Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Annual pancake day conversation

I was reminded today, after about the fifth pancake, of my Granny's infamous answer to the question, "what are you planning to give up for Lent?"

"Church", she said emphatically.


The telling of this tale is a family pancake day ritual, and all the better for it.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Drowning in business

Mid afternoon today, I was sitting in an airless conference room, irritated beyond emotional control by twisting my intellect this way and that to make sense of a deluge of acronyms and jargon. I was fast losing the power to look interested, calm or positive. I'm pretty sure I was frowning and clenching my jaw. Mentally I was screaming, gritting my teeth and making throttling gestures. At that moment, a tiny ladybird crawled across my page, onto my hand and reminded me what matters: the real world outside. I'm having a going back to teaching day.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Not a day too soon

I have to disagree with Andy about the smoking ban. Every time I go in a pub I have a silent cheer to myself. I'd be counting the days, if I could be bothered. I am fed up of having smarting eyes, a dry throat and clothes that need hanging out of the window after an evening out. All the evidence from other countries shows that many give up or cut down as a result of bans, which can only be a very good thing for them, others and the NHS. I'm with John Stuart Mill on this one. He reckoned that we should all be free to engage in any activity that doesn't harm others.

Which leads me on to my absolute hatred of the pejorative expression, "Nanny State". Our 'Nanny State' feeds us and houses us when we are unable to do so for ourselves; it prevents us driving vehicles that are dangerous to ourselves and others; and tries to protect our health, and the ability of the health service to treat us all. Is this a bad thing?


Food combining

I don't like chocolate particularly: give me cheese every time. However, I've had a couple of sublime chocolate moments lately, both of which were about surprising combinations. First were the muffins with dark chocolate and flaked chilli sauce I made Andy for his birthday (he likes food wildly hotter than I do). Then, I brought him back white chocolate with aloe vera and rhubarb from Austria (which I can't believe was a local recipe).

Both were divine, in a very strange kind of a way, but I preferred the zero after effects of the rhubarb variant.

Sorry, Andy. I ate most of the rhubarb chocolate last night with half a bottle of red (guilty look).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


A case study in education

I've just got back from a ski trip in Austria. Before I tell this story, don't get me wrong: I had a great time. There was snow - lots of it, sunshine on the mountains, and of course, Gluewein and Schnapps for fuel. My skiing even improved, after we decided to have half a day of tuition to brush up on technique. But those three hours were traumatic.

Our instructor, Eric, was of the old school. I haven't come across anything like it since my first year French teacher, who threw board rubbers at us and called us 'Turks and Infidels!'

First Eric watched us ski for a few minutes, over his shoulder and said, 'Have you ever had a lesson?'. I was a bit put out, if I'm honest. I had a lot of lessons as a teenager and was under the impression I was rather good at skiing: definitely lacking control on black runs, perhaps, but able to make quick, neat turns with skis parallel, and even capable of racing slalem in the past.

Eric then gave us some pretty basic tips, and watched us practise them on every turn. We did a turn at a time and then he critiqued it, which went something like this, 'No. No. NO. I told you lean forwards: that's only 50% forwards', or 'No. No. NO. Your left, Your left! Why aren't you trying', or 'You have to try, it's all down to you. Why can't you GET IT?' The simple answer to why I couldn't get it was because I was shattered and confused by the sheer scale and intensity of the criticism (it went on for three solid hours like this).

As tears threatened (and I'll admit, they even dripped off my nose at one point), I took my mind off it be thinking what a perfect case study in bad educational practice it was. If you stand over a seven year old struggling to write a few words, and each time they form a letter, you say, 'No. No. NO. Why Aren't you trying! What's wrong with you?' That child will soon start forming the letters with more difficulty, maybe forgetting where to start putting the pen to the page. They will get confused. They will hate writing, and they will hate you. They will avoid writing when they can. This is how you cripple a learner.

I was grown up enough to manage to say things like, 'What did I do right that time?', 'Was that any better?' and 'Could I ski ten turns to get the hang of it before you feed back?', but it shocked me how it made me feel like a defenceless child so quickly. And I paid £60 for it.

I have to admit though (through clenched teeth), after putting his tips into practice for the next two days, I was a far better skier. Damn.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006



As I picked up fish and chips on the way home from my run tonight, it became clear to me what I want from 2006: a bit of balance.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Body language

Give me love!

Babe informs us he wants some attention...

...and usually gets it
That's right

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Not a habit yet

I ran again yesterday evening. I even managed to haul myself out of bed, where I'd ended up after a long week at work and a hot bath, to do it. It's all down to running with a friend. Thirty minutes of chatting and mixing up the pace seems easy, and if anything too short. The thought that I could run further is very powerful. On previous attempts to try and build a running habit I've gone for broke straight away and run miles, often, and then tired of it all or injured myself. Cari is an experienced runner and plans to build up slowly, slowly, incorporating recovery weeks and always running at talking-pace. Her aim is always to finish a run thinking she could do more and looking forward to the next time. What an inspiring idea - make it all seem easy and you'll keep at it. She is just what I need!

Some of my fellow students on the creative writing course are at their day school today; mine is next week. I'm itching to get going!

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