Monthly Archives: November 2011

Wonderful Wednesdays

Sometimes, I just ♥ my work. And surely that’s what it’s all about? I wish I had a little bit more, but I know that’ll happen.

On Mondays, I taught an 11 year old boy who got so carried away by the English language that he didn’t want me to stop.

Now, I was afraid of this lesson. I know I LOVE the English Language, this curious inter-married Danish-German-Dutch base language with some fine Latin-via-French thrown in to the blend. I love knowing where words come from and what other languages share our words (or gave us the words) like ‘oven’ is ‘ovn’ in Danish, and we’ve got often two or more words that mean the same thing because we kept one kicking about like some old Steptoe of languages, so we’ve got ‘old’ AND ‘ancient’ which mean kind of the same thing, but never thought to throw one out because it was redundant.

But how do you share this with an 11 year old boy whose last project was on free running??

Apparently, some people love words as much as I do even if they are 11.

And then this morning, I have the most delightful 5 year old who I’m teaching to read. She’s brill. She gets so excited and it makes me so excited. We sing songs, we say nursery rhymes, we read great stories, we look at words.

Then this afternoon is my final (sob!) paper run for the Poitou-Charentes Journal – Michael and Rachel have had twins and twins and under-fives and editing and life mean something has to give – which is a shame because I’ve doubled my route and I’m so excited about that, it’s untrue. Still, Living Poitou-Charentes will continue and I’ll still get to keep my fabulous route – not all sad. Paid to go to the prettiest towns in the area, drop off papers, chat, have coffees, see lovely people. It’s a hard life!

And after that, it’s a return to the keyboard to write some poetry analysis. T’other blog – Madame Anglaise – is getting more hits by the day – way more than this one (yes, AQA poetry is more searched than me… and I’m already on page two of Google’s returns for the poems) and I have my fingers crossed that someone, somewhere will pay attention to my words and not write things that say ‘John Agard’s poem looks like a flag’ or ‘Simon Armitage’s poem looks like a sausage’ or any other such bizarre, unfounded idiocy. And if I can outsell those shite CGP texts, so much the better.

Actually, the AQA stuff on their teacher site has been written by a genius. I don’t know who it was, but it’s mint. Loving their work. Now if only Teachit (Teach-Shit as I rebranded it, as I refused to let any of my staff download a single page of their dross) would die a death, I’ll be a bit happier. But good teaching, lovely kids, happy clients, variety, doing the work I love… joy.

Back in the world I came from, teachers are striking and I feel little sympathy. When will we understand that we have to tighten our belts? We can’t grow if we keep spending. Where is this money coming from to pay for salaries and pensions? I know, I know the banks are the biggest thieves, and if they were tackled then there’d be money, but crying for more money in the worst financial crisis most people have ever known… not exactly getting my sympathy. Teachers are saying that the job is hard. Sure, I get that. They are saying the pension needs to be good to attract good staff.

That’s where I disagree.

If you come into teaching because of the money, rather than because you cannot see another job for yourself, a job you know you’ll love, then you’ve got it all wrong. My first pay cheque was £720.00. By the time I left teaching, 15 years later, it was quadruple that. Mind you, I was in from 6:30 in the morning until at least 6:00 at night; I worked hours and hours at home and I was a national treasure. I wrote, I marked: my whole life was about teaching. And the pay packet was neither here nor there. It took me five years to earn over £1000 in take-home pay. And these were the Nineties: inflation wasn’t THAT bad over 15 years!!

But… I’d have taught for free. I pretty much do now. By the time I’ve spent an hour or more planning each lesson, then getting 15€ for it, I earn less than the hourly minimum in Europe. I’d teach for free if someone paid my bills.

That’s what teaching should be. It’s a vocation.

And if people go into it for the money, well, why on earth would they even try to teach well?

I am not American but…

… it doesn’t mean I can’t give thanks. And no, I haven’t killed a turkey.

Dear Spirit of random Chance, fate, destiny, Serendipity, Cosmos… whatever you are, if you are at all…

Thanks for everything.




No… you know I wouldn’t do that to you!

  1. Thanks for my Mum. Yesterday, I saw a single magpie in the field and I saluted it so it wouldn’t bring me sorrow. And then I thought: “I don’t need to salute that magpie. I have a mum.” And mums are the best at stopping bad things happening to anyone.
  2. Thanks for my sister, because she’s the best friend I could ever ask for. May you bless her for always having a fridge full of toffee crisps and diet coke. I ❤ my sister.
  3. Thanks for my friends, because they are marvelous. I don’t know how I’d have got through these last months without a certain Deb and a certain Joanne xx
  4. Thanks for the Tilly-Poplet, because she is a funny little dog, and I’d like to say on her behalf, thanks for finding her a home where she’s learned how to be petted and is now a petting whore who rolls on her back for tummy rubs at least twenty times a day
  5. Thanks for always having my back and just when I think I’m falling, you’re, like, right there. Oh, I know, that’s my family I’m talking about, but thanks for giving me a good’un. Lots of people have shite families where their grannies put pictures up on facebook of the grannie out on the piss in nearly nothing, or mums who sleep with their boyfriends, or mums who swear at them or tear chunks off them. I know I could make a decision to go to Antarctica to marry a walrus and they’d have my back. I think they’d tell me it was stupid, but they’d support me as much in doing it as they would in winning a Nobel Peace Prize. And if it worked, they’d be just as pleased, and if it didn’t, they’d never do the ‘I told you so’ dance.
  6. Thanks for looking after Mr Fox when he was poorly and please could you send him back this way? He’s not been in this morning and Tilly is sad without her little cinnamon-coloured friend.
  7. Thanks for giving me a good brain so I can fend off roofers by saying that my husband wouldn’t approve of me making a decision and it’d be best not to bother him with stuff, because he can get so cross. I don’t have a husband, and I’d hit a mean one with a spade if I did, but it’s a great line to get out of cold calls.
  8. Thanks for the land and seeds and stuff. I’ve got a freezer-full of tomatoes and courgettes, cherries, apples, quince, plums… good stuff there.
  9. Thanks for my scientifically-scary hot water bottle that is always hot until morning, and thanks for my fleece.
  10. Thanks for making me uber-strong in mind. I know sometimes I fall apart, but I am now very good at stitching myself together again.
  11. Thanks for good coffee.
  12. Thanks for sunlight on winter days
  13. Thanks for warm fires and if you could see your way clear to getting the wood-man to call back, that’d be great. I’m tired of waiting.
  14. Thanks to the almighty powers of the internet that allow me to work all over the world with all kinds of interesting people, and thanks for some amazing blogs. I’m so full of ideas, I could pop.
  15. Generally, though, thanks for most stuff. Some stuff is as crap as as hemorrhagic necrosis  from time to time, and thanks for giving me the moral high ground to rise above it. There’s a lot of high ground to take and it makes me very, very far away from dimwits and nincompoops.

Best wishes and all that,


What I’ve mostly been doing…

Sometimes, I’m right pleased with myself. This is not good for my target of being more humble, which a former boss once set for me. However, I don’t care.

I’ve been working on some e-books, working on the premise that schools with more money than sense buy their students kindles or e-readers, and also working on the premise that there is some REALLY, REALLY bad teaching out there. Unfortunately, marking GCSEs you get to see what are patterns of what’s been taught and the next script that tells me the poet made their poem look like a flag or waves or someone going under a limbo stick is likely to send me into permanent apoplexy.

Not only that, the poems in the new anthology are, by and large, magnificent. But they’re not easy for lazy teachers who can’t be bothered to find out about any other John Agard poetry, or any other E. E. Cummings poetry, or teachers who just don’t get it. Not that I mean to damn English teachers, but someone, somewhere is teaching kids that poems look like the Huddersfield poet flipping the bird. Because Yarksher people do the one-fingered salute?!

The problem is that the markscheme needs kids to write about form. For teachers, this means the shape, rather than the structure – and if they’re not an English specialist, or if they’re a language rather than literature specialist, or if they barely scraped a third from some college-made-university at the bottom of the uni league tables, or if they’re lazy, or if they’re a PE teacher covering for a maternity leave, or a Geography supply teacher, then they might think form means shape.

You might think I’m jesting. I’m not. I’ve already read the Hodder GCSE guide in which they say a poem looks like a flag. It’s endemic and it gives me seasonal apoplexy.

Anyway, as part of my bid to end this stupidity, I’ve written a poetry analysis.

That’s the easy bit. Writing about poems, contrary to my A level English teacher’s belief in my lack of ability, is easy for me.

Making a front cover – not so easy.

Although, I do have four years of post-A level photography under my belt, so I know what looks good, even if I can’t quite work the technology properly and I’m too lazy to make sure it’s perfect.

So… here, without further ado, dah-Dah-DAH…

… drum roll please…

… is the front cover of my new AQA GCSE poetry guide. It’s the second in a series of eight I plan on doing. The first is up and running on Amazon and has sold more than a pound’s worth of royalties, so that’s all good. When it reaches a million pounds worth of royalties, I’ll buy all my readers a drink.

And, if you’re not a worried 16 year old, even if you aren’t really a poetry lover, read some of these: they’re brilliant. Very thought-provoking.

Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers

I ♥ this poem. It’s just wonderful.

In fact, I ♥ Owen Sheers. He’s a very handsome Welsh boy and writes poetry. He’s like a young Seamus Heaney. Love.

The Right Word by Imtiaz Dharker

This should be given to everyone who watches or reads the news. It’s wonderful. If everyone thought like this…

The Yellow Palm by Robert Minhinnick

and my final choice:

Belfast Confetti by Ciaran Carson – how punctuation and space and line breaks and rhythm can recreate a moment and convey a bombing in Belfast… wonderful. I love it more each time I read it.

It’s a shame some poems are for ‘scholars’ and used to torture GCSE students by teaching them nonsense.

Another keepsake from the past…

My blog last week about the ten things I can’t live without reminded me of those little clippings from Just Seventeen and this one also resurfaced:

I’ve always thought I’m a successful presenter (well, feedback forms told me so, unless all those people I’ve trained were just afraid I’d hunt them down and kill them) because I’m natural. I don’t care what you think of me, much. I try hard, I’m sincere, I believe what I say. I did part of my Masters on ‘authenticity’ – whether our inner self is in step with our outer self – it’s a cause of many problems in life and in work. Ironically, when I left teaching, I was most in danger of not being authentic,  because I was disguising this huge depression. My boss said: “You? Depressed?!”

He honestly couldn’t believe it. I guess if you wear orange suits and appear cheerful, people don’t think you’re sad. However, like Shirley Bassey, I bang my own drum and some think it’s noise and some think it’s pretty. I guess I’m not too bad at number one.

Jake is probably best to attest to me embarrassing him. He ‘forgot’ to bring all his stuff for homework, so I took him to school, told his teacher and went to pick him up on my bike, wearing my fluffy pink hat. A boy is never, ever going to ‘forget’ to bring his homework home. Apparently, Jake is a cancer, and that is ‘gay’ because he doesn’t have cancer. Ironically, he’s just looking in his homework diary now. Nobody, but nobody wants me turning up at school in a pink hat to help retrieve homework.

He said “If you think I’m doing this every night, you can think again!”

He was right. I didn’t need to do it again. Embarrassment is a great weapon. I’m reminded of that man who sees his children off on the school bus every morning, wearing fancy dress. I’d be that parent. This is why I don’t have children and it’s probably not a good idea for me to start making plans for any.

Getting on with it. Yes. Okay. I moan sometimes, but if something needs doing, it gets done. I built my reputation on it.

Philosophy – maybe my Bible lecture yesterday is testament to that. I quite often think my depression is existential angst, and I confess to having a love of all things thoughtful. I still haven’t found any answers, though, which is annoying. God doesn’t talk back much. Actually, I’m glad about it because if He did, I’d die of shock. Or I’d be a Saint and people would come to my house on pilgrimage.

Grinning. I’m not sure. Maybe I grin. Apparently, I smile like Cherie Blair. This is better than Steve calling me Rose West as he has been recently. I don’t mind. If you’re good at embarrassing people, you have to be able to take it. I’m a fairly smiley person because if I don’t smile, I look like Rose West.

I don’t know about survival courses. I used to be a triathlete and I’ve done marathons, but my feet are K-N-A-C-K-E-R-E-D. But I subscribe to all manner of survivalist/homesteading blogs and I know what a BOB is and have plans for when the economy completely collapses. Be prepared. I bet you didn’t know that about me!

Spending money. Yes, I’ve spent it like it’s going out of fashion. However, I’ve got a good sense of how much I’ve got and I can live poor too. I was only saying to Steve today about this place I lived in, in Sheffield, where I had to put my mattress over a huge hole in the floorboards a) so I didn’t fall through the floor and b) the outside air didn’t come in. I lived in a squalid room once above a pub next door to a Goth who liked to listen to the Sisters of Mercy at full blast. I lived in a freezing cold building with sixteen other people right in the middle of Sheffield’s red light district. And when I came back west, I lived with other people. That’s what you do when you’re poor. I was saying this in context of the rising ‘dole’ problem I see in England, with a million 16-24s in unemployment. I’d never have thought to claim the dole or get benefits. And if you need to share a house, you share a house. If you need to live at home, you live at home. That’s how it worked. You didn’t move out into a two-bed house with carpets and ovens and no holes in the floorboards and expect the state to pay. Meh. That’s the problem with money these days. I worked in the days before minimum wage and I did lots of bits of jobs to make some money – collected milk money, worked in a greengrocers. When other people were going with their parents for work experience, I was out there getting work experience in the local hotel, knowing they might give me a job after. They did. I worked in restaurants and I worked in pubs. Even when I was teaching, I was tutoring (I did so for the first five years of teaching – just to make a little extra. It’s amazing how much further £100 will go) and I was working in pubs. I’d still have been working in The Bridge if it hadn’t gone and blown up! And I’d never, ever have thought of taking money from the Government, because that should be for people who need it. Kids don’t think like that these days. If they have to work for minimum wage, and heaven forbid that only brings them in £20 more than dole and housing benefit, then they don’t see that they should work. I worked for much less than I’d get on the dole, and did lots of work to make sure I had enough, even if I only spent £8 on my shopping each week. I ate well too.

Languages. I guess. I pick them up easily. Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, French, Italian… bits of Dutch and German. I like languages. I like words. I’d prefer a book to a film and I’d prefer to write over all other art forms. So this isn’t too far off the mark on that.

Ah… and the one that should be at number 1. Telling right from wrong. God I’m a moralist. I’ve often said I should be in charge of the world and make people’s decisions for them. Usually, I say this if I have the misfortune to watch Jeremy Kyle. I’m not always so good at doing the right thing, but I do try. You can see that with the money thing. And the honesty thing. I’ve often wanted (and said it too!) one of those signs they have at football that say ‘OFF’ – and I could have one of these and flash it at people when they were doing something deeply offensive to me, to the planet or to other human beings. I think I get this from my Uncle Paul. He wants all lorries fitted with a 6 foot spike in the seat which can be activated when certain drivers (i.e. him) set off a remote. He’d press it if they were driving badly.

Yes, I definitely get it from my Uncle Paul. He’s a trade union guy and whilst he fights the corner sometimes for people who are complete idiots, he’s a man after my own heart, because mostly it’s the little guy against the big corporation.

And travelling on my own – yes. In fact, whilst I like the company, I like travelling on my own too. Those days in Morocco or Brazil when I was completely at my own devices – I take the world at my pace (uber-fast, see everything, stop and marvel at the things that most need it, get lost a bit and enjoy it, take lots of pictures, read, have coffee) and I meet lots of great people. The taxi guy in Morocco was horrified when I turned up without a hotel in mind or reserved. “Take me somewhere you think I’ll like,” I said. “I want somewhere not too expensive, somewhere interesting. Not just your standard hotels.”

He took me to a fabulous hotel – my room was stunning.

My room in Casablanca

It was absolutely huge with the most mahoosive bed I’ve ever slept in and it was half the price of the usual hotels because it was new. The next day, he arranged for his friend Khalid to pick me up and take me around Casa – £10 for a day tour in an ancient Merc with amazing sagging seats. Every day, Khalid came to have a coffee with me and the bar manager came and ate breakfast with me. Many men in Morocco are VERY concerned about girls travelling on their own. On the other hand, if I hadn’t been on my own, I wouldn’t have got this picture:

Amazing image and an amazing afternoon

It was the kind of afternoon that doesn’t really happen when you travel with other people – you kind of huddle up in a group and don’t get to know the people where you are. These guys in this drum shop in Essaouira were such great guys. We drank tea, we talked in a garbled French-English-Spanish and back again whenever one felt better than the others. If I’d been with someone else, they probably wouldn’t have really talked to me. The kindness of strangers is never so powerful as when you are on your own – people are much more interested in you when you are on your own. I don’t know why. Maybe you seem intrepid. Maybe you seem lonely. Maybe it’s that great joy of being able to talk to someone you know you won’t see again, a bit like a free therapist.

Plus, when you are on your own, you can go places you want to and stay as long as you like. You can’t do that when you’re conscious of other people’s boredom. I climbed up this pigeon-poop-infested church tower when the guy only let me because it was just me. And I got the most amazing shots of Casablanca.

The Cathedral in Casa

So that last one is a bit of a thing of mine, despite how much it makes my Nana worry!

Thus spake LJ

In France, unless you send your child to a religious school, they do not do religious education as we might know it in England. I like this secular vision, but I’m not entirely on board with it for reasons I’ll explain. And recently, someone English was quite cross about the lack of religious instruction in French schools. She wanted the Bible teaching in RE classes. If anything, my response was that it should be taught in Literature classes.

I’ve become more strong in my opinion ever since a very good, very talented friend of mine was overlooked for a deputy-head-ship because he went to the wrong Catholic church. Either that, or the Governing Body were absolute dicks. Or both. They gave the job to the head of the history department – the least effective department, the second-least studied option in school, the department with the worst results. He’d managed three other people and because he went to the right church, he was made deputy over someone who’d already done a brilliant job in the same position in another school.

At this point, I was kind of okay with it. I just accepted that’s church-based nepotism for you. But then I got to questioning the guy. Did he believe in the literal version of creation? Yes, he did. How can you be a history teacher AND believe in creationism?!

Then came the crunch issues. Sex education was no longer mandatory. We were to teach abstinence not safe sex. Teen pregnancy rates went through the roof. It’s easier to go on the pill or wear a condom than it is to be a horny teenager and say no.

Then the Science department were instructed to teach Creationism. The head of science resigned. The union were involved. The Science dept had to agree to teach it alongside evolution and stress that evolution was a theory. 

I left not long after for unrelated issues, but it was already beginning to grate on my nerves.

Firstly, let me say I did well in RE at school. I even did RS A level. I even thought about doing Theology at Birmingham University, except the job options seemed to kind of reach to ‘Vicar’ or ‘RE teacher’ or being Descartes.

I know my Bible. I know the history of it.

Let me extol some of its few virtues.

1. It has great stories in it, better than you see in the movies. Women get turned into salt pillars. Sodom – and let’s get this straight, was not a den of gaymen doing gay things. It was a den of iniquity. When Abraham and his brother turned up, the men of the village knocked on the inn door and said ‘come on out we want to get to know you (in the Biblical sense)’ Abraham’s response was ‘no, but we have some virgin daughters you can have’. How’s that for a story, being pimped out by your dad??!

2. It has crazy stories in it, like chariots of fire and men being swallowed by whales and the whole Jezebel story. They are great stories.

3. Getting past the humour, virtually every single earthly creation myth kind of goes the same, and myths or legends of colossal floods populate all creation stories the world over. Now that’s spooky.

4. If you want to read stuff, you have to know the Bible. You can’t even properly get The Simpsons if you don’t know your Bible. It’s kind of like those pictures in pop-up books. You lift up a drawer in Fungus the Bogeyman and there’s the Bible sitting right underneath. If you want to really get Shakespeare or Milton, Shelley, Steinbeck, you need your Bible to hand. A writer acquaintance of mine, Janni, says there are only seven stories ever told. She’s kind of right. But all of them are in the Bible.

And so it’s a great work that underpins much fiction. More sayings we use in everyday life come from the Bible than from Shakespeare. It’s part of our literary blood – more so than Beowulf or any other stories we’d kind of prefer to be our literary heritage.

And there’s the downside. It’s a piece of constructed text, woven together, edited badly and repurposed to meet the needs of the people who edited it.

Right from the beginning, there are several writers at work. And they disagree.

See it like this. Genesis. First book of the Bible. The beginning.

1. God makes the heavens and the earth, then he makes light and darkness, then day and night, then land and water, then vegetation on the land, then the sun and the seasons, then animals and stuff, then us. We’re last. He builds up to us. Plus, any idiot with half a brain knows that if he made us first, we’d be floating in an invisible universe willy-nilly. It’s a kind of sensible, logical account. And he makes man and woman at the same time. Good-o. No innate sexism there, then.

However, and here’s the rub:

2. Genesis 2, verse 4, some bastard retells it. In this version, it goes like this: God makes the earth and then goes ‘oh, no. There’s no-one to look after it’. Then he makes man from dust. Bit of an afterthought. And then he makes vegetables and a river. Only how does that work? We’d have died of thirst and starvation! And then, here’s the bit that kept we women in the kitchen for 4,000 years, he makes a woman to help the dust man. Except he doesn’t do that next. First, he makes animals for the man to name and mess around with. And then, afterthought of afterthought, he makes us women out of the man’s rib when the man is asleep. Ultimate insult.

So… two accounts (in fact, there’s a third woven in there) and two re-writes. Only, like a really bad editor, the second editor put their bit first and forgot to take out the one that was already there. In one, we’re the pinnacle of creation and man and woman are equal, created at the same time. In the other, the animals and women are just a redneck-dream in order to keep men from being lonely.

And that’s in a verse and a half.

This is essentially what happened.

The priests kept the bits of script and re-wrote stories and re-worked them, added bits. And they kept doing this right up until our day.

A bit of scripture every student of the Bible should know is how our Bible was agreed – Old Testament and New Testament.

It was decided at an ecumenical council in the 3rd Century. Christianity had already divided into loads of different groups, not unlike the Life of Brian. In fact, the Life of Brian has more in common with the truth than the Bible might. The various Popes (there were several) got together in Nicene and decided many things. They discussed and voted. And if you voted on the wrong side, that’s it, you were out. Bye bye. It wasn’t exactly democratic.

So what did they meet over?

1. Whether Mary was a virgin, whether she was just an unmarried woman, whether she was married to Joseph, whether she was a virgin for life (poor Joseph!) and if she was a virgin for life (they decided she must be) then who the hell are all these blokes referred to as Jesus’s brothers?

2. The importance of John the Baptist. Some say he was the real inspiration and the Nicene councils did a good job of obliterating his message.

3. Whether Jesus was equal to or lesser than God.

They actually sat down and decided these things! Some blokes had a discussion that went along these lines?

“Was Mary a virgin?”

“I think the Aramaic and Greek mean ‘unmarried mother?’ ”

“Get out!” and a dissenter was hurried out.

“Let’s start again? Was Mary a virgin?”

Yes. Universal agreement this time. Hoorah.

“Was she a virgin for life?”

Trick question.

“No. She can’t have been, because it says here in this here Bible of ours that Jesus had brothers.”

“Get out!”

“Let me ask it again. Was Mary a virgin for life?”

Of course.

“Right. Next question. Is Jesus equal to God?”

and so on. And basically, the bloke with the loudest voice forced got everyone else to agree with him. That’s what the Nicene Creed is. The minutes. What was decided.

So, they left gospels out, they included favourites. They picked out bits they liked and ‘forgot’ the rest as the ‘Apocrypha’. And that’s the basic story of the Bible. It’s part-instruction manual, part myth, part poetry, part drama, part story-of-whores-and-villains, part mushroom-induced mania, part burning bush, part history, part saga.

And this isn’t a secret. Anyone with eyes can read the first two verses of Genesis and see clear as day two different stories in completely different orders. So which do creationists go with? I’d love to know. That’s only the first two verses to a fairly-uneducated eye! And the Nicene councils (and the other ecumenical councils) weren’t secrets either. And yet when we say something is ‘gospel’ we mean it is the literal truth. And yet it is a truth dished up to us by the loudest-voiced men 300 years after Christ died. They decided what we would read and what we wouldn’t.

So teach the Bible, but make sure kids know about it and appreciate it for what it is: like a great big underblanket behind loads of our stories and poetry, but essentially in itself a tapestry woven of fabric made by hundreds of different people. Mainly men. That doesn’t make it wrong or right. It makes it interesting. It’s great.

So cherry pick the best moral messages, mix them with those of Muhammed and Buddha and Guru Nanak and Confucious and Lao Tze and Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela and appreciate that sometimes people have moral messages that get lost in something that’s more like the Life of Brian and that it’s your job as a reader to cherry pick the best of it all, just like that council did 1,700 years ago. Make it your personal code. That’s what these tales and speeches are supposed to help us with. Maybe then, people wouldn’t bicker over creationism or whether Islam preaches ji’had or not (it doesn’t) or whether dinosaurs were a cruel trick to fox the Victorians into doubt, placed there by the devil. Maybe if we taught RE like that in school, creating a nation of children who can identify their own moral messages, then we wouldn’t have a nation of children for whom adults are left wondering whether they need a bit of RE.

We wonder if RE needs a place on the curriculum because what we’re really worried about is our children’s personal morality. In a world where people cheer on their friends into killing men in cold blood, like the Stephen Lawrence case is revealing, maybe that’s why we ask the question. RE is not the answer. Teaching children to find the common thread in moral tales is perhaps the solution we’re all looking for.

What I’ve mostly been loving this week…

… is Pinterest.

As the winter settles in and I get all nesty, I dream of DIY projects. I’ve started making a wreath for Christmas (watch this space), the Christmas cards are done, I’ve got the sewing machine out and I’m awash in red and yellow satin, sequins and silver ribbon to make Christmas decorations.

I start dreaming of beautiful interiors. Instead of the Home and Gardens and BBC Good Homes, I now dream of interiors of the more Country Homes type – all resaved, reused, repurposed, upscaled objets trouvés. And this is where I’m putting all my love:

The lovely home of my pinning interests

Ahhh, Pinterest, I love you.

I ♥ Pinterest


I ♥ nesting

I ♥ having a house that is waiting to be pretty


Reframing your viewpoint

Yesterday, I read a great blog about a woman who has got rid of all her debt, and it just seemed so timely to revisit what she says in light of M. Fillon’s second austerity budget. One isn’t enough for all of us in France. It seems that how we’ve spent in the past has caught up with us – and we’re paying for our neighbours’ credit problems too, and I don’t just mean on a European scale, I mean on a personal scale.

I thought about the girl’s blog – about living a frugal life – I guess the French would say an austere life – and I thought ‘that’s the way to start… you’ve got to go from thinking about ‘poverty’ and think about ‘thrift’… and when you do that, you make this ugly topic into something quite beautiful.’

See, poverty is something we’re ashamed of. Nobody talks about debt. We keep it secret. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling and a horrible, horrible place to be. Yet thrift and frugality are beautiful notions, albeit ones that people who shop in Selfridges regularly might sneer at, if you don’t do it right. I include me. I like Selfridges. I like make-up and expensive boots and beautiful clothes. I admit it. I like the sushi bars and I like spending. I like money. I like having money.

But then I thought about it.

If you do frugal right, you can still be Selfridges too.

Luckily, I learned this from my mum. I never had the sense we went without stuff, although I grew up in very different times than kids today. When I saw girls in gorgeous clothes, they were just girls in gorgeous clothes. I didn’t think: oh, I want that! I MUST have that. This stood me in good stead. Now I don’t feel like I have to go with the crowd. I don’t have an iphone. We don’t have a flat-screen television. I could say I’m too poor to buy one, but I know in my heart if I really wanted one, I’d get one. We have plenty of computers (albeit mine has a plug-in keyboard because Basil threw up on my laptop and when the PC World man sucked his teeth and said, ‘that’ll be, like, over £100 to fix,’ I just said ‘can’t I just buy a USB keyboard and plug it in?’

Obviously I can.

I’d LIKE a Sony Vaio. I’d LIKE a Kindle. But I don’t NEED them. I know the difference. I think a lot of people don’t, any more. LIKE or WANT becomes MUST HAVE.

And I can prettify frugality, as well as use it as a sensible argument against consumerism. Instead of buying new wardrobes, I can buy ‘vintage’. I can buy a 10€ bookcase, strip it and paint it, because you know what? It’s a tenner. And that 10€ bookcase is actually more attractive than the 20€ from Ikea. Nobody would doubt that. It’s actually chic. As long as I keep my good taste and don’t start buying unpleasant formica or chipboard replica furniture, I’m safe.

Frugal is beautiful.

Being poor is not.

For example, if I thought ‘poor’, I might not celebrate how wonderful our menu is, on a 50€ budget a week. Let’s get something clear. When I lived on my own with more money than sense, I used to spend about £50 a week on food. I don’t rightly remember what. I ate porridge, rice and beans, pasta. I didn’t eat meat, which is vastly expensive. But it was still £50. That was also just me. In England. Where sausages don’t cost 3.50€ for enough to feed two people. Where a box of oats aren’t 5€.

Last night, for example, we had a splendid feast. Alright, it was the most expensive meal I’ve cooked all week, since it had minced beef in it. But it was still only 6€ for the three of us. Tonight, our meal will be cheese and onion quiche, baked potatoes, and tuna and sweetcorn for the boy. That comes in at a whopping 3€ for the lot. I’d actually say we eat better now than we ever did. Jake ate lentils last night. He doesn’t know it, but he did. And he had chickpeas the night before. And Steve and I had chickpea and chorizo soup which came in at a staggering 1.73€ for the meal – and it was so sumptuous, so gorgeous that I’d have paid £2 for a quarter the amount from Covent Garden soups. Luckily, I am a good cook. I don’t skimp on flavour. Flavour is the cheap bit. Herbs, garlic, onions, stock. Cheap. And it’s the difference between it tasting like water and it tasting like something that came off the cooler counter in Selfridges.

I’m proud of this thrift. In a land where people complain vociferously (and rightly so) about how expensive food is, we still eat like kings. I just can’t see any reason oats should be 5€. But that’s just me. Maybe someone should start an Occupy Carrefour movement in France? It’s obscene. And it can’t just be the euro.

I’ve made my own Christmas cards, this year. If you get one, you’ll know why I’m super-proud. They are better than shop-bought ones, more personal and more thoughtful. Now it might only be a fiver, but it all adds up.

How then did I go from being the girl who didn’t quake at spending money (and I must point out, I never bought junk! All of the stuff I bought is stuff I really, really wanted – and I have issues parting with it!) to the girl who makes Christmas cards?

The answer is ‘I always was’.

I’ve always been the girl who bought a £2 velvet jacket and embroidered sequins all over it. I’m the girl who bought a purple satin coat with gold embroidery and kimono sleeves (think Noel Coward meets Memoirs of a Geisha) and wore it out. I’m the girl who’s leather jacket didn’t have a space on it, kind of like a leather version of the Illustrated Man. I’ve always celebrated my inner frugal. Even when I was very rich, I still used the library.

So, my tips?

  • Have a money-free day where you don’t spend anything.
  • Check out great DIY blogs, like Centsational Girl and tell me you’re not wowed!
  • Downsize your stuff
  • Get rid of all the stuff you’ve got that you don’t need
  • Eat well and grow things yourself, even if it’s just herbs and garlic!
  • Sell anything you don’t need and recuperate some of the cost
  • Buy new on ebay
  • Bargain-hunt for the things you do need
  • Enjoy and use what you have
  • Think ‘frugal’, not ‘poor’
  • Be poor in possessions and rich in spirit
  • Save your money for those little luxuries that really make you smile
  • Never throw away if you can pass on, sell or re-gift
  • Embrace your inner creator and make stuff

It might all just be a drop in the ocean in terms of world debt, but maybe if we all got a little frugal, from Governments down, we’d not be in such a global mess…