Thursday, 22 April 2010

I don't teach anymore, except I do

I really miss teaching. On any given day, I would be teaching the medieval feudal system, the slave trade economics, The partition of India, the power of potraiture in Elizabethan England, the Home Front, Napoleons' foolish stance in Russia, the Terror of the French Revolution. On top of dealing with Year 9 tutor group squabblings and VERY SERIOUS (not really) fallings outs, parents evenings and the odd shoplifting tutee. Arguing politics with 18 year olds, arguings nuclear war with 13 year olds. On one memorable occaision taking a bunch of 13year olds down a nuclear bunker and coping with 2 of them freaking out. Plus the markings, the coursework, the planning. I miss it.But son has reached the "why?" stage. I now teach more than I ever did, except regrettably it is often in subjects of which I have little knowledge. Here are the questions from today.
Why are rainbows? (explained)
But then why are there rainbows without rain? (refraction explained)
Are tv's sorts of rainbows ?(bluffed)
Are the white clouds just empty rainclouds? (explained, just about)
What is the dust in the air for? (Brownian motion explained)
Why can I breathe some things and not some things? (Lungs explained)
Why can only sharp things chop things? (states of matter explained)
But can things like logs change like ice does? (dumbfounded at expanse of matter understanding, bluff it. Then remember carbon and wood)
Can everything change the way it is? (cannot think of example that can't. Curse lack of physics knowledge)
Can I move as slowly as glass? ( Curse using glass as an example)
And it goes on.
And I never go to the loo alone like I did at work, or get paid, or get holidays. Seeking out science books now.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

buttons and fury

Having got through the funeral of my nan this week, I have been pondering exactly what she taught me over and above all the tiny , everyday things she taught me. I am sat counting the buttons from my inherited nan button box, and thinking. These buttons were money in "shops", treasure for pirates, and something to use for barter. I am so happy to have them.

Most of all, I think Nan taught me that you have to consider other people's feelings, and a sense of duty. Well do I remember one Saturday morning when my cousin Rachel and I had been taken erranding with Nan. This involved doing the shopping, not just for Nan and Grandad and More Nans (my great gran. I couldn't get my lips round Great Gran, so settled for More Nans), but for various elderly ladies situated nearby. It was Rachels and I's great chore to go into their house and give them their shopping and endure a half hours conversation with the ladies. One time, Rachel and I created an awful fuss about the way the house smelt, which was, basically, of elderly unattended lady with a continency problem. We were, what, 7 ish? Nan made her excuses from the antimacassared confines of the lady in questions lounge,and royally rounded on us on the green outside. How dare we? Did we not consider the feelings of the lady? I do not remember the exact words, but I do remember how utterly ashamed I felt. Consequently, I don't think Rachel or I ever complained again about going on those missions with my Nan. And every time I see a neighbour who is elderly now, I speak to them, and build a relationship. I even have a relationship of sorts with the flourescent hatted Special Brew drinking pensioner who sits by the Police Station every morning as I pass to go to playgroup. The kids say hi to her, although I wouldn't let her breathe on them. I can only think, now, how those women must have treasured my nan's visits, and the chatter of us younger ones, in lieu of their own, more neglectful relatives. And how generous of my Nan, her whole life, to do this. Even in her 80's she worked in a Toq-H charity shop. Her thought for others makes me astounded.

All of the grandchildren probably have a Nan-Fury to remember. I bet my Cousin Tim remembers the one that he got for trapping my thumb in the sunbed.

The other thing she taught me is that every generation has its' own angers. What made my mum furious with me (nose rings, pink hair) really didn't bother my nan at all. "She'll calm down" Nan would say, and then tell me about the time mum bunked off school. As an adult now, I can see how cleverly Nan was a median between Mum and me, how she negotiated the pitfalls, and how she encouraged us all to meet halfway. Even if Mum and I were not talking, Nan would phone and pretend not to know what was going on, and somehow sooth everything.

I would like a legacy for Nan. I want a physical one, something in the garden for me to remember, but the best one would be if our family stuck together more, the way Nan would like us to.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

My nan 1920-2010. Mother, Nan to 4, Great gran to 6.

My nan died this week. Here is the speech I will say at the funeral, attempting to speak for the grandchildren. I miss her so much.

It is very difficult to know where to start talking about Nan, there are so many memories from the near and distant past. We are all lucky, the cousins, to have had a nan for so long that there is so much to talk about. Perhaps the most shared memories amongst all the grandchildren are of the long weekends we all spent at Nan and granddads and More Nan’s houses, all of us together, while Nan took on the responsibility of shepherding us through a weekend of sleepovers and cousinly arguments. Having two children of my own now, I can only boggle at how much nan did having all of us around.
We all used to love sleeping round Nan’s house. The huge dinners, the staying up late, and special drinking chocolate. Nan shouting up the stairs for us all to be quiet or she would send Grandad up, it was past our bedtimes. Grandad would come grumbling up and we would all settle down with giggles. Not because Grandad was scary, but because that was Nan’s final warning, we knew, and any more nonsense and there would be trouble. Sundays was cooking day, and nan was patient in letting us mess up her kitchen and giving us all bowls to lick out and fight over. We all loved her food so much it was all I used to write about, week in week out when It came to writing my “news” at primary school on Mondays.

So it was that I remember on a holiday home from university asking nan to write down her recipe for Stew and Dumplings, and steamed treacle pudding. She was at a total loss. She never measured anything, she said, just mixed up the ingrediants how it felt right. I pressed her to measure out the handfuls and so I could know a guideline. It wouldn’t work, she told me, it depended on the weather and day of the week. I was enormously frustrated, but she was right. An excellent and instinctive cook, she knew when to allow for humidity, and outside temperature in her pastry and dough work.
Thinking of what to say about nan, it struck me that her lack of need to stick to a recipe was a good metaphor for how she handled her grandchildren. She knew the vital ingrediants for shepherding grandkids through life, and through her, so did we. Good manners, listening to each other, patience, saying sorry, and treating everyone equally were paramount. Nan was a stickler for sorting things out and behaving well. But around these vital ingrediants, she had the instinct to allow her grandchildren recipe to alter when needed. She treated us all alike, but allowed us to be ourselves. She let us depart from the rules to have fun, as long as we returned to them. She remembered that spice was a vital ingredient too, and let us muck about supposedly “unattended”, with a beady eye all the same. She knew she didn’t want her grandchildren to turn out hard and unpalatable, so she encouraged fairness and kindness. Occasionally she added a little salt and threatened to “shake us all up in a bag together” (I never figured out what that meant), but always, her skill and patience helped us turn out alright. All the cousins have the shared memories of nan, and granddad, crammed into a caravan with us all at Clacton, charging around at the park, Nan telling us to behave, collecting pine cones with us, or feeding Smiley the fat dog snacks even though she shouldn’t. But we all have separate individual memories too, of a nan that was just ours, because that was how nan made you feel, part of a whole, but unique and special to her too, something she would fight for when needed. I know that nan and I shared conversations about many things, (we shared a love of gardening and thrift), and she encouraged me to be the best I can. I know the great-grandchildren can say the same too. I hope I can say as much for my grandkids should I ever have any, if I learnt anything from nan, they will be able to.

I hope I can manage to say it all. Funny the things I keep thinking I'd like as nan-keepsakes. She always had superb nails, and the biggest array of polishes for them. I'd like the box she kept them in, it was a Saturday night treat to select nan's polish for her. And the tan ceramic mixing bowls, I would love to use one in my kitchen and bake something she did. I know I will not be able to smell the lavender in our garden this Summer without thinking of her.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Month long menus and sewing machine graveyards.

(pictures to be added: poorly camera!)
I STILL need to finish my quilt. I have done the quilting, and as long as you don't look at the back, it is ok for a first ever job. Besides, Stella is too young to quibble. But now I need to bind it, and the thought of yet more hand sewing is making me wince. It got smaller and smaller as I tried to straighten it, so it is at least one month quicker to bind than it would have been had I had a straighter eye.

I MUST get a machine going. I have inherited 3. One handcrank Jones, one Singer and one New Home. None of them work, apart from the handcrank, as very little goes wrong with that mechanism, but it is totally seized up and needs oiling. I know I should just give up on them and get ebay them, put the money towards a new machine, but they are just such nice old things, I like them regardless of the space they take up and the frustration they cause me. I have promised one more fiddle with each of them, then they go to ebay or freecycle, where maybe someone will love and use them.

So I have tweaked and tweaked to get my weekly shop consistantly at around 40-45 quid. This time, I have gone for the full monthly. I've only mentioned dinners, but the shop includes sandwiches for lunch 3 times a week, and freezer lunches from the previous weeks dinners 4 times a week, plus cereal and fruit for breakfast.All veg comes from the allottment blokes and is of a negligible cost, as are eggs from the bloke opposite. All meat comes from the butchers van that visits, cheap cuts are ordered the previous week. God, I sound so 50's.It remains to be seen if knowing your dinner for a whole month will be as boring as it sounds. (All recipes are generally heavier on the veg and less on meat. So if a recipe calls for 500g meat, I use 250 and keep the rest in the freezer. DH eats a lot of meat but the kids only a little and me likewise. Not using too much meat keeps costs down)
Week 1:
Mon: chicken and leek pie (using leftover chicken)
Tues: Macaroni cheese with hidden veg and pork chops
Weds: Gasman's stew from Jamie Oliver. Want to slap him, like to eat his food. Whilst slapping him.
Fri: Fish cakes and veg
Sun: slow cooked lamb stew from Nigel Slater (using cheap lamb neck)
Week 2:
Mon: spicy pork and noodles
Tues: Sausage and veg casserole
Weds: Tomato bean and bacon stew
Thurs:Chicken and butter bean casserole (from the fragrantly annoying Tana Ramsay)
Fri: Chilli
Sat:Cornish Pasties (from the superb Hairy Bikers, not annoying, just ordinary and tasty)
Sun:Steak and Kidney pie (from my nan)
Week 3:
Mon: Goulash
Tues: Cannelloni with spinach and Ricotta
Weds: Lamb burgers and salad
Thurs:Pork, apple and juniper casserole
Fri: spicy chicken and fruity cous cous (basic marinated chicken baked with couscous)
Sat: Fish pie (whatever 500g x 2 is cheap in the fish van)
Sun: Lamb stew with pearl barley (The Nigel Slater again, everyone loves it so much it's on twice)
Week 4:
Mon: Whore's pasta
Tues:Jacket spuds, radish and orange salad and coronation chicken
Weds:Sausages and puy lentils with baked field mushrooms
Thurs: Lamb chops and baked aubergine and tomato layer
Fri: chicken kebabs and salad with rosemary focacia
Sat: homemade pizzas, spinach, egg, tomato, chorizo and olive using Jamie Olivers recipe for the dough.
Sun: Baked marmalade gammon with baked potatoes and salad. Gammon is fantastically cheap and not just for Xmas.

Here is the recipe for Coronation Chicken, a terribly 70's dish, but one that is a guilty pleasure. The kids like it, and I do too. Serves 4 and makes 4 sandwiches the next day.
25g butter
1/2 finely chopped onion
3 tbsp curry paste
2tbsp tomato puree
100ml red wine
1/2 lemon juice
4 tbsp apricot jam
300ml mayonnaise
150g greek full fat yoghurt
6 cooked chicken breasts (I steam them)
Cook the onion in the butter, then add the tomato puree, curry paste, lemon juice and wine. Simmer and reduce the sauce (for about 5-10 mins). Add the mayonnaise, yoghurt and jam, mix up and blend if you want it smooth, if not keep it lumpy like I do. Slice the chicken into pieces, stir in the sauce, and eat with a big salad and jacket spud. Some people like sultanas in it, but that is just to make an odd recipe even odder. Yum. In a 70's way.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Education, no puppy, and poorly nans

I have been un-posting, as I've been visiting my nan in hospital, necessitating a trip only to be told they don't allow children in the ward, meaning a sorely disappointed great-grandmother had to do only with her grandaughter, instead. I am very worried about her, grateful to still have a nan (she is 90) but so worried I might not have. However, her stringent gossiping in a loud voice about all the other ward occupants heartened me, she is hopefully going to be fine.

I have been pondering what a Conservative win would mean for me job-wise in the next election, and as such have studied their education manifesto. I will be back at work post-kids in 2012, and maybe under the Conservatives. Conservatives always give such an earbashing to current history teaching, one would think that being a history teacher under them would be a wonderland, but no. My main worry is their emphasis on setting and streaming. As a history teacher, you are in position to see what mixed ability teaching all the way through really does. ALL other subjects strip children down into lower, intermediate, and higher at GCSE, so all GCSE teaching EXCEPT history is streamed. History has a "one size fits all" paper, so classes can be mixed ability all the way (although some schools will stream regardless). I can honestly say hand on heart that a "higher" child has NEVER been dragged down by the lower in their class, in all my years teaching. However, I have seen many children dragged UP by the simple virtue of having high expectations of them, and seeing their peers do well. In a lower ability class, how many times would a student have the chance to hear higher level discussion? In a mixed, I taught group work so that the higher ability would impart knowledge to lower, thereby learning themselves, and teaching others. I have seen students deemed "lower" in other subjects come out 2, even in some cases, 4 , grades higher in history. I could go on, but this says it all. It's by Peter Dixon.

Oh bring back higher standards-
the pencil and the cane-
if we want education then we must have some pain.
Oh, bring us back the gone days
Yes, bring back all the past...
let's put them all in rows again - so we can see who's last.
Let's label all the good ones
(the ones like you and me)
and make them into prefects - like prefects used to be.
We;ll put them on the honours board honours ought to be,
and write their names in burnished script-
for all the world to see.
We'll have them back in uniform,
we'll have them doff their caps,
and learn what manners really are
...for decent kind of chaps!
So let's label all the good ones,
we'll call them A's and B's-
and we'll parcel up the useless ones
and call them C's and D's.
We'll even have an E lot!
And F and G maybe!
So they can know they're useless,
and not as good as me.
For we've got to have the stupid-
And we've got to have the poor
If we don't have them...
Well, what are prefects for?

There is a debate to be had about behaviour in class, but that is different. Behaviour is not down to intelligence, I've had clever and dimmer kids misbehave. The Conservative answer of Army officers in class is another matter I will address, when i've stopped laughing........
And the no puppy bit? Easter Sunday was spent at Wood Green animal shelter, from which we returned animal-less, no, not even with a small animal that would die soon. Hard hearted mum wins the day. No house training of animals until the kids are house trained. 10 at least.