Category Archives: rants

Why being a FB group admin is a bit like being God*

* And not in the ways you think.

I think the dear old Bible has a lot to teach us about Facebook groups. And I think Facebook groups have a lot to tell us about the Bible. I shall explain.

You have an idea to set up a community. Something nice. Maybe something fun. A place for like-minded individuals to flourish. You have in mind a community, a place to share and cherish. And you hope everyone who turns up will take responsibility for the group and for each other.

At first, you set it up. You might even post a few things to help get it going – something to nourish the first people. You set the stage. You make it look pretty. You pick a nice background and make it user-friendly. You’re so naive and optimistic that you don’t bother with rules as you think everyone will be pretty happy with what you’ve made for them.

And then your first members join!

It’s great. It’s small and friendly. You mingle freely with them, though you get the feeling they aren’t quite as forthcoming with you around as they might be. Everyone’s nice to each other. Oops, though. You show what could be construed as favouritism, because you ‘like’ something one person shares, but not something someone else shares, and you end up having to get all nasty and turf someone out.

After that, more and more people come. It’s great. For a time, there’s a real sharing of experiences, even of languages. People help each other out. You even make a few friends that you can send out to do your work for you if people are getting a bit out of hand. You make a few examples out of the crazies and everything runs fairly smoothly.

You get pretty confident you can leave your group for an hour or two to entertain themselves but wouldn’t you know it. One day you step out for fifteen minutes and all hell breaks loose. You end up having to have a blue fit just to get people back under control because as soon as you aren’t looking, they’re ignorant and offensive and often downright breaking the law.

After that, you get all draconian. Codes, laws, rules, commandments. Anyone who doesn’t do what they’re supposed to – pointy reckonings and smiting. And you build up a nice little team of stand-in admins who do a pretty good job of steering things and solving disputes.

But wouldn’t you know it… the group gets bigger and even all the admins can’t control it. You can’t man it 24/7 and neither can they. Every time someone thinks admin aren’t looking, up pops someone offensive trying to cause an argument. You go out for an afternoon and World War Three breaks out over something trivial and pathetic. Not only that, but it turns out a couple of your admin have got involved in it and now you have to kick them out. This thing that was supposed to be beautiful and harmonious and fun – well, it’s just a lot of shouty, judgey people who can’t behave themselves unless they are being constantly supervised and constantly threatened with expulsion and firey aftermaths unless they keep offensive thoughts and ideas to a minimum. All you wanted was a nice, smiley, cheerful place and what’s left is a cacophony of shouters and militants, each absolutely convinced they know better than everyone else.

So you spend less and less time there, leaving them to fend for themselves. Some people seem to get off on implying a personal connection to you, as if they know exactly what you’re thinking or what you would say. Others are downright rude about you behind your back. And some of them are whiny little bitches who spend all their time telling you how other people should behave and paying no attention at all to themselves.

Soon, you have no desire at all to spend any time there, let alone wander round among them Great Unwashed. People start to even doubt that you exist. They tag you over and over to try to get your attention, but it’s the same old, same old. But the less they are supervised, the worse they behave. Sure, they sometimes do nice things and pull out all the stops to be charitable or supportive, but give them two minutes and all the sense of community disappears up the Yangtze. Eventually, you are so sick of their miserable little lives that you can’t possibly hang around there any more. You leave them to their own devices and wash your hands of it completely, vowing never to do anything of the sort again.


Now, I’m sure if you are religious, you might not like my desire to make God into some kind of shouty admin, but the facts are there. I know. I read it in my Bible. And don’t tell me many admin don’t spread rumours that they’ll pull the plug on the whole thing if it gets too terrible. Now tell me that doesn’t sound like Revelations?

Anyway, enough of my rantings. It’s les vendanges – or the grape harvest to you and I. I better get to bed, get an early night because I have 150 vines to harvest over the coming days. A girl’s work is never done.

Barking at the moon

Yesterday, I started to notice a mood of aggravation at about 4pm. A few people were getting more snarky than usual, a little more sarcastic, a little less patient. If a comment could be misread, it was. If it could be misconstrued, it was.

And people were getting more provocative too. It’s kind of an in joke that whenever someone mentions the dreaded phrase “who do people use to fetch stuff over from England?”, a row breaks out. These questions periodically appear in various anglophone places and inevitably go like this:

Person #1: Who do you use to get your shopping from England?

Person #2: You buy shopping from England?! Where can I do this wonderful thing too?

Person #3: You live in France. Therefore you should only buy French things. And I think you’re perfectly hideous and/or common for buying stuff from Asda/Tesco anyway. Horsemeat, cheap stuff, grumble grumble.

Person #1: Yes, but we like Bisto and it either costs £17 from an English shop or from the foreign foods aisle or Catering to English Whimsy haulage company will bring it over for us from Asda for 50p.

Person #3: France will DIE without you spending every single penny of your money in French shops.

Person #4: I use Waitrose online.

Person #2: I want to buy Iceland instant meat paste purée.

Person #5: That’s outrageous. You common people with your love of Iceland. Move back to England if you love it so much.

Person #6: I buy all my shopping in France for 14€ for a family of 4. We eat very well.

Person #1: You’re a sanctimonious hypocrit, Person #6. And Person #5, why the hell should we? All I wanted to know is who you use to get your groceries from. If you’ve got nothing useful to contribute, wind your neck in.

Person #7: I miss Double Gloucester.

Person #8: You’re all effing lucky. I’m Australian and you can’t get vegemite here for love nor money.

Person #9: But you’re not having the full cultural experience if you aren’t eating andouillette and hunting your own meat on a Saturday.

And thus it continues. Essentially if you hanker for any single thing that is slightly English, you should move back there immediately to satisfy your urge for weird wartime goods like jelly and trifle, whipping cream and custard, bangers and mash, gravy granules and proper teabags.

And if you do your shopping as I do in France, for whatever reason, you are a sanctimonious hypocrite who’s too la-di-da for their own good, probably with a secret hankering for malt vinegar.

Anyway, I digress. This is one such provocative thread that ends up causing no end of judgement on both sides. If at any time there is a slight whiff of love of England/desire for English things, it’s met instantly with a ‘go back there then’ in a rather ludicrous way that suggests that nobody in England buys anything other than Made in Great Britain and that we all live off entirely English products. And it has its counterpart argument of “Don’t be such a ridiculous snob. You’re not French, so don’t act like you are.” as if the average ex-pat in England doesn’t have a hankering for whatever food of their home country.

It’s all a bit silly, really. I didn’t get met with derision when I lived in Yorkshire if I asked for a bit of Lancashire Hot Pot, as if I’m some sort of cultural heathen. I can’t understand how 22 miles of ocean turn it into a ‘Leave all your former loves here at the border’ kind of thing.

But it wasn’t the only provocative bomb to drop last night. Someone else asked about whether they should wear fur again now in France and then it all got a bit heated again.

On other forums, angst was popping out at the seams for all kinds of other issues. I got a couple of messages from people having all kinds of dramas that really seemed to be very trivial indeed. Phone calls had been made, tempers were frayed, this person didn’t want to be connected to THAT person. This person would help out on this occasion but didn’t want to do it with THAT person and if they were made to, well, they would walk out. People behaving in general like petulant babies who’d thrown their dummies out of the pram.

I retired to bed with NCIS and a cup of English tea (because there is no other teabag quite like it, I know).

I thought all the mealy-mouthed crosspatchy behaviour would have died a death. But not quite.

A Man – how very dare he! – had infiltrated a women-only forum – again, I say, how very dare he! – and posted an advert for voodoo.

Now that’s either extremely coincidental or extremely good marketing. Find a group of women who like to fall out a bit, wait for an argument and then offer to sell voodoo dolls to them.

Cunning marketing.

It was only when I was gardening this morning – the earth is delicious right now for digging and thinking of Seamus Heaney – and Heston and Tilly would not stop barking at all the other neighbourhood dogs that were also barking continuously – that I realised. There is definitely something in the air.

I don’t know what it is, but the dogs know. They’re all barking at each other barking at each other. And that’s a bit like last night.


Perhaps it’s all time we got down off our high horses, put away our deliberately provocative questions and got some mittens that prevent us typing, texting or phoning others when we feel a little bit narky. Heaven only knows, we might also want to say “Ah, you’re a great person. I love you very much. Thanks.” to someone as well. Life is far too short to fall out over teabags and pot noodles. As I know my mum would say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”


This much I know…

… that you know nothing, Jon Snow.

My head is full of whirling nonsense at the moment. Knowledge-based curricula. Skills. Transferable skills. Teaching. Learning. Knowledge. Because I subscribe to several noisy teachers on Twitter, my Twitter feed is alive with shoutiness and anger about one thing.

How we teach.

Well, one thing I know – that’s a silly argument unless we understand how we learn. This much I know: you can be doing all the right things and there’s STILL no learning. I know because I’ve been doing all the ‘right’ things with Heston (a dog) to teach him not to chase crows, and  he still chases crows.

But then again, what are ‘the right things’?

Should I bully him and make him submit, because I am his pack leader and he must obey me at all costs? Should I trick him with operant conditioning like Pavlov’s dogs to accept a treat instead of blithely chasing flying things across fields? There are studies to show both methods ‘work’…

And yet a part of me thinks Heston should be free to chase a crow across a field. It’s his business. He’s a dog who likes to chase birds. He doesn’t do any damage, he never catches a crow and he enjoys it. He gets lost from time to time, but it’s more out of social nicety and fear of farmers that I try so desperately to stop him chasing the damn things.

And is that why we strive for learning, out of social nicety and fear of inspectors, the media and government fly-by-nights who are here today and gone tomorrow?

In all of this arguing about HOW we learn, we forget lots of things.

One of those things is that we don’t actually know. We suspect. We suspect phonics works. We suspect we embed things into long-term memory by a process of stimuli-review-review-review. We suspect there are things we can do to make something more ‘sticky’. We conveniently forget the mahoosive great evolutionary elephant in the room because it’s philosophically unpleasant.

That’s the elephant about natural ability.

After all, there are studies these days that show we can be no more funny than our parents were funny.

But again, it’s a suspicion, not a provable fact. If our funniness is determined by genetics, is our intelligence too? And that’s too controversial to consider. We’re one step away from Gattaca. Also, it’s only one side of an argument.

And biology can be shaped by experience, we suspect. Nurture is vital, we think. But Nature is fundamental, too, men say. This is why we can never settle the ‘nature vs nurture’ argument. I suspect it is both. We have the capabilities we are dealt and we have the experiences that guide us. However, it’s unpleasant to think that we are limited, that we are mortal, that we cannot all be 4-minute milers or Einsteins. In fact, that goes against MY nuturing experience, for I have been told since I was tiny that “there is no such thing as can’t” and that I can be what I want to be. I’d like to believe I am infinitely capable of whatever I choose to be.

Yet that’s partly a big crock of shit and partly true. I could not be a sub-10-second 100 metre runner. I could not be a catwalk model. We accept we are physically limited. But accepting we are intellectually limited too, well, that’s a little less pleasant a pill to swallow. However, it’s BECAUSE I was brought up in a home where all things were possible that I believe I can do anything I want to and because I went to a school that didn’t accept the tail-end of limitations for women. If we wanted to become a physicist, well, we could.

So it always bugs me that we talk about teaching as if it is the be-all and end-all to intellectual capability, when I suspect we come a whole lot too late to do much meaningful stuff. We are but a part of it. I’d like to think, for example, that I have had a lot of success teaching some children to read.

Yesterday, for example, when reading The Princess and The Frog with a smart-as-a-whip seven-year-old, she said:

“Do you know what? It’s all about promises this book… the Queen promises the princess she can have a gold ball, and then the princess promises the frog she will kiss him, and then they promise to love each other forever.”

Totally unprompted.

Then, we came across a word in italics. She read the sentence, emphasising the word anyway (“What do you want to do?”) and then said “Why’s that word like that?”.

Later, she said “made for gold” and before I could correct her, she said “made OF gold” and then said, “I get of and for mixed up. The letters go wrong.”

Finally, the story calls the Frog ‘Frog’ and at one point, it says “Frog came into the room.” So she said “Why does it say ‘Frog’ and not ‘A frog?'”

I think that revealed a lot.

First, I think I’m stealing a living, because she’s obviously teaching herself. She just needs me for answers. Second, she knows A LOT of stuff already and I didn’t have to tell her the things I thought she might need to know. Third, this is a relationship, not a one-way process. It’s neither about me, nor about her. I was pleased to see that the combination of synthetic phonics and whole-word work is working. She can decode the story. But I realise a lot of her ability is about her home. Her parents value reading. They are literate, intelligent people themselves. She reads lots of stories at home. She has a great library. She has a universal grammar and an innate ability to understand how language works (with ‘Frog’ and ‘a frog’)

And she hit the nail on the head with of and for. 

Some things are just not sticky. Take the words bougie de prechauffage. This is a glowplug for a diesel engine in French. I have never used that expression. It is never likely to be useful, yet it is stuck in my head with the glue of permanence. Then take the word cependant. Now I can NEVER remember what that means. I recognise the word. I can read it. It has pendant in it. I see that word all the time. Yet even now I had to look it up. It’s really annoying, because it’s just not sticky. I put that word on a flashcard. I added it to memrise. I put it on a post-it. I looked at that word every day. And it’s like that word has no desire to be in my head.

Partly, I get that. It’s about usage. I use pourtant or néanmoins instead if I want to say however. But I still see it all the time. I just ignore it, I think. I skip over it. So the jury is still out on why certain things are hard to do. We apportion blame. It’s the word’s fault for not being memorable enough or having something noticeable about it. It’s my fault for not yet having found the method to get that word in my head.

But no scientist, psychologist or other has put forward a convincing argument as to why this is hard to learn for me (when it isn’t for other people) and proposed a method of getting it to stick in my head. We suspect things about learning that defy logic and real life.

This is why I believe education should be divorced from politics. Learning is a complex process that we are only just beginning to understand and most of what there is is theory. This much I know: there is one useful way to navigate the theories. Experience, open-mindedness and wise consideration about what is relevant and useful for the children in your class. When English teachers compare themselves to Finnish education (which is a pointless comparison if you ask me) what I like about Finnish education is how empowered the teacher is to pick out what works for their groups.

I also believe the direction in which education is heading in England is flawed and narrow, because it is based on the whims of a small group of middle-aged white men. It has no room for music, no room for sport, no room for art, no room for textiles or food tech.

For many of us, these are the pleasurable things that make school worthwhile and actually lead to a fruitful job and/or life after school.

But schools cannot be responsible for everything.

There is a lot of hoo-ha about whether children should be able to read broadsheets.

Of course, we would like their reading to be at a level where they can if they like.

But why broadsheets?

I had an argument with a guy about Oliver Twist. He thought that Oliver Twist is a cultural must. I think it is a poor story written early in Dickens’ career (his first big book, really), that the characters are shallow and the story is lacking in the richness that you find in David Copperfield. I prefer David Copperfield as it is much more real. It’s also a coming-of-age story which might be more relevant to teens, were I to teach it. However, I accept that Oliver Twist is better known and the characters more familiar and useful if we’re talking about Fagin and the Artful Dodger. But then is English Literature just about having some kind of key to other cultural understanding? Is it just a glorified way to understand England? Should that be an English teacher’s job, to force study of things that someone has decided have cultural merit?

This opens up a massive debate about what we should teach and what English teaching should be. And that’s a toughie.

On the one hand you think, yes, it’s useful to read Oliver Twist, but it’s bloody long. I can’t trust the kids to take the books home and read at home and so I have to study most in class, if not all. And if I study ‘most’, aren’t I just going with edited highlights? If I want them to get the story, why don’t I just watch the film? What do I want? My kids to know the story? My kids to appreciate the literature?

Well, I’m sorry, but the last bit – how do you MAKE people appreciate a cultural thing?

And how have we arrived at the fact that this cultural thing is more worthy to know about than, say, the works of Beethoven or the art of Van Gogh?

And who decided that Beethoven is in the canon and The Beatles are not? And why The Beatles? Why not the Rolling Stones or The Who? And if we take The Rolling Stones as part of English cultural heritage, then does it spoil your pleasure if you don’t know the music of Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis? And if you listen to Chuck Berry, shouldn’t you really also listen to Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker? Blind Lemon Jefferson?

I don’t agree with prescription over what is in the magical ‘canon’, because if you ask me, I think film, modern fiction, music, pop culture, television, video games… they’re all as important keys to understanding the world around us. I don’t agree that the ‘canon’ of knowledge should be some kind of elitist wet dream of some middle-aged white men, telling us we are culturally impoverished and have no ambition if we haven’t read Dickens.

It implies that – heaven forfend – we aren’t ‘worthy’ individuals if we haven’t read Dickens or listened to Mozart. Heaven help most of my friends.

Should we all have the reading ability to access Dickens if we like?

Of course.

Should we all read Dickens instead of Game of Thrones?

This much I know… if you think so, you know nothing, Jon Snow*.

*I will accept this Jo(h)n Snow could refer to the epidemiology guy, the newsreader, the cricketer, the US Secretary of the Treasury or the character from the popular televisual series.

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.


End of rant.

Anyone still out there??

Semi-colon terrorists

Michael Rosen’s latest blog is about the ‘semi-colon terrorism’ from the Department for Education. He is anti-semi-colon. He says the semi-colon is neither ‘fish nor fowl’

He says: “I am utterly convinced that forcing primary school teachers and primary school children – no matter how able  – to spend time on this is really a waste of time.”

Well, I for one would like to take issue with this, as a semi-colon apologist. Probably this will be of no consequence to you whatsoever unless you like punctuation or you like me ranting. Feel free to come back tomorrow when I will have got over this little language issue.


Firstly, ‘terrorism’ is silly. It’s like calling people a Grammar Nazi. I don’t like these terms simply because they’re clichéd and also, all in all, a little mark never hurt anyone. Unless you’ve read Cieran Carson’s amazing poem ‘Belfast Confetti’. I’m not a Nazi because I like grammar and order. I like to break the rules as much as the next man. I make up words and play hard and fast with dialect words and regionalisms and sentence structure. I’m not a Nazi because I think there and their are easy to learn and everyone with a modicum of literacy should know how to use them. And I’m not a terrorist simply because I like a semi-colon from time to time.

Here’s a confession. I once went out with a guy because he used a semi-colon appropriately in a text message.

I lurrrrrve the semi-colon and I don’t agree that it’s neither fish nor fowl. Of course you can get away your whole life without using it, but why would you want to? It’s such a delightful thing.

And its rules are simple.

A semi-colon is a pivot. It sits where a full stop or a coordinating conjunction could go. It’s a beautiful little balance.

Consider this:

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic; dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

Yes, it could be a full stop.

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic. Dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

Or it could be a conjunction.

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic whereas dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic, and dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

The first alternatives are fine, but too matter-of-fact for me. There’s nothing really that tells you these ideas are connected, other than your own fine head. If you don’t have a fine head, I might want to tell you that there’s a little Alice-in-Wonderland mirror in that semi-colon where one thing is reflected in the second. Let’s face it, we have punctuation to tell people what to do. It says stop. It says go. It says the tone has changed! Does it tell you my mood? It tells you if I’m feeling… uncertain. It tells you that I’m explaining something: punctuation is bossy. It tells you I’m disjointed – or disconnected. It makes sense of things like a man-eating tiger and a man eating tiger. It tells you that somet’ing is missin’ and it tells you how I, the writer, wants to you read something. It can add something (like when you want to put in something extra) to your work. And if we didn’t have punctuation it would make it fairly hard for most of the population who would then have to ponder about where you would want them to stop or go or how you would want them to proceed because sentences are very important and punctuation is the stuff that makes them without them our words are just mushed up mess and we might as well not have anything at all which would make it a lot easier for some people to write but a lot harder for most people to read.


Punctuation was invented for a reason.

It’s bossy and magical.

That’s probably what I like about it.

So why single out the semi-colon?

I suspect it’s because Michael Rosen doesn’t fully appreciate its beauty. And it is beautiful. It’s a ballerina of punctuation marks, pivoting and turning. It’s the point on which the whole sentence pirouettes. It dances; it turns. It allows you to make one point and lead a reader; it allows you to turn and make another. It forms a beautiful bond between two ideas; it marries them and links them forever in ways that a full stop can never do. A semi-colon brings clauses together; a full stop divorces them. A semi-colon is therefore a beautiful wedding of a punctuation mark; do not let what one man has joined be torn asunder. It doesn’t matter if the clause before comes loaded with punctuation marks of its own, like the humble (and almost ungovernable) comma; the semi-colon can cope with a sentence as long as you want beforehand, with as much non-stop punctuation as you care to use.

A semi-colon is mathematical; sometimes I like to ensure the clause before has the same number of words and mathematical cadence as the clause after it. Sometimes I like to use it to be playful in ways that most other punctuation isn’t.

It’s a misunderstood mark. It’s so much easier to use than a comma (and you can see my post on the Oxford comma if you disagree) and it’s so clean and perfect. It makes the reader work to my rhythm.

Kurt Vonnegut said that the only reason to use a semi-colon is to show you’ve been to college. He might be right. But a semi-colon does things that other marks just do not do. No, there aren’t hard-and-fast rules about where it should go (though I’m pretty clear on where it can’t) and yet it’s so easy to use. It makes language dance. It is a beautiful and glorious shift-and-echo.


“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
(Peter Drucker)

What I don’t like is how Mr Michael Rosen tries to use Dickens to further his argument: “I like to punctuate them [sentences] with full stops and not semi-colons. I got this from a writer I like. His names is Charles Dickens.”

He is obviously forgetting the most beautifully-balanced semi-colon use of all:

“There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France.”

That’d be Dickens.

Now, Michael Rosen needs to think about his strange and misguided approach to this most elegant of punctuation marks. It brings my sentences together in the most marvellous of ways and being told that it makes writing heavy when in fact it can make writing dance and spin, well, that gets my goat. Michael Rosen needs not to bring in punctuation into his argument about why the British government should not have set rules for 11-year olds for grammar.

Plus, if we had no semi-colons, how would I do this? 😉

An online wink is just about the nicest thing to do with a semi-colon. So yah boo, Michael Rosen.

It’s not exactly sex and the city…

Samantha Brick, my favourite love-to-hate ‘journalist’ of the moment has come up with another corker in the Daily Fail. I know why they’re paying her to write it – it must send their hits beyond sky-high – way out in the stratosphere – and from the looks of the comments, it’s not just me who feels this way.

She says French women are predatory man-hunters who are ‘brazen’, ‘hostile and predatory’ and that she hasn’t any French female friends. They won’t come and drink cocktails with her after work and they won’t go on girlie shopping trips. Now, forgive me, because I think this woman lives in deepest, darkest countryside – and even if she didn’t, she’s not living in Paris or Milan or New York.

It made me laugh because even when I worked in London, and the Government or Pearson kindly put me up overnight, we used to finish our meetings and retire to our rooms. Sometimes we’d go out for something to eat – mainly because other people were paying – but mainly, we went and watched telly. We were tired. We worked hard. Plus, cocktails are damned expensive. And here in rural France? Well, I know Izza would give me a beer. Karine would give me a coffee. Caroline would give me some spring water. Céline would give me a coffee as well. I mean they’re not inhospitable, but either they work hard and don’t drink cocktails after work, or they’ve got families. Or both.

Not only that, there are 14 houses where I live. I know who lives in 8 of them. They’re old people. I’m not being mean. They are. We swap fruit and I try to poison them by giving them sugary things, and they give me confits and know important stuff like who the best vets are. All of them – to a woman – wear nylon pinnies – and if I asked them to come on a girlie shopping trip, why I think they’d think I was insane. In the one house I know with younger people in it, I think the husband is an idiot who should be shot. He lets his beautiful dog run wild in the road and said he’d get another one when I said his dog would get run over. Dogs might be two-a-penny to him, but to me, they’re better than their owners for the most part. So I don’t want to drink cocktails with his wife. If she drinks cocktails at all.

And do you know what? If I wanted to drink cocktails after work, I’d have moved to New York. And I bet it’s not all like Sex and the City there either.

I also laughed when she said the women are ‘beautifully made-up’. Now, I go to local cities. I’ve been to Bordeaux, Angouleme, Poitiers, Limoges… just not seeing the beautifully made-up women. I saw a lot when we went to a college open day – the teachers were chic. Chic enough and numerous enough (seven of them in one place!) for me to remember it. Because most French women I know are… decidedly ordinary. They don’t have fake boobs or bleached hair. They don’t have orange make-up or fake tans. They don’t wear fancy clothes. A friend says she knows some yummy mummies – mainly because she lived in the city – but I don’t. The mummies round here, well, they’re not very yummy. I love them anyway though.

Samantha Brick says her ‘friendly hello’ has been ignored at the school gate. Really? If I pick Jake up, I fend off bisous from ten or so mums. There are only forty children in the school, so having kisses from the parents whose children don’t get the bus – well, it takes a good ten minutes. Kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss. Hello. How are you? How’s the family? Really?! Oh! Next. Kiss-kiss-kiss-kiss. Hello. How are you? etc.

Everybody says hello.

Ms Brick also points out that our new President, M Hollande, has a ‘lover’ – the ‘rottweiler’ journalist Valerie Trierwaller – and that she – how very dare she! – stole! M Hollande from his former lover Segolene Royal. She stole him! Like he’s a prize jewel.

1. Look at him, then look at her. She’s a looker. Him? Not so much. Except for the power/politics thing. He might be a whizz in the bedroom. Who knows?

2. He’s a person with real, live feelings. Are men so unable to fend off women that they get passed pillar to post, buffeted from one woman to another? No. They’re sometimes idiots who think with hormones rather than brains. They’re men who never married their former lovers, mothers of their four children. They’re men who get bored. They’re men who might be insecure about their wife’s political aspirations. But they’re not objects to be stolen.

3. Valerie Trierwaller probably didn’t – though I can’t be sure – find out what new mum Carla Bruni would be wearing just so she could steal her thunder. From the look of Ms. Bruni’s outfit for the outgoing ceremony, she didn’t care much for how she looked – and she looked fine. A bit tired. A bit like a new mum whose husband has been running a presidential race. Valerie looked fab. She’s got great pins. But then she knows all the other rottweilers in the media world are just waiting for her to have a bad hair day so they can trash her. She’s a journalist. She knows how it works. I’m not entirely sure her ‘first item on her agenda’ was to ‘put Carla Bruni firmly in her place’. I’m not sure how this ‘sisterhood’ works that Ms. Brick speaks of, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve surreptitiously finding out what your defeated counterpart will be wearing and then finding something less attractive just so you don’t upstage them.

Is Ms Trierwaller such a bitch that she was more ‘gleeful’ about upstaging La Bruni than she was about being the First Lady?! I know where my priorities would be – firmly on not making myself look like an idiot when the whole world is looking – and not trying to upstage the main event – my husband. We’re not all Liz Hurley in safety-pin dresses next to a shabbily dressed Hugh Grant. Some of us just want to support, not fight for the limelight.

So do French women have sinister machinations? Not the ones I know.

Do they ‘bond’ over coffee? Not much – but then, most ‘coffee shops’ include the bookies, and are male-only domains – a bit like pubs were in England up to the late 80s. Women didn’t go in pubs on their own or do ‘girlie’ stuff – not when they were past a certain age. Not unless they were tramps looking for younger men. Women go in different coffee shops – yes they do! – but we’re not talking about a Starbucks world here. Costa Coffee it ain’t. We’re talking tiny cafés with four or five tables and an assortment of chairs. And women – true – don’t go in them as often as men do. But that’s not because the sisterhood is unimportant, but because the home is. You’re either at work or with a young family. Or at home. Women here still shop as a family, still go out with the family – why would it be any different where coffee shops are concerned?

Have my French friends ridiculed my French? No. They think it’s marvellous I speak more than one language. They don’t.

Do they weigh me at dinner parties? I think you know the answer to that.

Do they tell me to go home? No. Because they know how much I love it here.

Have they reduced me to tears? No. But then that place is reserved for few people. I don’t cry easily. They’d have to be absolutely evil to do that.

Anyway, the Daily Mail would do well to remember that they are setting this woman up with a global audience of people who generally disagree with her and dislike her arrogant tone without remembering she might have any number of insecurities herself. Usually, I find we accuse others of what we are ourselves. We find in them the qualities we don’t perhaps realise we are guilty of ourselves – and usually worse than they are. They should know better than setting up a target at the stocks just for people to throw rotten tomatoes in her direction. It would be better for all if Ms Brick kept her views to herself.

It only takes one person to believe that this is how ‘French women’ are – and the beginning of a seed of hatred and prejudice is sown. Women are women are women, nationality aside. And we’re all human. So I might scorn, or laugh, but ultimately, I don’t want anyone to believe that her view of life is how France is – not even one single person.

Some days are shitter than others*

* a loose Smiths-based pun

Yesterday, there was a surge of frustration in the air. Nothing seemed to go right and it was as if there were something maliciously poltergeisty in the universal zeitgeist stirring up all the ghosts in the machine. I wrote several things that then ‘disappeared’ into the ether. I completed several tasks that just evaporated and my early diligence was rewarded by having to do things again.

I went to the supermarket. Shut for stocktaking. The Casino supermarket was open, but with things over double the price, it’s not worth doing a weekly shop there. I bought enough for the day and went home.

Steve had gone out and locked the gate. Luckily, I knew where he’d gone. Unluckily, there are several routes back from where he’d gone and he could have been on any of them. I raced off in the car. He wasn’t at Roy’s. I raced back. Luckily, I found him just about to off-road under a bridge. I always knew he was a troll.

I got back for my lesson with minutes to spare.

Then all hell broke loose in the afternoon. I can even begin to say the changes that must unfold as a result, but suffice to say it sent me to bed early.

Lucky for me, I get to wake up with a quince tree outside my window, with a happy cat and a giddy dog and no matter how hard I have to work for it all, I can always find something to bring a smile to my face as I remember just how very lucky I am. Sisters, mums, nanas, friends: I’m a lucky, lucky girl. I only have to look at Tilly to have a smile come to my face. When I wake up in the night, she is always right there, her i.d. tags tinkling and her little tail a-wagging. She is a funny, funny, cute little dog and sometimes, a cute little teddy-bear of a dog is just enough to send me back to sleep with a smile on my face.

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?

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?”


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.


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.

Things that make me go Grrrrr

Late last night, I got into an argument on an ex-pat forum with a woman who was trying to sell her horse. That bit was okay, except she was trying to do it without papers. The horse has no legal recognition in France. Its identity is not known to Haras Nationaux or the IFCE. Its owner is not registered.

She admitted in her first post that it was going cheap because it had no paperwork. Therefore, she realised that not having paperwork was something she really should have. If she had spent 40€ to get the paperwork, her horse would have got double that she was asking for it.

This drives me up the wall. It’s 40€. That’s all. It’s just cheap. I’d have paid it to get her horse registered if she’d have asked for charity. If she can’t pay because she’s too poor and that’s why she’s selling the horse, why the hell did she arrive here 5 months ago with several horses? When you have animals or kids, they have got to be your first responsibility. They HAVE GOT TO BE because they depend on you. No matter how poor we get, the boy, the chickens, the dogs and the cat come first. I’d have the internet cut off first.

It brings me to two questions. Why are people so reckless when they decide to move? And why are people mad at you when you’re right, coming out with the most ludicrous arguments?

As to the first, this woman can’t possibly have checked out the regulations in France. This means one of several things. Either she’s too lazy and irresponsible, or she can’t read French. I take it to be the first because even Google Translate makes a fair job of translating the right pages and takes one click. In fact, Google Chrome’s extension will do this automatically for you. And still on the recklessness, though she says she’s been here five months, she can’t have (and she admitted this) seen a vet.

Her logic for this when I challenged her was that she ‘knows’ horses. Really? I asked if she was a vet. No, she said. Just a keen horsewoman. Really! I work with people every single day and I’m not a doctor. But because I know people and I’m a keen student of the human form (well, Sean Bean’s, anyway) does that make me qualified to know whether the boy is ill or down in the mouth? Am I able to decide whether his tummy ache is appendicitis or wind? Obviously, according to her logic, I am.

Not only that, but the boy can talk. Or grunt. If he’s sick, he tells me. Animals don’t. The first thing I did when we got Tilly and Saffy was take them to the vet. Unfortunately, with Saffy I wasn’t quick enough to get her to the vet and that’s something I’ll always regret. Even with Tilly, her ears smelt a bit manky and I took her to the vet. It was a ‘catastrophe!’ according to him. She wasn’t bothered by them. She wasn’t itching or rubbing them. She’d seen him in December and again in February about them. By May they were really bad.

Now I’m not saying that this woman’s horses are ill. What I am saying is that you need a vet’s opinion of things and diagnosis shouldn’t be just done by someone who has no training. In all fairness, the horses in her care could be like Molly who is rarely ill. She just needs her jabs (done) and flea treatment. Also, in fairness, you CAN tell SOMETIMES when an animal is ill. But like Tilly, sometimes you can’t tell when something has gone from fairly normal in spaniels to being a ‘catastrophe!’

I’m also saying that a horse is a bit more than a dog and needs more specialised care. And if I’d brought a horse over a thousand miles, I’d want to know it was okay and I’d probably ask a vet to come out and have a once over. All of these things are expensive, which is why I don’t have a horse, though I’d really, really love one. I’d also love more dogs and more cats and more chickens and goats and sheep but I can’t afford to feed them and have them checked out.

I think the combination of lack of vet care and lack of simple fact checking means that I’d – perhaps erroneously – put her into the ‘lazy’ and ‘reckless’ category.

I pointed out (to my disadvantage, because I got really insulted!) that horse registration is compulsory because it protects the owner, the buyer and the horse itself. More importantly, it creates a way for the French bean counters to estimate stuff and work out what to tax and so on – but that’s by the by.

For an owner, the transfer of paperwork means you know where your horse is going. I still can’t believe there are people who don’t check out the homes their animals are going to, but that’s perhaps just me. The cats’ previous owner was sooo concerned about where they’d be living and how, and wanted to see photos. I’d be the same. Tilly’s owner couldn’t have given a stuff. We could have been a vivisection laboratory and she wouldn’t have cared or bothered to find out. I could have been a psychotic taxidermist looking for new subjects. It also means you know your horse is still in the system and that should something happen, the new owner can be prosecuted for it. A horse without papers can be sitting in a field, ill, and should the SPA come and enquire, its new owner can deny everything.

For a buyer, it means you know you aren’t buying a stolen horse. Would you buy a car without a VIN and without the paperwork??! You just KNOW there’s no good reason for a car not to have a VIN and not to have any paperwork. If there were no paperwork, I could sell any horse in a field and run off with the money. It’d be a great way to make a few thousand quid.

But it was her reaction that really got to me. She’s doing something she knows isn’t right – otherwise, she wouldn’t have said ‘it’s got no paperwork, hence the low price’ and when I say it’s illegal to buy a horse without paperwork, she says I’m rude and have a tone.

Her post said this: “however since him coming over to France I haven’t obtained French papers for him, hence I’m asking a fair price for him to go to a loving home. Price: 400 Euros” – so she knows she’s supposed to have French papers – that such things exist.

I said: ” I suggest you get him registered. It’s illegal to sell a horse in France without registration.”

She then asked if she could give him away… I kind of think money worries are at the heart of this, which makes me feel for the three other horses she still has.

Someone else added:

You can’t legally give him away either, as you can’t complete the ‘change of ownership’ papers, if you aren’t the registered owner in the first place!

It is a legal requirement for all equids in france to be micro-chipped and registered with the HN – and for every horse ‘keeper’ to be registered as such as well. When an equid is sold (or given away…) the relevant change of ownership forms should be completed and sent to the HN, in order for them to update their records. Every registered ‘keeper’ of equids (which is a seperate registration and that person may not necessarily be the owner) has an on-line account with the NH, where information as to the location of each animal is recorded – this information must also be updated if the animal is moved and kept elsewhere.”

But then we were both accused of being unhelpful and that our comments were ‘useless’ – and that she was looking for advice. Well, excuse me for pointing out that someone trying to SELL a horse, not someone looking for advice, is doing so illegally. I’d pointed her in the direction of IFCE and HN and she said she wanted more ‘hand-holding’. I’m sorry that someone who trades in illegal horses wants their hand holding. Shame the horse hasn’t got someone who cares enough about it to find out what the situation is. Hence why they NEED registration.

What really got my goat was the ‘well I didn’t know’ line of argument. And the line of argument that said ‘I didn’t need to do this in Holland’.

Oh, I’m sorry! I’ll start selling marijuana on the site then, shall I? After all, it’s fine in Amsterdam. What about selling cars with no VIN? How about guns?

You might think I’m being melodramatic. I probably am. In the eyes of the law, though, illegal horse trading is the same as illegal weapons trading or illegal vehicle trading. They’re all ILLEGAL and punishable, if not by fines and restrictions, then by prison.

FFS. Where the hell is common sense when you come down to it?? It really, really gets my goat when someone acts all hard-done-to when they’re in the wrong and someone else points it out. Oh poor me. Hold my hand.