Monday, 21 October 2013
Rochester: All right flower?
Miss U: Dear God Rochester, this is the first time you've called me all year.
Rochester: Aw, howay pet. Don't yack on about it. It IS only October, after all.
It was a call of not exactly unexpected revelations: there was an update on his shady business venture, Kremlin Enterprises, which he ebulliently proclaimed ' A great cunting success! Only 12 referrals to Trading Standards last month! FACT!'
He talked me through his latest tank top purchases, 'Aye, a new green one since I was last in touch, flower.'
And, after an hour of conversation that had the fluidity and effervescence of a cocktail glass of week-old blancmange, came his awkward admission that he'd been 'seeing someone'. Of course he had. After years of marital dithering, anguished longing and 1000 lovelorn blog posts, Rochester finally left the missus, and went off to be with . . . . SOMEONE ELSE!
Says it all really, doesn't it? Christine Cagney wouldn't have put up with such shit. Nor would Elizabeth Taylor, come to think of it. Poor Dick Burton would have been garroted by his distressed oatmeal polo neck if he had so much as looked at another woman. Liz would've known the PERFECT retort to any boozy philandering in the valleys. And it probably would have been this.
Mind you, how satisfying it must be to give the finger to a swarthy, poetry-reciting Welsh drunkard in a mink coat, when said finger is adorned with an emerald cocktail ring the size of The Ritz. I doubt my Elizabeth Duke cubic zirconia would have the same penis-withering impact on the Don Juan of double glazing. I imagine Rochester's response to such a feisty gesture would be, 'Aye petal, that's right. Just the one bag of pork scratchings, ta.'
Initially, I was rather proud of myself, having predicted this exact eventually to Noir on our last afternoon tea jaunt. 'He's seeing a bird from Manchester. I just KNOW IT!' I'd proclaimed over my tea-cup, nodding sagely like a end-of pier psychic as I dusted the scone crumbs from my cleavage.
Miss U: She was from Manchester, wasn't she?
Rochester: Yes. (perplexed) How the fuck did you know that?
Miss U: Oh, you kept texting me how fantastic Manchester was. You sounded smitten. I assumed there was more to it than a love of eccles cakes and misty canals. Nowt gets past me. What happened?
Rochester: It is finished now. She was lovely but it just wasn't right. She wanted kids. Well I think she did (we never discussed it). I've done all that. Many times. Christ, it would have killed me. What's left of me. There was the distance too. We saw each other for 3 or 4 months.
Miss U: That means 6 or 7 months, doesn't it? Maybe even a year.
And then, dearest reader, he started twittering on about it all, and I just couldn't bear to hear it. I COULD NOT BEAR IT. I ended the call, as swiftly as I could. He was free to make a choice. Finally, he was free to make a choice. And he chose someone else. FACT.
Monday, 26 August 2013
As yet, I have done no school work. This is unusual for me. I normally like to devote one day per week in the summer to lesson planning, making resources and organising my classroom. Ordinarily, I'd be quite looking forward to the Autumn term: a fresh start, shiny new pencils and exercise books, new topics to plan, great books and poems to select for literacy lessons. This coming term I am supposed to be doing a Victorian topic. That should be wonderful, I was considering a week of running my class as if it was a Victorian schoolroom (blackboards/ slates/ hymn practices/traditional playground games). Then we'd move on to Victorian inventions and have some sort of Dragons Den project. Of course, my classes are famed for their morbid and gory topics, so we'd investigate Victorian crime and punishment and local archives by studying the life of Durham serial killer Mary Ann Cotton (and reenact her trial and botched hanging). We'd finish off, of course, with a lovely Victorian Christmas and class production of A Christmas Carol. What is not to love about a job with that much creativity?
Something has changed though. To be honest, my stomach is in knots just thinking about returning to work. Every night, for weeks now, I have the same two dreams.
1. The plane crash dream. Self explanatory: I am on a plane, it is coming in to land, but something has gone terribly wrong.
2. The School of Hard Knocks dream: I am back at my old school, happy and at home, when it suddenly occurs to me that I cannot stay. My visit is only temporary and I have to leave to go to my new job. That breaks my heart every time.
My new school is vile. It has become a living nightmare. I left the SOHK feeling confident, competent and that I could tackle anything (the SOHK certainly wasn't the easiest school to work in, as you know but I knew I'd been an excellent teacher and leader there). After one term at my new school I was anxious, run-down and full of self-doubt. By the end of my second term (July) I really thought I was heading for a breakdown. I'd hold back tears just walking to the front door. I am not sure how things have gone quite so wrong.
In a meeting with Head and leadership team. Head turned to me and said, 'Your class's maths results are absolute crap. What are you going to do about them?' I was amazed. My class's maths progress was excellent (1.8 points progress in 8 weeks: target is 1.3 in 12 weeks). I quoted these figures to her (got feeling she wasn't expecting me to know them). She just shrugged and said 'not as good as your English though, are they? Since then she repeatedly makes pointed comments that although my class can read, they can't add up.
A (a teacher) has been receiving threats and insulting notes/letters from a pupil in school. Some have been left at her home address, which is obviously worrying her. Head (who doesn't like A) just laughs about this. Claims A is making them up. 'I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her. And that's not very far, fat cow!' 'Has she been crying about it in the toilets again? Pathetic!'
A (the teacher) has referred herself to occupational support for counselling. Counsellor emailed a confidential report through to the Head, who read out sections to management team and laughed about it again. She went on to say we had better 'tread carefully' though, in case A complains of bullying in the workplace.
Big disagreement with head about literacy (again). She has spent nearly £10,000 on i-pads and film making equipment (bought in April, none of it used yet). This was pupil premium money, which should be spent on raising standards and accelerating progress. I had put forward case for promoting reading and writing, with costings, but she refused to spend any money on it. "God. Boring! I hated reading as a child. I am not spending the budget on books!'
Two members of staff have resigned. Unfortunately, they are fantastic teachers and have only let us know at last minute. Head said she would have deliberately given them bad references but they have both found jobs with headteachers who already knew them, so that wouldn't work. I have no doubt she meant every word of it.
Local Authority team in to inspect school. I reminded head that she has not (nor have any of management team) held any pupil progress meetings this year (meetings to check each class is making expected progress and to hold teachers to account for their results). I have repeatedly tried to get these meetings in the diary. Without them, it looks like we are not managing progress. She said she would just lie to authority team about it.
Last week of summer term. Head posted quite aggressively worded message on school intranet, complaining that not all managers had conducted their performance management meetings and that these need to be done, or people will not receive pay rises. This is now my 7th month at school. Head has not done my performance management meeting. I have not had one since starting. Not sure if I am getting pay rise or not. She does not practice what she preaches!
In training about new pay arrangements with other members of staff and head. Head kept asking thinly veiled questions about me to trainer, 'so if we have a new member of the management team and we are not sure of whether she has met her targets, what should we do?' 'this member of the management team started in January. Would her pay rise be in January or September?' Embarassing, to say the least.
Head laughing about making supply teacher cry for the second time this week. 'God, she was all snot and tears!'
It is awful. My only coping mechanism is to hide away in my classroom and try to distance myself from the ghastliness of it all. If I focus on my class, then I can just about get through a day. However, that does mean I get criticised for not fulfilling a 'visible' management role. I can't really win. I feel totally inept.
My main problem is this: my job IS my life. I have been teaching for six years now. I have always loved it. Teachers love to complain about their lot, but I really do think teaching is the best job in the world. I never regretted changing career. Rochester may act like a twat, my house may be falling down around my ears, I may be broke and existing on diet of ASDA Smartprice beans and broken biscuits, but at least I had a job that was creative, absorbing and rewarding. My job was my life-raft. It always kept me going when everything else was shit. Now my job is shit and my life-raft is gone. I can't afford to walk away from it, of course. I am single; with a mortgage and bills/debts to pay and no husband or family to help. I really don't know what to do.
I know the answer, of course, I need to find a new school and a new job. But that's not easy when you feel as much of a failure as I do at the moment. Later this week, I should be meeting up with a couple of colleagues from SOHK (including my lovely ex-teaching assistant Eeeee Hun, who has appeared on this blog before). I am looking forward to seeing them. But I am also embarrassed. My wonderful promotion has been an unmitigated disaster. I have failed.
Sunday, 25 August 2013
"Your blog is canny flower. You CAN write. But there's no narrative arc."
That was Rochester's analysis of my writing talent. The obtuse oaf misses the point; I can not deny that my blog lacks a narrative arc. Truthfully, I don't care two hoots about that. It is the lack of narrative arc in my life that is distressing. I am going through a period of narrative flatlining. As Aunty Margaret would put it, my life is 'as flat as a duck's instep'.
However, this holiday I have started a book. A novel. This is an ambitious project for a woman who thinks she has made a success of her day if she managed to get out of pyjamas for at least two hours. I have a chapter written. A whole chapter! I cannot deny, my tome will be largely autobiographical. The reader (singular) can expect a bittersweet tale of a dreamy, motherless child growing up amongst the bleak colliery terraces, juxtaposed with scenes of the present day. There will be aunties hewn of coal and Max Factor Creme Puff, a musky platoon of philandering fanny rats and the odd noble lurcher or two. Essentially, It's To Kill a Mockingbird, with added corned beef and Arthur Scargill.
What troubles me about the book is its lack of narrative arc. I expect (given that I do lack imagination) that little will happen in it. Now, sometimes I think that is OK. Some of my favourite authors: Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth Taylor etc write very quiet, episodic domestic stories but do so with huge amounts of charm and wit and whimsy. They weave in a wisp of melancholy and darkness and write utterly satisfying and beautiful tales. They do lack 'plot' though. Let's face it, the climax of a Pym story could a torrid scene set at a church fete, as Pym's gauche and spinsterish heroine (probably named Dulcie or Mildred) drops a buttered scone into the lap of her beloved (a bespectacled, bumbling curate named Digby), leaving a perpetual stain on both his corduroys and her character.
I think about my favourite book, A Prayer for Owen Meany, with its 600 pages of intricate plotting and a vast, Dicksensian cast of wonderfully rich characters. It is a perfectly plotted novel. It ends brilliantly. All strands of this epic story are woven together beautifully. I love a book that has a satisfying ending. So many don't. Without a narrative arc, a good ending is tricky. The story just can't build up enough momentum.
"Aye flower. I'm on my way. I've told the missus I'll be home by 10 though."
He hangs up. He smirks lasciviously at himself in the rear view mirror, smugly smooths down his eyebrows and begins to spray Hi Karate. JUST AT THAT VERY MOMENT there is the gentle tread of ballet pumps on concrete and the flash of emerald green cashmere passes the car window. The rogue turns to look. A flash of confused recognition darkens his face . Suddenly BOOM! The BMW and the fanny rat are obliterated in a savage explosion. SOMEHOW, a stray lit match had found its way into the BMW, igniting the Hi Karate, which in turn set alight the polyester tie and turned the car into a toxic funeral pyre of molten metal, UPVC and overbearing aftershave.
The book will be called Rat Trap. A Boomtown Rats soundtrack (for the inevitable ITV, Monday night adaptation) and Kristen Scott Thomas as the avenging angel/ serial killer. . .
Maybe not. I think I'll stick with my more benign and prosaic narrative. There will be violence and intrigue though. After all, there was that time when class warrior Uncle George was dreadfully wounded (and scarred for life) during the 1984 miners strike. It was truly horrific. Aunty Mary found out he'd been carrying on with the woman from the pie shop (when he was supposed to be on the picket line). In front of a cheering audience at the colliery soup kitchen, she poured five gallons of boiling hot broth over his head. She was unrepentant.
"Aye, I felt bad about the broth, mind. I did that! What a waste of good food when the bairns were starving."
Friday, 23 August 2013
It was probably just as well that I had the Tyneside to myself for Frances Ha, as I spent most of the film muttering furiously at the bedraggled protagonist. She spent a preposterous amount of time prancing 'charmingly' along the New York streets to a David Bowie soundtrack. She lived in black and white. She wore leggings. Lots of leggings. And Converse sneakers. She dreamt of being a professional dancer. This seemed a highly unlikely ambition as she seemed very gangly and angular. The clumsy sort who can't go through a supermarket without upending an entire display of perfectly arranged Fray Bentos pies. Her dance moves lacked grace and fluidity. She resembled a dispraxic, three legged foal trying to fight its way out of a leotard. Frances couldn't hold down a job. Or a relationship. She lived in a series of shabby, curtainless hipster dens, filled with books, cheese plants and gawky lads in skinny jeans. Yes, she got my dander up. She unleashed my inner Aunty Margaret.
My next Tynside jaunt will be to see the new Kristen Scott Thomas film. It's French. It's a comedy of manners. Now THAT will be a class act. There is a brittle fragility to KST that I love. And trust me, if there are leggings and unbrushed hair, she will carry them off with a genteel insouciance and radiance. Kirsten will not smell of mildewed Converse, marijuana and three day old falafal. No. She will smell of cashmere cardigans, lavender fields and warm brioche. Looking for Hortense is much more my cup of tea. And what a great name for a lurcher! Hortense. I picture a very aloof and equine hound. A graceful saluki type. A canine Patricia Hodge.
There was one section of Frances Ha that resonated with me. Frances, disillusioned with her shambolic lifestyle and inability to hold down a relationship or a job, jetted off for an impulsive trip to Paris. Once there, she spent the entire time brooding on a park bench, alone and wretched. That is just the kind of thing I would do. Although, whilst there, I would also take the opportunity to eat my body weight in macarons and steak frites. Frances didn't even have a Petit Filous! This part of the film confirmed a deep-seated belief of mine: you can't hide from yourself; you can't outrun depression. It is tethered to you like a backpack filled with lead. If you're going to be depressed, best be depressed somewhere shabby and mediocre. Don't go somewhere astonishingly beautiful, like Paris or Provence or the Grand Canyon. It will just make you feel even more futile and insignificant. Trust me: if you are heartbroken, go to Hull. If you are sorrowful, go to Sunderland. Be melancholy in Middlesbrough. Don't go to Peterlee mind. Trust me. NO ONE IS THAT DEPRESSED.
Actually, this gives me an idea for a new business venture: Ennui Excursions: holidays for the dejected and misanthropic. How about a bus tour of Northern sink estates? A camping experience in the grounds of a obsolete nuclear power station? I think I am on to something here. I think has idea has legs.
Introducing the Panty Pimp
Speaking of new business ventures, Rochester has been in touch to tell me about his new enterprise. He sounded as brash and irrepressible as ever. Kremlin Enterprises (his home improvement company) has taken off massively, now bored and rich, the rogue is branching out into the sex trade. Rochester is a pimp (of sorts). His proposed new company is called Panty Parlour. I am not sure I even want to explain WHAT exactly Panty Parlour's product is. It is terribly grubby. Actually, that is the product: grubby knickers. I am hoping that the whole thing is a wind-up. However, the fact that he attached a draft website design for Panty Parlour makes me fear it is not. He even offered me employment, 'Although I think I am going to target Polish lasses as knicker providers.' Maybe he doesn't think there is much of a demand for size 14 primary school teacher control pants. Could be a profitable niche market.
It's all very dispiriting. Why couldn't Rochester have a more dignified mid-life crisis? Paul Newman (in between working bare-chested on a sun dappled ranch and making waffles for Joanne Woodward) set up a charitable foundation making salad dressing. Richard Madeley established the Menopausal Musers book club and designed a range of tan orthopedic loafers for Clarks. Nick Cave grew a moustache and relocated to the seaside to play crazy golf with the Bad Seeds and run a bucket and spade shop.
"This is a joke, Rochester? Isn't it? Please tell me this is a joke! If it isn't, doesn't this make you a predatory, amoral, middle-aged creep?"
He ignored that one too.
Tuesday, 23 July 2013
Everything is a bit muddled at the moment. 2013 is proving to be an utter cunt of a year. Would you mind if I whinge a bit? Howay, Liz Jones gets paid thousands per column to whine about recalcitrant imaginary rock star boyfriends and bearded collies with dermatitis, you're getting this stuff for free. Indulge me. Please.
1. I HATE my job. Loathe it. I have to accept that leaving School of Hard Knocks was possibly the worst decision I have made in recent years. Yes, even worse than my short-lived dalliance with Margot Leadbetter palazzo pants in 2012. For the first time since moving into teaching, I dread getting up in the morning. The atmosphere in the school is toxic. The Head is a bully and utterly untrustworthy. My confidence in my own ability has been totally eroded. I must find a new job next term, but generally feel so inept and depressed that I doubt I'd manage to persuade any school to take me on.
2. The Local Authority I worked for at SOHK have realised they have overpaid me for quite some time, and apparently I owe them several thousand pounds. Sigh. This has come as quite a shock. I could do without this sort of problem. For heaven's sake, I am in my early 40s. Why do I still have money worries? Shouldn't I be buying a holiday home in the South of France by now, rather than struggling with a mortgage on a crumbling Sunderland semi? (My house and garden are now so poorly maintained that they resemble those pictures of Chernobyl 25 year on). I have offered to pay back the amount owed monthly, leaving me approximately £2.50 per month in disposable income.
3. I have felt, for most of 2013, permanently under-the-weather. I am plagued with viruses, colds, sore throats, aches, dizziness and upset stomachs. I suppose it's all stress-related and work related. Despite this, I have never missed a day of school. I wouldn't dare.
4. Rochester is not speaking to me. He has sulked since I posted the videos of him on my blog in May. Did you see them? They were only available for a few hours. I was mad at the time. My dander was up when the oaf forgot my birthday for the third year in a row. I didn't think he'd even have noticed the films, as my blog has never interested him in the slightest. I was wrong. He saw them.
"You crossed a line. You know you did. I am pissed off with you.'
He gruffly retorted, 6 weeks later. And that is pretty much all I have heard from him in the last 4 months.
I sent him a birthday present in June. He was turning 45. I felt he was at a crossroads in his life. He could amble casually into a dignified and distinguished middle-age (Tony Benn, Cary Grant, John Le Mesurier) or strut like an arthritic peacock into an mid-life orgy of cocaine, twenty year old flibbertigibbet girlfriends and pouffy leather blouson jackets. Rochester's gifts were designed to nudge him gently in the right direction. They included:
A Harris tweed tie: (from here) Rochester, since entering the tawdry world of double glazing sales, has sported an irrepressibly brash range of silken, pastel-hued monstrosities. He's become some sort of South Shields Donald Trump. I felt the need to stage a tie intervention.
A pipe and tobacco: For moments of sober, fireside contemplation. Pipe-smoking is a dying art. That saddens me.
Chocolate Gingers: Is it just me, or are chocolate gingers the ONLY choice for men of a certain age? I cannot remember my dad, uncles, male headteachers ever been given any other sort of confectionery. Let us face it: any other chocolate choice is too frivolous and fey for a real Northern man. What red-blooded man of the male gender would welcome a box of Dairy Milk? It would be an insult. It would be castration by confectionary.
Nick Cave: The Assassination of Jesse James soundtrack: Those of you unfortunate enough to see the Rochester films will have noticed that the rogue (who I painted as a dour and surly misanthrope) has taken to listening (and dancing) to soft jazz. This can not be allowed to continue. IT. CAN. NOT.
The whole gift was lovingly wrapped in home-made Tony Benn wrapping paper. Gentlemen, wouldn't you LOVE to receive such a gift?
Rochester did indeed send me a new film on his birthday. Sadly, it was not of him smoking the pipe (he claims never to have received the gift I sent). It was a film taken of him zip-wiring over a quarry in Wales. Dear God. Interestingly, the film appeared to be narrated by an unknown female voice. I expect that is why it was sent. Still, my dear reader, if Rochester chooses to spend his time with a giddy lass who buys him zip-wiring birthday experiences, rather than worldly woman who sends him chocolate gingers and Harris tweed ties, that is his choice and his business.
I shall sign off here. I am re-reading my favourite book, in an attempt to raise my spirits. It is a joy. An absolute joy.
Swarthy Irish Nemesis: You think you're the whirlwind. . . I'm the whirlwind!
Luther: You're not the whirlwind. I. AM. THE. WHIRLWIND!
I do enjoy Luther. Have you seen it? The dialogue (not spoken, but growled) is sodden with sweaty, swarthy testosterone and peppered with cliches as clunking and inelegant as a smack in the face with a granite filled rugby sock. The script IS ghastly. However, the program still manages to scare the shit out of me every week.
Attempts have been made to soften Luther's tortured grizzly edges: he has a penchant for the sort of tweed jacket rarely seen outside of the Waterloo Road Geography department and he pootles round the mean, litter strewn streets of London in a Volvo that is possibly the vehicular reincarnation of Michael Foot. He keeps a picture of a dead lover (or wife maybe) in his flat, seemingly with the sole purpose of looking mournfully at it whenever the empathy klaxon goes off (which is approximately every 18 minutes). The pain, loss and bewilderment in the angst-ridden detective's eyes at these moments have rarely been captured so movingly. Well, not since Greyfriars Bobby lay down with his head on his paws on his master's grave. Luther is a man who would appreciate a chocolate ginger. I just know it.
Saturday, 11 May 2013
"I have bought 'The Tweed'. IT WORKS pet. This chubby lass draped herself round me last night, like a musky fox fur."
Rochester has upgraded his Old Spice for some of JFK's favourite aftershave: Green Irish Tweed (on my recommendation). It had been a golden week for Kremlin Enterprises. He could, therefore, afford such wanton decadence.
"I am ON FIRE. My tank top must be made of Kryptonite, or sommat. £65 thousand pounds of sales this week, flower."
The dapper, Brylcreemed salesman appears to be back in the saddle after a barren few months.
"Check out the testimonials on our website, petal. We are going places!"
The Kremlin Enterprises' website: We WILL improve your home: FACT, always makes me laugh. It is ghastly.
"GOSH. I can now sleep safeter in my bed, all tanks to Kremlin Enterprises" Mr and Mrs Smith, Bristol.
"Kremlin Enterprises' salesman was profffesional and polite. Great tank top too!" Mr Singh, Bath.
"Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Kremlin Enterprises! I will not hesitate to reccommend your fabulos company to everyone I know." Mrs Brown, Bristol.
"You made these up, Rochester!"
"Nope. They are 100% genuine customer comments."
"Well, you might want to check the spelling. Your customers are illiterate."
"Aye. That's the beauty of it. How do you think we get them to sign the contract, like? I've bought a new shirt too, as well as 'The Tweed'. I'm going to look fucking EXCLUSIVE. Hang on. I'll send you a pic."
Reader. To be truthful, Rochester (at times) has a truly atrocious dress sense. This is a man who recently wore a lurid pink paisley shirt to a funeral. His ties are so gaudy and shiny they could be made from Quality Street wrappers. I was not optimistic I would approve of this shirt. I was right to be concerned.
A white collar on a striped shirt? It reminded me of something a boorish Tory MP or braying city type would wear. Tony Benn (a veritable icon of sober and modest masculine style) would never wear such a flash and spivvy garment.
'Alan B'Stard rang, Rochester. He wants his shirt back.'
Later, Rochester treated me to one of his films. (The rogue occasionally records moments of his day to send me). How I wish I could post the footage here, but I would never be forgiven. THIS was a classic. It showed the fanny rat king speeding down the M4 in his Vauxhall of venality, his Brylcreem reaching Exxon Valdize levels of lubriciousness, sunglasses glinting in the watery Spring sunlight. The natty oaf was dancing, nay, PRANCING to a jaunty jazz soundtrack. He was jutting violently about in his seat, like a camel with Parkinson's disease. Every now and then an arm would unexpectedly flail out, as if the tat salesman was being tasered by the tank-top police. The rogue freestyled several moves of note: stern Miss Jean Brodie finger-wagging at the rear-view mirror, imaginary horn honking and rheumatic shoulder shimmying. Picture Ed Balls, three sheets to the wind on Tio Peppe, at the Labour Party Christmas shindig, and you'll get the picture. (I told Rochester he looked a bit like Ed Balls this week. It didn't go down too well, actually.)
It is my birthday next Saturday, I am hoping for another film. I have requested a Through the Keyhole style documentary about the cad's new bachelor pad. I won't get it. I get the same thing every year. It is the ONLY predicable thing about the rogue: his birthday text at 2.50pm saying, 'Sorry. I forgot.'
School of Hard Knocks vs Mean Girl Academy
Even after 5 months, I still miss SOHK terribly. Pompous Pilate, its lumpen, beetrooty patriarch has been stalking my dreams this week, begging me to return. He WOULD take me back, you know. He has yet to fill my old job. The advert is still there on the Sunderland Council Website. There is also an advert for Deputy Head at the SOHK. Great salary. Awful job. I did consider it, but I'd be stuck in an office all day doing paperwork. I'd never get to encounter a child, let alone teach.
My new school, Mean Girl Academy is an awful, backstabbing and sinister place. We face the start of the next academic year with a shortfall of 3 teachers and 2 teaching assistants due to an incredibly high turnover of staff. (By comparison, at the SOHK, I was the first teacher to leave in 5 years). Two more of our teachers are on long-term sick. A few weeks ago, the Head showed groups of fresh-faced and shiny, newly-qualified teachers round the school, in a bit to attract some new talent. Over 100 turned up. At 5pm, she ushered a group into my classroom.
"This is Year 5. This is my Assistant Head, Miss Underscore. She's got the biggest class in the school. 34 children. All mixed ability. I don't give her a teaching assistant either, do I?"
I smile warmly at the students. Some one should, I think, show a bit of kindness to them.
"You'll see she's turned her classroom into coal mine. I expect that creativity from you mind. I expect A POUND OF FLESH, don't I, Miss Underscore?"
She stares witheringly at the students and slowly, menacingly points a pudgy finger in their direction.
"I have only been here two terms myself. But in that time, 6 members of staff have resigned or retired. That happens when I take over a school. YOU MAY READ INTO THAT WHAT YOU WILL! Now, any questions?"
There were none, of course.
The stunned and silent students were briskly ushered out of my room, their fresh and enthusiastic faces now etched with horror.
I try to keep out of the politics of the place, to be honest. I will, I think, have to put up with it for another year. It is tolerable, as I love teaching, and that makes up 90% of my time. This was a bad move though. A dreadful move. Ironically, I heard this week that Pompous is about to make an ex-colleague Assistant Head at SOHK. Had I stayed, that would have been my job, for sure. As with so many things in life, my timing has been lousy.
Still, my class and I are enjoying a topic on East Durham coalmining at the moment. And I am reading them Born to Run. Here are some examples of my class's pitman painters artwork. We are making a life-sized colliery banner next week. That will be a challenge. I can't sew. Neither can they. We'll then have our own Durham Big Meeting, complete with brass band music, speeches about socialism, marching, banner-waving and ham and pease pudding sandwiches. Michael Gove bleated on a few months ago about the 'defeatism' in East Durham schools (like mine). I feel I should invite him along. He would no doubt be aghast, and usher in his curriculum reforms even sooner. By 2014, such local history projects will be a thing of the past. We'll all be back to teaching the Kings and Queens of England by rote. Pease pudding outlawed. Whippets euthanised. Flat caps binned.
Sunday, 28 April 2013
Keeping up with developments in the swarthy rogue's life can be a dizzying experience. One week it's inter-racial anal tomfoolery; the next shenanigans in the knitwear department.
"From M&S. Grey. Lambswool. It shows my cuff-links off to full effect. Plus, when I am going door-to-door for Kremlin Enterprises, I can get a bit chilly, like. I got some vests too. They show nicely through my shirt. What with my Brylcreem, my vests and my tank top, I think you'd approve, flower."
Reader: I do approve. I do love all things retro. And cosy. It sounds to me like Rochester is adopting a most appropriate approach to ageing. Let me be brutally honest, I always had him pegged as a swaggering knob-jockey who would spend his mid 40s strutting round dimly-lit wine-bars beneath a musky mushroom cloud of overbearing aftershave (probably derived from the anal glands of a rutting ferret). I pictured him draping himself round giggling, lithesome twenty year-olds like a gruff Geordie, mono-browed anaconda, grumbling come-hither lines about UPVC millions and sodomy. Tank-tops signify a much more dignified descent into middle age. Who knows, maybe he'll even give up the roll-ups and cocaine and start smoking a pipe. Or cigars. Dare I even dream of an allotment? Tweed? Tortoiseshell specs? A BEARD??
"Anyway flower, I checked out that Green Irish Tweed stuff that you recommended. Decided it wasn't for me. I know you said it was what JFK wore but decided to go for something a bit more South Shields. A bit more Arthur Scargill. I got Old Spice instead. Saved meeself a couple of hundred quid there."
"I don't think JFK would have seduced Marilyn Monroe with Old Spice, Rochester. Never mind. You are doing well. Your BMW jars with the new image though. PLEASE ditch the fanny-wagon and get a nice 1970s mustard-yellow Volvo. Or a battered old moss-green SAAB."
"One step ahead of you there, flower. Sold the fanny-wagon already."
"Aye. Polish fella bought it. He took it over on the ferry last week. I hope the sniffer dogs at the border don't pay it too much attention mind."
"What have you got now then?"
(Bewildered) "A CORSA?"
Now, even for me, and my love of things quiet, modest and genteel, a CORSA is a shuffling, moccasined step too far towards effete and flaccid curate-dom . Only 56 year old men called Malcolm drive CORSAs. You know the sort: middle managers at the bank who still live with their imperious, gimlet-eyed mothers. Men who are far too familiar with the many varieties of Mr Kipling cakes and the merits of M&S vs Pretty Polly support tights. Not men who are ever likely to take you roughly against your clattering 1930s walnut drinks cabinet to a throbbing Grinderman soundtrack.
"Aye, a CORSA. What of it? Just renting it mind."
"DEAR GOD. Anyway Rochester, I have sent you another film. When you get in tonight, get your slippers on and watch it. The Odd Couple. I am TELLING you, watching Walter Matthau in this film, it will be like looking in the mirror. His crumpled, hangdog face; all jowly and world-weary like a basset-hound who's just been shoved off his favourite fireside armchair. You'll love it. He's got your eyebrows, your sardonic grouchiness, your shambolic lifestyle. Fuck, he's even got your vests and Brycreem. The resemblance is uncanny."
"Aye, I'll watch it flower. I'm not sure I see the Matthau thing mind."
"What address have I sent this to? This address of yours; it's a flat. I didn't think you lived in a flat. Is it Kremlin HQ?"
"So where is it then?"
"It's my flat, petal."
"Aye. MY flat. . . .I've moved out. I've left."
(Confused) "Oh. You never mentioned it. When did this happen?"
"A few months ago. Christmas maybe. A bit before. 6 months . . . .possibly."
Revelations, see? Tank-tops. Vests. Eau de Scargill aftershave. Curate's cars. And six months. Six long months. Six CUNTING months, and the rogue never even mentioned it once.
(By the way, for those who have asked, job is OK, but not great. But, I shall write about that later.)
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
It was a startling opening line. Even for the rogue. Aghast, I dropped my crumpet.
Rochester had been terribly withdrawn for some time. I'd attributed his silence to a new girlfriend. He had been spending a lot of time with silken-haired, black-eyed siren called Betty. He lavishes her with gifts (usually pork products). The loved-up duo prop up the bar at his local for hours on end. He texts me pictures of her, looking all wily, windswept and winsome on the moors. They spend weekends together. Right under his wife's nose. He doesn't care. He is smitten.
"I've been missing a trick all these years flower. I am ON FIRE at the moment. Wherever I go, lasses chuck themselves at me. It's all down to Betty."
I hate her. I hate Betty. She is a right bitch. A Labrador bitch, to be precise. Rochester has acquired a dog on a timeshare. He is cock-a-hoop with her fanny-attracting powers. Sullenly, I pointed out that, back in the day, he needed no canine side-kick to woo the ladies. No sir. He simply swaggered into his funereal overcoat, set his eyebrows to Heathcliff and his dour, South Shields raillery to Bobby Thompson via Philip Larkin.
Rochester denies there is a girlfriend though. However, he did claim to have received a Valentine's card this year. And, seemed gratingly thrilled about it.
"Aye, it was quite a tasteful one pet. It had 'You had me at hello' on the front, and she'd added the word 'petal' to the end. No cunting clue who it is from, like."
Reader. I was seething. But tried to appear blase.
"It will be one of your housewives. You'll have beguiled her with your ghastly ties and UPVC erections. I imagine her as a Pat Pheonix sort, all C&A neglige, corned-beef thighs and out-of-date Black Magic."
Had I sent Rochester a Valentine's card? No. Of course not. However, I was not going to be out-romanced by some simpering harlot in frosted salmon lipstick and marabou slippers. I texted the rogue a picture.
"This is my Valentine's to you, Rochester. My current bookmark."
"It hasn't come out very clearly flower. I think I know what it is."
It was, of course, my Metro ticket from our last 'date': 27th December 2010.
In other news, Rochester has set up his own business. He is now head honcho of the improbably named Kremlin Enterprises*. A home improvement company.
Kremlin Home Improvements: We WILL improve your home. FACT.
The black dove sings from both branches: Customer requires front and back double glazing.
The borscht is laced with diamonds : Customer considering a conservatory as well as double glazing.
The fanny rat rises in the east : Customer is a bosomy woman in frosted salmon lipstick and marabou slippers.
Rochester proudly ran through his telesales script with me. It was like listening to an episode of Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em scripted by Quentin Tarantino.
"Christ Rochester. It's appalling! And why does your script assume a woman answering the phone is a 'MRS'?"
"Aww fuck. Cunting political correctness. Anyway, we're not targeting the lesbian market. Lesbians do not appreciate plastic conservatories. FACT."
"I am not a lesbian. Nor am I a 'Mrs'. I am a Miss. And proud of it."
"And that bit about getting people to pass on contact details of friends and family in exchange for M&S vouchers."
"Naming names. It's like the Salem Witch trials all over again. Only with UPVC instead of corn dollies "
"You'd shop your Aunty Margaret for £10 worth of M&S cherry bakewell trifles petal, and don't you deny it. I knew you'd like the script, flower. I KNEW you'd approve."
I think Rochester in unravelling. He randomly speaks of buying a narrow boat. Rochester on a narrow boat! Can you picture it? The fanny rat king sporting an embroidered waistcoat, growing geraniums in rusty Barleycup tins, wearing a neckerchief at a jaunty angle and playing Streets of London on a banjo.? It's all so utterly befuddling.
And then, suddenly, in the midst of Labrador love affairs, Johnny Foreigner window companies, David Essex demi-waves; a random text about fisting. . . . what was going on?
Turns out, Rochester has been in hospital. A cancer scare. It was a medical exam he was referring to. He is OK though. I think.
"I'm on medication flower. In bed at 9.30 every night. No booze. No cocaine. No women. Just slippers, tea, bed and a movie. I even watched that film** you sent me last night. Wasn't looking forward to it, to be honest. Real men don't watch Bette Davis. Hey, it was fucking great. That lass who played Eve. She'd get it, like. Oh aye, she'd get it."
I think there may be some life in the old rat yet.
* Please do not Google Kremlin Enterprises. That is a nom de plume. Although the real company name is no more appealing and does indeed conjure up seductive images of Soviet breeze block architecture, cabbage stew and shadowy, mono-browed secret agents.
** All About Eve
Sunday, 3 February 2013
1. I hate my new job.
I thought it was just a 'settling in' problem. Everyone told me it was. And that sounded logical: I don't like change and find meeting new people a little overwhelming. But, after 4 weeks I still hate it. HATE IT. It is an awful place. It has:
- a ghastly Head and Deputy who love to bully and demean teachers, reduce them to tears and then cackle hysterically about it in leadership meetings.
- kids who have prosciuttio and fig focaccia for lunch, but who, in many ways, are less endearing than the SOHK Ritalin and Monster Munch addled skip-rats I used to teach.
- results WORSE than School of Hard Knocks, despite being in much 'nicer' area. Hundreds and thousands of pounds spent on i-pads and other fripperies, but no books.
- a toxic smog of fear and distrust amongst everyone. A school should be a really happy community. I have never worked anywhere quite like this.
I am trying desperately to think of a graceful exit from the new place, but no matter how you look at it, to leave a job after such a short time looks terrible. Plus, it's going to be such a bumpy ride with the Head and Deputy, will I even get a decent reference? I don't know what to do, dear readers. I am fucked.
Of course, the money is better where I am now. So, to try to raise my spirits I have set up a Pinterest account, to plan how I should spend it. That is, after I have paid of 5 years worth of debt, of course.
2. Rochester has taken to wearing pink paisley shirts with ridiculous collars.
Me: It's all very 1970s. It's all very The Good Life.
Him: Who in the Good Life? Tom or Jerry?
Me: I was thinking more along the lines of Margo, actually
There is nothing happening with Rochester and me. Occasional textual intercourse. Infrequent phone calls plagued with bad reception (interference from the shirts, I assume). I began to suspect he was having an affair. He denied it quite eloquently by text. The Fanny Rat King appears to be just 'slowing down'. He is settling in to the Parker Knoll easy chair of middle age.
"I am still the best I have ever been, flower. I have all kinds of fanny coming my way. CONSTANTLY. I just cannot be arsed. Been there. I am serious. I am tired. It's all too complex. Fanny broke me in the end. FACT."
Sunday, 23 December 2012
I made it just in the nick of time. Sneaking, like a thief, into the colliery church, right behind the coffin. I could imagine the disapproving harrumphing coming from inside the box as Aunty Joan was hoicked to the alter by Brycremed Rochesters in overcoats heavy with solemnity and moth. (I could quite go for a pall-bearer, I mused. They are very much my type.)
"Couldn't even make it on time for my funeral, Elizabeth? Dalmation print pumps, what in the name of Celia Johnson were you thinking of? At least I warranted a dress I see. . .well, a dress 'of sorts'. What on earth is that on your tights? It looks like half an Irish Wolfhound. Do you not possess such as thing as a lint roller?"
I could see 'the family' in the front pew. What should I do? It seemed inappropriate to push in front of Aunty Joan, who was sombrely making her way (lips and girdle, no doubt, pursed as tight as a cat's bottom) up the aisle. Joan hated fuss. A be-ballet pumped flibbertigibbet galloping for the place at the front would not do. No. It would not do at all. I guiltily sidled into the back row and tried discreetly wipe the dog hair from my opaque tights. An elderly lady, white hair styled in an unforgiving cauliflower perm, doughy, rosy cheeks dusted with so much powder that they looked like they were formed from coconut ice, handed me a hymn book. I glanced around. Old colliery ladies; the church was overflowing with them. Mildreds. My childhood was full Mildreds. Memories flooded back to me. After my mother's death, I was raised by colliery aunties: complexions like corned beef, starched clean hankies every day; as flinty and straightforward as the guillotine.
The colliery church is impressive in a very modest, unassuming way. It is situated on top of a hill, surrounded by meandering rows of red-brick 'two up, two downs'. Those terraces, once so neat: yards scrubbed, lace curtains bleached, sheets billowing in the nipping North wind are now strewn with litter, many houses boarded up. You can see the sea from most parts of the colliery; a perpetual churning, rolling sheet of grey. There was a time, in the 1980s, when this place was forever on the telly (much to Aunty Joan's disgust). There was the miners' strike, of course, followed by relentless gloomy documentaries and party political broadcasts about unemployment, crime and decaying communities. Then there was Billy Elliot, of course.
"Is there any need for all that swearing, Elizabeth? I don't swear. Your father never swore in his life. None of our family swear. That film makes us all look like uneducated heathens. Pass the Basildon Bond. I'm going to dash off a letter to The Express about it."
I could not wait to leave this place when I was eighteen. I thought it was suffocating. Embarrassing. Petty and unpolished. Funny how, sitting there, amongst the hymns and headscarves, looking through the arched windows above the alter at the amber autumnal leaves rasping in the scurrying wind, that I felt oddly at home.
It was a new vicar, I noticed. I bet the Mildreds love him, I thought. What with his floppy hair, rimless glasses and cassock billowing and puffing in the draughty church, he looked like a rather kindly but startled owl. The last vicar, who buried my dad, was an Oxbridge-educated twat. I despised him. " I came here because of my calling. It IS hard, serving a community like this. I wasn't quite prepared for how hard it would be," he snivelled to me once, after visiting my beautiful, gentle father, who lay dying in the front parlour. The vicar, slurping tea and devouring Jaffa Cakes at a very unchristian rate, appeared to think that working in an East Durham village was akin to self-flagellation. The colliery was his personal hair-shirt.
The new owlish vicar spoke eloquently of Joan: her beloved Hillman Imp, her membership of the Nelson Eddy fan club, her career as a secretary at the Northern Coal Board, how she remembered typing up the letter giving the approval for the filming of Get Carter on Blackhall Rocks beach, her love of cats, Tio Peppe and Sudoko.
" Some might say it was a small life. Joan never married. But she was famous for her straight-talking and her lively mind. This was a lady who look night classes in Norwegian and GCSE Woodwork when she was in her 70s; whose poems about colliery life were enjoyed by many."
Oh God. A small life. What makes a life small? Or big, for that matter? I don't even do the Norwegian lessons. A gentle sobbing trickled from the front pew: Joan's elder sisters. Both in their nineties now, frail, tottering little marionettes, swamped in too big winter-coats. (Even in their prime, none of the sisters ever hit five foot).
I noticed something else. Fuckwit Brother was also in the front pew. Fuckwit Brother! I'd not spoken to him since my dad's funeral, eight years earlier. I shan't bore you with the back-story, just to say, the man is a cunt. King Cunt. From the Kingdom of Cuntopia. This was going to be awkward, I thought to myself, as the shy, owlish vicar launched into a speech about the lyrical beauty of the psalms. "Joan, with her love of poetry, would have approved!" he proclaimed.
"I doubt it," the sprightly Mildred next to me whispered, handbag quivering with impish delight, "Not unless it was by Pam Ayres."
After the burial, we retreated to the Miners' Welfare Hall for the 'do'. A colliery funeral feast is a sight to behold: corned beef pie, mince and onion pie, steak pie, chicken pie, quiche, sausage rolls, vol-au-vents. Pastry: as far as the eye could see. A field of pastry, cheap meat and trans fats. It looked delicious. I was torn though. I desperately wanted to avoid Fuckwit Brother. That would be impossible if I stayed. Yet leaving would:
a. be rude.
b. mean I'd have to return to the School of Hard Knocks and teach PE (gymnastics, for fuck's sake).
c. result in me missing lunch. That was unthinkable as there were brandy snaps too. Brandy snaps oozing with whipped cream. Brandy snaps that had been sat next to the radiator for several hours and would now be at optimum ripeness, just ready to collapse, stickily, into the mouth.
I decided to stay. The brandy snaps did it.
I almost pitied Fuckwit brother, in his £2000 suit, forlornly picking the corned beef garnish off a chocolate eclair and looking suspiciously at the cloudy pint of brown liquid in front of him.
Fuckwit Brother severed all ties with this place twenty five years ago. He is now Director of a 'production company for multi-disciplinary performance art'. Indeed. A twat. In 2008, his company won a prestigious Golden W.T.F. (Wearisome Turgid Fuckwittery) Award in the much coveted 'No one in the real world gives a shit' category. I seem to remember that feted 'installation' involved 2000 screens showing the BBC 1970s Test Card whilst a troupe of leotard-wearing dancers smeared each other in Angel Delight to a throbbing Laurie Anderson soundtrack. There is always a Laurie Anderson soundtrack in Fuckwit Brother's projects. Always.
"There's cheese and onion quiche, you know," I said. Trying to be helpful.
"It's got PEK in it apparently. I don't even know what PEK is," he sulked.
"Of course you do, we had PEK sandwiches every week for school. Are you still a vegetarian then? You've kept that going a long time, considering you hate animals."
" I don't hate animals. We've got a dog now. Maya chose him."
Now, this was a revelation indeed. As much as I dislike my brother, I dislike his grasping and Machiavellian partner even more. She'd have a pug, no doubt. "What kind of dog?" I asked. His answer took me quite by surprise.
"A whippet. . . . here have a look. . . he's called Basil."
A whippet! My FAVOURITE (apart from Deerhounds and Wolfhounds) breed of dog. I squinted at the picture on F.B.'s phone. There indeed was a forlorn looking, caramel coloured creature sat in a bleakly minimalist sitting room.
"Here's another one. In this one he is in one of his bespoke fair isle jumpers. Whippets get cold you know. £150 each mind. "
I look again. Basil is indeed sporting a puce-hued sweater and is seated imperiously on a mustard coloured Eames chair by a vast sash window. He is bathed in weak, winter light and his melancholy eyes bore beseechingly into the camera. The composition has the macabre feel of hostage shot about it. He really should have been posed grasping that morning's paper betwixt his perfectly manicured paws (The Guardian, of course). Proof of Life, they call it. 'Help me!" he seemed to call.
"That's a rather dramatic shot. Have you thought of exhibiting this? Possibly with a Laurie Anderson soundtrack? Anyway, you both travel all the time for work. How do you manage to look after Basil?"
"He goes to a creche every day. It's really good for his emotional and social development. He gets to meet other dogs. You should consider it for your two."
My heard was bleeding for poor Basil. I had hoped F.B. and I could bond over a shared love of sighthounds, but this was not going well. By now, the buffet was winding down and the Mildreds and Berts were making their shuffling way home.
" Look at all the food that's left! I'm going to take some for Hetty and Cyril. Gosh, there's enough steak pie to keep us all going for days," I said, grabbing a box and loading it with pies and pasties. "I am sure Basil would love some of this. Are you going to take him something?"
Fuckwit Brother looked at me disdainfully. 'No, Basil has a sensitive stomach. He has Fenwicks' Food Hall poached chicken, the occasional slice of prosciutto. Mostly though, he's vegetarian. He's quinoa crazy! "
"What, not even a sausage roll? Not even ONE sausage roll? I've never met a dog that doesn't love a sausage roll!"
"No. Certainly not. He can't handle processed meat. Plus we've just had the floorboards Farrow and Balled with Plague Pallor White. I can't take the chance. Anyway, I've got to go. Flying to New York tonight for a meeting with Laurie Anderson. Basil's going to his country club. I've got to pack his weekend bag. See you later."
And with that, Fuckwit Brother was off. I don't think I'll be keeping in touch.
Sunday, 4 November 2012
By the way, if you want to know the back-story of Rochester, I suggest you check out my screenplay. It is mildly diverting. Well, it is if you have several hours to kill, have very low expectations and like stories of thwarted love, moustache-twirling villains and plucky but socially gauche heroines.
So, until this week, I hadn't actually seen Rochester for 23 months. We spoke often; discussed meeting frequently. But never did it. There is a Mrs Rochester, you see. And tiny Rochester bairns. I expected we would meet again, but not till we were much older. I imagined our romantic twilight-years-reconciliation would look something like this (I love this picture SO much and Rochester does have a hint of Sid James about him).
However, this summer, I relented. I missed the flaky fanny rat and his sardonic ways too much. So, I told him that next time he came back North, I would meet him. That felt like a big step. I spent much of my summer break in a state of fluttery anticipation. I was seeing Rochester again! But, something odd happened, the scoundrel went suddenly, sullenly silent. Weeks and weeks drifted by, like mute, melancholy ghosts. Every text I sent was ignored. I even tried calling the bounder. On the phone, like. (I am renowned for my telephone phobia, and usually only make one phone call per decade). He never answered. He had vanished. Sadly, I returned to school, and soon the reassuring rhythms of school life: assemblies, harvest festivals, rounders, threadworms etc took my mind off the rogue. Finally, one Saturday morning, as I sat with a fried egg sandwich, resplendent in moth-eaten leggings and Flock of Seagulls hair, I received a text.
IT WAS ROCHESTER.
It WAS Rochester, and he was smirking proudly, like the tom cat who had got the ALL THE CREAM.
Friday came. His last day. Still, he had not been in touch. I sent a text, asking if we were meeting up. Several hours later a reply came.
* Senor Boldon: Rochester's elder brother. My ex. See the screenplay for more details.
I HAVE A NEW JOB!
I am leaving The School of Hard Knocks. In January, I take up a post as Assistant Head at a new school. I am so thrilled about this, I can't tell you. My only nagging concern is that I am going to have to be all impressive and shit. Am I up to it? That is a worry. I expect I am not. Still, it is much more money, and I gain immense satisfaction from the fact that I am abandoning Pompous Pilate, and leaving him without a Year 6 teacher, just in time for his next OFSTED inspection! JOY!
I have decided though, after suffocating under Pompous's regime of blustering ineptitude and bungling farce, that I really want to have my own school. I am not even sure just being a Headteacher would do it. I want to set up an Underscore Academy. I would separate boys and girls:
Boys (in the Tony Benn wing) would study allotment management, old-school socialism, tent erection, pipe-smoking, bonfire building, the wit of Woody Allen, the suavity of Cary Grant and the poetry of Ted Hughes. Their uniform would be tan cords and chunky knit sweaters. They would raise funds for the school by farming cashmere goats and training fleets of gleaming, cravat-wearing retired greyhounds to ferry people around town.
Girls (in the Judi Dench wing) would study the novels of Daphne du Maurier and the poetry of Dorothy Parker. There would be compulsory courses in fanny-rat identification. The girls would be experts in word politics and economics, but also study for a Bobbi Brown diploma in lipstick/ blusher co-ordination and flicky eyeliner. Their uniform would be a neat cashmere cardigan, tweed pencil skirt and ballet pumps. Knitting and crochet would be an acceptable form of PE, as would beating egg whites for meringues and piping whipped cream into a brandy snap biscuit. Girls would have lessons in spring and summer underneath ancient oak trees or by a sparkling, silver river. In autumn and winter, their lessons would be in front of log fires, accompanied by fondant fancies, pots of strong tea and The Boatman's Call.
Doesn't it all sound heavenly? Will Michael Gove go for it, do you think?
Her funeral is this week. Here you are, Aunty Joan, a picture just for you.