Saturday, 22 February 2014

February reads: a belated monthly contribution to 'The Year in Books'

As I had a busy week or two at the end of January, I never did get round to posting on my reading. Unfortunately my plan to read 'The Prince' by Machiavelli' just didn't happen.  I needed lighter, escapist reading to get through grim time, not classic literature, if you could call it that.  And so I skipped the book club choice.

But I did read two books in January.  Feel a bit ashamed to admit this on the Year in Books link because most others are reading serious stuff like 'The Goldfinch': my choice was the new Bridget Jones book, ' Mad about the Boy'.  I loved the original Bridget Jones book, which I remember reading at one sitting, and enjoyed the film, which I watched again with my daughter when it was on TV last week.  So I hoped that this book would be as good and ordered the Kindle version as I wasn't prepared to fork out for the hardback and the reservation queue in the library had 46 people in front of me.  Deeply disappointed, though; it was terrible. Entirely implausible plot with Bridget aged 50+ being pursued by a 30 year old toy boy.  And a large part of it consisted of text message exchanges with this toy boy which was really irritating.  Also it was obvious from early in the book who she was going to end up with.  Still, there were some funny bits like her response to the other mothers on the PTA  at her children's school and the way she kept checking to see how many followers she had on Twitter.  Sound like me checking on my Blogger stats.

My other January read was 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette?' by Maria Semple.  I've already blogged about how much I enjoyed this.  It was similar to the Bridget Jones books in some ways: the plot unfolds in a series of emails and other documents; it satirises the behaviour of PTA mothers; it has an implausible plot and it could be described as comedy.  But it is vastly superior -  it made me laugh but deals with serious stuff like mental health issues too.  I really cared what happened to Bernadette and there were loads of unexpected plot twists, keeping me guessing right until the end.  Plot really matters to me, you see.

In February I am reading 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry', which has a quote from Erica Wagner on the cover saying she 'couldn't put it down'. I'm finding it quite easy to put down and am getting a little weary of Harold's journey: am half way through and he's only just reached Bath from his south coast starting point - he's planning to walk to Berwick.  Feel a bit like he does about my journey through this book - it's a long haul.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Snowdrops at Ness Gardens

Am breaking my usual no family photos rule today to celebrate an unexpectedly lovely day.  Husband's car playing up this morning so he took an unscheduled day off.  And it's half term for us this week.  So persuaded idle teenager and hobbling husband (still recovering from ankle op) to accompany me to Ness Gardens on the Wirral peninsula to see the snowdrops.   Bribed them with promise of cake - best Victoria Sponge ever in their cafe.  Weather mild and dry with occasional blinks of sunshine too so a real treat.

The snowdrops were glorious.  Rest of the family amused at how smiley I was because of this.  Teenager doesn't get my fascination with flowers and says I am turning into 'an old biddy'.  Charming!

For once she allowed me to take a picture of her, as long as it was far away.  Can't understand why she objects to photographs when she spends a lot of time on Snapchat, sending unedited and sometimes unflattering images of herself to her friends.  In fact it seems to be the thing to pull silly faces to convey various emotions on Snapchat, which has pretty much replaced Facebook for her.  Fascinating really, the way teenagers use social media. I'm sure there's material for a PhD on this, though the data would be out of date before it could be written up.  Anyway I digress...

Found a small patch of this interesting variety.  Like little white crowns - just beautiful.

Can't help thinking, though, that the snowdrops will be out in Dad's garden in Ballyronan and no one is there to see them this year.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Tulips from Amsterdam

Florist in Zoetermeer
Well not quite Amsterdam but Zoetermeer in the Netherlands where I spent last week on a school trip.  We took a group of students to a Model United Nations conference there and had a wonderful time.  The students stayed with host families and I spent the week with Annet, another English teacher, who speaks flawless English and has bookshelves which resemble mine.  She and her family made me very welcome.  On the second night of our visit she also hosted a party for the 25 or so teachers from France, Spain, Gemany, Turkey and India, cooking typical Dutch winter food.  This consisted of pea and ham soup and then various mashes - potato and curly kale; potato and carrot were familiar from my childhood in Ireland, but not potato and apple!  We had a great evening getting to know each other - I even had a go at speaking French and a tiny bit of German remembered from school.

Our students, a party of year 10s and a couple of sixth formers, joined in the conference enthusiastically after getting over initial shyness.  They each represented a different country and they helped draft resolutions on human rights issues and then debated and voted on these. I was very proud of them - these were girls of all abilities (and one boy) - yet they all contributed.  As the Secretary General ( a sixth former from Alfrink College) said, the conference won't change the world, but it did change those who took part.

 We also visited The Hague, which proved to be a more attractive city than I'd realised with a historic centre and many beautiful buildings.  While we were there, we went to Humanity House, a museum owned by the Red Cross which promotes human rights issues.  There we heard a speaker from the Democratic Republic of Congo talk (in French again) about his experiences as a human rights activist there and how he was lucky to escape with his life.  He and another speaker from Kenya reminded the 'delegates' at the conference that they were the 'happy' 5% and that most people in the world don't have the same rights and privileges as we do.

On our final day we squeezed in a short visit to Amsterdam en route to the airport.  Some of the students very excited about this because it's the setting for some of the novel 'The Fault in our Stars'.  We had a walk around and looked at Anne Frank's house from the outside.  Queue very long and we hadn't booked.  But it was a fitting ending to our trip, seeing the house of a girl their age who was treated in such an inhumane way.

Next year my daughter will be in the year 10 and will, I hope, get the chance to go on this trip. It was a real education for those involved.

Monday, 3 February 2014

An Inspector Calls

Saw this excellent production when it was touring about 5 years ago

I'm teaching J. B Priestley's famous play at present and it seemed particularly apt this week as an inspector did indeed call to my lessons.  Three times.  Banned from saying too much but thankfully seemed to have survived the experience with my self esteem intact. But it was a tough week- have been very grumpy with everyone at home and have spent this weekend making up for that.

Then, on Sunday morning, saw Michael Gove on 'The Andrew Marr Show'.  Now I usually avoid making personal remarks about people's appearance, but what planet is this man from?  He's got some great new ideas for improving school discipline: making badly behaved pupils write lines or pick up litter.  Never thought of that Michael!

He was also defending his decision to sack the current head of Ofsted.  She's a Labour peer, you see, though he said that wasn't the reason for his decision.   Next thing we know he'll be banning us from teaching 'An Inspector Calls' because Priestley was a Socialist.