Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Missing Crocus Bulbs

Yesterday, we took a trip out to buy some bulbs for Mum. She wants to fill her dingle - the little valley at the bottom of the farm drive - with crocuses. We bought 300 bulbs in mega packets, which should cover the dingle, ready for the spring.

I left them at Mum's on an old sofa that's been used in various capacities for the past 50 years. Mum tells me my Grandma bought it in 1957. It coverts to a sofa bed, so it has somehow avoided being thrown out, despite getting tattier every year. Anyway, it sits in the veranda and provides somewhere for the dog to lie when he comes in covered in mud.

So, this morning, Mum called me to say that she got up to find all 300 bulbs had gone. Just the packaging and crocus flakes were left. She had to go and buy some more before we could come and help put them in.

By the time we arrived at Mum's, she's bought another 300 bulbs, but we still couldn't work out what had happened to the previous 300. There was little evidence of the bulbs having been eaten. It looked like they had been stolen by something small and furry.

There was nowhere for a mouse to get in. The cat flap is locked. The mouse must be inside. We took the sofa apart. There, along the back of the top 'mattress' were two tell-tale holes. The whole thing rattled with the sound of falling bulbs when we shook it.

We took it outside and jiggled it and wriggled it and shook it and pummelled it. Crocuses kept falling out, along with mouse nesting and for some reason an empty snail shell. Eventually, we took a pair of scissors to it and chopped it up to get the rest out. We didn't find the mouse, but we did find most of our bulbs.

Now we have 600 to plant. That's going to take a while! The kids decided to write the name of Mum's farm in bulbs, so Mum pegged it out.

I took the remains of the mousy sofa mattress and gave it a decent cremation. Thankfully, they didn't do fire retardant in 1957.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Autumn Garden

How gorgeous is Queenswood Country Park at this time of year? I just LOVE the colours.

Monday, 19 October 2009


Donny and I had a weekend away in the Lake District. It was great to have some one to one time together. You can read the blog and see the photos in my travel blog.

The Romans' Day Out

Eartha's class teacher asked me to help out with their school trip. They have been studying the Romans so they were going to see some Roman artifacts and learn a bit more about the Roman way of life. We were instructed to dress up in togas for the day and most of the children made an excellent effort. The adults didn't do too badly either.
The coach trip was only half an hour. The kids were ever so excited. We split them into two groups. The one group had an interactive talk about pottery and things you can dig up. The other group got to excavate some trays of sand and record the findings of their 'archaeological dig'.

We watched the resident glass-blower, Charlotte, make a green swirly-patterned goblet in a matter of minutes.
Then one of the kids had a go at blowing glass, to amusing effect. The molten glass rapidly slid towards the floor, leaving a cooling glass structure in the shape of a golf club.

After lunch and a visit to the gift shop, the children played some traditional games, like hop-scotch and got to cut out and decorate a picture of a Roman urn. Time was a bit tight, so we hopped back on the bus to get back to school just in time for the end of the school day.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Harvest Festival

This is notably my 100th post, something I wouldn't have realised, but for the counter on the dashboard. I must have started this blog about a year ago (maybe November?? I can't remember), so I'm averaging about one posting every couple of days, if you take the six weeks when I was out of the country into account.

Is that good? I have no idea. How often does a 'normal' blogger post? How long do they make their posts? How long do they keep it up for? Months? Years? Just once and then get bored? Has anyone done a study on this? I need answers. Show me those statistics.

So today was the Harvest Festival Assembly at my kids' school. The first three classes did theirs first. They did some poems and little prayers and showed the harvest mice they'd baked out of bread rolls. Saskia and Eartha both read something out.

The classes sang a couple of songs. My friend Sue's little boy, James, is in the reception class. He's only four. He was there on the front row, looking smart in his uniform. During the songs he resolutely stood there with his fingers in his ears whilst his classmates sang cheerfully about the Harvest Moon.

Then there was a produce sale, with proceeds going to Save the Children. I ended up with a butternut squash, three potatoes and a swede, as you do. Mum took some onions and a pineapple. One parent asked if there was anything apart from vegetables for sale. Someone gently pointed out that it was the harvest festival, so vegetables are to be expected.

Then it was time for the older kids to perform. They did a short musical play. Donny was one of the dancers, and she did it very well. Mel didn't join in much with the singing. I like to think it was because he doesn't know the words and can't read well enough to follow them on the screen, but I suspect it was because he was less than enthusiastic about being one of the chorus. He did do the actions to the songs. I guess he's not a singer like his sisters. Maybe he had something else on his mind.

They were all great. The performances get better each year. It is so nice to be able to get to see them without having to beg for cover from work. That is definitely one advantage of being unemployed.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


The village hall puts on a range of entertainment throughout the year. It's mostly low key stuff - yoga classes and the annual gardening show. They have a toddler's play group and there's a pantomime most years. This weekend a folksy, rootsy band called Whalebone was playing. I wandered across in a thick jumper and hat and met Elaine and her three boys there.

The band is made up of two guitarists and a fiddle player. They don't sing, they just play infectious reels and jigs. The hall was decked out with tea lights, giving a subdued cosy atmosphere. Very soon, I was tapping along in time to the bouncing shanties. They were very good, and as always with live music, I wonder why I don't get out to see more of it, more often.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Spiders of the Wyre

Autumn is here. I walked the dog this morning and took a few photos in the forest.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Geographical details

I took the dog for his morning walk in the forest today. I promised myself I would keep walking until I had clearly decided what I was going to achieve today. All too easily, the day disappears in a blur of taking the kids to school, checking e-mails and cooking something for dinner. I wanted to be sure that I didn't waste the day messing about on the internet.

Hmm, what to do? Since I gave up my job, I have slowed down considerably. It's got to be good for my health. I was heading for an early grave. The teaching supply agency offered me full time work until Christmas, but at a school well over an hour away by car. I don't want full time and I don't want to travel, so I turned it down.

Actually, I sent them a list of where I would work, as I thought they were quite ridiculous to suggest such a distance, and they don't seem to know where my rural village is.

So, there I was in the middle of the forest, slightly muddy and missing the dog, who had raced off after some local wildlife, when my phone rang. It was the agency. Please could I go and work for a half day in Hereford? Well, Hereford is an hour away, but I agreed. I want to buy the kids some winter coats, so the cash would come in handy.

It was quarter to ten and they wanted me there for 11.20. That gave me half an hour to get home, get changed, find out where the school is, print a map, make sandwiches and get back in the car. Oh, and find the dog, who was nowhere to be seen. I told the agency to e-mail the details to me.

I rang Mum to come and wait for the dog to make his way back to the car park, and arranged for her to pick up the kids from school. The dog turned up, just as I was driving away, so I had to call Mum and change the arrangements again. Back home, the agency called as I got in through the door. Could I fill in a form online before leaving? Erm, well, it'll be a little tight for time, but I'll try.

I logged on and looked up which school wanted supply. Uh oh. The agency had got it completely wrong. They said Hereford - in fact the school was 20 minutes drive the other side of Hereford. Fill in a form? I didn't have time to scratch my bum!

Nick had left his sandwiches behind by accident this morning, so I grabbed those and leapt into the car. It took me 1 hour and 10 minutes to get to the school. I signed in and walked directly into teaching a Y8 Maths lesson without drawing breath. Fortunately it is a nice school, with mostly good kids, and I enjoyed teaching them algebra.

Next up was an ICT lesson. Not bad. There were some entertaining kids in there, who made me laugh. A couple of the boys (teenage boys are all the same) managed to find a link to the Daily Star Page 3 girl. She was wearing frilly knickers and not much else. Erm, shouldn't you be looking at a web-site on recycling?? (I mentioned to the ICT administrator later, that maybe they might like to put a block on that particular web-link!).

Lunch time! Yeah! Cheese and salad sandwiches... oh no! Nick has made himself cheese, salad and ketchup sandwiches. What?? Who puts ketchup with cheese? Eeew. So, there I was surrounded by all these smart professionals. I look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards, thanks to the rush of getting out of the house. I've just had to deal with soft porn and now I'm trying to look like I'm not freaked out by eccentric sandwiches. Joy!

One last lesson to go. I took the register, then back into Maths. The group was noisy and it was the end of the day. I confiscated a rubber band, which was being used as a make-shift weapon. The child in question then asked straight out if I had another one he could have. Erm, no. Pinging your friend is not a learning enhancement option.

I let them out, leaving the room looking like a herd of wildebeest had trampled across it, and headed home. As I was leaving, the cover co-ordinator said I'd been complimented on how calm my classes were. Ha! If only they knew...

Monday, 5 October 2009

Thought for the Day

Some people don't deserve our compassion.

We should give it to them anyway.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Post strike.

Some time ago, I started writing to a man in the States, called Sean. He was in prison for bank robbery, something I verified before writing to him. There are web-sites dedicated to finding pen-friends for prisoners. I have a lot of prison pen-pals, and I always check them out before answering their ads. There are some types of criminal I won't consider for a pen-pal (anyone on the sex offenders register, for example). Justifying why I want to write to someone in prison is quite difficult, but I shall try to explain.

Prisoners are human, just like the rest of us. They have made some poor choices in their lives and now they are paying the price. Hands up who hasn't made a poor choice in their life? No? Nobody?

Exactly. We all make bad choices. Some of us get away with them, and learn to make better choices without going to gaol. Others get caught. Hang on, I hear you cry, I never did anything really bad, like rob a bank or kill someone. Nope, me neither, but I bet we've all broken the law at some point, whether intentionally or not. Some people make really big bad choices and have to live with the results of their actions.

Next questions: what was the worst thing you ever did?
do you think it defines who you are?
do you think you have more to offer than the worst thing you ever did?
would you like to forget you ever did it, put it in the past and never mention it again?

A guy sitting in prison, for whatever reason, generally doesn't want to be defined by the worst thing he ever did (unless of course he is a total sociopath wishing to be known as the next Vlad the Impaler). Most of them, and I know I'm generalising, are fairly normal people, caught up in events that led them to commit a crime. Their family and friends may have abandoned them. They are lonely and bored. They're sorry already, but have another 12 years to serve.

There but for the grace of God go I. Many of the prisoners I write to, committed their crimes because of drug addictions. They were high at the time or they were so mixed up in drugs and gangs that the choices they made seemed sane when they made them. To look for a cause for murder or robbery - look back to what got them involved in drugs or gangs in the first place.

Then, thank your lucky stars that you had a better up-bringing and caring parents. Be thankful you weren't born to parents in a Mafia or on an estate where only the tough survived. Be thankful the choice to do the right thing was easy, rather than the other way around.

I know, I still haven't answered why I give these guys the time of day.

Firstly, because I can see beyond their crime. They are not just what they did. They are still humans, needing contact with the outside world.

Secondly, I see writing to the incarcerated as a sort of service. Maybe, I put a smile on someone's face. Maybe, I can show someone how to escape from their past, just by giving them a window into another world. Maybe, a crime won't be repeated because I believed in them, or they thought I did.

Thirdly, it challenges me. I have had my assumptions and preconceptions changed by writing to people on the inside; by writing to "bad" men. I get a lot out of it. I have grown in understanding by doing this. I have learnt more than I could possibly have imagined when I started writing. As a leap of faith, it has been very rewarding.

So, Sean, whom I mentioned at the very beginning. He wasn't my first prisoner, nor my last. He was, however, my favourite. Sean was a very funny guy. His letters were filled with a sharp wit and he would take an idea and run with it. He was very in tune with me, understanding what I meant without me having to explain things in detail. We bounced letters back and forth for a couple of years, and I would look forward to each missive coming through the letterbox. He made me laugh, and frankly, I miss him.

Behind bars, people are 'doing time'. They have plenty of time to write stuff, and they are bored stupid. Letters are a nice distraction. Once that long awaited parole comes up, the parolee suddenly discovers a whole wide world out there full of busy things to do. Release date generally sees the end of correspondence. They don't write once they get out. Some of them really intend to carry on corresponding, whereas others don't even mention their parole date, they just stop writing. I understand and I try not to take it personally. I couldn't do this 'job' if I did.

Sean got parole, I think, last July. Consequently, I haven't heard from him since. I know, he's probably having a whale of a time. I know he (of all people) probably intended to write to me, but freedom got in the way.

Anyway, I miss getting letters from him. I have other letters to answer, but the magic is gone. They don't sparkle and inspire in the same way. I know, I'll get over it and things will move on. I feel better for having written it all out.