Category Archives: You Couldn’t Make it Up

The Garden Centre with the Nieces

Today went pear-shaped from, well Sunday lunchtime really. I took two of the nieces to the garden centre and subsequently ended up missing half of the 12.10 school assembly. Yeah, you did read that right. At the end of the assembly my Head of Year declared, “There’s always something with you!” No kidding, mate! This is Planet You Couldn’t Make It Up.

It all started (yawn) on Sunday morning really. I got up too early – 8.something ridiculous and spent far too long chain-smoking and half-listening to what the BBC calls ‘political debates’ whilst checking out Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and Pinterest (Oh yeah, I have them all – cracks me up at school when other teachers say ‘social networks like Facebook’ – because they can’t name any others.)

In between I gazed out over first the front lawn (leaning at kitchen sink, my main smoking position) and then standing by the French doors, gazing at ‘out the back’ (flicking fag ash out of the door now and again – my secondary smoking position.)  Having cut both lawns and cleared away all the rubbish over the last two weekends the garden was looking pretty bare. But I didn’t fancy going around the garden centre on my own, and loading up millions of little plants would be a nightmare.

And then something very odd came over me and I thought of the niece, G. There’s nothing I like better than embarrassing teenagers except maybe being the anti-parent, undermining my brother’s ‘proper’ parenting style – this would hit both birds.  So next thing I know I am ’round the corner’ and picking up two of them: G. aged 15 and the other Gor, aged 5. At first Gor. aged 5 refused to come but my brother pulled the olde ‘Aunty C. has the roof down on the car and she’s getting strawberries’, so two miles down the road we had to turn around and go back for her.

The Garden Centre was all pretty civilised to be honest: we all walked around very sensibly and coo-ed at all the nice, ridiculously priced things, including a picnic basket on wheels at a mere £149. Plants were selected with care and G. very maturely loaded up the trolley. Gor. aged 5, engrossed herself in smelling the more attractive plants – a bit like a bee who is drawn to the most colourful petals in the borders. And then even the coffee and cake bit went without event. Things did get a bit hairy when Gor. aged 5, noticed the playground but without an adult telling her to be careful and not to go on anything remotely dangerous, being able to do anything she wanted soon lost its appeal. And so it was off to Tesco’s and then home, James.

Obviously this couldn’t last. It was all too, well, ‘nice’ really. It  started with a bit of light trolley racing: me and the trolley v. Gor. aged 5. I won. G. followed us at a decent distance unsure whether she was expected to join in, race after her little sister who was now only accompanied by a maniac masquerading as an adult or totally disown us in case someone from her school had spotted her out shopping, now seemingly on her own!

The trolley racing developed into some Olympic trolley spinning, (extra marks for not actually hitting a granny in the biscuit aisle) and a few more random sprints. To be honest, it wasn’t actually that bad., and G. did only have to make one apology on our behalf.  Although when Gor. aged 5 tried to dig out one of the last bags of potatoes from the bottom of the potato bin, grabbing her little legs and chucking in on top of the potatoes was getting a bit silly. My instinct was to go for the phone and take a photo but meany G., who couldn’t actually believe her eyes for a minute, instinctively dived in and pulled her squealing little sister out as if she had been pushed into a bottomless watery pit or something. Fair play to Gor. aged 5, she did give it another go, not really expecting ‘a responsible adult’ to do again. So I did.

G. couldn’t take any more and ‘bailed’ on us, declaring she had too much homework to do to join in the planting session she demanded to be dropped off at home.  And so off me and Gor. aged 5, dressed in white leggings, white trainers and a pretty peach dress went – back to my garden with a couple of dozen plants to dig in. In all fairness I did try to persuade Gor. aged 5 to roll up the leggings and remove the dress but the leggings got stuck by her knees and she was removing nothing.

Gor. aged 5

Gor. aged 5

We had the whole she-bang going on – a tub of dark compost, which was spilled on the lawn, carted by Gor. aged 5 from border to border, pot to pot; the hose pipe out, which Gor. aged 5 used to water in the plants in and spray me with. And then it poured down and we both got soaked. Gor. aged 5 rather sensibly insisted on going in but I stayed to fill the last couple of containers. And then it was 6 o’clock and E. was home from work. And we had tea and a rather bedraggled Gor. aged 5 was delivered home with brown and white leggings, brown and white trainers and a pretty dirty brown and peach dress. And a mouth surrounded with a ring of chocolate, soil and strawberry juice.

And so my marking and preparation simply didn’t happen this weekend. I unpacked my bag and my desk was immediately swimming in piles of unmarked papers and an empty planner page. That would have been manageable but then my internet connection died and all my back-up resources went with it. Then as the first class poured in I realised I needed to go to the loo. This was not an immediate problem but running out of the Action Plans they had to fill in was. After taking the register on the laptop in the classroom next door, I decided it would only take a couple of minutes to change the internet cable but that meant moving my desk closer to the internet socket and then all the other wires – millions of them – had to be moved too. And then the bell went and I hadn’t had a cuppa and I was starving and had to have my toast … and the internet still wasn’t working … and the next thing I know it is 12.10 and I’m supposed to going out to line up for assembly – only I need to find my keys and phone buried on my desk and the Year 8s have left loads of marked test papers on their desks, which simply can’t be left abandoned there … And it’s 12.14 and I really have to go to the loo now… And that is how I ended up late for the Assistant Headteacher’s assembly on Good Manners.


You Really Couldn’t Make This One Up!

The Year 11 ‘Sixth Form’ evening is the ‘biggy’. It’s ‘time to shine’ time: to tell everyone who matters (pupils and parents of pupils considering taking A levels) how great your department area is, and what a great time they will have studying the most prestigious subject on the curriculum, English Literature.

Ah, English Literature. It conjures up all kinds of ‘greatness’ – articulacy, knowledge of great works, a grasp of the most subtle and sophisticated traits of human nature.

In preparation I arranged my tables and chairs into an amphithreatre shape. I removed all clutter and tidied up the shelves, window sills and cupboards – including the stuff inside! I hovered over the cleaner hoovering the carpet and then re-straightened the already straightened lines of chairs. I checked and corrected, and then rechecked the powerpoint. I left a copy on the top right-hand corner of the desktop on my laptop and then re-opened it. Preparation Heaven! Satisfied, I went to Maccie-D’s for a fillet.

An hour later I waltzed into the school library as if I were Lady Muck and owned the manor and grounds of some Victorian utopian educational establishment. The buffet brought me down to earth slightly: jellied quiche and burned sausage rolls, curly tuna and translucent bits of green stuff,  and Aldi Value grated cheese poked out of white Value sliced bread sandwiches – no tea or coffee – packs of plastic-bottled waters lined the back corner of two of the library tables pushed together.

At 6.35 on the dot the parents and pupils ventured up the badly-lit corridor and climbed the steps to the farthest corner of the school which houses my classroom. Stilettos and Elizabeth Arden (shade 014 cocoa cream) at the ready, I greeted my ‘guests’, ready to blow them away. And promptly began my presentation – with a powerpoint I had never seen before. No, really – I had seen something like this powerpoint before – about 4 years ago when the course was first introduced I had something like this. But since then it had been altered, abandoned and replaced. The powerpoint glaring out at the parents and pupils in my post-Roman half-circle of plastic chairs was not the powerpoint I had corrected and updated at 3.30pm.

To say I was horrified and completely freaked out of my little brain is an understatement of Biblical proportions. I felt my face freeze into a rigid concrete expression of seriousness, and my left arm swept towards the whiteboard as I heard myself say, “And here we have some texts  you will be familiar with. This is the kind of thing we teach.” Oh my god. No, seriously, oh my god. What do you sound like woman. What the fuck is this ? Where did this thing come from? (Referring to the powerpoint, not myself, although I’m pretty sure that was the question the parents were asking about me.) And so it went on. What the fuck was this thing going to say next, I asked myself. As each new slide appeared I could feel myself getting more and more exasperated. This is bollocks, I told myself, but they don’t know that, so just keep going. And I did.

The worse of it was I had a current A level student standing by the side, waiting to talk about the use of wordpress blogs as the latest educational innovation. My panic-stricken, stoney face and edgy tone had clearly been transmitted to her. Where was the wit, wisdom and ironic, twisted sense of humour which was so characteristic of her English Literature lessons? Who was this rigid, stiff and clearly ill-informed maniac inhabiting her English teacher’s fat little bum at the front of the classroom? The poor child eventually rattled out her bit, and the parents and pupils were finally released from what must have been the most bizarre presentation ever.

And me? Well, I just collapsed in a heap and threw myself at the mercy of the suited and pearled headteacher from our new partner school, spluttering, “I can’t believe it… I don’t know … don’t understand… ” whilst waltzing around in a silly circle of embarrassment in front of her.

It’s now been two whole days and I still haven’t a clue how the powerpoints were mixed up. I have re-lived the last few minutes at my laptop over and over trying to spot the moment I pulled up the wrong one by mistake. I can’t find it. Neither can I find an alternative explanation. But I have to worship at the feet of the deputy head when he mentioned it: “It could only happen to you!” he told me. And that was all I needed to hear.

This post was first published on March 14th 2013

School Technology: You Couldn’t Make It Up

So today the Year 10 poem was ‘At the Border, 1979′ – a poem by Choman Hardi. Ever the one for IT in lessons, I decided to play the BBC Bitesize video of the poet reading her poem. Bitesize have put up some effective images to accompany the reading.
Unfortunately, school equipment/broadband is not quite up to the same standard we are accustomed to at home and the video kept stopping to ‘buffer’ – sometimes in the middle of words …

The first lines should have read:
‘It is your last check-in point in this country!/
We grabbed a drink – “

With giggles after every buffering pause, it came out like this:

It is – (pause) – giggles
your – (pause) – giggles, smirk
last ch– more giggles, some open laughter
eck – proper laughter now
in poin – giggles, laughter, some sighing now
t in – giggles, giggles, giggles – (biggest pause so far)
this count – gasps, giggles, laughter, gasps, giggles, open laughter (really long pause)
ry ” – rolling around ! 
This entry was first posted on 18 February 2013.

Scary Moments on My Planet: aka ‘You Couldn’t Make it Up.’

Part 1.

So have introduced Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to Year 9 by watching ‘Shakespeare in Love’. At the end Gwyneth Paltrow is shipped off to Virginia by her horrible husband, Colin Firth.

Me: “Who do you think ‘Virginia’ was named after? Think famous ‘Virgin” … probably the most famous after Mary.”

Year 9: “Michael Jackson.”

Stunned, I have no immediate reply. ‘Mmmm, try again … “

Second Year 9: “The 40 year old … “

Part 2.

Finished reading ‘An Inspector Calls’ with Year 11 today. It’s a year group full of hot gossip and general Class A bitchiness: in other words, a group of perfectly normal and lovely teenagers. I have spent weeks pontificating about how everything we do affects everyone else; how we must consider the consequences of our interaction with others and be socially responsible. However, to throw some grade A/A* thinking into the mix I also offered them the following to ponder on:

What other people think of you is none of your business. 

What other people do to you is not your fault.

We concluded a lively discussion talking about how victims of abuse are made to feel ‘it is their fault’, and any therapy to repair the emotional damage usually involves convincing the victim that ‘it was not their fault’ – think ‘Good WIll Hunting’. Ergo, we concluded, when people are ‘good’ to you’ it is not your ‘fault’ either. They, it could be argued, are doing ‘good’ not because you deserve it  but because they are good people.

All pretty standard GCSE Literature.

But, and you just couldn’t make it up … just as this was being said The Head turned up to my classroom and with him marched in the new Bishop, two priests and four nuns !!!! It was like  – and here, Ladies and gentlemen, are a group of ‘good people’ I made earlier …. 

This entry was first posted  on January 15 2013.

Back to School.

‘You should write a book.’ I’ve heard this loads of times. The sub-title to my life is ‘You couldn’t make it up.’

It all started well. I had a lesson prepared for everyone (this is not always the case, you understand, so it is more worthy of note than you might like to think). Missed my cuppa at break but managed to grovel to both the finance lady and the photocopy woman, and went to the loo (also more worthy of note than it should be).

It was all getting a bit surreal when I remembered to check who was in assembly and the going continued ‘good to soft’ with Year 9 Shakespeare. ‘Romeo and Juiet’. Basic intro: show ‘Shakespeare in Love’. It’s a 15. It begins with a torture scene, moves on to Shakespeare explaining to an apothecary he has lost his touch, with the apothecary misunderstanding and thinking he is impotent. There are several rude but metaphorical references to erections: thankfully  these are largely (! )(giggle) unnoticed by the twenty-six 13 year olds in front me. They do notice Marlowe having sex with a prostitute and will notice tomorrow ‘Romeo’/Shakespeare half-naked in bed with Gwyneth Paltrow – without batting an eyelid. There will be no parental complaints about the nakedness in the Zephirelli version or the gratuitous violence in Baz Luhrman’s. This is Shakespeare: it’s culture.


‘Made In Dagenham’ is not culture. It was not written by Shakespeare. It is about ‘real life’: about one of the most important landmarks in the history of time, for women anyway. That’s about half of the entire population of the globe.

‘Made in Dagenham’ tells the story of the women at Ford’s Dagenham plant who went on strike for equal pay at the end of the 1960′s. 187 working class women brought Ford UK to a standstill and in 1971 equal pay for women became law, first in Britain and within a few short years, across most of the industrialised nations on the planet. The film is well-made. The acting is beautiful. The script is tight and the casting is inspirational: Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins are awesome and Miranda  Richardson is Barbara Castle to a tee. I know, I remember her on television as a child.

But it was not written by Shakespeare. Shakespeare used a variety of slang and swear words. Many of these have lost their impact and ‘bastard’, the main remaining offensive term used freely by the ‘Warwickshire shithouse’ (‘Shakespeare in Love’) just means illegitimate, doesn’t it? William Ivory is barely heard of. And has not earned parental approval of the use of ‘f’ word. No matter how naturally it is used, or how stupid any other word would have sounded in its place.

I’m not sure what it says about our house and my children, but I assure you I did not notice how many times this word was uttered in the comfort of my own tiny sitting room. But in my huge classroom in front of twenty-four teenagers it seemed to be screamed out every alternate second.  Why, oh why, were the characters shouting it sooo loudly ! and soooo clearly ? And sooooooo unnecessarily! By the third utterance it seemed to be in every sentence, every speech: ‘`F’ this, ‘F-ing that’ Oh My God !!! By the sixth (and final) pronouncement I was in meltdown.

Of course, I spluttered apologises, condemned ‘bad’ language and ‘swore’ I had not noticed the swearing when I saw it at home. This just added to the hilarity and probably emphasised it more than ever. The phones will probably be in ringing off the hooks tomorrow. What can I say? Back to school. Day 1.

This entry was first posted on January 7th 2013