Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Last Wishes

A dressing up moment from last year.
The most controversial subject in our house is what the Upper Sixth will do to celebrate their last official day at school.

Perran and Carenza look back to a particularly inspired last day when they were in year eight and the swash-buckling upper sixth came in as Pirates of the Caribbean.  They even made a year seven boy walk the plank into a paddling pool.  They should probably have let him take his shoes off first.

This year, Zac suggested they all come as old people – wearing baggy cardigans, carrying walking sticks and grumbling about their lumbago.  This sounded great except some of the more glamorous girls felt it wouldn’t be showing them off to best advantage.

Carenza urged everybody to come dressed as Wally in the Where’s Wally cartoons, so that anybody visiting the school would have difficulty in stopping themselves from picking out “Wally” in whatever scene they were looking at.

The glamorous girls were still not content.

Finally they came up with their own suggestion – Disney characters.  Pretty princesses and heroines abound – but it’s hardly anarchic. 

There will be a vote, so we’ll see.                                

No point suggesting they come dressed as their teachers – the dress code is exactly the same for sixth-formers and teachers, already causing geriatric parents like me to have difficulty distinguishing who’s who on parents’ evening.
As for me, I’m currently finishing off Drolls and Weirds, original historical fiction with a mystery drawn from the myths of west Cornwall, aiming to bring the link to you soon.


Company Magazines Style Blogger Awards

A hard-working young woman called Lauren Gordon, has a fabulous fashion, beauty and celebrity orientated blog named Rouge Allure.  She has been shortlisted for the Best Fashion Blog Newcomer for Company Magazines Style Blogger Awards 2013. Please have a look at her blog and vote for her. All you need to do is go to http://www.company.co.uk/ magazine-hq/stylebloggerawards2013 and click on "Vote For Your Fave 2013 Blogs Here!" and vote for her under the Best Fashion Blog Newcomer.
Under Best Fashion Blog (not Newcomer), I also thoroughly recommend the always-fascinating Scarlett Dixon.

Monday, 29 April 2013


There’s another deadline approaching – if you are in the main body of UCAS applicants whose universities had given their offers/refusals by 31st March, then you need to reply to these by May 8th.

For advice on deadlines, visit  The UCAS website 

Perran and Carenza have both replied to their offers but I feel moved to check.

Just in case.

Sometimes you hit the wrong button, or the system can’t complete your entry until you’ve answered a question, or there’s one more box to fill in that you haven’t noticed.  The last of these is exactly what happened to me in the Autumn when I applied for my PGCE course – I thought my application was complete, but actually my reference had been “saved” not “sent”. 

It took me a while to realise this, but the person on the excellent helpline sorted me out immediately.  I must have sounded panicky as I registered they were using the kind of soothing “calm down” voice that works on small children.

When I ask the twins to look at UCAS Track again, I’m anticipating indignant glances and muttered comments about paranoia, but I shall remind them that from September, they will have ample space to make their own mistakes!

Meanwhile, I’m working hard to get ready another piece of my writing that I’d like to share with you – a novel based in my own homeland – Cornwall.  Drolls and Weirds has its feet firmly planted in the Cornish tin-mining of two hundred years ago, and its head in the clouds of myths and legends that surround the county.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


Both of the twins seem to have decided not to go off to a nightclub and dance the night away until after exams.  Heaven knows, having a good ole bop would be brilliant if it didn’t all kick off so very late at night, making the clubbers into grim and grumpy zombies the next day.

But even so, there is the sound of uncouth music coming from Carenza’s room, together with thumpy dancy noises and a certain amount of giggling.

As I open the door, they freeze, I would like to say “like rabbits in the headlights” but rabbits are a bit more innocent than that.

Apparently they have been practising twerking.

“No – there’s no way we’re showing you.” 

“Nope - if you want to know what it is you’ll have to look it up on YouTube.”

If those dance moves are so bad they can’t show me, do I really want to look them up on YouTube?  Or will I end up having to drag my hard disk into the woods to destroy it, Broadchurch-style? 

If anybody feels they can succinctly describe twerking in standard English without recourse to teen slang, this particular confused mother would find it most informative if you could do it in the comments section below.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Joined up Drinking

The Department of Education and the Home Office, don’t they both work for the government?  Haven’t there been calls for “joined up thinking”.  Whose idea was it, then? Why didn’t they communicate?

I can imagine them in the Department of Education saying..

“By eighteen, they’ll have a degree of maturity –they can take their major exams then, the ones that decide whether they go to university or not.”

Meanwhile, in another part of Whitehall,

“Yes, eighteen is a good age – we’ll let them buy alcohol in pubs and clubs when they’re eighteen.

I can’t see anything that could conflict with, can you?”

All this time, I’ve been thinking that kids with September birthdays did better in their exams because they are older.  I can now see it’s because, by the time their A2 exams arrive, they are over the novelty of nightclubbing, and can take it or leave it. 

For those born later in the year (like Perran and Carenza), what a great big shiny glitter-ball of a distraction it is to have thrown in their way. 

But I’m grateful to them that during the run-up to exams, they are at least coming home at a reasonable hour.  Maybe eighteen is mature enough after all.

Friday, 26 April 2013

First Exam

I go to see Carenza off and wish her well.  Today is her first exam, a French oral re-sit.  As she opens the front door, the light catches her clothes. It flashes off the sparkly studs in her ears, glints on the sequins on her dress, shimmers on the glitter on her shoes.  After she has gone, I wonder whether that is the most suitable clothing for an interview-style exam.

Later, I text her a question mark and she rings me back to reassure me that the exam seems to have gone okay.  She sounds light-hearted, which is a good sign.  But I’m still not sure about the first impression she’ll have made in her sparkly outfit.

“Was it an external examiner?”

“No – it was our head of MFL.  Then a tape gets sent off for marking.”

That’s good – their teacher won’t be distracted by a few sequins.  But what about this tape?

“Video tape or audio tape?”

“Audio, Mum. Just the sound track.”

“Oh good. I mean… I’m sure you’ll dazzle them.”

Thursday, 25 April 2013


Which way to the four star hotel?
There are a number of things that the twins have been saying they’d get round to.  Once they’ve left their school it’s not going to be so easy.

So I’ve started a nag list – it’s a dreary little bit of paper that I leave next to the fruit bowl and go through with my irritated children every night after dinner – one of their five a day. 

This last week, I have been able to tick off:

“Velocity DVD” – I paid £10 for a DVD of Perran’s last school dance show.  Finally I now have the DVD.

“NUS student card” – to ensure these are not applied for bogusly, they had to be collected through the school.  These will be essential for gaining discounted admissions and tickets this summer.  Tick.

Still on the nag list:

“Silver Duke of Edinburgh award” - some of our money and much of the twins’ time went into preparing for these awards. They’re a useful addition to any CV.  It’s been two years now and Perran and Carenza have no certificate to show for it.  Beginning to wonder if there’s something I don’t know – on that rainy expedition weekend, did they perhaps check into a four-star hotel with some cans of lager and a bunch of DVDs?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

In League

We saw friends at the weekend and Bill asked which university Perran had put first and which second.  I told him Bristol first and Manchester second, but that he had agonised over it for a long time.  Bill said, “Well, from all the league tables, that’s clearly the right way round.”

I went home and checked the Guardian League Table (probably the best known) and saw that Bristol does currently top Manchester.

Yet my approach had been quite different – Perran and I had chatted to youngsters we knew who were at those universities, quizzed friends of friends who were academics in Maths and Philosophy as to what they thought of the respective departments, and finally visited the cities and met the staff and students. 

We had cultivated a rich garden of anecdotes, impressions and opinions.  Yet if we had gone by the league tables we would have come to the same conclusion, but more quickly.

The only justification for bypassing the league tables is that maths and philosophy is a hybrid subject which doesn’t have its own table. Even so…

“For Heaven’s Sake. Why didn’t I just look at the league tables?”

“It’s okay, Mum,” said Carenza, “Perran and I did that before we applied. That was the first thing we did.  But all the other stuff helped us to make sure we’d got the right place for us.”

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Culturally Flabby

Recently, I realised that with so much revision, we had (justifiably) gotten a bit culturally flabby, so we scoured the theatre schedules, using only the strictest criteria – the tickets weren’t to cost too much.

We went to see “The Woman in Black” at the Fortune Theatre, London.  Carenza’s boyfriend, Sasoon, had been before and thoughtfully warned us that it was terrifying. 

Possibly he didn’t know that, unlike Perran who is a buff of scary films, I am not good with terror.

We were in cramped seats in the upper circle, at such a steep pitch that if I had leapt out of my skin, I would also have leapt out of the gallery and landed on the people below.  Imagine the very real screams when they realised that the huge mass descending swiftly from above wasn’t just another special effect.

So I held tight to Nigel and Perran’s hands, glancing nervously behind me every so often.  It was thrilling how much suspense the three players managed to build up over a piece that was largely an MR James-style narrative, using only their own acting skills, a bare set  and very low-tech special effects.

(And presumably also how much profit, for exactly the same reasons.)

Luckily, I didn’t disgrace myself.  Sasoon, who came too, reckoned the effects are less scary up in The Gods.  All I can say is, hooray for the cheap seats! 


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Card-Carrying Students

Perran and Carenza hit eighteen in February.  We celebrated, it was lovely.  It was now legal for them to go to pubs and clubs with their friends and they did!

But then I went to buy a set of museum tickets for a day out and discovered that our twins, whom I, of course, continue to regard as children are in fact, full-price adults. 

The solution has been to buy NUS Extra cards at £12.50 each.  For the month of April the price also includes a free ISIC card (International Student Identity Card) which should help us to get concessionary rates if we go abroad over the summer.  Hooray!

We purchased these cards for their ID function, and have discovered that they command so many discounts that they rival Groupon. But incidentally, rather as an after-thought, it also means that Perran and Carenza are now members of the National Union of Students. 

That is fine by them. 

I only hope that the political imperative to campaign for radical causes and hoist banners at the drop of a hat has not been lost amid the exciting prospect of discounts from Accessorize and Amazon.


(To be eligible for an NUS card, as the site explains in more detail, one must be 16 or over and in full time education.)

The End is Nigh

Whenever two or three members of the Upper Sixth are gathered together, they start talking about The Last Day. 

Worried that a millenarian cult was being started in my own kitchen, I made enquiries.  In fact, the controversy is over how the sixth formers will mark their last ever official school day, just before their exam leave starts. 

The general principle is that this day should be a tad naughty but stop well short of complete anarchy  with, say, the deputy heads trussed to the goalposts on the sports field and the parents of weeping year sevens receiving ransom notes.

One story is that the pupils at a local school circulated rumours of illegal chicken racing for several days before they left, then on the final day, somebody brought in three live chickens.  Pinned to them were the numbers One, Two and Four.  They were then released within the school.  The teachers picked up One, Two and Four pretty quickly, but the hunt for the mythical number Three went on for some time.

At another local school, leavers rounded up all the red-headed pupils in the lower school, took them to a nearby lake, rowed them to the central island and marooned them there.  Funny until you take a look at it from the victims’ point of view.

Here’s hoping Perran and Carenza’s year veer more in the racing-chicken direction.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Dye Hard

The teen years are good for experimenting with all sorts of looks, especially hair colour.  When you’re young and beautiful, pretty much anything looks great.  And the wonderful thing about any hair mistake is that it grows out. 
Unlike tattoos. (Something I just like to mention every so often.)  
Our house has been a big consumer of hair dye with three of us resorting to it (you have to guess which three). 

Carenza particularly enjoys dyeing the hair of friends.  She was responsible for the silver streak that Perran used to sport amongst his black, and she used to do my roots before I got the knack myself. 

One day I returned home to find a couple of girls in our bathroom being turned glossy shades of brunette and auburn (apparently that’s different from ginger).

How sweet.

Until I realised that Carenza was using MY TOWELS.  I had to choke back the angry bellow in order to be polite to Sophie and Samantha.

As soon as they left, I rammed the stained towels angrily into the washer. 

It was only as I was hanging them out later that I noticed there was no trace of the dye left on them – it had all come out in the wash.

“Quick,” I yelled to Carenza, “Ring Samantha and tell her not to go out in the rain.”

Friday, 19 April 2013


It’s the run up to exams and it’s important not to distract Perran and Carenza so we’re keeping social life low-key.  We need to support our children in every way possible, so when the ancient computer that Carenza uses finally ground to a halt, Nigel said, “You know what, we were always going to buy her a laptop for going to Uni – I guess we’ll just be getting it a little earlier.”

Nothing was going to stand in the way of her revision. 

And then the new laptop arrived.

We got home after a day out with friends to find the hard disk brimming with selfie photos of Perran and Carenza running the gamut of silly expressions.  How long did they spend…?

Last night, returning home from a church group, we couldn’t find the twins anywhere. 

It turned out they had taken the new laptop up to Carenza’s room and were following a pilates video on Youtube. They looked up happily from the floor.

“See what Perran can do with his legs.  Nope, not me.  I don’t even bend there.”

“I’m really glad to see you doing some exercises.  But…um…how long have you been doing this?”

“Not long! Not long!” (exchange of shifty glances).

Shutting the door behind us, I said to Nigel, “You know what we’ve gone and done, don’t you?”

“Yep.  We’ve provided a massive distraction.”

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


“Nigel, why is Perran wrestling with an anaconda in the kitchen sink?”

“That’s not an anaconda – it’s an inner tube.  He’s trying to fix a puncture.”

For Perran right now, the bike is an essential piece of equipment.  School is about a mile away and so is his double paper round.  Cycling has taught him traffic rules – useful as he learns to drive.

However, as an anxious mother, I have a tendency to follow him about clutching a high-visibility gilet and a helmet, whingeing “Please put these on.  Just for me.  Please.”

What I would really like is a law that demands helmets on bikes just as it does on motorcycles.  No more tedious arguments.

And that fashion for acid-house day-glo stuff that came in at the end of the eighties.  Can we have that back again too please?

When (hopefully) Perran goes to Bristol in the Autumn, much first year accommodation is a long way out and the bike could still be vital.   Carenza’s prospective college at Oxford is also distant from the centre so she too may have to take to her bike – not something she’s ever shown a wish to do, but I’m sure she’ll look gorgeous in acid green.

But I have a nasty feeling that the helmets I intend to force on them are going to end up in their rooms, inverted and used as fruit bowls.


It’s a historic day today, but Perran and Carenza are in school, instead of in London, bearing witness to Margaret Thatcher’s very expensive funeral.  The only thing that makes me doubt the wisdom of this is that I run an oral history group for the elderly and their accounts are much more pungent for being eye-witness.  They recall cycling with red white and blue ribbons streaming out behind them on VE Day, sleeping on pavements before the coronation parade, making friends with strangers on the street at a royal wedding.   Magical.

As a non-royalist (not quite as vehement as an anti-royalist), I haven’t attended any of the weddings, funerals, jubilees in London, although we did once take my mother-in-law to London for a birthday day out and were surprised when they trooped the colour for her and the red arrows gave her a fly-past.  It turned out it was also the Queen’s eightieth birthday.

Maybe, we’ll just have to make it a historic day at home.  Over dinner, I shall advise my offspring that the people who are shaking their fists at a shrivelled dead woman in a coffin are wasting their energy – instead they should be genning up on the policies they want enacted today, signing up to the appropriate political/pressure/religious bodies, and lobbying, campaigning and canvassing like mad to make this country a better place for my grandchildren.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Time Zones

Every so often, I Skype with Rosie, my friend in Philadelphia.  We have a window just after she gets up and before I get busy with late afternoon work.  It’s about 2pm – I am always complimentary if she’s managed to put her earrings in by the time we speak.

The twins are also developing their own time zones – Perran is a bit ahead, like, say, France, because he has to get up early for his paper round.  Carenza is well behind, like a sleepy Mediterranean holiday town.  She has several getting-up attempts each morning, most of them unsuccessful.  Although now she is about to make her own personal and unwelcome connection with British Summer Time because term is starting again.  

Pascoe, however, has become positively Antipodean - he is so busy striving towards his dissertation hand-in date right now that he sometimes works through the night.  I can’t decide whether he’s a day ahead or a day behind, but I got a text at 10am yesterday, saying “Have just handed in second draft.  Off to bed now.” 

By 2pm, however, he appeared to be up and about again.

It all makes rendezvousing with Rosie seem quite simple.

If you have enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to share it on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Al Fresco

I am just washing up in the kitchen and peering through the window when I freeze.  I have spotted something extremely unusual in our garden. 
Perran and Carenza have taken their revision outside.  The last person I saw in our garden had a carrot for a nose and pieces of coal for buttons.

I marvel at the twins’ concentration – there are plenty of distractions.  After the long icy start to the year, spring is arriving all at once, like one of those speeded up time-lapse sequences in a David Attenborough film.   Daffodils and tulips are blooming simultaneously and there’s a froth of blossom on the Mirabelle tree. 

And it’s noisy – the birds are making up for lost time, squabbling with rivals and trilling to attract a mate.  How on earth can Perran and Carenza focus through this cacophony?  Bumble bees are zooming ponderously about and frogs are croaking happily in the pond.  In the background there is a symphony of distant lawn-mowers and hedge trimmers.  But the twins’ heads remain bent over their papers.

I decide to take them out a cup of tea to reward their diligence. As I approach, Carenza asks Perran,

“What do you think of this big funeral for Maggie T then?”

“Ridiculous,” he replies.

Hmmm. They are reading the Sunday papers, not revising at all. 

But they’re right about Margaret Thatcher.  I give them their tea and go to fetch biscuits for them.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Box Set Revison

Perran and Carenza are ramping up their revision for A2s.  At the end of an evening bent over paper-work their heads are buzzing with quotes from Frankenstein or the bons mots of Descartes.  If they go straight to bed, their minds will continue to work. 

A tradition which Pascoe established is the half-hour bedtime comedy.  We haven’t got time for a one hour drama, and anyway, how many of these have we sampled, only to find hem limp and plodding?

It can be a sketch show, and we’ve loved Watson and Oliver, the Anna and Katy Show and Mitchell and Webb, but a sitcom with a plot-line is even better as it engages us more.  For a long time, the “will they/won’t they” romance of Not Going Out captivated us, although by now, while still a sharp show, the romance has lost its bloom. We love Miranda, Rev, Friday Night Dinner, but our demand is outstripping the supply of really good stuff.  In the past we’ve bought or borrowed boxed sets of Father Ted, Black Books, Green Wing. 

This time I purchased a huge set of Men Behaving Badly which I remember fondly, but a plot about homophobia had cleared the room well before the homophobic main character received his come-uppance.

Instead, Perran has nominated Absolutely Fabulous – thank you, Jennifer Saunders. 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Warmth on its Way

Yesterday, I had met up with friends Caroline and Diane and we were shivering beside a rainy reservoir, behaving like voyeurs, squinting through binoculars in the hopes that a pair of distant grebes might engage in mating behaviour.  The weather seemed to have put a damper on things, even for the amorous grebes who never got beyond first base. 

But I began to notice, on the edges of my vision, some small familiar birds gliding to and fro.  It took me a moment to register – I was seeing swallows and house martins, skimming low over the water for insects. 
Their arrival is one of the big events of the spring.  They say that one swallow does not a summer make, but there were dozens of them.  They had not been there when we first arrived at the reservoir so perhaps this was the very moment they had arrived from Africa.  Their calls were certainly joyous.

Historically, signs of warmer weather were always met with relief by a population who had survived the privations of winter, but the academic year in this country means that spring also heralds a negative experience – long light-filled evenings spent, not engaging in country walks, but in cramming for national exams. 
With two A Level students in this house and a University finals candidate on the end of a Skype call, this year will be no different for us.  Pascoe at least will be finished by mid-May and although he will have many other deadlines to meet as a PhD student, he will hopefully never have to spend summer evenings preparing for major exams again.  From now on, he will be able to welcome the swallows whole-heartedly.

Friday, 12 April 2013


A week or so ago, Pascoe identified a swift and economical meal he had not mastered.  He is an ingenious and enthusiastic chef with a special way with offal and a reputation for going up to the butcher in Norwich market and asking if he has “anything interesting”.  So it should have been easy for me to teach him to make an omelette.

Except for one thing – I hadn’t realised he would have only a bare week at home at Easter. If I had, I wouldn’t have spent half of it visiting my parents in Cornwall – I would have postponed. 

Pascoe arrived a week after the end of term – he had been wrestling to lick his final year project into shape.  (Probably lick is the wrong word as he is studying food-poisoning bacteria).  He spent the week he had with us on a first draft.  Even on our short break in the Peaks, he retreated to the kitchen with his laptop, his microphone and his dictation software.  Unfortunately, this probably means that his dissertation is peppered with phrases like “No – no milk for me thank you,” and “Do you mind if I have a third biscuit”.

But on the last mealtime of the last day at our house, he got cracking.  My main contribution was to tell him that the pan needed to be hot and that we put eggshells in the compost bin.  Voila.  Perfect omelettes for all of us.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Eighteenth Century Teen-ager

Thanks to Carenza for guest blogging yesterday.    Nigel and I spent the day off with Carolyn, David and Hannah at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, admiring the way the other half used to live. 

It must have been tough to be an aristocratic eighteenth century teenager.  If you had a row with your parents, you would have a very long way to flounce before you got to your bedroom, and when you slammed the door, if your mother heard it at all, she might just think it was a distant game-keeper executing a poacher.

The equivalent of a Facebook page was the long gallery hung with portraits by fashionable artists –

“Here’s me riding to hounds.  Here’s me and my brother with our swords….No, that’s not a wig. Yeah, everybody was wearing rosettes on their shoes just then.”

While I condemn this elitism, I have to admit that those paintings are more aesthetically pleasing than current “Selfie” photos, taken holding a mobile at arm’s length.

There was no excuse for teens to get away to a local night club either – the house had its own ballroom, and with so much gleaming gilding, there was no need for a glitter ball.  However, the architect clearly hadn’t understood the idea of podium dancers – up on the plinths were Hercules, Diana and Venus – great bodies but not much movement going on.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Guest Blog: The Defendant Speaks

Clare is out for the day, so I thought I would take my revenge. It seems only fair that I should be able to get my own back. This is Carenza speaking and, let me tell you, my mum’s blog has had some serious consequences for its subjects: her poor, misrepresented children.

For me, the ramifications of my mum fabricating stories about what I do in my free time have been both varied and vaguely disturbing, ranging from the words, “I’ve seen you on the internet” being deemed an appropriate greeting, to people I know reconsidering our friendship because they’ve read about what I’m “really like.”
However, the real reason for this hijack is so that I can get a few things straight:
1) Despite how I have been portrayed, I am not a totally sarcastic and selfish human being*
2) Although it may have suggested otherwise, I am not completely obsessed with One Direction**

I hope this has been enlightening. And I really hope Mum is embarrassed by this delightful old picture of her as a pirate…

* Emphasis on the word, ‘totally’ – I can be downright irritating.
** Okay so this might be a little lie, but come on! Have you seen them?!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


In the Autumn I shall train to be a Classics teacher, but until recently, it was thirty years since I had studied Latin, apart from the odd brush with mottoes and grave inscriptions.  What started me again was Carenza, Perran and their friend Beth starting to learn Latin.  Perran didn’t last as he was already studying too many other subjects, but Carenza and Beth have continued.

They have been proceeding steadily with a tutor, David.  How many times did I say

“Just enjoy it, girls – it’s not one of your main subjects – your university offer won’t depend on it.”

And then Carenza received her offer from Oxford, and it stipulated “Successful completion of AS Latin.”

Suddenly the Cinderella subject has come to the fore.  This is a pain as Carenza needs to ensure she passes the exam rather than studying for pleasure, but It is also a gift to me, as I love retreating to the sofa and spending a quiet half hour with her, undertaking a translation.  Translation from a piece of Latin one has not studied before is known as an “unseen”.  Unseens are perfect with tea, biscuits and the fire on.  They promote serenity and mother-daughter bonding.  Latin is the first of the exams Carenza will take and I shall miss it when it’s over.

Monday, 8 April 2013

What is this life?


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

William Henry Davies

Yesterday we took a break from revision with our good friends the Thompsons (missed you, Jozzie) and Pascoe reminded us of the poem above.


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Can't Live Without Me

Carenza is back from her school language trip to Paris.  She arrived home without a cold, with all her luggage, with most of her money intact and with a small range of well-considered gifts for us.  She had not fallen out with any of her existing friends and had made some new ones.  Sadly, I have to confess that I think this means she has grown up.  Of course, I shall not tell her this, otherwise she may realise that she doesn’t need me any more. I make a mental note to remind her that it was me who made her packed lunch for the outward journey.  Indispensable.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


Last weekend, Pascoe arrived home late at night from UEA just in time for Easter.  He was grateful when I offered him omelette and salad.  And also impressed, not by the quality of my cuisine, but by its speed – turns out he knows how to fry, poach, boil and scramble eggs, but I have left a huge hole in his culinary education as regards omelettes.  Omelette is one of those perfect student dishes, being simple and cheap, but also inviting of a little flare.  I like to leave it moist and uncooked in the centre (I know, I know – salmonella) and add fillings like garlic mushrooms with mustard and cress.

“It’s late – I’ll show you later, Pascoe.” 

The whole Easter holiday stretched before us, but Pascoe will soon have to leave again in order to complete his final year project in Norwich.  I shall miss him.  At the moment, he is at home, but I am away visiting my parents in Cornwall.  Hopefully we shall be re-united over a frying pan tomorrow.  If not, I’m going to have to carry my laptop into my Mum and Dad’s kitchen and Skype him an omelette-making class.  Egg on my face will be the least of my worries – it’ll be the key-board I’ll be watching out for.

Friday, 5 April 2013


Carenza has been in Paris with her fellow A2 French students on a school trip. Following previous communication disasters we had agreed Carenza would text once a day.

“Having a great time.  The French lessons were so good, then we visited the Museum of the Resistance.  We’re going to the Louvre after dinner! J Your day good? Xx”

“Saw a David d’Angers exhibition at the Louvre. Hadn’t heard of him before but he did some lovely sketches! I’ve had a great day J  Night, night, Mum.  Luv U!”

“Just finished language lessons.  Now off to the Museum of the History of ParisJ Weather is holding up well.  How are you? Xxx”

Does anybody else find these suspiciously anodyne?

And all those cheery smileys – methinks she doth protest too much.

Can my daughter and her mates really be behaving this well and absorbing so much French culture?

Should I be scanning Twitter and Facebook for images of drunken brawling and table-top dancing?

I can imagine her comparing notes with Rosie and Emma and Dreev: “What are you telling your Mum?  The Louvre?  Yeah – I think that’s in Paris.  Okay – we’ll all say The Louvre.”

Are they even in France?  The amount of money we paid for that trip would probably have covered a few days clubbing on a Greek island.  I shall check her luggage for ouzo when she returns.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


I am about to embark on a PGCE in Classics at Cambridge in September.  There are some alternative routes into teaching which actually pay you as you train.  However, such placements are scarce in Classics. 

In studying for a PGCE, I shall receive a full and stimulating training, make new contacts and share great ideas.  However,  I shall also incur £9,000 tuition fees.  Like many of my generation, I have never paid for education before – and it feels weird. 

Regarding the PGCE, I have seen three different documents now, one suggesting that I can obtain a bursary of £4000 towards tuition fees because Latin is a shortage subject, another implying that I might get the whole of my tuition fees paid because I have a PhD (and Latin is a shortage subject), and yet a third which does not show Latin on the shortage list and therefore I would have to pay the whole £9000. 

Just as with my children, I have looked at the terms of a student loan and have decided it is a good investment in my future.   However, obviously, I would like it to be as small a loan as possible.  Time to start the application process and find out whether I have hit the jackpot or not.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Son of Bean Bag

Carenza sets off for France
I felt sorry that Carenza departed today for her language trip to France – I will miss her.  However, later events proved that she had been right to go.

The fact is, there has been a terrible sequel to the bean-bag travesty (see previous post).  Yesterday, I sewed up all the holes in the bean-bag casings and restuffed them with perky new polystyrene balls.  I put the outer covers in the wash (for probably the first time since the 1980s). At the end of this operation, there were still large amounts of polystyrene adhering to both inner and outer cases, and consequently to anything they touched. 

But this time it was not going to be me who ended up as the abominable snow-woman: I timed the replacing of the inner bean-bags into their covers very carefully –

“Nigel, I wonder if you would mind helping with the bean-bags – I simply have to cook the dinner now.”

Determined not to make the same mistake I did, Nigel took the bean bags out on the patio.

As I heated water and chopped salad, I peeped out at him wrestling to get the (now huge) restuffed bags back through the tiny openings of their covers.  It looked like Crocodile Dundee attending a childbirth class.

Current state of play – he has managed to replace the bags in their covers by ripping open their  seams.  I have hoovered all the polystyrene off him.  Now SOMEBODY will have to stitch the bean-bags up again, somebody who is quick with a needle and who  has run out of excuses.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Bean Bag Blitz

Bank holiday Monday should have been a little oasis of tranquillity before Nigel returned to work on Tuesday, Carenza departed on her French language trip and I got ready to go visit my parents in Cornwall. 

Perran and Carenza are both suffering from a cold, and all three offspring from revision (which I fear will go on much longer than a cold). We did manage a shortish country walk all together.  When we got back, I made a ratatouille, intending a pleasant family dinner later.

But as it happened, that was my last appearance in the kitchen for several hours. 

Last time Carenza had a party, I had noticed afterwards that the beanbags had been dribbling polystyrene beads.  By lucky chance, I also noticed that Wilkinson’s was selling top-up packs of polystyrene beads.  Topping up the beanbags seemed like a nice quiet Bank Holiday job to do. 

I am now older and wiser and my considered advice is NEVER TOP UP BEANBAGS.  If your beanbag is limp, wave it good-bye and replace it, or even better, just wave it goodbye. 

The idea with beanbags is that there is an insidey bit which holds the polystyrene and a durable outer cover.  When I unzipped the outer covers, I discovered that the inside liners had split. 

Just as the snow was disappearing from the garden, it reappeared in my sitting room.  But this was electrically charged snow which loved me very much.  Rather like a plague victim, I couldn’t leave the room for fear of spreading the contamination.  I had to fight it alone with just a vacuum cleaner.  Every so often a family member would peer in, ask me if I was alright, if I needed help. 

“I’ll be all right – just go now and save yourself.”

As the door shut, I would get a delicious waft of ratatouille.  I couldn’t even drink the tea they brought me because tiny white balls leapt into it as soon as it arrived.

Finally, Nigel came in and found me trying to hoover my own back and rescued me.  By nine thirty, we were all watching telly together, determinedly ignoring the fact that our sitting room appears to have developed dandruff.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter Spirit

It would have been great if Easter Sunday could have been completely a day off from revision, but schedules didn’t allow.  However, the morning was a true time for recharging the batteries. It was spent at the most joyful church service of the year. 

Our beloved young people were back from their various colleges and universities in Southampton, Birmingham, Coventry, Northampton, Oxford, Reading, Norwich, London.  As a result of escaping the parental home, some looked better-groomed, more self-possessed, others were clearly taking a wallow in grunge. 

When we wished each other “Peace be with you”, just before communion, the reunion hugging reached scrum proportions. 

Our preacher, Graham, drew a parallel between a visit that he had once had to a distillery in Oban and a religious experience.  We all wondered where he was going with this until he produced a bottle of whisky from behind him and said – “The spirit is still with me.”

It was a good job that the morning was uplifting because the afternoon signalled a return to the grind, and Perran and Carenza have heavy colds on top of all their revision.

I had to fall back on a fail-safe technique for brightening up their afternoon – an Easter egg hunt. The search was all a bit easy for them, but it’s giving me satisfaction now each time I look out of the kitchen window to spot the one they missed.