mother never taught me…

The Guardian ran a story yesterday following on from an earlier version in The Telegraph about how we know 4 more dishes by heart than our mums did. Our mums knew 17 on average. We know 21. I guess they don’t count hot dogs and chips! To be honest, I can’t remember much of what we ate at night. Sorry mum. I remember Angel Delight and that’s about it. I’m sure I’m doing my mum a disservice. My dad always did the Sunday Roast and he still does the cooking. He cooks all the food in his house. I’d guess my dad relies more on traditional things he’s always done (he’s worked in kitchens from time to time and can do a good sauce when he needs to!) and things change little at my dad’s table. My mum’s the one who’s got much more ambitious and her Ottolenghi repertoire is something quite spectacular! I guess she eats very little of the kind of stuff she used to cook for us when we were growing up. I grew up in houses where the only packet stuff we ate was Angel Delight. We occasionally had frozen mousses which I remember distinctly, though I don’t know why. Sweet tooth, I guess. But there wasn’t a day when ingredients weren’t combined in some shape or form. I know that’s not the same for some households today.

I do wonder how the amount of prepackaged and precooked food will reflect in today’s generation. You could quite easily get through the week on frozen meals and ready-prepared stuff. France is still a good 20 years behind in terms of pre-prepared stuff. Luckily, the stuff they have got that’s pre-prepared looks disgusting. This means that French women aren’t tempted to go for package food and the things their children eat are likely to be home-cooked. Knowing recipes is quite a middle-class thing these days, I think, in England. If you look at the people who shop in Iceland, or those who stock up on cheap frozen meals, they’re precisely the people who the Government want to target with healthy eating campaigns, and those same people who don’t pay any attention to the ‘5 a day’ campaigns and the attempts to lower heart disease, cancers and strokes by better eating. In a way, it goes back to my swan-women post, because the women who work and who do everything are also charged with preparing food that’s nutritious and healthy, vitamin-packed and beneficial. When you know you are sentencing your child to an early death by giving them pies and burgers and salt and never giving them vegetables then the pressure is on to come up with a varied, balanced diet and to be virtuous enough to make it from scratch. I try my best to make sure Jake gets some although I’d have a very limited menu if I did it all the time. He likes peas, carrots and sweetcorn. He won’t try anything new. I suspect he’d very much like the grape sherbet I made yesterday, especially if I put blue food dye in it, because it tastes exactly like slushies, but I’d have to trick him to get him to try it.

Having said that, cooking is a real joy. I take from it what my Nana did. It’s something that brings families together. It’s how you nourish the people you love. It’s how you show your love. And it’s creation. I enjoy being able to create stuff and know it’s good.

So what are my know-by-hearts?

Quiche

Macaroni Cheese

Pizza by hand – my pizzas are beyond comparison, I swear.

Bread

Sponge cakes

Bean and sausage casserole

Spaghetti Bolagnaise

Chinese 5-spice chicken

Cottage Pie

Fish Pie

Anglesey eggs

Sweet and sour stir fry

Crumble mix

Risotto

Soup

Jam

Meat and potato pie

Potato Hash and suet crust

Chilli

Cheese Pie

Tuna Pasta bake

Home-made mayo

Ginger & 7-spice tofu

Sesame Noodles

Thai fish curry

Cauliflower cheese

Empanadas

Pasties

I think that about covers what I know best! Is it much different than what my mum and Nana make? Not really. Some of it is more spicy – and yes, I know how to make my own spice mixes. I hate buying things that are already prepared in bottles or packets. You can buy about 2 different jars of Uncle Ben’s curry sauce here. You can buy the odd packet of chinese stir-fry stuff, but you can’t buy as much as you can in England. This is at once a good thing and a bad thing. The French are loads less adventurous with their cooking. This means you need to get the ingredients yourself and make it from scratch. It’s limited but it makes you try harder. You can’t be reaching for frozen lasagne all the time. Lasagne. There’s another thing I can do without a recipe.

It does make me laugh when people say they can’t cook. It’s not like someone plugged something in the back of my head, like Neo in The Matrix and I suddenly said ‘I know cooking!’ I’m sure some people just think it happens by diffusion. To be honest, what my mum did stayed inside the kitchen. My Nana’s kitchen was always open – I can remember her making gravy from scratch and when I came to make my own, I just ‘knew’. A lot of what I’ve done has come by following recipes and reading books and trying it out. Some of what I know I’ve been taught by others. And some of what I do has come from finding things I’ve eaten myself and then trying to replicate it. That’s what I think the report will show in the next 30 years – that the world has polarised between those who can cook, who grew up in families where cooking (rather than just re-heating) took place and where a take-out was a rarity – and those who grew up with mums who re-heated stuff, who gave them chicken nuggets every night, gave them spaghetti hoops from a tin. And no, I’m not being overly virtuous. Sometimes, re-heating is a lifesaver for a faddy eater child and for a busy mum. There are times when a baked potato, a can of tuna mixed with a can of sweetcorn and some mayo is just the easiest solution to keeping the boy fed and there are times when a frozen pizza with some extra chorizo is just better than trying to think of some way to do meat and potatoes in some new and rare combination with a few veg in ways that don’t make the boy say ‘what is this?’ and refuse to eat it.

My best tactic with the boy is to say nothing and just serve it. It’s the thought that frightens him. Still, when the only fruit he likes are lemons, where are we going wrong??! A child that won’t eat fruit??! Heaven help us! Still, he knows how food is made, and he sometimes helps out in the kitchen. Sometimes, he likes to cook himself. He sees himself as mini Gordon Ramsay. In fact, when I was watching Outnumbered the other night and Ben was in charge of the cooking, he asked if he could swear. It reminded me of Jake. Some boys see cooking as just a natural experiment. Luckily, I supervise enough that we don’t get a grey purée including toblerone and meat in some kind of pre-teen tribute to Heston Blumenthal.

Seasons of mellow fruitfulness?

* we’ve not had any mist yet, and the fruitfulness SURE isn’t mellow. It’s kind of a last-minute explosion of ‘Get me in! Get me in! The Frosts are coming!’

Lucky for me, we have some things that like frost. I’m thinking of my parsnips, which I cannot wait to taste!

When you have 160 vines and the grapes they produce, and you don’t make wine because it tastes worse than acid, then you have a lot of storing to do. Every time a milk bottle comes up for service, I’m filling it with a litre of grape juice and sticking it in the freezer. The rest go for grape jelly (delicious… if I were to have a PB and black grape jelly buttie every day, I’d be happy for the rest of my life) and in my desperate attempts to do something else with them, I made a David Lebovitz grape sorbet. I love David Lebovitz. He has a life like mine, but better. He’s an ex-chef turned cookery writer. He lives in Paris and his blog is wonderful. The grape sorbet was very easy and very delicious. I’m off out with my secateurs in a minute to make more. I wonder how much I will need to make?

Grape Sherbet, David Lebovitz style
Have you ever seen anything so purple?

I like to think of ‘well, I’d like to have some if such-and-such came to stay’ – or ‘won’t it be nice, next summer, before the grapes are in, to have grape sorbet?’ but I also have to think in terms of my Cuisinart ice-cream maker, which can only make one, maybe two batches a day. And I need to think of my freezer.

Black Grape and White Grape Sorbet
Cabernet sauvignon grape sorbet and colombard grape sorbet

I like thinking of my freezer. It is nearly full. A 400l freezer at full capacity. That’s immense. It’s full of home-grown stuff, too. There are a couple of packets of frozen peas and carrots (I just cannot get those right in the garden. Here’s to next year!) because I’m going to de-frost my little fridge freezer today in preparation for MORE. But 400 cubic litres of tomatoes, cherries, courgettes, ratatouille, peaches, plums, apples, pears, quinces, beans, broad beans, baby borlotti beans, grape juice, grape sorbet, walnuts … it’s like a freezer full of summer! I also got the address yesterday of a man who will press your walnuts for you (I know that sounds painful, gentlemen!) and turn them into oil. Wonderful.

Ripe Quinces
Quinces ready for peeling, cubing and poaching in Galliano (not John)

It’s also kind of the end of the harvest year and I’m waiting for a cold evening to plan out next year’s harvest. It’s kind of like a reflection on fruitfulness past. There are a whole load things more that I’d like to grow. I just fear for my back and my capacity to collect them all in! It’s kind of the French thing to have a ‘vendange’ where you harvest grapes, bring all your friends and family around to collect in all your grapes and give them a mighty lunch in reward. Maybe I should do this!

On swans

A swan, as you will know, floats around gracefully looking wonderful. So wonderful in fact, there are various ballets about them. Nobody did a ballet called ‘Duck Pond’ or ‘Goose field’. Elegance, effortlessness, beauty, grace.

You only have to look beneath the surface though and you see they are flapping like mental under there. Not very graceful at all. All that work just to give them the appearance of grace. All that effort just to hold them up and keep them in the same spot, or floating along looking serene.

Many women I know are like this. If you aren’t like this, you are either spoiled or a princess or Paris Hilton. In fact, I’m sure Paris Hilton has her flappy feet moments, not to malign her. Even Posh Spice, mortal enemy #1 – you just know she has flappy feet underneath that. Big flappy feet. That gives me some comfort. If you are a woman and you DON’T sympathise with this post, I despise you. You are obviously a spoiled princess. Get off my blog.

Take me. Steve, this morning, sees me happily ensconced in my messy corner with my laptop and a coffee. I’ve brushed my teeth and my hair (a rarity for both to occur!) and I look serene, like I had a good night’s sleep and I’m just checking up on the Telegraph. I’m in relatively clean clothes, and Tilly, all clean and scrubbed, is sitting next to me. I don’t look very Carrie Bradshaw, but I look more Carrie Bradshaw today than Grandma Clampett. By 8:15, I had managed to get into ‘swan’ position.

At 7:30, it was a very different story. In fact, I need to take you back to 03:10 yesterday morning. I have been mainly flapping with occasional swan moments since then. Well, if I were going right back to the beginning, it’d start with the day I first started work, but that would be a very long blog. This just repeats the latest flapping and swan incident.

03:10 yesterday morning… Cesar, the dog from up the road who comes down here because a) he can and b) it’s nicer here had arrived the night before. His owner (who apparently was ‘born early’ – whatever that means in French parlance – I suspect ‘dropped on head at birth’) had turned up the night before and told me not to take Cesar back to his parents’ house, as they were away, but to look after him if he turned up. This is what you get for going on and on about how he might cause an accident on the road and there might be insurance claims. This was how I got through to him. When I said ‘your dog might be killed,’ he said ‘I can always get another one’ so animal welfare = not his strong point. So, Cesar had turned up. Normally, I walk him home because he frightens the cat but tonight, Steve got a dog bed and blanket and put it in the porch. Cesar is not allowed in the house as he pisses everywhere. Each morning, as he wends his way down here, he stops off at M Richon’s house and if the gate is open, he goes in and pisses in their house.

Anyway, at 03:10, Fox (our ginger cat) had decided to come back. Cesar barked like mental. Tilly barked like mental. I decided I could get no peace so I got out of bed, put Cesar on the lead and walked him back to his home. He ran off when we got there and ambled in the corn field. He was enjoying himself, so I left it at that. Luckily, the moon was out or else I’d have been in the pitch black.

At 3:20, I got back and Tilly had pissed on the dining room floor, which I only re-waxed a couple of weeks ago. I got out the specialist floor cleaner, cleaned and then left it to dry. Naughty Tilly.

By 3:40, I went out to call Fox and check if he was alright. No sign nor sound of my little gingery angel.

By 3:50, I got back into bed. I read a book for a bit, hoping I’d go back to sleep. I didn’t.

By 4:30 I gave in and got up. I decided it was a good time to mop the kitchen floor. No men or beasts getting underfoot. I swept and mopped times 1. Then I swept the front room whilst that was drying. Then I planned a lesson. I mopped the kitchen floor again because I don’t like it being mopped with dirty water.

That’s pretty much how the day unfolded. Washing up. Hanging washing out. Mopping floors. Cleaning windows.

I have a theory. It relates to The Elves and The Shoemaker. You know, that fairy tale about a shoemaker who goes downstairs in the morning to see that ‘elves’ have miraculously made a load of shoes and cleaned up after themselves. My theory is this: the shoemaker – man. The story-writer – man. They both missed the main point. There were no elves. Elves do not exist. Women, however, exist. The story really should have been called ‘The Women and The Shoemaker’ since it was quite obviously women’s work afoot.

Consider the evidence: the shoemaker goes downstairs and by some miracle the shoes are finished with beautiful, tiny stitches. There isn’t a woman still reading this that hasn’t got up before the menfolk and done something, and we’re well-known for our neat and tidy craftsmanship. Like in this house, the menfolk come out of their pits and don’t even think how it even got so clean and tidy. It just is. And if they had to think about it, they’d probably be thinking of elves too.

Remember, the woman had been given a heads up by the shoemaker, and probably decided to play a trick on him. He told her he was going to wait up. I bet any money she paid some dwarfs to sit and work in there just to maintain her mystique (and to have a bit of a laugh at her husband’s expense, since it hadn’t even crossed his tiny mind that his wife might be the one making the shoes) And it’s the wife who makes them the clothes in reward for their efforts. If indeed that took place. She’s grateful on her useless husband’s behalf.

So, here’s to all the swan women who do all the housework, all the cleaning, the gardening and work too, and bring up the kids. Now we’re being told off by reports telling us we shouldn’t have tried to have it all, but I don’t remember signing up to say I’d be the one doing everything.

I’d like to put a quote in here from a harried friend who stropped and shouted at her husband. She had loads of housework to do. In her words, the house was a pit. He said ‘it looks okay to me’. And therein lies the problem.

I watched the latest Outnumbered last night and it reminded me that in all comedies, women are the ones who hold it together these days. Mrs Simpson and her four children. Mrs Griffin and her four children. Lois and her many children in Malcolm in the Middle. The Brockmans in Outnumbered are just the latest in a line where harried women try and hold the family together. Outnumbered was more gentle in it’s approach to ‘men as hapless children’ but they still broke a washing machine, ate grey ‘puree’ for tea and you were left in no doubt that the mum is not only the heroine but the glue to this whole family. I don’t know. Maybe it’s our fault as women for doing everything. Maybe if we did less, men would do more. I doubt it. I know that if I don’t do a thing, it won’t get done. In reality, I suggest we do it because we love men so much. We indulge them. Like Peter Pan, when Wendy sews his shadow back on, and he says ‘Oh, the Cleverness of Me!’ – Wendy just says, ‘Of course, I had nothing to do with it…’ because like Wendy we indulge men and their funny little ways.

Now let me stop with my whining. I have lessons to teach, grapes to squash, apples to core and quinces to jellify. I will leave you with these two quotes.

 “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

Charlotte Whittam

And the next reputedly from Ginger Rogers when asked about dancing with Fred Astaire.

I did everything he did... just backwards and in high heels

Here’s to being swans. Here’s to fabulous women. I never have been so proud to be a girl. And men, if you’re still with me… buy your ladies some flowers, make them a coffee and clean up the milk spill. Whether they’re wives, sisters, mothers, friends or lovers they do a damn fine job of looking after you.

Welcome to Autumn

Autumn has been long in the coming. The first leaves started falling in mid-July. You don’t notice how early Autumn starts when you live in the city. It’s definitely the season of harvesting.

French people are all ready for Autumn. I saw my first scarf-wearer in the supermarket in the tail-end of August when it was still 27 ° out there. Their logs are all collected and chopped, and I smelled my first wood fire in the air the other evening. Hopefully, they were just testing. Our fire hasn’t been lit since March and I don’t want to light it until September is out. We’ll see, though.

The preparations are underfoot to get all the grapes in (I’m making juice concentrate to freeze this year… a lot of effort went into the wine harvest last year, and to be honest, whilst the wine was potent, it tasted like anti-freeze) and to prepare the garden for Winter. You might laugh. It’s only just September and it was 25 ° yesterday. Steve chainsawed the big beech hedge. I pruned the little bits. The hedges in the garden are now done, the soil has been dug over once – though I’ll do it again and then rotavate it before Winter really gets here. Pots are being emptied, the compost heap is at full capacity and I’m thinking about bonfires. Any wood we prune goes to kindling.

I battled yesterday with the bittersweet nightshade that seems to have sprung up from nowhere in a patch I cleared in April. It’s not quite as toxic as deadly nightshade but it can still give you a good dose of poisoning and is toxic to many animals. If Steve goes missing, you know how I killed him. What amazed me was that the chickens – ever interested in whatever is being dug up – were pecking around, missing the berries and finding the insects. Even they know. I worried about them getting paralysed or hallucinating (not sure how one would know that a chicken was hallucinating though!) but they seem fine and are all present and correct this morning. The Cicely M. Barker Flower Fairies illustration for deadly nightshade was always one of my favourites – he was a Middle Eastern boy with a purple and gold turban – and I think it’s always been instantly recognisable to me because of that drawing.

After I’d reduced the size of the patch quite considerably, I decided it was about time I cycled somewhere. I’ve been so busy it has escaped me. It was early evening by the time I set off and I did a 20km circuit in the most pleasant of circumstances (except the for the bit where I cycled into a cloud of insect and I accidentally ingested some). It was warm and the cornfields smelled like breakfast cereal. The best time for everything smelling like breakfast is in May, when all the wheat and corn are ripe. It’s amazing. It smells like warm cereal – none of the yeasty smell of bread – but it’s gorgeous. There are a couple of innocuous, tiny peach trees about a kilometre from here which I could smell from a good 100 metres away. In fact, I could smell the peaches before I even knew the trees were there. In many other places, the smell of fermenting fruit left to rot is boozy and thick in the air. Pears are the strongest. Then in other places, there’s a grapey, clean smell – hard to explain, but I know precisely which type of grape it is. We have some that smell like that too. And late cow parsley adds to the scented melange.

I cycled past hedgerows almost devoid of blackberries, and some still with fat, huge blackberries waiting for someone to come along and harvest them. The sweet chestnuts are starting to fall, and their lime-green armour litters the floor. Walnuts are everywhere.

As I cycled back, the sun had sunk on the horizon and the sky was all shades – dark blue, indigo, lavender, lilac, soft pink, muted oranges. The moon was up already, ghostly and ephemeral, but it was still warm and the last downhill stretch coming home was delicious.

I guess that’s what I’m living for these days. How I love Autumn.

 

No TV? You know what it means when there’s no TV? No MTV!

To be fair, we have a television and we often watch downloads, but not having a television does free you from certain routines. For instance, we usually watch a whole series on one go now, missing out all the adverts and breaks and waiting. And it doesn’t go on until at least 8:30 pm and it’s off before 11:00. How virtuous we are!

Well… how virtuous I am. Steve has all manner of ex-pat IP shields that mean he can watch BBC iplayer, ITV, Channel 4 etc. My computer is so slow it won’t keep up with anything beyond words and a few pictures. He makes up for not having television by watching Cops and other such illuminating stuff.

Anyway, this joyous liberation has led me to be able to be free with life and with the onset of winter and long evenings, I’m back to the knitting. Rural France has a lot of wool shops. I can only think of John Lewis from which to order wool in England. Rubbish. I’m down with the knitting. I wish I had a stitch & bitch group. Although I’m not down with the bitching. Unless it’s about politics. Maybe I should have a stitch and politics group. Don’t laugh. Knitting is the new black.

Long evenings and no TV and no channel hopping in search of something across 700 channels that is interesting mean that all kinds of productivity takes place in the evenings. It’s all good. Whether it’s writing, drawing, painting, knitting or cooking, it definitely leaves you with more time when you’re not attached to the remote.

I used to go into this strange MTV trance. I’d start on MTV and work my way through the music channels, vainly hoping for something interesting to come on. When I found something after 10 minutes of +, +, + and -, -, -, it was invariably half way through and at the end of the song, when something crap came on, I’d be forced to + + + – – – once more. I’d do this for a good hour or so, just in a complete trance, hopelessly believing I’d find something good to watch. Youtube has revolutionised this. Add a playlist, add your favourite video tracks and off you go.

Playlists and youtube and spotify and downloads mean I’ve got about 23 hours of spare time more a day.

However, this means I have been trawling t’interweb in search of patterns. I have lots of favourite sites. My favourite right now is Drops  and I’m starting on a ballet-style wrapover cardigan. I used to love ballet cardigans. I might also start some legwarmers now I have invested in a circular knitting needle. Oh how I’ve moved on!

I am addicted to knitting, and if you don’t see me for a while, you know why.

The bottom line on people

I decided last night at 1:27 in the morning that people generally fall into two categories: cat people and dog people.

I don’t mean people who like either dogs or cats, but that they are like cats or dogs. And before you laugh, I once wrote a list of ’20 people you’re likely to have at a conference’, comparing them to animals. For example, the hedgehog – someone who sees the light and curls up in a ball all prickly.

Cat people and dog people. I’m a dog person. Mostly. It’s possible that we swap, depending on our relationship with someone. I can think of a time I was a cat person, but it isn’t very often.

Cat people:

aloof, deliberately whimsical, like their own space, want to come in when THEY want to come in.

If you live with a cat person, you will find that they come to you when they want, rather than when you want. They like a bit of petting, but on their own terms. Mostly, that’s in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep. They like luxury but will gladly piss where they sleep if they don’t have to clean it up. They might be fighting machines but they still like to sleep in the warmest, most comfortable spot and luxuriate. Girl cats take very good care of themselves and like to preen. Boy cats like to strut. Cats are hyper-intelligent and a bit wild. They have the ability to completely manipulate dog people. For instance, if you find yourself getting up to get their breakfast at 6:00 a.m., you’re a dog and they’re a cat. If you put a plate of food aside for them, you’re a dog and they’re a cat. A cat might go a little crazy from time to time, but mostly they are uber-composed. They’re cruel sometimes and they can be mean, but they do such a good job of looking cute that you’d forgive them for eating that butterfly and tormenting a mouse. You can’t put a cat on a lead (or if you do, it just looks peculiar!) because they aren’t meant to be collared. They’re the dom. You’re the sub. Got that?

They like to be independent and would rather hang about alone. They might have a little friend or be forced to live with other people, but if they’re being cute, they’re doing it just to trick you. One of those cats will be more like a dog, I promise you. They’ll be a scaredy-cat.

Cat women are fierce about their children, even if their children are feral. Cat women can quite easily hang about with other cat women, as long as the order is respected, otherwise, claws are out. They are perfectly good at ganging up on innocent victims and terrorising them. They kind of hang about out of a loose sense of needing someone to hunt with from time to time, rather than out of loyalty.

Cat men are used to being loners. They might find a cat pack who’ll let them rule for a bit, but they know their rule is only as long as they’re allowed to hang around. A show of weakness and that’s it. They’re forced to prowl alone.

Dogs are the opposite of this. Dogs like to be in a pack. Dogs are loyal and friendly in a kind of senseless manner. It’s easy to trick a dog. You can pretend to throw a ball and a dog will run after it. When they come back, they look at you as if to say: “Hey?! What happened?” You can be mean to a dog and only when it’s very, very threatened will it attack you. Dogs like to be with other dogs and they like company. Dogs eat a lot and they don’t care what they eat or when. Dogs are also a bit needy. They need someone to look after them and clean them up. Dogs are helpful. Cats wouldn’t herd sheep, now would they? Cats are too busy plotting the downfall of mankind to herd sheep.

A dog will always be happy to see you. A cat will pretend you’re not there. And when they are forced to acknowledge your presence, a cat will say: “Oh… it’s you… have you been somewhere?”

If you leave a cat, it will rub its paws together and say: “Oh, goodie. All night singing with my friends… I can go prowling again! I can eat mice and leave bird wings on the doorstep.” A dog will say: “Don’t go. Why are you going? Where are you going? When are you coming back? How long will you be?”

Dogs can be terribly clever but also very stupid. You come across stupid cats, like the one we rescued and now belongs to my sister, but he’s stupid with sharp claws and an innate ability to attack you whilst you sleep. A stupid cat is still a dangerous cat. A stupid dog is just funny.

Dogs get giddy if you give them a present. A free bone from the butcher’s is like a gourmet meal. A ball is as good as a Ferrari to a dog. If you get a cat a present, it probably won’t like it. It might toy with it a little. It’d rather play with a paper bag or a box. Dogs get giddy about walks, cats, postmen, strange noises, other dogs, getting up, going to the door, their tea. Cats get giddy about cat nip and that’s only because it’s a drug.

Dogs will lie on the floor or in a pile of dirt and not care. They like it a lot if you let them sit with you, but that’s not because it’s more comfortable, but because they are near you. A cat will sit where it likes and if you have to sit somewhere else, so be it. If you go off and do something, a dog will want to know what you’re doing and follow you. A cat won’t even care.

Dogs are so full of emotion and perplexity that the years have enabled them to develop eyebrows. Every dog has sad, expressive eyes and looks permanently baffled by life when they aren’t with you. A dog can guilt you into giving them space on the settee or letting them get into bed with you. A cat will bully you into it. Cats haven’t developed eyebrows because they are emotionless like Mr. Spock. Humanity fascinates them and interests them a bit. If they had eyebrows, they might be permanently raised, but that would imply some kind of reaction to the world around them, and they can’t have that. Cats have poker faces so you don’t know what they’re up to, and only if you’ve really studied them can you tell their feelings. A dog has a great big tail to give themselves away, and a pair of eyebrows. Dogs are that easy to read that nobody is in any doubt what a dog feels.

Dog people are fine to live with other dogs, as long as they’re clear what their role is. Dogs are fine to live with cats too. Dog people get on with everybody and like to be social. If dogs are neurotic, it’s usually because of the company they keep. Cats can be neurotic, but more often than not, if they have a personality disorder, it makes them psychotic. Think Hannibal Lector. Cat person. Expressionless. Well-groomed. Predator for sport kills. Dogs’ tails and eyebrows and growls and barking give them away. If a dog is going to attack you, you know it.

Mugabe-style bosses and on working hard

This time, 10 years ago, I was preparing to go through threshold. This is performance-related pay for teachers. It’s shite because I’ve never known anyone fail it, even if they later end up on competency procedures. Not sure how you can be incompetent yet performing well.

At the time, I was working for one of the nastiest bullies I’ve ever had the misfortune to work for, and her lacky. She was a misogynistic un-Christian mealy-mouthed bully, which is funny considering she was a former head of RE and a reported church-goer and a lesbian to boot.

I should have known during the interview that she was not cut out to be a head teacher (or to interact with ANY people in ANY way… or animals… in fact, some kind of relationship-less lab was probably waiting for her) when during the interview she looked at her watch. Repeatedly. And very obviously. Manners?!

I got no welcome. I started in at the deep end and was given more and more responsibility. I worked SO hard. Everybody in the department did. It was a lovely department on the whole, with some of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

I should also have known that this wasn’t a cohesive school when I saw that nobody went in the staffroom. It was deserted. People were afraid of going in because the head would notoriously come in and tell you off for laziness. Even if it was your dinner break. This from the woman who took five days of ‘home’ leave either side of school holidays so she could jet off early on her travels.

I learned a lot from her about how bullies operate and how to deal with them. Unfortunately, what I learned is that you can’t beat them unless you have a good employment lawyer.

Now I am a hard worker. I was at that school from 7:45 til gone 6:00 most days. I worked and worked and worked. I got good results. I shifted KS3 results with the aid of this amazing team of teachers and we doubled the amount of kids getting better than average results. 60 more children went from being ‘average’ at 13 to being ‘good’. GCSE results went up. We invigorated a department that had been doing the same stuff for 15 years. It’s my one regret that the time I had with Andy was very little because I worked so hard here.

But a small incident occurred with the threshold application. I still have the note attached to it. In fact, I still have the comment etched in my head.

The first thing was that she had pinned a deadline for something or other up in the staffroom. I read it and made note of the date. Then she asked me for the thing we were supposed to hand in. It was a week before it was due in. I told her I hadn’t done it and that the deadline wasn’t until seven days hence.

“No it isn’t.” she snapped. “It was three days ago.”

I marched to the staffroom and took down her HANDWRITTEN sheet with the deadline on it. Before I could go and challenge her about it (since I had actual teaching to do!) I got a missive. I used to love her missives. They were always written on paper with a cat border, as if she were an animal lover. In fact, the cat loving was more of a sign of being in league with Satan and having his familiars hang about. The missive said: “I am very annoyed that you missed the deadline. I would have thought you would have considered it more important, especially when your threshold application is pending.”

Two things. In the 13-page document, no mention of deadlines or timekeeping is made. Thus, it’s not an assessed quality for performance-related pay. Second: I hadn’t missed the deadline.

I marched to her office.

“Glynne… what is this?” I had yet to learn better. “Are you really threatening my threshold application because you think I missed a deadline?”

She actually blushed. I think it was with anger, though.

“And I didn’t miss any deadline. HERE’S the memo.” I put it on her desk. “How did I miss a deadline that’s not happened yet?”

“I changed the deadline…”

“When? Am I supposed to guess that you’ve done that?”

“I did it in briefing.”

I dug out my detailed briefing notes. I’m not stupid enough to work for a tyrant and not keep detailed notes.

“What day?”

“Tuesday.”

The day before the supposed deadline??! I looked at my notes. I said:

“On Tuesday, you told us about this pupil’s health issues, a visit from an SEN inspector and a maths competition that we’d won. Besides, that was a day before you wanted the document.”

I handed the document over anyway. I’d done it a week early, because that’s how I roll.

“Here.”

You don’t catch me with my pants down.

This woman was pathologically unable to say either ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thanks’. Literally. She used to get her lacky to do it. I left it at that.  I walked back to class feeling smug and virtuous. I pinned the note to my wall in my office.

I passed threshold with flying colours. I was the only one she asked to evidence things. I was asked to evidence all 13 pages. I did. All it proved was she was a thuggish bully and I was very good at my job. Like I said, I worked hard.

Unfortunately, she had no way to get out of this. She knew I’d go above her if she failed me. Like I said, nobody fails. Especially not people who work hard.

So she wrote on the bottom of my application:

“Miss L is an excellent teacher. Unfortunately she needs to learn some humility.”

Oh, right!

You make me prove how good I am and then I need to be humble. I felt like asking for lessons. Besides, PRP needs to be evidence-based. If you’re going to set a target of ‘be more ‘umble’ then it needs to have assessment criteria.

How will I know when I’ve become more humble?

How does one become more humble?

Are there courses you can go on to learn humility?

What assessment scale was she using for judging my humility?

In her role as RE teacher, could she have taught me some humility?

p.s. I still haven’t learnt. That reflects on her ability to develop my personal skills. I still have had no humility training to this day, nor seen any assessment criteria for it.

The only thing I learned was that it was pointless to argue with her. When we were awarded lead department and that brought a small grant, she refused to give it to the department, even though we were cash-strapped. I complained about that.

One afternoon, she sent her lacky to pull me up on something. It got heated. It was four hours of being nagged by the lacky, including her asking if I felt ‘threatened’ by a newly qualified teacher. I was so outraged I told her I was going to be out of there at the next available opportunity. I applied for a job the next day and within a week, I’d been appointed. I went on to work for the best boss I ever had, Dot.

You might think I got off lightly. I didn’t. She constantly pestered me to pull someone up in my department – whether it was someone who’d had one day off sick (her first in two years) – or a guy whose cleanliness of shoe was a concern for her. She’d come and say:

“Can you talk to such-and-such about the fact he’s been wearing the same jumper for three days?”

“Yes, Glynne.”

And I never would. Unfortunately for her, her school was filled with retarded teachers who would wear the same jumper for three days and she needed to bully them as well. What we learned is that hiding is good, saying yes and never doing it was a quick way to get out of it and that you should expect her to send you two or three cat-bordered missives a week if you were in a management position.

She is nothing – NOTHING – on the boss of a friend of mine. We call him Mugabe. He is the one reason to me why academies fail. He is a power-hungry idiot who has risen up through the ranks on the back of Nu-Lab’s desire for change. Unfortunately, where a head teacher is also chair of governors and they don’t answer to a local authority, in academies where union laws do not apply, you are creating a nice little niche for tin-pot dictators to act with total impunity. I’d tell you what this one ordered and you’d be dumb-struck that a) he could even mention doing what he ordered and b) he’s still in a job.

The only joy – and it is the ONLY joy – is that most employers breach employment law every minute of their opening hours. From breach of contract to breach of care of duty, there are thousands of ways to hang them. My Uncle Paul picks off just one. He calls that the sniper approach. I have what he calls the blunderbuss approach. I would prefer it if he called it the ‘bludgeon them to death with the Employment Rights Act 1996 and 2008 approach’ but either way, whether you decide to get out of the kitchen or whether you decide to fight, there’s some moral virtue in knowing you’ve got rights.