Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Plants and worries

I’m not interested in clothes, but plants – now that’s retail therapy, and yes, Australians, I paid good money for an agapanthus.

Things are still the same with my parents – father lying skeletal and confused on a hospital bed, mother tired and rather sad – and I’m still rushing up and down between our house and hers and also the hospital.

To add to the general worry of life, my lovely son-in-law, who suffers from depression, has been unable to go to work for most of January. I have huge fears for his future and, of course, that of our equally lovely Daughter 1. She married him in full knowledge of his problems and is wonderful with him, but we can’t help wishing for a miracle cure.

And that’s without taking into account the fact that Daughter 2’s boyfriend is trying to be an actor. Which isn’t on our list of preferred occupations for our children’s significant others.

Still, here is another cheering extract from an essay – again, not written by one of my students, but marked by me:

“Capital punishment is less expensive than imprisonment and it certainly lessens the chances of an offender re-offending.”

One really can’t argue with that.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Winter cyclamen

Oh, I have had no time in the last week! Our Higher English students have all had to do assessments – reflective, argumentative or persuasive essays – and it’s fallen to my lot to mark most of them, not just my own students’. 120 essays or something. And since they’re not always that good, I have to mark every mistake as well as giving detailed commentary so that the students can improve them for reassessment if necessary.

Of course, some of the essays are good. It’s just that those ones aren’t so funny. I tend to record the bad ones. I know one shouldn’t laugh – and believe me, I’m nice to the students themselves. But really, marking is so deeply boring that one has to take pleasure where one can.

By the way, our students aren’t college students by American standards, or at least, many of them aren’t. The ones whose howlers I’ve blogged are 16 or 17-year-olds who have come to college as an alternative to finishing (high) school. Often this is because they’re not very academic.

I should perhaps state – to dilute the smug effect that my recent posts have undoubtedly created – that there are lots of things that I’m not clever at doing. I was never remarkably good at maths, for example. I sort of understood it, in a surface sort of way. And I’m not technically- minded at all. I can do only easy things on computers. And I’m hopeless at all sports.

I’ve been out every evening this week apart from tonight. And I’m still sleeping at my mother’s house to keep her company. This means that, when not out, I'm spending some of the evening at home with my beloved family before going round to Mum’s about 9.30 or 10 pm. She then chats to me at length – she’s a sociable person and is rather starved of social life at the moment. She’s still not very well but visits my father in hospital nearly every day, which isn’t necessarily fun. I don’t grudge time spent with her – I’m very fond of her. But all the same I miss being at home. And there’s nothing like a nice cosy man to warm up one’s feet. A hot water bottle isn’t the same.

My normal emailing and blogging time was often late at night, but at the moment I’m parted from my computer by then. My Dad does have an ancient computer, but I don’t know how to work it.

The result is that I’m having only the most occasional reads of my usual blogs. However, I hope to catch up soon. Don’t write too much, people!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A brief post - and a pot

This pot is in my dining room and I really like it.

As a postscript to the previous post – I do hope everyone realises that I DIDN’T tell my class that the Second World War was between the Germans and the Jews. The apostrophes weren’t good, but the general sentiment was what really had me groaning.

I’m deep in marking, but the following gem seemed worth sharing – from an essay about whether prisons are useful as a deterrent:

“There are around 63,000 people living behind bars in Britain alone, costing the nation £37,000 per head a year. You don’t need to be good at maths to know that this comes to a total of £2,3331 billion a year.”


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nice roses and an unsuccessful bit of teaching

I've been studying "Spies" by Michael Frayn with one of my classes. This is a novel set in the Second World War.

Also, intermittently, I've been trying to improve the students' use of the apostrophe.

An essay, yesterday: "The Second World War was between the German's and the Jew's."

There's really not a lot for me, as the teacher, to feel smug about here, is there?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The first (rather weedy) snowdrop of 2007

It’s sometimes interesting to contemplate the effect of people’s professional areas. For example, I presume that dentists are unable to resist looking at their friends’ teeth as they converse, while hairdressers probably consider what improvements they could make to the hair of people they travel with in lifts.

Being an English teacher, I’m naturally obsessive about spelling, sentence structure and grammar. I spend much of my day correcting students’ use of English and so can’t switch off. I have been known to correct apostrophes on notices. Our college, for instance, held a “Fresher’s Fair” in September. For one student, presumably. (It was actually a “Fayre”, but I really can’t bear to type that, except – oh dear – I’ve just done so.)

Now, there are various things that occur to me about this.

1. It’s much easier to notice other people’s errors than one’s own.

2. Nobody’s perfect – no, not even me - and I would be so embarrassed to find that I’d blogged a howler. I would much rather be told, so that I could change it.

3. Many of the blogs I read – and some are written very well indeed – contain an occasional mistake. Sometimes people misspell “definite” or “independent” or “fuchsia” (called after Mr Fuchs), or forget that “it’s” means “it is” or “it has”, while “its” means “belonging to it”. And I itch to point out these little… typos.

4. But I don’t think I will. Blogging isn’t homework. Nobody likes a smartypants. And in writing this, I'm probably dooming myself to write something really stupid, really soon.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


It’s all a matter of taste, of course, but personally I don’t go for naming children something hugely original such as Honey or Apple or Moon Unit or Zowie. This may be partly out of sympathy on my part for the teacher who has to pronounce or decipher or simply not laugh at these names in a few years’ time; but I do also feel for the children in question.

In the Style section of last Sunday’s paper was a rather fine example of names that I wouldn’t personally recommend. The topic of one article was a rather expensively presented flat in London – part of a former leather factory. The owners have now produced offspring, and “… although not designed for children, this is a brilliant place for them. What was to have become a cinema became a bedroom for four-year-old Dauphine, and the guest room is now home to Orient, nearly two”.

I once saw, in the birth announcements of “The Scotsman” newspaper, that a Mr and Mrs Ball had produced a daughter. Honestly – I saw it with my own eyes – they were naming her Crystal. Could it have been a joke? This was in 1978 – I remember that we were on our way to the Lake District the summer before Daughter 1 was born – and I have hoped ever since that she might turn up in one of my classes. Alas, not so far.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Undeck the halls

Well, it’s Twelfth Night, folks, and actually I’m quite glad. It hasn’t been the best ever Christmas holiday, though it’s had its moments.

One of the moments was the arrival of this lovely decoration, incorporated into a card, from Kirsty in Australia. (I won it against fierce opposition from fellow-bloggers. Well, my name got drawn out of a hat.) How nice to have good wishes from a perfect stranger; it fairly gives one hope for the human race. Thanks a lot, Kirsty. I shall treasure it.

Maybe now that my winning streak has begun, the lottery will be next. Not that I particularly wants lots of money, but, you know. I would use it wisely. Not let it change my life.

That’s not true, actually. I would retire. And buy a house with a big garden. (And do some less selfish things too.)

Anyway, the decorations are cleared away, most of the pine needles are vacuumed up – though some turned up later in the bathroom and I’m aware of one in my sock – and I’ve helped my mum to check off her Christmas cards. She has a list which, sensibly enough, has a page for foreign friends, another for English ones, another for non-Edinburgh Scottish ones and another for Edinburgh ones.

Mum: Ah, now, here’s one – let’s see – from… Beth.
Me: Who’s Beth?
Mum: Well, now, I can’t think. She must be the widow of one of Dad’s colleagues.
Me: (after searching the lists) How about Mrs E Wilson of Milngavie?
Mum: That’ll be her. Yes, Harry Wilson’s wife was Beth, I think.
Me: Right.
Mum: It’s a nice card, isn’t it? Oh, it’s a Tesco one, with 25 pence donated to charity. And you can recycle them at Tesco too, it says, till January 12th.
Me: Yes. What does the next one say?
Mum: Ah, this is from Lorna and Ian.
Me: What’s their surname?
Mum: (Pause while she reads the information on the card). They’ve renamed their house. It’s a pity they don’t live in Edinburgh any more.
Me: Mmm. What’s their surname? Where do they live?

It all took quite a while, but we did it.

I’ll probably get round to checking our cards off by about April, going by previous years. Funny, isn’t it, how doing other people’s chores is more interesting than doing your own?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

January rose

Things are still not fantastically good. Thank you to those who have commented kindly. It’s lovely to have sympathy!

My mother is a bit better – no longer confused, but still very weak and shaky, and I’m sleeping at her house and spending much of my time there with her. Fortunately she lives only about five minutes’ drive away and I’m zooming up and down. Luckily I’m still on holiday but have quite a lot of work to do before I go back on Monday.

My parents have a grandfather clock that strikes every hour right outside the room where I sleep. It’s loud. “BOINNNGGG!” at 1 am; BOINNNGGG!” BOINNNGGG!” at 2 am; BOINNNGGG!” BOINNNGGG!” BOINNNGGG!” at 3 am… you get the picture. My mum says that she never notices it. Hmm.

My dad has had an operation to clear out an infected sinus but is still in a pretty poor state otherwise. I’m visiting him every afternoon at the moment since no one else is available. Brother and family back down south; mother and husband ill; Daughter 2 back at work; Son visiting girlfriend’s family north of here.

My husband has a bad cold and is having to fend for himself quite a lot – poor old chap comes at the end of the line at the moment.

On the positive side, Daughter 2 had a nice social time over New Year when not visiting grandparents. She had some of her (high) school friends and their husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends over to dinner one evening, and then various of her friends from Sheffield University came to stay with us and were here for New Year dinner with our family. Which was lovely. It’s so nice to see young folk, all full of life and optimism.

Above you see a rose, which is blooming in our garden in Scotland, in January. I like to think of it as a symbol of hope, but have a nasty feeling that instead it’s a symbol of global warming. It shouldn’t be blooming; nor should all the tender plants such as pelargoniums and begonias be still clinging to life, as they are. Where’s the frost?

Still, let’s go for the hope idea.