Friday, January 29, 2010

Our new college semester started this week. Yes, the last week in January, just when you’re at your lowest ebb. The winter chill still has us in its grip; we still waken to darkness; the Christmas jollities are all over; and the New Year resolutions – well, let’s not talk about them. And the garden is a horrible heap of brown goo.

Five of my classes ended last week. But every group has some tail-end-Charlies who somehow didn’t get themselves to college enough to finish one or more assessments. Or they did, but they didn’t quite complete them or didn’t pass or lost various relevant bits of paper or... And I can’t finish filling in my resulting documents till I’ve established if these t-e-Cs are actually going to come good.

So this week I have five new classes – 125 new names to learn and five programmes of study to make up. And five new registers to fill out and lots of marking to do for the 125 new students, who are at the honeymoon stage of their college careers and, having convinced themselves that they’re going to work hard this time, are still doing their homework and attending class assiduously. And five new rooms to teach in, all with subtly different variations on the equipment: interactive whiteboards and computers and projectors and DVD players. This is tough for a not-very-technical person who signed up to be a teacher in the days of paper and pens. And of course the very people you don’t want to look an idiot in front of, by failing to get the equipment to function, are these new students whom you’re trying to impress with your competence and wit.

And at the same time you can’t properly tidy away last semester’s stuff because the tail-end-Charlies keep drifting in, wanting to do the work that they didn’t get round to last semester.

And then there are the six classes who’re continuing from last semester who don’t realise that you have any particular reasons for being a collapsed heap.

Memo to self: next time, be a cat.

But it's the weekend!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why I like cats

1. I like cats because they’re furry. Our two cats’ coats feel quite different from each other: Cassie’s is utterly soft and fluffy – like fairy thistledown – while Sirius’s is smooth and silky. Stroking them is soothing and comforting. Feline security blankets.

2. I like cats because they’re quiet. I can quite see the attraction of dogs also – though I’ve never had one or known one very well – but the one thing I don’t like about them is their barking. Cats just sit peacefully there looking elegant and saying very little. Mostly.

3. I like cats because they’re beautiful. Ours are particularly beautiful, of course, which you don’t really see because black cats don’t photograph well. In photos they tend to look either featureless or rather sleek and evil. But they’re actually sootily glossy and also slender and dainty and streamlined. Unlike me.

4. I like cats because they’re sweet. Yes, I know this is an even sillier reason than some of my others. Yet when they unfurl and offer their fluffy tummies to be stroked – well, they’re cute. I’m vulnerable to cuteness because it’s such a long time since my children were babies and (sigh) I have no grandchildren.

5. I like cats because they’re calm. This is a slight bending of the truth because they actually jump even at not-very-loud noises; and, if a burglar arrived, he would never know they existed because they’d be panicking silently behind the sofa. There are also skittish times when they chase each other up and down the stairs and from chair to chair to table. But most of the time they sit and gaze around placidly or go to sleep. So relaxing to watch.

6. I like cats because they don’t worry. I would love not to do so. I know, oh how I know, that there’s no point in chewing over the past or agonising about the future. But it’s hard not to. Cats just exist in the present. They don’t like it when the window-cleaner arrives outside the living room with his clanking bucket – but they don’t sit counting the days till he comes back again. And do they search their consciences about that little mousey murder or those scratches on the kitchen cupboards? I think not.

7. I like cats because they purr. What a lovely sound.

8. I like cats because they allow themselves to be picked up and dandled like a baby or carried around or just fluffed as they pass by on some business or other. Burying one’s face in their velvety tummies is immensely pleasurable – ah, the smell of warm cat! And then they’re quite happy to be put down again. It’s a very tactile way of passing a few moments. And it’s touching how a creature will accept human contact and will trust us not to hurt it.

9. I like the individual bits of cats. Their little heads fit so nicely in a palm. Their tails are satisfying to twiddle between the fingers, like worry beads. Their small feet with those claws that could scratch you, but don’t. Their furry trousers, straight out of Beatrix Potter. Their mouths – from the front they look solemn and judicious but if you look at them from the side, they have a secret smile.

10. I like cats because they’re so easily made happy; so uncomplicated. They like warmth, food – particularly prawns – and a bit of stroking. That’s it. They’re not ambitious or jealous or clingy or proud or avaricious. They’re just themselves.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Comings and goings

Son came home for a few days, which was nice,
and had some cat time

while Daughter 2 organised us into a game of Articulate

which Son-in-Law won despite spending quite a lot of his time reading. Daughter 1 combined playing the game and knitting socks. She is a sock-knitting machine.

Cassie decided that the chair occupied by Son's girlfriend was the one she wanted, so she climbed up on it and gradually nudged S's gf out of the way. The queen leans over her balcony. Wave wave.

And now it's just Mr Life and I. And these nice hyacinths. I love the scent of hyacinths, which always transports me back to primary school. Primary teachers tended to have hyacinths growing on window-shelves in spring time to teach us about the wonders of nature. Which it did.
Not that I particularly liked school. But I do like hyacinths.
And so life goes on.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I came home from teaching my evening class last week - 12-hour day, cue violins - to find Mr Life sitting on the sofa in a relaxed frame of mind, watching television.

The cats were also relaxed. I couldn't swear that they were paying much attention to the programme but they certainly seemed like cats with totally clear consciences as they lay snoozing in their baskets.

Even more relaxed was the mouse that I immediately noticed on the floor just inside the doorway. It was lying near the cats, who were studiously paying it no attention. It was not watching television; alas, I fear its watching days were over.

It seemed unlikely that none of the three of them - Mr Life, Cassie and Sirius - had noticed this unfortunate former mouse. However, they all claimed that this was so. Injured innocence was the expression on all three faces.

The expression on my face wasn't quite like that. Mr Life leapt up and removed the mouse.

The cats don't do this sort of thing much but when they do, they're his cats.

Of course, they deny responsibility. Have you ever seen two cats pointing at each other? - "It must have been him/her."

The mouse was saying nothing.

Friday, January 15, 2010


At the supermarket today I passed a mother with a shopping list and a small boy of maybe about seven or eight.

"You know how I used to be a baddie?" said the boy.

His mother looked briefly startled and then returned to concentrating on her list. "Mmm."

"Well, I'm a goodie now."

"That's nice. Now... bread ..."

"So can I have chocolate?"

(And you thought virtue was its own reward.)

Which somehow made me remember the lovely Polish young man at our local shop where I buy a morning paper. He's always cheerful even though he's been sorting newspapers and unloading bread since six o'clock in the morning and this clearly puts his customers in a good mood - people leave the shop smiling. When he started, about two years ago, he had very little English, but now he talks fluently with a fine Scottish/Polish accent.

Before Christmas, I saw him putting out a box of Cadbury's Creme (Easter) eggs.

"So it's Easter, is it?" I enquired pompously.

He beamed his lovely smile, waved a hand dramatically over the box and without missing a beat said, "Chrrrrreeeeestmas eggs!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blaise Pascal

My computing students (I don't teach them Computing, but Communication) were to choose a subject, research it and give a presentation. Any subject. They mostly chose football teams or computer games. But one student decided, surprisingly, to give his presentation on Blaise Pascal.

I knew about as much about Blaise Pascal (French, dead for some considerable time, writer and philosopher) as I do about Britney Spears (American, alive, singer and Celebrity). So it was interesting.

"Then," said the lad, "he became a Gee-Soot."

Gee-Soot? I thought.

Ah, a Je-Suit. Jesuit. Gotcha.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A tale of two shawls

In 1973 I was 23 and engaged to be married. I thought that bedjackets were a bit frumpy, so I crocheted myself a shawl to wear when sittting up in bed, reading. We didn't do the modern living-together thing so sitting up in bed together was a new phenomenon and I was anxious to look all right.

Thirty-six years later, the shawl is still on the go. I've used it every night. It and I have become middle-aged together and we both sag a bit. And over the last couple of years it's become even more scruffy because Sirius joins me in bed in the mornings and luxuriously kneads it with his claws.

For Christmas this year, Daughter 1 knitted me this shawl. It's immeasurably more beautiful than mine ever was: soft and lacy and warm.

I love it. Isn't it pretty? Thank you so much, Daughter 1!

I'm not going to wear it in bed, though, and Sirius isn't getting to exercise his claws on it.

Can you tell that it's a bit chilly at the moment? Could they be tied in tighter knots? How wonderful not to worry about the size of one's bottom. The cats often copy each other's body language, either symmetrically

or in a mirror-image kind of way.
So you didn't think Tim Vine was funny? Ah well, it must be the British sense of humour, I suppose.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Tim Vine

It's still very cold. Very snowy. I met a presumably very hungry rabbit in the lane beside our house yesterday. I felt so sorry for it and almost offered to go and get it some lettuce. But I really don't want a tame rabbit in my garden and anyway, it ran away.

On a lighter note, if you have 5 minutes to spare, you might like to watch Tim Vine trying to catch a pencil behind his ear - sorry that I don't know how to make the wee telly screen appear on the page:

and then, if you have another 2 minutes, possibly this:

Very silly but somehow funny. Well, I think so, anyway.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


I had my class of computer boys this morning. C had a big plaster [ie Band Aid] on the outside of his forearm. I glanced at it and raised my eyebrows.

He grinned sheepishly. "I got stabbed on New Year's Eve. I stopped him stabbing me in the chest, though."

"Stabbed! Who stabbed you?"

"Just some random guy."


"Oh, I probably said something cheeky."

"Did you go to hospital and get it stitched?"

"No. It was New Year's Eve. I was partying."

"Did you go the next day?"

"No, I got lifted [ie arrested] and they didn't let me out till the 2nd. And then I went to hospital. But it was too late to stitch it. They put a bandage on it, though."

"You got lifted? What did you do?"

He shrugged. "To be honest with you, I cannie remember. I was too drunk. I was quite pleased, though. It was the first time I got lifted for a year. I used to get lifted every couple of weeks."

And this is a nice laddie. A big, daft laddie, smiling and good-natured. When he's not drunk.

So many of our students think that getting drunk is a good night out. Young folk who you'd think were pleasant, sensible kids - who are pleasant, sensible kids, really. Most of the time.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

It's pretty, but...

Hmph. I am now officially fed up with this snow. We're not used to more than the occasional, mildly diverting fall - "Oooh, look! It's snowing!" - which causes a bit of a nuisance for a day or two and then melts. But it's now been around for the best part of a week and we are NOT AMUSED.

Part of the trouble is that we're not geared up for it. As you can see from the pictures of Daughter 2 valiantly trying to clear a way out of our drive and up the hill, the council don't see our little street as a priority for gritting. (Gritting, whoever it was that asked, is when the council drive a lorry along which leaks salt and grit on to the snow, melting it and giving something for tyres to grip on to.) We live in a cul-de-sac with only five houses in it, so you can see why we might not be top of their gritting list. The street is on a hill, steeper than it looks in the picture, and unless you get your car up the hill before the snow, that's you more or less stuck till the snow melts. The street at right angles to ours is also ungritted and also on a hill. After Daughter 2's efforts yesterday we managed to get the car up to this street, where it now languishes at the mercy of any other car which may skid into ours as it passes. But at least I can get to the supermarket, my mother's house and so on.

Of course, no one has snow tyres or chains or anything because we never need them. Or so we thought!

The cats are EXTREMELY FED UP! They're bouncing stir-crazily around the place, galloping up and down the stairs and risking their lives by tight-rope-walking along the banisters. They keep deciding to go out and then coming in again pronto, shaking their paws disgustedly and looking pleadingly at us: make it go away!

Even Cassie, who normally has a bit of dignity about such things, submits to being held like a baby and cuddled. Might as well. What else is there to do around here?
Daughter 2, who stayed with us really quite a lot over the holiday season, has gone back to her flat. She and Mr Life started work today. And I'm back to work tomorrow.
And I don't like January. It's dark and cold and ... mutter mutter mutter...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year's Day

Well, what did you do on New Year's Day? The snow's still lying deepish and crispish though a bit lumpy, so the cats did a lot of lying on blankets. Cassie left, Sirius right.

Sirius enjoys licking Cassie. Or possibly he just likes her to be clean before he lays his head down on her.

Most of the family came round for a meal, and afterwards Mr Life showed us that his electronic.. um.. whatever it is... can provide an octave of notes, whereupon our son-in-law played some creditably recognisable tunes on it. With both hands and much giggling.

Then Daughter 2 and Mr Life set up a game of Cranium. Clearly a serious matter.

In the course of the game, Daughter 1 uses Daughter 2 as a puppet - can't remember what she's supposed to be demonstrating.

Mr Life illustrates some phrase which Daughter 1, pausing from her knitting, identifies.

In a quiet moment, Son-in-Law models a hat he's made from Play Dough .
Next, however, he was given a card telling him to sculpt "a character" (from this Play Dough) and he merely waved the hat because it turned out that - though this was purely by chance - the character he was to illustrate was The Cat in the Hat. We knew he was a clever lad but we hadn't realised he was psychic...

Daughter 2 draws with her eyes shut and my mother and aunt have to guess what she's drawing.

They succeed because she manages rather a creditable roller skate. Not bad for blind drawing!

We had a good time. Even my confused aunt enjoyed it, though we all got slightly hysterical from time to time. For example, when she had to write down three words associated with "Paris", she wrote "Seine", "tourist" and ... "cat". Then three words associated with "cruise ship": "tourist", "boat" and ... "hunger".
However, one question was a "true or false": "Is it true that if you need to give an intravenous transfusion, if you have nothing more suitable you can use coconut water as liquid?" And she very confidently said this was true. And it was. (She's a retired doctor.)
I can't quite imagine being in that position: have needly thing, yes; tubey thing, yes; oh dear, I've forgotten the drippy stuff but hey, luckily I have a coconut here.

Daughter 1 finished her hat by the end of the game.