Monthly Archives: June 2013

What I learned from Roald Dahl, Morrissey and Jim Morrison

To hear all the bickering at the moment in the educational world in England, mostly inspired by Gove’s insistence on a knowledge-based curriculum, you would wonder how anyone learned to read. His arguments are based largely on an American theorist’s views about what we should be teaching – E.D Hirsh. That man must be getting a lot of hits on t’interweb right now. And Gove’s views are expounded by several white, middle-class shiny-faced smug know-it-alls who have been frustrating me all week. They’re going with the ‘filling of a pail’ approach for education. i.e. you are only clever enough when you can win in the final of University Challenge or when you have a place at Oxford or Cambridge.

As usual, some other things kind of percolate through my brain over a couple of days and it makes me have an ‘ah!’ moment of enlightenment.

I read a few articles and blog posts this week with a real sense of anger and frustration, wondering how I ever learned to read at all when I never had the fortune of an Oxford education.

The ‘ah!’ moment came later, once I’d taken a chill pill and let everything kind of settle in my head.

Last night, I was listening to the divine Steven Pinker talking about his favourite person, place or thing. He was talking about wars and violence in connection with a book he was reading and he said this: “People are far more motivated by what people around them are doing than by any ideal or overt moral purpose.”

And that made me think.

Then a very sensible voice reminded me of something else. The Doors. People are Strange.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with anything.

At school (and I had the privilege of a grammar school education in the 1980s) we did some reading in English. I know we read The Odyssey. I know I found it hard to spell Odyssey and Odysseus and I know Elizabeth got 20/20 on her first homework and I got 7. After that, it’s a bit of a blur. I think we read The Red Pony. I’d say we read David Copperfield. We did a lot of poetry reading from Touchstones. The only thing I really learned was that the English book cupboard smelled weird.

So if I didn’t receive my early inspiration from school, where did I get it? What prompted me to keep reading?

Well, it wasn’t home. We were poor. I don’t mean dirt-poor, but books were Christmas presents, not every day things, and I still have the twenty or so books I had then. A Children’s Bible (from my agnostic grandparents…) a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy stories from my great grandmother. The box set of My Naughty Little Sister. The box set of Winnie The Pooh. The Wind in the Willows. That was about it. My parents didn’t read – I mean they do now, but I never saw my mum pick up a book that she didn’t read to us, and I never saw my dad read, though he does now. My Gramps read Wilbur Smith and The Daily Mail and my Nana read Danielle Steele, if their book shelves were anything to go off. They had three bookshelves of about two feet each – and mostly with hardbacks.

I did have a superb municipal library and my mum took me all the time. I picked what I wanted and I still remember the smell of Bury Library – children’s section.

I am pretty sure the person who planted the seed was Mr Parks, our Year 4 teacher. He let us put our heads on the desk and listen to him read Danny, the Champion of the World. Of course, Ofsted would fail him now, I’m pretty sure, for a lesson like that. He taught Jake though, so I know he’s still a bloody brilliant teacher. He planted the seed. Bury Library and my mum’s frequent visits there watered that seed.

So why did I keep reading in that wasteland of 11+?

Partly because there was a great bookstand of Young Adult fiction in Bury Library – Adult section. I read The Outsiders for the first time and cried. I read Brother In The Land and immediately decided that nuclear weapons were a thing of disgust. Then I read graduated to Ian Fleming and Virginia Andrews. By the time I was 13, I was chomping at the bit for something a little more inspirational.

Two things happened that year. Morrissey and The Lost Boys. You can understand Morrissey’s influence, I’m sure. A librarian’s son brandishing a copy of Oscar Wilde with a fervent and unusual passion for poetry. I went out and read Oscar Wilde. Didn’t really get it much, but the intention was there. The Lost Boys. Well, here’s how it gets convoluted. I liked People are Strange. I bought the single. I heard it was a cover of The Doors. I listened to The Doors. I liked it. I fell in love with Jim Morrison, even though he was dead. (Oh come on! I was young! Don’t tell me you haven’t had a crush on a hairy, weird rockstar?) and then that took me into a whole new world. Nietzsche. Aldous  Huxley. He’s the reason I did French (so I could read Rimbaud and Baudelaire) and I read poetry because Morrissey and Jim Morrison made it all cool. Then it was all downhill. Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti. Is it any wonder I became an English teacher? I bet you are disgusted to know that a fey, vegetarian Salfordite and a crazy-eyed, heroin-taking pop star had more influence over my reading than anyone else?

It wasn’t all bad.

I read EM Forster because I saw Maurice and it made me sad. I read LP Hartley’s The Go-Between because by then I had found an inspirational English teacher who used to hand-write copies of Spike Milligan poems about abortion for me, and hand me copies of John Clare poems. I read because they were recommended by someone whose view I trusted. I ate out of her hand. I read Jean De Florette after seeing the film.

Bearing in mind I grew up in a time where word-of-mouth was the only method of learning outside school, where if you wanted to find cool, new things you had to turn to your friends, I copied what they did. Let’s be fair. Out of school, few of my friends read books. That’s fine. We listened to a lot of music – you can’t be from Manchester and not do that – and we did things like watch football and get drunk. But when my friends played some wicked solos from Jimi Hendrix, or someone passed us a new album, we ate it up. If any one of my friends thought something was worth a read or a listen, then it was worth a read or a listen. Mostly a listen, it has to be said.

And I made choices that were not at all related to school. When I chose which university I wanted to go to, Sheffield was number 1. Why? Because some long-haired boy named Robert had gone there the year before and I was absolutely and utterly convinced I would hook up with him in Sheffield, get married and have his babies.

I never saw him, of course.

But even at university, it was mostly a combination of access to books that fuelled my fire, and freedom to learn. I have no doubt that in today’s world, I would not have gone to university. That is something I would have foregone. There’s no way on earth a girl like me would have ever signed herself up to be a debtor, no matter how much difference it would make at the end. I’d have probably worked in a bank, I think. And I did think about it. I was on the tail-end of grants, and it was touch and go.

Still, I met other cool people who passed me cool things; a Venezuelan boy got me all excited about Marxism and Derrida, Sartre and Camus. In 1990s Brixton, The Communist Manifesto went round like a hot cake on Electric Avenue.

So… What does all this tell you? I read because a couple of inspiring teachers fed my fire, because I had a wonderful library with great books where I was free to rampage in whichever weird direction I chose, because I had friends who recommended stuff.

I still read the stuff my friends read.

I wonder if this is why Amazon’s most popular feature is ‘people also bought’?

And at the end of the day, well, it has made me wordy. But it’s not the kind of stuff I discuss with my friends. In fact, if I tried to have a conversation with my family about all of this ^^^^^, my Nana would probably smack my legs and rightly so. For being a smug, shiny-faced know-it-all is perfectly fine if your only aims in life are to win Mastermind or alienate people, but in the real world, most people don’t think that having an A at A level in General Studies (as I very proudly do) is anything to be admired and I can quite understand why sometimes people want to ask me what planet I’m on if I do a blog about Marx or Engels, God and Angels.

Anyway, this highly personal anecdote will never win over the Govites who think the only way forward is Oxford and academia, and that we should all by rights know how to parse a sentence, and that if I don’t know where the Kremlin is and what the Cold War is I can’t possibly understand the world I live in. But I thought you should know where I stand.

And yes, I have a head full of knowledge, can recite Macbeth mostly by heart, quoted Personal Helicon to Heaney and so what? It wasn’t very useful today when I was writing blurb for a website, or when I was marking exams, or when I was teaching students how to ask questions about Monkey Forest or when I was mowing the lawn or taking the dog for a walk. Let’s be honest… apart from a few of my readers, most of you will have long since disappeared, for it is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody really likes a cleverclogs who thinks that other people should be reading The Daily Telegraph, and that they are culturally deprived if they do not.

Fin.

End of rant.

Anyone still out there??

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First flowers

Well, not exactly the first, but the first of my perennials.

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I love achillea – their flowers soften as they grow old, but I love their frothy green leaves as much. This one is Cerise Queen. I’ve also got Cassis and Summer Pastels but they are a little tardy this year. It’s amazing how much everything has shot up in this patch. The monarda is almost ready to flower, the dahlias have fat buds and the marguerites are also just about ready.

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The vegetable patch is coming on a little – though the cardoons are the mighty kings of the show right now. I was never going to go to the effort of blanching, peeling and eating the stems, so right now, they form a huge and magnificent dinosaur hedge along the edge of one of my plots.

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I’ve kept some peppers and chilis inside but the peppers I planted outside – well – they survived the rains. They might not have grown much, but they’re still alive. Then there’s the tomatoes. They’ve got little tiny toms forming – and I still have some more to go out. I think there are about forty in total.

The corn and mini-pop corn are doing fine and I’ve planted some pumpkins in the centre of the squares – I’ll be putting straw down as a mulch in the next couple of days.

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Then there are courgettes, cucumbers and cornichons, but they are still tiny! I’ve got melons to plant out as well in the next couple of days. I doubt they will be able to get enough of a summer to really do anything, though. It’s at times like this I think about putting up a second polytunnel. However, if the weather is hot, it’s awful to have to work in a polytunnel. Oh the sweat!

The runner beans are flourishing; I love runner bean flowers – they’re just about the prettiest things in the vegetable garden.

IMG_0480Lots of the lettuce have gone to seed, so I’ll pull them out and reseed.

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The kale is coming on fine and dandy – I suspect, like Mavis on 100$ a Month, it will make up a big part of my total for the year. I’ve got three rows of the stuff and it is looking remarkably healthy. The onions either side, well, they’re not as happy, and the beetroot are still all leaf and no beet. The leeks are looking more leek like and less like blades of grass. I’ve been clearing the weeds from that patch this week – an assortment of thistles, bindweed, forget-me-nots, purslane and other assorted things that I have no nice name for. I suspect I’ll be back out there tomorrow, as today is Manic Wednesday, where I teach from 8am to 7pm, and any spare time I have is going to marking my writing papers. Let’s just hope it warms up a little: it felt like April this morning – colder outside than it was in. 

First vegetables

Finally, the beans I planted way back in January have come up trumps and I managed to harvest some broad beans, some peas and some runner beans. This is just the beginning of the season for them.

As regular readers know well, I am a massive fan of beans – broad beans being my absolute favourite (though I love butter beans as well) so I’m pretty pleased with my harvest. They’re a little later than last year – but not by much. Do you think the year is catching up?

Broad beans

I’ve even had a handful of peas and runner beans. The runner beans look pretty happy now, it must be said, though I think next year I might plant them straight out, as it was tough to move them as they were in such big pots. I had my first pea and bean herb risotto on Monday night and it was GOOD to eat fresh stuff from the garden and not frozen stuff from last year. Saturday, it was new potatoes, broad beans, runner beans, peas with a little olive oil. I seriously could live off that meal. The peas are just perfectly sweet, the broad beans are still small and soft and the runner beans are also really crisp. I grated a little cheddar on top and it was just about the best meal I’ve had in ages.

Of my 250kg target for the year, I have so far harvested:

2.5 kg sprouting broccoli

4.5 kg cherries

1.1 kg broad beans.

100g peas

100g runner beans

That makes it 8.3 kg out of 250kg. It’s going to be a bit of a slog! I think I’ll have to rip up the broad beans quick sharp, add some compost and get a line or two of bok choi out, and some squash. Swede and turnip can also go out this late and they weigh in a bit.

To be fair, lots of things are beginning to happen. The first baby tomatoes are forming, the pumpkins seem permanently in flower. The potatoes look amazing and I hope they haven’t succumbed to blight. The kale is coming on great guns, as is the broccoli. The corn and mini-pop corn are beginning to pousse (I’ve always liked that French uses the verb ‘to push’ for ‘to grow’…).

As for the other stuff, well, not so much. I planted out a few peppers last week, despite the rain. They seem to be okay, but I don’t hold much hope for them growing big enough, putting out flowers, putting out fruit and ripening all before September. Likewise the aubergines. The rain has brought lots of mushrooms up, and I kind of wish I had a mushroom farm. It’d be hugely successful right now.

The lettuce have obviously had a bit of a drama and some of them have gone to seed. I would too if I were them. I bet they don’t know whether they’re coming or going with this weather. Pouring down for days at 20°C and then fresh this week. 24°C is not what I would expect of the weather for a daytime high. Oh well. You get what you are given. I think this serves me right for gloating back in January. Today, it is predicted to be only 10° hotter than that January day. Bah to that.

Still, whilst it is still too wet to mow, it is not too wet to weed, and I can start to make some headway on the annual weeds that have set up shop all over my nicely dug patches.

Last year, my coreopsis were flowering, the monarda were in bloom and I even had hazelnuts. This year, well, everything is very green. And that’s about the best I can say.

It was about this time last year that a very small puppy arrived here – Mr Heston Crow. He is not so little any more, but he is a darling. Really, he should be out herding stuff and looking pretty, but he tolerates long walks well enough.

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He doesn’t look so very cute any more, though Verity was right: he did grow up handsome.

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Charlton is a lovely dog. He is everyone’s best friend. There isn’t a dog alive who he doesn’t try to play with, should they come round to his house. If they grumble, like Dillon does, well, he leaves them alone. He’s currently playing Uncle to two very beautiful little boxer Xs that Madame V is fostering until they are permanently adopted. Milly and Molly. They are quite the delight. Charlton has had a very good teacher in Lola the GSD though. She has taught him exactly how to play nicely with others.

So, whilst it’s a bit skinny on the harvesting front, it’s busy on the work front. The school year is coming to an end, but I have plenty of summer clients to keep me busy. The marking has had its back broken. I’m surprised by how much I’ve done of it, to be honest, since the last few sessions I haven’t managed to mark my initial allocation in full. I have a better approach now – though I prefer to mark one question a day and to do the easy ones first, this time, I marked the hard ones first and the ones that are pair-marked, I’ve been marking in the evening like everybody else. This year, I haven’t had so much checking and enforced go-slows as a result. Plus, the weather has been a bonus for that. What else is there to do but go to bed early and mark?

I’ve banned downloads or DVDs as I usually do in the marking period, though I have been checking in regularly with Mr George RR Martin and his Game of Thrones creatures. I’ve nearly finished all of his books again, though I am disappointed that he hasn’t managed to whip out Book 6. I’ve said before and I’ll say again – if he doesn’t finish them, I will be distraught. Iain Banks’ death really brought home to me the mortality of my best-loved authors. I feel like some druggie whose dealer has shuffled off this mortal coil, ferreting around their old stuff in the hopes of finding a nugget of something that can give me a hit.

I think I need another epic series.

I’m not lost

Nothing like belting it out emotionally on a Monday Morning, so here’s James Morrison with Undiscovered, one of my favourite tracks off his first album.

This takes me back to another marking season, shut away in a hotel in Sheffield for three weeks in the tail-end of the KS3 papers. Unlike the GCSE marking reviews, this was a joyless affair (though they did bring us lollies on one very hot day) and you had a target to meet every day. They would ensure that you were working hard enough and fast enough and no slacking. You also had to have your marking verified every hour by a dimple – a DMPL, or Deputy Programme Marking Leader – and if you failed, that was it. You were sent home without even being able to say goodbye to your friends.

Despite the joylessness of it – and I was marking GCSEs in my room at night – there were a few nicer moments. I’d fallen in love with my ipod at this point and we were allowed (!) to listen to music if it wasn’t a distraction or disturbance. Heaven forbid we actually talked to anyone else in the room. I listened to Undiscovered on repeat with the Guillemots’ first album and so it is that another beautiful album got me through some of the doom and gloom. I went from here to marking review for GCSE and whilst I earned an extra big pay packet, I lost my summer completely. Bah.

The summer after, by the way, was the summer of Bon Iver. It’s funny how you associate albums or bands with periods in your life. Californication was Clitheroe on long drives in the morning. The Bravery were a manic 2005 and will always be the soundtrack for my Honda. Life of Agony were my soundtrack to Morocco, along with 36 Crazyfists. I’m not sure I have a soundtrack here yet, on account of the bizarre radio programming and the fact that I haven’t really bought any new music for such a long time. I miss my friend Byron for that – he was a fellow marker for the KS3 paper and he would always give me a heads-up on the next great thing. He always came up trumps. Maybe I should email him and ask him for his playlist?

So, on this Much Love Monday, here’s to the people who inspire me, be they friends or virtual buddies. Here’s to the influencers who stop you having to sort stuff out for yourself and tell you what to like or what to use. I love those bloggers and journalists who are a shortcut to the good stuff. I love that they reliably give me dependable and satisfying stuff without ever falling for the latest Emperor’s New Clothes trick. If they say ‘this is good’, then you know automatically it is something that you will enjoy yourself. No pretensions. No populist pseudo-cool. No dodgy recommendations that make you lose faith in their ability to tune you in to the good stuff. Some people are born to lead and that makes it nice for people like me who are born to be lazy and would rather hear from others what they recommend. Then I can just say ‘yeah. What he said’ or ‘yeah. What she said.’ and not have to have an opinion of my own.

That’s good. Believe me. I have too many opinions as it is.

Much Love for the weather report which has little suns on it. It might only say 22° but as Météo France kindly reminds me, in Cognac in 1975, it was 3°. That’s not even funny.

Much Love for sweet, young broad beans. Much Love for peas. Much Love for runner beans and all their sunshine flowers. Much Love for beans in all their forms. Next year, my garden is going to be ALL beans and peas. ALL of it.

Much Love to WordPress for updating their dashboard in a way that was unharmful, inoffensive, and – nay, dare I say it? – actually useful. I can’t remember the last time something changed and I didn’t grumble. Windows Huit. Grrrrr. Hotmail. Grrrrr. WordPress. Yayyy! If anything, it’s a little big. Maybe it’s for partially-sighted people.

Much Love for the approaching end of term. I’m weary. I was in bed at 9.15 on Saturday night. That’s really terrible, I know. I was working, but nevertheless, it’s summer and I should have been sitting outside. Many are the nights when I’ve been waiting for the chickens to go to bed.

Much Love too to the chickens who seem to have recovered. Last week, they were all cyanotic. One had had purple, swollen wattle a couple of months ago, but they soon returned to normal. However, last week, all four were varying degrees of purple about the face – not their wattle or combs (I love that word ‘wattle’. Blame Richard Fish in Ally McBeal) but they have all recovered. I couldn’t find any one distinguishable chicken ailment, and even if I did, I’m not sure what I would do. However, and feel free to laugh, I think it was sunburn from the very hot Friday we had. Seriously. I mean, these chickens are DUMB and even though there’s lots of water and shade, they never use it. If it rains, they get wet through, even though there are plenty of dry spots to stay under. My old chickens didn’t get wet like that, unless it was by accident. Next time it’s hot, I might put suntan cream on them.

It does raise the question, however, about how I will cope if they get sickly and die. My heroine Mavis, oh she of 100$ a Month, had her dog accidentally dig up a dead, buried chicken. I could see the same happening here. They do seem much safer now I’ve moved them to the inner courtyard and they’re not in the little chicken pen. It must be much safer. It is, after all, the Chicken Hilton. Like the Bangkok Hilton. That kind of Hilton. Not Paris Hilton type of Hilton.

Anyway, enjoy your Monday. It’s marking and teaching and maybe stints in the garden for me if the sun comes out.

Drifting out of reach

When I’ve got my head down and I’m ploughing through exams, I just stick an album on and mark as long as it lasts before taking a break. So far, it’s been The Smiths, Feeder and Guillemots. I’ve misplaced my favourite first Guillemots album, so here’s a suitable Much Love Monday track for you from the second album.

I can’t tell you how much I love this band. I went to see them at the Academy and they were quite literally the best band I’ve ever seen live. I think the whole audience surrendered to love. Fyfe Dangerfield has the best voice live. I know a lot of singers whose vocal talents don’t make it beyond the studio, or who do concerts as if they are just some kind of over-rehearsed video performance, but this band were just above and beyond all of my expectations.

Not only that, but Fyfe Dangerfield is pretty much his real name, give or take a couple of additions and subtractions. That has to be one of the world’s coolest names. Plus, he is very handsome in a floppy-haired-scruffy-bearded-Dr-Spencer-Reid kind of a way.

fyfedangerfield_63911dSee?

A poetic, musical man with floppy hair. What more could a girl ask for on a Monday morning?

So what have I Much Love for this week?

Well… outdoor activities for a start. There was an outdoor evening market on the banks of the Charente in Cognac on Friday and a big bunch of us headed down to drink in the sun and a few pineaus, pinots and beers. I had THE best churros I’ve had all year. They’re really such a winter thing but it didn’t make them any less appropriate or addictive. There’s a little stall in La Rochefoucauld that sells them in the winter, and it’s nice to sit and have one with a hot chocolate from the little teashop tucked in the alleyway between the high street and the church. But… even nicer to have one surrounded by friends – nay, even to have eaten one of a friend’s churros. Friends who say ‘I need a bit of help with these churros’ = Much Love.

Though, I must add that this love for my friends is somewhat mitigated by the aforementioned friend’s confession that she used to tie her hamster up in a little parachute and throw him over the landing rail. Some things really make you reevaluate a person.

I think there also has to be Much Love for those nearest and dearest of my friends who managed to make it despite air and rail strikes left, right and centre. It was looking like it might not be a very happy Monday for some people, and yet there they were, sitting in the sunshine on Friday.

Can there be a nicer way to spend a June evening than sitting on the banks of a river, surrounded by lots of lovely people and their offspring (and their churros)? I don’t think so.

Much Love for the remaining cherries – last week’s heavy rain caused more damage and they are mostly split or mildewy, but there are some salvageable ones. I spent yesterday morning from 6am up a ladder trying to reach those unobtainable ones. I’ve got three kilos. That’s not terrible, though it’s a far cry from the buckets-full I had two years ago. Another zen lesson. Sometimes, life hands you copious and abundant cherries and forces beyond your control wreck them.

This Monday will be spent with exam papers and trying desperately to get my last plants out. I’ve still got a few gaps, so post-midsummer plantings will be the way forward I think. Hopefully, the weather will hold out – storm’s a-coming, so the weatherman says.

Recolte: cherries

If you remember, I’m aiming for 250 kg of home-grown produce this year. I’d done 1 percent of that up until this week. That’s a little embarrassing, I know. Anyway, this year’s cherry harvest is starting to come in and it’s taken it to 2 percent. Whoop de doo. I can’t complain. I’ve probably eaten about 3kg of cherries right off the tree, and I sure haven’t been counting the strawberries I’ve nommed as I’ve been wandering through the lean-to. So… so far, 2.5kg cherries (I’ve only just started to get ripe ones, though!) and 2.5kg of broccoli.

cherries2011The place is inundated with elderflower at the moment, so I’m going to have a go at making elderflower cordial. I used to drink a lot of that stuff back in the UK – there were these kind of cordials for grown-ups, and elderflower was one of them. I am such a lightweight that if I made elderflower champagne, I’d never drink it.

It’s fair to say it is not a good cherry year. Last year was a terrible cherry year, on account of having absolutely zero cherries. This year, it’s been too wet and some have split. Others have gone mildewy. But there are still a fair sum on the trees. They aren’t very sweet this year, mainly given the weather again, but they don’t need to be, to go in pies and tins and jams. I’ve got some bags of cherries left from last year, so now I know I can use them, they’ll be making jam later in the week, I hope! Cherry jelly and peach jelly are my absolute favourites, I think.

Everything is looking a little waterlogged still. The broad beans are on their way. The runner beans are beginning to get little beans on them. The lettuce are not far from needing harvesting. The potatoes are rampant. I mean R-A-M-P-A-N-T and I’m hoping it will be a good year for them. I’ve still got lots of stuff inside that needs to get out, and rows of seeds I need to sow. There’s still stuff growing right now, even though it’s not so warm. The weather cannot decide what to do. Sometimes it is 20° and sometimes it is 28°. We fluctuate from early spring to mid-summer in a day.

 

The cool kids

Summer is finally rolling in, slowly. It’s cloudy today and there’s been some rain already, but I don’t need a cardigan, and that’s all good. It was red hot last week, so I’m calling on the Corduroy power to reawaken those lovely temperatures this Much Love Monday.

This song takes me back to the last year of Uni, when I was beginning to start a ‘proper’ job (I’d had jobs before, and I had jobs after that weren’t a ‘career’ if you know what I mean… nobody plans on chopping vegetables as a kitchen grunt, or being a lowly bar wench all their life, do they? Not that those aren’t fine things to do, but you’d kind of want to work your way up the chain a little, I guess!)

That was a great year in retrospect. Now people get paid half a full salary to do it, but I got my usual student grant to do my teaching certificate. It kind of eases you into the real world. I had two placements of a term and a bit each, and in between, we’d have to go to classes ourselves. I got to fade away from my favourite bit of Sheffield, rather than leave it completely.

Collegiate Crescent was this kind of old estate with lots of Victorian and Edwardian houses on it, surrounded by huge, ancient trees. It was this narrow strip of land off Eccleshall Road that sat back a little and then extended way off up the hill. There was a library at the bottom – where I spent most of my time outside class – and then various buildings as you walked up. The Student Union wasn’t so much of a hip place and I don’t think I ever went in there – there was a laundrette I used when I lived round the corner, and there was a gym. There were occasional aerobics classes in the small sports hall. Further up, each department had a dedicated house, so you’d go to different houses for psychology or English, as I did. The English one was two-thirds of the way up the hill. Behind that, there were the buildings for trainee teachers.

To be honest, the PGCE itself was a dead loss. We had ancient professors who had not been in a classroom for years. Still, it was nice to spend a year with a foot in both camps, working, but not working, if you see what I mean.

Apart from the oncoming summer, I’m loving the cherries. I lost a good few to splits and mildew, but a lot have survived. Unfortunately, most are on my second tree, which is not easy to pick from at all; thank God for hooks and ladders. That sounds like a piratey children’s game, but in reality, it’s just my picking method for those top branches. These are big old trees, so plenty get left for the birds. Last night, I felt a bit peckish and went and picked myself a bowl of cherries. That’s the best kind of larder to have.

 

Jollies

Yesterday was my last kind-of-free day before the marking begins. I usually spend about three hours a day on marking, but that has always been in addition to my usual workload. It only lasts four weeks for the main body of marking, but then there’s additional marking which I usually do as well. For the exams earlier in the year, I did another three weeks on top. I think there is one question I really know inside out and I’m pretty sure by the end that I was one of the only people marking it, since all the other questions had finished and it was just this one left. I guess a lot of people had been stopped on that question.

Anyway, I took a couple of the ladies with me on a bit of an excursion. I’d got a couple of packs of Living left to deliver and so it was too nice a day to waste by not making a full day of it. Having picked the ladies up in Angoulême, we took the backroads through Ste Catherine and Marthon to Piégut Pluviers. I’d seen a fabric warehouse in Javerlhac that I wanted to stop at, but we were a bit pressed for time, so that will have to be another day out instead.

The main purpose for visiting Piégut (Pee-ay-goo, not Pie-gut..). and having discussed this at length in the car, hearing Sarah singing ‘Pee-ayyy-goo, Pee-ayy-goo’ to the tune of Pie Jesu has forever damaged it in my brain. I know every time I see the sign or think of that town, I’m going to hear Sarah singing ‘Pee-ay-goo’.

We were actually going to Sausageland, a British butchers in the town. They do British cuts of meat, like hams and thick slices of back bacon, which are just impossible to get in France, if not imported. The French like their pork, but you just cannot buy whole ham hocks to roast yourself. Upon hearing about the shop, one of the ladies’ sons thought we were going to some sausage-related theme park without him and he was very unhappy.

From Sausageland, it was time for lunch. There is no point trying to do anything in France that involves needing shops to be open at lunchtime, so we stopped at a Routiers. The Routiers are kind of transport cafés, but don’t let that put you off. They often serve good food at low costs and have huge queues. This one, in Reilhac, was off the beaten track – the road between Rochechouart and Nontron is not very busy at the best of times, but I saw a sign and seeing as it was 11.49 and we had no chance of getting to Rochechouart before 12, we decided to make the most of it. I know French restaurants are open between 12pm and 2pm, but that doesn’t mean you can go in and expect something to eat at 12.30. Oh no. That’s not how it works. 12.10, you might get a tut. 12.20, you’ll get a look and a tut. 12.30 and if they are not full, they might tell you they have no food left.

Anyway, this Routiers was on a little square with a church and a few tables outside. It wasn’t busy, but by the end there were five or six other people there. I don’t know where else you would find a four-course lunch for 11€. Tuna salad to start, pork and lentils for the main course, tartes aux fruits for desserts, cheese if we wanted it and then coffee. We could have had wine too for that price. Listening to old French songs, sitting in a bar with rows of pastis and Ricard 51, with the church bells ringing out each quarter-hour – that’s the French lifestyle I hope never changes. You either have to embrace that or go somewhere else.

It might not have been very busy, but the two guys running the place were very willing to come over and practise their English. They were quite surprised we could speak French, although I think they have certain expectations. When Rachel asked where the toilets were, the guy on the bar was convinced she was asking for an internet connection (toilet/internet??) – they obviously think we’re more in need of being branché (connected) than needing to wash up.

From there, it was time for a quick tour of Rochechouart (and more plans for another trip) and then on to La Brocante. I think the words Aladdin’s cave were mentioned several times. I love that place. It’s the glassware and jewellery for me. I’m not bothered about furniture and stuff, but little china tea-cups and saucers, wash jugs and bowls, glass lampshades, vases, shiny, sparkly things… they all get my attention. Unfortunately, it was a pit stop, not only because it was 29° and we had a car full of meat, but because I had lessons and there were various children to be picked up.

Anyway, it’ll be a good month before I’ve time to go out gallivanting but since my Mum has lent me her camera, I will be happy to get back snapping. It’s amazing how much my blog relies upon a camera. I look at things, want to take a picture and then think ‘that’ll be good to share’. Be thankful I didn’t take a picture of the builder’s bum Verity and I saw on Thursday, but be ready for an onslaught.