Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Big Blues Tribe

I took Nick out for his birthday. He loves live music and I've been promising my friend Beth that we will get out to see her band play for months. So, as they were playing at a pub just down the road, we roped in Mum to babysit and had a night out.

They were fantastic - fabulous energy and atmosphere. Their enthusiasm for the music they were producing was infectious. I took loads of photos (for Beth to post on their website). Here are some of the better ones. (Beth has the red trumpet.)

Haircuts and Dens

Just wanted to post some photos of some of the things we've been doing lately. Mel built a den in the forest with the cubs. His team got the first prize for shelter construction. Saskia and Eartha have had their hair cut. Eartha thought it was sooo much fun - just look at that grin. Saskia had to think about it a bit more. They both look much smarter now - compare the before and after shots.

Friday, 26 June 2009


I heard a comment today about how we develop. It appears we develop from the head downwards. This kind of makes sense if you don't think about it too much. The foetus in the womb starts off looking like a large head, with a tadpole tail, then the torso develops, then finally the legs. I can see that.

Babies are focused on sucking milk, then what they can touch and finally their feet catch up and they learn to walk.

So can we could follow the same pattern throughout life? Babies and toddlers put everything in their mouths. Children like to build things and take them apart - so that is their hands. (No explanation as to why they like to run around as much as they do.) After that it just gets silly - but it amused me for a few minutes, thinking about it.

Moving down - clearly the groin area belongs to teenagers, which leaves the legs for adulthood and feet for old age. Hmm, unlikely... Certainly my Mum is still complaining about her knees rather than her feet, so she still has a way to go before old age catches up on her....

Ooh, me poor feet!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Emergency Briefing

There was an emergency meeting at the end of school today. This caused much speculation during the afternoon. What was it all about? The biggest fear, was that the school inspectors were due. An Ofsted visit at this time of year would be extremely stressful.

However, it appears that Ofsted is not the current threat. Instead, three staff are being tested for swine flu. The results come out on Monday. Watch this space. As far as I know the school won't shut, but once the kids get wind of the possibility, there will be constant riots in lessons.

As we left the meeting, where we'd been told that a potentially life-threatening virus was on our doorstep, I over heard one of the staff say:

"At least it isn't Ofsted. That would be a real nightmare!"

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Mystery of the Missing Rotarians

When I was in India, last summer, a man called Surya phoned me and asked if he could stay for a few days next June. He, and his friend would be visiting Britain for a Rotary Club convention.

"No problem," I said.

I contacted him again in February, to see if he was still coming. He said yes, definitely, he had booked his ticket. He gave me the flight details, including flight number, date and time of arrival. In March, he e-mailed again, wanting my address for his visa application, which seemed reasonable enough, at the time. When I went to India, I had to have the address where I was staying, in order to get a Visa.

As he was due on Saturday, i.e. yesterday, I e-mailed him sometime around Wednesday to confirm that he was indeed coming. I got no reply. I knew he was flying in from Ireland, rather than India, so I assumed he had no access to the internet. I texted him too, but again got no reply.

As Saturday arrived, I realised I was going to have to go to the airport on spec, because I had promised to pick them up, and with no way of contacting them, I had no choice. It was beginning to look fishy at this point, but it got a whole lot murkier when we checked the flights.

The flight number Surya had given me did not arrive at the time he had quoted - it arrived 80 minutes earlier, at 12.35. It is over an hour's drive to the airport, and I knew I couldn't make it by 12.35. I set off straight away, and arrived by 1pm.

Of course, not knowing how long I was going to have to hang about, I parked in long-term parking (4 hours for £7 instead of short-term parking £1 for 15 minutes). Being the middle of June, and holiday season, I had to park at the arse-end of the long-term parking. It was 1.30 by the time I got inside the Arrivals hall.

Naturally, the flight from Ireland had already cleared, and there was no sign of a pair of bewildered Indian Rotarians. I got their names called out on the tannoy to no avail. I left my name and number at the Inquiry Desk.

Outside Terminal 1 there was a Welcome stand manned by the Rotary Club, who are having their 100th anniversary convention in Birmingham this year. I had a nice chat with them, and explained my predicament for the 10th time. I left my name and number again. They suggested that the missing Rotarians might have gone to the NEC (convention centre) to register, and that they would be back to meet me at the time they had originally e-mailed to me.

By this time, I wasn't holding out much hope, but I hung around for another hour, just incase. I had brought a book, for this eventuality. Finally, I did the rounds again - Terminal 2 Arrivals, Inquiry Desk, Rotary Club stand. I told them I was going home.

I was a bit annoyed. If the Indians had changed their travel plans, it wouldn't have hurt them to send me an e-mail telling me. Honestly, it is just common courtesy. It seemed so out of character. When I had checked out Surya online, I found several references to his 'good deeds' connected with the Rotary Club, including things like providing polio vaccines for village children. In his e-mails, he had regularly written things like 'I hope I am not inconveniencing you'.

Well, right then, I felt fully inconvenienced, especially as I'd had a wasted afternoon, an 80 mile round trip, and had to fork out £7 for the extortionate parking. The Rotary Club stand members took pity on me and gave me one of their "Get out of the car park for free" tickets, for which I was very grateful.

I got home, with a headache starting and a bad mood settling in. Nick had tried phoning India while I'd been out, but had had no joy on any of the phone numbers we'd been given. He did notice, however, that Surya had logged into his account on Friday evening, and therefore did have internet access, and must have received my e-mail.

Consequently, I can only assume that the person in question is either ignorant or has hatched a plan of such cunning that I have been fully gullible. I will have to wait until Monday, to tell the authorities, that wherever this gentleman is staying (if he is even in the country), he is not staying at the address on his visa.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Down Side of Healthy Eating

We're getting healthy, or at least, that is the theory. We have been living on cook-in sauces for way too long and frankly, I'm bored of the four or five flavours we actually buy. So, we hatched a deal: I sort out interesting recipes and buy the ingredients; Nick cooks. Sounds like a plan? Well...

Firstly, it takes forever to actually find a dozen recipes that are not too complicated, with regular ingredients I can recognize and that don't take hours to cook. I spent a couple of hours on Sunday leafing through cook books, wondering who on Earth would bother making little filo pastry cases or wrapping vine leaves round something.

I wrote out the page numbers and listed the ingredients. There were strange and wonderful items like 'green split peas', 'chopped almonds' and 'ground cumin'. All very scary to someone who avoids cooking at all costs.

Tonight, I stopped at the supermarket on the way home. I pushed the trolley up and down the aisles looking for the weird and elusive ingredients. I did find most of them, though notably not the green split peas - I had to opt for yellow ones. I wonder if it makes a difference? It took me about two hours to find everything on the list, because I didn't know where Tesco hides the mozzarella or balsamic vinegar or any of the pots of aromatic herbs I was supposed to return with.

Eventually, I got home, late and hungry. I had been staring at the list for sometime now, and I was starting to crave the Spicy Baked Potatoes option. I handed Nick the recipe book, open on the right page and pointed to the picture of yellow turmeric flavoured potatoes, with natural yoghurt dripping off them.

Then, I foolishly went upstairs, and left him to it. I tried to ignore the burning smells emanating from the kitchen.

Three quarters of an hour later, Nick announces that dinner is served, but that he didn't have any ramekins so the Yorkshire pudding mix had slopped everywhere.

Ramekins? Yorkshire pudding?

Oh, yes, there on my plate was a tump of mashed potato with bits of batter embedded in it. It was garnished with cremated sunflower seeds, only identifiable by their size and shape, certainly not by colour, texture or taste.

It turns out the recipe book had magically turned the pages to the section on "weird things to do with potatoes" and Nick had followed the instructions to the letter (minus over enthusiastic cooking of seeds and a lack of small pots to cook batter in).

Disappointed? Well, it wasn't quite what I'd been expecting. Nick helpfully pointed out that he had thought it was weird, but if that was what I wanted... Eventually, we compromised and Nick added some rapidly cooked frozen peas to the plate.

I've saved the small, black sunflower bullets for sometime in the future when I'm starving. Dwarf bread has nothing on this!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Alexis New Column

Last summer, while volunteering in India, I met a wonderful woman called Alexis. We painted an orphanage together and got on really well.

Alexis is an actress and writes for Backstage Magazine. Her latest column came out today and it is just so appropriate, I hope she doesn't mind me cut and pasting it into my blog in its entirity.

Thank you Alexis - you have hit the nail on the head.

Bukowski and Popsicles in a Hollywood Meeting
By Alexis Peters
June 15, 2009

"Pirates?" I reply. "Is it recent?" I'm sitting across from one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, and he's trying desperately to remember the name of a film.
"No, it's the one... You know." He reaches to his telephone and presses a button.
"Carla? What's the name of that picture? You know, about the pirates?"
"Captain Blood."
"Yes! There you go."
We're in his office. He's wearing a handsome suit and a big smile. Behind him are two floor-to-ceiling corkboards—custom designed, I'm sure—covered with signed photos of him with famous people. These are not Rock of Love contestants or American Idol runner-ups, though. I'm talking about the kind of famous that even locals who live in the Kenyan hinterlands would recognize. Posters of his films framed in platinum cover the other walls. Extra copies of books he's written are stacked on top of one another alongside dozens of dog-eared film scripts. This office reeks of success.
I'm in awe, sitting cross-legged across from him, bouncing my open-toed sandal against my heel. He quickly changes topic, and presses the intercom again.
"Oh Carla," he says, "bring us a few popsicles." He asks me if I prefer banana or cappuccino flavor.
"Cappuccino," I say a bit uncertain. He conveys my choice to Carla, and orders a banana for himself. I bite my lip. Have I chosen... poorly?
"I couldn't do anything without her!" he says. He speaks with such happiness. It's like there's an exclamation point after each sentence. Carla walks into the office dressed in a stylish tan suit, her hair pulled tightly back into a well-kept bun, two popsicles in hand.
As I unwrap mine, I suddenly wonder: Why are we eating popsicles? Seems a bit... um... phallic. I have a panic moment: Is this some kind of come-on? I've been hit on in meetings before, so the idea crosses my mind. The thought quickly departs as I open the popsicle, which seems to be already melting, despite the air-conditioned coolness of his office. As I lick this rather large cappuccino popsicle, it starts dripping all over my hand. I revert to childhood habits and attack the ice, sucking on it before any beige liquid drips on my clothes.
I realize that I'm also making a sharp sucking sound, and quickly close my mouth over the ice-covered stick. Suddenly I'm hugely embarrassed by this 'display.' Here I am before an important director, who's launched more careers than I can possibly name. How can this man take me seriously while I'm ravenously sucking on a popsicle? So I bite the popsicle and clean off the stick, just to be done with the ordeal. But the coldness of the ice flash-freezes my tongue.
Now I'm mortified. I look up to gauge his reaction, but to my surprise he's devouring his banana 'sicle with more gusto than I've seen anyone do since I was seven years old. Carla re-enters and reads off his to-do list for the rest of the day. He listens intently while I grasp for a tissue in my purse with as much dignity as I have left, realizing that my lips are probably oddly discolored from the ice. As Carla leaves, the director looks at me, while still sucking on his banana popsicle, "Do you ever get depressed?"

Do I ever get depressed? (Yeah, right now.)

It's kind of hard to take this question seriously. He's waiting for my answer and licking his popsicle. I don't know what to say to that? Kind of personal, no? Um, should I be honest? I thought we were here to talk about acting. Do I tell him I get sad? Or will that come off like I'm emotionally unstable? I want this man to keep me in mind for jobs, so I feel like I can't let my wall down. I want to give this man a great first impression; I don't want to turn this into psychotherapy. I grope for the most appropriate answer.

"Sure, I feel sad from time to time. Like anyone."
"What about negative thinking? Do you ever have that? Like if you don't get a job or you can't find an agent or you break up with your boyfriend... Does that affect you?"

I nod my head yes.He leans a little closer towards me and says,
"You wanna know what I do? I take thirty minutes each day and I let myself have it."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I tell myself I'm an awful director and that I'll never do another picture. I'm hard on myself for being shy at parties, and feel like nobody at the party really likes me. Why can't I just walk up to strange people and say hello? I'm insecure and selfish and I believe my career is over."
I'm literally struck mute. It seems as though he wants comforting, but I don't know this man. I don't want to insult him. There's an awkward silence "I have that too. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever work again, or if I'll be able to make a living as an actress doing movies that inspire me—or even movies that don't. I take things personally a lot. I'm a control freak, and shy too."
He shifts to his side a little, the leather chair creeks and he takes out a black leather wallet. He opens it, and hands me a little piece of wrinkled paper. On the paper is a poem by Charles Bukowski:

"Don't worry. Nobody has the beautiful lady, not really, and nobody has the strange and hidden power, nobody is exceptional or wonderful or magic, they only seem to be it's all a trick, an in, a con, don't buy it, don't believe it.

"The world is packed with billions of people whose lives and deaths are useless and when one of these jumps up and the light of history shines upon them, forget it, it's not what it seems, it's just another act to fool the fools again. "There are no strong men, there are no beautiful women. At least you can die knowing this and you will have the only possible victory."

I hand the poem back.
"That's beautiful."
"Whenever I have a moment of weakness, I read it."He points to a miniature statue he has of a man pushing a large ball. He pushes the wooden structure in front of me and asks me to describe what I see.
"Um, I see a person pushing a ball."
"Wrong!" he exclaims."
Ok... I see a person forcing a large structure upward."
"Closer!" he says, more and more excited.
"It's the Myth of Sisyphus. This man has to push this ball up a hill for eternity. And once he gets it to the top, it'll roll down and he'll have to push it back up again. At first this seems like torture but then the man realizes once the ball is rolling down the hill he has a few minutes of freedom!" He smiles even more broadly now than when he had the popsicle.
"I know your life probably looks like this, but you should never give up." I smile.
"Don't worry, kid. You'll be fine."

Afterwards, I sit in my car in the parking lot for several minutes, thinking about what he said and trying to make sense of it. Though I don't grasp all of it, I sense something extraordinary happened. As I turn on the engine, I glimpse myself in the mirror. Tan popsicle dye surrounds my mouth. I try to lick it off, but instead I laugh. As I leave the parking lot, I wonder: Are all Hollywood directors like this?

Alexis Peters graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood in 2004. Alexis played "Ingrid" in the Sci Fi Network original film Grendel. Other TV work: Days of Our Lives, and the FOX pilot Faceless. Alexis's latest film, Thor: Hammer of the Gods, debuted on the Sci Fi Network in spring 2009. Stage roles include Summer and Smoke and the 2004 ADA award-winning Moonchildren. She can be reached at

Monday, 15 June 2009

The End

I am not ever, ever going to apply for any more teaching positions. I have just failed, once again, to get a job at a very nice school. Why? Because when they asked me what my worst teaching experience was I told them "Being unsupported". It was a very mild truth and they said I was too negative. My Gods, what if I had actually told them the real unadorned truth?

I am so damaged by the place I have been working at. I have survived the emotional abuse of the past few years, but clearly not without scars. But that was the last one. I made a promise that if I didn't get this one, then that was it. The end. No more teaching.

The Gods have obviously got something else in mind for me. Whatever it is, I'm ready now. Bring it on.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Jobs and More Jobs (Part: lost count) and the Tooth Fairy

You know the interview is not going well when you stop being able to understand the questions. I realised before the end of the questioning that either they hadn't read my CV (resume) or they were hoping I'd forgotten to mention a previous job as a head of department. Beats me why they invited me to interview in the first place.

I have one final interview for a bog-standard teaching post on Monday. I swear this is the last time. If I don't get this one, then I'm off to stack shelves in a supermarket for a living.

Meanwhile, Mel has lost a premolar. It became wobbly and fell out, all within a couple of hours. The tooth fairy, being a bit useless in our house, managed to slip the requisite coin in, but forgot to pick up the tooth. He had to go back the next night to try to retrieve it.

Ever tried to find a tooth under a pillow? They're not very large. After some furtive fumbling in the dark, a little voice said "Here's my tooth," and handed it over!

Either Mel can hold a conversation in his sleep or he thinks the tooth fairy is 6'4" and slightly incompetent.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Literary Agent.

Back in January, one of my New Year's Resolutions was to try to get a literary agent. I have several projects underway, in terms of writing, and my problem is always that something more interesting comes along before I finish the last one.

Anyway, I decided to try to get representation for some of my work and I put together a proposal. I read around before sending anything off. I found out about the agents, what authors they are interested in, how they like to be approached, how not to piss them off and so on. I carefully selected what I was going to put in and crafted a beautifully worded letter to go with it. I included the requisite SAE, and I am making sure I only approach one agency at a time.

Even so, I know my chances of getting a real, non-exploitative agent are very slim, and that I will collect a number of rejection letters.

So I sent the first one off a fortnight ago. The expected rejection letter was waiting for me tonight when I got in from work.

I have to say I am not very impressed. I sent a really professional package to them. They sent a two sentence message on a bit of paper with no date or address on it and no name to go with the scribble of a signature. If this is how they approach publishers, then I can't imagine they sell a lot of manuscripts.

There is a worry, in the back of my mind, that the low grade response indicates their opinion of my work. I have a mental image of them in the office, slitting open the envelope I sent them. After howling with laughter at the feeble contents therein, the agent reaches into his filing cabinet. Different grades of responses are stored neatly, ranked from "Bestseller response" to "Ghastly, stop wasting my time response". His hand lingers over the "Ghastly" one for a moment before selecting the response marked "Pointless twaddle - can't be bothered to respond properly".

I really hope the next rejection is more worthy, or my opinion of literary agents will go right down the swanee.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Jobs and More Jobs (Part IV)

Somewhat to my surprise, I have another job interview next week. It is as Coordinator of Science for a special school. Having failed to get any of the jobs that were a sideways level move, I am not keeping my hopes up for a promotion. Let's face it, it is way out of my league, but I'm secretly pleased to even get the interview.

What is even more ironic, is that one of the places that didn't give me the job, turned me down on the basis that I 'seemed dismissive' of the SEN kids. This really upset me, because the opposite is actually true. I've worked really hard with my 'special' kids, and they have exceeded their targets as a group on average by one whole level. Non-teachers will find that sentence complete gobbledigook, but believe me, it is an amazing feat.

Each level is divided into 3 sub-levels. Normally, children progress by an average of 2 sub-levels every year. Brighter kids might manage a whole level, and kids that struggle might manage one sub-level. Targets are set, based on where we think they will get to by the end of the year - i.e. expected progression has been taken into account already. My SEN group did their expected progression and achieved an extra three sub-levels on top of that on average. Trust me - it is phenomenal.

So maybe you can see why being turned down for not caring enough about SEN kids really naffed me off.

Anyway, this job interview next week is for a special school for kids who can't attend mainstream school because of their learning difficulties. It would be a challenge, but I could wring so much fun out of it. Kids learn when they play, but mainstream school doesn't have time for playing, in the rush to stuff exam-passing information into them. The criteria for teaching in a SEN school would be much more holistic. I think I would thrive at it.

On the other hand, I would have to work full time, which scares me. I get a tightening in my throat at the thought. But, maybe that is just the fear of the unknown. I've worked at a tough, uncaring school for quite a while now. I have forgotten what it is like to be valued. Maybe if I was happy at work, the five day week wouldn't bother me.

It is all speculation anyway, because my chances of getting the post are enormously slim. Still, I'm chuffed to get the interview.

Friday, 5 June 2009

An Empty House

Oh dear, it is far too quiet here tonight. Donny and Mel have gone off on an adventure weekend with the school. We packed up everything last night into two small rucksacks. I left them at school this morning clutching their sleeping bags and a packed lunch. Pretty much the whole class is going and they were all as high as kites in anticipation.

It sounds like a fantastic weekend. They get to stay in a hostel in big dormitories. There is kayaking and climbing, abseiling and an assault course. They were told to bring a 'black bin-bag' to put their wet and muddy clothes in. It sounds like it is going to be a riot. I want to go too!

Here at home it is very quiet, with only the two smaller girls. Saskia has offered to 'tidy' Donny's room, which I suspect means she is missing her big sister already. I dread to think what Donny will make of Saskia's efforts in her bedroom domain. [Cue for a song? There may be trouble ahead...]

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A House Full

We have had a plethora of cousins to visit this weekend. Cory and Devon finished their European tour with a week in England, before jetting off back to Canada yesterday. Nick's brother, Phil, and his two girls, Milli and Sophia, also came for the weekend. We managed to fit five extra bodies into our house without too much crush. The queue for the shower was possibly the longest, but nothing we couldn't cope with.
The cousins were great with my four kids. Saskia and Eartha hero-worshipped them, loving being carried around, teased and paid loads of attention. They all had a whale of a time.
Although they were only here for three days, we managed to do a couple of short trips. On Saturday we went out to Ludlow castle via Clee Hill. There was a nice little market in Ludlow too, which they all enjoyed.
On Sunday we just went down into Bewdley and ate ice-creams by the river, before looking round the museum. It was quiet and relaxing and nothing too strenuous after their month plus of travelling.

Phil and the girls left on Sunday, to head back down to Kent, but the boys stayed an extra night, and Nick drove them down to Heathrow. He was knackered by the time he got home again. It was lovely to have the family here together. I hope it isn't so long before we get to do it again.